To those of you who are new to the site, “Arm Yourself” is the series title for my opinion pieces. I want to be clear that this is simply my opinion and not to be taken as an absolute for anyone else.
This past Saturday, I competed. The event was the USPA Alabama State Championship in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, hosted by Charlie Lyons of Strong, Inc. at Holy Spirit High School. This isn’t new. I’ve now competed in many meets, shows, and competitions.
What’s new about this year is that I’m not competing just to get experience. I’m competing to make it to Nationals. This might happen this year, or it might be years from now, but I’m actively training, eating, running the numbers, and attending shows to get a qualifying score (I didn’t even know the actual scores until recently). My priority for this is Powerlifting, because I am much newer in every other type of competition. If I can get numbers good enough in Strongman or Bodybuilding in the process, that would be even better.
With all of that in mind, I’ve talked at length in other articles about diet, routine, and such. While we are nowhere close to exhausting those focuses of conversation, I would like to talk about the day of the actual meet, and why I will never get tired of it, even if my body does one day force me to simply show up to support others, judge, or volunteer.
I love meet days because they are life in a nutshell.
Meets have ups and downs.
Leading to the meet, I weighed 189. I wanted to get down to 181 so that I could easily make the 1261 I needed to qualify for Nationals. I came in at 185.5. Looking at Randy, the guy who weighed me in, he asked if I wanted to drop four more pounds and come back. Knowing I had not eaten or drank anything for 24 hours, I cashed in my chips. Downside? I didn’t make it to 181, and my three lift total was below what I needed in the 198 class. Upside? I got to eat, down some Gatorade, get some water, and return to normal. It also turned out the guy I thought was going to be my main competition in the 198 class (looking at you, Alex) was not only a Junior, but he had trimmed down from over 200 pounds to 195. Even if we had come in at the same deadlift, I would have weighed 10 pounds less and netted the win. Additionally, I ended up having the heaviest deadlift for my weight class with 562.5.
How is that like life?
Sometimes in life, all you’re focused on is the ways life has screwed you over. But are you married, do you have a kid that looks up to you, did you just have a great first date, did you earn a paycheck, save some money, are you in good health? There are many victories that we need to consider when we focus only on the ways we missed something. Take it in stride, stay humble, look for the ways you can still win, and move on.
Sometimes you get knocked down for two attempts, but nail your third.
I arrived at the meet location at 0800 and the meet didn’t start til 0930 and I was the last of three flights. I was waiting a while. I should have been ready. Instead, I let myself get distracted when my wife showed up, and by the time I ran back to the waiting line, I was next for squats. I had no time to throw on wraps, and I ran up, attempted the lift, and came in an inch too high. Next attempt, I had everything on and ready, but when I came back up from my squat, I couldn’t remember if I was supposed to wait for a command. It was a rookie moment, but I had gotten in my own head. In the meantime, my body faltered a little, there was an “up and down movement” and I was disqualified… for two squats now. Both of those were for 420 pounds. Now I had to decide to stay on the board and keep a three lift total. I got my head right, added 9 pounds and nailed a 429 squat. Had I let my failure get to my head, I would have sunk that last one and not been in the running for a total. Had I not laid a little on the line, I could have settled for 429. You can’t win if you don’t put in maximum effort, but you can’t win if you’re not on the board either. That’s a tricky balance. You have to be smart, but you have to be hungry.
How is that like life?
Before you got the job you have now, how many times did you have to apply someplace else? I’m sure it was more than five or ten times. People rarely apply for one or even two jobs and get the first two. Did you marry the first guy or girl you met? If so, congrats! If not, keep looking. They’re out there.
If you’re not succeeding, you either didn’t prepare enough, you’re missing something very tiny… or something totally out of your control has happened.
You can do everything in the world for a meet. And you should. Eat right. Train right. Train consistently. Train hard. Network with strong and intelligent people. Read up. Find a good gym. Sleep well. Then, the day of the meet, you have to lay it all on the line. You’re either going to find that no matter how well intentioned all of that was, it needs more – sometimes you’re just not ready. Most likely, you’ll just find that your squat was an inch high, you hitched a little on your deadlift, or your bench could have used a little more leg drive.
But sometimes it’s just not your day. Sure, you spent money on this. But don’t let that keep you down. Instead, learn how to drop that extra inch, pull smoother, and dig your traps into the pad so you can drive with your legs.
How is that like life?
You haven’t quit until you quit learning, and you’re not really living or laying it all on the line if something totally out of your control doesn’t occasionally happen. You learn. All the previous points obviously highlight that, but aside from life lessons and networking, simply by talking to other competitors and asking questions of the judges (who are actually very happy to tell you what you can fix most times), you can learn some very helpful technical information. The same applies to every other area of your life: learn from the people and circumstances surrounding you.
You can fail all your attempts and still meet great people. You can then support those people. Really, the people you lift with at your meets, the people who judge you, the people who run the event, and the people who show up to cheer you on… are 90% of who should matter in your life.
Even at my worst competitions, I always had one thing: people who loved and supported me. Meets rarely draw the kinds of crowds even peewee soccer games do. But I’ve always had my wife either on the phone or in person providing moral support, physical support… and usually food. I’ve had good friends follow me into competing, I’ve met people through competition who went on to become my closest friends. Through those people, I’ve met even more great and supportive people. I’ve made friends with the judges who then showed me what I did wrong so I could improve. I’ve made friends with people who far outclass me in this sport.
This last meet, I saw a man bench press 600 pounds like it was a pool floatie. I then got him to slap me so hard on the back that it left welts and lifted me off my feet seconds before I pulled my last deadlift. I chatted it up with guys who opened up with benches and squats way higher than mine. I lifted alongside fathers, highschool seniors, corrections officers, highschool football coaches, and so many great people who you’d never know can lift this kind of weight. I got to support a guy who always motivates me at the gym. And he won his weight class. And he’s in his teens. Lifting with someone creates a kind of kinship and brotherhood that’s difficult to match. The only thing second to that is the people who show up to watch you lift. You’re still going to have family and friends who mean a lot to you who never touch a weight or make it to a show. I’m not crazy. The world isn’t just about lifting. I have a whole family I love. But the people you meet at these things have always been the people who atleast try to help you in a pinch, are there to offer advice, and don’t ever keep their stuff to themselves if you forgot yours. They also cut to the chase and value the important things.
You can play the numbers game in your head and assure yourself you’ve lost. And you didn’t.
After my “abysmal” 429 squat, I was sure I had let myself down and was in no standing in the competition. Instead, I came in second place in my weight class, had beat my previous competition squat PR by 24 pounds, tied my previous competition bench press PR, and beat my previous competition deadlift PR by 37 pounds. Obviously, this also meant a new competition three lift PR, too. Don’t let you beat you. Play the whole game, run the numbers as much as you can, but then let the judges figure it all out while you give it your all.
Running through all this from 0830-1600 on a Saturday like a microcycle of life gives me hope: because it gives me perspective and reminds me that even though the wait time and payoff is much longer in and further between in life, the same lessons apply: stay in the game, stay hungry, play it smart, don’t give up, and let the people in your life be one of your main focuses.
Jacob Summers (SuperSoldier) is a certified personal trainer, but not a medical expert in the field of nutrition.