Mental Health

What I Learned from Pushing the Prowler

Why am I making a big deal out of this innocent piece of fairly common gym equipment? Have we met? Blowing things out of proportion and overthinking them is kinda my thing.

It’s not all bad though, because I think I’ve managed to learn a lesson from all the overthinking.

Despite my hilarious suggestions that wheels, an outboard motor or a winch would make the thing more efficient to move AND a very real note excusing me from using it from a very-real-not-made-up-at-all Doctor – coach has had me pushing this thing around a fair bit recently.

Despite the fact that I am 100% he does enjoy my pain just a little bit (there is this look he gets…) I know he is doing it for my benefit. He knows best when to move me out of my comfort zone and challenge me. He did it with learning the basics and the fundamentals of lifting and this is just another step.

So what is the problem with the prowler? Underlying fear and massively over perceived threat. We talked before about failing safely and learning from failure. With my lifts I had to accept that failure was a learning opportunity and not a threat before I could progress.

With the prowler a piece of avoidance is being exposed that fills me with anxiety. I’ve been very much avoiding certain types of exercise.

I originally picked a powerlifting trainer because I liked the idea of an activity that had trackable progress but also didn’t involve much cardio or moving around. Being overweight and unfit means that having to run or leap or move excessively is pretty high on my list of greatest fears. So whilst I found other hiccups related to fear and anxiety when lifting at least I didn’t have to move heaps.

Now the weird thing is, I am not actually lazy when it comes to movement. I am actually full of shame. When I struggle to move that in-reality-not-very-heavy sled across the gym I feel embarrassed. I feel the same when I can’t complete an assisted press up. Deeply ashamed that I am really rubbish at something that should be easy. I am already the sweatiest person in the gym and these kinds of failures just make me feel pathetic which quickly turns to frustration and sadness.

You could say ‘that is all in your head’ and whilst this is true at the start the problem with anixety is that it quickly manifests as physical. Thoughts can change your body, so once the shame, frustration and sadness sets in the breathing changes, fight or flight kicks in and quite soon a full on anixety wobble is happening. These are quite hard to push through.

I had a series of these wobbles on Wednesday, I think kickstarted by the prowler, but also from another exercise (you can see the culprit hiding in the pic – trap bar). My body was fatigued but I knew there was ‘more in the tank’ but my mind went and I ditched halfway through a set – which made me feel awful and rubbish. I left the gym feeling really disappointed, even though I had some pretty solid squat sets nailed that day.

I thought about it all night and the next day and decided I had to go back to the gym the next day, outside of my PT sessions, and try to understand the prowler.

My goal was to push the thing up and down the strip until I could conquer the anxiety. I would give myself decent rest periods between attempts but I would be present in the exercise. When I panic during a set or an exercise I often want to rush to finish or to try and block out how I am feeling about it. I wanted to experience everything. To pinpoint when the anxiety started building in my chest (it’s a very familiar physical feeling for me) and to notice what was going on at the same time.

I started pushing the thing up and down. It was easy at first but as I got fatigued I noticed the fear bubbling up when I perceived that the thing felt heavier and was slowing down. For a second I became aware there were other people in the gym.
I stopped and thought about the two things I had noticed.

Firstly I looked around the gym. Who is here? The owner, who is a super cool and awesome guy. He isn’t laughing at me, he is busy doing his thing. One lady I see down there all the time. She is an inspiration – crazy good lifts, she works so hard, she is concentrating on her workout – of course she is. Another lady I’ve seen a few times. Keeping to herself, getting her work done. And Lola. Lola is a dog.

Conclusion – no one is laughing at you. Suspend that ego, everyone is here for their own reasons and generally keep to themselves and get on with their work and maybe share a laugh between sets at Lola’s antics.

Secondly the thing is slowing down and when it does you start catastrophizing. I realised it was slowing down because when I perceived it to be getting harder my form went to shit and I start pushing down instead of through – effectively adding my bodyweight to the exercise.

My next few attempts I didn’t think about the other people in the gym, I didn’t allow myself to indulge in self destructive thoughts. I concentrated on form and body position and adjusted it as necessary.

I started to get more tired but I felt calm. I could recognise the difference between a panic and a physical challenge. By the end I could push the thing up and down – not without a physical struggle but free of a mental one.
I am hoping I can adapt this lesson every time I am physically challenged. To use the stupid overactive brain to analyse the mechanics of what I am doing instead of indulging in self loathing behaviour.

As I contemplated the lesson I realised it had been written on the wall of the gym the whole time:

Your body can stand almost anything, it’s your mind that you have to convince


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