Article length: 600 words
Reading time: 4-6 minutes
I’m currently reading “The Art of Learning” by Josh Waitzkin, a story of a young chess prodigy who was the basis for the movie “Searching for Bobby Fischer” and later went on to be successful in martial arts.
In chapter 5, Josh discusses his struggles with distractions as a child competitor. In one story, he loses a match because a Bon Jovi song was stuck in his head and he couldn’t focus. Over time these distractions expanded, such as the ticking of a chess clock sounding like thunder in his mind.
Josh explains how he overcame these distractions, “I realized that in top-rank competition I couldn’t count on the world being silent, so my only option was to become at peace with the noise.”
He did so literally by placing himself in uncomfortable circumstances like playing loud music while practicing, often times music he didn’t enjoy. Also playing in smoky chess shops, something he always hated.
The result, Josh was more resilient to factors outside of his control and could focus on the chess game more intensely. The sound, temperature and music in the room no longer affected him. By building resilience in practice he was able to lose himself in the game again.
I find this type of resilience training to also be important in barbell sports. We all like to feel comfortable. Lift with our favorite bar at the gym, workout at the same time every day, listen to our music when going for a PR. But all of this comfortable inevitably makes us less resilient. If you compete at a CrossFit competition you’re going to use the bar in front of you, not bring yours from home. If you lift at a powerlifting meet they aren’t going to change the song just for your lift. Too much comfort in training can lead to massive under performance in competition.
Here are several ways you can build more resilience in your training and improve your competition performance as an athlete. These don’t need be done all the time, but should be thrown in here and there.
*Disclaimer: Don’t get carried away with this. Understand what variables are necessary to manipulate and which aren’t. For example, if you’re a competitive Weightlifter you don’t need to practice lifting in non-Weightlifting shoes, because you’re allowed to wear shoes in competitions. On the other hand, it may be smart to train on different bars, because you’re unaware of what they’ll have at each meet. There are people that think wearing a belt, knee sleeves or whatever makes you weak, but that makes no sense. If you can control that variable during competition you can train with it however you want. Manipulate things in training that will not be constant during competition.
1. Use different implements (barbells, rings, pull-up bars, running routes, swimming lanes, etc.)
This may seem harmless, but you may underestimate how much you rely on your perfect surroundings for a good performance. Try running a different route, using a different pull-up bar than usual or swimming in your "unlucky" lane to build resilience.
2. Train at different times during the day.
This has always been a big mental block for me. I’ve routinely trained in the afternoon or night and when my schedule forces me to train in the AM I automatically reduce my expectations. When I look at my performances though, there’s no drop off, it’s all in my head because I’m uncomfortable initially.
3. Learn to train through days when technique is feeling off.
You can’t control how things will feel on competition days. So if things are feeling off while warming up, you need to have the confidence that you can still perform well because you’ve done so in training before.
4. Work out with other peoples music or no music at all.
5. Train with different people than usual or train alone.
There are endless examples, but the most important thing is changing a variable that you’re comfortable with. Less comfort in training equals more resilience in competition.