“The Iron” by Henry Rollins is one of the most widely quoted passages about lifting weights and the impact it can have on someone’s life.  And for good reason: its a reminder that the absolute nature of training can be one of the most consistent, unwavering additions in someones life. Sure, strength gains are not linear and the nature of training can feel very finicky, but at the end of the day “200lbs is always 200lbs.”  I was talking to a friend this weekend, and we have noticed that this is most commonly thought of as a powerlifting anthem.  However, perhaps it can be applied to physique sports as well.

1.) The stage photos doesn’t lie:  the beauty of physique sports is that while the judging is fairly subjective, the athletes performance is not.  While you can request score sheets, most competitors leave with a handful of stage photos and possibly a video of their time on stage.  If the athlete has any sort of self awareness, the photos will highlight their true weaknesses and their strengths.  These are valuable tools, as it allows competitors to face down the true state of their physical condition and come back better the next time. First time competitors and Mr. Olympia himself will often scrutinize their stage condition and strategize ways to bring a better package.  Its part of the long game, and one of the most humbling experiences a competitor encounters.

2.) You wont get to explain yourself: I see a lot of people on social media talking about their trials and tribulations getting to stage.  Some are truly tragic: death in the family, loss of relationships, etc.  Some are self inflicted: “powerbuilders” like to make sure everyone know that this is not their sole focus, first time competitors will (often correctly) cite their lack of experience to explain lapses in judgement come show day.  However, none of it matters. Bodybuilding shows are truly that: shows.  There is no pageant-style segment where each competitor talks about what badass powerlifters they were before this, or how short their prep was, or how unideal their lifestyle is for this kind of competition. Those are all private victories that you keep to yourself, while being judged equally against people you (probably wrongly) assume have a better set of circumstances.

3.) Winning your class isn’t the only way to win: Truly, this is a sport about self improvement.  Entirely.  The stream of consciousness that exists in states of depletion is truly unlike any other.  You will find quite quickly that in states of hampered energy, you will spend time and energy on people and things that matter, and nix the rest.  This requires an appraisal of your energy expenditures and the return on investment. Are there people/events/habits that are costing you time and giving you little in return?  You may find during this time that you give them the axe out of near necessity. Are you finding that their are people/events/habits that deserve a little more of the limited energy you possess? I promise you that prep will highlight the need to do so.  I also find that during contest prep, I find ways to connect with people outside of eating.  I know that nearly every cultural bond is centered around food: grabbing lunch to catch up with friends, eating breakfast with your church group, having dinner with your spouse.  However, what if you have to find a way to soak up company without eating food? What if I told you that food is sometimes a distraction? Contest prep forces your relationships to be focused on the relationship itself, and not the activities around them.  I think this is the ultimate human progress.