Squat heavy and you know the deep level of psychological transformation you undergo to dip into the hole and come back. Hard training is different from hard life situations. In training, you control the level of difficulty and commit to it. In life, you can’t control the level of difficulty or the timing.
This is why training is so important. Physical training can prepare you for the hardships of life. The preparation comes from your mental capacity to deal with higher levels of sustained stress. Whether it is a physical load or a mental burden of fear, the same workings within the mind and body take place in response. Training teaches you to continue to function with precision under pressure.
When you train under heavy load, you will learn to stay calm while under pressure. It is physical pressure in training, but your mind must also deal with that force. You may want to escape, you might fear that the load will crush you, or you might panic in the belief that you won’t be able to make the lift. When you reach the level of skill where you can train with loads over twice your body weight, the principles will be magnified.
The squat simulates these pressures well because the load is above you and there is no external resting point for the weight. Once you unrack the weight, you are directly between the load and the ground. Contrast this with the deadlift, in which the weight could be dropped to the floor.
Without an immediate escape, the way to properly deal with the load is to accept it. Become comfortable with the weight. Grip the bar ever tighter, pull it down into the groove between your shoulders and back, let the bar become part of you. Find balance vertically and horizontally in your new, unwieldy shape. Keep in your peripheral vision the plates at the ends of the barbell. Gently hold them in awareness.
Balance the bar like a tightrope walker. Stay between your feet, as if you were on an island in the middle of a massive blue ocean. Grip the floor with your feet. Root yourself down like a thousand year old oak.
Keep your back tight and your ribs locked down. Your body is a concrete pillar. Allow only the movement of your hips and knees, opening and closing naturally as you descend and then ascend.
The only other movement comes from the belly as you pull in air to the bottom of your lungs. Press against the belt if you wear one, or build up an airtight balloon with your abdomen in lieu of a belt.
When you’re squatting double your mass or more, you will begin to feel the pressure. It’s a different force from the one on your back. It’s the pressure of fear and intimidation. The familiar feeling, if you’ve been bullied, of a bigger or stronger enemy staring down at you, threatening to crush you. The pressure is in your mind now, it’s crept in from the weight on the bar and is now knocking on the door of your soul.
The first stages of this level of difficulty in training will be easier to navigate. By this point you’ve built enough strength to be able to suck in a deep breath and blow past the fear.
Later, when the weight becomes nearly unbearable, you’ll learn to face it. Rather than stomping through the thin curtain, you see that it’s now a wall. The fear can’t be shaken from your head. Now, you’ve got to stay with it in there. Don’t waste your time or energy trying to run from it. Rather, root your feet harder into the ground, grip the bar tighter against your back, and solidify your belly right against that fear. Face it, and accept it.
You’ll see that this new pressure, the fear and intimidation, are merely different forms of load. All you need to do is recognize this, and make this pressure as much a part of you as the bar and the plates on your back. The fear that soaks your heart, the intimidation that fills your mind, they are fine.
Tighten yourself up and lock them in as you descend, and rise.
Apply this to life. You don’t have to squat heavy to use this principle. The next time you face someone or something that scares you, don’t run. Stay and face it, grip it, make it a part of you, and rise.