Three muscular men in blue t-shirts slide more plates onto the bar, tighten the collars and scour the knurling with a wire brush. The smallest loader outweighs me by at least 50 pounds.
The announcer's voice blasts through the ten-foot high speakers, with a thick German accent "The bar is loaded. Two hundred ninety five kilograms, six hundred fifty and one half pounds. Come on Gary".
I rub chalk onto my hands and clap to remove the excess. I flip the lever on my belt to tighten it and step through the opening separating the warm-up area from the lifting platform. I step into the light. Bright white light, loud music and crowd noise slam into me like a gale force wind.
The sounds, scorers table, judges, platform crew and crowd all come into perfect focus. Each detail revealed, distinct and perfect. I take a deep breath and the hair on my neck starts to rise. Then all of the sights and sounds seem to disappear.
I close my eyes and mentally see myself break the bar from the floor and pull through to lock out. I exhale.
My eyes snap open, I shout "MINE" and stride onto the platform. In the space of one breath my blood pressure sky rockets and my pulse pounds at my temples. I plant my right foot first, driving the heal out and pressing down against the sole of my wrestling shoe three times and repeat the ritual with my left foot.
Inhale and repeat to myself "come on", exhale-inhale "give it to me", exhale-inhale "mine". I look to the ceiling and reach down for the bar, find it with my hands, set my grip and pull. I can feel the bar flex in my hands. The plates break from the floor.
If this were an action adventure movie, or a novel, the bar would stall. My supermodel wife would yell something profound, and a miracle would happen. Through sheer force of will, I would pull the bar upward, knees lock, shoulders back. The head judge would signal "down". I get three white lights and take second place.
In his heavy accent, the announcer said "No lift. So sorry Ollie." I undid my belt and left the platform. Having missed my last lift in the biggest meet of my life. When the chalk settled, I had third place behind a Swede and a Finn. A position known as "Second Loser." And, no excuses or apologies, I felt great.
The delusional in the audience are chanting "I would never settle for third" or "I could have made that lift, it was only a PR by 15 pounds", or "If I hadn't lost my lucky Spiderman underwear in fifth grade, I could have been a champion".
The wonderful part about living in a fantasy is you can never be proven wrong. Step onto a platform, stage or field and there is no place to hide. Reality steps to the front, grabs on tight and won't let go.
The only valid question is why? Why risk destroying cherished delusions? Why risk failure or injury? Why go through the hassle and expense of preparing for a competition? Why put family and friends on that particular emotional roller coaster?
There is only one answer. "To be a better lifter." The only way to be a better lifter is to put everything on the line.
Everyone reading this article, every blessed one just dislocated their own massively hypertrophied shoulder trying to pat themselves on the back saying "That's not me. I put it on the line every day. I train hard. I train smart. I push". Don't be so sure.
If you are thinking seriously about competition, you are already either the biggest and strongest person where you train, or you are well on the way. You know enough to laugh at TV Fitness shows where the number on the dumbbell is less than or equal to the circumference of the guy's biceps.
But, when was the last time you intentionally sought out someone who could kick your ass? How far out of your way did you have to go? And where did you look?
When I was a little mullet (I'm only 148-165, but I may have outgrown the mullet part), getting my ass kicked was not only easy, it was pretty much an occupation.
But with good training, nutrition, dedication, a blessing from the god of thunder and time, one day you are the biggest (ok, so I never was actually the BIGGEST, but you get the point) thing at Joe's Fitness, Tanning and Bait Shop and no one is there to kick your ass.
At that point you may choose either of two paths. Start wearing string tank tops year round, shave everything but your eyebrows and claim to be a personal trainer, or take your show on the road.
On behalf of all that is holy, my right hand on a stack of 45's (if you read that as records, you're in the wrong web-site), take it on the road.
I am not saying quit your job, ditch your kids, pets and spouse, move to Venice Beach, live in an underpass and choose Alpo as your primary protein source. Furthermore, don't start telling friends and family that you are moving to Colorado Springs to train for the Olympics.
Take a hard honest look at where you are, and enter a competition. Not a gym meet. Not a Mr. Smallville Bodybuilding Championships. Not something that you know you will win. A legitimate, sanctioned competition, where you have a better than 50/50 chance of getting hammered.
Yeah, I can see you out there. You, wearing the baggies to cover a set of #2 Ticondaroga quads. You want to know why. Why should you enter a contest, an honest to god state level or higher, sanctioned contest of some sort just finish in the middle of the pack and lose.
Well junior here it is, the three reasons you need your ass kicked.
3 Reasons You Need Your Ass Kicked
Skipping the doughnuts and cookies at work, not staying up late enough to watch Letterman, lifting things that weigh several times more than you do, pushing yourself until your body releases it's own pain killers (most people would consider that a subtle hint that something is wrong), which of these would your family and co-workers consider "normal". To quote a good friend of mine, "Civilians just don't get it."
Our choices set us apart, where else will you ever have the opportunity to be accepted as "normal". You can go and watch a contest. Wear the clothes, bench a ton, get so big you create an eclipse, but if you don't pay your entry fee you are a spectator.
You are a fan. You are an outsider. When you pay your fee and get three white lights, you just joined a family. A family that understands who and what you are, better than your parents or your dog. The higher the level of competition the closer the family grows.
It keeps you honest. Go ahead and talk about your 900 pound bench press to teeny bopper chicks at the gym. But when you step onto a lifting platform or a stage, the BS won't fly. If you talked 900 pounds, you will be expected to load the bar to 900 pounds and either lift it or die in the attempt.
A huge part of long-term progress is being brutally honest about your lifts. Everyone lies to himself. No Pam Anderson doesn't want you, no your physique does not inspire fear in all lesser beings and I bend my knees more during calf raises than you just did on your alleged 500 pound squat.
You want to argue with me. Then step on a stage or platform and let the judges decide.
We all have seen some mighty scrawny (and/or fat) guys posing in a mirror where we train. Did you ever wonder what they thought they saw in that mirror? How do you know for absolute certain that they don't look at you and ask the same question? Don't think that because our sports are more objective, Powerlifters, Olympic Lifters and Strongmen are off of the hook.
At every meet some poor innocent schmuck bombs out of squats, because he believed his buddies when they told him he was 3 inches below parallel. Fill in additional examples at your leisure.
They are usually called judges for a reason. Good judges have the knowledge and experience to not make big mistakes. Your training partners probably don't have the same level of experience, and they care about your feelings enough to lie.
Come on, the normal people in the gym think that Brad Pitt is built. Basically you cannot trust 100% in the opinion of anyone where you train. Listen to the judges, they know.
Only they can decide if you can really squat 500 pounds, snatch 350 or flip an 800 pound tire faster than anyone on the planet. (Pretty much anyone can still tell you that no, Pam Anderson still doesn't want you.)
Your view of reality expands. Unless you are one of the privileged few who train at a legendary facility, you are surrounded by a small world, small physiques and small weights. I train at a community center in a small town.
A great facility and wonderful people, but guess how many bona fide 600+ squatters and deadlifters train there. You can count them on 1 finger. (No the one next to it.) The number of bona fide 500 pounders isn't much better and is limited to my training partner.
How often do you see more than 6 plates loaded on a bar (no, on each side moron) in your gym?
Believing big is a huge part of lifting big. The cliché says "seeing is believing". Watching a 700 bench press from the audience doesn't make you believe. Watching it from 15 feet away does.
Lifting in the meet does, you get all of the sights, sounds and sensations of the lift (except for the part where 700 pounds hits your chest). You learn first hand that almost nothing is impossible. After watching a dozen 500+ benches, 400 doesn't seem unreasonable.
There are a lot of gimmicks to acclimate you to big weight. Loading all of the bars in the gym to 6 plates a side, heavy partials, visualization, but nothing beats competing against lifters who are actually throwing around the weights you are only dreaming about.
I know that a lot of the language I used is geared toward powerlifters. To quote Popeye "I yam what I yam". But, the ideas apply equally whether you are a Powerlifter, Strongman, Olympic lifter, marathoner or any athlete. The bottom line is athletes compete. It's what they do. It's who they are and why they breathe.
Every kid who ever played little league dreamed of hitting a grand slam in the World Series. Everyone who's read a muscle rag dreams of winning a world title; in bodybuilding, powerlifting, fitness competitions or something. I've had enough personal training clients to know that no one trains for their health (until after they have had health problems).
Guys or girls who train to attract guys or girls don't train long enough or seriously enough to reach the exalted plateau of Stud or Stud-ette. Unless you are a masochist, there is only one reason left. You must be an athlete.
Compete. Take a chance. It is not about trophies and medals. It is about putting everything on the line and testing yourself constantly. Maybe 1 person in 1000 has all of the physical gifts and that little extra that will allow them to be competitive in world class competitions.
99% of champions started off getting beaten. Compete to win. In the struggle become a better athlete and then the score doesn't really matter (unless of course you actually do win).
Day of Judgement