If you follow sports at all you know that nearly all successful, high level athletes have consistent rituals and cues when it comes to the skills of their sport. For those of you who don’t follow sports I’ll explain. The three-time Wimbledon Tennis champ Serena Williams would bounce the ball five times before her first serve and twice before her second. NBA All Star Jason Kidd would blow a kiss to the rim before every free throw he ever attempted. Finally, hall of fame Wide Receiver Jerry Rice would run to the end zone after every ball he caught in pre-game warm up. He would even do this in every practice. So what’s the reason for this? Is there any advantage? A good amount of sports psychology has shown that narrowing focus for a particular skill has shown to be very beneficial to the success of that skill. Using the success of the above examples, I don’t think we could argue that.
In our sport, our training is our competition skill. The squat, the bench press, the deadlift, the clean, and the snatch, are all skills that we not only do in competition, but in training as well. I’ve learned that developing pre-game habits, rituals and cues has increased my success in both training and competition. More successful lifts in training leads to better progression. More successful lifts in competition leads to better lifts and better placing. This week I give you a written description of my pre-lift ritual as well as a sample video that shows my ritual for visual reference.
(a video is provided after each lift, so reading the text is optional)
In almost every squat I do, whether it’s a warm up, a high rep set, testing or competition, you will see me do this very same ritual before every lift off. Not only does it help narrow my focus to doing the squat, but it helps distract me from the weight I am lifting. If I’m thinking about my ritual, I’m not thinking about how much weight is on the bar. I get under the bar and get a loose position of where I want to be. I look over my right shoulder, then my left, to make sure I’m centered. Then I “dig in” and get the bar firmly planted into positon above my scapula. Almost like I’m trying to get the bar “in” me as opposed to on top of me. Then I shake my knees in and out quickly to fire up the muscles in my hips. I quickly exhale three sharp breaths out of my nose, a trick I picked up from Pavel Psatsuline in my RKC days, and I take a big breath in. As I do so, I look up to a point on the wall I have pre-determined. I lift the bar off the hangers in one motion. I look down and take my left foot straight back and plant it. I take my right foot back and slightly out to the right side. Finally, I move my left foot into position. This is what’s termed the “3 step walk out” by our good friend Dr. Mike Zourdos (who I believe picked this up from Sioux-Z Hartwig-Gary and Matt Gary of SSPT). If any subtle adjustments in foot position are needed, which they hardly ever are, then I do so after the walk out. Again, I quickly exhale three sharp breaths out of my nose, I take a big breath in as I raise my head again to my pre-determined spot, I bear down and brace with all my might and start my squat.
The Bench Press
I follow a similar process for both bench and deadlift. I use the exact same set up whether it’s a warm up, if I’m repping moderate weights, or doing heaver doubles or singles. I loosely position my hands in the approximate position on the bar. I place my left foot into position, then my right. I look at the bar and place my hands in the exact position I want them in. Then I push my feet into the floor repeatedly until I find the perfect position where I won’t get my butt off the bench. When I’m set, I lift my head and get the biggest breath in that I can. I bear down, brace, and bring my head onto the bench as I simultaneously push my body away from the bar and drive into the bench. This may sound odd, but that is my focus. Push my body into the bench. Naturally my body and the bench are not going to move, so the bar comes off the hangers. More times than not I keep my breath in, then I lock down my shoulders and start my descent.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a good video of the beginning of my set up as it varies depending on my confidence. In my last meet, video below, my confidence was high and I practically ran out to the bar. However once I step up, I will subtly adjust my foot position. The typical “shimmy” that you see most folks do. I bring my arms up and lock my shoulders down with my lats. I use a hook grip so I set the bar as deep into the webbing between my thumb and pointer finger as possible, and then grip my thumbs. There is a little wiggle I do to get my hips nice and close to the bar and my body as upright as I can. Essentially prying myself to the bar. Once I’m satisfied I’m not getting any closer, I use the same quick exhale in 3 sharp breaths through my nose that I use in my squat. Then getting the biggest breath in that I can, I shoot my hips up and out to get the stretch reflex of my hamstrings and glutes, then quickly shoot my hips right back to the bar, bear down and hold my breath, and once again press my feet into the bar as I’m trying to bring my knees out to make the bar come off the ground.