Teddy Roosevelt, greatest President and doubtless the coolest person ever to live in the United States of America, hated the fuck out of his crippled cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and I'll admit I'm not much a fan either. Frankly, I take issue with just about everything FDR did, from the establishment (and no prescription or instruction for the abolishment of) a massive bloated social welfare system for which we cannot pay, the creation of the Social Security Card, which he knew for a fact would be used (illegally) by federal and state governments for yet another piece of identification, he married an ugly bitch who openly disliked sex for her money and name (something I mistakenly believed was the sole purview of women), he made it legal for the government to seize privately-held gold, and he was a complete fucking asshole to TR's son, Ted Jr.
You might be thinking, what the fuck does this have to do with lifting? I'll tell you- FDR is the progenitor of one of the dumbest fucking nonsense statements ever to be uttered, up there with "it is what it is" and "we're gonna do what we do", namely "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." You might associate that statement with another political shithead, JFK, but as it turns out, the only useful thing to ever come out of JFK's mouth was Marilyn Monroe's thong.
Back to the point at hand- the statement "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself" is patently fucking ridiculous, and an affront to both logic and the entire human experience. There's plenty in the world to fear- if you see some motherfucker from the African bush bleeding from his pores, you should shit your pants in fear as you run the other fucking way, screaming at the top of your lungs for someone to black glass everything within 100 miles, because he's got fucking Ebola, and is thus a man to be feared. And though you might think that's an extreme example, assholes who have the bad social grace to bleed out of their pores deserve to get nuked, because they're assholes, and should be feared, because if they bleed on you, you'll be an asshole too. My logic is as unassailable as that twink werewolf from Twilight's cock is untouchable to females.
Now, how does this apply to lifting, you might ask? Well, if you're asking that question, slap yourself, limp-wristedly, in the face for being a fucking pussy, because if you've never been scared in the gym, you've never lifted a weight worth talking about. That's right- it's the motherfuckers who have never been scared who are the pussies, not the guys who brazenly strut around the gym fearlessly lifting weight far below their limit. A man knows himself because he's tested himself- if you're untested, you're unproven, and thus unknown. These are relative tests, by and large, because everyone has their own limits, but there are certain rites of passage- the first time you bench 315, or dead or squat 500+. Getting under those weight initially is ridiculously scary, usually. I knew a guy, years ago, who always benched with 25s, rather than 45s, simply because he could do more that way. He'd pull off a rep or three with 6 25s on a side, but got pinned, hilariously, every time we loaded 3 wheels on a side for him. Odd, and slightly sad, but fucking hilarious nonetheless. His problem was "mental", as we like to call it, but that's just putting gold paint on dogshit- he was shit scared of the idea of 315lbs, and using wheels made that weight real.
So, when you're scared, what exactly is happening? Fear's essentially the body's natural response to the onset of external stress, and manifests itself in the form of a massive adrenaline dump. This adrenaline dump has a well-documented, evolutionary effect on the human nervous system- it either causes you to spazz or to freeze (which would enable you to fight off an attacker/animal/Mothra or would freeze you to the point where you appeared dead, at which point the attacker/animal/Mothra would terminate its attack), and in the first case can give you extra strength. In either case, your fine motor skills are impaired, and your form while lifting will look like country-fried cowshit. This is even worse in a competition, as people almost invariably perform worse when the stakes are higher (1)- I personally shake like I'm fucking palsied during my first two attempts at any competition. It's not uncommon to get that sort of an adrenaline rush, or to have a somewhat unpleasant reaction thereto- just try not to pass the fuck out with several hundred lbs over your face or on your back.
So, how to combat this effect? Sgt. Rory Miller believes that the best method by which to combat this is to train, extensively, so that your body can go on autopilot and ignore your brain altogether. I personally agree wholeheartedly, but I'll take it a bit further. Utilizing shit like partials, walkouts, and supports is an awesome way to inure yourself to ridiculous weights and eliminate any fear you might have at handling a given weight. In fact, these methods do you one better- they train your nervous system to dump adrenaline in a useful way, and they ready your body for future punishment with those weights in larger ranges of motion. Additionally, I think of it as a nerve-saturator acting much in the same way squeezing your thumb after smacking the fuck out of it does- the pressure actually reduces the pain. A 45 second google search did not provide me with the scientific reason doing that works, but we all know it does, so suck it.
I'm as guilty as anyone when it comes to succumbing to this fear, and my BTN press has been remarkably shitty after nearly killing myself with the bar a few short months ago. As such, I've tried a variety of methods to overcome this mental block, among them:
- switching to front push press
- doing lighter, higher rep sets with 225
- focussing more on clean and press, and abandoning presses only altogether
- doing partial btn presses with a variety of weights
Take a guess as to which ones worked and which ones did not. Give up? The partials, which included nearly full range BTN presses with strict form from the bottom position, push jerks from the midpoint, and overhead squats/BTN push press lockouts with >315lbs. The result? The vast majority of my fear of 315 is gone, I'm able to do between 5-10 BTN push press singles with better lockouts and very short rests, and far more stable lockouts.
I probably should have tried this... just for experimentation's sake.
What did I learn? The only thing I have to fear is picking the wrong place to do a wildly dangerous exercise, and then continuing to do it after I'm exhausted.
1) Miller, Rory. Meditations on Violence. Boston: YMAA, 2008. p. 58. (This book is the tits, by the way)