Earning My First Magazine Cover

By Brian Carroll

Meets/competition: no matter how bad you want it, how much you try to prepare, control, plan and think you have it figured out, or how long you’ve been doing this –  sometimes it will go to crap. Please keep in mind that this article is not meant to be negative, or to cast a dark shadow on powerlifting, or any endeavor for that matter. Instead it’s intended to provide some perspective to help athletes manage their expectations as this is something that I’ve struggled with even after nearly 20 years in the sport. I still do, although I’m working on doing better. I don’t get devastated; I get frustrated and pissed now.

First Bomb is the Hardest

Last month, I met a lifter whom I had only talked to online, but waved to from a distance a few times during the utterly chaotic day. It was one of their first big meets, and I quickly found out they didn’t have the day they wanted (as is reality most times – just different levels of disappointment). I didn’t know this, as they seemed happy and as far as I knew was still having a great day.

Deadlifts were starting.  This was after my day had already ended early on the bench and I found out they had a similar outcome. I could tell as they were visibly upset – this was one of the first times they came away having the ‘feeling.’ You know the feeling of “that didn’t go the way I had envisioned the last 20 weeks and now what?”

As we started to chat, I began to share some of my experiences over the last 20 years, but we ended up getting interrupted and I never got to finish my thoughts.

My Experiences

This brought me back to thinking how I feel right now vs. how I used to feel. What I wanted to share along with a few stories and experiences is this: The hard truth is most times you are going to walk away really disappointed after a powerlifting comp in some way, shape or form. You can take the ‘wins,’ learning experiences and all that jazz, but if you have put a lot into your prep, you’re likely going to come away pretty disappointed. It’s just reality, especially if you genuinely love powerlifting and give it your all. If you truly want to excel, you will always consider the things you could have done better in an objective, unbiased manner with the help of those you trust and surround yourself with. What could I have done better: this is what you should be doing if you’re not.

I think I’ve had about ten meets out of over 50+ where I was like, “man that was a satisfying showing.” That’s 20%. The maybe at the most dozen, or whatever other ‘successful meets,’ I would have to split hairs to say I was happy with how I did indeed. They all have ‘buts’ about them. I think this mentality has to be harnessed and controlled, or it will destroy you. At the same time, it keeps you on your toes – every good trait has a shadowed side. 

During the early days when competing is new, the highs come easy and fast. Also, because everything you hit is a PR – it’s all new, unique and fun. Then if you’re fortunate, you start to hit numbers you never imagined you would catch, which is a blessing in most people’s eyes, but can also be a curse. Then it can become unpleasant fast.

That’s me in the red. No, not Joe Bayles, but the guy behind Gary Frank!

Finally: My First Magazine Cover

It was APF Seniors in Detroit, yes the infamous Senior Nationals where someone ‘accidentally’ put oil on the deadlift bar and likely changed the outcome for more than one lifter as EVERYONE was dropping deadlifts. Oh, and the same meet where the meet director (allegedly) got too drunk the evening before and showed up late/disappeared for a bit to kick off day 2 of the meet! It was my third big meet and I was not ready for the downs that high-level competition will eventually bring you if you compete long enough.

I thought I knew the ‘downs’ as I felt some disappointment missing a lift or two, even going 3-9 (2004 APF Seniors, etc.), but not this, “total failure, wasted time, wasted money, wasted trip – f*ck this” feeling.” I, only three months prior had an outstanding meet; 130lb PR total – going 2133 at 220 and narrowly missing a 722 deadlift for my first 2200. I just knew I was going to set the world on fire at Seniors —needless to say not the way I had planned it. I bombed on the squat with 881 and a final attempt at 931, so guess that can be considered a ‘fire.’

Thankfully, I’ve never done this. Photo credit Kalle via IG

I painfully realized that the lows are lower than the highs are high, very quick. My first taste of bombing was the best thing that could have happened to me because it made me realize that the good times must be something to appreciate. I also learned pretty quickly that there are a few different ways you can handle a bomb, or lacklustre meet.

  1. Jump right back into it and find another competition and redeem yourself within a month-ish.
  2. You can quit (I’ve done this once or twice), or
  3. if you have been going as long as I had at this point (it was June, and I’d been pushing since early January) you should consider going back to the drawing board to work on addressing what’s holding you back, or what you may be lacking.

I opted for #3. I’d been going for a long time on the high octane fuel, and I had recently collected a hairball behind my bed and baseboards the size of a grapefruit from trembling too long.

Goal: 2005 WPO

My goal at the start of the year was the WPO Semi-finals in Oct/Nov 2005, but after some thought and the bomb in June, I decided not to make the trip to Iowa to ‘last minute’ qualify at Bill Carpenter’s meet in August. Instead, I took the time to address my squat and opted to “recycle myself.” Honestly, punishing myself in retrospect – I didn’t think I deserved to qualify and felt I would be taking a haircut, I mean shortcut.

Recycled

So, I worked on a more extended offseason, addressed my squat deficiencies and competed in December at the APF Southern States. I got better – mentally and physically. I made it through the meet and hit 2221 before I went back through the APF qualifying ladder to Seniors 2006, to qualify for the WPO. I competed in the 2006 APF Seniors which some still say was the best, most competitive APF Seniors ever. Hard to argue with an average of 20 plus lifters per division (we had two flights of 220’s).  It was an epic meet where Shawn Frankl and I met for the first time and subsequently battled for first place, both at Seniors then at WPO/WPC, where we tied. Within a year, Shawn and I approached the WR total being 2376, just missing 2400+ at 220.

Crossing Paths with Shawn Frankl

I’ve mentioned Shawn Frankl a lot in my writing over the years. The guy is a good friend and has been for over 12 years.  He is a super gifted, intelligent and intense lifter, but you know what I learned from him that wasn’t intense? How to shrug off a bomb and have a short memory. He bombed plenty of times, and each time I witnessed, he was just like, “well, onto the next one.” Why? Because shit happens – “can’t do nothing about it now, haha.”

In 2005 – when Shawn returned from a stint in the desert with the US Army, he hurried back to qualify for the WPO 2006 Arnold Classic. He did the WPO Semis in Chicago, but bombed on the squat. Being the determined bastard, Shawn is, Frankl then had to jump through all sorts of hoops to get his passport expedited to go to Helsinki, Finland to quality there for the Arnold. Shawn made it to Finland, ‘but dude, his troubles weren’t over.’ After eating on the plane the entire trip, he landed at a whopping 220lbs. Well, that’s great if you are lifting at 220, but not if your coach has you going 198. Long story, short, Shawn got tricked into getting in the sauna for ’10min,’ but was made to stay in there (teammates held the door) until Rick Hussey thought he was close to weight and let him out. Shawn made weight, and qualified for the Arnold, then bombed on the big stage in 2006 on the bench press. And that’s how we met at APF Seniors 2006; he got recycled himself.

Shawn Frankl winning best lifter at Seniors 2006

Sometimes You Lose Even If You Win

In powerlifting, the truth is, just like you can take ‘win’s’ away when you lose, sometimes you ‘lose’ no matter what – even if you ‘win.’ You learn and accept this after a while, but that doesn’t make it any easier. Hell, even Matt Minuth, who just won the WPO Middleweight title and broke the All-time WR total at 242; one that I and others have chased for a long time, still ‘lost’ in a way and almost astonishingly lost it all – the WR, the Win and the title along with his arm. Matt tore his biceps off the bone during his opener deadlift of 677, something he can pull for ten reps. To Matt’s credit (he’s special – in a good way) he somehow managed to come back after missing it 2x and pulled it on a third. He’s already had it surgically reattached and is well on his way to recovery, I’m sure of it. You can’t doubt this guy. But what about the next 6-months of bullshit and  inconvenience he will have to deal with while only to being able to use one arm?

I guess that you sum it up to ‘there’s always a cost of doing business.’ When I talked to Matt a few days after the meet to see how he was doing – the first things he said was “I’m good, just one-armed – it sucks.” Then, “I have an MRI this weekend,” quickly followed by “Damn it, this cost me a shot at 2800!” and “work is not going to be happy.” Matt could have quickly gone high 2700’s, or even 2800 with a 777 deadlift, and he expressed it.

Murphy’s Law

Matt knows this is the deal going in. Hell, he broke his neck/back squatting at the 2017 Arnold and has spent the last year plus recovering and rehabbing that. While we were benching, he was in the ER. We ended our conversation with a few laughs, and he mentioned a bomb streak of about two years of nothing but bombs where everything went wrong. Hell, I had a streak where no matter what, I bombed at least once a year for about five years in a row. Adam Driggers, the founder of Team Samson, had about two years of straight bombs without finishing a meet. If it wasn’t squat depth, it was his elbows from squatting and benching which made equipped benching nearly impossible and caused him to have trouble touching in the shirt. Speaking of the ER, after Adam got his elbows sorted out, in 2013 he ripped his back apart and ended up in the ER for four days with severe bleeding due to multiple bulges from a torn Posterior Longitudinal Ligament. I could go on and on – did I mention Ed Coan bombed on the deadlift once – doubt he planned that? We still love it. Sometimes.

One Key That I’ve Learned: hold onto the good times and success that you have and enjoy the process

When it becomes less fun and rewarding than the effort takes, it’s time to reevaluate. This is where I’ve been at for a few years now. Is the juice worth the squeeze? What’s the risk vs. reward? You have to look at the bigger picture though, not just while you are feeling a particular way, good or bad. I think if most of us could ‘play the movie forward’ we would not want to be destroyed in our 50s. Me? I sure don’t. I examine all that I do to my body for a good bit of the time after a subpar result. On the surface – hell no – it’s not worth it, especially when the result is less than stellar.

But to me, there is nothing more satisfying than accomplishing your goals, improving and winning. That feeling is something that you will always chase once you have your first real dose of it. It’s like chasing the most euphoric feeling in the world; it’s certainly an addiction. Then you pull the layers back a little more and realize that it won’t make sense to 99% of the people around you as they don’t understand the drive and addiction you have for pushing the limits. For what? At best, a belt, a couple of thousands that won’t even cover your supplements, travel, and time lost at work? But, this all some have known; it’s all I’ve known since I joined Bailey’s gym in 1997 and started to take training serious vs. training at the high school gym or my garage because everyone else was.

This feeling makes it worth it – all the ups and all the downs

It’s Worth It; You Must Manage Expectations!

When it goes well, it all comes together and you hit what you want, yes it seems as though it is worth it, at least for the short-term, but if it’s not a good day and the stakes are high, then it’s not. This is a hard place to be in and the pressure that we put on ourselves keeps building the longer you’re involved as the stakes and risk become larger and more daunting.

Not to mention father time has his way with everyone. Add in the fact that no matter who you are, you can’t do this forever, so you have no choice but to make the most of it while you can. I was recently on a panel with Ed Coan, and he told us about how he felt like could do ‘it’ forever until suddenly things started hurting and weights he should do easily became difficult. This was when he knew it was time to move on – his words.

Unfortunately, some people don’t get this message from their body, or they don’t care – probably both. For example – some of the people you see at meets who seem like they’ve aged 20 years in the past five as they’ve gone to the well too many times and nobody around them has stepped in told them the truth, or maybe they have, and they are going to lift till they are dead. I am not judging anyone. How long is too long? I don’t know – I guess it depends on what sort of life you want to lead in your 60’s if you make it that far. I’ve been in both shoes and at times haven’t even cared about my 30’s, so I’m in no place to judge.

As I wrap up, I opened with discussing meets and bombing, so I’ll close with my mindset now. I’ve said this many times – I don’t let my highs get too high, or my lows get too low. I know how sideways every facet of competing can get. I still take it hard when things don’t go as planned. I get incredibly pissed, frustrated and disappointed in a few ways, BUT I  do my best to manage my expectations going in and know that once I cool off, and can think clearly, I will have some big positive takeaways regardless. Sometimes it takes a month or two, still.

I’ve been here many times over the years, not just with bombs, but falling short of my goals. I mean, I’ve only been chasing the 242 Total WR for like ten years off and on. No biggie. But how much better are things when you have to struggle and work for it? I’ll have to let you know on this one, as this ‘goal’ has given me all I can handle… Almost all I can handle. As I said, it’s an addiction – much like the girl (or guy) who keeps rejecting you, but you don’t care; it makes you want them even more.

Until then, ‘onto the next one.’

 

To read more from Brian and to follow his training CLICK HERE.  Be sure to also check out his best-selling books 10/20/Life 2nd Edition and Gift of Injury, available ON SALE as a book bundle in the PRS Store.

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Brian Carroll

Brian Carroll

Brian is world class powerlifter with over a decade of elite class powerlifting under his belt. Coming back from a devastating back injury in 2012 that broke multiple bones and that most experts said he would never recover from, he has returned to the pinnacle of world-class lifting (while 100% pain and symptom free) and is now dedicated to helping others avoid the same mistakes that he made in the past through private and group coaching. Brian’s impressive recovery has given him the opportunity to teach and deliver talks to physical therapists, chiropractors, medical doctors, professional strength & conditioning coaches and experts from all facets of sport, on how to avoid injury, while building anti-fragile strength and resilience in athletes.
Brian Carroll

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