Whether you're a bodybuilder, powerlifter, strongman, or athlete in any other sport for that matter, you'll always have a first competition. There will be things like checking in, equipment/clothing rules, certain procedures during the competition, and judging that you must be aware of. However, by proper planning and use of resources you can focus more on performance and less on everything else. This article is designed to help you prepare for that first competitive event, both mentally and physically so that you will perform to the best of your ability.
There are many things to think about when competing in a sporting event. As a first time competitor your brain is going to be bombarded with both positive and negative thoughts for the days and weeks leading up to the event. "Did I eat/diet correctly?", "Did I train too little or maybe too much?", "Did I peak to soon?", "Why am I here?", "Am I going to get laughed off the stage?", "What's it really going to be like?". These are just a few things that will be blasting your brain, not allowing you to focus on the real issues at hand. By following just a few pointers, you will produce a better performance that is more accurate in showing your true abilities.
1. Identify your Goals: By this point you should already know why you are at this point in your training and why you're doing this contest. Maybe it has been a life long dream to compete at your sport or maybe it's just something to work towards and you're doing it to have a good time. Whatever the case may be, all the things you do to prepare should be goal oriented. You'll notice in some of my other writing that I mention the words goal or goals a lot. That is because in life, to succeed one must have a goal or set of goals. If you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there! Identify something to work towards, and bust your #ss until you achieve it. Then move onto the next thing. As you train that final week before, pack your bag, and get ready for the first event or judging or whatever, remember your goal(s) and you will remember why you are there-to achieve them!
2. Plan, Plan and Plan: We've all heard the saying "Failing to plan is planning to fail!". The reason so many people say it is because it's so true. Everyone has gone on vacation and forgotten a toothbrush, extra socks or that bathing suit you were just dying to try out. Well, multiply that sinking, forgetful feeling times about a jillion, and that's what it feels like to have forgotten your posing trunks, lifting belt, or the special shoes you were going to wear. So how do you easily solve this potential dilemma? Easy, just look at those pilots that fly our "friendly" skies every day. They have a list of things to check off that they go through every time they prepare to fly. Not most of the time, but every time! So, as you enter that week or two before, sit down and make a list of all the things you'll need. From the minute you leave your front step to the minute you return. This is crucial. Every moment should be accounted for including all clothing, food, water, money, accessories (watch, sunglasses, camera) and not to mention all that gear you may need for the event. That should be on a separate list. Find someone in your gym (a good resource) or maybe even a book, that can help list and explain all the things you'll need to prepare for that day. Maybe it's as easy as bringing an extra T-shirt to wear backstage after you've put on the tanning lotion, maybe it's that tanning lotion, or maybe it's your medication. All of which are equally important and necessary for a great performance. Also, plan for the worst case scenario. What if you get there and your shoe lace rips as you prepare to squat 4, 5 or 6 hundred pounds? Plan ahead. Bring an extra belt, an extra this or that and you'll be safe. Maybe another competitor forgot something, so you'll make their day better. All of a sudden an extra tube of whatever just helped you make a new friend in your favorite sport.
3. Team work: Another popular saying is "There's no "I" in Team." This is true. Like many other sports where there is more than one person competing on the playing field, the sports mentioned above can be enhanced with the help of a team. This may consist of your workout partner, spouse or significant other, parent or other family member, or anyone else you trust for that matter. Some of the preparation will require someone with knowledge of the sport, which is why often times athletes of all levels will hire someone to coach them the day of the event. This could be a personal trainer, or just a veteran of the sport, but the money spent is usually worth it. By offering to pay for their hotel and food, the person may be honored by the offer and turn down money. They can help with specifics that your boy/girlfriend may not know about. But there still are things to be done by the "novice" helper. Taking pictures, holding your bag(s), lining up a good place for dinner after the event, taking care of the hotel, the list can go on. The great part about having your workout partner there, is that they know you and the things you do. What you look like when you're nervous or how you wear your lifting belt are just two of the things they know about you that can help you to perform, and reach those goals. Plus, you won't be afraid to order them around a little because you know you'll be helping them one day with a similar situation. The hands that hold you up can also be the hands that hold you down so pick your team wisely, and always thank them for their help.
4. Practice how you'll perform: In simple terms, if you practice a certain way, you'll perform that way. Quick story: I was in the USAPL Idaho State Powerlifting Championships in November of 2000. It was a great meet as I was competing against my long time coach and workout partner. While we helped each other a lot, we both knew we wanted to beat the other. It was the bench press event and I was glad to have the squats done. (In powerlifting the day goes squat, bench, then deadlift.) My first bench was 405lbs. It was so light it was funny. But the judges didn't pass the attempt?What happened? My head was off the bench which wasn't allowed in competition. Why did I lift my head? Because that's what I'd been doing, practicing for the meet. My workout partner had even joked, saying I'd better quit doing that as I'd get called for it in a meet. I performed exactly how I practiced. If you're gonna pose barefoot, practice barefoot. If you can't pose in front of a few guys at the gym, forget about posing on stage in front of lights, cameras, etc?And remember, you're just going to pose, lift or whatever. Nothing you haven't done before. Listen to the same music you do when you workout. Try to replicate your usual lifting or workout routine (i.e. shoes, music, belt, bag, lucky hat that stinks) so there will be some familiarity to your day. It will give you some what of a comfort zone. Kind of like a little kid and their blanket or teddy.
5. Mental Tools: There are hundreds of books, tapes and videos you can purchase to help you with the mental aspect of competing. Taking a class at your local high school, junior college or university on sports psychology will be worth the money times ten. Finding out what you mentally do to succeed or fail and then working with that information to guarantee a better performance is one of the great things about sports psychology. Things like Imagery, Positive Self Talk, Creating a Mantra, and Relaxation Techniques are all topics related to sports psychology and you. Once you unleash your mental potential, the sky's the limit. And these mental skills will help you in other aspects of life as well. From relationships to work and everything in between, sports psychology and mental skills training are two neglected things that can help you unleash your inner Olympian. (Look for an article in the future on Psychological Skills Training!)
Ok, so are you ready? If not, hopefully you're that much closer to getting there. Good luck and if you have any other questions on the topics above feel free to email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org. No question is dumb, except the one not asked. Thanks and keep training hard.