How To Be In A Lifelong Marriage To Your Strength Sport
Coronavirus is fun isn't it!?
It most definitely isn't.
Today we will not be discussing it because I want to talk about how to keep your relationship with strength sport happy and strong.
Things will be said. There will be tantrums and the odd love affair. Mistakes will be made and people may get hurt, including yourself.
In the following article, I'll show you how to navigate your powerlifting life and see whether you and your strength sport are meant to be together.
Here we go...
Do you ever feel stressed because you're not giving enough to your strength sport?
Do you ever feel like you are "letting the sport down" in some way?
In 2014, I realised I'd given myself a short-lived but stressful eating disorder which was completely ruining my relationship with bodybuilding. Going down that road was making me unhappy.
I'd fallen out of love with the sport I'd trained and adored for so many years.
It was then I discovered Powerlifting and it has been my focus of training ever since.
But what if I felt like that again?
I'm an ok Powerlifter. I've done the nationals a couple of times and technically, I'm currently a European Champion. I'm probably not in the top 50 in my weight class, but it's still nice to have a medal.
I have a bench record and I think I still have a squat record in the British Powerlifting Union, but if powerlifting started to make me unhappy as bodybuilding did, changes would have to be made.
I'd first try to establish if I was just doing something wrong with my nutrition, training or life away from the gym. If I found something in these areas needed changing, great!
In theory, I can work that out and fall in love with the sport again.
But what if it didn't work? What if powerlifting wasn't the right thing for me anymore?
Would I feel guilty? Would I regret the years of training for the sport?
What you have to remember is what you are doing powerlifting (or any other strength sport) FOR. Your WHY.
I highly recommend Simon Sinek's 'Start With Why'
For most, it starts as something fun and gradually becomes this huge, all-encompassing thing that at some point becomes more stressful than fun.
I'm not talking about the odd-week or the odd demotivating session or struggling to push through a bench plateau. I'm talking weeks and months of empty feelings, flat sessions, and a terrible relationship with an indifferent partner who doesn't care who, what or where you are.
In this situation, I would address your relationship to your strength sport like you would any relationship.
i.e. put in the high-quality effort to make the relationship work or you go your separate ways.
Why did you get into the relationship in the first place?
Often, it's to be with a person for a long time. You enjoy their company and you love being with them.
Sometimes it's because that person is shiny and new (and wants to sleep with you!)
In the beginning, while powerlifting or strongman or any strength sport might not be able to sleep with you, the rush of PBs, focus, and novelty exercises give you instant gratification because progress is normally huge.
That period wears off.
After 3-12 months you find out if you are actually in love with the sport.
Just like in human relationships!
You start with a few squat, bench, and deadlift sessions to feel things out. You get on well, as you could tell the barbell anything and you love holding it in your hands like a romantic fool.
If you hate your strength sport at this point, you should look elsewhere for a fulfilling gym relationship.
Then you feel like you should be "exclusive" and get onto a specific program.
"NO MORE BODYBUILDING FOR ME. I'M A POWERLIFTER NOW!"
Maybe you get a free program, or a low cost one online. Maybe you go all-in from the start and get a coach.
If you don't like the sport at this stage you might just have selected the wrong coach or program.
Do your research, explore your options and if you still don't like your strength sport at this stage, once again, it's probably not for you. It should bring you joy at this time if you've selected a good coach or program.
After this, it's time for your friends and family to meet your sport.
You start posting about it on Instagram, you start to follow other athletes and talking about your training with your friends. You start to gauge how good you are in relation to other people. You start to meet other happy couples in the gym.
Here it's important to not judge yourself too harshly against athletes and people who have been training for a long time.
If you fall out of love with the sport at this stage it could be your relationship with social media or an indication you are too harsh on yourself.
This means it isn't the sport or the training itself causing the issues you are having. Once you rediscover the love and 'fix' your mindset you'll love the training again if the sport is right for you.
Remember why you fell in love with the sport originally. Step away from social media or comparing yourself to others or learn to manage your social media in such a way that doesn't get in the way of your training.
This is far easier said than done, and I'm no expert on this, so if you have any of your own coping strategies please let me know in the comments section below.
If you suddenly hate it because your friends or partner don't like it and give you stick or tell you to stop it, it's not my place to tell you what to do as the circumstances around this are so varied.
Again, remember why you love the sport and take your time to consider what will give you the most happiness in the long-run.
Some are fine to stay in this stage for years.
Others will start to consider competitions, testing their maxes, and other risky, stressful events upping the ante and pressure on themselves to perform in front of people and AGAINST other people with a high chance of something going wrong in an unknown situation.
I'd say this mirrors with the "committed relationship" phase of human relationships where you do a few competitions and have to dedicate a prolonged about of time to work on the sport, honing your competition performance and seeing how you respond to the pressure of the platform.
This is similar to the stage when you are used to a person you are in a relationship with, such as when you move in with a partner. You see them regularly and you are getting to know them. There are fewer surprises and you find out whether the relationship will work long-term.
If you fall out of love with the sport at this stage see if a coach could help you plan for a less stressful competition experience or potentially consider whether it's the competition element you don't like.
If competitions stress you out too much take a few months out from competitions and see if the love comes back. You can always compete again in a few years or whenever you like.
The Honeymoon Period Ends
Maybe you do a CrossFit session to feel dirty.
"Cheating on your strength sport? "
"How dare you?"
"And how dare you enjoy the change!"
Maybe it felt great to chuck farmer's walks in or not to do any powerlifts for a few sessions.
If this is you, more variety can be built into your training to keep SBD sexy AF. This works particularly well around deloads, wash-out weeks, and directly after a competition when a mental break is often needed.
Side-note: Powerlifters tend to love chucking in some strongman style sessions into their programming so if you are looking for a change, give that a try.
The solution could simply be introducing more variety into your assistance exercises so you have more novelty to keep things fresh in the bedroom *I MEAN GYM.*
This variety could take any form. You might change the way you train after your main lifts or you might program additional sessions that don't contain your competition lifts.
A powerlifting example of this would be muscle-building sessions without a powerlifting focus being a feature of your program.
If you have a coach, it's important to communicate with them when you feel like the honeymoon period is over. You aren't criticizing their programming by giving them feedback.
This feedback helps your coach make your training more fulfilling, more interesting, and better for your mental health.
If you do this and still hate your strength sport, it's time for a break and a change in training focus.
If you can make it past this stage or make this stage manageable, you can feasibly take part in your strength sport for the rest of your life.
When you finally see motivation drop to zero with this approach you know it's time to transition to another way of training.
It's possible to keep the love strong, but like any relationship, it is only maintained by creatively working on it.
Eventually, the time may arrive when you can't train in the same way.
When this time arrives it's important to remember everything the sport has taught you and the people you've met along the way will always be with you.
To keep the love for the sport high, this may be a good time to help younger lifters, to become a competition referee or to become involved in the running of a federation. If you still love the sport you've trained for a forged a lasting relationship with, there are so many ways you can express it beyond training.
Leave whatever sport you take part in better than when you began. Once you've had a long strength-sport marriage you are in a great place to do that.
The key to all this is remembering we are using a strength sport as something to facilitate lifelong training. It's a medium. It's not the thing itself. It's nothing but a tool that makes you feel a certain way. There are ways to keep it interesting, fresh, and novel. There are ways to make the grind more bearable even if you'll never hit a PB again.
In order to achieve lifelong training, you may need to change the sport you use. You'll need other tools in your toolbox.
Look after your relationships to the various kinds of lifting and lifelong training becomes a real possibility.
Enjoy it, my friends.
By Chris Kershaw
The Heavy Metal Strength Coach