n the spring of 2008 I entered my first Strongman competition. At 24 years of age, this was the first time I’d ever competed in an individual sport. I grew up playing team sports like soccer and baseball, and although I dabbled recreationally in individual sports like golf and tennis, I never had the fire to pursue them competitively. As luck would have it, prematurely entering a Strongman competition changed my entire life; I’d always been somewhat of a competitive person, but learning to compete against myself made me a far more dynamic and ambitious human being.
Weightlifting taught me that there will always be room for excuses if you don’t put yourself in a position to be 100% accountable for personal results. Learning to do this is one of the top things I try to help clients realize, because it’s the ultimate cure for anyone struggling to break body composition plateaus; not only this, but developing a competitive mentality can also help make you a much more successful person in other critical areas of life. How is being competitive with oneself linked to such significant changes? I’m glad you asked…
Becoming competitive doesn’t happen overnight. As mentioned, I’ve always had a bit of a competitive streak despite never being elite at anything growing up. When I got into weight training at the age of 21 (at a robust 130lbs, dripping wet) my only end game was to look good; it was chest and arms all day, baby. Slowly but surely, and despite the resistance of my superficial and indolent drivers, I was influenced to incorporate effortful lower body exercises into my workouts. Although I was hesitant to put in the work at first, I quickly became hooked on deadlifts because this lift progressed far more quickly than my bench and I loved the feeling of getting stronger.
Less than three years after grudgingly beginning to train properly, I jumped into my first Strongman competition at the behest of a close friend (and the organizer of said competition). I was far from ready for this test and didn’t come close to winning, but this was the experience that I needed to light my internal fire of personal improvement. From that day forward, I paid more attention to my programming, to my nutrition and to my recovery. Not only this, but I subconsciously began to challenge myself in other aspects of life as well. There was no “Aha!” moment, nor did my immediate life change drastically in any way, but it was a small switch in mindset that began to alter the course of my life.
After this competition I participated in another few contests throughout the summer of 2008. I got smoked in the majority of these events, but I did get a taste of victory at the one and only lightweight show that I entered. More importantly, my drive and ambition to improve in my new sport led to a flurry of significant changes in my life outside the gym. At the time, I was working a job I disliked and living in a lonely new city; I travelled 4-8 hours roundtrip most weekends to see friends and maintain my sanity. With newfound confidence, I told my boss that I was quitting unless they’d let me move to Toronto and begin to manage this unmanned territory as a sales rep. At the time I was in the marketing department and completely unqualified to jump into sales, so this plan made little sense and I was fully prepared to quit; then they agreed to my proposal. Through sheer confidence and will, I had created a new job for myself in the place where I would be happiest.
Much like my increasing strength and (by default) improving body composition, the snowball effect of success continued outside the gym. Just a few short months after moving to Toronto, my company offered me a sales support position at our small international office in Brussels, Belgium; at 25 and unattached, this was a no-brainer. Once settled in Belgium I continued my strength pursuits in the gym and trained from time to time with Belgium’s Strongest Man, but competing was put on the backburner. I was still incredibly motivated and loved improving myself daytoday, but priority number one was to enjoy my new life overseas.
When I returned to Canada in 2011, I had just discovered Carb Nite® and Carb Backloading™, and these protocols took me from a reasonably strong 200-lb lifter to an extremely strong and lean 170-lb beast. Did I add in a ton of cardio? Did I stop chasing strength records and start lifting lighter weights for more reps? Not a chance. I accomplished my body composition goals by eating appropriately and chasing personal records in the gym. By this time I had completely given up on competing in Strongman, but at the behest of some friends I got back into the sport in 2013 andwith my new body composition began to make a name for myself as one of the top 175-class Strongmen in the world (despite never having truly made this a goal!). Good things continued to happen to me because I kept challenging myself by accomplishing goals and setting loftier ones, while simply trying every day to be a better version of me.
Chasing goals in the gym is no different from chasing them in life; you have to make a conscious decision to change and follow a plan to make it happen. This mindset is why I always tell people with body composition goals that their priority in the gym should be performance markers. Stop thinking intangibly about calories burned and start chasing those weights! Having a quantifiable plan will build your confidence and keep you motivated; as the weights go up the body fat goes down and you’ll sharpen your mindset not only in the gym, but for other successes in life as well. Learn to compete against yourself and you’ll achieve more than you ever imagined!