Training

The Mental Game of Strongman


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Photo by Kicia Sears of Whitman Photography

Do you train heavy and hit big numbers only to choke at the contest?  Here are a couple things I’ve noticed to help keep you under control…relatively speaking.

Trust– You have to trust yourself and your training. After weeks/months of training, you’ve probably hit a couple PR’s.  How did you prep for those days?  Depending on how long you’ve been lifting, you might not even remember.  How do you learn?  It might seem odd to ask this question but you need to learn how to repeatedly hit big numbers, not just once in a while. If you learn by writing then start journaling.  If you’re more audio/visual, take a video of your lifts.  But just remember, that you’ve been training for a while, and you need to trust that your body knows what to do when the time of the event comes.

Train with heavier weights- do you really want to guess if you can be successful on the day of competition?  Start training heavier so that you have the confidence to know you can do it.  This is something I struggle with, but have started to do it more so that when it comes to comps I already know I can handle the weights, as much as I can when implements aren’t readily available.

Make routines and find a way to zone in and focus.  When it comes to game time, you don’t have time to think about the many different things you have do to be successful.  Go through a small checklist; pick two things to focus on, any more than that will distract from the actual lift.  Make an actual written checklist, or maybe you have specific songs that help you to focus.  Wear a hat, or a hood to keep distractions at bay for the visual learners.

Take a deep breath. Make sure you’re under control- to a point.  It’s a tough balance.  You almost have to just be on the cusp of either side- calm before the storm.  Taking stimulants can be very helpful as well as harmful.  Some athletes get so amped up they get so jittery they can’t even hold their grip.  They’re jumping around, and acting like they’re off the wall, wasting energy before the event even starts.  Just breathe.

Being stubborn.  Mentally you cannot accept not getting the weight. It is not even an option.  Your body will tell you to give up before you actually have to.  In your mind, you don’t have room for both doubt and success.  If you’re not sure you’re going to get the weight, then you’re already rooting against yourself.  Know you will get it, and do everything you can to get it.  Know that at the end of the day you’ve done everything possible to get the weight/distance or reps.

Don’t try anything new on game day.  Practice game day nutrition on event training days or heavy days. Learn what works for you.  Wear the same gear you always would.  Do your same warm-up, same music.  Some people even watch the same movie every night before they compete.

Saved the best tip for last:

Learn to have a short-term memory.  Everyone is going to make mistakes at some point in a game or competition.  You can’t dwell on events that have already happened, because you can’t change them.  Many athletes get so caught up in one little mistake that it sends them into a downward spiral.  I saw this a lot on the soccer field, girl makes a bad pass, head goes down, now she’s playing with closed vision, gives the ball away the next time.  You have to learn to accept the mistake and learn from it quickly; otherwise you could lose a whole day’s competitions. Delete the mistake, and refocus.  Ok I made a bad pass, had a bad lift.  It’s time to move on.  I like to use it as fuel; it pushes me to be a little smarter next time.  Remember you’re going to fail at some point and you have to learn to deal with it.  The quicker the better.  Some people have a gesture or little thing they do to delete it.  Sometimes I tap my thumb and index finger together, reminding myself to just delete what happened, let my mind refocus on the present.  Other people use sayings for themselves.  Whatever works for you.  This is probably the best lesson I’ve learned for my mental game.

Here’s an example of mental breakdown and refocus at my last comp for atlas stones. Going into the event we were expecting a 150 stone, but it was changed to 120 at the last minute.  Something that you have to deal with a lot in strongman/woman events, because on every entry form there’s that little line that says, all events are subject to change. The event starts, and I went in knowing that to win I would need 15 reps. My mind was so frantic from the start.  To get 15 reps in a minute you pretty much don’t stop loading and you can’t miss a rep.  So on the first couple of reps, I’m so frantic, over eager to get the next load in, I’m not thinking about the current one, until I hear a yell from the side. Stefanie Tropea was the one on the side yelling at me, “You need to calm down”. As soon as she said this, it clicked in my mind, I just have to load it one at a time, think about what you’re doing. After hearing that I started to calm down, and found a rhythm to load and reload the stone. I got a bit tired about halfway through, and I hear another loud yell from Maya Camille Winters, telling me to keep going.  These are two strongwomen I look up to so much, they helped me get all those reps I needed to win.

Tracy Stankavage is a strength and conditioning coach at YMCA Athletic Performance Center in Manilus, New York.  Tracy competed in soccer in college and was conference player of the year at William Smith College(Geneva, NY) before playing semi-professional soccer. Tracy won the 2012 National Strongwoman Championship in the Lightweight Division. Tracy has trained athletes at all levels:  youth, high school, collegiate and Olympic.  
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