One mindset tip for the barbell athlete

Dr. Justin Baharally, PT, DPT


Lifting pushes your physical abilities, testing them time after time. I’m willing to bet that you’ve experienced doubts, fears, and frustration when it comes to your training. Especially in times of hardship, it’s a challenge to maintain a positive attitude regarding training. However, these feelings are normal and we honestly can’t control them. I’d like to share some lessons surrounding mindset I have learned from a time where I was very close to giving up after an injury.

About 2 years ago, I was in a very challenging stage in my life. I was in my final year of physical therapy school, studying with a schedule that was all over the place thanks to the pandemic. At this point, I made any and all changes I could to get my training in. The solution at this point was to wake up before class to train so that I could make time to stay on top of my studies. About two weeks in I was doing fine. It felt as though waking up at four in the morning to train was my norm. However that all changed quickly when I experienced my first injury. I was squatting with a safety bar and I was a little behind on time. I decided to speed things up by cutting my rest a bit shorter than usual. On the last rep of the last set, I felt like someone had drop kicked me in the middle of my back as a sharp pain had me hunched over. I didn’t think dropping that amount of weight so early in the morning was a good idea, so I fought to finish the rep. After I racked the bar, I fell to the floor in pain.


Fast forward a couple of days and it was clear to see that this wasn’t something that would get better overnight. It was a constant pain that got worse as I tried to move. It was even tough to reach for a bag of chips across the table. I have never experienced this type of pain in my life, so naturally it saddened me more than ever. So many thoughts were racing through my mind, all leading to the same worry: “Will I be able to train again?”

Thankfully as you’re reading this I’m doing well with my training, so past Justin can be at ease. However, the recovery wasn’t easy. Physically, I recovered in about three weeks’ time. Mentally, it took months to feel confident again. It took a lot of action and mental training to build my confidence again, but the lessons I learned from this setback are some that I will carry and pass down for the rest of my career.


Before you continue to read into these lessons, you must understand one thing: If you get injured, communicate with your coach as soon as possible. They will help you navigate what’s going on and whether or not it seems like an issue that needs to be managed by medical professionals. Long story short, rule out the scary stuff and then you can proceed.

The biggest game changer for my mindset has been the following advice that my former coach shared with me: You can’t control your reactions right off the bat, but you can manage your response to those reactions to get a better outcome. I was frustrated, upset, and disappointed at what had happened that day. My coach allowed me to feel my emotions, and validated my emotions as I shared them with him. With that, he also created a plan to get me back on my feet. Essentially, he helped me understand that we do not control our thoughts and emotions as they happen. These feelings happen to us, and it is our responsibility to manage our response to them rather than controlling the emotions themselves. I wanted to give up and just stop training. Emotions such as anxiety, worry, and fear all set in. Thankfully, my coach and I identified that this was not an appropriate way to manage those emotions. Instead, we talked about a solid plan that gave me a light at the end of this tunnel.


The next time you experience some type of setback, think less about controlling your emotions and think about what plan gives you the best way to manage them. Understand what you have control over and set a plan to take action. I’d like to leave you with a quote from Mark Rippitoe that has always stuck with me during my training ever since I heard it:

“Strong people are harder to kill than weak people, and are more useful in general”

I used to think of this from a physical lens only. However, once I looked at this both physically and mentally, the game was changed. Stay strong and keep pushing forward.


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