Written by: Jenn Rotsinger
So, you want to become a powerlifter. Not just any powerlifter, but an elite, best-of-the-best kind of powerlifter. Well, my friend, you better have grit or it isn’t going to happen. You can have the best genetics, nutrition, program, and drugs, but if you don’t have grit, you won’t make it.
What is grit? Grit may be defined as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals”. Sorry to those who want instant gratification, this might not be the endeavor for you. Powerlifting (and well, life in general) is the long, bumpy, uphill-both-ways-with-three-feet-of-snow kind of road — and it will wear you down. Are you sure you are up for the task? If not, the good news is, grit is a skill you can work on. You just need four things: interest, practice, purpose, and hope.
You must have passion. Passion isn’t something that is just out there in the world waiting for you to find it. You must nurture it, try new things, and ironically, quit things that don’t inspire or motivate you. Stop wasting time on extracurricular pursuits that don’t excite you and find something that does.
Although it is human nature to bounce from one new novel thing to the next, when you find something that resonates, something inside you should light up — something that will energize you and your focus. Your mind will shift and instead of chasing the newest pursuit, you will find excitement in delving deeper into a better understanding; substituting nuance for novelty.
Developing interest usually starts when we are relatively young. Many of us try all of the sports when we are kids. Myself, I ran track, studied Tae Kwon-Do, played basketball, soccer, softball, and of course hit the weights. All of these sports were great, but the time in the weight room was always my favorite. It’s because of this deep interest (some could argue, obsession) that keeps me coming back even when PRs are years apart.
You must put in the time with deliberate practice. Malcolm Gladwell repeatedly mentions the “10,000-Hour Rule” in his book, Outliers, claiming that the key to achieving world-class expertise in any skill, is, to a large extent, a matter of practising the correct way, for a total of around 10,000 hours. You need good feedback to focus on specific techniques that will lead to real improvement. Break down large tasks into smaller, more achievable and/or less daunting tasks. TRAIN with purpose and specificity.
The old gym adage that it takes 3,000 reps could also apply here. The number isn’t scientific or exact, but the general gist is still there. You want to get good at something, you have to do that something. You want to be a great lifter, you need live and breathe it. Read about lifting, seek out others, learn about biomechanics, programs, rehab, specialty bars, and accessory movements. This can be overwhelming if you look at the breadth of knowledge we are talking about, but break it down. Read one book at a time, treat each training session as an opportunity to improve on something. Small improvements over time lead to big numbers on the platform.
Humans are social creatures. We look for meaning and purpose in everything, even when there isn’t any. We need to feel connected. Without this connection, we don’t thrive. It’s been demonstrated in numerous studies as well as just being common sense. The lone wolf (normally a pack animal) isn’t some romantic idea of individuality. The lone wolf in the real world dies, as does our desire to grind on if we don’t get some sort of encouragement to keep going. It’s the connection to others — whether it be teammates, community, your gym, or to the sport in general — that helps keep us going. People have a higher probability to withstand and overcome when we feel connected.
Hope is simply the belief that things will get better. It drives us forward, encourages us to overcome obstacles, and keeps us focused on achieving worthwhile goals. The phrase “believe to achieve” may be corny, but it’s true.
I’m going address purpose and hope with a personal story. This year I finally broke through my deadlift plateau. The first time I took the All-Time World Record in the deadlift was back in 2014 with a 408 pound lift. After that meet, I couldn’t seem to be able to pull 400 consistently if my life depended upon it. One of my driving forces behind not giving up during my almost three year drought was my support system I have built at my gym. I am very fortunate for having training partners and coaches who support and believe in me. I am not strong minded all the time; rather, I have my personal doubts. Self-doubt is normal human behavior. But when I do feel this doubt, I know I can express my concerns and vulnerabilities to these friends — and they will be there to tell me that I can do it, to remind me to trust in the process, and give me hope. Sometimes we need a little external validation, and it’s okay.
In conclusion, if you have all four of these pieces, then I have no doubt you will succeed, both in life and on the platform. If you feel like you’re struggling with any of these four aspects, take a step back and evaluate where you are. Alternatively, ask a coach, friend, or fellow lifter to give you some honest feedback, even if it is hard to hear.
The road of success is not linear. You will make mistakes, but even our mistakes teach us something. For example, maybe a particular course of action is not the right direction to go right now. Or maybe a temporary setback that lets you make a lot more progress down the road is a worthwhile experience. If you’re going to grit it out for the long haul, you need to play a “long game” strategy. Learning through mistakes teaches us how to be better athletes and overcoming adversity teaches us how to be grittier.
Progressive overload doesn’t just work for training; it works for your will as well.