When You Know It's Time To Get Out
This is the last section of THIS article we just posted.
Retire? Retire from what?
You need to do something before you can retire from it.
- Louie Simmons
I can’t recall the number of times I have heard Louie say this. He was mostly joking, but not always. Of all the times I heard him say it, though, he was never speaking to me when he did. Once my time came, I knew to say I was done. It was over. While this article started out as an address to an already small target audience of intermediate and advanced lifters, it will now get cut down again by more than 90%. From my 30 years around the sport, I think small businesses have a better lasting rate than those who compete in strength sports. It has been said that 90% of all small businesses will fail within the first year. Out of those who make it past the first year, 90% will fail within the next three years. Out of the remaining group, 90% will fail within five years, and those who do make the five-year cut, only 10% will last ten years. Finally, out of those left, less than 5% will make it to 20 years.
This means if 100,000 small business begin this year:
10,000 will make it past year one
1000 will make it past year three
100 will make it past year five
10 will make it past 10 years
1 will make it past 20 years
My numbers for lifters may be off here, but not by much. Look at the top 20 lifters from 2010 in each weight class and see how many are still there now. These are the best of the best, so their staying rate will be higher. Now look at the bottom of the list and see how many names you can find anywhere on the list.
The fact is that strength sports (powerlifting, weightlifting, bodybuilding, strongman, highland games, etc) all have a very high attrition rate and most of those who do make it to the top do not last there long. There are many reasons for this: major life changes such as work, moving, getting married, kids. Life happens. Things change. For some athletes, the goal is to get in, achieve what they want, and get out. There are no regrets and they move on when they're done. The ones that are hard to explain are the ones who do make it 15, 20, or even 25 years and then find they can’t do it anymore. In all the cases I know, there are three main reasons for this.
The sport passed them by (they got old), family, or injuries. For most lifters, it is a combination of the three. You find you can no longer lift the weight like you used to, your body is beat to hell, and your spouse who used to be very supportive no longer wants you to do it now that you've been under the knife 10 times and spent two decades of vacation time going to meets.Very few will ever get to this place. Having personally been through it, I think that is a good thing, because this place SUCKS.
To make matters worse in strength sports, you are not "cut" or "let go." You're never "unrecruited" and your contract doesn't "expire." There is nobody to tell you you’re done. You can keep competing as long as you can walk onto the platform and do the lifts.
The only way I can make any logic of this place is to use the The Kübler-Ross model, or the five stages of grief.
These are really not stages and do not always follow one another. For most people, different parts will happen at the same time. For lifters, the first three are happening before you even think you are done. You may be doing them now.
I can’t count the number of times I was pissed off because training went bad for weeks on end, or how many times I got pissed because of another muscle tear. I denied my joint issues for years, saying it would go away. My back fused it self so why would my shoulder not get better? Muscle tears are part of the game, right? Even if they are happening once a month and tearing off the bone.
I made deals with myself. If I hit this weight at this meet I would drop a weight class and lessen the toll on my health. Then when meet time came around I would either...
1. Destroy the weight and think “Damn, I can do 50 pounds more, screw dropping weight. I want that extra 50."
2. Get pissed off the weight destroyed me, because I'm better than that.
I can write pages about injuries, saline injections, cortisone injections, rehab, and a ton shit I did to keep the weights loading, but this isn’t about me. I'm sharing the things I did because I want you to understand that I have been though this and it sucks. There is no way to make it better — just know it sucks.
There will come a time when you will not be able to do it any more or you accept the fact you will have to find new strength goals in new classes. For me, I am glad it worked out the way it did, otherwise I would still be competing and my life would be much different than it is today.My end came in the form of injuries. I needed a shoulder replacement and looked at the outcome of others and decided against it (I can’t hold a bar on my back to squat and benching to my chest is not a smart option). I have not had replace my shoulder, as was recommended a decade ago, so I am happy to say that I have found a way to keep training and not make it worse. I never expected my hip to get so bad that it needed replaced, but it did.
These were not the terms I wanted to go out on but when I think about it, I never had terms to go out on. I competed from 1983 to 2005 and got my first elite in 1985. This was my life and a huge part of my identity. I never imagined not training for a meet. Even post-surgery I was planning how many weeks rehab would take, plus the transitional weeks and then what was left before the next meet I wanted to hit.
This was all stripped away in a doctors office (actually four of them, as I got multiple opinions). The fourth was my primary care physician who blasted into me for close to 40 minutes. When I left, I knew it was over.
I already suffered from depression so this certainly didn’t bring enlightenment. What about my peers and all those who I competed with all those years? I was now a pussy, a sell-out. I was hit with the most criticism I've ever had in my life. Why? Because I wasn’t going to compete. The support I did get (and you will too once you quit) was from the same people who had been trying to get me to stop for years. Not much help either.
My solution was to get away from it all. I can’t say if it helped or not, but it was what I felt I needed to do, so I did it. Like any grief, it’s up to you to deal with it when you are ready to deal with it. You can’t force it and neither can anyone else.
I also didn’t want to be around it, as I felt like I was just a walking, talking reminder of what can happen when you abuse yourself the way I did. I now realize that this isn't true, but it took a lot of time for me to get here.
Training after retiring from powerlifting was hit-and-miss. I never in my life trained without purpose and this was a huge mind fuck. Maybe some day I will train for health but I never did and still just don’t see the point. With the joint disease I have, I can make a point that water aerobics is the most healthy training I could be doing.
This is NOT going to happen. I had to find a better way, and a way with purpose.
I can still remember hating to go to meets. For close to two decades, the only meets I went to were at the national level or higher. This gives you a very distorted view of the sport. After some time, I found myself helping a group of lifters at a local meet. For many of the lifters that day, it was their first meet. The weights they hit were not world records or all-time top 20 numbers, but they were PR’s to them.Today I can't remember a single number that anyone hit, but I do remember how they all looked and felt after breaking those records. THAT look and feel is why I feel in love with the sport in the first place.
On that day, at that meet, I was reintroduced to what powerlifting really is. It’s not about the judging, gear, federation, being part of the strongest team, world records, rankings and all the other stuff that became a driving force of my identity.
It is sampling lifting in pursuit of personal power = POWERlifting.
This is how I see it now. It’s an amazing sport that can and does have the power to change lives. It took many of years of competing and then leaving the sport completely before I fully recognized this.
Clint Darden just spoke at our last Powerlifting Experience and spoke of a squat he took when he was overcome by fear. Not fear of dying or injury, but the fear that he had already taken the heaviest squat he will ever take.
This is SCARY. It is actually really fucking scary to many of us but, truth be told, this day will come for us all. How will you use this fear? Will it send you running from the sport never to return or will you see the sport for what it really is and help others to do the same? I have been part of this sport for a very long time and will tell you right now, most run. This is the part that scares me the most. I have come to terms that my best lifts are behind me but for so many others, the best lifts are still to come.
I see people bitch and complain every day about coaches who lack experience. Where the hell are OUR coaches with decades of experience?
Most ran and are leaving the teaching up to people who are far less qualified. When you reach this point, think of all those that were there for you. Will you be there for the ones who will come up behind you or will you run and hide because you are not strong enough to create lifters better than you were?
Accept responsibility for the sport that gave you so much. Accept responsibility to help the sport grow and become better. There were those before you that helped and showed you how, and then you had your shot because of them. Do the same now. Show someone how and give them their shot. So what if they don’t listen? Just move onto the next one who will.
Did you always listen?
I know I didn’t. This isn’t just about passing on — it’s also about keeping the roots of the sport alive and active. Roots you helped provide the foundation for. Now take some time and nurture these lifters and watch what they can grow into. In many ways, you will be more satisfied with that than any number you ever personally lifted.
I know I am.