For the past three months, I had a mental block in my weightlifting. About a year ago, I hurt my shoulder working on cleans. I was new to the movement, but trusted my strength. At the encouragement of a coach, I decided to go heavier, not taking a moment to consider whether or not my technique would match my strength. I got through my workout, but not without considerable pain: I’d been doing the movement, but not properly, and my body paid for it.
I took a lot of time off from this, and other overhead or Olympic weightlifting movements like snatches or handstand push-ups. I was worried about my shoulder and I didn’t want to aggravate it further due to my own misunderstandings and inability to self-correct. However, as my enjoyment of Crossfit grew, along with my desire to start competing, it became clear this wouldn’t work: these movements are essential to the sport and simply ignoring them wouldn’t work. So I got a coach.
My coach helped a lot with my technique on the clean and jerk and snatches. They’re both complex, compound movements that require coordination, skill, and focus, as well as knowing when to hit which cues at the right time for a more efficient and safe performance. With lots of practice, my technique improved a ton, but the weight wasn’t going anywhere.
In the beginning of October, my PR for cleans was 45kg, or just about 100lbs. In the beginning of November, it was the same. In December, still more of the same. My coach had repeatedly tried to get me to 50kg/110lb because he saw I had the strength for it, but each time it was time for me to get under the bar, I bailed. I was self-sabotaging, subconsciously, out of fear of getting hurt. I had a very tangible, solid number for my mental barrier: 50kg.
The more this happened, the more anxiety I felt as I approached the bar for cleans. I can’t do this. You have to get this just right. This is going to hurt. Negative thoughts kept running through my mind and even though I knew they weren’t helpful, the anxious sensation started to come automatically the moment I planted my feet under the bar and gripped. I would breathe and focus, but my heart continued to pound.
Of course, over time, my ego started to chime in, chipping away at my confidence a little bit more. Other (kind) people at my box would make very sweet and encouraging comments like, “There’s no way your clean PR is lower than mine, I don’t believe it!” I’d see other people PR’ing or maxing out on the workouts and I’d be there, still stuck at the same weight, knowing that the only thing preventing me from improving was my mind. I wanted to go back to the days before I knew that I could get hurt and, like a child, could approach the movement without fear.
I started training cleans myself, at my own pace, with my own weights. Confidence is critical. We often underestimate baby steps: sure, it may not seem like we’re going very far, but incremental improvements paired with proof that you’re capable can provide enough confidence and morale to keep moving forward, even when the finish line seems very far off.
This past week, I was able to PR not once, but twice, on cleans by going slowly, trusting my own pace, and trusting my own mind. Once I got 46kilos on the bar, I moved up by one kilo at a time. 47. 48. 50. 51. I hit each one confidently and, sure enough, moved past my mental barrier of three full months.
Progress is progress. Much like meditation, approaching sport involves doing tedious work and tirelessly shutting down the negative voices in your mind. A thought pops up? Breathe through it. Think you can’t make it? Breathe through it.
Everything in life is mindset and how we choose to approach challenges and victories alike. There’s no time to let your ego take over to tell you what you can and cannot do. Nevertheless, sometimes it will do just that. When it’s time to break through a barrier, there’s nothing left to do but breathe and trust yourself in the moment. Eventually, slowly but surely, your ego will sit down, be quiet, and let you do you.
When your attention moves into the Now, there is an alertness. It is as if you were waking up from a dream, the dream of thought, the dream of past and future. Such clarity, such simplicity. No room for problem-making. Just this moment as it is.
– Eckhart Tolle