Finding the Feel: Give Yourself (and the Process) a Chance

Yes, I’m aware, I sneakily didn’t post a new article last week. What can I say? Prepping multiple athletes for the National Championships is time consuming, especially when last minute requirements to do so effectively suddenly compound. Admittedly, I’ve been quite focused on their training as opposed to mine, and since many of my coaches are themselves just as focused on their own preparation for this event they haven’t been particularly attentive to my (re-)development as a (quasi-)athlete. I’ve been forced to mostly fend for myself with occasional input trickling in when time or mood allows. It’s been immensely productive.

I’ve written a lot in the past about finding the “feel.” That, while a coach can give you cues, manhandle you into the right positions, and provide you with drills in an attempt to communicate correct technique to you, that, ultimately, the onus is on the individual to embody that information. I’ve spent thousands of hours at this point watching lifts, analyzing, experimenting with, and applying many different technical ideas to the performance of the lifts. This has perhaps been the most frustrating part of my training experience these last few months. I’m very aware of what’s going wrong in my lifts when I film them. At times, I think that’s actually the “feel” I’m getting the most well-acquainted with.

I know I’ve said in the past that one needs to visualize their success, to, at some level, begin embodying what they’re trying to achieve. I’ve been doing that. A lot. I have to tell you, it hasn’t worked out as well as I would have liked it to. That’s when it dawned on me that I was doing it wrong.

Yesterday I was lifting heavy singles in the Clean and Jerk with my focus being on really feeling the weight, the positions, and then, ideally, correlating them with the lifts that either felt the best or I was told looked the best. I’d do a rep, sit back, rest, think about what I had just done, what felt right, what didn’t, and what I wanted to do. Then I’d go again. My hands would grasp the bar. I’d be thinking: “Okay, be smooth in the pull from the floor, patience until the power point, then, explode, pull the elbows up, and receive!” I’d stand up with the Clean, and then get set again for the Jerk. My thinking now would be somewhat muddled, lack of oxygen and all. I’d think: “Stay tight, dip with straight hips, don’t push too soon, and drop under the bar with your back foot hitting the ground before the front!” After all, that was what I had been visualizing between reps. It should be structurally-evident in the just the writing that this was far, far too much to be going over.

I was overzealous. My visualizations were a litany of cues. How could I possibly execute them all properly if my mind wasn’t set on one? My Cleans up until now had been feeling sloppy. The more I while resting the more disjointed everything felt. Then it dawned on me. I’m being impatient! I’m not giving the process a chance to reveal what I’m looking for. Why were my Cleans sloppy? I was thinking about too many damn cues, and not staying tight, that’s why! My next set, I didn’t think about anything other than keeping tight off the floor. Low, and behold, it was the best Clean of the day! All I did was focus on one cue, but most importantly, the one that would enable all the others.

If your back is slack right off the floor, then, you most certainly won’t be in the right position to bring the bar properly to the power point on the thighs. If you don’t do that right, then, you can hike your elbows up as high as you like, but you still won’t receive the bar properly after jumping. No, simply focusing on keeping tight allowed me to pull up straight, efficiently and confidently. After feeling such a good Clean, the Jerk seemed to set itself up. I felt strong, and solid from the receipt of the bar in the Clean, all the way to the recovery. I was still tight when getting ready to Jerk, thus, my hips were straight, and I could effectively punch the bar up, and my body under. The footwork, then, came naturally, as I wasn’t leaning to forward, throwing off my balance. I ended up feeling so good that I did reps with weights up to 10kg heavier than I had planned, and you know what? They felt easier than the lighter, sloppier ones before them.

Fixating on everything I was doing wrong never allowed me to do anything right. When you visualize, clear your mind. You can think about what the entire lift ought to look, and thus, feel like, but it’s crucial that you pick one component, and focus on it. When that one point in the lift becomes so practiced that you no longer need to give it extra attention, then, you can move on down the chain towards the others. As I’ve said before: Weightlifting is both an elegantly simple yet dauntingly complex endeavor to participate in. You can come up with all kinds of intricate cues, programs, and analyses to improve your lifting, and they can work. But, if you ever find yourself at a point where that rich detail is just making things worse, the problem, then, is likely simpler than you think.