Paralysis by analysis : Stop thinking and start improving!

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You are responsible for your success. You are also your own worse enemy.

Seeing athletes miss lifts because they thought too much during the lift has been my pet peeve recently. As a coach, it annoys me so much because it is hard to fix the mental game of an athlete in comparison to their technique or physical fitness. So many athletes think way too much or try to control what can’t be controlled. Great performances can’t be achieved with hesitation and lower-than-optimal speed due to mental computing.

David Rigert. Credit Bruce Klemens photography.
David Rigert. Credit Bruce Klemens photography.

Dynamic actions, once initiated, need to be autonomous in order to have maximal velocity and precision. Introducing an extra layer of mental computing during the movement results in the break down of timing, velocity, and general movement pattern that is necessary for the success of the action.

The snatch and the clean and jerk follow this paradigm – once initiated, they have to be done in an autonomous  way due to the high speed nature of the action and any sort of extra mental computing will break down the right timing, velocity and movement pattern necessary for success.

In neuroscience (And engineering I believe), we call this type of action system ”Open loop control”. It is used to control ”ballistic movements that end before any sensory information can be processed (Wikipedia)”. Because we are not processing extra sensory feedback, this movement is excessively quick (Quicker than sensory feedback). Moreover, because of this quickness and of the lack of sensory feedback during the action, the action can’t be controlled or changed internally once it is launched. It is a ”You hit then you think” type of thing.

This is where you actually have to think and stop thinking. Credit Bruce Klemens
This is where you actually have to think and stop thinking. Credit Bruce Klemens

In quick sports, success is dependent on the ability to leave the extra layer of processing out in order to react with great speed and power. An open loop motor control system looks like this : Input -> Process -> Output (action initiation and carried out. The only time you can consciously think and try to control success is before and after.

For example, a boxer who thinks too much during a bout is a boxer that gets knocked out. Thinking and strategy planning is done when the boxer is far from the opponent’s reach. A thinking baseball player will always be easy to strike out when he is at the bat. The best batters have incredible eye-arms coordination and are able to predict where the ball will be (and coordinate the appropriate motor action to be successful….ie bat) without much thinking.

Credit Bruce Klemens
Credit Bruce Klemens

The same is true for the lifter pulling a snatch or clean. Any breakdown in timing or rhythm induced by thinking and mental computing will have a negative impact on maximal power (and velocity). Thus, the momentum is not as much and the movement pattern is slowed down, delayed and not of great quality. Consequently, success will be compromised. You will get away with lighter weights but maximal weights require the best timing, rhythm, power and muscle sequencing you can produce.

In some cases where the lifter is trying to lift a maximal weight, the extra computing will even throw the lifter out. Something feels off and you clark. By definition, the lifter should not even have the time to feel off because the movement should be quicker than the sensory feedback.

Solutions : 

  • Don’t touch the bar until your head is in the game and free of thoughts.
  • Ask your coach and teammates to not talk/scream when you lift if it throws you out. Sometimes coaches and teammates get so excited they will yell 1001 cues and motivational cues – some lifters get confused by that.
  • Walk away from the platform and gym after a miss or after something feels off. Don’t let it get to your head by walking out, grabbing a drink, coming back in and hitting the lift without much emotions or thinking.
  • Lift with a timer. Hit a lift every 1 minute or 1.5 minute or 2 minutes (depending on physical condition). A few minutes in, you will be amazed at how you can hit 90% in a state of light fatigue and without much mental preparation.
  • Leave weightlifting in the gym. Don’t bring weightlifting at home. Leave your successes and losses at the gym. Don’t go home to review your videos all night and think of all the things you can do or all the things that need to get better. You will come back confused and mentally drained from that. Your coach is there to take on the burden of thinking. Just work.
  • Learn to trust yourself and learn to trust the process. This is weightlifting. You have to improve yearly or you will get passed by those who do. Don’t be your own worse enemy. You will win some and lose some – but at least try to win by putting all the chances on your side.

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One comment

  • Have you been secretly observing my training for the last millennia ? Because it feels like this was written precisely for me. I’m happy to say that I just recently started doing one of your suggestions – lifting w/ a timer – and have already noticed it to be helping. Some great addition thoughts here…

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