Fear is an ever-constant presence in our lives, playing a role in varying degrees in plenty of scenarios we go through each day. Fear can either be debilitating or it can be a tool we harness to help us work harder. With regard to CrossFit, there are several movements that make people feel uncomfortable—so much so that they can’t progress or even attempt the movement. Here, we’ll address three of the most common fears and what can be done to overcome them.
The Fear: Receiving Heavy Weight in Cleans and Snatches
We’re talking squat cleans and snatches here. This is arguably the most common fear among CrossFitters. When the barbell is light, hitting an Olympic lift with solid form is easy—or at least doable. But as soon as the weight gets heavy, panic starts to set in. Thoughts of the barbell landing on you, getting pinned under the weight or having your shoulder buckle begin to run rampant in your mind—and you haven’t even lifted the bar yet! Once fear sets in, that’s it—there’s no way you’re hitting a successful lift now. So what can you do to instill more confidence in the clean and the snatch?
Lots of practice. Lots of patience.
The first thing to understand about Olympic Weightlifting, in general, is that while many people fear getting injured performing the clean and snatch, lifting actually has one of the lowest injury rates among all sports. One of the main reasons we fear getting hurt is because we aren’t familiar with it as a sport. It’s that ‘fear of the unknown’ that makes us so uncomfortable. So what’s the remedy? We need to spend more time familiarizing ourselves with the technicalities of the lifts until we become comfortable. Granted, this is a never-ending journey, but with consistent work on our mechanics, the idea of dropping our body under a heavy barbell starts to become less frightening—as we start to understand it better, that fear of the unknown starts to ebb away.
So how do you do it? First, find a weight you know you can hit on your worst day for both the clean and the snatch, respectively. For some, this might be an empty bar. Do lots of reps at this weight—preferably singles. When your comfort level at this weight is such that you believe a small increment (say 2.5-5lbs) won’t rock your confidence, go up. It’s important to go up by only a small increment as you’ll be less likely to notice the difference in how the bar feels. Patience is the key here. You may be at that initial weight for a few weeks. Stay true to this process, increasing weight only when your confidence level at a weight is through the roof. Soon, you’ll notice that the time gap between weights begins to decrease; where once you spent four weeks before moving on to a heavier weight, now you’re spending only one or two.
Remember, fear is psychological. The more you perform a successful snatch, the more comfortable you’ll feel snatching—heavy weight and all!
Get comfortable bailing
Bailing is an essential skill to learn for every lift in CrossFit, and is a potential remedy for every fear on this list. If you don’t know how to escape from the barbell when performing a max lift, you’re putting yourself at serious risk of injury. In fact, many lifters are often taught how to miss and successfully bail the clean and jerk and snatch before learning the lifts themselves. One of the reasons is that it helps to instill confidence in the lifter when it comes to moving heavy loads overhead. If you know you can successfully get out of the way of the bar, you’ll feel that much more comfortable going for a lift.
Drop snatches, snatch balances & overhead squats
The goal isn’t necessarily to use these exercises to get stronger. If the goal is to overcome fear, then we want to use these movements to create comfort with the bar overhead. Drop snatches and snatch balances, in particular, are great for helping you build confidence dropping under the bar.
The Fear: Getting Inverted
Many athletes go through different stages of fear with the handstand. There are those who struggle to kick up against the wall, while others may be comfortable doing that but unable to get inverted without the security of a wall. The fear is the same though: there’s something scary about being upside down. Let’s face it, being upside down isn’t something most people experience on a regular basis. Given that alone, the lack of comfort in that position isn’t surprising.
Work on progressions
It’s unfair to assume that most people will conquer their fear of going into a handstand by simply trying to kick up into the position again and again—whether you have the support of a wall or not. As with any other skill, you have to build a base level of comfort, strength and technique through a set of progressions before you feel comfortable kicking up into a handstand.
Pike press from a box
Place your toes on a box and position your hands on the ground, as close to the box as possible. Try to make a nice L-shape with your legs straight and your head and torso facing the ground. Lower your head to the ground and press up to complete a rep.
Wall walks & wall holds
Start lying on the ground, on your chest with your feet close to the wall. Press up and kick one leg as high as you can against the wall behind you. Walk your hands in some and kick your other leg up a little higher. If this already feels uncomfortable, just practice holding this position for as long as possible until it’s no longer a problem. Otherwise, continue to kick up the wall and walk your hands in until you’re performing a handstand against the wall. Hold this position each time for an extra 15-30 seconds to increase your comfort level.
Handstands against the wall
With enough wall walks and holds you’ll begin to develop enough confidence in yourself and your ability to be inverted against the wall. The next step is to begin to kick up into the handstand—which is actually a whole lot easier. Remember, the wall isn’t going anywhere. You’re not going to kick through it! So don’t be afraid to give yourself good momentum when kicking up into a handstand position—know that the wall will be there to catch you.
This is a great drill used by Games athlete Sam Dancer to develop handstand control. Place a PVC pipe in a squat rack at a high level, so that when you kick up it supports your ankles/bottom of your shins. Hold the handstand position for 30-60 seconds. As you grow in confidence, lower the PVC pipe, and repeat the process.
Learn to Bail
After working your way through the previous progressions, you’re ready to tackle a freestanding handstand. But to completely eliminate your fear of being upside down and falling over, you need to know that you can bail without hurting yourself. Falling out of a handstand is a justified fear as the risk for injury is real if you don’t know what you’re doing.
The Fear: Box Jumps
Every athlete has hit their shins against a box at least once while doing box jumps—if you haven’t already, get ready! For most, this is usually due to mid-workout fatigue or trying to go too fast during a workout. However, there are many whose fear of jumping on the box causes them to stumble and crash into it. Just as common, if not more, is being paralyzed by fear and not jumping on the box at all.
Start small & work your way up
Don’t worry about what other people in the class are doing or what the Rx box height is for the WOD. Select a box you feel confident jumping on. When you’re ready, progress to a box that’s slightly higher, and so forth. Baby steps.
Stare at the top of the box for guidance
Picture your feet making solid contact with the top of the box before you jump. Aim for the middle of the box, so even when you’re tired you’ll at least make it to the edge.
Add box jumps to your warm-ups
One of the best ways to conquer your fears is by attacking them head-on. If you add in 10 box jumps to each one of your warm-ups during class, you’ll eventually become so accustomed to doing them that the idea of tackling them in a workout almost bores you.
If you fall, try it again—Immediately.
Otherwise, you’ll let your fear creep back in and conquer you. Prove to yourself that you are confident and stronger than a damn box jump!