Don’t be afraid (by Dana McMahan)


I’m talking to myself here. And anyone who’s known or will know the feeling of struggling under a weight that your body may be able to handle but your mind can’t. I know, I know, Ben won’t let me do more than I am capable of. Today we finished my first week of training for the power lifting meet with a workout that I lay awake last night in anticipation of. It even made its way into my dreams. Squat 120 pounds. Six times. That’s about 13% more than my body weight, and twice the number of reps I’ve managed on this weight before.

I had a lot of trepidation I was trying to squash. Ben cautioned me before I started. “It will feel so heavy after two you’ll think you can’t possibly do it. But take your time and you can do it.” I was more nervous than I’ve been before, heart racing and palms sweaty. Not about getting hurt. There’s never a fear that anything will happen, not with Ben spotting. But about not making it.

My husband, who just this week joined CrossFit, was there today. In hindsight I shouldn’t have made a big deal, and just should have done it. But I called over to him to watch, excited that the first time he’d see me squat would be my biggest PR (personal record) ever. Of course that meant the handful of other people there turned to watch too. For the first time I was working out facing into the gym, instead of facing the wall. And I’d strapped on my new weight belt for the first time. Lots of distractions (or excuses, depending on how you look at it).

I don’t know why it felt so much heavier coming off the rack than the last time I did 120, but it did. Then once. Twice. Three times down and up, concentrating on not letting my knees buckle in. I went down for the fourth, thinking “halfway there” and suddenly it just seemed too much. I panicked at the bottom of the squat and with no conscious thought at all tried to jerk up, rearing back with only my back instead of using the far more powerful muscles in my legs. Then the bar was gone, lifted instantly from my shoulders and I could breathe. And say a bad word.

“You freaked out,” Ben said. “You thought you couldn’t do it, but you could. If you’re strong enough to lift it with your back, you’re strong enough to lift it right.” He showed me the video of what I’d just done and I could see. But now I was scared, though I’d have rather walked on hot coals than say so. “You owe me three more,” he said. So just like the proverbial horse, I got back under the bar. No fuss, no spectators. Just me and 120 pounds and Ben ready if need be. And I just did it. And happily, went on to top my previous chin-up record by doing three.

I’ve crossed a bit of a mental divide now, having had to drop the weight in the middle of a lift. It’s one thing to know that’s an option, and that Ben’s there and ready to take it. It’s altogether different to do it. I’m trying not to beat myself up for not making it, and to focus on the positive — that I went right back to it, and that it was, as Ben described, a form error, not a lack of strength. “The weights don’t get any lighter from here,” he said, so it’s time to see what kind of gumption I really have. And to remember: Don’t be afraid.


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