Lifting a huge barbell explosively above your head requires strength, technique and a certain fearlessness. I trained this sport – Olympic style Weightlifting– for about two years, and it seems like I find something new about it every day. I recently had the chance to ask two members of the U.S. Olympic weightlifting team, Jourdan Delacruz and CJ Cummings, how they train, how to stay motivated, and what it’s like to step on the platform under so much pressure.

Your answers were illuminating for me, partly for what they do differently from me and from each other, but also for the same thing. Both of them told me, for example, that beginners need to be patient and remember that they’re going to be around in the long run – something my coach has told me a million times.

This is a sport where you only do two exercises: the snatch, which brings a barbell up off the floor in one quick motion, and the clean and jerk, which does it in two steps. The moves are tricky and you need to do them consistently enough to become second nature. Pulling a little too hard or keeping your balance a little too far forward or backward can mean the difference between a miss and a make, a win and a loss.

So you spend hours working out every week, and it all boils down to six minutes on a big day.

How do you stay motivated to exercise every day?

My trainer programs me three to five days of weightlifting every week. I usually fill in my remaining time with other exercises and training for other sports, but that’s because otherwise I get bored and enjoy lifting. I find staying physically busy works wonders for my mental health. But it would probably be different for me if lifting was my job, so I asked these two Olympians how they stay motivated to exercise every day.

“You know, there are days when it gets tough, but you just have to keep remembering your goal and why you’re doing it,” says CJ, also mentioning that often people don’t know how much fun Olympic lifting can be. “I love doing what I do.”

Jourdan also connects her everyday training with her goals. “I have my big goals and then I have my very small goals,” she says; As a recent example of the latter, she cites that in the chaos of 2020, she’s getting heavier on squats and focusing on the mental health loop.)

But what makes both of them show up every day is simply the fact that they do. “Because weightlifting is part of my life right now, it’s become a routine,” says Jourdan. “For example, it’s weird not to train on a Monday or not to train on a Tuesday.”

How do you prepare to be your best on a particular day?

Climaxing for a major competition is another complex skill. You want to be physically strong, but not exercise so much that you get tired. You also want to be mentally sharp and focused, but not nervous.

“I tell myself, okay, it’s like going to the gym,” says CJ. He remembers having done these exercises thousands of times and trying to focus on the familiarity of the exercises rather than the pressure.

Jourdan describes a process of consciously narrowing your focus. “After about four or five weeks, I try to make my routine very simple. I tune in to my diet, my mental abilities and recovery – basically all aspects of the training itself. I try to make this very routine. ”On the day of the competition:“ I put it down. And then I concentrate exactly on what I’m doing on the platform. “

What do you think about when you step onto the platform?

And then the day comes. We spoke before the Olympics (Jourdan has already started this week; CJ’s train is yet to come). This is how the two jacks describe how they approach the bar.

I work really hard to have a very simple mindset, ”says Jourdan. She tries not to focus on the importance of the competition, just to focus on “a keyword or two” to think about while lifting. “My favorite keyword, and one that I’ve been holding onto for a few years now, is to feel the ground with my full foot,” she says. (“I don’t know if that makes sense?” She asks, but I assure her it is – it’s a catchphrase I use too. If you’re not a weightlifter, it helps you keep your balance , so “In the end, the pole is directly above you and not in front of or behind you.)

CJ admits getting nervous on a big day, especially before his kick-off, the first lift of the competition. (We all do.) He seeks distraction to control his nerves. “I don’t even think about the elevator,” he says until he’s on the platform. “I don’t think about anything but the elevator. So I could be thinking about what I’m going to do after the competition, I could be thinking about what I’m going to eat tonight, or if I have to do something else later in the week because I don’t want to start thinking about the lift because when If I think about it too much, it will just rack my head. ”His favorite sign is simply“ pull, jump and crouch, ”a phrase he kept hearing from his trainer. “But I don’t really think about it until the last second before I start.”

Was it scary or intimidating the first time you lifted something heavy?

Let’s talk for a second about the fact that people who compete in this sport stretch a bar from the floor to overhead, a bar that can weigh more than twice its weight. (My own clean and jerk is only slightly above my body weight; CJs and Jourdans are both more than double that.) It takes a certain fearlessness to approach a heavy bar that you basically throw up and then yours Using inertia to pull one’s body down while the thing is momentarily weightless. The whole concept is almost unbelievable. I was curious about these athletes’ attitudes towards what they do.

“That’s the crazy thing,” says CJ, who started when he was 11. “I never found it intimidating. The first time I walked into the gym, I saw these guys lifting massive weights and I thought, Whoa. I would like to do that, for example. So I just thought, how can I do this? And that’s where we started training. ”

Jourdan admits feeling the fear and doing it anyway. “Oh, it’s super intimidating,” she says. “I mean, even now I still get nervous when it comes to really big elevators. But when I first started, I was very fortunate to be surrounded by already pretty strong women at the gym, so I could see other women and girls lifting heavier weights than me and feeling a little more confident [myself.]”