“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.
Behavior, Attitude, or Technique (B.A.T.). Which of these three elements of your life is letting you down and preventing you from reaching your goals? This is a method that was introduced to me by my brother Shane. He saw that I wasn’t reaching my goals like I wanted to and he informed me that I need to address either my behaviors, attitudes, or techniques if I wanted to be successful at reaching my goals. Goals are powerful tools that help us stretch to become more or better than what we currently are. Without a goal in mind how can you know where are you going or if you’re headed in the right direction? Everyone has their own unique goals so I am not going to try to help you decide which goals to set but instead I’m here to help you figure out how to better reach those goals when you have metaphorically “hit the wall”. If you are having trouble reaching your goals, it can mean that you need to alter or change your behavior, attitude, and/or technique.
Let me begin by saying that hitting a wall is not a bad thing. Sometimes a little adversity goes a long way to develop you into something better. Now that you’ve found the wall, what are you going to do about it? Are you going to reduce the scope or vision of your goal and start making excuses (i.e. weak genetics) or are you going to evaluate your life and current behaviors to determine what needs to change for you to reach your goals? All too often we play the blame game, the game of “I can’t achieve or accomplish this because of the external factors that influence my life.” All this does is relieve yourself of the opportunity to take responsibility for your own outcome. How about you start with changing your behaviors first and see what happens from there? That might be a great place to start!
Behaviors are the actions you chose in response to the goals that you set. Do you allow your goals to empower you and drive your daily actions or do you simply have your goals written down in your pretty princess diary sitting on your nightstand? Your goals are only powerful if you give them the power to motivate and move you. The behavior that you exude when you set your goal determines the efficacy of that goal and defines your ability to reach that goal. If you set a goal and nothing changes in your behavior then really all you did was doodle in a notebook. If you struggle with the behavior aspect, get an accountability partner. I will admit when I started powerlifting I thought I could do this on my own. I was wrong! So, I joined a team; a team is an entire group of accountability partners. If you struggle exercising on a regular basis then hire a trainer. I happen to know of several of the best trainers in Memphis that would love to hold you accountable and help you reach your goals. Include your friends and family in your goals and openly express your desires to embrace a new and better behavior. I am confident that you will be surprised at the support you will receive.
Behaviors can change with time and effort but only if the goal really reflects what you desire. Your attitude is shaped by your desires. I can tell what you desire by what you spend most of your day working on. Your attitude is the driving force behind your goals. It is the belief that you have in yourself and your ability accomplish a goal. A mentor once told me, “whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right!” Frequently I hear people say “that one got away from me” or “that bar was really heavy”; my thought is that you lost that battle in your head before you ever stepped up to the bar. Don’t defeat yourself because you have a few setbacks, simply adjust and determine the course of action for the course correction. If you don’t believe in yourself and your ability, then who does? In order to change your attitude about something I recommend that you get a book and learn about what you want to accomplish. You will see a drastic paradigm shift in your attitudes after you learn more about a subject matter. Think back to when you first saw powerlifting, bodybuilding, or whatever it is that you’re passionate about. You probably thought this is insane! Why would anyone want to live like this? I don’t think I could ever be strong enough, big enough, or fast enough to compete with these guys. Then think about when you first experienced that training high, that Personal Record, or that victory; what did you do next? I went and found books and articles on powerlifting and I was hooked. I am willing to bet that you experienced something very similar. Make your goals your passion by learning about them and I promise you will succeed!
The great thing about learning more about your sport or your passion is that when your knowledge improves your technique will improve as well. Technique is the actual performance aspect of the B.A.T. method. This includes anything from your form on lifts to how you prepare your meals. Technique is vital to your success as a lifter and in reaching your goals in life. Prepare yourself for optimal technique by watching other lifters. Ask questions, especially if you aren’t certain that your form is optimal. If you want to grow quickly as an athlete, I would recommend first taking a look at technique. This is the easiest thing to adjust that yields the most immediate results. My bench press improved by 20 pounds the day that David Allen taught me how to bench press properly. It only took minor adjustments in my set up and in my approach to the lift. Hammer in the technique over and over with your warmup sets then record your sets and evaluate your technique with a coach or a qualified friend. Notice that I said qualified friend because not all of your gym bros should be teaching you how to lift. Take time with technique; it will pay off and save you a lot of heartache in the long run. You will be able to lift more weights in the immediate future and continue to lift long into your career by avoiding unnecessary injuries.
I can’t solve all of your problems with behavior modifications but I highly recommend that you set a time aside to reflect upon your previous failures and successes; evaluate what behaviors made you successful and which ones led to failure. Find people who are successful and mimic their successful behaviors. Believe in yourself and have the confidence to meet a challenge head on. The greatest leaders in the world have one thing in common: they all believe in their ability to change, overcome, and succeed. Evaluate your technique with a fine toothed comb to discover where your shortcomings are. Use your resources to develop impeccable techniques for reaching your goals. Next time you have a goal that you don’t feel like your making progress in, use the B.A.T. method to determine where you’re falling short, address the issues, and correct your course to destroy the obstacles that stand between you and what you want!