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Lesson #1: Bad days are just good days waiting to be transformed.

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Kyle Dosterschill

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Some things are easy to learn but difficult to master. In the world of sports, sprinting might qualify as the former. Almost everyone intuitively knows how to run quickly, but it takes years and even decades to master starting technique, block usage, optimal stride length, breathing… the list goes on and on. If sprinting is “easy” to learn, then weightlifting is very, very, hard. It takes months of dedication and a background in athletics just to move to challenging weights. Years later, many athletes have only made incremental improvements beyond where they began. It is a brutally difficult sport to learn and an even more imposing one to master. That’s why, when things are going well, they seem to be going really well. (Almost intuitive, one might say.) On the contrary, a bad day can quickly spiral out of control if it’s not handled promptly and properly. As a beginner athlete your goal is to have more good days than bad. With such a challenging sport, it’s understandable that you’re going to suffer through some bad days. Ensuring you can transform these difficult workouts into learning opportunities is vital to keeping the good day “tally” higher than the bad. Before we can talk about fixing “bad” days, we need to identify exactly what makes it bad to begin with.

To start our discussion, we must first distinguish what makes a good workout from a bad one. Most are going to immediately assume that an increase in weight is the only way to have a good day, whereas a bad day would be defined by lower weights and missed lifts. If this were the case, even elite weightlifters, especially elite weightlifters, would have to categorize most days as “bad”. Just as a track athlete doesn’t seek to break the world record every time she gets into the blocks, neither should you aim for a PR with every workout. Focusing on technique, mobility, and consistency is critically important to the new athlete seeking to improve his or her skills and establish a foundation for success down the road. However, if we don’t use weight as a metric for workout success, what do we use? 

There are numerous ways to evaluate a training session. By feel, control, awareness, and of course, your coach’s assessment, you can identify successful lifts, exercises, coaching cues, you name it. Diligent note taking, including video recording of lifts, can help you understand where you’re succeeding and where you’re falling short. For example, if you lift the same exact weight for 3 weeks in a row, each week with more control, more awareness and more positive praise from your coach, this is progress. Let progress in movement be your measuring stick, and the increases in weight will naturally, and often times directly, follow. 

Let’s say you’re doing everything right, focusing on the mechanics of the lift and pushing appropriate weight for your workout goals, but you’re still feeling off and missing lifts. While it may be tempting to embrace this frustration and get yourself pumped up and take the weight again, this is exactly the wrong approach. Losing focus, increasing muscle tension in the arms, shoulders, and neck, moving the bar too quickly off the floor, these are all great ways to continue missing. Most misses are caused by a deficiency in technique, not strength. The first step to making the most of this situation, to transforming your bad day into a good one, is to identify what’s wrong. Ask yourself if you are focused, if you are relaxing your arms. Refer to the cues you and your coach have developed, things like keeping the bar close and standing up all the way while pulling. Once we have the problem identified, we can work on correcting it. (Hence the diligent note-taking and recording mentioned earlier.) In this way, we have taken a frustrating, defeating experience and turned it into something positive, whereas if we’d merely focused on the daily PR, on attempting the same heavy weights over and over again, we’d have nothing to show for it but discouragement. 

Remember that weightlifting is a very technical skill, a skill so difficult that elite lifters spend their entire lives trying to master it. Learning to turn your bad days into good days, learning to find positivity and growth in each training session and each rep, this is how you get better. This sport is a marathon, not a sprint, so pace yourself accordingly.

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March 24, 2017

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