the joy of strength training


February 22nd, 2012 at 5:25 pm

Controlling your competition nerves

This is a guest post from Giles Greenwood, weightlifting Commonwealth Games gold medalist, now coach at Bethnal Green Weightlifting Club. Giles runs a REPS-accredited weightlifting instructors course aimed at fitness professionals who want to perform and teach the olympic lifts.

I have been coached by Giles for the last few years, and during that time he has given me much advice on how to address my considerable competition nerves. I’ve implemented his suggestions and am performing better as a result! Now Giles has brought his advice and experience together in this post, which I hope you find as useful as I have. Over to Giles…

Giles Greenwood weightliftingAs a weightlifter I was not a natural competitor, it was something I had to learn.

I was practically dragged to my first competition, bombed out at my first Commonwealth Games and performed badly at my second Commonwealth Games when I felt the pressure of being the favourite after Stefan Botev pulled out. I suspect that if Botev had lifted, I would have performed better as an also-ran.

Although disappointing, the second Commonwealths was certainly an improvement over the first, and my third Commonwealth Games was to be the best performance of my weightlifting career.

I had controlled my debilitating nerves, allowing me to focus on the task at hand and fulfil my potential.

Admit the problem

The first stage of controlling your competition nerves is to accept that there’s a problem which needs addressing. It is easy to admit to a physical weakness (that you need more leg strength if you want to get up with your cleans for example) and take the appropriate measures. A mental weakness is more difficult to accept but is just as trainable as a physical one.

Once you have decided that you need to work on your approach, familiarity and routine are your friends. What follows are some tips which worked for me.

Train for competition

When you are training, imagine you are in a competition. Lift correctly and try to picture a referee telling you to put the bar down at the end of each lift. That extra half second under the weight will accustom you competition rules so you don’t have to adapt to them on the day.

Change your training “spot”

You never know what you’ll be looking at when you lift in a competition so it’s a bad idea to get used to always lifting in the same spot in the gym. If your gym has more than one platform, train on a different platform each workout; if not, try turning to face a different way for some training sessions. It is also helpful to regularly visit other gyms for a workout.

All of this makes you more focused on the bar and platform than on the environment around. The one thing all competitions have in common is that you will be lifting a heavy weight on a platform. Whatever the environment, from a local gym competition to the Olympic Games, the competitor stands on a platform on his / her own and performs a snatch or clean & jerk with a weight which is challenging to them. Focusing on this helps you to stop focusing on, and being intimidated by, the surrounding environment.

Build a pre-training and pre-competition routine

Before each training session, watch the same video of your favourite lifter to inspire you to train hard. If possible, edit this together with video of your best performance so you start to associate your best performance and your favourite lifter with good training sessions. Listen to the same piece of music before each training session and eat the same pre-training snack.

If you routinely do all of these things, it is easy to do the same before each competition. This gives you a link between competing and training, reminds you that they are basically the same thing and helps settle your nerves. I used to use a different tune in the build up for each competition (ranging from Hanson to Motorhead) but kept the same video, Waldemar Malak lifting in the 1992 Olympic Games followed by some of my own lifting.

If nerves are affecting your performance, why not give these techniques a try? For me, they made the difference between missing all my lifts and getting a gold medal. It was worth taking the chance.

Giles adds: thanks to Professor Dave Collins, sports scientist and psychologist, who nagged me into trying these techniques and in doing so contributed significantly to my eventual successes.

Do you get nervous when competing? Have you tried any strategies to overcome them? Share your experiences in the comments below!


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  • 1

    Good advice! Slow, controlled breathing can also be helpful.

    Big Vanilla Athletic Club on February 24th, 2012
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  • 6

    I find it helps to acknowledge the nerves and accept them as necessary. If I wasn’t nervous, I know I wouldn’t get that adrenaline jolt that helps me lift a heavy weight. The reason for competing is for enjoyment so just remember to take a moment to take in what’s happening and enjoy it all- even though it can be scary!

    Dee on March 16th, 2012
  • 7

    I have my favourite t-shirt, fall apart without it. I guess I shouldn’t have started wearing it to every single training session!

    Jones on September 19th, 2012


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