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Ex-Competitive Lifter Who's Lost All His Confidence. Need Advice

Long read so please bear with me-
So, I started lifting when I was 15, just messing around at the gym- soon, me and a buddy of mine were going 5x a week and after a couple years we were throwing around some crazy weights.

I was age17, 5’8 72kg, very shredded @8%ish (I can never seem to gain fat, just genetics I guess)

Bench 1rm 137.5kg (soo close to 3 plates)
Squat 1rm 165kg
Deadlift 1rm 195kg

So I went to my first powerlifting meet, I had just run 2 back to back program ‘cycles’ of ‘smolov jr’ for bench and was feeling confident.
My bench press blew even the weight class above out the water. Managed to attain the under-18 74kg unofficial UK record for bench press (137.5kg). To make it official I had to do another meet in front of 3 officials, I went to that meet and ended up failing the lift due to a slight shoulder injury, only managing to push up 130kg which I believe was just under the record at the time.

Failing this lift and being so close to the record destroyed my confidence, I had potential sponsors/scouts watching and was a ‘rising star’ in the UK lifting scene, I was only a couple months away from turning 18 and I obvs couldn’t compete in the u18 class again. Having that all torn away made me give up powerlifting, I still did bodyweight/light dumbbell exercises at university to keep my aesthetics but just could not go to the gym , it was like a mental barrier that prevented me from getting back on that bench. Although I had always sworn to myself I’d remain natty when I reached 21 I ended up doing a couple low dose cycles of steroids (test, dbol, PH.etc) at university and did loads of calisthenics/strongman exercises- hoping that would help motivate me to get back to doing powerlifting- it didn’t. I got back into swimming and rugby and forgot about lifting altogether after my 2nd cycle.

Fast forward to june 2019, age 24, somehow despite never going above 12% bf my entire life, I found myself with no gains and a massive stomach, drinking/smoking- severely unfit and a stressful job.

I finally decided enough was enough and got a gym membership, I only went a couple times a week and could never stay for long- the mental barrier was still there and pumping iron was just impossible. So a couple weeks ago I decided to hop on a Test cycle to see if it would improve my motivation, it actually worked- I’m back to gyming 2-3x a week and being around 11% bf and every week I’m putting on a ridiculous amount of lean mass due to a combination of noob gains+ muscle memory + roid gains (pls don’t hate on me for this, I don’t plan to compete ever again)

Now i’m at around 78kg and squatting 100kg for a 5x5 and increasing the weight by 5-7.5kg each session. I’m following the stronglifts 5x5 program, but having to skip the bench/military press as the mental barrier is still there and when I try to do it: I feel like all the motivation just drains out of me and I’m flooded with shitty memories.

How do I go about getting past the mental block? I’ve done the first baby steps of going to gym, starting a clean bulk- but to go from benching 100kg (225lb) for 15 reps to barely being able to press 80kg for 5 reps is just killing me inside. Even knowing I have that extra Testosterone running through me doesn’t help (like it did with other exercises like Squats). I feel the same way when I do dumbbell press or shoulders or any push exercise really. Would really like some advice as to how I can get back to my previous level on the bench and regain my destroyed confidence.

Sorry for the long read- I promise to read and carefully consider every reply as you took the time, and sorry if I’ve upset anyone with mentioning of steroid usage, I just had to do something to force the motivation. Also- are there any alternatives to the 5x5 program somebody could recommend? When I was competitive I almost always ran full body 5x5 or the Smolov/Smolov Jr program, but now being at a much lower level as well as being on TestE I know I may have to switch things up a bit

Thanks!

Past is the past, it’s not like you were breaking records. You need to learn to leave it behind and slowly build up from where you are now or find another hobby.

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That was the point- did you read the post??, I WAS breaking the UK record for my age (under18) and weightclass, do you know how much training and dieting it took to get me to a near double bodyweight bench at age17? Soul crushing to fail it and gain a shoulder injury that set me back and created a domino effect to the point it destroyed my career.

It really isn’t as simple as ‘the past is the past’, cmon dude.

I’m just looking for solutions from people who have comeback after long breaks and gotten past massive (and I do mean massive) psychological barriers, it’s very hard to explain to somebody who has never experienced that psychological hurdle at an extremely competitive (national-class) level.

I’m sure at least some people here have been in a similar situation.

Thanks!

Nobody makes a career out of powerlifting, set small goals and beat them, forget the past. In time, you will get to where you were and beyond.

It’s not a particularly competitive sport, especially at the junior level and especially 7 years ago. I say this as someone with a number of british PL records myself. Its not that big a deal in the UK.

Blaming all of that on a shoulder injury is a stretch and a huge abdication of personal responsibility.

Honestly you need to ask yourself what you want, and importantly why you want it.

If you think you’re suddenly going to relive your glory years and after 2 smolov cycles you’ll be breaking the british bench record, have people looking at you as a ‘rising star’ again with sponsors waiting in the wings, then Im afraid your chasing a magic rabbit.

If you are unsatisfied with your physique or your lifestyle, you absolutey have the power to change those things. If the only thing stopping you getting on the bench is being ashamed of the weight you use now, compared to the weight you used to lift, then the short, if harsh, answer is you need to get over yourself. You had an impressive bench. You don’t now. You canhave an impresive bench again, but you need to accept you have to do some hard graft to get it back. Exellence does not come without effort, and the effort you put in 7 years ago doesn;t really count for much.

As an aside.

Why were they low dose? I ask because it sounds like you were convincing yourself that if you ran low dose you wouldnt have to run PCT. Did you run PCT? Have you got PCT planned for this cycle? Have you had blood levels checked? Because you sound depressed and its not beyond the realms of possibility that you have trashed your HPTA with those early cycles.

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If you can’t figure this out then maybe you need to talk to a psychologist or something. If I was you I would just start training again, a slight shoulder injury shouldn’t lead to a life of misery.

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I don’t say this often:

Powerlifting isn’t for you.

You need to find a hobby that makes you happy. You don’t have the mental fortitude to stick with powerlifting. Try biking if you need something that involves exercise.

There are way too many issues here for any of us to unpack.

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You misunderstand, even if I were to go back to achieving those numbers- it’d would never mean anything as I’m now a lot older, a younger athlete achieving this is a lot more impressive than an older one. It’s BECAUSE of the ‘lost potential glory’ that there’s that mental block in getting back under the bench and there’s so much negative/toxic feelings associated with gyming, it was hard for me even to get back in the squat rack. I wish it were as simple as me having too big of an ego or too ashamed to push a light weight- but it’s a lot deeper than that- hence why I’m hoping some of the more veteran lifters here may be able to shed some light.

You asking about my HPTA is interesting and something I also considered early on, although I did do a PCT (Nolva/clomid) and armidex on cycle I was not religious with the it and kinda half assed it(missed doses etc)- if I did fuck up my HPTA it had nothing to do with this issue as I was suffering this before the steroids. Overall, university was a stressful time for me (drugs, had a very toxic relationship with my exgf and my family members, very tough course and barely graduated) BUT, this was years ago and I feel a lot better- I promise that I am not depressed now and the ONLY mental issue (I have left), i am currently suffering from is that inability to get started at the gym without being flooded with negative memories. Everything else in my life is fine, the current cycle I am on is much smarter and I am following it a lot more strictly than the ones I did years ago- I guess my prefrontal cortex has fully developed and I’ve gained the tenacity/discipline to use them correctly- so far they’ve given me the mental boost to get into the squat rack. I can get under the bench but once I’m there I can only manage a set before the negativity starts- baby steps I guess.

Thank you for taking the time to respond, You’ve made me consider things in a different way- I do love the gym, I love having a good physique and good lifts- but a lot of negative feelings, some not gym related are associated with the gym and especially with the bench (crazy I know). So far I can just manage to push out a quick 5x5 squat 3x a week and then a bunch of pushups and pullups at home, I’m taking baby steps. I think this issue is cognitive (association) and something like CBT could help rid the negative feelings associated with gyming.

Thanks to all responses

Other hobbies in addition to lifting might help. You put all your pride, emotion, and happiness in the hands of powerlifting, and when that didn’t go as planned, you were crushed. If you have other things to focus your attention on in addition to lifting, it’s harder for one singular thing to have such a profound effect on you mentally. Take it from the dude that prided himself on being the straight A smartest kid in school to being slightly above mediocre in college. I took up guitar, singing, golf, skiing, table tennis, and powerlifting (not all at once). Now, if I have a bad day in the gym I make up for it with music practice or table tennis. I have a lot more fun with everything. Give it a shot.

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It sounds like your teenage buddy was the wind beneath your wings.

Maybe you need some bros to lift with again.

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Train hard, consistently for years.

Why would you take steroids and barely train at all? Baby half stepping? Just start benching again and you will get strong again, that’s all there is to it.

Seriously, you are asking far too much from randoms on the internet who don’t know you from Bob selling burgers.

I don’t think I’ve ever said this to anyone, in my life, but I think you need to see a therapist. This is a mental, not a physical, issue and maybe you just need to talk it through.

Do I? I think you misunderstood, I’m saying they didn’t mean anything then, let alone now, your perception was of yourself as being exceptional. And that’s the point, they are just numbers, not measures of your self worth.

Any why limit yourself to those numbers, why not higher?

I had a 200kg deadlift at 18, I have no idea if that was competitive because I wants competing, but I have no doubt it would have been some.sort of junior national record in some division somewhere. I slipped a disk shortly after and had pretty serious back pain for a few years, and still have off and on now.

I didn’t go straight back to the gym and lift the same numbers years later, I didn’t deadlift at all for maybe 6 or 7 years, now I deadlift over 300kg at the same bodyweight :man_shrugging:.

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I’m asking for ways to get passed the mental hurdles- somebody just suggested:

And you know what? It was good simple advice I hadn’t really considered- I’ve been lifting alone for years since my buddy quit the gym, I’m sure somebody literally pushing me into that bench would be a great start. THIS kinda advice is what I’m looking for, not this dicksizing ego stuff (although I did expect it) ‘ur lift wasn’t that good etc etc’- it’s NOT about that, although I do see why you may think that is what I was implying…

I’m aware there are going to be people on these boards far surpassed that. I put SOME value/self worth not into the numbers specifically but into the fact I was able to put in the hard work and discipline into achieving it, and even if I were to go back to that level- my age, plus the fact I’m not natty anymore would mean I didn’t work as hard- but this is only a small portion of the issue, the main issue again is the negativity/toxicity surrounding the gym.

It’s more about the VAST DECLINE, not just in numbers but in the work ethic to the point where I go to the gym and just think- what’s the point? And then subsequent disappointment in myself, i know it’s some sort of cognitive issue maybe to do with negative associations.

It was never about the numbers specifically- i can dumb it down to my failed lift creating a mental block and destroying my LIFTING confidence (not anything else), and although I’ve suffered issues throughout my early twenties, who hasn’t- I repeat- the gym and not being able to lift what I could before had nothing to do with any outside issues. I hadn’t even thought about gym for a couple years before June this year.

I know it’s a lot to unpack - and I’m terrible at explaining my thought processes, sorry if there are contradictions, it’s a very specific problem I know.
All I hope is somebody can get the general picture and offer some advice or by typing it all out I can read through it and identify what is wrong- I shouldn’t need to see a therapist about an issue that is solely confined to the gym, the minute it does affect my life outside gym I wouldn’t be posting on these boards about it.

I was hoping that the boosted Testosterone would give me some confidence and motivation, and honestly it’s worked, I’m slowly getting back into it and without the ‘boost’ of the roids I don’t think it would have been possible- it’s working for me so far, now I just need to unpack this mental issue surrounding my negative feelings around the gym, I’m hoping by typing it out some bros can offer a bit of guidance as well as help me better understand why I’m feeling this way.

Thanks, short simple advice which I have no idea why I never even considered before, although nobody in my circle of friends even lifts. A half decent personal trainer might be a good alternative

You could also checkout some video, info or podcasts from big time lifters.

Sometimes you learn useful info, like how they overcame little mental bumps before they became big mountains of doubt.

Other times you just hear how excited and enthusiastic about lifting they are and it rubs off on you.

I like Ed Coan interviews. You can just tell how much he loves the gym and the “work” or “the process.”

Josh Bryant is cool too. He trains lots of big benchers, he’s got useful info. He’s big into goal setting, visualization, and all that stuff. Plus he gets worked up and excited.

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Maybe you need to stop thinking so hard about how you feel and just get over it. If you want to be strong and in shape then just train, especially considering that you are taking Test, etc., it should be easy to make some progress and I’m sure you could surpass your old numbers real quick. Just stop thinking negatively and analyzing negative shit, look forward rather than backwards.

Josh Bryant has a couple books on mindset and motivational stuff, you can get them cheap on Kindle on Amazon. Jailhouse Strong Succesful Mindset Manual and Grounded in Gratitude. Personally I’m not really into that kind of stuff too much but it sounds to me like it would help you a lot at this point, better advice than you will get on a forum for sure.

You are still young, you are only 24. My first PL meet I was 30 years old. Also nobody cares if you are natural or not unless you are going to compete in a tested meet. There are consequences for your actions, but you aren’t excluded from powerlifting by any means.

It’s all in your head. In the words of Leroy Walker, what you need is a tall glass of shut the fuck up and lift. Stop thinking negatively.

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I wish I could just quote this. Many of us just need this.

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Just don’t bench anymore if it’s a problem. You said you’d never compete again, so just don’t do it…it’s not necessary to get bigger and there’s literally zero reason to have an impressive bench if you’re not powerlifting because…no one cares.

And you keep going on about your age lol…you’re 24 now? If I remember; not gonna reread everything. I’m 20, and while I was in better shape as a teenager and am trying to get back to that, I’m viewing myself as basically just getting started. I got another 30+ years of lifting left I choose to. So do you. Unless you really should just quit and pick up something else.

Run Jon Andersen Deep Water program.

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