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Mental Block, Nervous about Pulling

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  • Mental Block, Nervous about Pulling

    Hey all,

    I touched my first barbell in August of 2018. Since then I've been exclusively following BBM philosophies and programming.

    Anyway, the Monday two weeks ago I felt a sharp pain in my lower spine at the very bottom of my [email protected] squat (week 6 of the Hypertrophy 2.0 template). I was able to finish the rep and, based on how I felt, proceeded to finish the workout. The [email protected] and subsequent [email protected]'s all felt fine, although I did feel the sharp pain one other time, again at the bottom of the squat. There was a slight discomfort/tightness the entire time, but nothing bad enough to make me stop. I felt more "confident" in my back when I was focusing solely on the valsalva (vs other technique cues). Back was sore that night, took some NSAIDs for a few days, and resumed my weekly programming after a day off due to work reasons.

    The following Monday (last week), I felt great. Squat weights went up on Day 1/Week 7. Deadlift weights went up on day 2. At the start of the 5th rep of my 3rd set of [email protected], I felt a pop in my lower spine in almost the same exact spot. Instant weight drop, no powering through. Lower back tightened up and I didn't attempt to finish the set. I worked bench, but skipped the leg press. That night I experienced similar discomfort and stiffness to the previous week, but I took NSAIDs for an extra day or two. I performed lighter paused squats @225lb and regular DL @225lb the following day. I've decided to reduce squat/deadlift weights some to give my back time to recoup.

    Now, on to the point of this post. I have no idea what I did to my back, what exactly caused it (poor valsalva leading to weak trunk in squat and DL??), and if I can expect it to happen again. My prescribed [email protected] DL weight when my back popped was 330lb, and I was evaluating those at 7.5's. I was feeling good. I'm not currently experiencing any pain or discomfort, but there is some mental block with any DL greater than 300 lbs. I'm simply scared to pull it. This week I had to try 3 or more attempts before I could get the weight off the ground, and even when I do it is a grind to lock out. I felt like I was psyching up for a PR with each attempt. The first day (Tues), I could not move 315. The second day (Thurs) I was able to rep 330 once. I'm simply scared to pull. I feel like I'm somehow lucky the pop only resulted in mild pain/discomfort and that next time it could be way worse (e.g. slipped disc). How do you gain confidence in your body?

  • #2
    When you run over a large pot hole in your car and you sheer the suspension there was a clear cause and a clear mechanical failure.

    Do you think your body works that way?

    Do you think that a poor valsalva or a weak trunk caused some failure in your back?


    • MEchase
      MEchase commented
      Editing a comment
      Yes, I do think that a poor valsalva can cause some type of failure in my back, with "failure" encompassing a wide variety of possibilities. I admittedly know very little about the body, kinematics of barbell movements, muscle stress, and load paths. Would releasing your breath/valsalva in the bottom of a heavy squat not defeat the rigidity of your core and instantly change how your body is supporting the load? Would this not change the stress experienced by the lower back in both magnitude and direction? My assumption is that any unplanned change in stress and load path would possess some chance of injuring a muscle.

    • ozneil
      ozneil commented
      Editing a comment
      Hi MEchase. You're correct that releasing your Valsalva at the bottom of a squat would change how your body supports the load. It would also possess some chance of injuring a muscle. Importantly it doesn't create a likely chance of injuring the muscle. In fact, if you trained regularly like that from a 7kg training bar up to 200kg over a few years, that would be your movement pattern. There is likely an increased risk of injury from doing new things with a high dose that you're not used to. If you're regularly squatting and you lose some tension in the bottom on the last couple of reps then that's not new, you're training your body to work like that.

      You've noted that losing tension in the bottom of the squat has not caused injury in your replies below, so it's definitely the case that it doesn't ALWAYS cause injury. You're worried that it increases your risk.

      There is an entire industry trying to convince you that movements are good or bad (just like food is good or bad). There are no good or bad movements or good or bad foods (excluding hitting yourself with a hammer or eating uranium). Good or bad exists in context. There are bad movements if they're new to you and you're over-dosing them.

      The better way to frame this is to believe that you're resilient and that your movements do not cause injuries. Occasionally injuries will occur, with no obvious cause. When that happens, follow the BBM prescription (find what movement pattern you can accomplish and work back up from that with the same frequency you were training with before) and in a few weeks it will be fine. This may happen once or twice a year leaving most months available to get stronger and healthier.

      There are many people I know from these boards who have embraced this frame and have moved on from feelings of being broken, old, damaged or helpless; including me.
      To get from here to there, I'd focus your training on low RPE, high volume sets to practice the movements in a way that feels safe to you and progressively reduce the volume and then increase the RPE. You may want some personalized coaching on that journey. Good luck and let us know how it goes!

  • #3
    Hey man,

    I know exactly where you're coming from - I tweaked my back around this time last year pulling (I think) 385x1 @ 8. Similar sharp pain, popping sensation, etc. It took me much longer than I would've liked to get over the mental anxiety of deadlifting heavy, but I've since gotten over it and have added almost 100 lbs to my singles @ 8 since then. Basically, you will rebuild that confidence with time and as you understand your pain more. I wish I had bought into and believed in the pain science stuff that BBM preaches sooner, because it's gold. If you get a grasp on that, you'll no doubt get over your mental barriers faster than I did. That being said, here are a couple things that I did that helped me get over it. One is programming related, and the second is mental.


    My initial back pain was just not going away, so I changed my deadlift programming entirely for a while. Dr. Ray on BBM's staff helped me with this immensely, as well as understanding pain in general. I haven't paid attention to BBM's templates recently, but they might have a back pain template by now that would be worth checking out. What I did was I dropped the relative intensity and focused on reps that weren't necessarily pain free but at least tolerable. I kept my squat and bench programming the same, but did 303 tempo deadlifts ramping up to a top set of 6 reps @ 7 or something like that at first. As long as pain was either decreasing or at least not getting worse, I would try to increase the load a little each week, either by getting up to a higher RPE, doing fewer reps per set, or using a quicker tempo. Then, I started adding in more volume until I was doing something like 3 sets of 5 @ 8 with no tempo. By that point, I had done hundreds of relatively painless deadlift reps and had increased the weight in the process to the point where my e1RM was not far off from where it was pre-tweak. This gave me a lot of confidence to try working up to singles @ 6, then @ 7, then eventually @ 8.


    This is honestly so important, and it took me so long to fully grasp - understand that little "injuries" like back tweaks are just apart of training and life as a whole. Back pain in particular is immensely common - thousands if not millions of people who have never touched a barbell in their lives experience it. Training pain free for the rest of your life is simply not a realistic goal. I understand your anxiety, though. I come from a relatively athletic background, and was very accustomed to occasional joint pain, but lower back pain freaked me out. I would have no problem squatting through some mild knee soreness or benching with some minor elbow pain, but a hurt back was very scary for me. I always associated back pain with something being wrong with my discs or my spine itself, much like it sounds like you do. Understand that pain is in your brain and not necessarily associated with any tissue damage. As long as you didn't experience any traumatic event, like a car crash or falling off the roof or something like that, you're most likely fine and probably just aggravated something that will heal up on its own. Just keep training as you're able and you should be fine. You might tweak it again at some point down the road, but you'll be better equipped to handle it then.

    Personally, since my initial lower back issues a year ago, I have tweaked my back a handful of other times. I've tweaked it pulling a heavy deadlift single and I've tweaked it doing a pause squat warmup set of 225, there's really not a whole lot of rhyme or reason to it, other than I think it tends to happen when I get lazy and don't brace properly. I have always been able to return to normal training within a week or sooner as long as I stay positive and don't panic. I actually tweaked it for the first time in a while two Tuesdays ago doing leg press of all things. My back was so tight and I was in so much pain I couldn't stand up out of the leg press seat for like 5 minutes, but I got up eventually and started doing some air squats and air RDLs. My back was unbelievably tight getting out of bed the next morning, and I had to lighten my loads a little for my squat and deadlift variations in the second half of that week, but was back to hitting normal numbers for my comp squat and deadlift the following Monday and Tuesday. Just stay positive, don't catastrophize, and keep training as you're able. You'll surprise yourself with how resilient your body is. Once you understand that little aches and tweaks are normal and usually not indicative of anything too serious long term, lifting heavy becomes a lot less anxiety inducing.

    Good luck!



    • Michael Ray
      Michael Ray commented
      Editing a comment
      Well said Nate.

    • Nate B
      Nate B commented
      Editing a comment
      Appreciate the stamp of approval! Thanks again for all your help with my rehab and back pain anxiety issues. I'm hoping to pull something around 240kg in competition in about 6 weeks here - I would've had a hard time believing that 9 months ago.

    • MEchase
      MEchase commented
      Editing a comment
      Wow, thank you for taking the time to write this out! The information you provided along with you're experience and way with words has helped me work through this. I'm sorry I didn't respond sooner. After my initial week of backing way off, I've largely kept the same program I was running before and backed the weights off what was prescribed. I've been slowly ramping up working set weight since then, but I'm progressing much slower on the 1-rep sets. I guess I'm lucky that it wasn't bad enough that I felt the need to change the program, only weights. I'm definitely not back up to the pre-injury e1RMs and my 1 rep sets are lagging further behind. I'm making an effort to not "push" things and let the weights naturally climb back up.

      I'm paying a TON of attention to the valsalva while trying to also focusing on technique. There is a noticeable change in my form after rep 5 of working sets (both squat and DL), which I'm concerned is affecting my core (and thus loading in the back). I'm thinking the form change is due to a weakened valsalva from being winded. It makes me nervous mid-set and completely distracts me. It seems like a slight variation of the mental block. Obviously this is a result of poor work capacity / conditioning, but it has always been something that I powered through without much concern. It wasn't a physical limitation and I wasn't worried about injury due to a slightly changed form. Now I feel differently. I decided today that I need to reset weights again to a point where getting winded doesn't weaken my valsalva and I can pay better attention to technique. I guess we'll see where that experiment goes.

  • #4
    This thread has been really helpful for me, i have been out of pulling for a considerable amount of time as I also play ultimate frisbee. I had a contact and hurt my lower back in the fall. This post has really helped me understand and learn of ways to approach post-injury rehab and making way into frisbee as well as pulling. Another thing that i had been doing (mostly out of desperation) as physical activity was restricted, reading about the very nature of pain and how diff it is to be measured and how subjective of an experience it is. (See Chap 16 on this Anatomy and Physiology text for some amazing insights into how the neural pathway especially makes this subjectivity even more elusive)


    • #5
      I just found this thread, I am in a similar position currently. Nice to see that I am not alone here. I hurt my lower back doing [email protected] deadlifts with 150 kg like 4 months ago. After that I have hurt my back again 4 times: 3 times with conventional and once with sumo. I can squat, bench and press pain free, I have PRed them with this injury. Sumo is more tolerable than conventional. Today I worked up to 120 kg x [email protected] with sumo. I didn't want to go heavier or do more sets due to recent lower back injuries.

      After the injury I started deadlifting too heavy too early, I actually PRed my conventional deadlift with 165 kg (lol) even though 165 kg is far from my estimated max which is 180 kg. I had lower back pain mid rep and after that the pain was worse. I feel like I might have pulled 180 kg or close to it on that day without this injury. I have wanted to pull 4 plates for a while now because I still haven't been able to do it. My bench is already over 2 plates and my press is over 1 plate (not very impressive either). I haven't squated 3 plates yet either even though I could squat it based on estimated 1 rm.

      I am doing Powerbuilding 1 now. It currently calls for sets of [email protected] on deadlifts. I feel like that is too much volume and intensity for my lower back currently but I could be wrong. I have checked out BBM's lower back stuff and I posted some questions about my injury in forums.

      Now the idea is to keep pulling sumo on day 3. I start doing 5-3-0 tempo RDL:s on day 1 (Jordan recommended them but I haven't really done them). I might try doing what the program calls for next week but I am very conservative with RPE. We will see how this goes...


      • Nate B
        Nate B commented
        Editing a comment
        Hey, how has training been going since you posted this?

      • jask558
        jask558 commented
        Editing a comment
        I have a training log in forums. Last deadlift session I did sumo deadlifts. I did 120 kg and 125 kg for sets of 6. Intensity felt about right (@[email protected]). No lower back pops or anything. Maybe some discomfort. Still about 20 kg less than my previous conventional numbers before this injury.

        I did RDL's with 100 kg x 10 on Tuesday. Some lower back discomfort. I have to work on my RDL form, I haven't done them previously. The bar kept hiting my knees when lowering the weight. Maybe I have to push hips back more.

        Lower back is not pain free. I have lower back pain even when I am not lifting, not all the time though.