Pick just about any twelve-week chunk of time this year, last year, or from the year before. Unless you were married, went on a vacation, or won the lottery, chances are that if you compare your twelve-week chunk of time to any other, there is very little variation.

If you're a serious powerlifter (clearly you are or you wouldn't be reading this), your last twelve weeks are relatively similar to the prior twelve and will be somewhat similar to the next twelve—serious squat training, serious deadlifting, and serious benching with supplemental movements to tie everything together. So although these twelve weeks might include some difference in the order or arrangement of the movements or a rotation of accommodating resistance and the like, the bottom line is that the routine is basically the same with some great, some just average, and even a couple not so great workouts in the middle.

Enter the competition. The competition is like a period at the end of one’s sentence that allows for the beginning of another sentence. When this happens enough, a story gets told. But without that break, without that end point to begin from, the words only blend together and are ultimately blurred enough that you aren't sure what the words are trying to tell you. You just find yourself putting more sentences out there without any real purpose, meaning, or end point. You're just writing to write.

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Powerlifting training, real training without the competition at the end, is like lines in a book without a period. You don’t know where one thought begins or where the words in the sentences are even trying to take you.

Training just to train is great, but injecting the competition in the equation is what really gives you, as a lifter, some well deserved traction. The competition is the period at the end of a very important sentence that is leading to another important sentence and one that builds on the prior sentence.

Take a moment and think about this if you will—if you're that guy in the gym who has, if not the best, but one of the better squats, benches, or deadlifts, who is there for you to compete with? Who is there who will push you beyond your limitations? Who is there for you to start a healthy rivalry with? This is one of the many reasons why the competition is one of the staples to your continued growth as not only a powerlifter, but as a person, too.

Let’s face it. The legendary Ed Coan was easily the best lifter in his gym. But through years of training for meets and working to beat his own personal best at each and every meet, Ed has showed the powerlifting world—and more importantly himself—that he was arguably the best powerlifter who has ever walked the face of this planet. The Godfather of powerlifting, Ernie Frantz, told me one day after we finished squatting that if you keep setting personal records, you will begin to set state, national, and eventually world records. The key to this chain of events is the mindset that goes into training for the competition and then actually competing.

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No one can sustain one meaningful constant lifting cycle month after month or year after year. If that were the case, the world would be full of 1,000-pound squatters and 800-pound benchers. The reality of the matter is that we have a finite number of weeks we can put our all-out best efforts into lifting until we hit our peak. Then we have to back off and rest our tendons, back, knees, muscles, and mind. Then we begin again. Being able to measure that end point of a training cycle with a meet only helps to solidify in the lifter’s mind what went right with his training cycle and what he needs to do more or less of. The bonus, the competition, can help to identify information that the lifter didn’t even know he was lacking. Let’s say that again—the competition can help identify information that the lifter didn’t even know he was lacking.

Utilizing the competition as a way for training to serve as a means to an end was Svend Karlsen’s philosophy. Svend loved to train hard but used, in his case, the World’s Strongest Man Competition as an end point to a training cycle.

Competing in a meet is the difference between playing the drums in your basement and playing drums live with a band in a sold out venue. We don’t really get nervous, we don’t really compete, and the stakes are higher than in the safety of your own gym. That all serves to paint you a more authentic portrait of who you are as a powerlifter. How strong are you? More importantly, how strong can you get? These are two fundamental questions that the competition can help you derive an answer from.

The bottom line here is that twelve weeks of your life will come and go, and competing is a way to break up the endless training sessions with authentic feedback by taking life by the horns and competing. Take some time, find a competition that is about twelve to fourteen weeks out in a location you're somewhat familiar with, and start to train. Train hard and compete.

After the meet, take some time to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Train just for the enjoyment of training for a couple weeks and then go for it again. Utilize that bastion of knowledge that you gained from the meet and implement new strategies into your new training schedule. Keep what worked in your training plan and dump the stuff that didn't take you forward. As the meets get larger, the locations get less familiar, and the pressure begins to grow, your meets will begin to teach you even more about your training, mental preparation, and you as a person.

To compete or not to compete, there really isn't any question. If you've never been in a meet, my advice (having had my first meet back in, dare I say it, 1989) is that the competition circuit is a roller coaster you will love once you get on it. The benefit to your lifting will be immeasurable.