The Psychology Behind Getting on the Platform

October 19, 2017

The Psychology Behind Getting on the Platform

This week's article comes from our homie, David Cogdell, who is a Professional Counselor, father of 2, and active competitor/coach. To hear more from him and to keep up with what he is doing, check out his Instagram page @BuildingOx and his website!

Every strength enthusiast at some point faces a decision about competing. There are a huge number of people who enjoy lifting weights because of the way it makes them feel or look, and many will spend years continuing to lift getting stronger and more technically proficient in the movements they enjoy. However, there comes a time for many lifters when they wonder about competing. For myself it came when a guy at the gym walked up and asked if I competed.

Prior to that day, I was unaware that people competed in powerlifting. I assumed that “the big three” were just moves that would help make my body look better because The Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding recommended doing them. When I returned home from the gym that day, I began trying to understand competitions in powerlifting, and discovered I actually knew a couple of powerlifters. They talked to me and helped me discover this world I never knew existed.

For every strength enthusiast, the roadblock to competing is often the idea of competition. We all want to excel at what we do, and I would argue almost every person who has competed started with the excuse of “I need to be stronger or more competitive before I compete."

Gym Lifts vs. Competition Lifts

What all of us who uttered those words failed to understand at the time is the difference between a gym lift and a competition lift. The difference of lifting in front of three referees and a crowd, and having to lift at near maximum capacity for three lifts, with three attempts each. So much goes into competing that a person who has never competed just doesn’t grasp until they step onto the platform and experience those nerves that last seemingly forever until the first squat attempt.

People are inherently competitive. However, few people realize their competitive nature until they are confronted with potentially being “last” at something. Then, they suddenly can’t fathom even participating in it. I had a good friend who excelled at everything he touched, music, baseball, academics, dating, you name it, he seemed to be a natural at it. Then one day a group of us went ice skating and he floundered. He clung to the wall and felt awkward. He never wanted to go back even when that same group would go regularly. This wasn’t someone who always attempted to compete, but when he discovered he wasn’t “good” or “the best” at something, he simply avoided that.

So, it goes with competing in powerlifting. We all fear being made fun of, or appearing like we don’t belong because we are going to be perceived as weak when compared to these other people. We say we will compete when we are competitive, ignoring the crucial experience of stepping on the platform. I was guilty of saying I needed to get stronger, and I delayed competing for several months before a few people (and multiple posts on reddit) all kept saying “now” is the time to try competing.

You vs. You

The prevailing argument about competing as soon as you are able is that the platform experience is invaluable, especially if you hope to compete at a national or international level. However, the majority of people have no national or international aspirations at least initially, so what appeal is there in competing for them?

Many strength enthusiasts love to get bigger numbers. They will post on social media when they get a new PR be it the weight, the reps, or even the weight at a certain body weight. We, as humans, love accomplishing something and being proud of our hard work and dedication.

In the gym, we are competing against ourselves and working to be better than we were the day before. For someone competing against themselves, you are always setting yourself up for a chance to win. Knowing you are putting in consistent hard work and dedication to being as technically proficient with the lifts as possible, you are eating right, and taking care of your recovery as you should will set you up to have success for a long time. Following training as it is written and looking for ways to correct weaknesses with accessories or alternate versions of lifts can help you continue to improve. That consistency means that while not every day will be a PR day, that you will see steady strength gains over time, and you will continue to be better than you were. By deciding you are only going to compete against yourself, you remove the mindset of being “last” in a competition setting. 

The Community

In powerlifting competitions, it doesn’t matter if you are squatting 200 pounds or over 1000 pounds, people, including fellow competitors are cheering you on. The community around the sport of powerlifting is one of the most encouraging and supportive of any sport I have ever seen. People will root for their competition to succeed, and then go and try to outdo that person.

Engaging in the community, feeling the support, and learning the rules of the platform are huge steps in continuing to grow in the competition against yourself. You will find new friends at the competition who will cheer you on over Instagram and at competitions. The advice people will give you is invaluable and can often lead to sudden increases in your lifts. Even the strongest competitor amongst us has needed to go through the learning process in a competition setting.

There are ample stories of some of the strongest people in the world making simple mental mistakes on the platform their first competitions, and sometimes, no matter how strong you are, those mental mistakes will cost you the chance at winning against yourself and the other competitors. The powerlifting community is positive and uplifting and I have not ever met a bad apple at a competition, even the fiercest competitor at a national and international levels will offer words of advice or encouragement. Allowing yourself to be under the microscope of three referees and a crowd will force you to ensure you are performing the lifts the right way. More than that, competing will likely cause you to discover a love for a sport you may not have known even existed. 

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