You hear it in videos, you read it in articles, you see it on Instagram photos: “I am competing against myself’, ‘it is me vs. myself”, etc. Well, as someone who formerly swore they would never compete, I am here to tell you that these statements are mostly hot, steaming bowls of poop soup.
Look, I get it, you may be new to lifting, and you don’t want to compete. That is fine, as it is your choice. But, if you aren’t going to compete, you should at least be honest with yourself, regarding the reasons why. More often than not, it comes from fear: fear of losing, fear of looking like an idiot, or more importantly, fear that you might not be as strong as you like to think you are. Ironically, these are all great reasons as to why you should compete. Unless you don’t mind living with these feelings, competing will help to alleviate them quickly.
Let me tell you a little story about myself: When I started LBEB, I lied to myself and said that I was fine with never competing, that you didn’t have to previously be an athlete to be a coach (I even found a few high-level college football coaches who never played football to back up my position), and that competing isn’t really necessary in order to get better. While some of these things can be true in the rarest of cases (That is why they stand out, due to their rarity), they were really just things I told myself to justify my fear of competing.
You would be hard pressed to find another male athlete and writer out there that has to deal with all of the negativity that is sent my way. I am one of the lucky few that gets called “obese” and “skinny guy with chicken legs” in the same day. I could have internalized all of these things and quietly suffered from gluteal distress, but I decided to compete instead. June 2013 was my first Strongman competition, and although I took second place out of five, I didn’t feel like I earned it, because I didn’t get a single rep on two of the events. Rather than dwelling on what I considered to be a poor performance, I used this as fuel to get better and better. Last month was the first show where I completed all events, including the press event, previously considered to be the bane of my existence.
This is the big disconnect between the “working out” crowd, and the “training” crowd. The training crowd knows that although a win may not be in the cards, there is always something you gain from a competition. Whether it is a big PR, some tips and tricks from more seasoned athletes regarding training or equipment, or even just expanding your local network of known lifters, you never know how a competition may benefit you. I promise you, whatever fear you may have about competing, whether it is justified or not, has probably been overcome by someone else before you.
When I went to school as a teenager, I was friends with a girl who, I didn’t know at the time, would become an inspirational figure for Powerlifting. During school, we would make trips to Jack In The Box, and try to figure out how to pronounce their new “Ciabatta” sandwich. A few years later, she would become involved in a boating accident that took one of her legs. What did she decide to do?
That’s right, instead of dwelling on the fear of failure, the fear of being judged, she decided to compete in Powerlifting with one leg. Can you fathom that? Now, look at your fear of competing, and compare it to hers. Hopefully now yours seems trivial in comparison.
This is not to say that your fear of your first competition isn’t justified, it absolutely is: you have no idea of what you are getting into, and how you will respond to it. Like I said, I had almost no confidence in my abilities when I started lifting, so believe me when I say that I know exactly how you feel. You can take some solace in the fact that no one is ever “ready” for their first competition. By the time someone is truly “ready”, they are probably getting close to the advanced, or even pro level. Just like with anything in lifting, the only way to overcome weakness is to tackle the issue head-on.
One of the best things about competing is it truly shows you where your strengths are lacking. It is easy to be a gym hero, or even a Youtube hero, but it takes a true competition to show where you really stand. Just as water seeks its own level, so will you, if you continue to just “work out”. If progress is your goal (if it isn’t, what are you doing here?), then a competition is how you get there. Sure, setting PRs in the gym is fun and even useful at times, but beating someone else is even more fun. And for me personally, winning now feels better than any gym PR ever did.
This isn’t to say that your primary goal in life is to beat others, that isn’t mentally healthy. However, taking all those endless hours spent in the gym, focusing them on a tangible goal like winning, then actually winning, is one of the greatest feelings ever. Not only does it feel great, it justifies why we train so hard in the first place.
Your first few competitions don’t even need to necessarily be about winning, just getting competition experience is its own reward. Though as you progress, winning should probably become a goal. Otherwise, just competing “for fun” can turn into a cop-out as to why you haven’t trained hard enough to win in the first place. If you have been training your face off for the last six months, why would you NOT want to win? Get onto that competition stage and leave nothing in the tank, give it everything you have, and you will profoundly show everyone, and more importantly yourself, what you are capable of when push comes to shove.
Just to be clear, I am writing this with the knowledge that I am still an amateur Strongman, with many years of hard training ahead of me before I get close to my overall goals. The important thing to remember is I started competing before I felt “ready”. There are still events at shows that I dread, and I may even fail, but I attempt them anyway. You may feel like other competitors are judging your failures at the competition, but even if they see you fail, they should be so preoccupied with their own performance that they won’t pay too much attention to yours.
Stop making excuses for why you aren’t competing and give it a chance, you might find yourself pleasantly surprised with the new-found fire that has been lit under your training. Do you have some knowledge you gained from your first competition? Post your experiences in the comments below, or on our Facebook page.