Is Competing Really Worth It? Professional Powerlifter Shares His Thoughts

To compete, or not to compete, that is the question!

I recently had one of my athletes ask whether he had made a mistake by choosing not to compete this year. It’s a great question — one that I’ve been considering a lot myself following my short experience with bodybuilding.

Obviously, there are pros and cons to competition, and those can be tough to evaluate — especially because athletes often have an emotional connection to competition. Taking a deeper look at those can help make the right decision for you, but keep in mind: just because you decide to compete (or not compete) now doesn’t mean you can’t have a change of heart later on!

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Now that I've accomplished my powerlifting goals and know that bodybuilding isn't for me, I can start doing what I always wanted to: get nasty, freakishly strong and look the part. And so I'm grateful AF that @troponin_nutrition will be bringing BACK Project Big Ben 💪😁👊 I've still got some #grandgoals left to get and they ain't gonna happen at 187. At 240, though… Obviously I'm psyched about this, and Justin and I will be sharing a video on YouTube later today about our plan to make the most of the post-show rebound and kick this one off right! In the meantime, shoot us any questions you have and I hope you follow along! Btw, videos are from training yesterday, 12 hours after stepping offstage. I really wanted to get crazy with the @unionfitnesspgh crew but unlike after last show, it didn't feel at all safe to do so, and I opted to just do some easy sets of 5 at 455-275-585 instead. Since I haven't squatted low bar or done flat bench in over 12 weeks, I was pretty happy with those, and think I had 7 or 8 on pulls had I pushed it. Not bad for a 50 pound weight loss in 12 weeks (granted that a lot of that 50 was bloat and water). #bulkingseason is here.

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Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

Four Benefits of Competition

It goes without saying that competition has a huge number of benefits — surely more than four. In my opinion, though, these four are among the most important. (In fact, one of my colleagues, Dominic Morais, and I spoke to these exact points for an undergraduate seminar at the University of Texas, and if you’re interested, I would be more than happy to share our presentation with you! Just drop me a line using the email address in my author biography.)

1. Time Management. 

This is a huge one. When you’re prepping for a competition, your training (and oftentimes your diet and sleep) must be highly structured if you wish to succeed. For most people, when you structure one important area of your life, it becomes much easier to structure the rest of your life around that starting point. 

The most productive times in my year tend to fall in the early weeks of contest prep — my energy levels, focus, and motivation are at an all-time high, and those benefits carry over into my daily work outside of the gym.

2. Motivation. 

Speaking of motivation, if you’re a competitive person (like me!), then the very idea of putting yourself out there against other, equally passionate competitors gets your fire going to push yourself harder than you might have otherwise thought possible.

3. Networking.

No matter what it is — a powerlifting meet, a strongman competition, a bodybuilding show, heck, a road race — you’re going to meet other like-minded, motivated individuals. 

And any time you’re around those types of individuals, you’re giving yourself the chance to learn, to build lasting relationships and better business opportunities, and ultimately, to grow.

4. Personal Growth. 

And that brings us to what is, in my opinion, the most important benefit of competition: personal growth. No matter what the outcome, pushing yourself to your limits builds character. To me, that cannot be understated.

Three Inevitable (and Often Overlooked) Drawbacks

Nothing in life is black and white; the benefits of competition above come with virtually unavoidable drawbacks. If you’re debating whether or not to step on the platform or on stage, you need to weigh those benefits against these (and other possible) negative consequences or outcomes!

  • Injury. It’s simply impossible to push yourself to your limits without risking injury. Could you be one of the insanely lucky ones who avoids injury? Sure, it’s possible — but it’s highly unlikely. When you decide to compete you accept the risk of hurting yourself, no matter what the sport.

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  • Disappointment and frustration. Another inevitable: losing. No one wins everything; in fact, many motivational memes revolve around loss (Michael Jordan’s college career and Thomas Edison’s many failed inventions come to mind). When you give something your all and fall short of your goals, disappointment often follows.
  • Sacrifice. You have to put a lot of time, energy, and often money into competition, and for most people, that means making sacrifices in other areas of your life. You’ve got to weigh that heavily: are you willing to take time away from your career, your family, and your other goals in order to compete? No one can answer that but you.

Wrapping Up

Ultimately, I think the answer comes down to what Dave Tate told me when I first joined Team Elitefts: you have to do this stuff for fun. No one short of Yuri Belkin and Mr. Olympia is making money off of powerlifting or bodybuilding, and no one other than you is going to care what you do on the platform or how you look on stage. 

Your friends and family will support your effort for what it is — effort — not judge you for your results. The Internet will forget your accomplishments and your failures a week from now. All that matters is what you want, so trust your gut, and live your best life. Yeah, it’s easier said than done — but it’s the only route to really being happy with your athletic career.

Feature image from @phdeadlift Instagram page. 

Ben Pollack

Ben Pollack

Ben Pollack is a professional powerlifter and holds the all-time world record raw total of 2039 in the 198-pound class. He has won best overall lifter at the largest raw meets in the world, including the US Open, Boss of Bosses, and Reebok Record Breakers.

Ben earned his Ph.D. in the history and management of strength and fitness from the University of Texas at Austin in 2018, and has published articles in a number of scholarly publications, including The Journal of Sport History, The Journal of Sport Management, and Iron Game History: The Journal of Physical Culture. He also coaches strength athletes of all skill levels, including several internationally-elite powerlifters and world record holders. You can contact Ben through his website (phdeadlift.com) or via email at [email protected]

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