Tuesday, November 19, 2013

My Mental Athlete Evolution

I've competed in an array of activities since high school. The competition bug bit me when I was a sophomore in high school on the dance team.

I competed in a solo performances, self choreographed, and loved both the physical and mental prep leading up to the performance, the rush of being IN THE MOMENT, and the post performance review. I would get my judging sheets and pour over how to implement the critiques and get a better score the next time around.

Through this, the competitor was born in me.

I'm the one in white, thankyouverymuch.
When I started competing in judo it was a very different ball game. When you step on a stage, you know exactly what you are going to do. When you step out on a judo mat, you know what your strengths are and the strategies you want to implement, but you have to be ready for almost anything.

I knew a needed to approach this with a different mentality. And the most pervasive one is "Go Out There, Be Aggressive, And Tear Her Head Off!" I actually had someone say that to me. So I tried it. Over. And over. And over. And all it resulted in was tunnel brain, where I'd basically black out and suddenly it would be over. Usually with less than optimal results on my end.

It took me far too long to figure out why I would have such a good time and good outcomes in training and then totally freak out in competition. Luckily, when I moved to Houston after undergrad, I had a training partner who worked with me a lot outside of regular sessions. What helped me the most is his insistence that "Hey! This is supposed to be fun! Why do you stop breathing? You get too tight and project your movements before you do anything."

It finally clicked. The "rip her fucking head off" mentality isn't why I'm in martial arts. I do this because I enjoy it, I love the feeling of a technique falling into place, and again, that feeling of being IN THE MOMENT. So it began, while everyone I competed again would try to mean mug me, I would take a slow deep breath, and smile.

Then it was weightlifting and the whole journey started all over again. I was initially taught that you had to go after that weight like a pit bull. There is a shirt out there by Donny Shankle that says "Pull the bar like you're pulling the head off a goddamn lion." Pair that with a very competitive coach and my own competitive personality, and you have a mental state that falls apart quickly if things don't go just right.

You've have think I'd learn my lesson faster this time. Instead, it took a dramatic turn towards burnout, a couple shoulder surgeries (not really related), and a come back for me to really internalize that I do this for FUN.

So this time around I've
 - stopped looking at the starting attempts of other people I'm lifting with.
 - stopped sticking around for the final results after my session.
 - only focus on putting myself in a position to meet or beat my own previous performance.
 - keep wearing the attitude I want to lift with during warm ups. (It's easy to get sucked into the intense vibe others bring.)

And my competition performances are much more consistent now than ever before. Not being wound up about what the audience is thinking or going to think about me, I can channel any nervous energy into lifting stronger. It feel more like my days on stage, when the nerves lead to more impressive height on my leaps.

So I guess the moral of the story is to not let anyone else decide how you should approach a goal. Smiling during snatches is unconventional, but it works.

Friday, November 15, 2013

No Athlete Gets There Alone: Importance of Good Coaches

Media loves great athletes. You hear all about the life stories and hard work of people like Serena Williams, Kobe Bryant, Usain Bolt, and Michael Phelps. But no athlete ever gets there alone. It's smart and caring coaches that build the platform for these athletes to really take off from.

I've been lucky through my short 6 years as a strength athlete to be able to train under the eyes of some incredible coaches. My current post-surgery success is completely due to the knowledge I've been able to absorb from them. So without further ado....

Max Aita and wife Joann Aita
Max Aita

Max was my second Olympic lifting coach, and probably had the hardest time with me. He inherited a very strong but physically and mentally worn out and down athlete. When I showed up at his house (practically a lost dog looking for a home) I came burdened with technical and physical issues galore. My knees, hips, back and shoulders were in constant pain. 

His technical guidance allowed me to ditch the ibuprofen and the knee wraps. I stopped needed copious amounts of tiger balm and red hot to get through a practice. And despite my mental game being in the ditch and struggling to make myself train at all, he was able to coach me to medals at both the American Open and Senior Nationals.

Influences of Max's training style can be seen in the way I plan my progressions in both the Olympic lifts and how I progress my linear progressions for the squat post shoulder surgery. 

Kelly Starrett
 Kelly Starrett

While Kelly was never exactly a direct weightlifting coach, he certainly has done a lot to change the way I move, make me more aware of how position affects function and how to take care of my shit. When Max "inherited" me, and I was a physical hot mess, at one point he said "You need to see Kelly. I have an appointment with him next week, you take it."

Kelly taught me how creating movement in healthy ways and creating tension for that movement will help support my system through the years of abuse I gave it and plan to give it. And although my shoulder issues ultimately led me to a surgeon, Kelly was able to give me the tools and the help so that I could continue to train and compete at a national level until that point.

Jesse Burdick

Jesse Burdick
Powerlifting coach extraordinaire. I met Jesse through, yup, Max. Max took up powerlifting when his wrist exploded and of course was only going to seek out the best. I then took the CrossFit Powerlifting certification course from him and Mark Bell and got the gumption to drive out the CrossFit CSA twice a week to soak up all the knowledge that I could, in hope of getting stronger in the process. 

Unfortunately, I was deep in denial of being burned out, so the training didn't do as much as it should. But the principals of Westside Barbell style training I've taken back to the powerlifting class I created at San Francisco CrossFit and use with some personal training clients that love the heavy lifting. I've also learned more from Jesse than anyone else how there is a time and place for every style of training, you just need to have an open mind and be willing to look at all sides of an issue. 

Jesse's program influences can be seen in how I order my day to day training, trying to blend Olympic lifting with powerlifting and some CFFB and vanity work.

Diane Fu
Diane Fu

I met this lady in the weigh-in lines at the Redwood Empire Weightlifting Meet. My second meet, her first. The weightlifting community is small, so we ran into each other a lot and I'm glad to say we got along really well.

I don't know anyone who noodles on weightlifting nearly as much as Diane does. When she turns to me and says "I've been thinking...." or "What do you think of..." I know that my training session is going to have a 10-20 minute gap as she hashes out a perspective on technique or training that has been sitting on her mind.

After surgery, she helped me work my snatch technique around my somewhat limited mobility and easily pissed off scar tissue. Also, through conversations with her on lifting and listening to her coach seminars, I'd say my own coaching eye for the lifts has progressed much faster than it would have on my own. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Women's SPF Pro/Am Meet Recap and Prep Analysis

This meet went very well for me. Complete night and day comparison when I think back to the Women's Pro/Am meet from last year. I've learned a lot about my body's reaction to training styles and, just as important, my brain's reaction to various training and prep styles.

My goal was to just reach the SPF Elite total. I was able to do that and more.

My squat at 145 kg, bench press at 77.5 kg and deadlift at 192.5 kg gave me a total of 415 kg or 915 lbs. The SPF raw classifications for 165 lbs lifters put Elite at 853 lbs and at 181 lbs at 895 lbs. So next March I'll weigh in at the next class up and get that classification as well.

Future goals, besides SPF elite at 181 lbs...

To get international elite standing, I would need a 445 kg total at the 75 kg bodyweight class. So another 30 kg or 66 lbs. My goal for this time next year is to go for that. It might be the only time in the future I try to weight in at 75 kg again.

Prep Analysis

For the most part, I think what I did worked very well for me. It wasn't "typical" of what most powerlifters and powerlifting coaches have their athletes do as they taper for a meet. Typically, a week before you're doing your last attempts at openers, one each day. Then the week of, each day your doing the warm ups for one of the lifts. Monday is squat, Tuesday is bench, Wednesday is deadlift.

I've been training myself on much more volume than that. Volume the way I've been doing it makes me feel good mentally and physically. So I did my openers all in one day. Reasoning for myself is, I'm going to have to do all lifts in one day at the meet, best know how I'm going to feel deadlifting after some heavy squats.

Like I said, it's not typical, but it works for my brain more than anything.

Then on Monday I did the final warm ups for all lifts. Tuesday was some Olympic lifting. Wednesday was off. Thursday was partial warm ups for all lifts. Friday was speed work at 50%. Saturday was trapeze.

Trapeze? The day before the meet? You see, trapeze make me VERY VERY happy. And I did trapeze class the day before I pulled some Olympic lift PRs out of my ass at the Max's Gym Open. I'm pretty sure that trapeze class is my lucky rabbit's foot.

All in all, what I did here helped me feel physically prepared and mentally calm.

Changes I Would Make

Very few.

I missed my third squat attempt. I think in the future, a month or so out of the competition, I will force myself to take 8 minutes, more or less, between max attempts. At these meets, you have to wait for the whole flight to run through back to you, and all that sitting around, brooding about the squat, I think really did me in. Also, finding ways to not brood while waiting would be helpful.

Other than that, I feel like I did right by me. Would I prep someone else for a meet the way I prep myself? Probably not. I would go a more conventional route. Lots of rest and the like. It's a standard approach for a reason.

Now as I wait for March to roll around, I can focus on being the best GD Olympic lifter I can be and NOT on making weight for anything!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Women's Pro/Am Powerlifting Meet this Weekend

I'll be competing in the Women's Pro/Am Meet this Sunday. I go up on Saturday to weigh in at 5pm. Fingers crossed I finally make 75kg FOR ONCE IN MY LIFE SINCE SURGERY!

If it all works out, you'll be hearing from me.

Then I attempt to hoist enough to earn the SPF Elite Lifter title. The only lift I'm worried about is the deadlift. Making weight affects my deadlift, as does the fact that it's the last lift of the day, after everything else and two endorphin spikes and crashes.

Wish me luck!

If you care to see any of the action, the web streaming information is in the picture above. No, you do NOT want to come watch in person, I promise. Just have the hoisting up on your computer in the background and listen for my name. :)