For me, the hardest part of weight lifting is controlling my mind. While my coach has helped me tremendously with my strength (I’ve added 20kg to my deadlift and 10kg to my log press since starting with him in July!), he has made the most impact on the mental side of my lifting.
On Wednesday, we did our first session together since mid-August (he had an ACL operation and has been on bed rest ever since). Although he hasn’t been training me in person, he has been guiding me and helping me mentally over the past few months. Without him, I am confident I would have tanked both of my competitions.
Ever since I started lifting, I’ve struggled mentally. I held myself back for a long time and always responded with “I can’t” when challenged to lift a heavier weight or try an advanced exercise. It wasn’t until I tried 5/3/1 training just over a year ago that I realised how much I had been holding myself back.
Even though I started training harder, it still really wasn’t to my true potential. The weights were challenging, but I wasn’t giving absolutely everything. I thought I was pushing myself, but I was always very slow and particular about increasing my weights – instead of just chucking on the weight and seeing if I could lift it. In a messed up way, it took having an accident for me to really push myself to the limit (carefully, of course).
It’s amazing how many strong(wo)man competitors have overcome some kind of health issue. Three of the top strongwomen in the UK have been told they would never be able to do more than light exercise, and one of them was given just weeks to live (she’s fine now, thankfully!). The things these women have gone through makes my operations look pale in comparison.
I think competing comes down to doing something you were told you can’t, while giving a big FU to the world in the process. I don’t compete to make anyone else happy except myself.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t doubt myself. I fall into the comparison trap pretty quickly when it comes to lifting. For example, I made friends with one of the women I beat in my first competition and having got to know her numbers (deadlift – 165kg, squat – 125kg, bench – 95kg, all while weighing less than me!), I honestly have no idea how I placed higher than her.
I recently found out that one of my strongwoman “idols”, who puts up similar numbers to those above, has only been lifting for 18 months. And let’s not even talk about my training partner, who has only been lifting since February and can squat almost double what I do!
On one hand, I feel inspired to always be better and stronger, but on the other hand seeing these numbers equally makes me feel down. There have been many moments I’ve wanted to throw it all in and quit with impatience. In fairness, I have only been training for strength for five months, so you still could consider me a newbie. I just can’t ever imagine posting numbers like that, even though I once never dreamed of deadlifting 120kg.
My coach spent a lot of time teaching me to treat each event as an individual competition. I struggle the most with log pressing, which is usually the first or second event in a competition. If you don’t have your head under control, you will tank the entire competition if you have a bad event performance. I allow myself approximately 10 seconds to think about my performance and then I start focusing all my attention on the next event. I have the videos so know I have plenty of time to critique myself later. I also use music, deep breathing and visualisation to take my mind off things. Adrenaline really helps and so far I have consistently managed to hit PRs.
Funnily enough, I seem to be the exact opposite in training. I psych myself out way too much when I know I’m attempting a PR. I’m actually at the point where I can’t hit PRs on my own anymore – I need someone else to tell me I can do it.
On Wednesday night, I knew things weren’t going to be good after my warm up sets. I was so excited to log press with my coach and I wanted to show him all my new PRs – the last time I saw him, I was just getting 40kg up for a single, whereas lately I’ve been doing 3 sets of 3, and during my last session I hit 45kg.
I hadn’t pressed in two weeks prior to Wednesday because of my holiday, so I blame my performance on that and the fact he changed my technique. I’ve been training the log twice a week a certain way, so it’s easy to get comfortable in bad habits. He had me working on flaring my elbows out before the clean, and pushing my elbows right over parallel so the log suffocates me and bruises me even more than usual.
I failed my first rep at 40kg, because my brain was screaming no. Everything felt wrong and new. Once I clean the weight, I have to press it as quick as I can. The second I pause to readjust, I start overthinking things and I never get it up. I start thinking the weight is too heavy and that I’m going to drop it on my head, and I stop using my legs altogether.
We tried a few reps at 45kg but it just wasn’t happening. We dropped back to 40kg and told myself to harden up, and finally got two sets of 3. The good news is that he thinks I will be getting 50-55kg up as soon as I get my technique sorted. I even tried to clean the 60kg log, which I would have never done a few months ago.
There were a few moments I almost stormed out of the gym, but the good news is I don’t have the urge to cry like I did before. I just want to kick and smash things. Anger seems to work in the end!
Giving up is the coward’s way out. I could have easily never lifted again. Every time someone dominates me in the gym or competition, I could walk away. Every time I fail a weight, I could stop trying. But I don’t. I will never know if I can do something unless I try.
I want to keep striving to be a bigger, stronger, better version of myself every day.
Do you struggle with controlling your mind during lifting?