Competition is deeply woven into the fabric of our world. It drives the animal and plant kingdoms; it is the very beating heart of Nature. Removed as we are from physical competition in the modern world — our survival needs long ago taken care of by industrialization — it’s easy to become disconnected from the essential drive to compete. Western culture, particularly American culture, complicates this urge by placing a high value on winning, often to such an extent that overshadows the merits of competition itself. For many Americans, the last physical competition they had occurred in high school sports, or perhaps college. Competition fades in adulthood, and often gets supplanted by a sedentary lifestyle.
As we outlined in earlier episodes, hard physical exertion is a necessary condition of life, whether we like it or not. We address this need through training, a logical process of stress, recovery, and adaptation to drive strength and conditioning gains. For many people, however, it is difficult to continue training ad naseum without the carrot of achievement, and for those people, competition is a great way to improve their training. Whether you are training with barbells (which you should be regardless of your goals), running, cycling, shooting baskets, swinging a golf club, or anything else, to continue improving at your chosen pursuit at some point you need to sign up for a competition. Competitions offer the chance for achievement, but more importantly they elevate your training in a number of ways:
- Accountability: signing up for the meet means you have a date on the calendar, and you’ll have to perform on that date. If you’ve struggled with consistency in the gym, knowing that each workout is preparing you for an important event (that you’ve paid for!) can be a great motivator when you really don’t want to train. Or perhaps you are great with making your workouts, but struggle with nutrition. Knowing you need the right mix of fuel to perform your best at a competition can give you a reason to start tracking your macros regularly and make better food choices in the moment.
- Execution: maintaining focus on technique and maintaining a high level of effort is difficult during long training cycles. Knowing that the quality of your preparation will influence your outcomes at the competition, training takes on a new level of importance. You will find your training improve, as you begin to take ownership of each piece of the process, instead of merely going through the motions.
- Confidence/Self-Worth: simply competing in a meet, a race, a tournament, even if you don’t come close to placing or winning, provides a concrete accomplishment that you can build on.
The last point is a profound one. Many Masters don’t compete to win anything, they compete for themselves and the satisfaction of exceeding their previous PR’s. And, from personal experience, almost all of the Masters sporting events are full of supportive people that cheer hard for all levels of athletes. Doing your best is what counts in these circles, not your time, or the weight on the bar.
The recent US Strengthlifting Federation meet at Westminster Gym in Maryland is a shining example of this. A young man named Miles competed in his first meet. Miles has cerebral palsy, and trained hard for months to prepare for this meet. He crushed it, going 9/9 and setting a PR on his deadlift. While Miles will likely never win his weight class at a strengthlifting meet, or the overall, it doesn’t matter. He won the competition against himself, and became a better version of himself in the process. That’s what it’s all about!
You can watch a video of Miles’ competition on YouTube. Watch his last press attempt, now that is an impressive grinder! A+ effort.
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