The will to win is important, but the will to prepare is vital ~ Joe Paterno
A hugely exciting week for the US strongman/woman community (of which I feel a part of); The event weights for the 2013 NAS Nationals were announced. After the Arnold Strongwoman Fitness World Championships, I knew I had to re-focus and fine tune my game if I wanted to have any chance at realising my goal of top three in 2014. The week NAS announced the nationals weights, I completed the “mobilisation” of my team to lead me into the 2013 Americas Strongest Women qualifier for the 2014 Arnold Classic. Jill Mills is on my strength/Event programming and mental game, Simon Colley on my Speed/Agility and I will be working with the best (proven) athlete nutritionists in Australia, Jon Davie. Essentially all of this means, that I will not need to think about any part of my prep (too much) rather, I will just do.
I look at contest preparation like preparing for a job interview or test ~ fail to FULLY prepare or prepare to fail. Within that preparation there is a lot to consider and the earlier you start, the more prepared you will be. Strongman/women is NOT just about being strong! Being strong will not be enough to get through a two day medley laden contest; speed, agility, phenomenal recovery, footwear for 7 events, accessories such as belts, tacky, chalk, wraps, straps, preparation for the weather conditions (who could forget the sub-zero 2010 nationals in Reno, Nevada – not me – I was not prepared for that!), the list could go on….
So what are the key dimensions that you must consider to ensure that you are prepared in the best way you possibly could be, for one of the biggest contests of your life? Here is what I have learned from competing in the nationals 3 years in a row…
The Physical game
It is as simple as this – if you have not done the event/weights/work in training, many times, do not expect it to magically happen in contest! Consistency and persistence are key. Find someone who has done it all before and do what you have to, to get their assistance to program you in to the biggest show of your life… Two day contests are a TOTALLY different game than 4 events in one day. I was placing 5th after day 1 at the nationals last year, I can out on day two angry and determined; I placed 2nd overall! You need to be able to give you EVERYTHING for the ENTIRE two days. There is no room to ease into the contest. You need to have mimicked contest conditions in training. Do what you have to to make this happen BEFORE contest day. This will not only prepare your body but will give you mental confidence knowing that you have done it all before. Side note – Weight ALL of your equipment and make sure you are actually lifting what you should be – “I think that sand bag is 200lbs” is not good enough!
The Mental Game
This really starts with having the mental fortitude to push through the last 4 weeks of contest training – There's not an athlete in the world who would say they did not feel beaten up in those last 4 weeks….and then you fully recover in your de-load week – do not be surprised if you feel a little sluggish at this time – but keep in mind – you've done all the work…so it will come together, if you have indeed done the work!
Because we are all so different in terms of our mental “weaknesses” in contest, there is no one answer for having the best possible mental game. There are so many factors that can affect your mental game in a contest; confidence in your skill, capacity to manage stress, ability to remain focused on the task at hand (Steven Reiss, Ph.D. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/who-we-are/201304/the-mental-game). The first step toward improving your mental game is to learn who you are AND be really honest with yourself. Deep down, what do you want and what do you need to do to achieve this? To have the best possible mental game, you need to be yourself, not who others say you should be.
It really does help to schedule in some smaller contests before the big one. Although nothing will compare to a nationals level contest – smaller contests will provide a testing ground for you to analysis your performance and work on your weaknesses before the big one….Gym lifting is just not the same as contest lifting…simple as that! 70% of your performance is in your mind – so strengthen that and you’re on the road to achieving what you set out to achieve.
Nutrition and Accessories
We all know good nutrition is the key to efficient recovery ~ putting the correct macronutrients into your body to achieve maximum performance. Bagels and Cheetos apparently do not count….This is one key area I am handing over to a sports nutritionist (Jon Davie) in 2013. Its taking that whole dimension out of my mind and allowing an expert to tell me what to do – Im a do-er – so Jon will be perfect for me. I will be asking Jon to also advise me on what to eat/drink pre-contest, during contest and between day one and two. It is critical you get this right!
Shoes, belts, wraps, straps, chalk, tacky, anti-inflammatories etc etc – make a list, make sure you have EVERYTHING you need (and have prepared using). I made the mistake of allowing “someone” to bring my tacky and chalk – they forgot to pack it and it was not a pretty scene. Do not leave anything to chance prepare for all weather conditions tights shorts, long sleeves, short sleeves – bring it all! Just a little tip – Between day one and two in 2011, I got 2 hours sleep – I could not switch off. Prior to the 2012 nationals I tested prescribed sleeping pills to assist sleep between day one and two – the WORK! I do not subscribe to using them all the time – but in situations where sleep is critical – I would not go without them!
Get into the Zone (flow) and breath…
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes flow (sometimes referred to as “being in the zone”) as a mental state that occurs when a person is totally focused and immersed in an activity and when the level of the challenge is perfectly matched to your skill level. The trick to staying in the “Flow” is to continually increase the challenge as your skills improve (Beyond Boredom and Anxiety: Experiencing Flow in Work and Play, 1975). Csikszentmihalyi states that flow is an ecstatic state or a feeling that artists, musicians and athletes have of being outside of what they were creating or competing. Essentially it is a feeling that arises from mastering an activity ~ Mastery takes time, patience and…practice, practice, practice. You need to be firmly grounded in your body to lay down the muscle memory which holds the key to mastery. Flow feels good but can also feel pretty mundane. As it should…you are ENTIRELY in the moment doing the thing you LOVE and have mastered….
The technique I use to get into my Zone is to breath….and turn inwards. I have always appreciated the importance of the breath in lifting and moving with weight, especially when it comes to heavy yoke runs however my recent powerlifting cycle again reinforced the criticality of knowing how to breathe during lifting. Speak to any two personal trainers and their advice will most probably differ in terms of how to recruit the breath during a big lift but it is absolutely without a doubt critical to learn what works for you. Figuring out a breathing pattern that maximised my stability and endurance under a 550lbs yoke allowed me to also remain focused on the task of moving the weight…Find your pattern and use it to keep you in the moment, focused on the task at hand.
Do not for a moment think that if you have not fully prepared for it that it will just come together in contest; whats that you say? you did not hit that weight in training? Don’t assume it will magically happen on contest day. Whats that you say? you’ll borrow someone else’s chalk/tacky….if you are anything like me you have a specific brand/type that you like and have trained with – take your own!
End Note: “Every time you stay out late; every time you sleep in; every time you miss a workout; every time you don’t give 100% – You make it that much easier for me to beat you.” - Unknown (although it sounds a lot like Alanna Casey – love you girl x)