If you polled the average competitor from 18-35 I think you would get a variety of reasons for competing. Some would say it keeps them in shape, some want to see what they’re capable of. Some want to prove others right (or wrong), some want their “body back” after a baby. Some want to live up to the legends, see if they can beat them. Some want it for pure attention, and some want it because they know that it opens doors.
People compete for many different reasons, but at the end of the day, every person will be broken down and built back up by their journey.
I’ve seen relationships broken down and rebuilt. Broken down and abandoned. I’ve seen people cry backstage, post-stage, onstage. I’ve seen girls who got up there and were completely mortified to realize they weren’t ready, men who thought they looked good compared to their buddies, and realized how “small” they were when they lined up with the best of the best.
In the two short years I’ve been in this sport, my whole perspective on fitness has changed. In a way, it has become an obsession, and it’s something I have to watch closely.
The problem is, competing can drive you… or it can drive you crazy.
If you let it, if you control it, it can be an incredible motivator. It can give you discipline, self-control, focus in areas of your life that are outside of simple gym time. It can teach you a lot about your body, science, muscles, nutrition, fuel, metabolism. You can learn a lot.
After the shock of your first show, you will realize that the competition can be stiff, and it only gets harder the further you go. You will realize that you’re both capable of and far from your own high potential.
Competing can drive you to be your personal best, it can open new doors for you and inspire others. It can cut your carbs so low you cry, and push your endorphins so high you feel like you’re flying. I can break you, build you, mend you, make you.
All of the shit from your past life comes out in prep. All of the negative bull shit from your ex, your dad. The culture you grew up in, your self-doubt. All of that shit surfaces when you’re running on empty and have a long way to go. When you’re dehydrated, burnt out, and questioning yourself, you discover (or don’t) a lot more mental stamina than you ever though you would have. Competing can drive you to your best self- emotionally, mentally, physically.
Or, it can drive you crazy.
You will never compare yourself so much to others as you do as a competitor. No matter how far you go, someone has gone further. They’ve worked harder, eaten better, been in the sport longer. No matter how hard you push, someone has better genetics, better coaching, more time on their hands more rest, or drugs to give them a leg up.
You will feel your best, and you will look at your competitors, and you will wonder if you are good enough.
The further you go, the more you are exposed to the industry as a whole, the more you will deal with both the idolatry of the masses and the hatred and derision of the few. The larger the audience, the larger the negativity. The more you will learn that everyone is not your champion, everyone is not your friend. You will learn that the industry is harsh on the smallest of flaws. If you don’t watch out, that comparison, that negativity, that harshness, can control your life.
Religious adherence to meal plans can become an obsession with perfection in every gram. It’s own eating disorder. You may never view food the same as you learn about macronutrients, as you see what the slightest alterations in nutrition can do to your body.
The gym is your friend, and your enemy. You may wonder if one more rep, one more set, 20 more minutes of cardio … if that’s what your competitors are doing.
You will look in the mirror your first show, and you will see the best body of your life… and you will compete, and you may learn to look at the same body as flawed, imperfect, not good enough. You may begin to view yourself as an imperfect sculpture, something you want to break down, constantly, and rebuild, to be just right.
If you are not careful, competing will drive you crazy. It will take the joy out of your workouts and the fun out of food. If you are not careful, your world can become very, very small, and your self-esteem increasingly smaller.
If you are not careful, this industry, competing at large – can break you down into a self-absorbed, self-centered, miserably self-aware, imperfect, flawed, broken person fighting to be in someone else’s body. Fighting for a title or an opinion or approval of everyone. If you are not careful, competing can change your life… for the worse.
IF you choose to look back and remember, if you realize that every single person out there competing is just as self-critical, just as flawed, just as individual, just as unique… if you realize that food is also for enjoyment, and indulge in moderation out of prep… if you recognize that you will compete for a time span but live for a lifetime, you will find joy in beating your best self. You will thrive on a curiosity for the unknown potential of your own physique… you will engage in every moment of competition prep and stage time with a zest for knowing you’ve achieved a discipline and drive many can only dream of. You will find joy in empowering other people to fight for their best self. You will compare yourself to no one but the old you. You will learn that everything has a time and a place, and you will refuse the negativity of others in a quest to find your own self-assurance.
If you control it as you grow as a competitor, you can stay sane in a crazy, perfection-obsessed industry. You can continually one-up your last best time, your last highest weight, your last rep count, your last push. You can expand your world instead of shrinking it as your digital presence grows. You can remember that you’re comparing on a different scale, and lose the burden to constantly fight to be anyone else.
You can look at your own weaknesses, and see them as a project. You can find a way to both accept yourself fully and yet never become static in your journey.
If you choose to take the wheel, you can drive your competing, as well as let it drive you, and it won’t drive you crazy.