Too many people undervalue what they are and overvalue what they are not.” –  Malcolm Forbes

I had a female athlete in the other day for her training session.  I told her to do as many deadlifts as she can, up to 12, with 95lbs.  I had someone else ask me a question and when I looked up the bar was already on the ground again.  I asked her how many she was able to do consecutively.  She answer “2”.

I looked at her and said, “Why?”  She said, “I don’t know, it was hard, it felt heavy.”

(Side note:  I always ask them “Why?” You can learn a lot from an athlete by just asking them that question.)

This is a pivotal point in an athlete’s training, because depending on what I do or say, or how I say it, I can either help the athlete or completely lose her.  Each athlete is different and you have to know your athlete to know what you can say or how far you can push or question them.  Now I know this athlete pretty well.  She is definitely a hard worker, but really doesn’t want to work hard; which means she will do whatever you have her do and won’t argue with you, but she really doesn’t want to do it.  For some reason I also feel she doesn’t believe in herself as much as she should.  I often tell her, “I can’t wait for the day that you believe in yourself more than I believe in you.”

So back to the deadlift.  I reminded her that hard doesn’t mean can’t and she just has to get comfortable with the struggle a little more.  In other words, I don’t care if you fail, but you have to try harder than you want to, as long as injury isn’t a concern.  So after her rest period was up I told her, you going to do 4 consecutively.  So she starts her set and just as I suspected, she did 3 like it was no biggie.  While she did her fourth rep, I told her to do 2 more, which she also did without any problem.  She did 6 reps, about 3 minutes after 2 reps were all she was able to do.  The only reason that she couldn’t before was the mental obstacle she placed in front of herself.  By standing over her and watching the set and telling her she had to do 4, which was more than she did before but not that much more that she could overthink the likelihood of her completing it.  Adding the 2 extra was also not an issue as she had just done 4 and realized that she was able to do them.

She did another set of 8 reps I believe and I told her that she, “expanded her world of possibilities with that set.”  She looked at me a little puzzled.  I explained that by going from 2 to 8 reps consecutively she expanded what she considered not only possible, but made it a reality as well.

So next set comes up and I add 10’s to each side and told her to give me 2 reps.  I then told her it was physically impossible that she could do 8 reps at 95lbs and not be able to do 2 reps at 115lbs.  I said that to change the internal dialogue from; what the possibility of completing it was to, it’s impossible not to be able to.  So she hit those 2 reps as well.

Next set came up, so I added 10’s to each side again.  Interesting side note, kids cannot do math when it comes to barbells, for some reason they all get themselves mixed up.  So she thinks it’s 125lbs when in reality it is 135lbs, but I don’t correct her.  I never tell an athlete if it weighs more than they think it does when they are their worst enemy.  So I let her believe it was less.  She pulled 1 and then her form got out of whack and she didn’t get the second, but I didn’t care.  I wanted to see how she would respond when it really did get heavy and tried a couple of times to get that second pull, so I was proud of her effort.  She was happy and proud when she found out it was 135lbs and not 125lbs.

So everything turned out pretty good, but I could have really botched that teaching moment up if I didn’t know my athlete.  If I would have pushed her from the start and said, she was going to do 8 or 10 reps in a row without stopping, her mindset would have shifted from “I think I can get 2 more than I did before” to “I can’t do 8 or 10 in a row” and when you are doing something like a deadlift, you don’t want them doubting their abilities because that’s when someone can get hurt.  I want them focusing on what they are supposed to do, not worry about how they are going to do it.  That would have also put her WAY out of her comfort level and could have led to her pushing back at me and training in general.  Training should not be beating an young athlete into submission, it should be helping them find their own way with guidance and in some cases a push in the right direction.

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