One for the comp, one for the coach, one for you
by Jack Heneghan
So, you have signed up to your first OLY lifting comp, thoughts of a late call up to the Rio Olympics is at the back of your mind. But how do you actually prep and plan for your competition?
If you are unsure about taking part, I cannot recommend highly enough going out of your comfort zone and challenging yourself a little. Once the first lift is out of the way, the nerves will ease off and you will really enjoy attempting some max lifts and cheering on your fellow lifters.
Firstly it is important to remember the comp is all just a bit of fun; this is the time to make mistakes and learn from them. That being said, you want to go in with a plan and hopefully walk away with some solid lifts and maybe a PB or two.
Having been to a few OLY comps and coached a few athletes through max lifts at CrossFit competitions I thought I would share a few tips to help you on your way.
One for the comp, one for the coach, one for you. Not sure where I first heard this saying, but it has stuck with me over time. The principle is simple, the first lift is for the comp, nobody wants to go home having not made a lift, you need to settle the nerves and get something on the scoreboard. The second lift is for your coach, a good coach should know what you are capable of, as well as assess how you are looking on the day. I tend to find this number is somewhere between what the athlete wants to go for, and what is considered a guaranteed lift. Note I said “wants to go for”, often I have found athletes either over or under sell themselves in a big way, it is your coach’s job to give you guidance on your lifts. Base it on what you know, you will look like an idiot planning on lifting 15kg over your heaviest ever lift! If you are coaching someone and you make a call, be prepared to live and die by it, because if your lifter misses you are likely to take some of the flack! IN2 OG and all round badass lifter Sarah Cahill was lifting one year at a competition, I think it was the first London Throwdown, she had just missed a weight on her way to attempting a max lift, but I thought she missed it because she had gone on the light side, I signalled for her to increase the weight, which trusting me she did. I have never been more nervous watching an athlete make a lift, of course she nailed it, and I took the credit! But it could have gone very wrong and affected the trust between coach and lifter for a while.
So you now you know the basic idea, how do you decide what your opening lift should be? It is not as easy as picking a weight you know you can hit. I have seen many athletes go for a really light opening weight, and then miss the remaining two lifts. I find this is because of a few reasons. The way a lift feels at 70% and then at 90% is too different. You will be amped up and ready to tear the head off a lion (Shankle, Google it) then you take all that energy and lift a weight way below your max. Again I remember an event with Sarah, I was giving her a bit of coaching at the 2nd London Throwdown and the WOD was 3 snatches for total weight, so if an athlete hit 3 reps at 40kg, they would beat someone who did 2 lifts at 50kg. Sarah was typically conservative in what she thought she should open at, I believe it was 40kg, even though she had just warmed up to 50kg before the WOD. The combination of adrenaline, nerves and the weight being way too light resulted in a glorious miss, she near enough threw the bar 10ft behind her she put so much power into it. A little deliberation between us and she agreed to go for 50, two made lifts later and she had put a very respectable score in, a top 30 finish which would have been top 5 if she had gone for 3 lifts at 50. So if you are an experienced lifter I would tend to air on the side of risk, you are used to lifting close to your max, going light will throw you off. If you go for a riskier lift and miss, all is not lost, you have 2 more attempts and your body will know what that weight felt like when it came off the ground.
A few other factors to consider when preparing and warming up. Know your body. I see a few lifters every week in OLY who run out of gas very quickly; what I mean by this is that they have 1 or 2 lifts above 90% and they are completely gassed, they lose that explosive snap at the top of the pull, and the bar near enough welds them to the ground in the catch. If you are one of these lifters you need to save most of your effort for the platform. My advice would be to keep the warm up weights light, once you are warm, build up to a heavy single, either your opening weight or something pretty close, and then drop back down and work on technique, really reinforce the movement pattern. At the last competition I was at, I had Flora doing snatches where she would catch it in the bottom and then just drop the bar without standing it up, this is because whilst Flora is a very solid lifter, she has about 2 lifts above 90% before her legs turn to cooked spaghetti. Don’t waste it in the warm up area, there are no points to be won back there. Typically I find this is common with girls who are very mobile, perhaps because they cannot create tension in the bottom of a squat and have to use so much energy to stand up. Movement guru and science geek coach Jamie will be better placed to answer that than me. But from experience it is not something I see male lifters struggle with as much, they will go out and bang out lift after lift at above 90%.
Typically I like to get a lifter to open at the heaviest weight they warmed up to in the warm up, psychologically that helps as it gives them confidence. If you are an athlete like Flora who struggles to stand up the catch, warm up to your opening weight but without standing up the lift. If you want to practise jerks work from a rack or hit some power cleans to get into them. Avoid going for PB’s when you are warming up, save that for the dance floor.
If you typically come into OLY club, warm up for 10 minutes, hit a few light singles and then get into your lifting and feel ok building up to a max single, then don’t arrive at the competition 2 hours early and start warming up, nervous energy and effort expended doing your warm up will probably not have any positive effects on your performance. On the other hand if you like to arrive for the evening OLY club just as the lunch class is finishing for a 4 hour foam roll, 3 coffees and 100 warm up lifts then that is what you should do before the comp. In other words, stick to what has been working for you.
Hopefully those words should give you some idea on what to open at; your coach should be able to help you with your 2nd lift, your final lift will be determined by what has gone before. If you have made at least one lift, your option is either tactical, going for a calculated weight to help you solidify a spot on the leaderboard, or you go for glory, load up a PB and let it rip. An in-house pressure free comp is a great time to go for a PB, the adrenaline will be pumping, the crowds will be cheering your name and a spot in IN2 folklore is up for grabs.