The mental side of training and success is critical to all athletes. And while some of the ways to achieve the discipline and mental well-being that best fits a particular sport may be different, the mantra is the same: a fit brain complements a fit body.
For married world-class athletes Jessica and Christian Lucero, daily life training for elite competition means intense, exhausting physical workouts as well as methods of maintaining proper focus and brain fitness.
Jessica, two-time Pan American champion, three-time record holder and member of the U.S. Weightlifting team, and her husband Christian, a CrossFit Game regional athlete rated among the top 20 in the Fittest Man Alive competition, see the mental side of their training as their own personal responsibility.
“It is my coach’s job to get my body ready,” said Jessica. “It is my job to get my mind ready.”
To help in that endeavor, the couple have partnered with BrainCo on the FocusFit platform, a brainwave training system using neurofeedback technology, available to athletes via an app, to improve focus.
In between training for world competitions (in Jessica’s case, the 2020 Olympics), the pair took some time to talk to SportsMD about their training–in some cases, together–and the physical and mental demands it takes to be at their best.
SportsMD: What are some of the special challenges you face in your respective disciplines; what are some different exercises or procedures you go through specific to weightlifting (Jessica) and CrossFit (Christian)?
Jessica Lucero: For me the hardest part in completion is the various rest times between attempts (lifts taken on stage). There is no way to prepare because we can have one attempt be on a two minute clock and others be 12-20 minute. Mentally it is very hard to not over do it or under do it in those moments. Since the times can change in the drop of the hat it has been an interesting challenge to figure out the best solution to the problem. Being mentally strong and ready for anything through those moments is the best and only way I have found to overcoming it.
Christian Lucero: The biggest challenge that I face in competition is the ability to up and down regulate my body when I need to. We normally have between 3-4 events a day for 3-4 days in a row and making sure to rest when I can, and get fired up when needed is vital to my success. Making sure I have my go to headphones and FocusFit headband is a way that I can help bring my body and mind to rest or prep for an event.
SMD: Are there ways that your training complements each other, and how often do you work out together?
Jessica: We don’t have the opportunity to work out together that often but when we have training off we will both make time to go watch the other in their session. Watching Christian train can be so motivating and can keep me focused and on track. He inspires me often and pushes me to be better.
Christian: Yes. Often times I will be performing the same movements as Jessica in workouts and in lifting sessions so we can train together sometimes and it really helps the environment and fuels our sessions to have the other person pushing and working out at the same time.
SMD: Mental toughness is critical in all sports. What are some aspects of weightlifting and CrossFit in which this is especially true?
Jessica: To me mental toughness is an interesting topic. I believe that everyone has it but not everyone knows how to use it, or to pull it out at the right times. In weightlifting we are on stage all alone, sometimes in a very quiet room under so much pressure from our own expectations, Team USA’s expectations and everyone else watching. It is very easy when we only have six opportunities to overthink or try too hard. In my sport being able to be focus, intentional but relaxed when competing is key. Mental toughness in training, however, is another story altogether. Being able to push through pain and overcome distractions for multiple years to reach your goals takes a special kind of person to be able to want it bad enough to maintain.
Christian: Mental toughness is huge, at a certain level all of the top athletes have very similar physical attributes and skills. One of the only things that sets us apart and you can really get a huge edge on the competition comes from the mental side of things.
SMD: What are some elements of FocusFit that casual athletes will find useful?
Jessica: FocusFit can be used to learn how to be more present. It can help teach and build habit forming routines to not only reach their goals mentally but to have a higher quality of life through meditation and awareness skills it can provide.
SMD: Christian, you created the Pardon Me podcast–what have you learned from that experience and what are your goals in that space?
Christian: Creating a podcast was something that I’ve wanted to do for a while now but has always been something that I didn’t know if I could balance with how busy my schedule is. I finally took the dive and could not be happier! The level of communication and interaction that I can have with my guests and audience as they listen along is unparalleled. I love the type of honesty and real topics that we can delve into with the space and plan to continue to use that platform to tell the stories that make this life great. The biggest thing that the podcast has taught me is that everyone has a story to tell, and often times, they don’t even realize it.
SMD: Jessica, how is training for the 2020 Olympics going and what are the next steps in working towards that goal for you?
Jessica: Training for the 2020 Olympics is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. When I was training for the 2016 Games I was so young and excited and inspired and this quad (four years) has had a lot of rough turn of events from life and sport. Getting older doesn’t make it any easier to make an Olympic Team but I do feel it has made me wiser and more mature in listening to my body and making smarter choices to reach my goals. The next steps are to train for the next few months without competing after a long 2019 of international competition/travel to get stronger and better. My last opportunity to qualify will be my next competition in March in Havana, Cuba.
SMD: And, Christian, would you like to see CrossFit become an Olympic sport one day? Maybe you and Jessica can cheer each other on in Paris 2024!
Christian: Honestly, that would be an incredible experience to be able to cheer each other on in Paris in 2024! I would love to be able to share that with Jessica. I think that it definitely has the potential to be an Olympic sport but it definitely has its work cut out for it and hope that it can make the necessary steps to eventually be that kind of sport and organization.
SMD: Finally, what advice would you give recreational athletes who want to compete in weightlifting or CrossFit?
Jessica: Enjoy the process. When I was young one of the older athletes, an Olympian signed my shoe. She told me no matter what happens enjoy the journey. I never understood it until I got older but I value that advice SO much now. I truly believe that if you are not enjoying the training, the learning the growing and all the opportunities (good and bad) weightlifting can throw at you the end result will never matter. We spend so many years chasing a goal that happens takes six minutes! The majority of the time we commit is spent through hard trainings, heartbreaks, highs and lows. It all is part of life and it is all a beautiful experience we will never get back.
Christian: Have a why before you start. Know your WHY so that way then the going gets tough you can lean on that to get you through.
Ed. note: some answers gently edited for clarity.