Ka-BOOM! A Learning Experience in Failure and Bombing

TAGS: positive experience, negative experience, readjust a plan, Bombing at a meet, prep cycle, Ken Whetham, meet performance, failure

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Failure: (noun)

  1.  An act or instance of failing or proving unsuccessful; lack of success:
  2. Nonperformance of something due, required, or expected:
  3. A subnormal quantity or quality; an insufficiency:
  4. Deterioration or decay, especially of vigor, strength, etc.:
  5. A person or thing that proves unsuccessful:

i.e.:  breakdown, disappointment, malfunction, crash, and collapse.


Failure is a very strong word to use. It delivers a strong message when it rears its ugly head, especially at a powerlifting meet. In my mind, there is a tremendous difference between failing a lift attempt, and failing at a meet…which in the powerlifting world is known as bombing. I would much rather fail at my third attempt on any lift than bomb at a meet.

I’ve got a ton of friends and teammates who are very accomplished lifters who have experienced bombing at a meet and indicate that “it will happen” to everyone and it’s part of the process of learning how to lift, compete, and to determine what went wrong and how to try and ensure it doesn’t happen again.

I’m sure we can all agree that the majority of people who compete are Type A personalities:

A temperament marked by excessive competitiveness and ambition, an obsession with accomplishing tasks quickly, little time for self-reflection, and a strong need to control situations

Type A personalities are tremendously competitive, expect to compete, win, and typically don’t accept loss or defeat willingly or easily.

I had planned to compete at an RPS meet in Toronto in June this year. My meet prep went well and I hit my openers in all three lifts several times prior to the competition. I felt like I was ready for the meet and I was planning on hitting my first 900-pound squat. I typically don’t have any problems cutting a little weight to weigh in under the required 275-pound mark, but I was the heaviest I had ever been coming into a meet at 285. I did my usual water load a few days prior to the meet but two days out I was still sitting over 280 and my weight cutting progress was slower than usual. To make sure I made my weight class, I took a couple of diuretics and some magnesium citrate to ensure I was emptied out for weigh-ins.

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Twenty-four hours prior to the meet I weighed in at 268.8 pounds, so I was dialed in and ready to go. I typically try to get re-hydrated by drinking some pedialyte, eating some high glycemic carbohydrates, and having a couple of high carb meals the night before competing.

I wasn’t lifting until the afternoon flights that started at 3:00, but my wife and a lot of my friends were competing in the morning flights so we were up early at 5:00 a.m. and drove into Toronto for the meet.  It was hot and humid all day and I did my best to stay hydrated. The morning flights went well and all my friends did really well. My wife Sheri had a great meet, going 6 for 9 lifts (355/200/440) for a 995-pound total, winning her division and setting more records.

It was time for warm-ups. I went through my typical squat warm-up routine and everything felt okay. My last warm-up was 725 and I was planning on opening with 820, which I’ve hit easily several times during my prep cycle.

Time to lift. I went onto the platform figuring I would easily smash my opener and then get focused on killing my first 900-pound squat. I got to depth and started to ascend and completely ran out of gas. The spotters had to take the weight.

What was going on? I have never felt so depleted of energy before! Squats have always been my strongest lift. I tried not to worry about missing the lift and got psyched up to take my second attempt. Second attempt, I got to depth and tried to explode out of the hole and the same thing happened. No strength, no energy, no nothing.

The spotters had to take the weight again. My body felt like it was running on about three cylinders and during my second attempt I felt like I wrenched my back and it went into spasm. What the hell was going on? I was devastated to say the least. I talked to a couple of my closest friends before my third attempt and reluctantly decided to pass on my third because I felt that I didn’t want to further injure my back. My confidence was completely gone. I didn’t want to make things in my back worse than they already were.

This is the first time I’ve ever bombed my squats in a meet. I felt devastated, embarrassed, confused all at the same time. I wanted to crawl under a rock and not talk to anyone or see anyone because I had a hard time with the realization that I had failed at a meet. I let myself down, I let my friends down, I let my family down, and I felt horrible that this was the first meet lifting as an elitefts team member and I wanted to represent my team at my first meet with a stellar performance.

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Bombing at a meet makes your head go into "spin cycle” trying to figure out what went wrong. Did I screw something up in my prep?  Did I cut too much weight too fast? Did I not re-hydrate properly? Did I not get enough rest before the meet? Why wasn’t I ready?

I think the worst part was trying to explain to everyone who asked about the meet what happened.  It’s great to have so much support from so many people but it re-opened the wounds every time someone asked.

How did the meet go? 

Did you hit your 900?

My ego was in “fragile mode” for a few days following the meet.

I talked to a couple of my best friends who are world class powerlifters, Shane Church and Chad Aichs. Shane and Chad both told me they’ve bombed a few meets and it’s a normal part of the process when you powerlift. Sometimes things just don’t go as planned and don’t go your way. All you can do is learn from it and chalk it up as an experience.

It’s great to have such an awesome support system from friends, family and team elitefts. No matter how you try and justify it, bombing at a meet is not fun, it’s not a positive experience, and it sucks!

I know it’s part of the process and most people experience it at some point in their lifting career but it’s hard to swallow failing at something when you expect to do well. I think if you’re not upset about bombing at a meet, then you aren’t competitive. As a competitor, competing to the best of your ability and pushing yourself to your optimum potential is priority. Anything less than that for me is unacceptable. I understand that everything can’t always go as planned, that sometimes things happen that are hard to explain and that’s life.

All you can do is try and use the experience as an opportunity to learn. Do your best to figure out what went wrong and ensure that it doesn’t happen again. Re-adjust your plan to either cut weight more gradually or just lift in the next weight class to avoid any potential problems getting depleted and not re-hydrating properly. Even though this was initially a negative experience, I took a lot of positives away from the meet and I’m hoping it will make me a better lifter preparing for future meets.

I’d like to try and erase this event from my memory hard drive. But like Forest Gump wisely said, “life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.”

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