As the National Championships approach, I figured a competition preparation article was in order. We’ve published a few articles on the subject before, so I want to focus on some details that often go overlooked.
Weightlifting competition is about as stressful as it gets due to the circumstances—you’ve spent months and years training for a grand total of six lifts that matter. There are countless factors that contribute to your performance, and many are beyond your control, such as stress unrelated to training and problems with the venue or travel.
However, there are a lot of factors you can control, and a lot of little ones that may have never even occurred to you. Here are a few of those little considerations that together can make a big difference.
Weightlifters commonly train without ever using collars in the gym. They’re not only a hassle to use, but often gyms aren’t equipped with enough competition-style collars for everyone to use. However, a bar feels and sounds significantly different with collars on it, and this change can throw you off in competition if you’re not accustomed to it. Try using collars on all of your heavy snatches and clean & jerks as you approach a competition so you don’t even have to think about it.
Load the Right Way
Another issue for a lot of people is seeing plates on the bar they’re not used to seeing—like those giant red ones. Often women especially will never use red plates, and over time, a subconscious belief takes form that red plates are way heavier than a blue and a 5. The lifter sees a bar loaded with red plates awaiting them on the platform and believes it to be heavier than it really is. This rule goes right along with the above rule about using collars—load your bar exactly how it would be loaded in competition. That means once you’re at 70 kg on a women’s bar or 75 kg on a men’s bar, you’d better have those big red plates secured with collars.
Control Your Rest Periods
Most of us rest as long as we feel like between sets in training. Unfortunately, for some people, this means excessive rest, and often times warm-ups and competition lifts in a meet have to be done at a much faster pace. In the last few weeks leading into a meet, try keeping your rest periods to 2 minutes at the most. This will help condition you both physically and mentally for when you need it. And if you don’t end up needing it, you’ll feel great.
Practice Your Warm-up Progressions
You should never get to a meet and not know exactly what warm-up lifts you’ll be taking. Not only should that be planned ahead, it should be something you’re accustomed to. The last thing you want to do is completely change the progression you use from what you do in the gym every day. This is big mental security—if your warm-ups feel routine, your competition lifts are much more likely to feel routine. Leading up to competition, follow the same warm-up for the snatch and clean & jerk that you’ll use in competition. This is also a chance to find out of something doesn’t work well in time to make an adjustment.
Rest between Snatch and Clean & Jerk
Something Mike Burgener used to have us do on Saturdays when we were lifting heavy singles in the snatch and clean & jerk is rest 10 minutes between lifts. This simulates the meet environment somewhat so you can learn how to stay warm during that period and also stay calm without losing control of the focus and psychological arousal needed for clean & jerks.
Change Your Lifting Environment
Competition lifting can be scary simply because you’re in a different location with different things to look at. Many a lifter has missed a lift for no reason other than that they didn’t find a good focal point. You don’t necessarily need to even leave your gym for this one, although that is an option—Practice lifting on different platforms, and even facing the opposite direction on a given platform. Lift on different bars—you can even try lifting on different bars from set to set, just like you will change to a different bar between your last warm-up and your first competition lift.
A lot of weightlifting spectators are weightlifters themselves or are well-versed in weightlifting etiquette… and many are not. There will always be noise and distractions in a competition venue, sometimes ones you can’t even imagine. If you control your training environment completely to the point that one little unexpected distraction throws you off, you’re going to have a lot of trouble in a meet. Let people walk in front of you, stare at you, talk loudly around you, have their phones make noise… it doesn’t need to always be like this (and shouldn’t), but toughen yourself up so we don’t have to listen to your excuses after the meet.
Practice Your Caffeine
If you use pre-training and competition caffeine, do it the same way for every heavy day as you do in competition. That means type, timing, and amount. If you normally drink coffee an hour before training, don’t drink four Redbulls and snort a line of crushed No-Doz right before you snatch in competition. The opposite is true as well—if you’re accustomed to training under the influence of caffeine, make sure you have the same ready to go for the meet or you’re going to find you have a big lack of enthusiasm. This all goes for nutrition too—meet day isn’t the time to test out new foods. I have actually suggested in the past to taper down your caffeine intake before a competition to get better results from the caffeine in competition, and this can still be done as long as you practice what you plan to do.
Practice the Time of Day
If the meet schedule has you lifting at a time of day significantly different than what you’re accustomed to, try to get at least some training in around that time. You will better know what changes if any you need to make to your warm-up—afternoon lifters who have to lift early may find they need considerably more time to get loose, for example—and better know what to expect yourself to feel like. For some people, there isn’t much of a difference, but for others, this is a real game-changer. Don’t just wonder—find out.
If you’re fortunate enough to train in a gym with air conditioning and/or fans, train without them sometimes. More often than not, the warm-up rooms at meets are crowded, hot and stifling, and doing a big clean & jerk in that environment is considerably different than in a comfortable one.
Bodyweight is a touchy subject for a lot of lifters, and many like to ignore it until they absolutely have to pay attention. This can cause a lot of problems, both physically and psychologically. I think lifters should weigh in frequently—even daily. Not only does this help you control your weight and hydration like you need to, it makes the weigh-in routine instead of some monumental event you spend months dreading. As an aside, noting your bodyweight in your training logs is a great piece of data to consider later down the road.
Make competition a lot more controlled and a lot less scary by paying attention to the details, and always remember that experience will be the best teacher.
Proper Approach to Competition
Weightlifting Competition Etiquette
Competition Anxiety...It Never Goes Away
Trust and the Art of Competition
All great tips, thanks so much!
Is there something to be said for this laissez-faire approach at local meets ('embrace chaos') or should I force myself onto a bar to execute a fixed progression?
That's crazy. You should secure a platform, even if it's shared, and warm up the way you planned. It's not unusual to have to share platforms and bars in the warm-up room even at national meets - you just have to be assertive and know what you want to do.