This is part two in a three-part series on the journey of being a regular gym rat to being a top-ranked athlete. My journey was in powerlifting but the journey is the same for most strength sports. Assuming you have already read part one, I’ll skip over why this is all important and get right to it.
Becoming a Competitor
So you’ve paid your dues. You have put in a year or two of consistent sport-specific training and built a foundation. You have 5 or 6 meets under your belt and have a pretty good idea of how to peak for a meet and how to treat the day of competition. Hopefully, by this point, you’re training in a group or at least have a rapport with the local groups and can train with people who are at least on your level. You have some experience with at least one training program by this point and understand how to make progress.
So, what does a Competitor do? It’s time to start learning beyond what you can find in a convenient ebook or blog. Start finding people better than you, much better than you preferably, and start picking their brains. Ask questions and do what they advise. Most people will only give answers if the person asking is actually listening. Even though I was training with one of the most established teams in powerlifting, during this period I traveled across the U.S. and Canada to train with athletes that were (and are) better than me. Learn what they are doing to find repeated success. Some things that I learned I still do and other things were tried and thrown out. Other people have already done what we’re trying to do at the Competitor level, so go ask them how they did it. When I wanted an 800-pound bench I talked to dozens of guys who had already done it and learned what they did. Now that I’m close to a 900 bench I’m asking 900+ pound bench pressers how they did it. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel and I am not a special snowflake.
It’s also time to start trophy hunting as a Competitor. Start looking for bigger meets. Compete at Nationals and Worlds in whatever federation you choose and start looking for wins. If you aren’t winning then who is? Now go back and re-read the last paragraph and fill in that person’s name. Big meets are different than small meets. Bigger venues create different issues. A stacked roster means that rules are enforced more strictly (specifically things like the one minute clock to take your attempt in powerlifting). Timing warm ups and food changes with bigger meets. But, the big issue usually comes from travel. Travel throws a wrench in everything so learning how to manage yourself on the road is a real issue to learn how to handle.
What about training? By now your technique shouldn’t be too ugly and the basics are there. This is the point where you start to address specific issues with your competition lifts. Remember, all training revolves around creating the best competition performance possible. So, on top of the basics, now you’re adding in specific movements, cues, and tweaks to technique to address why you’re missing lifts. Start looking for weak links in your chain and working to fix them.
This is also the point where you need to address the elephant in the room - injury. Nearly all worthwhile training programs address the performance of high effort competition lifts. Nearly all programs have some sort of “builder” movements to build strength. But, the best lifters and the best coaches out there always include rehab and prehab work as part of their training as well. Check back soon for another article on this topic, but understand that pushing your body to the limits has consequences if you aren’t careful. So, as a competitor you need to start bulletproofing your body. Address the little stabilizer muscles, get some prehab modalities for yourself so you can regularly get time in every week with them as a part of your training. Address the little things now so you’ll be around for the next step. You’ll never lift more if you can’t lift at all.
So, be a competitor, get yourself some big meet experience. Even if you won't win it’s time to throw your hat in the ring with your idols. Have fun climbing the ranks and smashing those goals.