6 months after winning 2 gold medals at my first powerlifting national championship, I competed at my second national championship.
During my last competition I lifted a total of 590kg:
- 205kg squat
- 147.5kg bench press
- 237.5kg deadlift
And now I was hungry for more. A lot more.
At my second nationals, I was able to win my third gold medal, hit PRs on every single lift, qualified for the Arnold Classic Europe, and suffered a nasty knee injury.
In this post, I’ll take you through my whole competition – from mental preparations to competition day mindset, the results, the lift videos, the emotional ups, and downs as well as the aftermath.
I’ve learned so many things from this competition that helped me become a better athlete, a better entrepreneur and a better person, so I’m excited to share them with you today.
Let’s dive in!
Table of Contents
- 1 My goals
- 2 My physical preparations
- 3 Balancing work and lifting before the competition
- 4 My mental preparations
- 5 My first experience with cutting water weight
- 6 Dealing with competition day sickness
- 7 My pre-lift routine
- 8 Part 1: Squat
- 9 Part 2: Bench press
- 10 Part 3: Deadlift
- 11 The aftermath of the knee injury
- 12 My biggest lessons from the competition
- 13 The future
- 14 Follow me on my Road to Arnold Classic
With my last competition, the goals were simple – winning. I wanted to win two gold medals in overall powerlifting and in the bench press in my weight class (93kg), and I successfully did that.
This time around, my goals were a bit more complex.
My main goal was to qualify for this year’s European Championship which takes place in Lithuania in November. In order to qualify, I would need to lift a total of 657.5kg across the three lifts, which was a HUGE jump from my last competition.
Most people would think that lifting 67.5kg more within 6 months without moving up a weight class is crazy, and it is. Especially when you’re also running a successful online business and flying around the world every 1-2 months.
But me? I like unrealistic goals.
I like stretching myself and pushing myself to and beyond my limits. It’s not exciting to me to lift just 10kg more or 20kg more. I want to improve myself as much as possible and get to a level where I’ll be able to win European Championships and do well even at World Championships.
So even though most people would say this is a too aggressive goal, I know it motivated me to really get the most out of every training session I put in. I also wanted to shoot for the stars, even if I landed on the moon in the worst case.
My second goal was to qualify for the Arnold Classic competition that takes place in Barcelona in September. This is an international competition that would allow me to still qualify for the European Championships in case I failed to do so at this competition. The qualifying norm for this competition was “only” 617.5kg, and I knew I could lift that even on my worst day.
My third goal was to win my second gold medal in the 93kg bench press category because I like winning gold medals. I knew that unless I REALLY messed up that would happen.
What I didn’t focus on at all with this competition was the overall standing in my weight class, and there’re a few reasons why.
First, I had three “guests” in my weight class that would likely take the spots on the podium. These were some of the best lifters in Slovenia, and sure enough, they placed as #1, #2 and #5 in the overall standings.
Two of them were competitors from the Junior category who decided to join the Open weight class (for lifters older than 23 years), and one was a lifter from the 83kg category that had an international competition 2 weeks ago and didn’t want to cut water weight twice over 2 weeks.
Since all of these lifters were 60kg+ ahead of me on our last competition, catching up would be tough with them if not impossible.
Second, my main goal for this competition was to qualify for the international championships, and all of my lifting attempts would be planned in a way that I’d reach those norms. I didn’t really have much wiggle room, so even if I was close with one of my competitors I’d choose a lift that would help me reach the norm rather than place better overall.
Overall, I felt confident I would reach at least two of my goals (the Arnold qualification and the bench press gold), and I knew that I’d be close to reaching the European Championships qualification as well.
My physical preparations
If there’s one thing I’ve learned so far in terms of preparing for competitions it’s that something almost always goes wrong.
Last time I competed I dealt with a nasty knee injury just a few weeks before my competition which prevented me from training heavy for a week or two, I flew to Chicago 3 weeks before my competition where I couldn’t get proper workouts in, and I was sick on the competition day, as well as the whole week before my competition.
Because of all those complications, I failed a few of my preparation lifts leading up to the competition and probably lifted a bit less during the competition, especially due to the sickness as the energy just wasn’t there.
This time it felt like the story was repeating itself. I had to fly to New York for a weekend 3 weeks before my competition (not ideal as it takes some strength out of you), but this time I planned my workouts in a way that I wouldn’t have to work out in New York which worked out well.
I also got sick for more than a week, but luckily that was 3 weeks before the competition (I feel like that happened due to all the stress I experienced from working and by being burned out). I don’t really feel like this impacted my preparations for the competition this time around.
Lastly, I had some minor knee pain during some of my workouts which made me miss a few sets of squats, but it was nothing major – it was just during 1-2 workouts.
Overall I felt like my physical preparations went really well.
My squat preparations went the worst, as I failed two attempts in my training (205kg and 215kg), and had to lower my planned weights during a few workouts in order to successfully complete them.
I wasn’t sure what to think about my squat preparations as I generally lifted 15-20kg more on my sets of 3 and 5 reps than during my last competition prep phase, but got stuck when I tried to lift heavier weights.
For example, during my last competition prep phase, the most I lifted was 210kg. During this competition phase, 210kg was also the most weight I successfully lifted, although I did manage to complete 2 reps of 207.5kg during one of my last workouts.
So going into the competition, I had no idea where I stood with my squats and I felt like anything could happen. I would either be a lot more rested on competition day and set some new records, or I’d barely improve on my last result.
I was also a bit worried since I lifted 5kg below my gym record in the gym during my last competition, though I knew that could have been due to the sickness.
I knew that if I wanted to have a shot at qualifying for European Championships, I’d have to lift between 220-230kg during the competition, so I hoped that the former would happen.
Bench press preparations
My bench press preparations went considerably better than last time. This time I didn’t fail a single lift during my preparation phase, and I managed to lift 155kg in the gym with some room in the tank, which was 7.5kg more than at my last competition.
I felt confident that I’d be able to lift at least 155kg at the competition, with 160kg-165kg being within reach on a good day.
The only thing I wasn’t sure about was how I’d perform on the competition day, as I also lifted 2.5kg below my gym record on my last competition, and I knew that cutting water before a competition can have the biggest negative effect on your bench press.
But still, bench press is one of the lifts I’m most confident in and that I improved a lot technically, so I didn’t really worry about not doing that well. I also knew that I’d be bench pressing after I had already completed my squat, so I’d know how to adjust my lifts based on my squat results.
Deadlift was probably the lift I was the most confident in out of all of them because, on the competition day, the deadlift is simple. You come up to the bar, hype yourself up and either pick up the bar or you don’t.
You don’t need to worry about technical details like squatting deep enough or lifting your ass when you bench press that might make you fail your lift. Plus it’s the last lift of the day so you have the whole room of people cheering you on and giving you extra adrenaline that make the lift easier.
The preparations for the deadlift in my training also went extremely well. Last time I lifted 237.5kg on competition day, and during the preparations for this competition I lifted 232.5kg for 2 sets of 2 reps, as well as a single of 242.5kg which flew up with 10-15kg to spare.
Based on my last competition, I also knew I was capable of deadlifting more on the competition day than I was capable of lifting in the gym – partially due to the extra adrenaline, but also because of being rested which has the biggest effect on the deadlift numbers.
I knew that to qualify for the European Championships I’d need to deadlift 270kg or more, which felt a bit crazy as it would be a huge record, but deep down I knew I was capable of doing that.
The deadlift attempt selection also wasn’t in my hands. Since deadlift is the last lift of the day, I’d simply need to add up the squat and bench press results, and deadlift the difference that I needed to hit the qualifying norm.
That meant I’d put as much as I needed on the bar for my final attempt and just go all out – whether it was 270kg or 280kg – and then see if I was strong enough or not.
Balancing work and lifting before the competition
Training for powerlifting takes a lot of time. Most of my workouts were 2-3 hours long and I would consistently put in 4-5 workouts a week for the bulk of my preparation phase. If you add the 30minute commute, shower time and the necessary food, the lifting easily took 20 hours out of my schedule every week.
Putting in this time wasn’t always easy due to travel and work commitments, and I’d often find myself alone at the gym on a Friday night, working through endless sets of heavy squats, bench presses, and deadlifts – or working out on the weekends when the sun was shining outside.
Especially during the last 1-2 months before the competition, I started to feel the toll of trying to do two things really well at the same time. I put too much work on my shoulders, didn’t take enough vacations and weekends off to really recover, and slowly burned myself out.
I wanted to take a longer vacation in December but then decided to move into a new apartment over the holidays, so I didn’t really get the time that I needed to recover.
The burnout hit it’s peak 3 weeks before the competition when I suddenly became sick at the worst possible time – the night before my trip to New York. This meant a lot of sleepless nights, devouring cold medicine with no real effect and a very stressful trip. It wasn’t fun.
Even as I came back home, I was sick for a whole week which lead to a few really tiring workouts and failed squat attempts – and more stress as the work kept piling up and I just couldn’t focus properly.
During the last week before my competition, I knew I was supposed to do as little work as possible to recover as best as possible, but I felt a huge resistance towards cancelling or rescheduling some of my coaching calls because I didn’t want to be away from work for two weeks (I was taking a vacation right after my competition).
This almost backfired on me as I found myself being completely burned out on Monday, 5 days before the competition. I had low energy, couldn’t really focus and clearly wasn’t at my best. Luckily my high-performance coach picked up on that and asked me to clear up my schedule as much as possible for the week before the competition.
I realized that he was right. I wasn’t in the state to do my best work that week, and I knew I needed to take the time to recover. So as uncomfortable as it felt, I rescheduled half of my client calls and decided to make it up to them after I came back from vacation.
This ended up being one of the best decisions I could have made, and it really helped me decrease the stress and overwhelm and start slowly feeling at my best towards the end of the week. Next time I’m competing, I’m going to make sure I clear up my schedule for the week before competition a lot further in advance and make sure I get the well-needed rest.
My mental preparations
I’d say my mental preparations and mindset are probably my biggest advantages over some of my other competitors in powerlifting.
I’m not the most talented lifter, I wasn’t born with a ton of muscle mass, and learning lifting techniques doesn’t really come easy to me. In fact, I struggle with my form on squats and deadlifts even after endless hours of practice and I can’t seem to “get” some of the concepts I’m learning, like deadlifting with a straight back.
But what I do have that a lot of beginners and intermediate lifters don’t have is a good mindset around training and competing, a lot of which comes from me running my own business.
I love setting ultra-ambitious goals, looking for opportunities to constantly improve my training sessions, surrounding myself with other lifters more successful than me, mentally preparing for the competitions and doing everything in my power to perform at my best on the competition day.
I know that even though I’m still in the very beginnings of my lifting career, this mindset and mental toughness work will help me perform well on the international level over time, while some of my competitors might give up or stop themselves in their tracks.
I love learning about high performance, mindset, and mental toughness and testing different strategies in my training and competitions, and also have access to an incredible high-performance coach that has worked with some of the world’s best athletes who helps me improve my mental game in sports and business.
I really believe that in the long run, having the right mindset, focus and developing mental toughness is what gives you the edge over your competition, rather than just pure physical talents.
You see so many athletes who have a lot of potential but don’t train seriously enough, consistently underperform on big competition days, and eventually give up on their careers in sports.
I feel like I have the right mindset that allows me to do extremely well in competitions, and even though I know I can do better with my approach to day to day training, I have the right attitude to it and always try to improve every single part of the process, rather than just going to the gym and doing the workouts.
Just like with the last competition, a big part of my mental preparations for this competition were visualizations – and from the last competition, I definitely took my visualizations to the next level.
Ever since my last competition, I regularly visualized myself on the lifting platform, lifting the weights that would allow me to qualify for the European championships.
This wasn’t easy at first as I had no idea how my training would go and where I’d be 6 months from then, but as the competition day came closer and closer the pictures in my head started to become clearer and clearer.
I gradually visualized my competition day more and more, and during the last week before my competition, I went through the whole day 4-5 times a day in my head.
This definitely wasn’t easy, and I noticed that whenever I tried to visualize really heavy squats I’d become really anxious, as I remembered all the failed squat attempts in the gym and competition before, and I’d often try to escape that anxiety by stopping the visualization.
I slowly worked through my anxiety by using a technique where every time I felt anxious I just tried to mentally and physically relax. This would slowly but consistently help me reduce the anxiety and help me believe that I can really lift those weights on the competition day.
The other way in which I started using visualizations is not just for the competition day but for the training sessions as well. Many times I would take a few minutes before my workout just to visualize myself feeling focused, strong, calm and collected, which helped me gradually become more and more focused while working out.
When you’re spending 3 hours in the gym on a Friday night it’s really easy to just mess around on Facebook on your phone, rather than recording your lifts and analyzing your mistakes over and over again.
With these visualizations, I tried to become more intentional with my workouts and try to make them more effective. While I’m still far from perfect with this, I feel like I definitely improved my workouts over time, and I know I’ll continue to get more and more out of my workouts in the future.
A few weeks before the competition, there was a perfect example of how mental toughness plays a role in sports.
During a drive home from the workout with my coach, I asked him what the plan for the competition was.
He said that based on the preparations, these were the attempts we would shoot for at the competition:
- 215kg squat
- 160kg bench press
- 250kg deadlift
As I heard him say that, my stomach dropped.
Those attempts didn’t amount to 657.5kg that I needed to reach the European Championship norm. They would only get me to 635kg in the best case scenario.
That evening, I felt devastated. Why did I put in all of this work over the last 6 months if I couldn’t even attempt to reach my main goal? Was I too weak to even get a shot at it? Why would I go and compete at all then?
The next day, the devastation turned into anger, and anger turned into determination. I was determined to do whatever I could to turn things around and have a fair shot at reaching my goal.
I spent hours figuring out what my weaknesses were and which of them I could realistically fix in a matter of weeks. That’s how I found one potential fix – bracing. Bracing in powerlifting means taking a deep breath and flexing the muscles in your body really really hard so you can lift more weight.
I felt like bracing was one thing I never really learned how to do properly, and the one thing that was a likely cause of my poor performance on my max squat lifts. So with just a few workouts left, I went on a mission to get better at bracing. I watched countless YouTube videos about it, talked to other experienced lifters about it, and tried to apply it to my squatting.
On my last heavy squat day, I was able to brace a lot better than usually and lifted 207.5kg two times with relative ease, which finally gave me the confidence that I needed to believe that I can set a nice squat record at the competition, despite many failed attempts in the past.
I talked to my coach later that day and told him that I decided I’d still try to lift more on the competition day. I explained I’d rather shoot for a crazy, unrealistic goal than to go to a competition without an exciting goal to drive me forward.
My coach agreed with me and together we set new, higher goals, that would give me the chance to hit my goal on a perfect day.
It’s situations like these and how you deal with them that make a huge difference on your confidence, and how it shows up on the competition day. If you’re not confident in your abilities on that day, you just aren’t going to perform on a high level.
In the future, I’m going to continue improving my mental game around lifting and experimenting with different strategies, because all of the skills I’m developing help me perform at my best in my business as well, so I’m essentially hitting two birds with my stone.
And when the day comes when I have a chance to become an European champion, I know I’ll be as best prepared as possible to seize that opportunity rather than give into the pressure and let all the hard work go down the drain.
My first experience with cutting water weight
The biggest mistake I made during my competition preparations this time around was gaining too much weight in the months leading up to the competition.
Since I competed in the 93kg weight class, I knew I had to be at 95-96kg within a month of competition so I wouldn’t have to lose too much weight (and sacrifice my performance) in the week before my competition.
I said to myself I’d stay at that weight until the competition without gaining unnecessary weight, at which I did really well in November and during the first half of December. Then I messed up.
I went on a quick trip to Bosnia to visit my girlfriend’s relatives where I ate everything in sight and hit 98kg. Then I attended a few new year’s parties with plenty of food and alcohol involved and hit 100.1kg by January 1st.
I said to myself that “it’s just water weight” and that it would come off in no time. Except it didn’t, since I hosted a party every weekend in January to celebrate moving into our new apartment – which meant more food and alcohol.
By February 1st, I was still sitting on 100kg, a month and a half before my competition. That’s when I started to seriously lose weight and worked my way down to 96-97kg, but it came at a cost. I consumed too few carbs and calories over a few weeks and had a few pretty bad workouts where I again failed some of my squat attempts.
At that point I had to stop losing weight as some of my heaviest workouts were still ahead of me and I couldn’t afford to miss any more lifts before my competition. I’d have to cut the remaining weight off with a “water cut” before my competition.
For me, doing a water cut meant the following:
- Drinking progressively more water between Monday and Friday before the competition (6l to 10l a day)
- Not drinking any more water after Friday at 9pm
- Adding a lot of salt to my food on Monday and Tuesday, eating a moderate amount of salt on Wednesday and eating no salt on Thursday and Friday
- Removing fibre from my diet on Thursday and Friday
- Reducing the amount of carbs I ate on Friday
- Taking a laxative on Friday night
- Not eating almost any food or drinking any water until my weigh in at 2pm on Saturday
Luckily I didn’t need to go to a sauna or take a hot bath to lose even more weigh as I feel like that would seriously affect more performance.
Going through this process was definitely very interesting, as the weight doesn’t really drop until the last day. That meant that during the final week I consistently had over 97kg, and I had plenty of moments when I worried if my weight was going to drop at all.
On Friday morning I woke up at 95.5kg which made me feel at least a bit better, and on Saturday morning I had around 94kg. That’s when the most stressful time began as I weighed myself every hour and saw my weight barely drop each time (I was severely dehydrated by then, so losing more water weight became a challenge).
By the time I left home an hour before the weigh in I had 93.1kg, and I was nervous that my scale maybe wasn’t as accurate as I thought. But after another stressful hour or so, I weighed in at 92.72kg, with 300g to spare.
Overall I must say I loved going through this experience for the first time, as I know I’ll need to cut water in future competitions if I want to be really competitive, so I’m happy that I could get better at the process over time as well as know what I can expect to get out of my body.
Looking back, I don’t think that the water cut affected my performance in a major way. I didn’t really feel like I had less energy because of it, at worst it might have had a slight impact on my bench press.
So during my next competition, I’m likely cutting weight again, although hopefully it’ll be a bit less weight than this time around.
Dealing with competition day sickness
The tricky day with cutting weight is that by the time you weigh in, you basically dehydrated your body for the last 16 hours and you ate very little food in the process as well.
This isn’t so bad in some powerlifting federations where the competition is the day before (similar to MMA), so you usually have a full 24 hours to rehydrate yourself, recover, and eat a ton of food to be at your best again.
In my federation however, the weigh in window is just 2 hours, so you only have about 2 hours between stepping off the scale and making your first competition lift.
This means that as soon as you get off the scale, you chug 2-3 gatorades and a liter or two of water, eat a few spoons of salt and then try to force as much food as possible down your throat.
The tricky part is making sure you consume enough food, liquids and salt to restore your energy without making yourself puke all over the place. Of course you’ll feel sick after you eat a lot of food and drink in a short period of time in any case, so you need to find a balance where you feel sick but stop feeling sick by your first lift.
I struggled with this during my first competition, where I ate a ton of sweets and felt sick all day long, which also might have attributed to my lifting performance. This time around I brought more salty foods with me and ate less sweets, and I definitely felt a lot better.
Still, I had these weird cramps in my stomach, and I’ve found it hard to get enough food down my throat. Even the foods that I loved eating on a regular basis just didn’t go down after drinking liters of liquid.
This is a process that just takes time, and should be treated as such. My coach told me it took him 5 competitions to figure out what kind of game day nutrition worked for him, so I’m treating every competition as an opportunity to learn.
I think about what works for me, what doesn’t work for me, and slowly I’ll iterate my way into finding the optimal nutrition plan for myself through a lot of trial and error.
Overall I still felt a lot better this time around, so I was physically and mentally ready to go and perform at my best.
My pre-lift routine
The last part of the mental preparations that I didn’t mention yet was figuring out my pre-lift routine.
A pre-lift routine is a routine that I perform before every competition lift to get myself in the zone and have the best possible lift.
Now just like with every part of competition preparation (from the workouts to game day nutrition to visualizations water cuts), I’ve found that you don’t just create a pre-lift routine that works on day one and stick with it (or take it from another lifter and expect it to work for you).
Instead, it’s more of an iterative process where you figure out what works and what doesn’t work through your workouts and competitions and develop a great pre-lift routine over years that really does work optimally for you.
For example, in powerlifting you can use something that’s called “ammonia salts”. Ammonia salts are something you smell right before you go and make your lift. They are supposed to activate your nervous system so you can optimally engage it, and clear your head.
Practically this means you smell this small weird smelling bottle as much as you can, feel something burn in your nose, feel your eyes water and a surge of clear energy that makes you want to scream and lift heavy things off the floor.
During my last competition I used ammonia salts to hype myself up for all of my lifts, but this time around I only used it during the squat and deadlift. I didn’t use it on my bench press as I tested it in one of my workouts and completely messed up my technique, almost failing my lift.
Something similar has happened to me during my last competition on my bench press, so this time I decided not to make that a part of my routine. Instead of feeling angry and hyped up, I wanted to feel calm, collected and confident during my bench press (which is why if you look at my competition photos, you’ll see me smiling as I’m getting ready to bench press).
My whole pre-lift routine looked something like this:
- 10 minutes before my lift I would eat something small, like some salty snacks
- 10-5 minutes before my lift I would take sips of water and gatorade to stay hydrated
- During this time I’d watch the other people in my group perform, cheer them on, congratulate them, and see them set new records for themselves
- 5 minutes before my lift I would put on some music (that would put me into an angry state or a relaxed state), it was usually a mix of ACDC, Imagine Dragons, Linkin Park and Bob Marley
- 3 minutes before my lift I would get my gear and start putting on my wrist wraps, my belt and magnesium. I’d put on my favorite song for the lift and visualize myself what it feels like to successfully make it.
- Right before my lift I’d smell the ammonia, scream and go lift
Every part of the pre-lift routine was planned out and designed to put me into the right state for each of the lifts (apart from the cheering on competitors, which just put me in the right state of flow for all of the lifts).
For squats and deadlifts I’d pick more energizing music like Radioactive from Imagine Dragons or Thunder from ACDC, while for bench press I’d just put on a song from Bob Marley, or even All I Want For Christmas is You from Mariah Carey (don’t ask).
I felt like this worked really well during this competition, and that I have a pretty good routine down now, although I know I’ll continue to tweak it and experiment with in the future as I get new ideas from other lifters, and as my taste for music changes (or I get sick of listening to the same songs over and over again).
I know that having a pre-lift routine is crucial to my performance, and gives me a feeling of familiarity (as I listen to similar music when I lift really heavy during my workouts), and it’s no wonder why so many professional athletes use their own pre-lift routines in their sports.
I even started using similar concepts in business as well, as I’m thinking of different ways to integrate different routines before my writing, coaching calls and public speeches, to make sure I always perform at my best.
Ok, enough pre-competition talk. Let’s go to the actual competition itself!
Part 1: Squat
I had a bittersweet feeling about squats before the competition.
On one hand I knew I got stronger at squatting and I felt like I finally got my bracing and form down on one of the last workouts.
On the other hand the failed attempts from the gym and my last competition were haunting me, so I didn’t really know what to expect on the competition day.
What’s more, I knew that doing well on squats was crucial to me even having a chance of qualifying for the European Championships. If I lifted below 220kg, my chances of qualifying would be very slim.
The plan for the squat attempts was as follows (based on how the warm ups and the first two attempts went):
- Attempt #1: 202.5-205kg
- Attempt #2: 212.5kg-217.5kg
- Attempt #3: 220kg-225kg
Confidence wise, I felt like I was definitely capable of lifting around 215kg, and hoped that the first two attempts would be easy enough that I could lift above 220kg with my third attempt.
The warm ups for the squats went really well with weights feeling extremely light on my back, a feeling that I visualized repeatedly and that I got from one of my last squat sessions where I lifted really well.
As planned, we chose 205kg as the first squat attempt, which also happened to be my end result from my last competition.
Attempt #1: 205kg
Going into the first attempt, I felt confident I would make it as I lifted this weight quite a few times in practice. The only question was how easy it would feel.
I got ready, went up to the bar pretty calm and collected, and prepared for the squat (watch the first video):
To my relief, the bar just flew up and felt fast and easy. I knew I could lift a lot more, and was excited for the second attempt.
For the second attempt I originally wanted to lift 215kg, but my coaches said that I lifted really fast and encouraged me to go for 217.5kg. Since I isn’t really have much time to think (you need to select your next weight within a minute of finishing your lift), I obliged.
Attempt #2: 217.5kg
Going into the second squat attempt was probably the most nerve-wracking part of the competition for me.
I’ve never lifted above 210kg in training, and I failed 215kg twice in the gym in the past. I never even attempted to lift 217.5kg in the past, so I was sailing into uncharted territory.
Still, this wasn’t the time to doubt myself. I went through my pre-lift routine, focused on visualizing myself making the lift and built up the confidence to do it.
I knew that this was a lift that would help me get at least the slightest shot at the European Championships, and I wasn’t going to screw it up.
Soon, the moment of truth came (watch the second video):
Once I completed the lift, I was ecstatic. I finally set a new record in my squat after more than 6 months, and it didn’t even feel that hard. That’s why I started celebrating even before I put the bar down.
Once I completed this lift, I felt like a huge weight dropped off my shoulders. Everything was possible now, and I decided to go all out and select 225kg for my last attempt.
I knew that I made a small mistake on this lift (I didn’t drive my elbows forward while standing back up), and I knew that if I fixed this mistake and everything worked out I could definitely lift 225kg.
But before I got to that, a problem started to emerge.
I started to feel a bit of pain in my left knee, which was something that has been haunting me for a while now. This knee pain would come and go during my last competition, as well as during my workouts.
For a few months, my knee would be fine – then all of a sudden, it would start to hurt to a point where I couldn’t squat properly any more. I worked hard on fixing the issue through physical therapies and massages, but the issue never really went away.
Now it was starting to come back at the worst possible time.
I only had 10 minutes before my next squat attempt so I quickly put on some hot cream on my knee and got my muscles around it massaged by my coach, then got ready for my last attempt.
I was determined that this would be just a minor issue and that it wouldn’t prevent me from making my last squat attempt successfully.
Attempt #3: 225kg
As I waited for my last attempt, I felt a sense of calm and presence. I focused on the music, went through my routine and before I knew it, I was ready to attempt the last squat of the day.
I hyped myself up, stormed to the bar and attempted the lift (watch the third video):
For that one lift, everything fell into place. I executed the technique perfectly, and made the lift.
With this lift, I really felt like I gave it my all. I’m not sure I could have lifted any more weight than I had, and I was insanely happy that I made the lift.
Not only did I have a small chance to qualify for the European Championships, my chance all of a sudden became a lot bigger and a lot more real. I could really feel like the norm was within my grasp.
I also squatted 20kg more than during my last competition, which now gives me a lot more confidence for the future because I know that I’m capable of squatting more in competition than in training.
One thing that made me super happy and excited was just how many of my fellow lifters came up to me and congratulated me on the successful squat attempt in the end. One thing that’s common in powerlifting is that the comradery of all the lifters who cheer you on and help you out in any way you can – something I haven’t quite seen in any other sport.
It was amazing to feel like a part of a group that’s not just competing against each other, but more importantly pushing themselves to become the best version of themselves and to break through their limits.
With the squat all wrapped up, it was time to take a 15-minute break and start warming up for the bench press.
Part 2: Bench press
One big negative side effect of making my last squat attempt was that my knee pain all of a sudden got a lot worse. I could barely walk, and I called my coach to massage me and fix whatever could be fixed so I could complete the competition.
I sat on the floor for 15 minutes in pain, trying to get myself to eat something while I got my muscles massaged and put on a heavy amount of hot cream. At that point, I was a bit worried if I’d be able to deadlift at all, but hoped that I would get better over the next hour or so of bench pressing.
With my bench press, the plan was as follows:
- Attempt #1: 145kg
- Attempt #2: 152.5kg-155kg
- Attempt #3: 157.5kg-162.5kg
Since my bench press went extremely well in my training, I felt very confident in it and expected to lift between 160kg and 165kg on the competition day, depending on how the warm ups and the first few attempts went.
The warm ups for bench press went pretty well as well, and so we decided to increase the weight for the first attempt to 147.5kg, which was also the same as my end result from my last competition.
Attempt #1: 147.5kg
This was a weight I had lifted countless times in my training, and I knew it would be a pretty easy lift to make. It was a weight I could lift in my sleep.
I relaxed, tried to have fun and enjoyed myself as I went to complete my first lift (watch the first video):
Just like in practice, the weight flew up and I was ready for my second attempt at 155kg.
Attempt #2: 155kg
155kg was a weight I bench pressed successfully just once in practice, but when I did it I felt like I had at least 5kg left in the tank.
Based on how my first attempt went, I was confident that I would lift the second attempt successfully as well.
While I went into my first attempt really relaxed, I did spend more time focusing and preparing for the second attempt to make sure I didn’t make any stupid mistakes.
I mentally prepared myself and attempted the second lift (watch the second video):
This weight went up a bit slower than the previous one, but I felt like I still lifted it well and had more fuel in the tank.
For the third attempt, I felt like I was able to lift around 162.5kg but decided to go with a safer 160kg, since I really wanted to make sure I get that attempt in successfully.
Attempt #3: 160kg
Going into my third attempt, I was confident I would be able to make it.
I again went through my pre-lift routine, and went on the platform as I heard screams from my friends and family in the stands cheering me on.
I set up to make my third attempt (watch the third video):
I really gave this attempt my everything and felt like I executed well on it technique wise, but after fighting with the weight for 5 seconds I just couldn’t push it all the way to the top.
There’s nothing I could have really done differently, the strength just wasn’t there on that day, possibly because of the water cut.
I was a bit disappointed as I didn’t make the last attempt, but didn’t dwell on it too much because I felt like I did everything right.
Sure, successfully lifting the weight would have made it easier for me to qualify for the European Championships, but nothing was lost at this stage. I still felt like I could pull it off by having an incredible deadlift day.
I reminded myself that I lifted 7.5kg more than on my last competition, with 2.5kg more definitely in the tank.
And then I also remembered that I just successfully achieved my goal of winning the bench press in my weight class (as the second best lifter lifted 150kg), which made me happy as I love winning gold medals.
With the squat and bench press done, it was time for me to take another short break and get ready for deadlifts.
Part 3: Deadlift
During the break I again focused on massaging my knee which was feeling a bit better at this time. It still hurt quite a bit, but at least I could walk relatively normally.
I was worried how the warm ups would go and if I could deadlift at all, but at this stage there was nothing I could have really done. If the knee held up it held up, if it didn’t it didn’t.
For the deadlift attempt, we picked the first attempt as high as necessary to hit the Arnold norm, we then picked a conservative second attempt that would help me conserve energy for the last attempt (but warm me up for it), and with the third attempt we picked a weight that would help me lock in the European Championship norm.
The attempts were as follows:
- Attempt #1: 237.5kg
- Attempt #2: 250kg
- Attempt #3: 277.5kg
Coincidentally, 237.5kg was also my end result from my last competition, which meant that my ending weights now became my starting weights, which felt great.
Looking at the attempts, I knew I could easily lift 237.5kg and 250kg, and I knew that 277.5kg would be extremely hard but possibly doable.
I again didn’t have too much time to think and went to the warm up area instead.
The warm ups went pretty well overall, and my knee seemed to be holding out pretty well without any additional pain.
In no time, I was ready for my first attempt.
Attempt #1: 237.5kg
Deadlifting is the most fun part of lifting competitions for me.
It’s the time of the day when you get to inhale a ton of ammonia, scream your lungs out, and lift more than you ever thought was possible off the floor as the whole crowd cheers you on.
The adrenaline rush of deadlifting in a competition is just insane, and it’s one of my favorite parts of competing in powerlifting.
As I prepared for my first deadlift attempt I listened to ACDC and put myself in an aggressive mood, visualizing myself attacking the weights and lifting them off the floor.
I stormed to the bar, screamed, and attempted my first attempt (watch the first video):
The lift went up pretty nicely, but it didn’t exactly feel as light as I would have wanted to.
At that point I became a bit worried if I really had 277.5kg in the tank on the day, but didn’t have too much time to think about it.
The good news was that by making this lift, I qualified for the Arnold competition in September, so regardless of what happened next I still had a good shot at competing in the European Championships this year.
Most importantly the knee seemed to be fine, so I watched some of the fellow competitors successfully make their first attempts and slowly prepared myself for the second attempt.
Attempt #2: 250kg
The second attempt was similar to the first attempt. More hype, more screaming, more lifting heavy things off the floor.
The whole lift went by in a blur (watch the second video):
To my surprise, this attempt actually felt lighter and faster than the first one, even though I didn’t really do anything differently. It just flew up.
This gave me a 12.5kg record compared to my last competition and locked in the 4th place for me in my category, but I didn’t really care about any of that.
I checked my knee which was still ok and focused on my last lift of the day – 277.5kg.
Attempt #3: 277.5kg
277.5kg is an insane amount of weight. It’s 40kg more than I lifted during my last competition, and 35kg more than I ever lifted in practice. It was also a 27.5kg jump from my last attempt.
During my last break I focused heavily on visualizing myself making the lift and feeling the happiness I would feel after I made it, and at this point I got really emotional.
At this point, my logical mind was telling me that I can’t even lift the weight off the ground. It’s not possible. But my emotions disagreed. I wanted to lift the weight off the ground badly. I visualized lifting it many many times before. So I told my coaches that I’m lifting this weight no matter what.
And so, the moment of truth came. One last dose of ammonia. My family, friends and fellow lifters were all cheering me on.
As I walked on the platform, I got a little emotional, and I was ready to lift the weight (watch the third video):
I pulled the weight off the ground hard, and it went up faster than I expected. I then pulled it over my knees, kept holding for my dear life… And then I felt a sharp pain in my left knee. I dropped the weight.
Disappointed, I took a moment to point at my fans and clapped for them as they supported me so well throughout the day, and made my way backstage.
I put off my lifting gear and realized my knee was hurting like hell. I could barely walk. I went to get some ice, and had a few minutes to reflect on what just happened before talking to my friends and family.
Even though I missed the last deadlift that would help me directly qualify to European Championship, I was happy I got it well over knees, which was higher than what my logical mind knew was possible. Had my knee not given out, I might have been able to get it all the way up.
I instantly knew that in 6 months at the Arnold Classic, I’d be able to lift 657.5kg and likely a lot more. I was also happy that I won my third gold medal (in bench press), and that I had such an amazing group of people supporting me at my competition.
Overall, I was extremely happy with my performance as I really felt like I gave 110% on every single lift I did and left nothing in the tank, which is exactly what I was going for. I pushed myself to the limit of what I was capable of.
The aftermath of the knee injury
The next day after the competition, I had to catch a flight to Tokyo for a one-week vacation off from work and lifting.
This wasn’t as much fun as I expected it to be because I literally couldn’t walk. My whole left leg was completely tense due to the knee injury (I assumed it was a strained ligament), and I couldn’t bend the knee at all.
This made for a pretty painful journey to Tokyo and a lot of limping. Over the first few days in Tokyo, it was more of the same. I couldn’t walk up or down the stairs normally, and walking in general was a challenge.
I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to squat or deadlift for months as the pain was so bad.
Still, since my knee wasn’t swollen I assumed that the injury wasn’t so bad and wanted to move the knee as much as possible. I got myself a knee brace and limped for about 5-10km a day, while eating loads of beef and sushi in-between.
The first few days were pretty bad, but about 6 days after my injury my knee miraculously started getting way better. By the end of my Tokyo trip I could walk up and down the stairs slowly but properly.
Now it’s been about 12 days from the competition and I’m happy that I can walk completely normally, without any pain. I’ve been back in the gym and already completed 2 workouts. I even did some squats with an empty bar which were super awkward, but I know I’ll be able to slowly increase the weight.
I’ve also been doing a lot of rehab work to work on the muscles surrounding my knee and knee stabilization and mobility. If things keep moving into this direction, I should be back to normal workouts in a matter of weeks.
My biggest lessons from the competition
Looking back at this competition preparation, there were 3 big mistakes that I made that I can learn from and improve on in the future.
Lesson #1: Don’t get too fat
During the “off season” I definitely got too fat, and I put on a lot of fat and not that much muscle through the unnecessary partying and binge eating. This then added to unnecessary stress and a few failed lifts in the last months before the competition.
This is something I need to learn how to improve on, and even though it’s an issue that might not disappear overnight, it’s something I’ll consciously work on. During the next 6 months I’ll try to stay within 95-97kg of my bodyweight and focus on eating more real food and less crap.
Lesson #2: Work on your weaknesses early
Even though I knew my abs and knees were weak during the competition prep, I didn’t work on strengthening them as much as I could have with assistance exercises.
Moving forward I want to identify weak spots early on in the competition prep phase and fix them before they become a limiting factor or prone to injury. I want to avoid finding out that I’m weak at bracing a week before my competition, and want to work on it 6 months before the competition instead.
Lesson #3: Schedule rest before you need it
Throughout the training cycle I definitely didn’t take enough rest. Sure, I got more massages, spa treatments and sauna time than in the previous cycle, but I didn’t really take enough weeks off to fully disconnect from work.
Moving forward, I want to make sure I take a 1-week vacation every 3 months, and that my week before the competition is completely cleared off from client calls. Since I’ll be going to a lot of international competitions in the future, I might combine the two together and actually have a vacation for a week before the competition for extra rest.
Now that I’ve finished this competition, I’m already focused on my next competition – the Arnold Classic.
Not only do I want to reach my European Championship form there, I also want to improve massively on all of my lifts and get closer to lifting 680-700kg total.
I’m going to spend the extra time working on my weaknesses, improving my nutrition and improving the technique of my lifts, which is really exciting as I know that these small improvements will have big returns on my performance in the future.
I’m also going to continue improving my mental game and how I approach my day to day training, so I can continue to make a name for myself in the Slovenian and International powerlifting scene.
Follow me on my Road to Arnold Classic
And finally, I decided I’ll write more about my training progress in the powerlifting section of this blog, and I also started a new newsletter where I’ll send you updates and interesting things I learn in the process.
To get started, I’ll be writing about my Road to Arnold Classic. If you’d like to get updates on my lifting career, you can subscribe to them via the orange box below. You can also follow me on Instagram.
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