What is fear? Fear is defined in the dictionary as ‘an unpleasant emotion caused by the threat of danger, pain, or harm:’ (oxford dictionaries, 2014) and in weightlifting we have two of the ‘BIGGEST FEARS’ and they are dropping under the bar to catch it in the front rack position for the Clean & Jerk & the (receiving) overhead position in the Snatch. The fear of the barbell exists in all the strength sports as mentioned for the weightlifter its dropping under the bar and the fear of the barbell for the powerlifter is under a heavy load when squatting, pulling a heavy load while deadlifting and pushing a heavy load while bench pressing. The fear of the barbell exists in all other sports of every type that rely on building strength, power and athletic ability using the barbell.
The barbell itself does not care, it has no fear of you, it has no emotion, it feels no pain. The barbell can do several things – it can rust, it can stay light it can get heavy, or it can bend or it can break. That’s it, it can not do anything else. So why fear something that has no fear of us or has no emotion or in fact is just an object that exists for mans purpose, (and if man didn’t find or have a purpose for it then it probably wouldn’t of existed). We fear it because we have a built in mechanism for survival. This mechanism is hardwired into us because if you strip everything away and think about man as a species then the role of the species is to survive and to reproduce to ensure the species continues to exist. So fear is a survival mechanism that is designed to stop us from experiencing pain or harm in a dangerous or threatening situation.
So for the weightlifter, when a loaded bar is coming at you, your mind is saying to your body, this is not going to happen because your going to break and your body is always in total agreement with your mind and it will always allow your mind to take control and say ‘nope I don’t think so’ and as it switches on your survival mechanisms to keep your body safe you miss the lift or fail to drop under etc. Rene Descartes’, (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy 2013),
the French philosopher put it simply in his thesis ‘mind-body dualism’ the body is controlled by the mind. The mind can exist without the body but the body cannot exist without the mind. So therefore, if the mind waivers or ceases to exist then so does the body.
So what do you do? How can you combat this fear? How do you stop or at least try to control your fear? Well one thing we can do and that’s learn. Our minds are always open to learning new things. And when we learn we are programming our minds to do something new. So we can program our minds to combat fear. We do this by using technique called visualising, mental rehearsal or mental imagery.
Mental rehearsal ‘involves the mental repetition of a movement or sequence to increase the mind's familiarity with the desired motion’; The most important aspects of this powerful technique are that it allows the athlete to feel emotion and work out solutions by finding alternative decisions through the neural pathways between the brain and muscles! I hope the reader is starting to put two and two together and he or she realises what I am trying to say.
Now if you can feel emotion while you are using this technique then would it not be wise to use it to help combat, reduce or even help to eliminate fear. Visualisation can be used for many different reasons like programming your mind so that your body is capable of lifting heavier loads, well the confidence or the mental strength to lift heavier loads.
So what are the techniques and how can we use them? Well following are some techniques, which I have used, so I know they work! And these can be applied before during and even after training & competition. But I feel that they are more effective when used at night just before you sleep.
These are all taken from http://www.brianmac.co.uk/relaxation.htm as I wanted to make sure the reader fully understood how to follow the basic process rather than my own modifcations and they then can modify it to their own personality, objectives and goals.
The "Quick Set" routine
Psychologist Jeff Simons developed a routine that would allow an athlete to achieve an appropriate mental arousal in the last 30 seconds before a competition. The "Quick Set" routine, which involves physical, emotional and focus cues, can also be used as a means of refocusing quickly following a distraction.
An example of this "Quick set" routine for a sprinter could be:
- Close your eyes, clear your mind and maintain deep rhythmical breathing, in through your nose and out through your mouth (physical cue)
- Imagine a previous race win, see yourself crossing the line in first place and recreate those emotional feelings of success (emotional cue)
- Return your focus to the sprint start, think of blasting off on the 'B' of the bang with the appropriate limb action (focus cue)
The five breath technique
This exercise can be performed while you are standing up, lying down or sitting upright. You should inhale slowly, deeply and evenly through your nose, and exhale gently through your mouth as though flickering, but not extinguishing, the flame of a candle (Karageorghis 2007):
- Take a deep breath and allow your face and neck to relax as you breathe out
- Take a second deep breath and allow your shoulders and arms to relax as you breathe out
- Take a third deep breath and allow your chest, stomach and back to relax as you breathe out
- Take a fourth deep breath and allow your legs and feet to relax as you breathe out
- Take a fifth deep breath and allow your whole body to relax as you breathe out
- Continue to breathe deeply for as long as you need to, and each time you breathe out say the word 'relax' in your mind's ear
Benson's relaxation response
Benson's technique is a form of meditation that can be used to attain quite a deep sense of relaxation and can be ideal for staying calm in between rounds of a competition. It can be mastered with just a few weeks' practice and comprises of seven easy steps (Karageorghis 2007):
- Sit in a comfortable position and adopt a relaxed posture
- Pick a short focus word that has significant meaning for you and that you associate with relaxation (e.g. relax, smooth, calm, easy, float, etc.)
- Slowly close your eyes
- Relax all the muscles in your body
- Breathe smoothly and naturally, repeating the focus word
- Be passive so that if other thoughts enter your mind, dismiss them with, 'Oh well' and calmly return to the focus word - do not concern yourself with how the process is going
- Continue this for 10 to 15 minutes as required.
Les Brown, (2000) the amazing motivational speaker, said that “too many of us are not living our dreams because we are living our fears” And he is right, we allow our fears to stop us from achieving our own greatness. We allow fear to control & suppress our dreams. We as athletes should fear fear itself not what we fear because if we fear fear then nothing is impossible! And dropping under that bar or pulling that new max will become inevitable