During the first few years of a weightlifter’s career, everything is mostly going in an upward direction. Sure, there are little knockdowns and plateaus, but they’re usually temporary. Those are the years when you’re putting big increases on your total every six months or so, and it’s fun as hell.
Then, at some point, it all slows down. Most of the time, it REALLY slows down.
Let me give you a personal example. I competed in my first meet in 1990 and totaled 180 kg. By 1994, I had totaled 300 kg. I’m not good at math, but I think that means I got better.
I’ll never forget a conversation I had with Dean Goad right around that time. We were sitting on the bench in the gym during a workout and I was running my mouth about how fast I had progressed. He nodded and said, “Yeah, but it comes a lot slower after 300.”
It took me until 1996 to hit 310 kg. So I improved 120 kg in the first four years, and 10 kg in the next two. In other words… Dean was right.
Those two years from ’94 to ’96 when I was fighting to move up over 300 were brutal. Lots of little injuries, technique problems, mental blockades, a couple of bombouts, etc. When I look back now, I think those were the toughest years of my career.
I eventually broke through. I did my best lifting (335 kg total) in 1998-99. Long story short, my top results came in my 8th
year (not counting the three years I competed in powerlifting prior to converting to OL in ’90).
That’s how it went for me. Now… how about you?
I hate to say this because it sounds negative, but if you really want to go all the way in this sport and reach your highest potential, you have to be prepared to suffer. Ask any champion and they’ll tell you the same thing. The lifting gods don’t give anybody a “Get Out of Hell Free” card.
Greg Everett wrote something once I’ve always remembered. It was something along the lines of, “I’m surprised how many people expect to feel good all the time when they train.” That might not be a word-for-word quote, but it’s pretty close. It’s a great synopsis of how it goes when you make weightlifting your life for an extended period of time.
A lot of people vanish when they reach the suffering stage. Fair enough. It’s not for everybody. And I don’t mean that to sound insulting. If somebody decides to move out of weightlifting and find something else to do, that doesn’t necessarily make them weak quitters. Some people are weak quitters, sure. But you can’t paint everybody with the same brush. Many people have totally sensible reasons for walking away from weightlifting.
Here’s the point we’re trying to make. Your career will have a progression. It’ll usually look like this:
- Initial Stage: consistent progress, usually the first few years
- Roadblock Stage: progress stops, numbers don’t budge for an extended time
- Breakthrough Stage: progress resumes, top career results
- End-of-the-road Stage: results start to fall, universe makes it clear your best stuff is over (trust me, you’ll know when this is happening)
You might be looking at this list and saying, “Yeah, great. But HOW can we pull ourselves through the Roadblock Stage into the Breakthrough Stage?” It’s nice to read an understanding of how a weightlifting journey works, but you’d probably love to get something useful that could take you out of the hole you’re in and get you into the big time.
It’s impossible to give you a suggestion that applies equally to everybody, because stalled progress is highly individual and there could be dozens of causes. But I can definitely tell you a few of the main things that got me through my Roadblock Stage and led to my career bests.
- Moving up a weight class: I was in the old 108 kg class for years, and it was clearly time for me to make the move to superheavyweight. Once I did it, my progress skyrocketed in everything: overall total, Sinclair formula, and national ranking.
- Going from training five days a week to four: I talked to my coach about dropping from five to four training days per week, and he agreed it was a good idea. It was a total home run… the injuries stopped (for a long time) and the lifts got bigger. I believe this was connected to my move up to SHW. I’d always heard that bigger lifters couldn’t handle the same volume as lighter ones, and it definitely went that way for me personally.
- Getting consistent in my eating and sleeping habits: Interestingly, I did my biggest lifting in the first couple of years of my first full-time job after college. When I started working, I got myself on a regimented schedule of sleep hours and nutrition, and the consistency of it all made a huge difference in how I felt in the gym on a daily basis.
- Not drinking and partying as much: This one was connected to my job. Once I started working, I moved away from the wild life. It’s amazing how much better you can train when you do this. Truly amazing.
- Simple experience and maturity: Nothing complicated here. I grew up, and years of competition put some hard bark on me.
Give these some thought. Maybe one of them might be the missing ingredient for you. If not, it might be something else. Take a look at every component of your life and see if you can find any leaky spots. You never know…the answer might be something you overlook every day because it’s so simple.