You wake up in the morning, it’s a new day, you are prepared to turn over a new leaf, conquer everything that stands in front of you and take a step toward greatness. The coffee is brewing, it smells great, you have your favorite song on the stereo, the positive vibes are rolling and everything is heading in the right direction.
Training is early today, it’s a weekend so the gym is open at 10 am. You get in the car, three coffees deep with the music blaring. Pulling up to the gym, you see all of your favorite training partners gearing up. Today is the day you are going to conquer those PR’s and become a machine in the weight room, today is the day you will conquer those inner demons and smash everything that is in front of you!
You start to warm up, your joints are loosening up, your brain is stimulated, you are feeling springy and explosive. It’s a leg day start off with squats. Your coach lays out a plan to warm you up with nice and easy squats focusing on speed, she wants you to hit a PR box jump to prime the nervous system before ramping up your back squats. (This free content provides a good background into the methods behind priming the nervous system to optimize speed and power!) Your best box conquered is 50” but for months you have been eyeing up the 54” inch box and you have the shin scars to prove it!
As your coach watches you jump, she notices you are reacting fast and landing tall on the box. She walks over and stares you down, “Today is the day.” She knows it, you know it. That 54” box is getting conquered. You have two more warm-ups of squats. As you hammer through the speed squats, you feel even more power coming from the legs and the thought rolls through your mind, “WTF??!!? Why don’t I always feel this good?!?!” You destroy the 50” box with no issue. You hit a stiff-legged landing, all signs point to you being prepared to hit the 54. She guides you through one more simple warm-up set, mobility stays strong, acceleration out of the bottom is great, time to jump. In the back of your mind, you know this jump means you hit a new PR box jump AND you recognize that it likely means you are primed for a monster back squat.
Walking over to the box, the sweat drips off your nose, you feel as though the box is staring you down. All of a sudden, a slight bit of doubt creeps into your mind. “Is that box looking at me? What happens if I hit my shins on it? I know it’s padded but that might hurt.” Painful thoughts, thoughts of doubt and fear all creep into your veins and illuminate the wavelengths of your brain. Everything inside your skull starts to scream fear and doubt.
You go to jump on the box and it feels like your feet are stapled to the floor, your knees pick up but there is no lift from the legs. Your coach gives you some positive encouragement, you enter into the countermovement jump and this time you don’t even jump at all, you turn your back and start to walk in a circle of frustration. Finally, you walk up to the box and you go to jump but instead place your hands on the box while your feet leave the ground enough to slide a damn credit card underneath them.
Why is this? What is going on? This tendency is normal. It’s typical for people to deal with this and feel fear and doubt in regards to their physical performance. You were entirely controlled by fear, doubt, a hint of possible pain and a lack of uniting your mental goals with your physical ability.
While this is frustrating and at times can debilitate an athlete, it is absolutely consistent with the vast majority of people. This is something very consistent even with athlete’s that are the caliber of Hayley Reichardt. In the sport of Olympic weightlifting, it is important to have active recovery days and it is important to continue stimulating the nervous system. At one point in Hayley’s career, she broke her foot and was dealing with pain and discomfort for quite some time during recovery. As we added box jumps back into Hayley’s program, she would stand and stare down the box, as though it would do the jump for her! Over time, she began to play positive mind tricks and connect mental goals with those goals and conquered her fear of box jumps. Now she is an animal, smashing virtually every box jump in the gym and continuing to even crush hurdle hops!
What separates Hayley from “normal people?” How is she able to shut her brain off and let her body do the work?
Over the years of developing athletes, I have been able to test individuals, challenge them and analyze their emotional and physical response to the challenges. As I developed more and more studs like Hayley, I began to see a clear pattern of habits. Elite athletes are not elite because they simply don’t have to deal with the mental roadblocks normal athletes create, elite athletes are elite because they handle stress better and have figured out the best way to conquer those roadblocks through various tools and methods.
Mind games of fear and doubt.
Having fear and having doubt is standard. Everyone holds it emotionally, but elite athletes only let 1-2 drops of the “fear water” into their glass while normal athletes let gallons of the fear water pour over their glass half empty! Most elite athletes have an uncanny ability to completely focus on the task at hand. They acknowledge that negative thoughts may creep into their mind here and there BUT, while they are attempting to accomplish a training task or competitive task, they focus all of their energy on the execution of that task. These athletes drop their ego, they drop their baggage, they don’t have a cell phone with them during training, they don’t chit-chat between sets. They have a distinct purpose. That purpose is to improve its sporting quality. With laser-focused intent, they see things happen in slow motion. They feel things in slow motion and execute at high speeds. They don’t let the outside world impede upon their goals or their movement, they simply DO.
Approach training with an empty head. Get to the gym, turn off your phone, write down your goals, focus on your movement and execute.
Injury or Hurt? The analysis of pain.
This is something I learned from the world-class shot putter, Rachel Fatherly. Rachel was having a barn burner of a year. She opened up big in the shot, had some nice deep throws, was ranked top 8 in the US and top 12 in the world. She was grooving for everything. That was until she dislocated a toe in the middle of a throw. She hit the best throw of that meet, with a dislocated toe! That sounds absurd but it’s absolutely true.
That specific day isn’t where she taught me the difference between being hurt and being injured, that came later on during her recovery. Over the next 8 weeks, we developed a specific training plan that did not put pressure on her foot but enabled her to still train trunk rotation and her upper body strength.
During that time, we pushed her in the weight room with her upper body and gradually started to work on her leg strength. As her leg strength improved and her foot became more stable, we introduced full throws back into her training. I was incredibly hesitant, Rachel is a world-class shot putter and was chomping at the bit to crush throws! Every rep, every single day, I would ask her, “Is that okay? Does that hurt?” Finally, Rachel broke. Not physically but instead angrily...at me! When my hesitance was enough for her, she dropped the hammer,
“Dane! I know what an injury feels like, I dislocated my damn toe! This hurts but it isn’t an injury. This is a good hurt!!!” Those words were yelled at me while she walked out to the sector and picked up her shot. OKAY. That explained that. Three weeks later Rachel went on to hit a PR of 18.48 and finished the year ranked 16th in the world.
Everyone is hurt. Everyone is dealing with discomfort. This is where elite athletes conquer everyone. They know the limits of their body. Their know their discomfort level. It’s as if they have an internal governor telling them, “If the pain gets above a 7, back off, if it doesn’t, then you must execute.” I believe this is a good rule of thumb.
It is true that being hurt can lead to an injury, BUT this is another difference between elite athletes and “normal” athletes. If an elite athlete feels discomfort, they address that pain area by mobilizing and strengthening the region. They do this continuously and repetitively. Rachel is constantly mobilizing and strengthening her foot to ensure it does not happen again. That is why she is elite.
Physical and Mental Comprehension of Goals
It’s easy to make physical goals regarding sports performance. Many goals are laid out like this:
- Football: Rush for 1,200 yards
- Field Hockey: Score 20 goals
- Weightlifting: Snatch and Clean and Jerk X weight
- Baseball: Hit X amount of home runs
Rarely do we see goals laid out like this:
- Football: Don’t screw up an assignment for 6 straight games
- Field hockey: Don’t get out-angled by an opponent for 5 games
- Weightlifting: Hit 100 straight snatches in training at 75% to 90%
- Baseball: Don’t daydream in the outfield for four straight games. (Okay, maybe that one is a bit outrageous, but you see my point.)
The best athletes in the world train their mind just as much as they train their body. They build a bridge between their brain and their body. They meditate or pray, they document physical goals, they document habitual goals, they document mindful goals, they hold themselves accountable in all realms of existence! They understand that part of rushing for 1,200 yards is making sure they don’t screw up any assignments. They comprehend that hitting a PR in the snatch or clean and jerk requires consistency and tremendous focus on every single rep. They unite everything by strategically developing their brain and their body. By doing this and reflecting on these tactical goals DAILY and even during training sessions, the best athletes in the world are capable of constantly improving.
If you want more free information and content behind developing freak and elite athletes, download this free paper on the keys behind freak training!
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