I was recently asked to be a guest judge at Boss of Bosses 3. I am not a huge fan of judging meets, but I feel it is a way to give back to the sport and I think this is mostly why I accepted the offer in the first place. So last week I flew into San Jose for the meet. Unfortunately, I have not been doing as well as when I accepted the offer. I have been struggling with my sleep and the long list of things that go awry because of it. This made me tend to be even more antisocial than I usually am and I would have been way more comfortable in the middle of the desert than in a gym full of people. Despite how I was feeling, it was a pretty good experience and there were a few interesting thoughts that really stuck out to me during the meet.

Before I get into my thoughts, I want to talk about the meet a little bit. I was only at the meet a very short while on Friday and then on Saturday I was more focused on judging. When I was not judging I was trying to eat, hydrate, and, of course, keep my bladder from exploding. For these reasons I did not get to see everything, but all in all I thought the meet went really well.

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I felt it ran at a really good pace thanks to the great job of the loaders, scorer's table, and head judges. The spotters and loaders did a spectacular job on Saturday. If you have never been a spotter or loader, let me tell you that it is a tough job and I would rather lift in the meet any day. There was plenty of equipment in the warm-up area but it did seem pretty tight in there. From what I could tell the lifters seemed to work well together. The atmosphere and crowd was awesome with a lot of excitement. Putting on a good meet is a difficult thing and takes a massive amount of work. I thought this was a good meet and definitely had some really impressive lifting.

As I said, I have never really enjoyed judging at meets. I still see myself as a lifter and would much rather be lifting than judging. I understand it is a very important and difficult job, though. It is for that reason I have never argued with a judge or complained about their calls. I have always showed appreciation for what they do and treated them with respect even if I disagreed with a call. These guys and girls spend a whole day or even days judging, and it is almost impossible to get every lift perfect. I know I have gotten good calls on bad lifts and bad calls on good lifts. I just figure it all works out in the end.

Photo courtesy of The Early Birds

I think sometimes people also forget that most athletes will end up pushing the limits trying to get every single advantage they can to lift the most they can. In lifting this sometimes mean pushing the limit of things like depth in the squat or pause in the bench. It’s in our nature but it also makes the judge's job that much more difficult. Judges are human and that's part of the sport. If a lifter wants every lift passed it is totally within their ability to make that happen.

When I do judge a meet, it is a job I take seriously and work to do the best job I can. I want to be fair and consistent while always leaning to the side of the lifter under any questionable circumstance. In fact, I hate every red light I have to give. I know what lifters go through and what they sacrifice for each competition. I also know I never wanted to just be given a lift; I wanted to earn it. For that reason there are a few judges I love seeing when I compete because I know that if I got a lift from them, it was a good lift. More than anything I just want consistency in the judging at the meet.

This job is not as easy as it may sometimes appear. When judging squats, you’re trying to see through so many hands that sometimes you cannot see what you need to. The spotters are doing their best to stay out of the way but also protect the lifters and this gets increasingly harder as the weights get heavier. There are times where no matter how much you try, you cannot see exactly what you need to in order to judge a lift. This makes for a tough call but in that case you have to give it to the lifter.

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Then there is the very different bodily structures of lifters. Even though the rules are set, it becomes difficult to judge depth. This is especially true when working hard to keep it consistent. There are also a lot of different things you’re looking at all at once. Sometimes a judge can miss something while looking at something else.

One of the things I hate the most is red lighting someone for one of the rules that I consider a lesser rule like the rack command or squat command. In my head I think, “Damn, they got the lift, but rules are rules.”

What I'm saying is that judging is a tough job and I think sometimes lifters and spectators do not realize this. It is very easy to judge while sitting in the audience or from videos, but actually sitting in the judge's chair all day is a different experience.

I actually saw some videos after the meet of squats I judged. Watching the video of one squat, I could not help but realize how deep it looked, but it was not depth according to the rules of the meet. Video is rarely from the point of view of the judge. I have seen vice-versa, too — lifts that look high in video but I know hit depth.

Video can be very deceiving depending on the angles they are shot from and also depending on the structure of the lifter. I am the first to admit judges do not always get it right. I will even admit there are some good judges while others should not be judges. It is a tough job and sitting in the actual chair is a much different experience than watching a lift from anywhere else. I thank all the judges I have ever had and appreciate that they take on the pressure of being a judge. I know I have never made anything off being a judge and most judges don't either. Judges, spotters, and loaders all have tough jobs and get little gratitude.

Photo courtesy of The Early Birds

My favorite thought of the meet was that I love powerlifting. Just being in that atmosphere and watching amazing lifters like that got me pumped up. Even though I was working hard to be a good judge, there was still a part of me that was cheering for the lifters. I wanted to see them all get PR’s and break records. I loved seeing lifters fight for positions and trading records. I caught myself smiling and getting excited seeing some of the big lifts.

Watching a lifter going for a lift he knows he has to make to move into first place is awesome. Watching a lifter going for a record that has stood for 15 or 20 years is incredible. I don’t know how any lifter could watch that stuff without getting pumped up. Seeing a lifter roll his ankle and come crashing down in the squat is tough (especially when you have done it yourself), but to see him refuse to go to the hospital and return to finish the meet makes me proud to be a powerlifter.

Watching lifters approach the platform is one of my favorite things. Some come up looking relaxed, some have a quiet, driven focus, and some come up liked caged animals. All of them have intensity and focus. They all go to whatever place they need to. There is just something about seeing lifters doing that. All their dedication, sacrifice, and hard work come down to that very lift on the platform.  There were just so many times throughout that day that I was reminded why I have given so much of my life to this sport and why I will never stop lifting.

Powerlifting definitely has its problems, but when you break it down to the simplest parts, it is an amazing sport. Struggling with my sleep meant that even though there were lots of people I really enjoy seeing, I was not very chatty. I was not going to be hanging out after the meet like normal either, so there was not much concern about that.

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Being a judge also meant I did not have much time to talk to people, anyway. I am not really into social media or all the other rumors and stuff going on in the sport right now. This meet cut things down to the basics for me. It was simply about being the best, most consistent judge I could. I was focused on the lifts, lifters, and the meet. It was good to wipe away all the crap that goes on in powerlifting and strip it down to the very basic aspects of the sport. To get down to platform, judges, lifters, bars, weights, and equipment so the true sport could be seen. I love that each lifter gets to speak through their performance on a level playing field. That is the powerlifting I love.

One last thought I had during this meet has to do with lifting gear. I almost always competed in multi-ply gear, but this was a raw meet and it did not make a damn bit of difference to me. I knew what I was watching and I knew how impressive it was.

I just don’t get all the shit lifters talk about raw vs single-ply vs multi-ply. All these styles have their pros and cons. No matter what they wear, it is the lifter against the weight and every lifter is trying to lift the most they can in whatever style they choice. They all train hard and they all sacrifice. A powerlifter is a powerlifter and a world record is a world record. I do not care what style a lifter chooses to lift in, they are still a lifter. I don’t see any point in trying to figure out which one is best. Each lifter picks the one they like the best and that is good enough for me.

This guest judging experience at Boss of Bosses 3 was a good one for me. I think the meet on Saturday went really well and the staff there did a great job. Getting to see a meet from a stripped down view was a very nice thing that made me smile more than a few times throughout the day. It helped me focus more on the good things about powerlifting. Being a judge again reminded me just how tough a job it is and how they have a much different perspective.

Powerlifters are powerlifters no matter what they wear when they lift. They all pay their dues. I love seeing the deep down, raw, basic level of this sport, because that’s why I started it in the first place.

Images courtesy of Rogel Mataro — The Early Birds Photography Studio