Monday Motivation – Competition Breeds Success


The holidays are a time of year when nutrition tends to go out the window. Too many parties with too much junk food plus too little time outdoors means that people don’t care what they look like with a shirt off. Beach season is over so people don’t stress over some winter weight gain.

People figure that they’re the only one who’s gonna see themselves naked. Along with their poor significant other who’s too nice to say anything about the added pounds. So who is there to impress?

It’s time to expose yourself.

No, not like that. Keep your clothes on. I mean stop hiding in the protective shell of nonsense like “my opinion is the only one that matters” or “I’m only competing against myself.”

This might work for some people, but the majority could stand to light a fire under their ass by introducing some healthy competition into their lives.

Ironically, my class of exercise science grad students decided that the holidays would be a great time to have a body composition challenge. We all ante’d up, got our body fat percentage measured by DEXA scan and agreed that at the start of next semester, whoever loses the greatest relative percentage of body fat wins the prize.

I’ve often considered taking the plunge of trying to get completely shredded. I’ve always hovered around the low teens for body fat percentage, but always talked myself out of taking the journey to sub-10 percent land. It’s not useful for powerlifting. And I really love chocolate. now that I put myself out there for this competition, there’s no turning back. It’s just the spark I needed to finally bring myself to a level where I’ve never been. And I’m not about to lose.

So even though I’ll be saying “no” to egg nog and candy canes this Christmas, it’s not all bad. This competition will be exactly what I need to “rebound” from the post-powerlifting meet de-motivational lull that I always experience after a long training cycle.

I knew once my college baseball career was over, I wanted to compete in powerlifting. I knew that training just to “be in shape” wouldn’t be enough to keep me busting ass day in and day out. But I didn’t always feel this way.

I was never terribly competitive when I was younger. I never had to be. High school classes were easy, Vermont baseball was lousy and I didn’t have a brother to keep me on my toes with atomic wedgies and wrestling matches. Complacency weaseled it’s way into my brain.

When I went off to college, I got a rude awakening. I was the last player off the bench on the baseball team, the backup catcher to the team’s best hitter. There was little hope of competing for the starting spot, so I played in hopes of not getting cut. My motivation was avoiding failure rather than achieving success.

After three seasons as a backup, my senior year rolled around. I eagerly awaited my chance to play a full season as a starter. But one day, during winter workouts, my coach came up to me and told me that it looked like a sophomore would edge me out for the starting role.

I flipped the switch. Never in my life had I been so motivated. After three years of riding the bench and catching bullpens til my knees ached, I was not about to miss my chance at a starting job. I finally understood how to use competition as a motivator rather than let it deflate me. I went on to earn the starting position and had a decent senior year. And I learned that competition shouldn’t be seen as a threat, but rather, an opportunity.

I’ve talked about ways to stay internally motivated before, but few things inspire performance the way competition does. Progressive overload, beating the log book and always doing more weight or more reps are all well and good, but eventually we all need external motivation. It doesn’t really matter what it is, just compete in something. is awesome because it’s just you, the bar and the platform. Everyone sees if you succeed or fail, and there’s no question at the end of the day who’s strongest.

Strongman is incredible because it takes many of the strength aspects of powerlifting and field skills of team sports and blends them into the most badass competition ever.

Pickup basketball or soccer or any other team sport is awesome because the out-of-shape slobs get left in the dust. It separates the washed-up’s and has-been’s from the still-got-it’s.

Bodybuilding is cool too. People get turned off by the vanity of it all (and the little posing underpants), but I imagine there’s serious motivation when faced with walking on stage at the risk of looking like Adam from Workaholics.


This is why CrossFit succeeds where pretty much all other fitness trends fail. Regardless of the quality of their programming and sometimes-questionable training methods, they instill a sense of competition and camaraderie among their members that makes it nearly impossible not to get better.

Even those silly Tough Mudders and Spartan Races can do some good. I still don’t like the “everybody wins” mentality and that just finishing the race is enough for a truckload of trophies. But at least it gets people in the competition mindset and helps then work toward a specific, performance-based goal with their training.

So do yourself a favor and inject some competition into your life. Get a training partner that can push you (preferably someone bigger and stronger). Join a rec league or play pickup sports on the weekends. Hold yourself accountable to performance in a competitive event, and improvements in health and fitness will almost surely follow.

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Posted in Monday Motivation
8 comments on “Monday Motivation – Competition Breeds Success
  1. jawnob says:

    Hey man this is a great blog. JUST found out about it but I’m really looking forward to expanding my knowledge on all things lifting.

  2. […] fat loss efforts had just made me a couple bucks richer. You guys may remember that eight weeks ago, I set out on a fat loss challenge. Several of my graduate school classmates set out to lose the greatest relative amount of body fat […]

  3. […] day you stop competing is the day you start […]

  4. […] I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m incredibly lucky to be able to train at some awesome gyms. Between Brown University and Total Performance Sports, I’ve got literally every piece of equipment I could ever want. Factor in the intense environment and you’ve got a foolproof recipe for success. […]

  5. […] This past weekend I drove down to Pennsylvania to coach my good friend Dave through his first powerlifting meet. Dave’s been training hard and kicked ass on the platform, hitting PRs across the board. I was immensely proud, not just because Dave and I go way back (we were partners for our senior thesis in undergrad), but because Dave, a former skinny kid who was about as far from a powerlifting prototype as you could get, took it upon himself to put in the work and compete. […]

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