How Powerlifting Has Taught Me To Value The Process Over The Outcome

We live in a very results driven world. Teams win leagues based on how many points they get. People are paid based on how many KPIs they hit. Races are won based on who finishes with the quickest time.

The outcome is the result of effort you put in - and this is where the true value lies. To talk to this point more, I’m going to use my experiences in powerlifting as an example. For those that don’t know, a powerlifting competition or ‘MEET DAY!’ is when an individual tries to lift as much weight as possible for 1 rep in the squat, bench press and deadlift. The person with the highest total at the end of the day takes home the gold trophy. 

The outcome is a number, but the journey involves dedication to training and nutrition, mental fortitude and at times, lessons in humility.

What’s the saying? By failing to prepare you prepare to fail?? That’s pretty accurate when it comes to powerlifting. Most assume powerlifting is for oversized cavemen when in reality, powerlifting requires the highest level of thought and analytical skill

Before a competition, most powerlifters will enter a ‘12 week training block'. The training block is used to prime their body for optimal performance on meet day. The sessions are meticulously planned, the weights are diligently calculated, and the pain threshold is high.

So how does this relate to you? Using this example, we have planning, analysis, and dedication. Three skills that can be applied across your life whether it be at work or with a hobby.

I also want to speak on the nutritional side of powerlifting. Most people think powerlifters eat burgers for breakfast, lunch and dinner when in reality they can be among the fussiest eaters. Not due to taste, but due to performance. The aim is to consume a lot of nutritionally dense foods in order to maximise their ability to move weight. The typical foods of a powerlifter include Rice, Pasta, Potatoes, Oats / Chicken, Beef, Fish, Eggs / Olive Oil, Avocado, Peanut Butter / Peppers, Broccoli, Carrots. 

The trick when consuming for performance, is to find the foods that work for you. Some people struggle to digest pasta, some people feel tired on a high fat diet etc. In this scenario, it’s better to remove the foods that don’t agree with your body. 

For both of my powerlifting preps I lived on the rice and beef mince diet. I would have this meal around 10 - 15 times a week. It digests very easily for me and red meat is packed with nutrients that aid performance.

This principle doesn’t change outside of powerlifting - you should be consuming foods that make you feel your best. Energetic, happy and healthy - both physically, and mentally.

Okay - let’s talk about mental fortitude. As I’m getting older, this seems to only become more critical. I’m sure everyone reading this has had some sort of family, financial or social challenges in their lives. The ability to deal with these challenges and mature as an individual shouldn’t be overlooked. 

Now more than ever, each decision I make has bigger consequences than before - I’m sure a lot of you reading can relate. In these scenarios, I want to ensure I am mentally ready to make these decisions, but also deal with failure.

This is another reason why I enjoy powerlifting so much… Each session builds mental resilience. In powerlifting, the reps are often low. You’d never be doing 12 reps on a set, you’d be doing 5 maximum. The intensity of each set requires you to recruit every muscle fibre you could imagine, and only then you may have a chance of completing the lift. You have to have the ability to totally commit mentally. If you go in without full concentration, you’ll most likely fail. That mental fortitude can be carried over into many facets of life, whether that be a job interview, project or competition. 

Full and total commitment over and over again.

Stefi Cohen - holds over 20 powerlifting World Records

The power of routine… I’ve always been a routine man. I always used to get the 7:52 bus to school, I always have my lunch at the same time and I always watch YouTube before bed. 

This has a strong crossover when it comes to powerlifting. The sport is dedicated around the Squat, Bench and Deadlift, so you spend a lot of time practicing these movements. Every Saturday I'll deadlift, I have a plan and I follow it. Funnily enough, for both powerlifting competitions I used a training plan that repeated itself every 4 weeks - making a routine based sport even more routine reliant! I often question why I have quite defined routines and I believe it is because it allows me to focus on other areas more easily.

This was only emphasised during a national lockdown. Suddenly we all had more free time and nothing to spend it on. It may sound small, but one thing that helped keep me level-headed was having lunch at the same time every day. 12pm on the dot I was heating my lunch up. It didn’t slip to 1pm, that slipped to 2pm, 3pm etc. There was clear structure around my day, in an otherwise structureless time. The outcome of that was less ambiguity, less time pondering the if’s and buts - more time doing the things that mattered to me (like building hakamount).

I’ve been doing these things for years, so for me the transition during lockdown was straight forward. Some people may not have a ‘routine’ and that’s fine - if you want to have a defined routine, then make a routine!

I’m a big believer in learning by doing. If you want to be a better runner, then run more. Likewise, if you want to feel humble, then do something that humbles you. That’s exactly what powerlifting does for me. You will lose count of the amount of times you attempt a new PR and fail - it’s par for the course. Having someone lift the bar off your chest during a failed bench press lets you know there’s always room for improvement. 

At 25, I’ve got more years ahead of me than I have lived so far. What I know now is a fraction of what I’ll know in another 25 years. Failure is to not welcome this opportunity for growth. 

I don’t want to be a person that is paralysed by fear. Scared of doing things in the event it doesn’t work out. I’d hate to look back on the things I could have done but didn’t. Being humbled in the Iron Paradise lets me know there is work still to be done, and to keep moving forward. 

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again. That is why I succeed.” - Michael Jordan

Failure isn’t missing the shot, it’s refusing to take it. Don’t let yourself be paralysed by fear, but rather - seek failure.

In conclusion, writing this blog has made me realise just how many lessons I have taken from powerlifting. And for many, it might not be powerlifting. It might be running, poker, reading… The lesson here is finding what it is for you and valuing the process over the outcome.