Every athlete wants the PR totally. The first place ends. The victory that seals the title of the best in the state, in the country or in the world. These golden moments are no coincidence, especially if you want to compete at a high level – and this applies to any sport. For Olympic weightlifters like Wes Kitts and Alyssa Ritchey, years of hard work, long hours in the gym, and consistent attention to all variables have made them the champions they are today. They have worked hard to prepare for meetings with meticulous and sometimes brutal training and nutrition protocols.
All of this paid off at the 201
Ritchey dominated the 49-kilogram weight women who take home three gold medals, two Pan-American records, and two 107-kilo pure and heavy American records – a feat that represents the highest percentage of body weight an American has ever lifted.
physical, emotional and personal sacrifices when your gaze is directed to outsmarting everyone around you. While not all of us will reach an international elite platform, Kitts and Ritchey's preparation methods are worth mimicking if you want to improve and become a force in a competitive sport.
We've teamed with these two Olympic rivals to talk about the mindset, coaching, and details that are non-negotiable to make these moments of the gold medal come true.
Describe your training for the Pan American Championships. What was the hardest part? How did it differ from previous training cycles?
Wes Kitts: In January we started to work on basic strength, mainly squatting, and I trained about 30 hours a week working as well as possible. It was more than ever before – 15 sessions a week for about three months. This initial block is easily the hardest part of a meet prep. Then we started dialing in more to grab and clean and jerk off. The last six weeks of training went very well and were heavy several times, and I had every expectation to make every lift. I felt very confident, prepared and looked forward to the meeting overall.
Alyssa Ritchey: First, you should only reduce weight if you stand on the podium at national or international meetings. It makes no sense to make the sport fun or if you have a long way to go to reach a high level. Second, weight reduction never gets easier. But I think many people do not care what they do. How do you know what to change next time? I write everything down – amounts of fats and carbohydrates, timing, water intake, how much I move or not – so I notice trends and know how my body weight shifts in one way or another. When that's said, you have to keep track of your weight all the time. The entire last week of the meeting, you should not do any extra physical activity – all of which contributes to fatigue, especially if you cut and already have little energy anyway.
Wes Kitts: Everything you eat should be something positive for your performance – protein, vegetables, water. I stay very clean, but do not usually starve to death. My advice is to take and hold more than you think, and be prepared to cut water in the last few hours if you lose 1-2 percent of your body weight. Eat cleanly until the meeting and make sure that your weight is only slightly above the point where you need to keep yourself fit enough before the meeting. You can then remove water in the last 8 to 24 hours and rehydrate after weighing.
Discuss the factors outside of workouts and diets that affect your performance. How important are sleep, recovery and moral support?
Wes Kitts: When the meeting draws closer, of course, everything is important. Rest especially. For me it is important that I get 8-10 hours of sleep per night, especially on the last days that lead to the competition. There's no need to stay up late, watch TV or play around on your phone. About a month after this meeting, I went to a woman who teaches yoga to athletes, uses the cryochamber when needed, and goes to the sauna 4-5 times a week. The massage used to be in the mix in preparation for the meeting, but this time I felt so good that I did not feel like I needed it so much.
Alyssa Ritchey: If you are not sleeping, you probably are not going to be at the top level. In the last six weeks of training, I have not set an alarm; I always wake up when my body wakes up. I make sure that I go to bed at 9pm. each night. I also change the time of day I train so that my body gets used to the changes I have to make based on the venue or timing of the competition. I do physical therapy two to three times a week as I prepare for the competition – otherwise my body would just fall apart – and I get a lot of cupping, needles and massage. As for the support, I would be fine, even if I had none, because that's just who I am. I do that because it makes me happy, but the people I have in my life have to support me, otherwise it just would not work.
What does the meeting week look like?  Alyssa Ritchey: I rest a lot – there is very little movement, which is important to save energy. This time it was interesting because some things went wrong the week before the meeting. My back was burdened with a massage, and then my taxman forgot to pay my taxes until April 15, so I missed my last day of practice before Pan Ams to finish her. On the way to Guatemala, the airline lost my bag with food, food scales, coffee and clothes, and my flight was delayed by nine hours. Plus, the weight reduction beyond that. But on the bottom line, I would never have used that as an excuse if I'd done it badly. I had two choices: Either I let it influence me and ruin the training that I've completed for 16 weeks, or I'll win it. Things could be a lot worse, so let's win.
Wes Kitts: Over the last two weeks, my number of sessions has decreased once a day, then every other day. In the last week, nutrition is crucial, especially in the week of your meeting, when your training days are over. You do not want to waste training sessions and you definitely do not want to waste meals. The night before the meeting I went to bed with 111.8 kilograms and had to weigh 109 kilograms. When I woke up, I was at 109.8, so I had breakfast and took two 15-minute saunas before warming up.
How do you prepare mentally before the meeting begins? Do you have a routine that you go through before each meeting?
Wes Kitts: I try to think as little as possible about it until I weigh it up. It's very easy to sit around all day idling about your performance, and that just consumes your energy. Always thinking can wear down your mind and it just makes it harder to relax. I'll watch ridiculous things on Netflix, lie around and stretch myself to stay relaxed. After weighing, I immediately start eating and drinking and warming up. In the two hours between weighing and platform, there is so much to do that I do not even have time to think about it. I go in and lift dumbbells before I know it.
Alyssa Ritchey: Actually, I have no routine. I'm just very positive in my thoughts and I focus on making my lifts and visualizing exactly what everyone should look like on the platform. I bring books – I had Ronda Rousey's book for this meeting – and I'll open a chapter to read something that helps me stay in the right mindset.
What was your concern? Meal after weighing?
Alyssa Ritchey: Three Oatmeal Packs and Pedialyte!
Wes Kitts: This time I had protein bars, nutella and bananas to eat and CytoSport to drink. Probably 1,200 calories in one session!
What's the biggest thing you need to do with your coach during a meeting? How would you describe a "good coach"?
Alyssa Ritchey: After the worlds last year, I was pretty upset about how things were going. Max and I sat down and talked about it, and it was a point in our relationship as a trainer and athlete that changed everything. He started to program very differently, and things turned around. Instead of being a child and not talking, I decided to say, "Look, that's what I feel, that's what I want, that's what I need." Communication and trust are the biggest things between a coach and an athlete. I have to trust Max, no matter what, and it's up to me to go out and do my elevators. Another thing you should remember is that you can not jump from coach to coach. Give him time to build that relationship.
Wes Kitts: It's important to find someone who can train technology, write programming, and track your diet and recovery. On the day of the session, your trainer should run count-tests, warm you up in time, make adjustments, and know when to lift. You need to be knowledgeable about the area. A good competition coach is different from a good training coach. Fortunately, mine is well-versed in everything. We have a very good communication with the programming and everything runs smoothly in the competition. Your coach must be able to properly modify your technique and program, but you also want to know that you will not be overwhelmed.
What went through your mind before and during your winning exercises?
Wes Kitts: Honestly, I only have pictures of me as I finish the elevator. At this point, I'm in speed control and always see myself smashed, regardless of number. I will do it. It will happen. The ultimate in self-confidence and the knowledge that it does not matter how hard it is – you can do it.
Alyssa Ritchey: "I'm going to make this elevator, I'm going to smash this because I train hard and I know I can do it." That's literally. If you make it more complicated, you start thinking too much.
What are you doing when things are not going as planned, either during the preparation or at the meeting?
Alyssa Ritchey: What happened to the Pan Ams with all the weird things is a great example of how to stay calm and focused. [My mentality is] I will have fun. I do not have to force myself because I like doing that. If something goes wrong, I pull myself back and say, "Hey, look, you trained hard, you're fine, you're ready for it." Much positive talk. And I remember that this sport ultimately makes me happy.
Wes Kitts: If something feels like preparation, I'll usually make up for it with more time. If something was not going well during the week or on my heavy Friday, I go to the gym on Sunday and work with an empty bar to practice my technique. I can reset it for Monday. You can not let things reach you mentally because it causes doubt. Dealing with practice problems was my main concern. If you have problems in the back room or on a platform in a meeting, direct your willpower to attack the weight on the pole, no matter what.
What are your biggest tips for other lifters Are you helping them to successfully prepare for a meeting?
Alyssa Ritchey: Knowing that it will be difficult, but worth the trouble. Everything that challenges you is worth the sacrifices and, in the end, very fulfilling. If you're new to weightlifting or strength training, just have fun and enjoy the process. They never get back the training or competition time. If you're under constant stress or a mental issue, be patient, because that's the only way you'll love what you do.
Wes Kitts: Stay relaxed before beginning the session and be prepared to quickly eat and drink after weighing, especially if you have a two-hour window of 24 hours have. Then focus on the competition. You must remain dialed in, even intensely, and give your best. If the wheels fall, it depends on one elevator.
Learn more about her journey as a weightlifter in our podcast with Alyssa Ritchey.