I wrote a completely different post going into the XPC Elite at the Arnold and then scratched it once I actually competed because the story I had to tell originally was nothing compared to the lesson I learned.
For 17 weeks, I’d been visualizing the same numbers. 573/231/441/1245
They were on a card on my desk at work, they’re in a note on my phone, they’re on my PR board at home.
The squat, bench and deadlift attempts I want to hit at my first-ever Arnold appearance have been what’s been in my head every single training session for the last few months.
I visualized myself making the lifts before I went to bed every night, especially the squat.
I get down, and I get back up.
I knew where I was going for this meet before the day of my last one was even over.
Turns out those were pretty lofty goals, and as we got closer and assessed the way training and prep had gone, my coach and I settled on a slightly adjusted set of numbers:
So as is my custom, the numbers went on the bathroom mirror at the Airbnb and I looked at them every time I was in there for 4 days before I ever hit the platform.
Why do this?
I’m a pretty mental lifter. I’ve made a lot of progress, but I care so much about making the lifts and my numbers that, I’ll admit it, sometimes I get frustrated or down on myself and an ugly cry or seven happens. My coach has been pretty patient with this over the last few years, talking me off the ledge more times than I can count. (Which has also resulted in me having to tell him he was right more times than I’d like to admit.)
But he taught me that the work speaks for itself. You have to believe in yourself, you have to believe the work has been done and it’s there, ready to be put to the test. You know the phrase ‘trust the process’? Yeah, that. Progress isn’t linear, and trusting the work that has gotten you to the platform is key. Bad days happen, but you give the best you have that particular session, and the next day is a new day. He urged me to be more positive about things, to ‘see’ the numbers, to visualize it going the way I wanted, to get my head right.
So I started doing that. The first meet I did where I had truly bought into this went even better than the plan. Totaled 25 more pounds than was my original goal, PRs across the board. Could I have done it without the visualization and the focus on the positive? Maybe. But it was a lot easier doing it the happy way, and I had a hell of a lot more fun.
I started to notice the lifts I failed in training were more often than not because I doubted my ability to successfully do them. Sure, there are days we just don’t have it. There are days the weights are just heavy. But most of the time, it was because I had it in my head it wasn’t going to go well or I approached the barbell with apprehension. I also started to notice that in people around me, across a few different strength sports. The flicker of doubt in their eyes before they couldn’t lockout. A slight grimace before bailing. “I didn’t think I was going to get it anyway.”
I knew then that for the 20932349845th time, my coach was right again.
So here we are, visualizing. Putting it out there in the Universe. Even if you don’t hit the numbers right on, the fact that you believe in your heart you can gets you much farther than if you didn’t.
It’s gone really well for me every time I’ve done it… but this time there was a twist.
This time a bigger lesson was in store. What do you do when it doesn’t go to plan? When you walk in feeling strong, knowing you have it in you and yet it still doesn’t happen? What gets you through the meet?
This looks a little different on different lifters. For me, we found out it looks like me literally ugly crying on the platform through both my second and third squat attempts. Because for the first time, I almost bombed out on depth. I sobbed my way backstage, back around, through getting my knees wrapped, through waddling back on stage, the whole nine. I ugly cried even harder when I saved myself on the third to stay in the meet.
I initially felt like a failure. I didn’t do what I came to do. I didn’t do my job. But several seasoned and well-known lifters talked me back off the ledge because I came back. They told me not everyone can do that, not everyone can stay in the game, but I stayed in. Not only did I stay in, but I also went on to hit the bench PR I planned for, and get a small deadlift PR.
So no, I didn’t have the meet I planned for, I didn’t have the meet I wanted. But in some ways, I had an even better one because I learned exactly what I was made of and what I can do when my back is against the wall. If I hadn’t spent the prior 17 weeks fully believing I would reach lofty goals and then with slight adjustments, believing I would completely blow away more realistic ones, I would have spent many miserable hours watching my friends finish up a meet I should have been in.
But I did it. And I’m not special– anyone can do that if they have heart. You can’t teach heart, you either have it or you don’t. It’s in all of us, in some shape or form, but the key is finding it and utilizing it. It starts with learning to avoid doubting yourself. It’s one thing to be realistic– no, I won’t squat 800lbs tomorrow, but trusting in yourself and your abilities are just as important, if not more, than the actual work you do in the gym.
You never know when things won’t go your way and you’ll have to summon everything inside you to save yourself.
And you’ll need to believe you can in order to do it.
So I finished with 470/230/415 for a 1115lb total on the biggest stage I’ve ever been on. Except for bench, not at all what I planned, but in some ways, the most important total I’ve ever gotten because what I learned this day is the stuff that’s going to get me where I want and need to go. It’s going to keep me going when others would fall.
Because I’m in it for the long haul, and it may not be today, it may not be tomorrow, but we’re working and we’re coming for it all.
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