To Compete (Part 1 of 3)

Time to explore a pillar of powerlifting – competing

Competition is what powerlifting is about. They say you can’t call yourself a powerlifter until you’ve stepped on the platform (i.e. competed).

They don’t say that you have had to compete and have done well. Nor that you have had to compete on a big stage (e.g. National, International etc.).

All they say is that you have had to competed. Because competing brings with it a set of experiences which training in the gym simply doesn’t.

Fresh from competing at British Universities, where he won the 74kg class, Raghul shares his thoughts.

What’s a competition?

I’m going to take you through a competition and highlight the various challenges one faces.

Of course there are the clear physical challenges of lifting heavy weights, but here I’ll be examining the mental side. What goes through an athlete’s mind? What struggles does one face? What are our failings? What are the key learning opportunities? What principles learnt from competing can be applied elsewhere? What principles learnt elsewhere can be applied to competing?

1. The overture – a few months out

The date has been penciled in. The goal is in sight. Training presses on.

Nothing changes immediately, of course. A certain day months in the future doesn’t necessarily ignite an overhaul (I mean, that’s why there is cramming for exams). But at some point most of us start feeling something.

The build up to a competition may incite a number of feelings, two of them being:

A. Excitement

Competing gives you a goal with a specific time frame. This can help motivate you to work hard both in the gym and out (e.g. making sure your sleep and nutrition are on point). Maybe competing helps you focus on training. Or maybe it doesn’t. Either way, all those hours we spend training in the gym… competing allows us to show the fruits of our labour. It’s a platform for us to shine.

It’s a time to showcase a package of lifts you can be proud of. And these will tend to be heavy. You’re going to get excited.

But with your anticipation for competition, often we find another feeling.

B. Performance Anxiety

Will you get in your own way?  Will your expectations of yourself create anxiety?

A lot of this stems from wanting to perform at a certain standard. And if you don’t think you are doing so, feelings of disillusion hit. For example, you come up with a ‘master plan’ where you decide you want to lift certain numbers in training, or progress a certain amount each week. You believe this will help you lift ‘x’ kg on comp day. Who cares whether your body can keep up with your mind… mind over matter, right? Right? Well, whilst it’s useful to dream and visualise, it’s important to also be pragmatic.

Often this attitude is fueled by the competition. And I don’t just mean those you’ll be competing with, but everyone around you. Sometimes you see other people progress faster or hit numbers that make you feel like you are lagging. It’s then easy to establish a frame where you are competing with everyone. Where if they lift a heavier weight, you’re losing. Where if they progress faster, you’re losing.

Again, we get to the principle of maximising your own performance. You have no control of what everyone else is doing, and you don’t have a complete understanding of their full behind-the-scenes. It’s easy to say and hard to do, but shifting the perspective back to ourselves has been helpful. Suzanne often disables social media/reduces usage to help stay in her own bubble and not get distracted. I like to reduce usage too. My Instagram feed is mainly powerlifting now due to their algorithms. It gets a bit sickening. Give me some cute animal videos instead!

Some reflections

I used to get very excited for competitions. I would dream about the big weights I would do. I was competitive in my weight class so would stalk the competition to work out what weights I would need to lift in order to set myself up for a good placing.

I saw the upcoming competition as simply a stepping stone to the next one. It was just a chance to set some new personal bests and set myself up well for the next competition.

And I would never achieve these dreams. I’d miss the attempts or overthink or just place too much pressure on myself to perform. This often resulted in sub-par competition experiences. Unenjoyable ones.

But for my latest competition I didn’t do this.

I had just moved up a weight class so was not as competitive as I used to be. There were quite a few people who were stronger than me on paper, so I had far less pressure on myself. I didn’t expect to be able to podium so my goals shifted from trying to outperform someone else, to improving on my previous performances.

I saw the upcoming competition as simply a stepping stone to the next one. It was just a chance to set some new personal bests and set myself up well for the next competition.

Coming into the comp, I was excited to compete and had little pressure. Ideal. I performed. I made all my attempts and they were all safe choices. The people who should have placed higher than me missed attempts. I didn’t and I won.

Suzanne has found the same thing – she has performed best when having little to no expectation of placing. For example, when competing at University World Championships 2018, where she competed having just moved up into the 72kg class. Similarly to Raghul’s example above, people who were nominated above her missed attempts, and she placed 3rd making 8/9 attempts after having originally been nominated 10th.

Now I’m not saying I don’t dream about big goals. I still do. I think it’s important. But being pragmatic about your own performance when you need to be (on meet day) is important.

2. A few days out

When you first signed up for the competition, nothing really changed. Training and life went on as normal.

But when you’re a few days out, everything has changed.

The physical aspect of training has changed considerably. You probably have stopped all training and are now allowing your body to recover before competing. Often, this makes you want to get on the platform even more. You’ve trained extremely consistently for months on end and now you are forced to take some time off. It builds the hunger to lift again.

You must deprive yourself of the one of the few constants life can offer. You want it back.

In addition to the clear difference in training, you are also buying food for the competition, you are trying to sleep earlier, you are planning your attempts for the big day.

Everything is leading so purposefully towards competition day. You’re maybe a bit nervous. But you’re excited too.

Tomorrow, you lift off.

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