Getting Past A Bomb-out String

What is a bomb-out string?

An occasional bad day happens to everyone. But have you ever experienced a string of multiple bomb-outs or bad performances batched together over a short period?

Some lifters aren’t good competitors. They don’t make good decisions, don’t have expectations aligned with their abilities and they miss a lot. This isn’t that. This is a period when a lifter with a history of good performances looks lost. What causes that? I believe a nasty run, for anyone, will tie back to something specific.

My experience

I’ve been fortunate to commentate at several competitions over the past few years. As part of my preparation for this, I like to research competition histories of the athletes on a startlist. I’ve reviewed hundreds. Every so often I come across one of these bomb-out strings. It stops me every time.

I couldn’t place why it bothered me so I looked up my own competition history and there it was. A string of meets spanning from December 2001 through all of 2002 where I bombed-out in 4 of 6 competitions. Consecutive bombs on the front and back of that run. The two times I totaled I went just 2-6. It was, I was, a mess.

My training logs from that period didn’t reveal much. No injuries and no mention of any “stuff” going on. So what the hell happened?

Answer: the 2002 Nationals. Or at least the announcement they were coming to New York City. I’m from NY. I live in NY and by that time I’d traveled everywhere but never lifted in a National meet at home. I wanted all my friends and family to be there. I wanted to do well so badly I unraveled.

Reflecting on that period 15 years later I recall 3 things:

  1. My perspective and expectations got blown out of proportion.
  2. My approach to everything was negative.
  3. Fun died.

I’ll bet if you ask anyone who hits a rough patch of competitions (in time) they’ll say these things were present in some form.

Wanting to do well is normal. So is setting goals, making plans and pouring your heart and soul into training. I get it. When things get out of balance though it can be impossible to step back and observe what’s happening. You feel like you should be at a certain point but it’s not happening. As a result, you press harder and make things worse. I did exactly that.

During that period I also recall being at my worst in the gym. Generally unpleasant, short-fused and throwing tantrums all the time. Every workout was a failure of some kind and every little thing was a disaster.

The two meets where I did total were a final qualifier I went to on my own and thankfully, Nationals. Neither were great performances.

Everything is temporary

In a way, a bomb-out string is no different from someone who claims they “can’t jerk.” Physical limitations and injury aside that kind of thinking is anti-productive garbage. It’s also untrue. Just as being in great shape comes and goes so do bad periods.

With Nationals behind me, I didn’t just revert back to my usual (literally average) 50% success rate. I bombed out two more times. Why? Because getting into a mess is a process so is getting out of one.

After that last bomb-out, I was finally ready to listen and change my attitude. I remembered that I enjoyed lifting and competing and got perspective back. In the years the followed I went on to do my best lifting. This period sucked but was not permanent.

Support Structure

Where were my coach, teammates, friends, and family while I was melting down? There. The whole time. It didn’t matter because I wasn’t open to any input. That’s the other important part. No one can help you when you aren’t listening.

One thing I do remember is a handwritten letter my coach gave me prior the qualifier event. Remember, I actually left town, to compete on my own, while reeling. So stupid. Anyway, he gave me the letter to open after I weighed in. It was written on the back of the 2002 David Berger Memorial entry form. The competition I’d passed over, against everyone’s advice, in favor of this trip by myself. Btw, the entry fee was $20.

That day I was able to appreciate some words advice and support. Specifically…

“the key to your success will be your ability to focus on the next lift you are about to do and only on that lift. No worries about past days, week or lifts – only a single-minded determination to make the very best lift you can on the next attempt you make…”

It worked on two of them. I still have the letter.

Getting past a bomb-out string

Firstly, you have to acknowledge your approach to training and competition isn’t working and step back. You also have to accept or at least realize a mess today is not a permanent state of being. A few days or weeks away can help. What time away showed me was that I really loved doing this and wanted to get back into it.

If you need more than a simple breather you have to allow those around you to help. This is where a coach, good teammates, friends or maybe a professional can help refocus priorities. My problems started when everything became about what I “should” be able to do at a certain meet.

In the end that’s the point. I tried to power through, ignore, change scenery and then I tried to (briefly) quit. Nothing worked until I figured out that my “shoulds” were the problem. Once I understood that things began to change.

Finally, when you are sliding off the road step off the gas, not on it. You don’t need to train harder, change your team, coach or gym. If you take care of yourself it’ll pass. I actually forgot about it.

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P.S This was from the 2002 Nationals. I missed it.