Wes Kitts - From the Gridiron to the Olympics

Wes Kitts - From the Gridiron to the Olympics

United States Olympic weightlifter. For Wes Kitts, that phrase was a pipe dream when he first began his training journey as a 24-year-old. Starting his career in 2014, the former college athlete has experienced a rapid rise in the weightlifting world. With years of training under Dave Spitz at California Strength, the now-31-year-old was selected to represent the U.S. in the Tokyo Olympics this summer. Kitts sat down with Virus to discuss his training routine, his love of competition, and what it means to inspire the next generation of lifters.

Wes Kitts is a natural born competitor, regardless of the sport. As a former college football player, he had a deep athletic base to pull from long before he ever set foot in a gym to pursue his weightlifting career. But just as important as his physical ability was his mentality and approach to developing his new passion. More than anything, Kitts understands the importance of sacrificing short-term struggle for long-term improvement and gain. 

Kitts started his weightlifting career at 24-years-old in 2014, following the end of his football career. His dreams of gridiron success and Super Bowls titles was replaced by snatches and cleans, with his new love fulfilling his natural thirst for self-improvement and competition. But he does admit that he missed out on some basics due to starting at an older age, including being comfortable with the barbell.

“I didn’t get my very first formal teaching in weightlifting until 2015, so I had to work really hard to understand the movements inside and out,” says Kitts.  

“In weightlifting, you train as much as six months before you even get to compete. You take a huge amount of time in between competitions so it can be hard to keep your focus and keep working hard when you have all this time without a meet coming up”

And despite his experience in competing at a high level, Kitts says that he still gets nervous before meets. To reduce the nerves, he relies on the structure of his training schedule. Kitts starts his cycle eight weeks before a competition, working on very specific training movements while also fine-tuning his eating and sleeping habits. As the weeks progress, he becomes more serious and intentional about his workouts. 

Kitts then makes another adjustment two weeks prior to a meet. With the hard work already completed, he limits his heavy days. Instead, this period is filled with light movement and regaining energy before it’s showtime. 

As for competition day, Kitts takes care of the basics like eating a light meal, not drinking water, and stretching. But mostly, the hours before a meet are dedicated to staying calm and relaxing. As Kitts says, you don’t want to “burn energy in bed before competitions.”

“It’s all about trying to relax and calm your mind. Be ready when the time comes, and not before,” adds Kitts. 

“I learned to enjoy the grind and the process, waking up sore, and still trying to find a way to get after it”

Kitts’ routine paid off by setting a new Pan American record in 2019 while also taking gold in the Pan American Games the same year. All the long hours, routines, and gold medals led up to the ultimate achievement: Kitts was selected to represent the United States at this summer’s Tokyo Olympic. Kitts humbly admits he wasn’t necessarily aiming to be an Olympian when he first began training, but he understands the importance of the accomplishment.  

“When I realized there would be an opportunity to go to any competition with a U.S.A. singlet on, it’s always been a big deal to me,” says Kitts about the upcoming games. 

Kitts credits the mentorship he received from Dave Spitz at California Strength for being able to make up his gap in experience. With Spitz guiding him his entire weightlifting journey, Kitts eventually went all-in on his career in 2016, moving from Tennessee to the Bay Area to fully commit to the Cal Strength program. Simply put, Kitts believes that “Cal Strength is the best place in the country to train for weightlifting.” 

“I developed a passion for getting beat up and seeking out more”

Kitts credits his “athletic base” for making it possible for him to compete at a high level without the same knowledge or experience as his peers. This athletic foundation not only showed up physically, but mentally as well. Kitts was used to getting pushed by countless coaches throughout his sports career, through endless workouts, conditioning sessions, and two-a-days. All those hours prepared him for the long, grueling days at Cal Strength.

But regardless of the sport, Kitts says that the most important lesson is having the discipline to do the work today to reap the benefits in the future. 

“Delayed gratification is one of the most important lessons anyone can learn,” says Kitts. 

“Passion is something that makes you happier when you’re doing it, something that improves your life”

Kitts has also come full circle through the years, where he is now the one being looked up to and emulated by the next generation of lifters. He always appreciated the communal aspect of weightlifting, with athletes constantly supporting each other. Kitts also takes his position as a role model seriously, understanding how his content can play a part in motivating other lifters. Of course, that connection to his supporters is helped by the authenticity and love he brings to weightlifting. 

“That’s one of the most special things about competing in this sport. People reach out to you and let you know that you’ve inspired them, or they find your lifting motivational,” adds Kitts.

Kitts’ team recently welcomed another addition with the birth of his child. He leans heavily on his support system in and out of the gym. He discusses how grateful he is for his wife, who takes care of the essentials such as waking up at night so he can rest for the workouts ahead. The new family responsibility added another layer of motivation in his desire to succeed, as well as another person who Kitts can share his Olympic journey with one day. 

It may be obvious considering the highs he’s reached, but Kitts has little regrets over the sacrifices he’s made for his lifting career. And while he’s experienced a quick rise, his mentality and competitive outlook was honed for years and decades before he ever set foot at Cal Strength. Ultimately, regardless of age, experience, or natural athleticism, there are no secrets to performing at the highest level. It comes down to the basics of working hard everyday, delaying gratification, and going all in to pursue your passion, even if it means packing up and moving across the country. Do that for years, and you never know what you’ll achieve.  

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