Failure: A Way to Train Your Fortitude

TAGS: supercompensation, resilient, competition, Jennifer Petrosino, failure, meet prep, strength training

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What you are about to read was originally supposed to be a cool, scientific article. I had been writing about the muscle and fat myth when life happened and reminded me about the overlap between life and training. As a result, this new topic is what you are going to read about. It is going to be one of those times where the references come only from life experiences.

Rewind to 10 months ago. I'm sitting in a chair and those concrete words hit me, hard. You know, the kind of hard hit that can only be acquired by bulldozing straight into the glass door that you never saw coming.

"You were one of the best I ever interviewed, but I won’t be you. It came down to fit.”

Sitting in my chair, I pinched my finger as hard as I could in the hopes that the emotions associated with acute finger pain could override the disappointment that was building inside me like a tsunami. Or perhaps that feeling was the sadness associated with the gut wrenching realization that it wasn't my lack of work ethic, skills, or intellect had cost me the opportunity; it was “me.”


Under The Bar: WHERE TRIALS NEVER END


He continued talking, words that flowed into my ears but didn't quite register. I sat there, blinking back (and finger pinching) until eventually I asked, “Can you tell me what I could have done to change the outcome? I would like to know so I can train my weakness and turn it into my strength moving forward."

It was a statement only someone who has spent years training would probably make. It was a statement embedded in the life lessons training had taught me. Like the time I had the perfect training cycle and then bombed the San Jose Fitness Expo. That was one of those times where I walked off the platform with more than one life lesson.

It was as if I had perfectly prepared for that moment, 10 months ago, though the many times I had failed in my training. And, while it still hurt, I had become accustomed to the idea and actuality that I could do everything right and not still accomplish what I was after. I am no stranger to the heavy weight that crushes down on your chest when you dump everything into something and don't come out on top. I am more than acclimated to that horrible feeling. In fact, somewhere locked away in my head, I was probably thinking that my adaptions following this would leave me with emotions of steel when dealing with my next failure. And yes, it was a failure. It didn't matter how good I was; my goal didn't get accomplished. It's like bombing a meet when you had the perfect training cycle. It's a failure, no excuses. However, the training cycle and the meet are not worthless if you learned and grew after and during the process.

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So I got my answer.

"You didn’t make a mistake. You did everything right but the fit was wrong.”

This was the second set of bricks to hit me: there was never anything I could have done to be the right one. The only way to alter the outcome would have been to be less passionate, less unique, less me. I guess it would have never worked; however, it was hard to swallow those bricks. They were crumbly and scraped my throat on the way down.

But I swallowed them because training had taught me that sometimes, the result is out of your hands. Sometimes your butt is on that bench or the crease of you hip is below parallel, and you still get the red light. Sometimes you get that second place when you came in tighter than the other guy or girl. Sometimes the judge even says to you, "you were the best, but it just wasn't your time to win."

If you are training for a strength sport, you will come to find out that you are training for life without knowing it. You are training one of the most important traits: resilience when faced with failure. Each time you dump your heart and efforts into your prep/training cycle and it doesn't work out, it's going to hurt. But, for most of us, it's just another training stimulus. We will adapt after each failure. In fact, after a bit of recovery, we will supercompensate into a resilient, stronger, individual.


The Mental Games: Are You Winning or Losing?


It might seem that accomplishments at the meet or show are what matter, and to some extent they do. However, the life lessons that train you to be better in life itself can be found within your training. Those daily failures, and those more monumental ones, are where the really powerful life lessons lie.

In fact, think of it like this: in training we induce muscle damage. This damage is the result of the muscle failing to be strong enough to prevent the resistance of the weight from inducing damage. In the process to getting stronger or bigger muscles, those muscles recover and repair. Then they supercompensate and end up bigger and better then before. Similarly, those life failures induce a cycle in damage, recovery, and repair, which result in a bigger and better you.

So the next time you lose to that less conditioned athlete, bomb a meet, or get a red light, remember that you are lucky. You are getting the chance to build and train your life resilience, something another person may never get to do. Remember the saying, “If you don’t train and use it, you lose it.”  We don't want that. So, if the opposite of resilience is weakness, then I suggest you fail on, friends.  Failure is only going to hypertrophy your fortitude.

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