Written by Donovan Ford
In 2013 at the American Open Championships, over 400 weight lifters competed from all over the United States. With so many new competitors in the sport, I want share a few helpful tips for training and competition preparation. The following is the best advice I have gleaned from other athletes and coaches throughout my career, all of which has helped me grow into the athlete I am today. I hope that some of these tips can help you grow as well.
Learn to Train the Way You Want to Compete
Casey Burgener, one of the most inspirational lifters I’ve ever met, taught me this. Everyone’s goal is to go 6 for 6 in competition but it’s just as important to do the same in training. Try taking your last three attempts in the snatch or clean and jerk workout and make it a personal competition. Really attack these lifts and don’t take anything for granted. In your mind tell yourself there is a lot more at stake than there really is and that you can’t afford to have any misses. At the end of the day, evaluate yourself and see how many lifts you made. Inevitably we are human and we aren’t perfect, but being an athlete you should always chase perfection. If you train yourself to go 6 for 6 training, there is no reason why you can’t achieve the same result in competition. This isn’t something that should be done everyday of a training cycle. Your nervous system can only handle so much mental and physical stress. For this reason, I tend to only do this when I am a few weeks out from a competition, to help get me into competition mode.
Use Your Mind
Zygmunt Smalcerz, the National Coach at the Olympic Training Center, always tells us to use our minds in weightlifting. He once told a story of David Rigert, 1976 Olympic Champion walking into a training hall and snatching 160 kilos cold. After standing on the sidelines, watching an athlete struggle with the weight, David Rigert walked over to the bar and stood over it with his eyes closed. For fifteen minutes he stood completely still, until his body began to shake and his brow started to drip sweat. Then, he opened his eyes and snatched the weight. To attempt something like this takes a incredible amount of mental strength and toughness. Don’t forget as an athlete your mind is a powerful tool. Your body can only handle so much physical training so when you’re not on the platform, take mental reps. Even when it comes to competing, take attempt in your head. Walk yourself through all your attempts over and over again. Another very useful tool is visualizing the competition venue. You might see lifters stand on stage for a few seconds after introductions looking for their focal point. I like to take that a step further. If you are lifting at a national meet, try to get on stage a few days before you lift to get familiar with the environment. Pay attention to the where the judges are sitting or picture where your friends or family might be. Make that environment your home. At the 2013 Pan Am Championships, my first senior international competition, I used this strategy to become comfortable on stage. I memorized the entire set up of the competition venue and painted the picture in mind so that every time I took mental reps I could use it. By the time it was my time to lift on that stage it felt like I had been lifting there for weeks.
Expect the Unexpected
We are all creatures of habit. For years, I did everything exactly the same way: I took the same warm up weights in training every day, and I even trained on the same platform for two years without switching to another. These were hard habits to break, but I finally realized I needed to change up my routine in order to prepare for the unexpected. Colin Burns is a prime example of this. After numerous delays and cancelations in his air travel to the American Open Championships. Colin got off a plane just in time for weigh-ins the day of his competition and still managed to over come the uncontrollable with a gold medal performance in the snatch. You can’t prepare for situations like this in your training, but practicing being flexible will help. 1992 and 1996 Olympian Wes Barnett told me that during his lifting career he implemented a lot of situational training to prepare him for the unexpected. Wes trained under any condition he thought might give him the competitive edge because he wanted to be prepared for anything that could effect his lifting. Learn to sleep under any circumstance, he said. If you know your going to be competing at 8am, hold a few of your training session at that time. He even advised taking longer or shorter breaks in between lifts while training, because you will never know when you will be rushed on stage or be sitting in the back room for 15 minutes. These are all things that can happen, so learn to be adaptable to any situation.
I consider myself lucky to have been able to learn these things from some of the great Olympic lifters from the United States and the world. Hopefully you find them as useful as I have in my career. If you do implement any of these tips into your training, I would be curious to hear on how they worked for you.Donovan Ford has been a member of USA Weightlifting’s resident athlete program at the Olympic Training Center, located in Colorado Springs, Colorado since 2009. Donovan is currently being coached by 1972 Olympic Champion Zygmunt Smalcerz. Donovan has 8 years of National and International lifting experience. His titles include 2012 American Open Champion, Snatch silver medalist, and bronze medalist in the Clean and Jerk and Total at the 2013 Pan American Championships. Donovan was also a member of the 2013 World Team, held in Wroclaw, Poland. Donovan’s 170 kg Snatch and 201 kg Clean and Jerk make him a competitor to watch for in the 2016 Olympic Games. Website, Facebook, Twitter