There aren’t many among us out there who make a living from their three lift totals. Most of us who engage in the sport need some other source of income in order to put gas in the tank and keep our significant other happy.

The reason for this is obvious. The market is relatively small. Even if you’re an elite lifter (which I’m not), the income from meets is negligible as is the money available for endorsements and speaking fees. The issue is highlighted especially well when you look to other sports. Ed Coan may have been the Michael Jordan of powerlifting, but I’ll take MJ’s income or the income of any other NBA player for that matter.

That being said, there is tremendous value to anyone who chooses to engage in the pursuit, execution, and attainment within the domain of powerlifting. Oh and by the way, the value can be translated to dollars. This is a fact that isn’t always obvious. I’ve been asked a number of times why I do it. The latest occasion came after I had a form break in the squat and got planted in the hole. I was stuck like a tulip bulb. “So why do you do it?” was the question I got a little later, and it’s a question that’s not limited to non-elite lifters. Additionally, this is a question that NFL, NBA, NHL, and Major League baseball players don’t get, and it means the value proposition isn’t apparent to those outside powerlifting’s reach. They can’t see the gold in the ore, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

Why push yourself to that extreme? Why take the risk? Why work so hard for no money? Were you dropped as a child? These are all the nuances you see expressed in the face of the person asking the question. If you’ve been powerlifting for any length of time (say one meet), you know exactly what I’m talking about.
Talk to those within the sport, and you’ll usually get only a fuzzy picture of the value proposition. Lifters like the challenge, the training, the camaraderie, the accomplishment, and when they’re in a moment of drunken honesty, maybe they’ll tell you they have a dream of scaring themselves and others by lifting all the weight. So they train for hours, go to seminars, memorize articles from Russian doctors, and create intricate plans. They construct cycles that detail rest periods measured in seconds and also go out twelve weeks to a year covering which days to work out, specific lifts, weak points, and diet (sort of). They track their daily, weekly, and monthly progress in indicator lifts as well as competition lifts and slog on through injuries. Competing in powerlifting, in business terms, is a hands-on course in project management. This is a fact that often goes unnoticed even by the powerlifters themselves.

In my opinion, this is where the power of powerlifting is probably the strongest and least appreciated. Success in life takes continuous learning, planning, practice, motivation, resilience, and more than a little luck, which, remember, smiles upon the prepared. These are the same attributes that bring success in powerlifting. So while you’re getting all geeked up for that next deadlift, Metallica crunching through your earbuds, adrenaline oozing out your pores, your muscles humming, screaming ‘till your nose bleeds, you’re practicing for success in professional life. If you can play a game like this that exists at the edge of sanity, your potential for success is great. This is how a sport that pays little for success in three lifts can pay big in other domains.

What is getting an MBA compared to putting 100 lbs on your squat? In my experience, it was similar in effort and planning. What is dialing in a project on time and under budget compared to dialing in a PR in the bench? They’re not so different. There’s tremendous value locked up in what you as a powerlifter are doing. If you chose to, you can use your experience in another domain to compete at a high level there as well.

Take the following skill parallels and apply them to your daily life. There’s money there. There’s personal satisfaction, accomplishment, and hey, another domain in which to metaphorically mash weights around in. Who wouldn’t want that?

  • PR: You push for these weekly on your ME days. Do you do the same at your job? What are the big three measures of success that you can gun for every week?
  • ME versus DE training days: Different looks at the same exercises for different impacts. How can you tweak your working activity differently for a different impact? Change up the style of a meeting you run, a presentation you give, or how you work the cash register on Thursday.
  • Biceps: Of very little use to the powerlifter, but the rest of the gym is doing curls. What’s everyone else doing at your company that’s a distraction, a fad, and a waste of time? What are your neighbors and family doing that won’t payoff and may even detract from resources that could be put to better use? Learn vicariously from their poor investments of time, effort, and money.
  • Research: You seek out the experts when you want to work on your (insert lift) form. Who are you going to that will help make you a better (insert profession)?
  • Feedback: You videotape yourself to get a look at your form allowing you to use the additional sense of sight in your training rather than just listening to the coaching of others. How do you get this type of feedback in the working world? How can you better see the intricacies of your own performance?
  • Indicator lifts: When your good morning goes up, your squat goes up, and the squat is a money lift. What indicator can you use in your working life to predict that success in the money measure is coming? There will be different measures for everyone, but they’re out there.
  • Noise: There is more BS floating around in the “fitness” world pushed by gurus and fools. The same thing is true in the working world. How do you figure out who’s who and find the Louie Simmons out there to listen to?
  • The meet: What is the meet in your working life? The project you need to dial in? If you don’t have one, you need to find one. You personally know how much more focus a powerlifter has when he/she is training for a meet. Without the meet, there is temptation to drift. Find the meet in your professional life.
  • The team: Powerlifting is an individual sport, but it sure seems like we tend to train in teams. In the working world, who’s on your team to help coach and provide the honest feedback that your latest presentation form sucked and help push you to new levels?
  • Deload: You know why you need to deload from lifting. How do you deload from work? Schedule the mental break you need at planned frequencies so you can bring maximum effectiveness to the table.
  • Reward: What drives you to bust your tail for all those weeks, to put your body through one of those transformations you see in werewolf movies? What accomplishment in your working life would be worth the pain of the transformation? That payoff, whatever it is, will keep you focused.
  • Setbacks: You tear a quad squatting. What do you do? I envision myself crutching over to the bench and taking this great opportunity to make progress in that lift. Something goes wrong at work, you get laid off, or you decide to quit. What is the upside? Figure it out and plan for it in advance.

If you’ve been preparing for a meet, you’ve been preparing for success in life. If you can take your expertise in the domain of powerlifting and work the crossover into your professional world (whatever that may be) you will improve your chances of success. No matter what you do to pay the bills—doctor, mechanic, lawyer, student, business owner, writer, truck driver, grave digger, hit man, chef, dancer, IRS drone, or whatever—applying what you’ve learned in the gym and on the platform will put you on the path to making incremental improvements in your professional life.

It won’t be long and you’ll see the PRs begin to climb. Not long after that your performance in the money lifts during your workplace “meet” will improve and opportunity that you didn’t see coming or even think possible will be coming your way. So get your ass out there and use the model you already have in your head to improve the rest of your life.