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Unleash Your Mental Edge: Max Lifts Take More Than Muscle

A 25 kg plate is a circle. A sweat lodge is a circle.

Weird way to start a blog, right?

You didn’t land on Normal Nancy’s website.

In the past two weeks I competed at Olympic Weightlifting nationals and I attended a sweat at a First Nation’s community and by doing both I discovered something that I think will help you lift more weight than ever before.

“I know you wanted 70 kg,” coach Del said, “but we’re going 6-for-6 this meet and I have 69 on the bar out there for you.”

I forget what he said after that. I’d already gotten myself jacked up for finally moving out of the 60s and into the 70s in a movement that brings a barbell from the floor to overhead in one (three?) quick pull(s). My heart sank but only for a millisecond before I reminded myself that it’s my job to lift and my coach’s job to choose the load.

“This is a 5 kg meet PR. I have lots of meets to snatch 70,” I said to myself.

I was going to make 69 look so easy that Del had no doubt soon I would snatch 74 for the provincial record as a 58 kg lifter.

We pulled up to the location of the sweat and an elder with two braids gracing his shoulders greeted us from behind a fence with a stick in his hand – he was tending to the rocks that would be used in the sweat. When he saw us a smile grew on his face with roots stemming from deep within his heart – that kind of grin that graces the mug of someone who receives his joy from helping when he sees people he’s about to serve.

On the outside of the fence from which he walked out from were Christmas lights in the form of a circle with two lines – like a pie with four pieces.

A 25 kg plate is a circle. A sweat lodge is a circle. A medicine wheel is a circle.


I knew that when I missed a snatch at a meet it was because I didn’t get tall; I didn’t finish the pull before I got under it.  It actually seemed like more of an instinct than a thought; I would grunt at the top of the pull. That would give me that last bit of aggression I needed to make sure I had the power it would take to make my third and final lift look perfect.


I handed the elder my tobacco, “I don’t have a specific prayer; maybe just a prayer of gratitude.” It only took meeting this man twice to learn his magnificent sense of humour, but now, as the ceremony approached I saw another side of him; he took his role in the sweat very seriously and with an air of gratitude and purpose. He nodded and made sure he knew our names so he could properly direct the prayers.

I was the next lifter. I brought my heart rate down to just the right amount of calm with some deep breathing – inhaled for a 4-count through my nose, held it for 4, exhaled for 4 through my mouth, held it for 4, repeat – before I walked out to the platform with the swagger I’d practiced more than a hundred times in training (weird as it is, I try to imagine how Jay Z would walk – I believe there’s no level of confidence like that of a hip hop artist, and the last thing I want to walk up to the barbell with in competition is doubt).

Actually, I wasn’t really thinking at all, I was just being. With no hesitation I went through my regular set-up and gripped the bar just as the 30-second buzzer went.

I crawled into the short, turtle-shaped sweat lodge behind my new female friends. The men followed. I pulled my knees in close and my long skirt and towel draped over them. Once everyone was in, the elder called for the doors to be closed.

Less with thought – more with confidence and intention – and with the adrenaline I now allowed to build up in my body, I pulled the bar from the floor. Accelerating it upward I let out my instinctive grunt at the top of the pull to bring the barbell to its top speed, and pulled my body under it punching up as hard as I could.

I smiled and stood as I knew I’d just made one of the best snatches of my career; I’d also made it a goal that meet to smile after every attempt. I let out a, “Yeah!” as I received my three white lights and dropped the bar to the ground. Past Brittney would’ve felt “not-good-enough” to grunt or to celebrate on the platform. Present Brittney was just that – present – and she didn’t care; I just wanted to express me.


The elder began praying in Cree as my new friends let out mutters of agreement after each of his statements. He then continued to pray in English, including a prayer for, “Brittney and her friends who’ve offered tobacco. May you bless them in their journeys…” He called for everyone to pray in their own ways, and then water was poured over the rocks. I sat with gratitude growing in my small but mighty heart as the songs came bursting from the lips of my new friends. In that moment I knew we were all the same – my friends in the lodge, everyone outside of it, you, and me  – we’re all connected by an energy so powerful it can move mountains or heal the sick.

A sweat lodge is a circle. A 25 kg plate is a circle. A medicine wheel is a circle.

It’s in this medicine wheel that the secret to becoming the best lifter – the best human – lies. A circle flows; it has no start or end. If you can learn to flow and just be, and if you can train your mind and harness your emotions I believe you’ll become unstoppable in lifting and in life.

A medicine wheel has four parts, and the key to unlocking your potential and climbing over the mental barricades you’ve set up is growth in all four aspects – instead of just the physical like most of us do in the gym.  

Next week I’ll share the practical tips on how to develop as an athlete, and more importantly as a human: physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.  

If you and your competitor walk up to the same barbell with the same genetics and the same amount and quality of training, recovery, and nutrition, but if your competitor has a stronger mind, knows how to channel positive emotion and ward off the negative when it comes time to compete, and has spiritual beliefs pulsating through their veins when yours are not, who do you think has a better chance of successfully making the lift?

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Photo Credit: Kory MacKinnon

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