Have I ever told you about the one time that I completely lost it in the gym?
One thing I learned at CrossFit is how much I loved the barbell. I loved weight training. And the great thing about the barbell is that it doesn’t lie. It doesn’t matter what kind of day you’ve had. It doesn’t matter how strong you think you are. A loaded barbell is a loaded barbell and that doesn’t change dependent on how you feel.
You can’t really fake it either. You can’t bravado that barbell off the floor. You can’t swagger that barbell over your head. It is one of the more truthful devices in the whole world and it reveals so much.
The great thing about the Olympic lifts is that they’re super athletic. They’re super powerful, but they’re also highly, highly technical. They’re very humbling that way.
I remember one particular training session early in my career, I’d been doing CrossFit for less than two years at that point and Olympic weightlifting for about the same. I worked my way up to a very modest and probably not so pretty 205 pound power clean and jerk. Shortly after that training session, I hit a PR of 225 in a competition. I felt really good about how I was progressing, especially being so young in the sport.
Well then it all broke loose.
A week or so later when I was in training, I easily worked up to 185 pounds and then for some reason I would fail at that weight. Nine out of 10 times I would miss. I started to get incredibly, incredibly frustrated. I would throw temper tantrums like my five year old currently does. No matter what I did, the barbell never seemed to get to my shoulders. I think golfers call this the yips. It doesn’t matter how well you think you’re swinging the club. The ball always slices into the woods. Well, this is the weightlifting equivalent of that. Although my barbell didn’t go into the woods, sometimes I wished it would. I even remember kicking the barbell once.
I don’t recommend that. Kicking the barbell is always a bad idea.
Though I’m a good Christian boy and for the most part have a clean mouth, but man, the barbell really brings out the worst in me. You know those scenes in Looney Tunes when Yosemite Sam was falling off a cliff and he’s cursing the whole way down? That was me when I was weightlifting.
I pretty much got to my wits end. I had no clue what was happening to my weightlifting. I had plenty of strength. I think at that time my deadlift one rep max was 465 pounds. So I had the prerequisite strength to get that barbell off the floor. I had an Olympic weightlifting coach. We worked on technique and it was well, I think sufficient enough. So if the technique was there and the strength was there and the coaching was there, what on earth happened?
Well, my mind became my worst enemy. I had streams of negative self talk. I would say the worst things about myself, about my ability, about the barbell in my head when I would start my training sessions. If I did start off on a good note when training as soon as the slightest thing went wrong, I would start to panic. My thoughts would go out of control. I wouldn’t be able to breathe properly. All my confidence would be drained. Most of the time I had failed before I ever touched the bar. I would overthink that. I would miss the lift, then I would overthink and panic again and miss the next lift and it would downward spiral from there.
Here’s the thing that the barbell taught me. I wasn’t in control of my emotions. They controlled me. I suddenly became, I suddenly came face to face with a physical embodiment of a problem that had subtly affected my entire life. I saw play out in a matter of seconds when I was lifting what had slowly and quietly played out in numerous aspects of my life up to that point. Even before I set my hands to something, my mind would shut it down. My emotions would run the show. I had lost the battle even before the fight began.
Emotions are a part of being alive. You’re not going avoid them. But you can learn how to overcome them. It wasn’t easy. But with plenty of time and patience I now know how to become aware and move through emotions in a constructive, healthy manner.
Maybe I’ll write to you all about that next time.
See you in the gym!