Three women stood over their bar, perplexed….
I wish I could do a 45kg Snatch!”
How could these stupid 15kg yellow plates keep frustrating them, causing stress and anxiety every time max effort Snatches appears on their program?
For months, a 45kg Snatch stood in the way of progress for three of our lifters. They couldn’t quite figure it out. Progress had been made in all the other lifts but this one weight for this one exercise kept haunting them.
Quickly before I go any further, for those that aren’t familiar, this is what a snatch looks like:
Thus, a big yellow sign to encourage them appeared in the gym. Pinned to the wall across from the lifting area was a neon yellow circle with 15kg and Rogue handwritten on it. A constant reminder for all three that a 45kg Snatch was the goal.
Now, while some of us might not have pinned up something on the wall about a physical goal we set out to accomplish, I imagine many of us have, or somehow made it clear to anyone that observed, we were chasing a particular goal. “I wish I could do a pull up!”
The question is then, how many of us have accomplished that goal?
Taken one step further, what stands in the way of accomplishing that goal, because you have probably attempted it many times in the past?
And if you are a beast and have crushed most of the goals you have set, why?
Here lies our objective for today’s article: how do you overcome physical goals (push ups, pull ups, PR squats, deadlifts etc) that have turned into mental obstacles?
#1: Behavior drives your progress
The athletes that are the best at achieving their goals realize one thing: there is one peak moment where the goal becomes a reality.
But there are countless hours, practice and patience that goes into that new reality. And the only person who can truly keep them accountable to the practice and patience needed is staring back at them in the mirror.
We talk to clients everyday about progressive overload: adding small amounts of load to the movements you train, every time you train, to make progress.
If you don’t just wish but want to do a pull up, you have to find a progression that allows you to measure progress and find ways to challenge you each time it shows up in your program.
Similarly, an elite sprinter that wants to run a sub 10 second 100m dash (really freaking fast!) has to consistently show up to the track and work on their weak points, as well as their strong points. Every session is an opportunity to get more output, so they can demonstrate that speed when it really matters!
But when the coach isn’t the only one holding an athlete accountable, progress can occur at a markedly faster rate. Once an athlete starts holding themselves accountable, reflecting on their behavior will help them learn!
You see, for our three ladies, a 45k Snatch was completely within reason for them, physically.
But one lifter had an inconsistent starting position, the next started shorting her 2nd pull as the weight got heavier and the last held too much tension in her arms so the bar turned over slowly.
It takes lots of practicing to be able to just DO A SNATCH. It takes even more practice with increased focus to improve the weak points and progress to and well past a 45k Snatch. And as you close in on your current physical capacity, progress slows, making consistent reflection and learning from your own behaviors critical to continued improvement.
Which leads to my next point.
#2: Extra effort produces outcomes
Once your mindset has gone from, “I hope to stay consistent with my training for a pull up,” to, “I’m training with the intent of doing a pull up,” your behavior is driving progress.
But often times practicing only the specific movement isn’t enough. As I said above, each of our three lifters had a different part of their lift that was holding back their progress in the Snatch.
The same can be said for almost any physical goal. If you intend on doing a pull up but never quite make it to the bar, will you ever get your chin over the bar? You may think so but your brain might struggle to actually figure out HOW to get your chin over the bar.
That is a big obstacle standing in the way of a pull up!
Luckily, we can use strength as a way to build confidence towards achieving your goal.
There is ALWAYS a way to break down complex movements into smaller parts. This is often called Whole/Part/Whole training. First, we train the Whole movement and see where the breakdown is, then we address the Part that will likely progress the movement most, then we attempt the Whole again and see what improvement occurs.
It’s during the “Part” portion of training where extra effort can be exerted: reps, sets, intensity or loading strategies (bands, chains etc) will add stimulus well above what is necessary to achieve the intended Whole result.
For example, if you wish to do a pull up but never get to the bar, we can use a flexed arm hang (remember that from middle school?) where you attempt to keep your chin above the bar with a pull up grip for 15 seconds. Do 3 sets of that and you will develop a tremendous amount of strength in the back, arms and grip so that when you get to that sticking point in a pull up again, you KNOW you have the strength to power through it!
Similar for our ladies, each one needed to focus on a different part to take to the whole. For one lifter, the Snatch, from the ground to the knees, needed to feel so strong and locked in, it became second nature to start that way every time. For another, she needed to work on pulling the bar as high as possible with heavy weight, delaying her release of the hips into the bar. And for our third lifter, she needed to do volume work and complexes with lighter weight to get the bar moving fast and fatigue the arms enough that they had to relax allowing the bar to turn over faster.
It was that extra effort on Parts to the Whole that would ultimately lead to overcoming the mental block our ladies had with a 45k Snatch and can help you overcome your “mental” physical goals!
#3: It is all in your head, one way or another
If you have gotten this far, I imagine you have already accomplished your goal. And if not, you have a tremendous head start on your achievement plan.
So let’s make the argument you can now do a pull up. Are you done? Have you reached the pinnacle of fitness and now can just rest on your laurels? Heck no!
You did it! You worked your butt off and eliminated a bunch of head trash to get here. Why stop now? The real question is, what’s next?
Visualization is a strategy often used with athletes during guided meditation or, with some sports, as an active part of training.
Athletes will visualize all the possible scenarios that could occur on gameday or meet day: good, great, world record setting but also, terrible, poor, missing the game winning shot or having a bad call by a referee or judge impact the result.
Now that you crushed the pull up goals, you can visualize the next goal, maybe see yourself doing a handstand. You can visualize falls, you can visualize struggling to get up and you can visualize not only getting up and holding it but actually deciding to go for a walk on your hands…because it’s all in your head!
Too many times the end goal becomes such a “pinnacle of achievement,” that the individual either believes they are never good enough to get to that goal OR once they have achieved it, they worked so hard to get there, they don’t have a plan for what’s next.
This is why visualization can really help those who are struggling “mentally” to achieve a physical goal.
If you play out all the scenarios in your head of what can happen, good and bad, during this physical objective, you are going to come to two conclusions:
#1: There is little to no chance I will die during the process of attempting this feat of strength (making the assumption we aren’t talking free climbing or cliff diving)
#2: Someone I know or have seen has done this, so it CAN be done, and then some!
Now you take this epic, crowning achievement and turn it into a stepping stone to progress that is so far off in the distance, you can’t visualize what you will be capable of!
Breaking down mental barriers starts with practice but ultimately has to end with what’s between your two ears.
By the way, our three ladies have now all achieved their elusive 45k Snatch and are continuing on with their progress, in training and on the competitive platform. One even qualified for the World Championships of Weightlifting for Masters athletes (35 and above)!
So to recap:
#1: To make progress on your goal, your behavior matters and the closer you get, the more focused your behavior has to be.
#2: Understanding your weak points and putting in effort exceeding what is necessary to accomplish your goal is the best way to be prepared physically.
#3: Visualization will help you not only overcome your “mental” physical goal, but help you find your “what’s next.”
Train smart, Think hard, Reach your Goals!