Unexpected Lessons

If you ask my grandma, “bodybuilder” and “powerlifter” are synonyms. We all lift weights and wear spandex and eat food.  Tomato, tomahto.

Yeah, I know, she’s wrong.  I know she’s wrong because I have recently taken a little time out from powerlifting to pursue a little time in physique sports.  Over the past six months or so, I have grown to really appreciate the other side of iron sports.  The two sports are so different that I have learned drastically different lessons along the way.

Things I didn’t expect to learn powerlifting

Programming is everything:  I have ran lots of different programming methods in the past, and have done a LOT of stupid stuff.  The perpetual newb in me wants to max out EVERY SINGLE DAY ALWAYS AND FOREVER.  Hell, there was a point in time where I vehemently defended my stance that to get strong and lift heavy, you need to lift heavy always.  Luckily, I had more successful powerlifters around me that sat me down, and convinced me to start using a little more grey matter.

Enjoy the journey:  Real progress is SLOW.  It can get frustrating to set life-time goals and realize how far you are from them.  However, as time passes, you have two options: take steps towards your goals or don’t.  Some of the best experiences I have had as a human being have been during less-than-stunning training days. Slow down, enjoy each step along the way, and love the ride you are on.

Value your peers: There are exceptions, but for the most part, I think the powerlifting comradery is of the best in iron sports.  Granted everyone thinks they have the best friends, but the kindness I have received from complete strangers at powerlifting meets and clinics is really incredible.  Further, some of the advice I have received from veteran lifters have been game changers!  The genuine desire to improve other lifters is undeniable.

Eat:  Umm..this seems like such a no-brainer, but I AM a female.  I have wanted to be leaner, smaller, lighter, etc.  The tendency to shy away from eating in fear of weight gain has absolutely plagued me. However, your body punishes you for such a mentality after any amount of time.  The easy remedy is to eat and eat and eat!  However, there’s really no need to gain extra adipose.  Fuel yourself for activity, enjoy life a bit, and give yourself the proper nutrients.  Your body composition will work itself out.

Appreciate your body for what it is:  This is a hard one and maybe one I would have never learned without powerlifting.  In a society where we are directly or indirectly made to feel as though we should look a certain way, its hard to opt out of self criticism.  Powerlifting passively taught me to appreciate my body for what it can do.  As cliche as it sounds, I love my body for what it is and what life experiences I’ve been able to have because of it.

Things I didn’t expect to learn from competitive physique sports

Give it 100%:  In theory, dieting for a show with the help of a prep coach is easy.  They tell you what/how much to eat, when to eat it, and you just execute.  Its FAR from easy though.  The minute details all add up.  They all matter.  If your coach says no diet soda, guess what?  You dont get to drink diet soda.  If your coach says to drink 2 gallons of water, you better get every ounce in.  Any decent prep coach will have a reason for each stipulation.  Aside from following the master plan, do it because it strengthens you as a human.  Anything worth having is worth going all out for.  Take pride in yourself and this sport if you want to compete in it.  Theres never an excuse for not working hard.

Very few people matter:  Physique sports are very subjective sports.  It can mold interesting characters.  When you put your body out in the open to be criticized, it will be.  Trust me.  Some of the things said might hurt your feelings. If you can handle it as constructive, then do so.  If someone is just being a mean person, recognize that.  Realize this: people that are negative towards you dont matter. Remember who is important, appreciate them, and let them have the best of you.

Enjoy the journey:  Yeah, this again.  When I mentioned it with powerlifting, it was easy to imagine:  hitting PRs, eating lots of food, resting.  However, with dieting, its kind of hard to paint a pretty picture.  Yeah, I’m not always jumping out of bed to eat a can of tuna and head off for my first workout of the day, but theres some beauty in doing it anyway.  You learn a lot about yourself in depleted states and you learn a lot about how you feel about things going on around you.  I have said this before, but theres a stream of consciousness that I think only occurs in dieted states that makes you extremely aware.  Plus, the week-by-week changes are incredible.  Just as in anything, celebrate your small steps, and dont worry about the end result.

Do not get caught up in winning:  If you are doing all you can, you are personally successful in this sport.  You dont know who is going to step on stage the day you get there.  At some point, Nicole Wilkins competed at a state level show…and someone lost to her.  Are they big failures? Absolutely not!  Its fun to imagine the glory, but it distracts from what’s really going on:  you are accomplishing a personal goal and promise to yourself.  That is far more important than winning a trophy.

Its more than a 16 week prep:  I wish I could scream this from the roof tops.  Every competitor talks about what they are going to eat post-contest.  Im guilty of it myself (bacon cheeseburger, btw).  However, post contest is a very critical time to practice diligence in reverse dieting.  Im not sure why this is debatable, but i’m going to break it down how I see it: post contest, you are prone to be a FAT STORING MACHINE.  You have been at bodyfat levels that your body DOES NOT want to be at, DOES NOT function well at, and FIGHTS to get out of.  With that, hormonal responses will trigger hunger and even binging.  You have been at some sort of caloric deficit for a considerable amount of time.  Have your post show lottery, but get to reversing pretty quick and rehabbing your metabolism.  Hell, reversing is an article subject all its own.

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1 Response
  1. Absolutely right – it’s always good to have a cecohas eyes. I spent a few days at a coaching seminar two weeks ago and came home with several things to work on that I wouldn’t have picked up on my own.I think the issue with the squat is that there are different ways to squat that are activity-specific. Squatting under load is different than without. Front squats are slightly different from back squats, and even from goblet squats. So, I think the problem we are facing as fitness pro’s is one of too much information and not enough clarity regarding the context in which we are training. It all comes down to your personal goals and what specifically you are trying to accomplish. Without that, it’s just another movement like the rest of them that happens to be useful more often than not.

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