The Perfect Competition – Garage Strength

The Perfect Competition

Garage Strength
Kate Wehr goes 6 for 6 and hits 83kg and 104kg!

Over the last year, Kate Wehr has been bouncing between two different weight classes. After the new weight classes were established during the summer of 2018, Kate and I decided to try and drop down to 55k for the end of 2018 and for the competition year of 2019. She is an excellent lifter, she has made teams at the youth level, she has made the Junior World team, she has made tremendous strides in training even while working a job at Cracker Barrel and while going to college full-time. 

After we decided to cut to 55k, her first competition did not go over well. In fact, it was the 2018 American Open final and she bombed out. She came back from that competition and went to Junior nationals and ended up placing second in the 55k division and earned herself a spot on the Junior World team. Her following competition was Junior Worlds in Fiji. During that period of preparation, she needed to use the sauna to make weight and her weight cut ended up being a bit difficult. After going 4 for 6 and still putting up a solid total, we found ourselves in a good position to go back up to the 59k class to test the waters back up a weight class and see what results would come from this experiment. 

During her move back up to 59k, I immediately noted her energy was more positive, she was able to push her strength lifts again and in general she was also able to handle the stress of constantly refining her technique. This culminated in a very good adaptation period, not only was she improving her strength dramatically, she was also improving her technique and establishing positive motor pathways. The end result? A six for six performance, an eleven kilo PR for her total and new level of confidence that will be pivotal as she builds toward her second Junior World performance in March. But what were the keys? What can we focus as the main contributors to her success?

1. Weight is under control and energy is higher.

Coaches and athletes alike love to pretend that cutting down a weight class will always make “winning” easier. A quick peak at the totals below, a perspective that is seen through a vacuum and both athletes and coaches think the weight cut will make everything so much simpler. Lose weight, keep the same total, everything will be peachy. 

Until the cut starts. The first thing to go are the positions off the floor. It’s harder to keep the bar tight, it’s difficult to feel different positions. The next spot to go is the catch positions. Everything gets wobbly, the bar crashes on the shoulders in both lifts and the lifter starts getting light headed with heavy cleans. The coach sees everything as technical errors, the lifter has a weird technical feeling because of the loss of mass and a lower level of energy. The coach blames the athlete, the athlete gets frustrated and all of a sudden, their energy is so low that even simple tasks like back squatting become a struggle! 

What the heck can you do? Understand the athlete and recognize where they need their weight to be for “control” and to maintain higher levels of energy. Some athletes do REALLY WELL being a little chubbier. They have made strength adaptations with a little more fat and that is OK! Some athletes do really well being lean AF. It’s up to the coach and athlete to comprehend which type of athlete they are by analyzing their response to weight loss and weight gain.

The key behind Kate’s success? She has more energy at 59-61 kilos. She has a more optimistic outlook on training when she can eat more. She doesn’t feel as fatigued or sore or beat up, her squats go up and her well-being improves dramatically. We got her weight figured out and that resulted in a 187k total at 59, compared to a 172k total at 55k just six months prior!

2. Technical precision with a firm understanding of technical correction.

Understanding technical movements is absolutely KEY for progressing as an elite weightlifter. Coaches and athletes can have technical epiphanies regularly with their athletes and these moments spark dramatic increases in performance because the technique becomes more repeatable and easier to comprehend.

Over the last 8-10 months, Kate has gained an incredible understanding for technical movements. We have kept her cues simple and specific to precise positions. If a position is slightly off, she listens to a cue and then works to fix the position on the next rep. This is a skill that is incredibly hard to master!

For quite a while, Kate and I were not on the same page regarding technique. I was throwing shit cues all over the place and she was left confused and disoriented. Finally, we started having Friday technical review classes. We would watch our technical models lift and discuss the positions that need to be achieved at each point of the specific lifts. To be honest, I never thought Kate gave a shit. That was until one day we were watching Yuri Vardanian and she pointed his slight knee movement. I never told her this but I was blown away that she recognized the important positions! 

It was at that point that I realized not only did Kate listen but she also understood where we were trying to go. In some training sessions, I may only say 5-6 things to Kate about positions and that is mainly because she has a great grasp on the movements and understands the feelings that she needs to strive toward. By having a great technical understand, she has incredible levels of confidence in her ability and her lifts become automatic, her strength takes over and her body executes!

3. Patience for lifts.

Prior to this years American Open, I was joking around with one of Kate’s teammates, Anna McElderry about Kate’s demeanor. I mentioned that Kate has mastered the RBF, aka the Resting Bitch Face. Kate laughed but then we started to actually talk about this as an advantage in competition. It’s not that Kate hates talking to people or hates being around other lifters, it’s that she wants to freaking put up a massive total. She puts in a lot of time and effort to be a great lifter and that results in 100% focus during a competition. She’s not worried about other people, she’s not worried about distractions, all she does is wait to take a lift and smash the lifts!

This means that Kate has tremendous patience during a competition. She can sit for over four and a half minutes and still stay in the zone to smash her next attempt. She can sit for 15 minutes, take a power and still go out and lay the wood on the platform. 

This tremendous patience and mindfulness is a skill. If you watch Kate train, she doesn’t give a SHIT about what is going on around her. She is there to lift weights, get stronger, improve her technique and go. If she sits for a while, it doesn’t bother her, if she has short rest, it doesn’t bother her. She has patience to relax which in turn leads to tremendous muscular control when it’s time to “turn it on” during a heavy lift in training or during competition.

4. Have a full blown game plan.

I believe every single meet should have a minimum of 4 goals. Understand what those goals are and factor them into a competition game plan. In Salt Lake City at this year’s American Open, we knew the first goal was to total high enough to get Kate on the rankings as a 59 AND as a 55. Our next goals were based off the projected total. Snatch was scripted: 77/80/83. If she executed those perfectly, we would have a very similar progression in clean and jerks.

The script was written WELL before the competition. The script was implemented during training, OVER AND OVER again to make things familiar. The jumps were consistent, the attempts were the same, the warm ups were precise in training and that led to precise warm ups in competition.

You might be saying, “But what if they don’t make the lifts?” 

That has to be scripted as well. Heading into every single attempt, I have a worst case scenario in the back of my mind, a best case scenario in the front of my mind and a plan to use if the lift is mediocre but still successful. These plans must be developed 3-5 weeks in advanced, tested in practice and then executed as well as possible on competition day!

5. Know what time frame to utilize a pull/power or full.

This is something that is very simple to address. One of the best things behind Kate is that she is very clear about what she wants when you ask her a question. Prior to the American Open, we went over the fact that there might be a back up at certain weights because the competition would be close. Kate was very clear that she wanted to do pulls during snatches and power clean and jerks during clean and jerks. This discussion is incredibly important and must be coordinated with an open mind.

I have heard many coaches say, “powers are dumb, I would never have my athlete do them.” The next coach might say, “pulls are worthless, they don’t help during competition.” These blanket statements are ABSURD. Different athletes feel different during their competition lifts and if they want a pull, let them have a pull, if they want a power, let them have a power, if they want a full, let them have a full. The key is not preventing them from doing one lift over another but instead analyzing how they performed after those specific lifts. Did they execute well after a pull or do they do better after powers? Use this as a guide to get better during the competition waiting period!

6. Know the purpose behind the competition. 

Ultimately, the purpose behind a competition must be decided well in advanced, having a major impact on periodization and communication. By recognizing the purpose of a specific competition, the athletes AND coaches are able to establish those goals that are necessary to contribute to success!

We knew Kate wanted to put up a fat total. This put pressure on her as a lifter...AND THAT’S OK! Too often, coaches and athletes shy away from pressure in training. By recognizing the pressure and magnitude of a situation, the athlete is able to embrace and master the methods needed to handle pressure and anticipation. The best lifters handle stress the best and that’s where establishing the purpose comes into play. Kate knew we had to open BIG in the snatch and she knew that if she hit every lift, she’d be in the drivers seat as one of the best Junior lifters in the United States! 

By using these six tips, athletes and coaches will be able to dramatically increase their odds on the competition platform. This work takes time, it takes practice and it takes stress management. By embracing these techniques, discussing the ins and outs of weightlifting and educating the lifter on the process needed to become a champion, the odds of achieving that perfect competition will increase dramatically!

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Dane Miller

Dane Miller is the owner and founder of Garage Strength Sports Performance. He works with a select handful of elite athletes building comprehensive programs for strength and sports performance. Several times a year he leads a seminar for coaches, trainers, and athletes.

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