I have been thinking about one of my favorite coaching cues lately. When a client begins to tremor or shake when lifting as their nervous system gets fired up I remind them:
“Your body is getting ready to do the hard thing.”
Sometimes we shake because we are overwhelmed. But sometimes we shake because our body is revving up to engage with activation to do a hard thing. We don’t want to become overwhelmed for a variety of reasons. But we do want to engage with nervous system activation - especially in the gym
I cannot take credit for this cue. And no, I did not learn this cue not from a famous fitness professional, nor from from a coach or trainer I know. It was something my therapist said to me one afternoon, and it stuck.
I talk a lot about my experiences in the gym with my therapist. It makes sense. Lifting is a big part of my lived experience.
During a peaking phase in powerlifting one spends a lot of their training time lifting in a range of 1-3 lifts close to their 1-rep max (the most amount of weight one can move for one repetition.) When I am in a peaking phase I begin to shake before I even start with my work weight, which is not what one expects to happen. But I am nervous. And I am excited. I am having a lot of feelings because it is important to me. And accordingly, I shake.
I also shake when I am scared or overwhelmed. It is my response when confronted with a perceived threat to my well-being. And what had begun to happen was I had pathologized shaking because it had become intrinsically linked with actual threat.
A few years ago I was exploring my pre-lift jitters with my therapist. I saw it as an indicator of my fear of lifting or a problem with my nervous system.
One of the greatest gifts my therapist gives me is that she normalizes so many of my experiences that had become pathologized over the years.
My therapist invited me to consider it differently. “What if shaking is just your body getting ready to do the hard thing?”
When I experience a paradigm shift, it is as if I move about 30 degrees to the right of whatever I was contemplating. I sat there, quietly looking at my pre-lifting jitters from a new perspective. As with every time my internal mapping system takes on a new perspective, I felt lightly shook up. It is a disturbance that is pleasurable, like bubbles in your water, wine, or bath. I always love the effervescence that comes along with being faced with a novel perspective.
I don’t remember how I responded to my therapist. But I do know that I took that cue with me to the gym and I use it for myself to this day, years later. When I shake before I attempt a lift I reassure myself that, “my body is getting ready to do the hard thing.” In doing so I get in touch with gratitude. I am grateful that my body knows how to tend to its needs; and in that moment of gratitude I create space for my window of tolerance for nervous system activation to grow.