No Problems – Only Opportunities for Growth | Andrew Lewis

by Andrew Lewis, SSC | November 09, 2022

andrew lewis coaching a lifter

You've been steadily progressing on your linear progression for weeks on end with no problems. You're eating right, sleeping right, and adding five pounds to the bar every workout. You think your technique is correct, but you want to be sure, so you get feedback. Maybe you buy a single in-person coaching session. Or you post a form check to the Technique forum on Or you decide to get online coaching, and get technique form checks that way. To your dismay, the first feedback is that you're squatting five inches high, and you need to take enough weight off the bar to squat to depth. You get disheartened and frustrated, all of this work to be ruined by a reset. Months of work and eating and sleeping right – it feels like everything has been wasted.

But that's not the reality. The reality is that you've made a lot of progress, not all is lost, and the technique error was already there prior to you discovering it. It just seems new, because you weren't aware of it for the weeks it was present. The only path forward is to fix it and do so quickly for three reasons. First, it may drift back into your technique in the future. Second, you're losing time every day it stays unfixed. Third, most problems don't get better with time; they get worse.

It's far more productive to approach this process with excitement at the opportunity to grow and learn, as opposed to viewing it with apprehension and stress. Reframing it as an opportunity for growth will fix the problem faster and prepare you for similar issues in the future. A five-inch high squat might as well be a different exercise than a full-depth squat anyway. In this example, you should just think about correct depth as a totally different exercise if it helps reframe it.

Breaking It Down If You're Stuck in This Mindset

The idea that a challenge is a catastrophic problem can be ingrained to the point where simply being told "reframe it in a positive light" will not help. You'll have to alter this belief in active parts: recognize, dispute, reframe.

The first step will be recognizing your internal model of “challenge, therefore: stress, frustration, disheartening.” This emotional response might immediately trigger the recognition if you've effectively accepted and committed to the need to change how you frame challenges. However, it may not happen right away. It might be ten minutes after the first ideation. It might be twenty minutes. You may not even recognize it until you calm down and are thinking clearly later – potentially hours or days later. Over time, you will become faster at recognizing this if you practice.

The second step is to dispute the “catastrophic” belief. You may have to literally talk to yourself internally: “This is not a horrible thing. This is one aspect of my lifting that's not perfect and that I can improve.” Your individual reasoning to dispute the hyperbolic negativity will be something you need to develop and experiment with. Additionally, understand that you're not try to abdicate your responsibility to solve the problem, particularly if you're a coach. You're trying to see the situation accurately, not as the imaginary catastrophic form it's taken. Piece together evidence of what the situation actually is in order to have the most accurate understanding of what is happening and what needs to happen.

Finally, reframe it: “This is an opportunity to learn something. This is an opportunity to get better. This is not just about one occurrence. This could happen again, and I'll need to be able to recognize and fix it quickly.” Find what works to calm yourself and focus on the positive: these challenges are opportunities for growth. Deconstruct the problem to its mechanics and see the problem as a intellectual one – this will calm the emotional part of the brain as the logical part starts to analyze.

It's Probably Not Your Body – It's Your Technique

Almost all technique problems are coaching problems that can be solved in five minutes on the platform by a competent coach. The problem is sufficient knowledge and action – not physiological or situational limitations. Some problems cannot be fixed in this manner. An example is long forearms in the clean. Some lifters cannot rack the bar because of their long forearms, not because of some lack of understanding or coaching. Unfortunately, these lifters don't get to power clean. They snatch. But the default assumption should be that there's something you can do right now to fix this technical problem. Technical problems don't get better over time or with more weight. They only get worse: an arm pull on a clean, squatting high, or jerking the bar off the ground in the deadlift. Just fix them now.

This is why having a coach is so valuable. When you hire a coach, you're paying for time, and time is finite, so you may not be able to afford the time for ineffective and inefficient training depending on your circumstances. A 80-year old who has to use a cane to walk does not have the time to make mistakes and learn from them. A coach has already made those mistakes with himself and previous clients, and learned from them. That's what you're paying for: experience, and the communication of that experience. You can bypass a lot of problems by hiring an effective coach.

Coaches have similar stress with "problems" with their lifters. You've had these experiences if you're a coach. You think you're doing the right stuff, but then you uncover a problem you can't fix. It could be a lifter who can't set his back in the deadlift. You feel pressure to get this fixed, but you struggle. So you might push it off and think “We'll work on it.” Well, it never gets better. Just fix it now. You might have to take three minutes (an eternity in platform time) problem solving with different ideas. Get creative. Try different cues and methods if you've already tried the ones that usually work. Do not default back to what's comfortable, because if that worked, it would already have been fixed.

You might dread working with this person because you feel the stress of not being able to fix it. Try instead to see the situation as not just one person, but all of the lifters you will serve in the future who have this problem. You're not problem-solving for one lifter – you're problem solving an issue for hundreds of future lifters. Get help: talk to other coaches, investigate the problem online, and do some research. You should always have one or two potential solutions before the next session you have with this lifter if you haven't fixed it yet. Finally, never blame your lifters if they're legitimately trying – it's not their fault there's miscommunication. Your job is communication, and they're paying you to get them to move correctly.

Get excited. There's lots to be learned out there. A new problem is just an opportunity to get better at lifting or coaching. It can seem frustrating when you try something that doesn't work and you can't seem to make progress, but that's what the community is for. Get coaching with a Starting Strength Coach, check out the Starting Strength videos, or get on the forums. You don't have to do this alone if you can't figure it out, and you shouldn't be so stressed out about a lifting or coaching problem that you lose sleep. Think of it as an opportunity for improvement.  

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