Articles  >  Mental & Emotional
5 Ways to Get Better at Weightlifting without Training
Greg Everett
October 2 2017

Obviously there is no shortage of ways to improve at the snatch and clean & jerk in the gym, and that’s the primary method for the majority of a weightlifter’s career. However, the better you get, the more important (and necessary) everything outside the gym will become—all the little, non-training details will be what really makes the difference. Even if you’re not that advanced, these things will help you progress more quickly, and the sooner you start on them, the more practice you’ll accumulate before reaching the point at which they’re truly critical.

Of course, sleep, nutrition and recovery modalities like contrast hydrotherapy, massage, chiropractic, etc. all fit into this category, but those are obvious and you don’t need me to tell you about them. The following are the less obvious, but equally important.

Get Offline
It’s grossly fashionable at the moment to go online and tell people to get offline, but it’s good advice nevertheless. Generally, being online rots your brain, just like your mom used to tell you about TV, but actually far worse. Get your brain back in order with time outside and more intensive focus activities like reading books.
Specifically for weightlifting, social media is a huge distraction and source of discouragement. Watching other lifters, especially your direct competition, doesn’t help you. There is exactly zero you can do about what your competition is doing in training—all you can control is what YOU are doing. Your only course of action is to get better, and that requires focus. Knowing your rival just out-snatched you in the gym or is doing some fancy new exercise you’ve never seen is a distraction to your work. You can argue all you want that it’s motivating, but I’ve never seen that actually play out in real life—instead it discourages and frustrates people, makes them second-guess their own training, which then makes it less effective, and erodes their confidence, which makes them less successful. If you want to learn about weightlifting, go to an educational source (I know a great one).
Be Around Better Lifters
I was going to write train with better lifters, but I called this article without training, so I’ll stick to that. The point really isn’t just about training anyway. Better lifters provide models for you to emulate. It’s not an issue of training on their program, it’s more about seeing how such lifters approach training and everything outside of it. What are their rituals and routines when it comes to preparing for a lift, dealing with a miss (even dealing with a make or a win), preparing for a training session, making days off productive (i.e. supportive of their training and competition goals), their attitude, their language, etc.
To be fair, getting to know a great athlete can be one of the most disappointing and disillusioning experiences of life. Often we realize suddenly that these are human beings with flaws and a history (and future) of mistakes and poor choices. They don’t always do what they should, and you may find that they’re successful in spite of what they do, not because of it. Obviously this is something to pay close attention to—don’t continue modeling yourself after such an athlete, or recognize which characteristics of that athlete should be ignored and focus on the good ones.
Visualization is a skill like anything else you do in this sport, and it requires practice. Initially you’ll feel stupid and won’t believe it’s going to do a thing for you. Give it time, and keep chipping away at it, and it will work—it’s pretty well established science. The best times to do it are right when you wake up and right before you go to sleep—this is when your brain is most receptive to this kind of positive thinking, i.e. it’s less likely to reject it as impossible or silly.
Of course, you have to visualize something specific; you can’t visualize “being good at weightlifting”. If you have an upcoming competition, visualize your warm-up sequence and each competition attempt with the actual weights you intend to lift. Get as detailed as possible—sight, sound, smell, touch, emotion, everything you can put into it. The more authentic, the more effective. Away from competitions, visualize the things you need the most work on in the gym. For example, if you’re struggling with snatches lately, visualize your next snatch workout, again ideally with the actual weights you’ll be using. If you don’t know them yet, focus on the movements and the routines in training. Imagine how you’ll feel when you make each lift successfully.
I’m not talking about blanket optimism here—I’m talking about positivity for productivity. A blanket optimist will get kicked in the face and tell himself how much he loves the smell of shoe leather, and what a great opportunity to experience that it was. I’m not talking about deluding yourself into believing that bad things are good things—there’s nothing productive about that, and in fact, it may be the worst way to go about your life imaginable.
Instead, the positivity I’m talking about is deliberately finding ways to reframe the negative into positive in order to accomplish your goals. Failing is only failing if you don’t take the opportunity to learn what you did wrong and how you can correct it next time—if that’s your approach, it’s called learning and progressing. Failing is quitting and allowing your lack of goal achievement to define you.

Failing is only failing if you don’t take the opportunity to learn what you did wrong and how you can correct it next time

This strategy doesn’t have to be complicated or require a lot of effort or time. As a simple example, when you miss a lift in training or competition, after you spend a few seconds feeling sorry for yourself, slap yourself in the face (metaphorically) and figure out what you can learn from it—WHY did you miss? It wasn’t because you’re a bad person; there was an actual reason, and if there was an actual reason, there is an actual solution other than depression and comfort eating. Was it a technical error that you can diagnose and find drills and cues to correct? Was it a lack of confidence that you can shore up with smart training, visualization, better coach/team support and the like? Was it a lack of strength that you can adjust your programming to better and more specifically address? This is what positivity should look like in weightlifting (and life)—using every opportunity to be proactive in the effort to keep incrementally closing in on your short and long term goals.
I’m not talking about Dear Diary, today Todd finally noticed me in class and smiled, although you can certainly write those kinds of things if you find it enjoyable. I’m talking about documenting, planning, reinforcing and analyzing what you’re doing for your lifting career. This is a chance to reflect on what you’ve done, what you’ve learned from it, what you need to change in order to improve the results, what you’re proud of, etc. There are three things I ask my lifters to write about after each workout: What am I proud of from today’s workout? What do I need to work harder on next time? What are my goals for my next workout? Make sure these are all answered specifically and clearly.

Also see my morning journal routine recommendation here.