When my daughter, Maia, was almost three years old, she nearly had an accident in the pool. The hotel where we stayed had a shallow kiddie pool connected to a deeper pool. Like the average toddler, getting her face wet was scary for her. However, while chasing her cousin around the shallow pool, she didn’t realize she was getting close to the deeper side. You can guess what happened next – she fell into the deeper pool. She went fully submerged for a split second before being rescued. There was a lot of crying at that moment because of the shock.

After that, she became hesitant whenever we went to the pool. What used to be swimming while holding the end of the pool noodle became, “I don’t want to go in.” And if her face got accidentally splashed with water, she went wild. It took her a while to regain some of her confidence.

To her, being underwater meant danger.

Sometimes, we may have a similar experience while under the bar. That fear might come from an injury you suffered while training or performing a particular movement. You might have experienced losing balance in the middle of the lift, which feels scary. It might also stem from the feeling that you might not be able to make the lift because the bar feels too heavy.

Whatever it is, to us, it means danger.

It’s hard to force our body to do something that’s mentally challenging or scary. It can often trigger a fight-or-flight response, causing the lifter to freeze or bail. Some call it the “mental block,” and it’s tough to solve! How do I know? Because even as a coach, I have it too! I often feel scared racking the bar when doing power cleans.

How should we respond to this fear? Shall we continue to run away and avoid it? Or shall we try to overcome it? If the answer is to overcome, how should we do it?

Strategies to overcome this fear:

Acquire the right skills

Maia’s fear of submerging herself in water comes from her fear of drowning. Once she knows how to swim, this situation should get better. She will still be nervous initially, but now she has the right tools to overcome it.

Lifting technique matters. Sometimes, fear stems from not knowing how to perform it safely and efficiently. If this is the case, getting coaching is the best way to learn quickly and correctly.

Creating a progression ladder

Maia’s swimming coach didn’t immediately plunge her underwater and expect her to swim up alive but rather took her through incremental steps to build her confidence while reassuring her that someone was beside her.

In lifting, we progress a little bit at a time. Sometimes, we may need to take a step back to adapt physically and gain/regain confidence. There’s no shame in taking that temporary step back – one step back, two steps forward.

The most important thing is to create those smaller steps and achieve these smaller milestones to overcome that fear.

Getting used to being near the “Danger Zone”

If you are nervous about lifting a certain weight, a strategy is to train close to that weight more often. For me, a 70kg power clean was my kryptonite at one point. The moment the bar was loaded to 70kg, it triggered funny things in my mind.

I started taking smaller jumps from 65kg, 1-2 kg each time, and repeating them if I didn’t feel too comfortable. 70kg doesn’t feel much different from doing 68kg or 69kg, but an immediate jump from 65kg made it feel like I’m in a different game.

Ultimately, doing many reps at 66-69kg desensitised my irrational fear of 70 kilograms.

Trying to do 1-2 kg than your “kryptonite weight” repeatedly won’t work for all lifts, especially the bigger lifts such as squats and deadlifts. However, the general idea is to do something that feels as heavy. Working within 5-10% of that “heaviest” weight should give you that same effect.

Be brave and try

At some point, the time will come to fight that monster again. You might have prepared for that moment, and your coach might give you the best pep talk in the world, but in the end, you are the one that has to execute that lift. You are the last person you need to convince to do it. Give yourself that chance to beat your fear!

Sometimes, it’s better not to know

The problem very often only lives inside our heads. It’s mentally more challenging than it actually is. There are some instances where this mental block occurs when the lifter gets scared because they need to lift in front of a bunch of people.

Sometimes, it can be better to not tell the lifter what weight is loaded on the bar for them. Simply telling them “Don’t bother what’s loaded on the bar, just know that it’s something manageable that you can do”. This way, it can avoid the lifter’s confidence being affected.

This strategy works well in a competition setting. The lifter doesn’t need to know what will be loaded for them.

But sometimes, you don’t immediately get it

Sometimes, even with all of those, we don’t win. That’s fine! This might not be your day. Analyse what’s wrong, and try again next time.

However, a little bit of fear is healthy.

I am not suggesting that you need to be as brave as Evel Knievel to lift weights. Those gigantic balls of steel would be an overkill for something as tame as lifting. However, feeling nervous before lifting your PR deadlift is probably a good thing.

A healthy dose of cautiousness helps you to “care” more about the execution of the lift and all the preparation work during training.

In the end, we still need to be cautious with our training. However, don’t let your fear hinder your progress. Take a step to tackle the weakness by learning the correct skill or creating a more accessible gradual slope to success.


My interest in fitness started when I was around 19 years old. Being overweight for most of my growing up years, I decided to do something about it. After months of not being able to achieve the desired results, I began poring through books and articles about training and nutrition. The more I read, the more interested I became in this field, and got better results when the the newly discovered knowledge was applied. After 1 year of persistence and hard work, I lost 24kg and felt fantastic. The sense of achievement motivated me to pursue a career in working with people to help them achieve their own fitness goals.

After achieving my weight loss goal, I tried a variety of training programs for a few years, looking for a new goal to train towards. After aimlessly moving around from program to program, I chanced upon a book called Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training, written by renowned strength and conditioning expert, Mark Rippetoe. Little did I know that this book was about to change my life and coaching career.

At that point, I had experience training with barbells and was relatively familiar with it but never have I come across any material that gave such explicitly detailed explanations of how to perform the barbell lifts. I devoured the book and modified my lifting technique and program. In just a few months, I was pleasantly surprised by how much stronger he had become. I now had a new goal to work towards – getting strong.

With full confidence in the efficacy of the Starting Strength methodology, I began coaching my clients using this program and got them stronger than they ever thought was possible. The consistent success my clients achieved through the program cemented my confidence in Mark Rippetoe’s teachings. I then decided to pursue the credential of being a Starting Strength Coach and I’m currently the first and only certified coach in Singapore and South-East Asia

In my 9 years of experience, I have given talks and ran programs at numerous companies and worked with a diverse group clientele of all ages with a variety of goals. Today, I specialise in coaching people in their 40s, 50s and beyond because it brings me a great sense of satisfaction to be part of the process of improving this demographics’ health and quality of life by getting them stronger.