A couple of things have happened lately that got me thinking about how the numbers figure in powerlifting. One was my recent participation in IPF Worlds for the first time, where I was treated to an awe-inspiring display of some truly remarkable lifting by some of the hardest working people in the world of strength. A couple of weeks among such dedicated lifters and fine human beings makes one really stop and think honestly about one’s own goals, principals, and ethics. A second trigger was via social media; I’ve read a fair few posts lately which have triggered many interesting discussions with other lifters about how we use those numbers as goals and markers, how they shape us, and what they mean.
I’ve only been at this a very short time, so my perspective is limited by comparison with some, but even from that brief time I can see how meaning in numbers is a very personal game. Six lifters can have a 120kg or greater squat and for all six of them it will mean completely different things. For one person, it’s a warm-up weight. For another it’s the result of years and years of extraordinary work. Then there’s that seventh person for whom it’s still a distant goal, yet to be achieved.
The funny thing is, those numbers mean little in and of themselves; it’s the person living those numbers who has meaning. The numbers are simply convenient markers or symbols in a journey with a much larger and less tangible goal. When a lightweight female lifter pulls off a massive squat at Worlds, it tells you that a person with tremendous talent has combined that talent with a breath-taking amount of consistent work to find out something important about herself. That number is one result of the process and the person driving that dream through months and months of careful planning and interim goals.
I watched another masters lifter realize a deadlift that she has been working steadfastly, through sweat, tears and toil, to master for months. The number didn’t gain her a medal, but that doesn’t matter a whit. For her, that was a particularly significant personal record and represented a substantial personal victory that meant every bit as much as a higher number would to someone else. And people cheered every bit as loudly.
Both of these incredibly determined women had dreams, but both also had sensible goals and solid plans to achieve them. The numbers were earned through hard work, sweat, tears, and were clearly not just a result wistful thinking. I’m also willing to stake my left quad that the numbers themselves weren’t the main goals, just by-products of something greater and very personal for each.
To have a goal, a plan, and a commitment to that process is what sets the exceptional person with a dream apart from the ordinary one. Goals are also very personal and not relevant to anyone else. A 100kg bench as a goal for one person is no less meaningful than a 55kg bench for another, if both are based on realistic plans and honest starting points. As odd as it may sound, the safest and best time to share goals and dreams is often after you’ve accomplished them. After your hard work and planning have culminated in success, it’s time to celebrate in whatever way is meaningful to you and with the people around you who understand the significance of what you’ve conquered.
Most lifters have dreams of lifting big numbers in competition. We’re human and to be human is to dream of the possible. The wise ones appear to keep the important dreams under their hats for the most part, letting out little glimpses only to those whom they trust or who will help feed those dreams. Three people that I trust know what I hope to achieve over the next few years, and even they don’t have a complete picture. You see, true dreams are often stronger when you keep them inside. They’re safer that way and act as a fire that burns when you need it. The more you share them, the more of a chance that you will dilute the intensity and the drive will wane somewhat, or that someone will try to put out those flames.
A dream of winning a major competition or putting together a tremendous lifting total is about achieving personal triumph and about creating the ability to pull together the very best parts of you consistently, over time, peaking when it counts most. It’s about identifying your weaknesses and flaws (both related to lifting and character), coming to terms with them and slowly correcting them, one-by-one. That dream represents the best You that you think you can be. That’s why a dream is so powerful – because it holds at its heart all of your potential. It’s also why it’s so damned hard to achieve and is not to be treated cavalierly.
The numbers that people often use as dreams are not the substance, but the form; they are signposts along the road, indicating what path you’re on. They are useful as markers, to show that your training is on par or that you need to work on mental focus or that your diet needs a shakedown. A three or four-hundred pound squat isn’t a dream, the dream is being strong enough, consistently enough, and with enough mental fortitude to conquer yourself through pain, misery, injury, fatigue and temptation in order to achieve that squat. Bodyweight going up or down doesn’t make you better or worse, it’s just a reflection of the combination of diet and training that you’ve used most recently.
If you validate yourself entirely by numbers, you’ll spend all your time looking at the signs and map and miss the glorious landscape and people you meet along the journey entirely. If you spend your time comparing your map or progress to someone else’s or belittling their journey in the hopes of making your own more significant, you will end up sitting on the side of the road, rather lonely and wondering why, when you get to a particular marker, it leaves a more bitter taste than expected and you aren’t satisfied. Use the numbers for what they are; indicators. Your journey is yours and yours alone. No one will walk it for you and no one else’s progress really matters. If you’re lucky, you’ll find some exceptional travel companions, but it’s still your own adventure.
We all have dreams. But in order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline, and effort.
– Jesse Owens