I'm an emotional person. Surprise, right? I get worked up quickly and get wrapped up in shit, and when acting on emotions I get bent out of shape and react emotionally, which never ends well. It's an area of my life that needs work, and when I say "work" I mean extensive retraining. It all probably stems from some deep-rooted shit I've failed to deal with over the years, but hey, it's made me who I am.

Now that I feel I'm asshole naked on front street, let me say this: I have one area in my life I can remove emotion and process clearly, every time, no matter the circumstances. Yeah, you guessed it: the meathead can clear all the noise and thoughts when lifting. Well, I should clarify that this is only possible while competing. Only then can this meathead find his Zen.

Unfortunately, this wasn't always the case. I used to "go there", to that spot we all have. The dark place that haunts us. The same one that has most of us under a bar anyway. I'd find that song that triggered those feelings and I'd get pissed at the world. I'd walk up to the monolift damn near rage-crying and shake the bar, head-butt it, yell fuck, etc. I'd get such a burst of adrenaline that I'd feel like the fucking Hulk. The downside was that I'd set up shitty, my pick sucked, and my breathing was always off, just to mention a few problems. I got to thinking to myself that I have anywhere from nine hundred to a thousand pounds on my back, and I want to rage out and go kamikaze. Why?

Meet Report: Back-to-Back XPC Finals Super Heavyweight Champion

It's easy, to be honest. In retrospect, I had to work myself into a frenzy to convince my mind I was ready, when in reality I was terrified. I knew I didn't work as hard as I could. I cut corners. I skipped accessories. I was lucky enough to have a chest full of heart and a singlet full of balls. I can pretty much tell you based on how someone acts before a second or third attempt if they're going to even come close. I should mention for you cynical fucks that, yes, there is an exception to every rule. Right off the top of my head, I can think of two exceptions to this: Ray Williams and Chuck V (the reason most people feel the need to go bonkers before a squat). I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you aren’t Ray and you aren't Chuck. No matter how many pulls of the torque you take, no matter how many times you pace back and forth waving your arms to get the crowd hyped up, you are NOT them.

Three years ago at the Arnold, I learned two valuable lessons. Yeah, powerlifting tossed me a two-for-one.

chuck v carroll

You're going to find yourself alone.

Chuck V was warming up. I knew who he was but didn't know him personally (still don't). He walked up to the mono and just nodded at me as if to say, "Can you run the rack?" I did. I instantly scanned the room. Where were all his people? I could be wrong, but I swear he was there with young children — grandkids possibly, I'm not sure. I learned that day that, even though you may be a part of something like a team or a gym, you will find yourself alone. Just you, the weights, and a bar.

If you do the work, you'll know you have it in you.

I saw a man sitting on the floor, and if I didn't recognize who he was I would never have known he was competing. It was Jeff Frank, who went on to squat 1200 pounds. He looked like he was at a picnic. No rah-rah bullshit, he just walked up and hit 1200 pounds. I remember wondering how. Again, with hindsight being 20/20, he knew he had it in him. He did the work and was there to squat 1200 pounds. Why get all excited and emotional and waste energy?

Neither of these lessons were ah-ha moments for met yet, though. The major takeaway I had that day was this: I'm competing at the Arnold in 2017. As my training started, I would get so pissed off when "teammates" would show up late or if Kevin would drop the wraps while wrapping my knees. So many little things pissed me off. I'd throw shit, scream, swear, and just exhaust so much energy. I'd find myself looking for new songs for a squat day. I'd spend all day getting myself in a lousy mood, ensuring that when I got to the gym I'd take it out on the bar. It just fucked up my life around me and I'd end up having just a regular squat day. Not once did spending all that time and energy have me throw 1100 pounds off my back like some mutant.

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I like to drive home from the gym in silence. A bit of self-reflecting, if you will. That's when those moments hit me. We all know who Chuck is and was affiliated with, and even when no one was there for him, he sucked it up and went after what he was there for. Jeff Frank, cool as a polar bear's toenails, smashed the biggest squat I'd ever seen. The common denominator: checking their emotions. It's a bar loaded with weights. It's a competition where you are the one and only person under a bar. Don't get me wrong, teams and training partners are great tools. But knowing that it's all on you on a meet day is an excellent tool in itself.

I started incorporating these philosophies, for lack of a better term, and I noticed changes instantly. My setup and pick were becoming routine. The amount of thinking that goes on during those ten seconds is unreal. I started cleaning up my depth and my technique was being honed, which in turn made me more confident. The synergy of all these things made me reassess my training as a whole. I started hitting my accessories like they mattered. When you start doing things right, you start cleaning up everything. I won't go on about how a lot of lifters today love the deadlift. Nose torque, a tribal dance, some low grunting, and boom, a monster sumo pull happens. Well, yeah, that's fine and dandy. Dropping a deadlift won't kill you. Have you ever heard of a squat-only at a meet? Yeah, I didn't think so.

Now, I'm nobody special. Just a kid from the gutter who found an escape from the world in a weight room. If you want to dress up and play powerlifter by covering yourself in everything and anything powerlifting related like a NASCAR driver, that's fine. Go ahead. If you ever take one thing away from me let it be this: Do the work. All of it. If you're tired, your life sucks, job sucks, etc., do the work, accessories and all. Work your technique, because that's what separates the good and the great. When you do all these things, you take out the need to get emotionally charged up. That may work sometimes, but what do you do the day you can't call on it? Remove it, train hard, eat plenty, and sleep even more. That's the sure-fire way to know you can and will hit the numbers you're after.