3 KEYS TO LONG TERM SUCCESS IN POWERLIFTING
The pursuit of strength is a long-term game. Many people that view it as a sprint are often shocked into reality through injury or stilted progress. The truth is that working with weights can be challenging and often harsh - many people aren’t ready to hear that it will likely take a significant investment of time to get strong.
What people also forget when they’re told this is that they’re still going to be getting stronger every step of the way. In forgetting this, they tend to turn to quick fixes or become fixated on minute details, to the point that it prevents them from acting in any kind of meaningful way.
This is a short list of what we see as the biggest shifts you likely need to make in your training, and how they’re currently holding you back from where you want to be.
1. You Expect to Progress at an Imagined Rate
We are going to start the list strong here.
A lot of the time when people become frustrated with a lack of progress it rarely has to do with the lack of progress itself, but the timeline that it is being measured against.
We live in an age of instant gratification where we can get results at the click of a button and flick of a knife. You have access to the world’s collective imagination and knowledge at just a few keystrokes, and with a few quick Google searches you can uncover an immense library of strength training articles, programs and lists of coaches the world over.
You see reels of progress on social media that only illuminates the successes of the people you follow but not the trial, error & frustration of the process that developed that outcome.
The issue with this is that while we may come to information quickly, the same does not apply for how our body adapts to stress over time.
We would all love to be able to progress at an infinite and rapid rate equally in line with our desires, but our body almost always has a different idea to this.
If you’re a newer lifter you’re in luck - a review of over 200 studies found that on average you can expect to gain 0.5 to 1kg body weight (primarily muscle gain) per month, and at even higher rates within your first 2-3 months of training (Nuckols, 2017) but that this will slow to 0.1-0.25kg per month or lower as an intermediate to advanced lifter.
While the realms of our imagination and conceptual understanding of things is limitless, the universe in which we live is largely governed by constants and your rate of muscle gain is no exception to this - and this is assuming that you are training solely for the pursuit of muscle rather than gaining strength, which is even more obtuse again.
You’re getting frustrated because you’re not gaining at the rate that you want, but the reality of the situation is that you won’t ever gain at that rate - it’s constant. You’ll enjoy it at times, and not at others depending on your level of experience.
Just out of curiosity, what do you think would happen if you DID gain at the exact rate you wanted? What would that actually look like?
2. You’re Too Outcome Focused
Imagine that you grow at the rate you’ve been dreaming of. You hit your goals within a few short weeks. You experience a small bout of happiness, but it’s short lived. Somehow your victory feels hollow, almost like it doesn’t belong to you. It was too easy - it doesn’t feel right.
I can speak from experience in this. I’ve competed in powerlifting for some time, as I believe that’s where our only real understanding can come from. You need to have some skin in the game, and you need to model a level of success that your clients are working to so that you can also develop sustainable models of how to get there - if you’re not willing to take the risks of pride & ego that are associated with competition and the potential risk of losing, then you haven’t a right to expect that of the people you work with.
For a few years I was possessed with winning a medal at Nationals. I wanted to be recognised as a National champion. During my preparation for competition I ruptured a disc and couldn’t compete in the squat or deadlift, but could still bench press. This was an easy decision; we entered bench-only.
We prepared for a competition like any other - I assumed the entire time that we would have competition on the day, that I would be pushed and that the victory would feel earned.
I was the only lifter in the division. I won be default. I had accomplished my goal of being a National medalist technically but it felt hollow - I hadn’t earned it.
We often fixate on the outcome and the result not for the result itself, but for the glory that we attach to moments like that - we see great victories and want to be a part of them, forgetting that the victory was only great because of the hardship that was faced in gaining it.
Your fixation on an outcome is easy because it isn’t constrained by reality - you can attach as much emotional weight to it and make it as completely vivid in detail as you want, but it’s not the outcome that you actually want.
It’s who you become in the process of gaining it that matters, and that can only be measured by the distance between two points, rather than a single final destination.
3. You’re Afraid to Lose
We all love to win. We are driven by it. We have a biological imperative to be successful, to seek it out and shape ourselves according to it, though it takes a different form for many of us.
Something I am upfront with all of our lifters about is that if you train and compete for a long enough time, you’re eventually going to have a day that doesn’t go your way. The longer the period of time between those days, the more likely it’s going to affect you in a negative way.
I don’t think we can ever completely desensitize ourselves to a loss, nor should we - it’s important for you to feel your losses and recognise where you need to improve, which builds upon this point.
If you never lose, you’ll never have an opportunity to recognise how you are going to become a better and more comprehensive lifter, how to round out the edges in your game so to speak. A loss in competition and struggle within training is what spurs you on for further growth.
Most people are deathly afraid of this. It’s undoubtedly a knock to the ego, to know that you are fallible and face a real possibility of coming in second or third best to someone (or even lower).
This often creates a situation where people will only compete when they are guaranteed to win; they’ll only enter competitions where the standard of competitors is guaranteed to be lower (for example a novice or local meet with newer lifters) or hold back from competition altogether, only stringing together training attempts which invariably stall.
It’s fine if you have no desire to compete - that’s no issue, and all of us should have the opportunity to simply develop to become our strongest selves. However, when we are referring to powerlifting the ultimate goal should be competition.
You compete to win, but winning isn’t always leaving with a medal around your neck. You will always be guaranteed of becoming a better lifter through holding an objective lens to your performance though.
If you only ever show up with the expectation of reward, then you’re missing the point of showing up at all.
This is a game of development; the fundamental principle of strength is that we work consistently against greater and greater challenges. That is the very living definition of strength and the truest essence of why I see powerlifting as a sport for all people.
Training with the promise of it being easy is a contradiction. When you embrace the challenge and the difficulty, you begin to unlock your long term potential as a lifter and see true success.