Lifting with Your Feelings (And Why You Shouldn’t)

If you’re like me and many who train (Strongman in this case) for fun and pleasure and personal fulfillment, training is a healthy way to work through your emotions, vent your frustrations, and Deal with Your Sh*t. Lifting is very cathartic for me. When I was training myself pre-Strongman, it was just about getting stronger, looking good, and making myself feel good by going HAM and basically trying to out-grunt and out-rep the guys at my gym. I was using it as therapy,  there was shit I was working through on many a day. I would grunt, heave, fume, jump around, head bob, air-rap, rage, and basically express physically whatever was going on inside, which was usually a lot. It felt fucking great.

Then I started training Strongman. I started training for competition. I started training with really specific goals. And when I did something in training that FELT detrimental to progress, like failing a lift or having bad technique, it was easy to get pissed, sad, etc. I was so used to pouring my emotions into my exercise that I didn’t know how to turn it off.

When you can’t lock out your dumbbell, get your hips into your stone load or clean your axle, it rarely helps to get even more worked up. More often than not, that will make you even more likely to miss again. When you’re used to lifting with your emotions, you may take your failures more personally than is beneficial. And in lifting, failures are an eventuality, not a maybe.

When you couldn’t lock out your deadlift,  jumping around and working yourself into a frothing rage to hype yourself is courting risk. It may work from time to time, but you’re training yourself to be dependent on an extreme emotion, which is inherently unreliable, not to mention exhausting. You cannot tap into that every single time you lift, not if you want your work in the gym to be consistent. Lots of lifters, myself included, joke about being fueled by anger and venting our pent up rage in the iron (Or don’t joke. Hey, if that’s your style, more power to you). A Max atttempt in competition is one thing, but training needs to be consistent.

When I get worked up like that, I get emotion blind and I cannot really focus on what’s happening in my body. I become less effective. I am at my most effective when I am about a 6-7 on the hype scale. Staying calm helps me find my power, and tap into it.

So now, I like to think of my emotions as tangible energy that I am in control of. I can imagine taking that excitement/frustration/anxiety/etc as a physical part of training – I put the energy where I decide it needs to go. I put that anxiety or anger into the tension in my lats and core when I deadlift. Into rooting my feet down in the ground. That emotion is becoming the rooting of my feet into the ground, and the tension in my hamstrings while I prepare to clean the axle or pick the farmers.

Rather than being jittery and twitchy, I am still and calm.  Rather than being short of breath and out of control, I am relaxed and in total control.

Even on less technical events, like a sandbag run, I find this helps. You may hate it at that moment. You feel like you’re dying. You can’t breathe (and we do this for fun…!). Your arms are tired, your back hurts. Every emotion you bottled up during the week at work, everything that pissed you off, everything you’re getting out of your system in training – I’m not saying ignore it. I’m saying learn how to channel it.

I still get my bro on and rep out at the gym. If I need to lift to get some feelz out, I save it for the high rep assistance stuff. That isn’t to say that my big lifts and my Strongman events come from a totally cold 100% technical place — of course not, I’m not a robot, and I can’t actually separate my emotions from my training. So I transform them. I choose how to focus them. I ask them to serve me.

As a way of practicing this and cultivating this ability to channel emotion and let go things that don’t serve me in training, a regular meditation practice has been incredibly helpful. I’ve been learning how to focus on my breathing (which is essential to athletic performance, obviously) and letting my focus on my breath clear my mind. The ability to silence conscious thoughts, and let the mind be only and wholly focused on the object or task in front of me has been incredibly beneficial.

This approach really works for me, I’m sure there are lots of views on the subject. I am curious to hear about other lifter’s experiences with training, emotions, mindset, etc. Let me know what you think!


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