20th July 2017
Anxiety and CrossFit. Crushing it.
Belief and trust.
I truly believe that if I can get someone thinking in the right way, I can coach them more effectively. For example, if someone is suffering with anxiety then their thoughts are clouded with thoughts of ‘what if’ and ‘I cant breathe’. If, by the words I use or by the methods that I coach with, I can go some way to alleviating that anxiety then my coaching will be 100 times more effective. This of course all starts with trust and honesty. I build up their trust by being purely honest with expectations and soon enough people put their faith in me and trust that what I am saying is right. I do not force them to think I’m right by qualification or repetition, I let them breathe and find another way to get them to understand. I don’t try to coach in this way, its very natural to me and is driven by trying to get the very best out of the people I coach and by the way, I am no anxiety expert, I just see the problem and offer a solution.
I often find myself talking to many members about such issues, or, I find them talking to me about them. I am sure many an affiliate owner and personal trainer can attest to this! I find it all deeply fascinating and the reason for that is, I always believe I can help. This can sometimes be a foolish endeavour on my part as some people actually don’t want to change or are not prepared to go through very tough times in order to facilitate change. I just cannot accept not trying. It is this that sits very deep into my core values and the core values of White Cliffs CrossFit.
The drive to change people physically and mentally for the better.
CrossFit for me has evolved way beyond anything physical and I am sure the members of White Cliffs CrossFit believe that of me also. It is this reputation of developing mental strength within some of the members that led Kirsty Bax to ask for my help to develop hers. Kirsty is a super nice woman with a heart of gold and all the time for her daughter. Unfortunately she suffered a huge loss a few years ago with her brothers untimely death. It seemed to be the source of her anxiety from the conversations that we had. She completely blamed herself for her death. For her it resulted in her believing her back would snap at a relatively light weight, or her elbow would snap on a light thruster. Of course I knew it wouldn’t but there was no convincing her at the time.
The help I gave was fairly unorthodox for a CrossFit coach to give to say the least! Firstly I was completely honest with her about how hard the personal coaching sessions were going to be, mentally not physically. She would feel like she wanted to quit, cry and run away. I assured her this was normal to feel this way but she would be going to the other side of her comfort zone and the other side of her fear. The very first thing I asked her to do was write down everything she was afraid of but the list couldn’t contain anything to do with her daughter. Something bad happening to your child is a very real and very rational fear and I wanted all of her un-rational fears listed. She gave me the list and when reading I read what I had expected to read. She was deeply afraid of the feeling of fear and fear itself. That feeling of fear was obviously in abundance when her brother died so it was no surprise that she would shy away from anything remotely fearful again.
The first coached session I did not expect her to achieve, in fact, I didn’t want her to. Only because she needed to nearly achieve and start her path. I asked her to take her shoes off in the empty gym, I had a clip board ready to write some focus words down on, a 45kg barbell was ready to rock and two heavy kettlebells. She would have three attempts to thrust the bar and if not her punishment was to famers carry these kettlebells an ever increasing distance.
Kirsty failed every lift because of the negative thoughts that we’re entering her head all of the time. So I write some focus words on the board for her to completely channel her thoughts on.
The end result was still no good reps but a much more positive approach to her lifts. Progress.
The second session was heartbreak hill.
The human mind is amazing. If you’ve got a poor memory then you’ll remember bits of facts and stories. If you have a developed memory you remember maps and long stories. This was the story I told her:
Derren Brown is an illusionist and mentalist and he has developed some unbelievable memory skills. He memorised 2 packs of randomly shuffled cards in world record time and made no mistake. It was no illusion! He explains how he did it in an old book he wrote before he was famous. In his mind he stands in front of a sprawling Florentine house with four levels. Each level he assigns a suit of cards and there are many rooms on each level and in each room there are a number of objects that are meaningful to him. Each of those objects he has given the name of a card. For example the 7 of clubs is a stone head of a man with a blond wig. The 3 of diamonds are three dead stuffed stoats in the bathroom on the 4th floor. When he turns the cards over in order to begin memorising them he is visualising himself in this house on a journey around the four floors. He remembers this map or journey as oppose to remembering the cards. Interestingly and quite famously, one year a London taxi driver won Mastermind.
With that in mind I told her the task. It was to get herself and some objects to the top of the hill. She also had two minutes to memorise a list of seemingly random objects and words. This was to drag her focus away from anything negative and keep it on a memory task. Every time she failed the task she would get an additional object to carry to the top.
Washing up liquid
King of hearts,
After much swearing, crying and grunting she got to the top after carrying an additional three objects! These objects were two 10kg broken plates and a 20kg sandbag. When I asked her what the words were she had to remember she got it right on the fourth time of asking! Her goal was to remember the words based on a story she made up about them. ‘I need some washing up liquid and razors on the way to the royal oak in my ford capri that is through the wrought iorn gates…’ you get the idea. She was unbelievably relieved and I reinforced to her to her the importance of the feeling she had and the sense of achievement after something that was so very tough and seemingly unending.
The leap of faith.
The third coached session was very simple. I had built up that level of trust in Kirsty because she knew that I had her best interests in heart and she had total faith in me and the journey we were taking. She knew I would let no real harm come to her in any of the sessions and they were within her control and ability. We jumped in my car and headed off to the Port of Dover. On the way I could tell she was very nervous so I asked her what she thought she would be doing. Her exact reply was “I don’t know but I know I just have to do exactly as you say exactly when you say it’. Good answer! So we parked up near the Jetty and went to the highest one. We strolled down and the conversation went like this.
Kirsty- ‘You’re going to make me jump off this aren’t you?’
Ben – ‘No Kirsty, you’re going to want to jump off it because you are starting to understand what is on the other side of fear’.
K – ‘ FUCK’ Pause……’OK’
B – ‘Take your shoes off’.
K. ‘OK, FUCK, FUCK’
B- ‘Step over the railing now. Good. Cross your hands across your chest, 3,2,1
K “WAIT!!! FUCK, REALLY?’
B – ‘You told me you would do anything straight away, no go and see what’s on the other side of fear.
K –‘OK, SHIT SHIT’
B 3,2,1 JUMP
And off she went, no hesitation, complete trust that I would go in and get her if she was in trouble. She hit the water, surfaced and began swimming to the steps, she climbed out and came up to me and the first words she said was ‘CAN I GO AGAIN!!’
Four further times she went in!! She was buzzing for the next week at least and it transformed her training but a few weeks after she said she felt anxiety creeping back in. She was explaining what was going through her mind when she was walking through the door and from past experience in dealing with others I realised she was carrying a heavy trailer of shit with her every where she went. I told her she needed to get in her trailer and sort her shit out or empty her trailer before she walked through the door, and that gave me structure to the fourth and final session of personal coaching. ( And when I say ‘shit’ im not minimising or degrading her personal experience!)
The Ice Man.
Whilst coaching at the meridian regionals with my better half I observed the Icelandic athletes doing some kind of breathing technique of long deep belly breaths followed by short sharp powerful breaths. Seeing as these athletes were Icelandic it captured my attention and gave it credibility. I asked Andy Edwards of Dragon CrossFit what they were doing and his answer was ‘Wim Hoff’.
I did my due diligence and found out masses about this ‘iceman’ and how he can stay in ice baths for up to two hours, run marathons in the arctic with minimal clothing and regulate his immune system all with the power of breathing and focus. Reading into it, it is fairly spiritual and not being much of a spiritual person I was slightly sceptical of the true power of this approach however, I gave it my best shot and adopted all of the principles that he instructed. Unbelievable. My mind was so clear, focussed and my body was revitalised. Even more amazingly was that after the third time of trying I had managed to hold my breath for two and a half minutes without a drop of air in my lungs. My previous best was just over a minute with a lung full! Wim Hoff, I decided, knew his shit. This was to be my structured session with Kirsty and we sat down in a busy gym but I used that noise as the stimulus for her to focus within herself. After the third time of trying and a few panics, she managed to break the two minute mark! I instructed her to do this three times a day, twice at a time at least. Here is the response.
‘Just did it again, feel so good! This is literally my knew addiction!’
‘OMG, just done breathing exercises again last night before bed, slept right through and didn’t wake up once! Had 9 hours straight and haven’t managed that in years! Its so powerful!’
As I said before, im not an expert in anxiety but I know how to overcome a fear and use those emotions in the most positive and constructive way possible. Life throws so much shit at us but if we see the shit as an opportunity to better ourselves then it can become incredibly empowering. Kirsty hasn’t finished her journey and is still fighting but she is now much better equipped to getting in her trailer, tidying it up and not letting it affect her going forward. She is such a positive role model for her daughter because she is very open with her and tells her how Mum isn’t shying away from that which troubles her but attacks it head on to make her a stronger person. She now honours herself with forgiveness in the safe knowledge her brother would do the same for her.
Well Done Kirsty.