Facing F.E.A.R. (Face Everything And Rise)

Most people have a favorite lift, usually one where they can move an impressive amount of weight fairly easily, a lift for which their unique anthropometry is particularly well suited.  Conversely, there are other lifts that leave them feeling less than inspired.  Although I do them all the time, I probably would have to say that the squat is my least favorite lift.  Some of that feeling may be due to mobility issues in my shoulders.  In reality though, a lot of people have shoulder mobility issues, and there are bars specifically designed to accommodate this, like the safety bar and the camber bar.  If I’m being totally honest with myself, the reason squat is my least favorite lift is because it kinda scares me.

When a deadlift is really heavy, the worst that will happen is that the bar won’t come up off the floor.  When an overhead press is really heavy, the bar just won’t go up from that initial starting position, so you take it out of the rack and put it right back.  Whenever I haven’t been able to return the bar to its starting position on a bench press, I’ve had safety arms and a spotter who helps me get the bar back into the the rack.  And even though I’ve got safety arms for the squat, there’s something about it mentally that causes me to picture myself getting totally crushed under the bar.  Some of that stems from the first time I failed on a heavy squat.  Craig was right behind me, spotting me; I was totally fine.  The thing is my instinct was wrong.  When you fail in a squat, you’re supposed to drop the bar off your back and scoot forward; however, when it was clear I wasn’t coming back up and Craig grabbed the bar off my back, I rolled backwards, essentially dead bugging at his feet, looking straight up at the bar which he was holding.  Hence the vivid mental image of me getting squashed, like a bug.

It was this fear of the squat, though, that served as motivation to find the right training setting for me, and the squat continues to be one of the main reasons I drive to Fivex3 three times a week; I want feedback on form and a safe place to fail.  And so ironically, the squat has become one of the lifts that is helping me build the most confidence.  This outcome is not dissimilar from what happens when we take the time to examine our fears.  In being honest with ourselves about our fears, we are better able to evaluate their legitimacy.  Clearly some fears are justified, but others are just self-limiting.  In considering our fears, we are then able to act accordingly, sometimes persisting in them and at other times taking precautionary steps that allow us ultimately to take the power away from the things that limit us by acting anyway.  Every time we face a fear and act anyway, every time we overcome an obstacle, we build self-confidence and courage.  Avoiding a challenge does the opposite.  Dale Carnegie said, “Inaction breeds doubt and fear.  Action breeds confidence and courage.  If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it.  Go out and get busy.”  Self-confidence and courage are built not in the absence of fear, but often because of fear.

What a friend's 4th grade daughter knows about fear.
What a friend’s 4th grade daughter knows about fear.

But it doesn’t have to end there.  Once we are honest with ourselves, once we name our fear and face it anyway, we can then choose to be honest about that fear with the people around us, the benefits of which can be exponential. For instance, the other week as I was working on squats, the woman in the squat rack next to me was talking to one of the coaches after her working set. Kelly is strong. She has been training at Fivex3 since 2014; she recently placed third in the PA Strongman Competition.  She is an experienced lifter and a role model.  She was telling the coach that squats were her least favorite lift,…get this…, because they scared her.  Who would have guessed?  To me, she seems fearless.  As a result of Kelly’s willingness to be honest and open about her fear, I didn’t feel alone in mine.  Facing fears and acting anyway is a struggle that largely takes place in a solitary mental landscape, generally undetected by those around us.  Realizing that others inhabit the same space and share a similar fear is hugely reassuring.  Being honest with ourselves about our fears paves the way for our own personal growth.  Being honest about our fears with those around us extends that opportunity for growth to others, and in the process it lays the foundation for a supportive community, an environment that encourages others to courageously and confidently strive for goals that might be just beyond our self-imposed limits.  So much better than being trapped in the stagnation of fear, like a dead bug in amber.

You Don’t Blame the Bar

IMG_4076On off days when you don’t make a lift, you don’t blame the bar.  You look at the factors you can control.  You look at the actual mechanics of that lift.  Was the bar in the correct position to travel in the most vertical path?  The difference of a fraction of an inch in positioning can have a huge effect on the ease with which the bar moves.  Other factors also can have a significant impact on your ability to make a lift.  Sleep, fuel, recovery, and stress levels are among the other more subtle and less predictable pieces of the overall equation.  Sometimes the effects of inadequate sleep are profound; other times adrenaline might make up the difference.  So you might resolve to practice better self-care, to pay more attention to recovery.  You focus on what you can control, because you cannot change the bar.

What if we approached the difficult people in our lives this way?  What if we accepted that we cannot change others, even with our best arguments and persuasions, even when we’re sure we’re right and that they must be stupid?  What if we accepted that we can only change ourselves, and that those around us will change only by their own volition?  Instead of a ridiculous and pointless argument, a more effective use of our energy, one that will ultimately strength us, is to identify the pieces we can control, to strategize for a better outcome, and take responsibility for improving what we can ~ even if that process begins by visualizing the difficult people in our lives as intractable pieces of iron.  😉

Seventy & Post-Surgery Strong: Susan’s Story

Some people view retirement as a chance to relax a bit more.  Not Susan Wilson.  She saw her retirement as an opportunity to get started in the gym building the strength that she had lost over the previous several years “due to working too hard, illness, and a long commute.  Now that I’m retired, I want to get back to what made me feel and look good.”  She also specifically wanted to build the strength around her knees, which had been painful for a while.  She began training with me as part of small group strength training session and then continued with personal training.

123_1As a result of her hard work, Susan has noticed that her stamina, strength, balance, and flexibility have all improved.  “When someone has more stamina,” she says, “I believe it affects their self confidence, as well as their sense of well being and how they conduct their daily affairs.  I also noticed that my posture has improved which is good because my shoulders had become a little humped from all of those years of toiling over a computer.”  Susan enjoys the way exercise makes her feel, both the good feeling of exercise endorphins and the longer lasting feeling of being strong and healthy.  As her trainer, it’s fun to hear from Susan how her work in the gym translates into her everyday life.  For example, she recently told her husband she didn’t need any help carrying a 50# bag of dog food, because she knew the farmer’s carries she did as part of her training had prepared her for such a task.

Despite all the improvements to her health and strength that Susan experienced, her doctor discovered that some of her knee pain was due to a torn meniscus, so after a little over three months of personal training, she had arthroscopic knee surgery.  Her recovery has been remarkably smooth, which her doctor credits in large part to her pre-surgery strength training which specifically targeted the muscles around her knee.  The second day after her surgery, she began taking walks and doing some stretching exercises, as well as some of the strengthening exercises we had worked on.  Her pre-surgery training also allowed her to move more effectively, taking unneeded stress off her knee and making her recovery more comfortable:  “Because the hip hinge with and without weights was part of my training, I had a much easier time getting out of chairs or up from the couch.  Otherwise my previous way of moving put weight directly on my knee and caused pain.”  Susan is continuing her training as she recovers from surgery, working with a physical therapist twice a week, with me once a week, and exercising at home.

Throughout her life, Susan has participated in various forms of physical activity ranging from ballet, to skiing, to hiking and running, to yoga and most recently Qi Gong.  She continues to make exercise a priority, because from a young age, she realized the connection between healthy foods and exercise and overall good health: “I remember growing up and noticing how many people would begin to get sick with various ailments in their late 30’s, and I promised myself that that would not happen to me.  Fortunately, my mother always served healthy meals and used good products in cooking.  I am very aware of how exercise and a good diet help stave off many illnesses.”  As Susan approaches her 71st birthday, her goals are to continue to work hard to gain maximum strength and stamina and to improve her balance.