What Would You Attempt To Do If You Weren't Afraid: Part 1

I wrote this article in the early 2000's.  I have modified it to fit the aerial fitness community, but there are still references to my first love which is powerlifting.

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” -- Franklin D. Roosevelt

For many nothing changed at the turn of the millennium, my life shifted entirely. That New Year’s Eve I found myself in an outdoor barn watching the ball drop on a tiny TV screen with 30 of my all-time closest friends, we cheered and kissed and drank and made merry. At about 5 minutes after midnight, I had an epiphany - I was tired of my life, I was tired of my friends and I was tired of “fun” consisting of drinking all weekend long. So, I drove home (I was sober) and crawled in bed with my cat and began to think about how the year 2000 could be different. Long story short I set out to do something different, stumbled upon a new gym and within 1 year I was working there, training people and learning to do nutrition counseling.  

I learned to train people mostly through being trained myself. Yes, I am certified through NASM but they really didn’t teach me a whole lot. I learned all that I know by starting straight off training for power lifting.  I have learned to use those basic strength training principles when working with my clients who are mostly women ages 40 - 70. What I have been the most fascinated with over the years is the role that Fear plays in people’s lives. I am not talking about silly fears like “I’m afraid to do that and chip my nails” or “I’m afraid to do that and be sore so that I can’t enjoy going out tonight”. Those don’t really count because they come and go. My interest lies in the irrational fears, the blinding, wall building, deep seated fears that block our ability to progress. I believe that these types of fears not only keep us from reaching our goals, but they also push us deeper into habits and beliefs that further foster the fear. To explain, I have 3 case studies.


Case study #1

I had a client who was around 67 years old, and tough as nails. One time she worked out with me for 6 weeks on a bum knee. We pulled sled, climbed stairs, squatted and she played many rounds of golf on this knee that just constantly hurt, she wouldn’t stop training and she wouldn’t go to a doctor. When she finally saw an ortho guy she found out her kneecap was broken. She had been doing all of that work on a broken kneecap with no pain killers.  

On a car trip, she and her husband were stuck in a traffic jam on the interstate when they were rear ended by a Mack truck going about 40 mph. The accident tore her back up, no surgery was needed but she had to do some intense physical therapy. When she got back to me, not quite healed, she over did it on an abdominal machine and had a relapse with her back. The flare up caused her to be terrified of every exercise we did, and I was constantly explaining that things like bicep curls were not going to make her back flare up.

During one training session a few weeks later, we were all working on jumping. I was teaching the group about allowing the “load” to distribute through the body by absorbing the shock through soft knees. No matter what I said this client would jump up and land with a rigid body and you could see the jolt go straight through her and a wince of pain when it hit her back. I was adamant that they learn this skill, especially her since with her back injury she needed to learn how to absorb shock. She would jump, not do what I say, feel the pain and then mutter something about how I was going to hurt her all over again. I was fascinated to watch - no matter how I explained what she needed to do her fear about her back propelled her to do the exact opposite and step into an injury instead of learning to step away.


Case study #2

I had a new client join me. She had never worked out before and had met with me a time or two to get oriented and then joined one of my training groups. The beauty of the group she joined was that they all had different strength levels and I was able to vary the exercises according to their strengths.   One day I explained to her that she was going to have her first “hard” day and that she would be a little tired and a little sore the next day but that I was making everything as easy on her as possible. She just needed to tell me if something was too much.

We started with squat thrusts aka burpees. We do these 10 at a time with a very slow cadence. She did one and had a total melt down - no reason, it was just hard, and it freaked her out. So, I modified it and had her just come down and put her hands on a bench, step back and then step back up. Easy peasy, but again, she totally freaked out and asked for something easier. Patiently, I explained that any easier and she would be doing nothing, but she refused to do any more of those. So, while the others were doing their sets, I put her climbing the stairs. Normally, we climb two at a time (you can use the railings if you need to), but I had her just climb one at a time and it was only for about 3 or 4 minutes while the others finished up. Before I knew it (after about 3 flights) this lady was sitting on the top step crying, shaking her head and saying I just can’t do it, it is too hard and she came down, got her keys and left. I haven’t seen her since.

Her fear that working out was going to be hard was so intense that before anything even got difficult, she worked herself up into such a state that she couldn’t continue. In her mind everything was going to be painful, and she was so afraid of the work that she had this melt down and quit.


Case Study #3

This one is all about me.  As you all know I am working this month to master the cross-knee release, for all intents and purposes a pretty easy skill.  If you watched the videos I have posted you can see that I have everything dialed in except I can’t seem to let go of the pole. I am not scared of falling.  I am not scared that my knee will release.  What I am scared of is that I will snap my tibia and fibula…my leg bones.  As soon as I try to take my hand away my brain starts chattering away about compound fractures and leg casts and all sorts of terrible things and I abort the mission.  This is an incredibly irrational fear, one that I am trying to conquer.  No matter it is a fear that is keeping me from making progress and that makes me very angry. 

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