Opinion, Training Attitude

Dealing with the Psychology of lifting – An armchair meathead’s guide to not freaking out.


I’m going to start off this article by stating I am not a qualified psychologist not even close I took some sport psychology modules as part of my undergraduate degree and have read a fair amount of popular psychology books.  However, a qualified mental health care professional I am not.  I want to talk about the psychological aspects of lifting as a coach and lifter as it’s something I have a wealth of experience working with from this aspect.  What I am not going to talk about is the positive aspects of lifting the sense of empowerment, community and health that people get out of training with a personal trainer, group of lifters, on their own or as a club.  The positive side of lifting is definitely there and pretty well documents on social media by all the people who love it.

What I want to talk about is the difficult side of it, the hard-nosed reality of lifting that people either struggle to confront or they try to ignore.  There are a lot of aspects in life I struggle with on a day to day basis I am a fucking horrible procrastinator and I have a tendency towards excess with food and alcohol yet with lifting it’s like I have a split personality.  I’ve never failed to get myself to the gym when I can’t be arsed, I don’t struggle to silence myself doubt when I need to and my confidence has been consistency good for my 12-year lifting career.

Here are four common Lifting downfalls and some advice on how to deal with them.



I’m scared of that weight / lift – I think this one is the most common it’s definitely more common in weightlifting because that shit is scary as fuck if you’re not up for it.  For powerlifting, it’s really only squat that causes the fear in my experience.  The best way round this one is good old exposure therapy.  The more you do it the better you will be at quieting the little shitty pants voice in your mind.  An example from my past I used to shit myself when I loaded on 4x blues a side, 180kg.  Which to me is hilarious now as it’s a comfortable bench press weight but at the time it was big time, 4 slabs or beef, 4 wheels, nearly 400 solid ass lbs.  I was scarred.  The cure.  3x a week Mon-Wed-Fri I put 180 on the bar and squatted it as many times as I could in 30 minutes.  During this month I went from 180×2-3 to 180×7-8 squat and wasn’t scared of it anymore.  The more you do something the less scary it is.  The cure is action, starve fear of its oxygen which is time.

I’ve got performance anxiety when it comes to competition or a big session – first you need to understand some kind of stress or anxiety is natural and actually should be something you want to feel.  It’s a sign that you care about the outcome of what your about to do.  The trick to dealing with this aspect of your thoughts is learning how to use it as a friend and to not let it take over all of your though processes or lead to some sort of mental spiralling.  First thing to do is to be aware of the fact that worrying makes LITERALLY NO difference to the outcome.  Once you realise that stress isn’t really useful when it is interfering with the useful things like sleep than you can start to begin a mental shift towards understanding the pangs and flutters are a natural process of competition and performance but not to be indulged.  Some stress and anxiety is good as it ensures good adherence to positive behaviours such as making sure you go to training, eat correctly and try to get your sleep in as best you can.  You just need to tame it and make it work for you this is a long process of self-mastery were not going to cover in a few paragraphs.

I haven’t set a Personal best in x time frame! – Okay Ray Williams time to take a seat and understand a few things before you start changing everything in your life to add another 5 kg to your novice total.  Powerlifting is a strength sport and strength sports are what should be called physical maturity sports.  Literally every kilo you get in each lift is built on the progress you have made in the past.  You can’t squat 400kg without one day having to train to squat 300kg and likewise you can’t squat 300kg without one-day training to try and squat 200kg.  The fact that how good we are as lifters is there for everyone to see from the amount of weight on our backs and in our hands is both the best and worst thing about powerlifting or lifting in general.  Most people in lifting suffer from impatience or envy of other’s total’s it’s fine because it’s part of what makes people competitive and helps them to push themselves.

Again self-awareness is your friend.  Look I get jealous of seeing the people I train with progress and I have numbers and lifters I am chasing and I don’t want it to happen tomorrow I want it to happen yesterday.  But I am also tempered with experience and time I squatted 200kg for the first time in 2008.  It’s now 2017 and I am just on the cusp of squatting 300kg for the first time.  This isn’t a straight forward sprint from A to B.  It’s a long old slog so try not to fixate too much on the actions of others.  Always run your own race it’s cool to use other people as motivation but don’t fixate on them don’t let them change your programme of rule your actions.  And when you start to get a bit too green round the gills from envy remember what you used to lift 2 years ago and chill the fuck out Ed Coin.

Everything is going to shit, I suck, this sport sucks – disaster thinkers are some of the trickiest folk to deal with when it comes to training, I should know I’ve been going out with one for 10 years.  If you are a training partner or coach of someone who goes straight into panic mode when adversity rises, it’s ugly head you just need to be reassuring and patient.  Adding more pressure or trying to be overbearingly rationale isn’t a good stratagem I’ve tried it before just adds fuel to the fire.

If you are one of these kinds of folk the first thing to do is to try and maintain a sense of perspective or scale.  It’s not the end of the world more often than not it’s probably not even a big deal.  Remember powerlifting is a hobby, one we are lucky to have the use of our bodies to enjoy.  Just like everything else in life you’re going to have good times and you’re going to have bad times so don’t just get caught up in the bad times.  The best thing to do is to seek out what actions you can take to rectify the problems.

You see with a lot of the things that ail people in life when it comes to the mental side of things is due to a lack of action.  A couple of good books to check out would be the “5 Second Rule” and “Be Obsessed or be average” both have their flaws but are definitely worth checking out.  If you tend to think the worst all of the time just – get context, get perspective and take action towards resolution.  Thinking about it isn’t going to change anything and it’s just going to feed into your own spiral.

Hope this article has given you some ideas on how to deal with some of your minds shittier tricks when it comes to lifting.  This is by no means the only things you’ll ever deal with but the most important thing is to one recognise a problem and then two trying to confront it with a solution.


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