Ken Clark was an awesome US weightlifter in the 80s. He won 6 Nationals, competed at the World Championships, and even competed at the Olympics! At the 1984 Olympics, he "clarked" his 2nd and 3rd Clean & Jerk attempts. This was disappointing in the face of having a shot at a medal but, unfortunately, these second and third attempts were what he'll be most remembered for. And now, we call pulling the bar but not going under the lift a "clark."
So how do we keep from "clarking"? How do we ensure going under the bar? How can we not miss with any given weight? Here are some ways to fix up your "fung-shway" and break past mental blocks:
Trust your technique: It's max out day! You're moving literally better than you've ever moved before tearing through 80%, 85%,90%, and even 95%! You put on 101% to take the PR and suddenly your pull completely changes. As you start pulling the bar you feel the weight and you try to compensate to make the pull happen but you end up standing straight up wondering why you didn't end up under the bar! We all tend to hear "trust your technique" but at that moment where weights "feel" or "seem" heavy THIS is when you have to do just that. Fight to hold your positions - this means that you're going to need to keep your bodyweight from shifting in your feet, prevent yourself from trying to heave the bar, and prevent yourself from making some other wild sudden change. Possibly, there's swinging off the hips so your body doesn't want to go under the bar or maybe the weight just feels heavy. Either way, when the going gets heavy TRUST YOUR TECHNIQUE. Now is NOT the time to go back to old crutches or to do something randomly new.
Positive Vibes ONLY: Before you take a heavy lift, what are you telling yourself? What is your focus on? It's very helpful to maintain positive self-talk and literally tell yourself "you can do this" or "I'm about to kick ass" and in doing so you'll more likely do what you say. Using more negative self-talk like "I'll just see how it feels," "I better be able to do this," or literally placing any expectation on yourself is going to lead to a negative experience. So, for a positive experience speak positive words! Even in the event of a miss, give yourself words to grow on like what went well (i.e. "that really didn't feel that bad, I can do this!" or "here's the fix I could have made and then I would have made it!" Only speak positive words and you'll only receive positivity back from the barbell. The moment you start "deserving" things from the barbell, it's going to teach you a very difficult lesson. No matter how great the program, this sport is 100% mental so the best first place to start is by giving yourself positivity around EVERYTHING in the sport - including misses! We're only human and we're going to miss! Not to mention, missing is part of the natural course of learning and pushing the boundaries. You should use these instances as a tool to grow - NOT a tool to break you down!
You're doing just fine! I've seen some pretty wild things, including lifters making very little gain on their total over the span of an entire year only to suddenly explode 10kg in the Snatch and 10kg in the Clean & Jerk. Yes, clarking and missing SUCKS but you've got to keep on keeping on! Letting it get to you at all is going to place up walls on yourself and these numbers are going to become burdens rather than opportunities. Let the missing go and, again, learn from it! There's nothing wrong with you. In fact, clarking has been done at every level of sport. It should be avoided like the 'rona but if it does happen just destroy the weight the next time and put your anger into focus.
Strategies to try -
Focus is more than lifting in silence. It's finding your fung-shway. A primordial thought process of FIGHT - not flight. We all have it in us. We just have to learn to unlock that focus and concentration. To begin, focus on your breath and relaxing your body. Put any side thoughts into ONE thing to do well during the lift. Try to visualize yourself doing that one thing VERY well and then do it! Sit in a relaxed position between ALL attempts, evenly space out rest times, and PUT THE PHONE AWAY. Believe it or not, things that draw your attention away from the barbell will end up tripping you up when you finally do need to focus if you haven't been focused leading up to that lift. Prime your thought patterns. It's one thing to have a physical lifting ritual, but establish your mental ritual of positivity pre- and post- lift and then stick to it during every detail of your warm up - EVEN the empty barbell. (i.e. "Damn I feel good today" - "I'm going to move so great" - "I did a really good job pulling under that rep"
Adjusting your goals:
Another good tactic if you're stuck on a range of numbers, how something feels, or maybe one singe number or color of plates is to increase your goal! If you've been wanting a 90kg Snatch for months now but every time you get to 90kg, you won't let yourself move under the bar - then start putting your thoughts toward your inevitable rise to 105kg or 110kg. Soon, you will probably find yourself putting less emphasis on 90kg and getting under that weight won't mean so much.
Throw the negative words awayyyyy forever!:
Believe it or not, you asking your coach or even yourself "why is my brain broken" or "my body is trash" is having a much greater impact on your lifting than you realize. There's literally nothing wrong with you. Yes it could be a mental block with a number but it could also be how stressed you are coming in from work or life, it could be a technique breakdown, or any number of things going on. At the end of the day though, the EASIEST thing you can do is change what you say about yourself. Instead of saying "I don't know what just happened" if you miss, try finding the solution to the problem. If all you speak are words of destruction, then you'll have a hard time constructing a solution to the problem. When a lifter misses a lift and comes back with "it just went behind me," the entire room knows they can get it done. When a lifter misses a lift and comes back with "everything was going so well and then I get to this weight and it all just went to shit," we all know the situation that's about to unfold. What you speak into the universe is what it's going to return.
It doesn't matter how many times you've lifted a weight, if you disrespect the bar it will teach you a very valuable lesson. You must approach EVERYTHING like its a max weight. You must respect the barbell NO MATTER WHAT. When lifters say things like "I better be able to do that" - first, you're giving yourself a negative expectation that if you don't in fact "do that" then there's something wrong. Other examples include "I should be able to do this," "I've hit this so many times and now I can't," and "what is wrong with me today." You MUST have zero expectations when you approach the bar. Even with a back squat! If you go, "well last month I hit this so there's no reason why I shouldn't be able to do this" then you're in for a rude awakening when the bar slaps you with its retaliatory humbling. Again, if you place expectations on the barbell then you will be humbled. If you trust your technique, trust yourself, and respect EVERY weight from 20kg all the way up to 300kg then good things will happen. In fact, a good lift lesson if you haven't already learned it - if you place expectations on ANYTHING or ANYONE, then you will be let down 100% of the time. Learning to trust is a very difficult thing to do, especially as the barbell gets heavier - BUT intentionality + positivity will yield the crops you want. But you must remove the expectations.
Enjoy lifting, PRs don't matter:
PRs are FUN. But, they don't matter. So if that's how you place value on yourself then its going to be a hard time. Focus on enjoying lifting and why you do this sport. The moment you start trying to place expectations on this sport, your gains will come to a screeching halt. Instead, focus on enjoying and building quality rather than putting your focus on the number on the bar! As you build quality, you'll become more efficient and suddenly you'll find yourself doing fun things with those bigger numbers we all want. And, you'll actually enjoy the hours you spend in the gym honing your craft. And wow, isn't that what it's all about? If you expect numbers like Kate Nye or Mattie Rogers, you will end up very disappointed. Instead, focus on the little things and have fun! This doesn't mean don't set goals, it means that once you set those goals - trust the process, trust yourself, trust your technique, and build an unstoppable mindset!
Get hype, get daring, and declare battle on the weights:
We talked about the importance of focus THROUGHOUT your training. And a big part of this is learning to unleash your FIGHT. Sooooo many lifters have started with me and declared that "that's just not me, I can't and don't know how to do that." But then a few weeks later, they're screaming for others to lift the bar and they're personally going to their dark place of focus. We're animals. Just a little more domesticated. But there's a very real reason why we are the top of the food chain. We are the craziest animals to have ever existed and can do some CRAZY planned things. You DO have this insanity within. We just have to get it out. And the way you do that is by learning to trust yourself and learning how to attack. Some people call this "the zone" or "flow state" or "going to your special place" or "getting focused." It's not quantifiable. It's unleashing your methodical attack on the steel. I've heard in interviews with Strongman competitors suggesting they go to a place where they feel like they're having to save loved ones to get the attack they need on a big weight. This is more difficult in Olympic Weightlifting because if you put too much sauce on a Snatch then it's not going to go up. So for us Weightlifters, we need to learn how to pinpoint that anger into a very focused aggression. You must be like a surgeon, detailing every precise movement quickly and critically while using maximal intensity - Truly, intentional. In summary, attack the freaking bar with the skills you learn in practicing lighter weights. This sport is not some fluff act, it's controlled and aggressive. It's not enough to just hit the appropriate positions, it's just as important to unleash your strength onto the barbell very deliberately and very intentionally. Get out of your head and let your body do what it was meant to do. You can do it!
In all things, you MUST find the positive. Bad nutrition will kill you when you're 70, but bad stress will kill you when you're in your 30's. In a sport that's all about stress management, finding the positive even in negative situations outside and inside the gym is extraordinarily important. Once you're in the gym, condition your mind to accept the place as THE stress-free safe zone. Here, you can unleash the beast and pull out your primitive self. Here, you are a bad ass. All in all, it's going to take getting out of your head, letting your technique do its thing, and staying positive even when things don't go as planned. It's no easy task, but none of us are doing Weightlifting or any strength sport because it's easy. YOU CAN DO IT!