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.
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.