Weightlifting Is Life

Most elite sports competitors probably feel an intense bond with their craft, teammates, and coaches. Weightlifting doesn’t have the same effect on every person, but for many in our small but growing community, it grabs you in a way I can’t explain. It crawls into your soul and molds you in all angles of life.

My husband has told me on multiple occasions, “Everything in your life leads back to weightlifting.” I apologize, it’s true, and probably annoying to most people, but in our world, weightlifting is life, and weightlifting can teach you about life.

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Weightlifting teaches discipline. Maybe you struggle to maintain your weight for your respective weight class, so you learn how to manage your diet. Maybe you hate to train but love to compete, so you force yourself into the gym six days a week knowing that it’ll help you shine later. As the late, great, Muhammad Ali said, “Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.” That discipline leads to other aspects of life. The real world can be hard and sometimes it really sucks, but weightlifting teaches you the discipline to get up and keep moving.

Weightlifting teaches patience. Weightlifting is frustrating, even infuriating at times; it teaches you the patience to work through the issues. A small technical flaw in the snatch is a missed lift or a very ugly save at best, but working through that struggle teaches you that patience is everything.

I met one of my all-time favorite coaches at a school-age (now called youth) training camp in 2004. Coach Mike Burgener says “Nothing feels quite like a good snatch.” Funny, but true. The relevance? All those misses, all those frustrating minor changes can lead to that one lift that feels completely effortless and beautiful. Everyone has had that one. The one where you stand up smiling and look around after you drop the bar, praying your coach caught it on video for your insta-fame. (Then you proceed to add 5 kilograms and fail miserably.)

You can apply that same patience to life. The patience you learn while working to make those corrections teaches you that everything you could ever want in life is attainable. Nothing happens at the snap of a finger. Nothing worth having is instantly gratifying (except maybe an Oreo).

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Weightlifting teaches you how to follow instructions. For some, this is easier said than done. (In my case, taking constant instruction from my husband can be overwhelming at times. We do our best to make it work. Ha-ha!) Unless you are your own boss, or you never get married, or you hide in a hole for a lifetime, you will have to work with other people at some point. Weightlifting teaches you to take feedback and constructive criticism and to channel it into your work. 

Weightlifting teaches goal setting. Weightlifting teaches you to set goals, make a timeline, and fight to reach it. Setting goals in weightlifting is the same as setting goals for life. You won’t reach them all, but that’s not the point. Like Yogi Berra said, “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up somewhere else.” You can go into training aimlessly, just wing it, and see how it goes. Or, you can go in with a goal in mind, numbers you want to hit by a certain date, meets you want to qualify for, or teams you want to make.

Weightlifting teaches you to prioritize time. We mold our lives around training times. A handful of American weightlifters have the opportunity to make weightlifting their full time responsibility. For everyone else, that means they have part time or full time jobs, families, kids, and bills on top of an already expensive sport.

Still, our love for the sport keeps pushes us to make it work, to get that lift in, and to possibly reschedule that dinner date with friends for 7pm instead of 6pm because “work ran late” or “your husband needs you to run an errand first” (aka, you started missing lifts at 85% so today’s session may take a little longer than you expected. Plus, you need five more minutes to put on a clean pair of yoga pants.)

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Weightlifting teaches you about relationships. I played team sports growing up. I felt connected with my teammates, but I think with individual sports — especially weightlifting — there is an unspeakable bond between coach and athlete. That coach knows every ache and pain, they know the birthdates of their athletes’ children, their spouses’ maiden names. They share frustration, disappointment, negativity, but also the breakthroughs — the joy, laughter, and excitement.

It is the ultimate barber’s chair. Hours upon hours are spent developing that bond. We are both fighting for so much more than 1 kilo. Those feelings are shared so deeply that it’s indescribable, and by far my favorite part of watching weightlifting competition. As a spectator, you may never understand their story, but stay around long enough, and you know each story overcame its own adversity.

People who stay in the sport long enough, they let it become them, not just become a part of them. “For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health.” They train year round, through ups and downs. They train when they are sick and when they are hurt (assuming it’s not serious).

I’ve yet to meet an American weightlifter (or coach) made rich from the sport. The sport is growing, our numbers are climbing, but becoming rich isn’t why they lift. They fall in love, it becomes part of who they are, and they all but say the vows.

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