Recently Debbie Premo, a CrossFit Marinite, posted a gigantic list of questions in the comments section of the blog post in which I relayed my results from the PW Championships. The pervasive theme of Debbie’s questions was the athlete’s approach to “game day.” Here are Debbie’s questions and my answers:
Debbie: What do you do to contribute to your success for your 45 seconds or so of actual performance? It's not like you can recreate the environment of an actual competition as part of your usual training--the crowds, the standing around, etc.
Ben: The best way to mimic a weightlifting competition is to rehearse it. One of the luxuries of competitive weightlifting is that the happenings on game day are relatively predictable. I know that I am going to lift six times (three Snatch attempts and three Clean & Jerk attempts) and I know that I will have somewhere between 2 and 8 minutes to recover between lifts. So I rehearsed it. Exactly one week before the competition I participated in my own pseudo-competition at CrossFit Marin. I tested out my openers (the weights that I started with in the Snatch and Clean & Jerk) and got a good feel for the jumps that I planned to make during the competition.
Debbie: I know you drove up from SF to Sacto that morning--was it just another long car ride, or were you nervous? What did you do to stay relaxed?
Ben: I actually wasn’t very nervous during that car ride. I was a tiny bit worried about getting there on time and not missing the exit off of the highway, but all in all I wasn’t too nervous during the ride. I started to get nervous when I entered the gym and saw some people competing. Whenever I get nervous like that before a competition or a workout I remind myself that if I am not nervous there is something wrong. If one’s central nervous system is not running full steam before a competitive scenario, then that person’s body and mind are not ready.
Debbie: Do you have some favorite music that you listen to?
Ben: I listen to rap (something along the lines of Andre Nickatina, Zion I, or 50 cent) when I train at CFM. So I don’t change anything on game day, just more of the same old tunes.
Debbie: Once you're there, I suspect there might have been lots of standing around and uncertainty until your turn to perform? How did you manage that?
Ben: There was a bit of standing around, but not too much. I was definitely nervous, but I was confident too. I knew that I had trained intelligently for the past couple of months and I was confident that my preparation would beget good results. When I am really nervous before a competition I like to use a breathing technique that I learned from the performance menu (www.performancemenu.com). I take a deep breath in and say “strong, strong, strong” in my head and as I slowly exhale I say, “relax, relax, relax” in my head. There are tons of other equally effective techniques. My post on “The Art of Olympic Yawning” states that forcing a big yawn before competition triggers the production of neurotransmitters that put the mind and body at ease. Also, Jon Seitz, an athlete at CFM taught me a new relaxation technique last night, in which you take a big breath in, elongate your exhale as long as possible, and cough as emphatically as possible.
Debbie: Did you get hungry? Feel like just the smell of food would make you hurl?
Ben: After I finished the snatches I felt really light-headed, not necessarily hungry, but I knew I needed some food if I was going to perform well in the Clean & Jerk. So I ate some chicken and a couple of tangerines (courtesy of coach Russell Bruel). After that little power snack I felt lucid and my energy skyrocketed. And no, the smell of food didn’t make me want to hurl.
Debbie: I know my friends who run marathons say game day is all about fluid management--in all ways one must manage that. Were things like that even relevant?
Ben: Drinking an adequate amount of water is immensely important for all athletes. When one is dehydrated, they will feel sluggish and their muscles will tighten up. That being said, the biggest difference between marathon runners and Olympic weightlifters is in the duration of the activity. Marathons can last up to 6 hours and the total amount of time spent lifting at a weightlifting competition will only amount to about 45 seconds. Consequently, game day hydration is much more important for the runner. I just approached hydration the same way that I do on a day-to-day basis. I think that I put away 2 full 32 ounce water Nalgenes before the competition. The only caveat to the water intake of a competitive weightlifter is that you weigh in before a weightlifting competition. So if I were attempting to cut down to a certain weight I probably wouldn’t drink any water until after the weigh-in (about 2 hours before the competition). I am light for the 94kg weight class so that wasn’t an issue.
Debbie: How about rituals or techniques you use to stay calm and focused on game day? I have a silly ritual before a very heavy lift (well, heavy for me, it’s all relative...) of moving the lower cuff of my sweats outward from my shin before I push the bar onto my shin--silly stuff like that. How about you, any rituals or habits like that which you continued at the PWA?
Ben: My pre-lift routine is to take a deep breath in (saying “strong, strong, strong” in my head), followed by a big drawn out exhale (saying “relax, relax, relax” in my head), then I chalk up my hands, do a small pre-emptive fist pump (see my post on “The Mental Approach,” 12/17/09), continually replay a successful lift and the corollary feeling of a successful lift in my head and then I finally lift the bar.
Debbie: And how about the other athletes? Did you notice what they did or didn’t do? How about antics they may have pulled to mess with their competition?--you know, try to unnerve the competition?
Ben: Most of the competitors were very low key and didn’t really stand out much aside from their impressive technique and the incredibly large loads they threw over their heads. John North was the only athlete who really stood out. John is an incredible lifter (he snatched 150kgs and clean & jerked 176 kgs), but his lifts paled in comparison to his absolutely insane pre-lift routine, which was more reminiscent of a theatrical performance than something you would see at a weightlifting competition. John would run out from behind bleachers and start jumping up and down with his arms out (gesturing for the crowd to make more noise). Then John pushed the bar and danced around it as if he were sparring with it. John proceeded to engage in some positive self-talk (almost all successful athletes do some form of internal positive self-talk) out loud. Before his Clean & Jerks John yelled, “Pendlay, Pendlay (the name of his coach) . . . Snatch this, Snatch this” (meaning that he could snatch the weight as easily as he was about to clean & jerk it). John set the PWA record with his 150kg snatch. It was pretty amazing to watch John’s performance in person.
Debbie: And, did you do anything materially different at the PWA compared to a regular training day?
Ben: Other than producing an insane amount of adrenaline, I didn’t do anything different than a typical training day at CFM.