My first meet was the RPS Christmas Carnage on December 1, 2012, in Allentown, Pennsylvania. It was awesome. When I first started training for powerlifting, I didn't have any idea that I would ever compete. I didn't think that I would be good enough or strong enough. I decided to compete because I felt that my training wasn't going anywhere, and I needed to focus.

When I made the decision to compete, it put everything into perspective for me. It is much different to walk into a workout session without any real point than to walk into a training session with an objective ahead of you. If you don't compete, all you're doing is working out and maybe getting strong in the process. If you compete, if only once, you'll realize the true definition of training and will understand things better. You’ll realize the difference between working out and training.

Now, I have to say that going and doing something like this for the first time is always better with a buddy. My wife went with me, which I'm very grateful for. It doesn't really matter who you take with you as long as it is someone who will support you. If this is your first geared meet, you should take someone who knows how to help you get into and out of your gear or wrap your knees. If you don't require any of this, bring anyone you think will be supportive. Thank you, honey, for supporting me even though I know that ninety percent of the time you were bored out of your mind.

The meet was put on by Gene Rychlak, Jr., who did an amazing job for the amount of lifters there. He is a very nice guy who is willing to help out the lost (me). He also is a bench press champ with a record 1,010-pound bench. Another reason to compete is that you get to see really cool things at meets. I saw a guy go for a record bench press twice. Although he missed it twice, it was still amazing to see. I also saw a guy squat 900 pounds. In today’s world, that may be the norm, but I’ve never witnessed a person squat more than 400 pounds, let alone another 500 pounds on top of that. It was amazing to watch this guy reach depth and put everything into this lift. Everyone in attendance was on his feet for this. It didn't matter that no one knew him or that it wasn't a record breaking attempt. It was 900 pounds that he was putting on his back. If you can’t respect a guy for doing that, see yourself out. So this begs the question—do you workout or train?

My numbers aren't record setters or even worth mentioning. Hell, I didn't even break a 1,000-pound total. This doesn't matter though because I had the guts to walk out on to that platform and give everything I had in front of my peers and total strangers. I set a goal and I made a plan to get there. I left my ego at the door and performed to the best of my ability that day. I put into the competition everything that I had been training for. All the sweat, the bloody shins, the sacrificed time with family and friends, the muscle aches—everything came into focus and I realized the point in all of it. The point was sitting right out there on the platform, a cylindrical bar with plate after plate loaded on to it and three of my peers ready to judge all the training I had done up to this point.

Squatting was first and I was nervous as all hell. Luckily, there was this rather nice and large fella by the name of Tone from Jersey Iron Powerlifting. He reassured me and spoke wonderful words of motivation as I was getting ready to lift. Mostly, he told me that if I don’t get it, he is going to personally throw me off the platform. I also had the good fortune of having a friend of mine who was competing as well. He was able to steer me through the competition and also gave me words of encouragement. I quote, "Just don’t drop it.” Thanks, Martin. Even offstage, other lifters knew that it was my first meet. They can smell it like dogs can smell fear. No one, not one single person, had a single negative thing to say. I’m sure there are dicks out there, but they didn't show up to this meet. To me, this kind of encouragement and togetherness is what powerlifting is all about.

When I put up my third attempt for the bench (a whopping 230 pounds), it took everything I had to get it up. It went slow and steady. You know what the outcome was for that good lift (and this shows the mentality of the powerlifting world)? Everyone was pumped for me that I got it. As soon as I racked it, my lift-off man congratulated me and said, "That was awesome." As I made my way off the platform, other lifters who I didn't know were patting me on the back and shaking my hand. They were happier than I was that I got it. Lifts like that—when a guy is putting everything he has into getting that bar up—get them pumped and remind them of why they do what they do. It didn't matter that I was the newbie or that I was benching the lightest weight. I was one of them. I had their respect just for stepping on to that platform. So again, do you workout or do you train?

By the time I got to the deadlift, I was so amped up. I was pumped from that bench (which was a PR) and the response from the other lifters. I was also pumped because the deadlift was my favorite lift. There is something about lifting heavy weight that is just unexplainable to me. It gives me the biggest rush and really puts me into a good place. I demolished all my attempts. My third attempt, which was 375 pounds, went up fast. Looking back on it, I think I could have pulled 400 pounds. When I stepped off the platform for the final time that night, I knew I had just fallen in love with something. Sorry, honey, but I just found my new girlfriend.

So do you workout or do you train? Are you walking around a gym, garage, or basement hoping that you finish your working sets? Or are you going into your training session ready to demolish your working sets because you know that each good session will lead to a bigger competition total? I also realized what people meant by "lifts don’t count unless they're on the platform." This is so true. It's a completely different thing to pull max effort weights standing alone in my garage than in front of an audience. The vibe and the rush are so unexplainable. The feeling in your gut that you might throw up at any second until you hit your first squat and it all starts to come together and feel right. You see, it's easy to pull weights in a comfortable place where everyone knows you and you feel good. When you step on to that platform, there is an awesome uneasiness about it. You're now standing in front of a room full of people who you don't know and you're going to do the best you can. It is humbling to say the least.

When I first stepped into a gym years ago, I went to workout. I wanted to get stronger and maybe a little bigger. I had no real idea what I was doing or what to model my training after. I had no direction or anyone to tell me any different. Fortunately, I was approached by a more experienced lifter. He basically told me that it was a pipe dream to believe the stuff in magazines. He then introduced me to the big four lifts, and I was a changed man. I started researching, reading, and watching videos, and I eventually found elitefts™.

I now walk into my garage ready to train. I have purpose in my training, and I push myself to put up bigger numbers for a bigger total. I do it because it makes me feel good, and it helps to release the stresses and strains in my life. I do it because I owe it to the next rookie at the next meet to help him and reassure him that he can hit whatever numbers he has set for himself and to guide him through the flow of the meet just as it was done for me. This is the essence of powerlifting. This is a reason why so many people fall in love with something that can punish your body. Powerlifting is an individual sport, but it's very much a team event. This team expands far beyond those you train with. This team is every lifter at that meet. Each of them will help you no matter what. They know what it is like to be new and they respect it. So again, do you workout or do you train?