Psychology in the Weightlifting Arena, Part 2 – Fighting External Noise

I remember my first tournament back in my amateur boxing days. I was eleven at the time. During the round I couldn’t hear the crowd. What is this sensation and how does it help us as athletes?

Last week I promised that I would continue my nascent discussion of the mental aspects of weightlifting. That I will do but with a big amount of help from a book now out of print, but one that still has a wealth of ideas on the subject. I am talking about Not Just Pumping Iron, written by Edward W.L. Smith, published in 1989. There are a lot of great ideas expressed in this book. If you can find a copy it will become one of your favorites.

Those of us involved in sport competition are familiar with the effects, good or bad, of crowd noise. Sometimes the crowd gets the adrenaline flying and it helps. Some famous teams are hard to beat at home due to the push their home crowd can give them. The Montreal Canadiens are a good example. They were so hard to beat in the old Forum, regardless of their current place in the standings. The crowd was always worth an extra one or two goals it seemed. Ditto Chicago’s Blackhawks and Bulls who played in the famous Chicago Stadium roar.

Conversely, a hostile crowd can throw a visiting team off its game. And that is the whole idea. We in the weight sports seldom have twenty thousand voices pushing us to victory or to miss either. Does that mean we do not have to worry about and voices, good or bad?

As we all know, no, it does not. While we are lucky to have 200 voices at our meets, there is one voice that has more influence than the thousands in our stadiums and arenas. And you know what voice that is. It is you. Your voice speaks louder than any other. And you don’t get away from it by keeping your mouth shut, for it is chattering constantly. All day every day we talk to ourselves, sometimes verbally but usually only within the privacy of our minds. If we speak nonsense out loud we may be lucky enough to have someone ask us what we are talking about, but not so inside our heads. There we can do a real number on ourselves if we are not careful.

We hear this voice most commonly when the weight inches up to our personal record levels. Suddenly our little internal voice is asking us if we really think we can move that iron. We try to insist we can indeed make the lift, but the voice is insistent. “You’ve never lifted that before, maybe it will still be too heavy.” Or else it says, “Remember the last time this weight was attempted, you missed it! And you were heavier as well!” You try to think of something else as you wrap your hands around the knurling. If you can keep the voice quiet, you do have a shot at succeeding. If the voice prevails it will probably affect you just as you arrive at a crucial part of the lift.

At times like that it is important to remember this voice can also say the right things instead of the wrong things (it prefers the latter, in sync with the rising weight). The secret is two-fold. One, learn how to shut out the extraneous noise. Two, learn how to take control and give the right messages instead of the wrong ones. We will look at the first practice this week, and the second next week.

Shutting Out External Noise

performance anxiety, sports psychology, olympic weightlifting, weightliftingI can remember something from way back in my amateur boxing days. I was only eleven at the time. I was at a tournament. What impressed me most was not my split decision but a new-to-me sensual phenomenon. There were many people there cheering through the whole round, but I could not hear them as I was trying to put together a good combo while avoiding same. It was as if I was in a dream or something. As soon as the round ended I would then hear them again. I remembered this when I started lifting as it again visited me on the platform. What was happening there?

Maybe I can use a metaphor to explain. Our minds are similar to a pool of water. If you throw a rock into a still pool it will have great effect on the pool – big waves rippling outwards. But is the pool is already turbulent that rock may not affect much of a change at all. So, if you are trying to get some good signals into your mind, it is much easier to do if there is no other competition for the mind’s attention. I boxed much better when I was “deaf.”

Unlike those in boxing, weightlifting crowds know when to go mum. When any lifter steps on the platform the crowd will shut their mouths and you can hear a pin drop as the lifter’s psych-up begins. No pond ripples there. The only time the crowd has to be told to quiet is when they end up getting excited for the lifter and forget themselves.

Despite this situation, there arises extraneous noise the speaker cannot control but the lifter still must deal with. A truck rolls by outside, the kids from the adjoining pool or rec center are making a racket in the hall, someone’s cell goes off, and so on. These have to be shut out, but how?

The tool used most often here is meditation. There are many ways to meditate, most of which are beyond the scope of this author. Instead I will direct you to do a little search yourself here. In this way you will hopefully find a system that works best for you. Smith however describes one that is very applicable to weightlifting.

performance anxiety, sports psychology, olympic weightlifting, weightliftingThis is the simple chanting of a mantra. This is a word that you repeat over and over again to yourself. This word can be anything. You will want to choose a word that appeals to you for whatever reason, but it should be one that calms you. This works by way of the simple mechanism of forcing you to think of the mantra over and over. The mantra pushes out thoughts of anything else. The choice of the mantra is very individual. What works for one will not work for another. Even within one person, the word may evolve and change over time. If it does, don’t fight it. The body is simply searching for its ideal relationship to your mind. Nothing mysterious or cult-like about that. After a few moments you should feel it working. You will feel calmer as the heart rate and blood pressure head towards normal.

I remember reading how the Japanese weightlifting team purposely trained next door to the judo team. The latter made frequent kiai yells that were very distracting. But after the lifters got used to it, they could concentrate anywhere.

This article only touches on the subject but the important thing is that you know the importance of shutting out external noise in order to concentrate for what is ahead. Once the external noise is silenced it is time to go to the next step. And that is to tame the internal noise you mind produces.

Have you had a competition experience where you successfully blocked out your environment? What techniques did you use? Please post to comments below. Next week, in part three, I will address controlling internal noise.

Read the rest of the series:

Psychology in the Weightlifting Arena (Part 1 of a Series)

Psychology in the Weightlifting Arena, Part 3 – Controlling Internal Noise

Pyschology in the Weightlifting Arena, Part 4 – Getting Centered

Pyschology in the Weightlifting Arena, Part 5 – Charging Up

Pyschology in the Weightlifting Arena, Part 6 – Discharging

Pyschology in the Weightlifting Arena, Part 7 – The Lifter’s Trance


1. Smith, Edward W.L.,Not Just Pumping Iron, Charles C. Thomas Publisher, Springfield, IL, USA, 1989 (ISBN 0-398-05544-0, Library of Congress 88-27569)

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