Dani Tocci

Arousal Theory and Strength Sports: How to Harness Nuclear Energy

At the elite level, a large difference in performance between the three medalists on the podium is not typical. We see this across various individual strength sports such as weightlifting, sprinting, and gymnastics. One percent could be the difference between missing and breaking a world record. In weightlifting, both lifts are very explosive with neither one taking more than a few seconds to complete, and optimum power output must be produced. There is often only 2.5 kg separating the lifters in the top 5 spots, meaning the smallest variation in performance can be the difference between securing a medal and failing to place. Sports, which have very little variability between the top athletes who place, express a need for training modalities that can push performance just by a slight increase.

Overworking vs. Underworking

Because numbers can easily measure weight training progress, athletes have a tendency to pursue testing methods often. The aggressive consciousness, which weightlifters seem to possess, is a rivalry against oneself, and often leads to overtraining. Athletes typically have a competitive personality, which makes them assume overworking is better than underworking.

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The theoretical goal is to design a training program that will provide stress, but not continue to the point of distress. Little room for error can be left when peaking and every competitive advantage should be used for a successful performance. These factors can be measured and maintained by monitoring mood and excessive arousal while helping avoid the negative effects of over-reaching, which can lead to over-training.

A stressor is anything that may knock the body out of balance (a.k.a. homeostasis).

*for more on homeostasis and stress read here.

The stress response is what your body does to re-establish the balance. Your body’s physiological response mechanisms are beautifully adapted for overcoming short-term physical traumas. When we turn on the same physiological responses that are provoked chronically with heightened arousal, it then becomes disastrous. Fitness and fatigue cannot exist independently and often the demands of competitive athletes do not match according to the current level of not only physiological functioning, but psychological. Almost all athletes are overworked in some capacity, and although we all want to embrace ‘the grind’, constant excitement will cripple our success for long-term athletic development.

When to Turn It On

Many of us fail to differentiate between activating a stress-response out of necessity and for the sake of it. We become accustomed to turning our anticipatory defenses into an uproar of unnecessary activation. If you constantly mobilize energy at the cost of energy storage, you will never create a reserve for when it counts the most (aka competition). Excessive arousal may seem necessary, but more often than not is hindering performance as opposed to aiding in a successful attempt.

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Arousal and Threat

Arousal is a combination of physiological and psychological activity theorized to fall along a continuum from a completely relaxed state to intense state of excitement (Moran, 2004). Arousal is suppressed and activated by the parasympathetic and sympathetic branches of the Autonomic Nervous System. The sympathetic nervous system prepares our body for when energy expenditure is needed. During arousal our body needs to pay attention to the task at hand, so it neglects other systems such as immune and digestion that are deemed lower priority at that moment. For example, let’s say you’re roaming the Serengeti and a lion pops up ready to eat you. In that exact moment, what is most important to your body:

  1. - Digesting the food you just ate
  2. - Defending against a disease that may harm you tomorrow
  3. - Getting an erection
  4. - Running away to ensure survival

While 1-3 are indeed important, they do nothing to help you run away from the lion and must be “ignored” for the time being.

Yerkes & Dodsen (1908) developed the inverted-U theory in an attempt to explain the affiliation between arousal and performance. The relationship is curvilinear, specifically stating performance is lowest when arousal is very high or very low, and optimal at a moderate level (Singer et al., 2001). In Weightlifting, an athlete must presumably lift the most weight possible during an optimum level of arousal, however, either hyperarousal or diminished arousal may lessen performance (Jensen, 2009).

Although heightened arousal can impair the performance of some motor tasks, the relation between a stressor and the change in arousal varies markedly across individuals. It is also important to note that there are always exceptions to the case, but the vast majority of people happen to perform better with moderate levels of arousal. What is considered a eu-stress for one individual may in fact be a dis-stress for another.

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Generally speaking, certain sports require distinctive arousal levels

Fine motor control requires less arousal while motor tasks, which require strength or ballistic movements, require higher levels of arousal (Noteboom, Barnholt & Enoka, (2001). Ultimately, many variables play a role in creating a successful athlete, and to appropriately accommodate those variables an individualized program must be administered. For example, not everyone will respond to a certain stimulus of physical training the same way, just like how everyone will respond to stress management in slightly different ways

New athletes often make an assumption that psyching up or creating a high level of arousal is imperative to optimally complete a heavy lift. While higher arousal helps strength, compromised coordination and technique may occur, especially if technique is still being learned. The common mistake a lifter will face is overdoing it or using techniques at the wrong moments in training. A beginner is less groomed and so the motions of their sport are not as habitual in those who have ample amounts of experience. Typically a beginner will do better with low levels of arousal because performance is based on utilization of relevant cues and narrowing of attention as arousal increases. Too many cues, or an excess of arousal, can cause the lifter to heighten his or her state of sensory sensitivity to a state of hyper vigilance. When we approach a lift with excessive arousal we can trigger inappropriate responses such as excessive physical strain associated with somatic anxiety.

Once a lifter becomes accustomed to the motor patterns of their sport, then they will be able to determine their optimal zone of functioning within the arousal continuum.

New athletes get a pass because they don’t know any better. For those of you who are familiar with training and are constantly in the weight room screaming about your next lift to come, you are wasting your time and giving us all headaches. You’ve also caused a substantial amount damage, which now must be dealt with somehow.  You simply can’t train like this as often as you’d like. Threat Matrix Theory (Visser & Davies, 2010) explains how any number of multiple outputs may form from a stress response. We do not only encounter a single variable altered during this process. Determining which part of the fatigue was caused by the training itself, and what was caused by the emotional stress of an elevated arousal state is the hard part.

A stressor may be as simple as anticipation before a competitive situation, which at first may appear as psychological, but as it manifests becomes physiological as well (Jensen, 2009). Such a response can lead to a failed lift or technical failure resulting in injury, or improper recovery causing you to peak or fatigue earlier than you should be when competition time comes (Lee, 1990). Competitive weightlifters understand competitions provide incentive for hard training. A successful meet involves more than being stronger compared to competitors of the same weight class. In addition to physical training, psychological aspects such as mood and vigor will play an important role in an athlete’s performance as well.

Don’t train harder, train smarter.

Profile of Mood States Questionnaire (POMS) is a standard validated psychological test formulated by McNair et al. (1971) which requires you to indicate for each word or statement how you have been feeling in the past week.

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Athletes scoring below norms on scales of tension, depression, confusion, anger, and fatigue, and above norms on vigor, are said to possess a ‘positive profile’ that graphically depicts an iceberg. Monitoring of mood states may offer potential methods of mitigating loads, whether that be psychological or physical.

Serious athletes will push their bodies hard enough, often riding that fine line between wellness and illness. Simply tracking how you feel related to qualitative variables, which mirror excess stress, can be of use to athletes and coaches. You can do this by writing it in your training log (if you don’t have one yet, what are you waiting for?). Remember, stress comes in all shapes and sizes and we deal with it enough, so why add more to training than necessary?

Optimizing performance is contingent upon proper stress regulation and will differ between training and competition environment. Coaches are often attempting to increase the likelihood of success within an athlete’s performance and will make most of the decisions for an athlete, but for those who do not have this advantage should educate themselves. In accordance with proper programming, mental skills training to control or alter arousal levels may be of interest. Beginning to use skills during practice will have a carry-over effect in competition, and is valuable in both situations. Utilizing such skills will not likely benefit the day of competition if not practiced.

Learn how to create a balance with combinations of relaxation and intensity. These are two things that don’t seem to go together when you first think about it. Managing arousal levels is key in not only competitive situations, but during training as well. If you experience every lift in a working set during training as a max effort lift you will pay the price. Being able to harness nuclear energy is the name of the game. Conserve it for a time when it is most necessary. To understand the stress response, fundamental knowledge not only of physiology but of psychology as well, must be possessed.

about the author

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Dani Tocci is an eccentric individual whose primary goal is to cultivate a positive growth mindset with everyone she works with on both a sport consulting level and with training. Having a not so typical background with degrees in art and philosophy gives her an edge on her thought process. Dani is a competitive olympic weightlifter and has had the pleasure of working with national level athletes.  Follow her on Instagram (@d_tocc) for all the happenings.

Cleaning Up the Pull in the Olympic Lifts: Technique and Drills for Success

Olympic lifting isn’t just for athletes who compete in meets. The various exercises dramatically improve both rate of force development and rate coding while recruiting the largest motor units. And since most sports require both strength and speed—i.e. explosive power—many athletes benefit from incorporating the Olympic lifts into their training. The obvious advantages gained from weightlifting lead to its popularity in strength and conditioning facilities around the world. The lifts—that were once relatively obscure—are now staples of training programs. But that popularity also generates inconsistency. And unfortunately, inconsistency leads to the spreading and teaching of of many different—often incorrect—lifting techniques.

One of the biggest offenses occurs in the initiation of the movement, or in the pulling phase.

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If you’re the wrong kind of aggressive in the pull, you’ll forget to be aggressive in the catch.

The pull should be aggressive, but also controlled and fluid. Because the purpose of the first pull is to disconnect the stationary barbell from its motionless position on the platform, the start of the lift should be slow and controlled. The middle portion of the lift only becomes fast because the control exerted on the first pull allows for speed to accumulate.

Pulling turns out to be the additive combination of start speed and acceleration in the middle of the lift. It results in the chain reaction of turnover and receiving the weight at the top of the movement.

Athletes often have the desire to pull the bar from the floor harshly and overemphasize the use of their upper body in order to get the barbell to the ideal position. (This could be due to five-time national champion Donny Shankle’s popularized quote to “rip the bar like you’re ripping a head off of a lion.”)

But in doing so, the barbell breaks away from your body—thus disrupting your center of gravity, making it hard to complete the lift. And it’s what I refer to as being the wrong kind of aggressive. Yanking the bar harshly transfers the angle of the back to an undesired, even dangerous, position.

This improper initial movement causes problems up the chain, too, forcing you to tug aggressively at the top of the pull. Instead of adding speed, this extra movement actually slows you down and inhibits you from being aggressive at the proper time. And that makes the transition to receiving the barbell—either overhead in the snatch or on your shoulders in the clean—more difficult to perform.

The barbell goes where you want it, not the other way around.

The pull seems more strenuous and complex, so we focus on it—maybe a little too much. Because if you put the same energy into sitting hard into a receiving position, as you do the pull, your lift will be more successful. You must place the bar overhead with intention. In weightlifting, the barbell goes where you want it to not the other way around.

Unfortunately, if you teach the start position and pull incorrectly, you cannot expect your athlete to perform the full movement properly. That’s where the power position comes into play.

Working from blocks works well with athletes who have a tendency to pull incorrectly—whether they’re veterans or beginners. Since the power position allows you to keep the bar close to the body, it naturally limits your ability to tug the bar at the top by reducing the room you have to move. The result is a more stable, controlled center of gravity, in order to optimize the force applied to the bar.

Below are two examples of how each pull is properly done from the blocks:

Snatch Pull

Clean pull

During both lifts, the athlete in the video uses the power from his lower body to guide the bar upward. He maintains perfect posture by pushing the knees out while looking ahead or slightly up.

The middle portion of the pull is predominately accomplished by a push with the legs while the elbows guide the bar up to the midsection. To get this out of my own athletes, I often cue them to push the floor away with the heels—instead of thinking about the movement as a pull. This forces the athlete to focus on not coming to their toes or being too concerned with their arm movement.

A pull should always directly correlate with the full lift. There is no purpose in teaching a pull if it has no transfer-over effect into the exercise. In the video above you see the athlete performing the snatch by allowing the bar to guide up in a smooth motion. Then he completes the lift by sitting hard under the bar, maintaining a strong overhead position.

Start small for big results

In addition to teaching more fluid traditional pulls, a way to begin attacking these common problems can be dealt with by adding warm up drills prior to each specific lift and strength exercises (pulling variations) at the end of the workout. I have my lifters start with an empty barbell, or even a PVC pipe, broomstick, or training bar.

The movements below are breakdowns of the full lifts and will teach the athlete to gain the proper feeling for certain positions. The first five exercises are warm up drills, which will help athletes who have trouble transitioning from pulling into sitting under the barbell (often noted as the third pull).

  1. Pull to front drop snatch warm-up complex:
  2. 1. Pull the bar to sternum height and pause.
  3. 2. Without tugging at the top flip the bar over head and begin to sit hard into a full squat.
  4. 3. Hold the seated position and do not rush up immediately.

Here you will learn to connect the dots between finishing the pull and transitioning into dropping under fast. Your arms should immediately be prepared to lockout overhead while maintaining a solid core. This movement teaches you to understand that when snatching to apply aggression into sitting underneath the barbell.

  1. Snatch grip front press variation
  2. 1. Without using momentum, maintain a high chest and sit hard under the bar as if you were sitting under a push jerk.
  3. 2. Poke your head through and push up into the barbell with your trapezius.

This is another drill used to mimic the movement underneath the bar. The motion must be precise and short. want to focus more on the movement which occurs underneath the bar after the pull.

  1. Behind the neck snatch press: in full squat
  • 1. Beginning in a full squat, engage in your core and push up into the bar.
  • 2. Be sure to keep your heels planted on the floor.

A true test to strength and stability: This should not be done in excess weight or reps. Typically, I utilize this during a warm up with an empty barbell in a complex for 4x4.

  1. Behind the neck Snatch grip jerk
  • 1. Slowly dip with knees out and chest up.
  • 2. Once the dip is complete, a short drop underneath the barbell happens in order to secure the lift overhead.
  • 3. The first drop is short and the second will end in a full squat.
  • 4. Visualize pulling the bar apart over head and remain in the catch for about 2-4 seconds.

It’s easy to be more concerned with standing up with the weight, as opposed to securing the lift overhead. But, many lifts are lost because of impatience and rushing.

  1. Clean drill
  • 1. Swing the weights back and forth slowly.
  • 2. Once the weights begin to come back in front of you, flip your elbows up in a rack position.
  • 3. As you flip your elbows, sit hard into a ½ squat.

Here is a great exercise if you use your arms too much in the pull. It reminds you to immediately turn the bar over fast. It’s particularly useful for beginners who are just learning how much power comes from the legs. Sometimes I will incorporate these in between working sets.

These next two examples will help athletes who struggle with general pulling technique and strength. Each exercise will focus on controlling the barbell by using the lower extremities as the main driver in gaining height in the pull.

  1. High pull to stick

This exercise ensures you’re pulling the bar high enough, and allows you to work harder at the top. Variations from the floor as well as complexes and adjusting the height can be applied.

  1. Staircase snatch muscle pull

Usually done with light to moderate weight, this is a great exercise to focus on the eccentric portion of the lift. Starting from the box, raise your elbows (picture a puppet) as high as possible while maintaining form, then slowly lower the bar allowing it to just slightly tap the staircase.

Closing Thoughts

While the olympic lifts take YEARS to master, I hope these drills and cues help you on your journey to become a better lifter.  Post any questions or comments you have below, and be sure to apply for our olympic lifting coaching program if you want help with programming and optimizing your lifts.  There are ONLY 3 SPOTS available right now, and those are on a first come first serve basis.

about the author

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Dani Tocci is an eccentric individual whose primary goal is to cultivate a positive growth mindset with everyone she works with on both a sport consulting level and with training. Having a not so typical background with degrees in art and philosophy gives her an edge on her thought process. Dani is a competitive olympic weightlifter and has had the pleasure of working with national level athletes.  Follow her on Instagram (@d_tocc) for all the happenings.

Be A Goal Digger: The Complete Guide to Goal Setting

I am geographically limited. I use my IPhone GPS everywhere I go, even when I may know where I am going. Part of it is because I have a terrible attention span; the other part is I lack the self-confidence in reaching my destination without getting lost. Since I am constantly on the road and I don’t particularly like traffic I like to listen to my radio as loud as can be, rock out and enjoy myself. I plug my phone into the Aux cord so I can hear the directions when I forget to look. Occasionally, I miss the exit. By occasionally I mean almost every time. Fortunately, I attempt to give myself extra time when arriving somewhere for that reason. I remember one specific time I was driving to NY from MA and I got so wrapped up in my thoughts I drove an entire 45 minutes past my exit almost into NJ. I was paying attention to the road, just not the specifics. My driving antics remind me of goal setting. Sometimes, we have no idea where we are headed. Other times, we have our ideas perfectly mapped out for us. Either way, you are going to get lost somehow. I am aware of this reoccurring situation, which is why I give myself some leeway and plan ahead for the obstacles I may face.  I constantly look at the map every few minutes to see where I am in relation to my destination. The main point is that I know how to get back on track regardless of the obstacles I may face, and I am willing to switch routes if need be.

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  • - Goal setting is one of the most popular and effective performance-enhancement techniques. However, the technique behind the application is far more complicated than it appears.
  • - Using it wisely may be fostered into a positive performance-enhancing tool or conversely may lead to ambiguity and fear of failure.
  • - Motivation is the area coaches want to know the most about and is one of the top studied theories in sport psychology.
  • - Both concepts relate to one another on various levels but more importantly share a drawback: success is often seen as an end product. 
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We live in a world where we are distracted by shiny images of perfection. We see pictures of Michael Jordan slam dunking, and showing off rings but don’t see the hours he spent away from family and friends on the court by himself. We don’t see a highlight of misses, just the ones he makes.

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  • - When we focus on numbers or one particular event we seem to lose sight of the work it will take us to get there and become frustrated when we do not see accomplishments immediately.
  • - Becoming too caught up in the daydream of the outcome and far less concerned with our development as an athlete removes us from the path.
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  • -Training is often boring and repetitive requiring a huge responsibility as well as self-control.
  • -Many of us like the idea of goal-setting on paper, but not so much the actions which must take place in order to achieve so-called goals.

The Hardest Mental Toughness Technique

The reason goal setting is such a hard technique to master is because It’s a highly flexible skill, meaning it has many paths to a good result.

  • - Nothing is set in stone, what may work for one person may hinder another. There is no exact template to follow.
  • - The reason goal setting becomes so individualized is due to the process we go through, which gives the goal meaning.
  • - Each of us will vary how we formulate ideas and cope with obstacles along the path to our destination.
  • - We learn to recognize patterns and spot hidden opportunity, limitations, as well as learning how to problem solve.

We have both rational and emotional sides to our personality, which may clash with one another. Our rational side has the ability to analyze and deliberate for the long term, while our emotional side evaluates situations in terms of pain and pleasure. As a realistic being, we understand our ambitions can be challenging to put into play, and our hunger for instant gratification provides for much more immediate incentive and feedback.

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  • - The idiosyncratic relationship between our passion and effort derive from how our emotions evoke particular feelings, which lead to our actions.
  • -Emotions are spontaneous biological process, which are not in our full control.
  • - Our decision process is then based on feelings or how we consciously interpret our emotions.
  • - We have control over our feelings- or how we react to a situation (emotions).
  • - Allowing our emotions to control our goals is often a recipe for disaster.
  • - When we allow negative situations to effect us in terms of re-evaluating our goals or aim low, we are not fully committed to the work that  is required to become a great athlete true to our potential.
  • - We often remain in a past state of sentiment towards our goals and guide our next move based on a false evaluation of the situation.

Commandments of Goal Setting

1. OBSTACLES ARE GOING TO HAPPEN, SO MAKE THE BEST OF IT.

We can map out a detailed list of steps, but learning how to be flexible and drop our egos is going to be the most eye opening realization of the entire method.

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When you hit an obstacle, you tend to switch focus and harp on your long-term goal imagining how long it’s going to take to get there. This usually results in cutting corners and moving around from interest to interest in order to redeem some form of instant gratification. It is natural because we want to be happy. However, you have to keep pushing the boulder up the hill.

2.  FOCUS ON WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL

What we will always have control over is our perception and attitude. You have to maintain control and structure in order to keep your logic and emotions happy.

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Winning is not a good goal to have. You cannot control who wins and who loses.

  • - Often we seem to talk to ourselves in a negative connotation. The way you word something is extremely important and has an impact on how we react to the situation. Set positive goals by focusing on behaviors that should be present rather than those that should be absent. This can help athletes focus on success rather than failure.

3.  AIM FOR THE MIDDLE

Aim for the middle of the spectrum. Be realistic, but don’t be easy on yourself or sell yourself short. Using moderately difficult goals will still push you to work hard, but in a more realistic sense. They are also more satisfying when attained.

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  • - Ego oriented athletes also have a tendency to set unrealistically high or low goals so they can have an excuse if their goals are not attained. Task oriented athletes, on the other hand, set goals about doing their best and making incremental improvement.  These athletes experience success more frequently, persist at tasks longer and are more confident.

4.  Use Short Range Goals

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Small goals along the way yield major results

  • - We need to develop goals that create a higher standard for being satisfied with our performance in correct form and technique vs. a poorly executed personal record lift.
  • - In order to put up the big numbers on the platform, we need to focus on developing small accomplishments and being satisfied without receiving instant gratification.

We can become easily derailed by minor setbacks, so reassurance is key when it comes to staying the course. This is the main idea behind short-term goals

  • - We need to make an effort in reminding ourselves what’s already been conquered. When we receive no immediate pay off, it can become frustrating.
  • - Set practice as well as competition goals – Practice goals should match competition performance goals as often as possible. Goals related to work ethic and attitude during practice are essential.

5.  Keep Your Big Goals a Secret

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You can announce progress, but your “dream goal” should be personal. It’s easy and natural to want to share everything, especially now since everything can be shared with the clock of a button. However, I say keep your big goals away from those you are close to as well. Often people may discourage you, some directly and some indirectly. Seeking support is natural but finding an environment that actually facilitates your goals is incredibly difficult, so be weary of where and with whom you are sharing your ideas and time with.

5.  Write Them Down, Post Them Up

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Regularly monitor progress, goals are ineffective if forgotten.   Write them in your training logs (DO YOU HAVE A TRAINING LOG? how else will you measure your progress). Put a note in your weightlifting shoe for the next day with something to focus on for that session. Face it every day, read it and ask yourself what you are going to do to attain

  1. 6.  FIND A COACH WHO KNOWS WHATS BEST FOR YOU

It is important as a coach to make sure goals are internalized and the athlete to feel in control of their goals. Whether or not a player is ego oriented (compares their performance to that of others) or task oriented (compares her performance to herself) could determine the extent to which they will be able to internalize goals.

We have difficulty looking at ourselves from an outside-unbiased perspective. The best lifters have coaches because they cannot see their mistakes themselves even if they video a set. The same goes for goal setting. Find a coach who believes in your capability and then some.

Closing Thoughts

Spending your time in the weight room without setting goals is like shooting at a target without aiming. You are probably enjoying yourself here and there while perceiving small strides, but there’s going to come a point where blasting that gun and wasting ammo gets expensive and aggravating and you eventually wind up injured, bored, or quitting. Without goalswe would remain forever stationary, incapable of moving forward.

Evaluate your current plan, Ask yourself:

What have you done to get better today? Seriously think of every single move you made in the last 24 hours. Was everything geared towards your goal? Do you even know what your goal really is? We need an honest evaluation of where we are right now. Then we can focus on shaping the path.

Assessing your goals will take time, so sit down and pay attention on these next few questions:

  • - Am I focusing on myself, or comparing my goals to others success?
  • - Is my goal measurable? And repeatable?
  • - Am I tracking my progress?
  • - Am I being realistic and fair to myself?

about the author

fac188db2d11c567ecf4133a5a44ea64.jpeg

Dani Tocci is an eccentric individual whose primary goal is to cultivate a positive growth mindset with everyone she works with on both a sport consulting level and with training. Having a not so typical background with degrees in art and philosophy gives her an edge on her thought process. Dani is a competitive olympic weightlifter and has had the pleasure of working with national level athletes.  Follow her on Instagram (@d_tocc) for all the happenings.

The Athletic Mindset: Comparison In Relation To Self-improvement and The Real Reason As To Why You're Not Reaching Your True Potential

Comparison can be a tragic thought process. We currently live in a world of social media where images and videos are pouring out of every crevice at a rapid pace. When we start to get into the habit of comparing ourselves to someone else, the result can be a false evaluation of our success. Many people have an idol of some sort growing up; perhaps this idol is the reason you participate in your sport today. A common mistake we make as beginners is relating our success in sport to what an elite athlete can do. We soon realize this is an inappropriate evaluation process.

It is not always apparent that we cannot start as a novice and expect to be a professional. Instead we decide to pick on somebody our own size and choose a more “suitable” option; perhaps a teammate or opponent whose been training for about the same amount of time and has similar numbers in terms of strength.

Perfect right? No, wrong again! 
This is also inaccurate! It's actually worse than comparing ourselves to someone we clearly know is on a different level all together. Here is why...
We fail to realize using such a tactic as means of motivation is the worst way to achieve a goal.

Instead you wind up stripping yourself of the opportunity to feel good about yourself. It is not because an extrinsic means of motivation is ‘bad’ [Although, research has identified athletes who exemplify intrinsic motivation may be the greater determinant of achieving success in sports when compared to those who are extrinsically motivated, statistically speaking, especially at the elite level (Hardy, Jones & Gould 1996 & 2003; Mahoney et al., 1987) We will dive more into that topic at another time] rather, it is due to the fact that we create a ceiling for our potential.
 Let me explain...

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By stating phrases such as "I can't imagine being like that” when comparing ones self to another, you might as well just take a seat and save yourself the time and heartache of what is to come.

We all have self-limiting feelings, which determine how far we will go. It is basically our self-image driven thoughts, in which we limit our expectations. Nothing more and nothing less. No one can truly steer your thought pattern when saying, “that’s impossible." It is you who allows him or her to do so.

You have the power to determine how far you will go, and I get it... that is an incredibly scary concept! No one wants that kind of commitment; everyone wants to point a finger or two or blame the situation on genetics or some other excuse. Take pride in all my actions? Admit I am responsible for my own actions? No thanks, I’ll pass.

This becomes a vicious circle of incomplete development as a human and puts a false sense of pride in satisfaction of mediocre achievement. Most of us do not achieve a fraction of our potential.

Few athletes view themselves without reference to the value attributed to them by society. Feldenkrais (1972) proposed societies recognition and approval gives a sense of organic contentment. He states our individual aspirations and desires will arouse anxiety and remorse, in turn the individual seeks to suppress the urge to realize them. This is due to the internal criticism he or she will have placed on them by the doubters and idealists. Because let’s face it, the road to success is far from ideal.

Photo Credit:  Nike
Photo Credit: Nike

When we compare, we fail to reach our inconceivable notions of greatness. We limit ourselves based on another person’s ability to do so.

Reaching is not enough. Those who exceed their potential must reach further. Stopping after greatness is perceived can be just as limiting as never getting there at all. We are not pre-destined for this greatness. Everyone should strive for higher standards. The difference is they create the concept in their mind, a simple commitment to a decision, and as time goes on habits are built, goals are set, and setbacks are inevitable.

This concept cannot be created unless it is first a repeated mental imagery of our own capability and none other than our own. This is the difference between doing the effecting outcome and being mediocre at best. It is a simple decision, a simple misconception, and we are all making it so complicated.

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Comparison can be a tricky thing to beat because beautiful ideas have stemmed from another mind other than our own. This is one perspective on how society has formed - a cultivation of ideas, which built on top of one another. However, being able to differentiate comparison and inspiration are vital for success in our performance.

Coaching

Let us switch gears and focus on a coach’s role. Achieving your potential as a coach is just as important, if not more so than as an athlete. Once you decide to be a coach you decide to use your acquired knowledge to influence another being, which you would like to see be successful.

Coaches must assess the abilities of their athletes and then decide to push further. This is not done by magic periodization schemes and squat cycles. Having good knowledge of technique and programming is just the start of coaching. Understanding how to speak to athletes and know what motivates them is the hard part. An athlete who does not respond to a coach will never achieve their full potential.

A coach sets the pace and creates the right environment for an athlete to excel. A coach who instills a base of confidence in the athlete will then see a spiral of positive effects to come, including higher lifts in both training and competition. If the athlete being coached is having a problem with constant comparison or negative self talk, consider using some mental skills training techniques to eliminate the negative and accentuate the positive. By creating an atmosphere, in which the athlete is eager to perform daily mundane habits, a recipe for success is then made.

Competition

Weightlifting competitions are learning experiences, at which you can reflect on your training and assess whether you trained correctly to peak or not. They are not to be used as a comparison tool. The beauty of our sport, as can be applied to any, is the process and not the destination. Olympic weightlifting is about self -improvement. The basic misconception is that it is about competing against other lifters, when really it is about challenging yourself.

Your opponent is nothing more than a stationary barbell. The lifter who succeeds is the one who can stretch his or her imagination and believes in achieving what is pictured in their mind as possible. This may not be enough to win the class, but perhaps new personal records or overall performance, and that is the goal.

After reading this you may be confused on how to begin to incorporate this mindset into your training. Not many of us welcome change with open arms, because we are creatures of habit. Being creatures of habit can be beneficial once we learn to train our brains accordingly.  A crucial role for the basal ganglia is in habit learning as well as a host of other related functions such as motor control and emotional functions (Seger & Spiering, 2011).

What many of us don’t realize is our brain does not distinguish good and bad habits, but we can take control of them. During “habit mode,” our brain activity shifts from the higher-thinking cerebral cortex to our more primitive-thinking basal ganglia. Neuroscientists have discovered our habits never really disappear after being encoded. When too many choices suddenly proliferate in our mind, we go with our habitual tendencies to solving a problem.

The learning process consists of a progression of simple steps leading to more complicated ones, just as if a beginner were to learn a snatch. Mental skills are qualities, which develop over time, just as our muscles do. We need to make simple changes, which become fixed habits, which then become encoded in our brain as a natural routine. We must transform our thought process on assessing our value as an athlete. This is the first of many steps and will spiral into the beginning of a successful athletic mind-set.

about the author

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Dani Tocci is an eccentric individual whose primary goal is to cultivate a positive growth mindset with everyone she works with on both a sport consulting level and with training. Having a not so typical background with degrees in art and philosophy gives her an edge on her thought process. Dani is a competitive olympic weightlifter and has had the pleasure of working with national level athletes.  Follow her on Instagram (@d_tocc) for all the happenings.

REFERENCES

Duhigg, C. (2012). The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. New York, NY: Random House Publishing.

Feldenkrias, M. (1972). Awareness Through Movement: Easy  -to-Do Health Exercises to Improve Your Posture,     Vision, Imagination, and Personal Awareness. New York, NY: Harper & Row.

Hardy, L., Jones, G., & Gould, D. (1996). Understanding    Psychological Preparation for Sport: Theory and Practice of Elite Performers. Wiley, Chichester.

Mahoney, M.; Gabriel, T.; Perkins, S. (1987) Psychological     skills and exceptional athletic performance. The Sport Psychologist. 1:181-199.

Seger, C. A., & Spiering, B. J. (2011). A Critical Review of Habit Learning and the Basal Ganglia.

Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience

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