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  • Nathanael Littauer, CSCS

Learning To Fail

If you were to follow yourself for every attempt at a weightlifting meet, you will at most have ten total minutes on the clock across six lifts. You can't follow yourself in Powerlifting, but you still get roughly ten minutes spread across 9 lifts. A lot can happen in ten minutes. You can lift PRs, make some saves, or even miss a lift.


I know we don't want to always think about missing lifts, but if you are in the strength sports, you are bound to fail at some point. You will do so in a meet, or you will do so training. It happens. It's part of the process. But you have to remember one major thing:

A missed lift does not define who you are as an athlete, or a person. It does not define your training cycle, or sometimes what you are truly capable of. It's just a rep that did not go your way.

Missing lifts happens. We all bomb out at some point. I remember distinctly what happened at my first ever sanctioned weightlifting meet. It was held at East Tennessee State University, which is known not only for it's weightlifting program, but also for the amount of sport research and exercise science research that is produced there. If you know anything about strength training, you've probably heard of Mike and Meg Stone, who are at ETSU. They also happened to be the hosts and judges for the meet.

I showed up, and in classic, new lifter fashion opened at weights that were pretty close to maximum. Then add the pressure of lifting in front of two legends in my field of study (at the time it was a big deal to me), and you have a recipe for disaster. I bombed out. I missed all three of my snatch attempts, and was disqualified from the meet. I'm also a particularly sore loser, and I drove the hour and a half home in silence. I beat myself up over it.


But something was brought to my attention.


If you train 2 hours a day (at the time I was), 6 days per week, you train for 12 hours per week. Multiply that out by a training cycle of 12 weeks leading up to a competition, and you have 144 hours of cumulative training time. Multiply that by sixty, and you have trained 8,640 minutes. If you compete in weightlifting or powerlifting, that is 720 times longer than the time span it takes to have a bad meet.


Which do you take more pride in? The 144 hours or 0.2 hours?


I'm not going to try to tell you that missing lifts doesn't suck. It does. You can be lead to feel like your hard work was for nothing. But it isn't. Because you learn a lot more about yourself in the 144 hours than you do in the 10 minutes. You learn discipline. You learn focus. You learn how to fear the iron, and how to conquer your fear. You face the challenge of commitment in a uncommitted world, and learn how to rise above.


And something else is true. Weights don't care about your feelings. The whole existence of bars and weights is for the purpose of you picking them up and displaying mastery. Weights don't care if you can't pick them up on Friday, and if they could desire anything it would be that you show up on Monday and try again.


You see, failing a lift is not a bad thing. It can actually be a good thing. We don't learn unless we fail. We don't get hyper-focused after winning. We get hyper-focused because we haven't won. Failure is merely an opportunity to learn and to grow. So suck it up, shrug it off, and get back on the bar.

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