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Why Fitness Competitions?

With Danny King, Master Trainer

Season 6, Episode 18 | April 4, 2023

The term “fitness competition” often conjures images of bodybuilding events, but it’s much more encompassing than those, including 5Ks and marathons, powerlifting meets, obstacle course races, and more. Danny King, Master Trainer, explains why he thinks everybody — at any fitness or experience level — can benefit from participating in a fitness event.

Danny King, Master Trainer, is the national manager of personal training experience at Life Time.

King shares some of the benefits that can come from participating in a fitness competition, including the following:

  • The focus is on the process, not the outcome. Instead of fixating on an outcome such as weight loss, for example, the process of training requires you to focus on the various elements that prepare you for your competition — how many workouts you fit in, what your performance looks like, etc. This often contributes to a healthier mentality and typically leads to healthier outcomes.
  • You join a new community. It’s easy to get to know the other participants, especially at smaller events and races. You can meet others who have similar goals and expand your support system.
  • You choose who you compete with. Some people do participate in competitions in the hopes of winning — but you don’t have to. You can instead participate alongside others but with the goal of competing against yourself: Can you train in a way that improves your fitness? Can you beat a previous time or lift a heavier weight? Can you push your ability?
  • It shows you what you’re capable of. King emphasizes the importance of getting out of your comfort zone at times, especially once you’ve established a consistent exercise routine. He’s seen people lift 50 to 100 pounds more than they thought possible in a powerlifting meet because of the environment and adrenaline. This type of accomplishment can improve your sense of self-efficacy and change preconceived notions about what you thought you could do.

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Transcript: Why Fitness Competitions?

Season 6, Episode 18  | April 4, 2023


Hey, everyone. Welcome to Life Time Talks. I’m Jaime Martin.

And I’m David Freeman.

And in this mini episode, we are talking about fitness competitions. And our guest today is a returning guest. It’s Danny King. He is a master trainer and the national manager of performance and recovery at Life Time. Welcome back, Danny.

Thank you so much for having me. Excited to be here.

Yeah, Danny. Let’s jump right into it because I know that this can be a broad spectrum of as far as what fitness competitions are. So can you dive right into that for us right now and ground us with what a fitness competition is.

Yeah. When I’m talking about fitness competitions, and as I get excited about this topic, I’m going to talk about anything from a 5K or 10K race, to triathlon, to a marathon. But then even things like a powerlifting meet or CrossFit competition. There’s obstacle course racing. There’s all sorts of stuff out there. It’s really anything that lets you display your fitness within competition.

I do want to say right away that there’s this side of obviously, there’s things like figure and bodybuilding competitions which I know some people are super passionate about. What we’re talking about today, though, is a little bit different. It’s more about using your fitness with some sort of more objective measures of trying to accomplish.

Absolutely. It actually just you clarifying that. I think between the figure competitions, and the bodybuilding is really important because when you pitch this idea to us for this episode, I was like, “Hang on a second. What are we talking about here?” So I think that’s such a great way. Because people often think of 5Ks or races as events, that are their own distinct thing. But I love thinking about them as a fitness competition, really in many ways, probably with yourself. So let’s talk a little bit about who these fitness competitions are for. Are they for all of us or does it depend?

Yeah. I personally think it’s for everybody. And I think that everyone at some point should find something to compete in. And you’re right. When we say compete, like I’ve never ever toed a line of a running race thinking that I’m winning this thing, right? Or even getting close. I’m competing with myself. Can I train in a way that gets me better? And beats my last time or gets me above and beyond my ability.

And that’s really why I think everyone at some point should try something like this, whether you are a competitive as an athlete. It’s one of my favorite parts of this. You don’t have to be. Like to put one foot in front of the other, to do a part of me, it doesn’t take a lot of coordination, but it changes your mindset and it changes your training. And feeling like an athlete is just so big for so many people that I think it’s worth experiencing at least once.

Yeah. I like what you said there as far as the mental side of it. And I think that’s what that barrier of entry is for a lot of folks, is the fear of the unknown. So if you can, let’s go a little bit deeper there as far as who are fitness competitions for?

I think especially people who– you should probably already be in a routine at this point. Like it’s usually not someone’s first step in or first entry in because that can feel really scary right away. But once you get in and you start exercising, you start getting into it, it can often re-energize or reignite the process for people. And it’s just it’s going to help change your narrative about yourself. I call it like the story you tell yourself.

And so many people don’t identify as athletes or even as people who exercise, even despite the fact that they start doing it. And there’s something about getting on a start line, or completing an event and getting that medal, or getting the post on Instagram at the end of the thing or whatever it does, that truly changes how you view yourself and the story you tell yourself.

You become a fit person. You become an athlete. And when you become an athlete, it changes how you think about yourself very significantly. So again, it’s for anybody. It’s for the person that’s ready to take that step or take that next step of their fitness journey.

One thing that I think is interesting about these competitions and often what it does is open additional doors to things. Because when we complete something like this or we meet our goal of doing that, we see the potential and the possibility for what’s next. So let’s talk about some of the other benefits of this from an individual level to even a collective level for people.

Yeah. I think to go collective first, I think one of the big benefits is it gets you into a new support system. What most people will find, especially, I like often smaller events like smaller running races because it’s easier to get to know the other people at it. Or when you get to something like a CrossFit competition, a powerlifting competition, these obstacle course races, there are small communities.

And you get to know people in that community. And then you become friends with them. And now you’ve got friends with the same goals and habits that you have. And you get this really built in support system that you didn’t have before that maybe really helps you make some of these changes. So I think community is hugely important.

The other big benefit to me, the thing that I’ve seen change and the thing that I’m most passionate about is to see people start to get really focused on the process of achieving the goal rather than the outcome. So we think of outcomes like weight loss, or body composition change, and there’s just so many variables there as we all know and we’re all probably at times thinking through those.

But when we start really focusing on the process of I need to get this many workouts in and I’m looking at performance, and I want to see this get better, it’s mentally way healthier most of the time. We can stop focusing on some of those other things. And at the end of the day, we get to the other side, we often find that we’re in a better place than we were when we were more focused on those body composition oriented goals.

I love that. It’s like getting lost in the journey and having fun along the way in the process. And then you’ve got to mention a few of them as far as like some CrossFit competitions, whether it is 5K race. The preparation is always going to be key. And what I always ask myself, I know I’ve done a few events myself in competitions as well. How would you know which is the right event for an individual?

How should they go about that process? Because you’ve got a lot. Like you just said, the community. And a lot of individuals might want to go do this race but if this individual or individuals have yet to prepare for it, that can kind of be almost disheartening. Or now they don’t want to do any future ones because of how they perform. So how would someone go about knowing what event is right for them?

Yeah. I think the first step is, does this idea get you excited? And forever, I think for a long time, there wasn’t a lot of options. There was only things like running races. So a lot of people didn’t do anything because that’s maybe not exciting to them. It’s just not something they want to do. So you got to be excited about what you’re thinking about doing.

And then to me, it’s got to it’s got to scare you a little bit. And by that, I mean that could be like I think of competing or focusing has nothing to do with the speed you’re going or the pace you’re going as much as the outcome. So think of a 5K. Maybe someone never wants to run longer than that but they’re trying to run a really fast 5K. And that could be 15 minutes if they’re blazing fast or that could be 40 minutes if they’re brand new. But it keeps them on the edge of their ability.

There’s a little bit of question of, can I do it? Because to me, that’s the difference. There’s participating in an event, which I think is great. But that’s just kind of showing up and completing it, right? And getting the high five. And there’s competing in it, which is all about that edge of capacity, right? So it’s got to excite you a little bit. It should scare you to get you training correctly and get you focused on it, on the right things. And on getting the workouts in, and going to sleep, and getting your recovery, and your nutrition. It’s got to push you there.

And to me, especially the first time you do it, there should be a huge outcome associated with it. No one’s going to be great at anything the first time. You learn so much. So you’ve got to walk in with low expectations and just decide, did I enjoy this? Did I enjoy the process and do I want to keep doing it? And you know what I encourage? People to do as many as they can. Do different things. Jump in, try different stuff, and they’ll probably surprise themselves what they find they like.

Right. Well, I think what you’re saying there too is, I mean, yes, you want to have that element of fear and being at your edge but also there’s a joy in movement to make you want to keep coming back and doing it again and again. And I think that’s such an important part for really when you find movement of any sort that keeps you doing something. This is a kind of that next level of it from what I’m seeing. So one thing that you had mentioned is like when you’re at the edge of your ability, that also means that you have to swing the hammer a little harder a few times. So why is that important when it comes to this?

Yeah, absolutely I love that phrase. And it’s just this idea of there are just times that, especially once you start exercising. And you get into routine, and you’re eating better, and you’re doing all of these things, is you just got to get out of your comfort zone sometimes and work really, really hard. And a lot of it comes into just understanding what your body’s actually capable.

And so I’ve seen these things or these opportunities where someone will do a so for instance in a powerlifting beat. They’ll end up because of the adrenaline and all these things, they’ll lift 50 to 100 pounds more in a lift than they ever thought possible just because there was this excitement and there was something there. And it totally changes their preconceived notions of what they could do, right?

Or when they’re running and there’s people, around it’s so much easier to block out the how my body feels at this moment and have this really big PR. And that adrenaline, and that self accomplishment, and all those things of being able to do it is just powerful. But it’s just I think at times some people can get really almost concerned about their body like it’s too fragile or some of those things. And every once in a while, getting out really pushing the limits can be incredibly beneficial for understanding what you can really do. And having a great amount of respect for your body.

Yeah. I think even from a preparation standpoint, understanding as far as like the swinging of the hammer but the guidance behind that as well. And what I like to use, I use this phrase a lot as far as correction yields growth. And the best of the best when you look at them, they all had coaches.

And from that, the coach is able to see something that the athlete may not be able to see. And therefore, from that correction yields that growth. So what tools would you probably offer as well in this space to help get individuals started, to kick start them in a competition? What would you suggest there?

Yeah. I think you hit on the number one. It’s incredibly important to have a coach, to have someone that’s going to guide you through this process. And especially when we start to get to something like competition, it’s important to find a coach that’s actually done the thing and knows the rules, right? So it’s one thing to lift weights in the gym, in a fitness center. It’s a whole other thing to do a powerlifting meet, or a squad, a bench press, a deadlift under specific rules or commands or Olympic lifting, right? There’s a lot of specifics.

So you want to find a coach that actually knows about the specific style of competition with which you’re doing. And at minimum, if that’s not feasible to you or something, it’s at minimum find a community associated with it. So find a group of like minded people that can help do those things so you’re surrounding yourself with this particular sport or event that you’re looking for.

So getting a coach, having accountability. Have a plan and a program. And I know Danny, we’ve talked a little bit with you about, when you’re doing something like this, there’s the whole factor of like periodization in training. So I don’t know if you want to touch on that briefly.

Yeah, absolutely. So again, this goes back to this idea of really thinking of yourselves as an athlete and changing how you train. And again, focus on this outcome other than body composition is actually taking a set period of time. Often, you’ll see 12-week preparations or 16-week preparations where we’re actually moving an athlete through phases, right?

Often, it starts with a base phase where we’re building some general skills. And it moves towards a peaking phase where we’re really trying to focus in on whatever particular qualities. Whether that’s running, or biking, or something, or lifting weights. But we’re really changing our training over time. And we want to focus on that.

Again, I think what it does to people is it gets them out of their own head about looking for these short term results. It gets them focused on something else. And the end result ends up being often, again, a lot more mental health in some of those areas. But also significantly more fitness than they ever thought possible.

And I will throw out one other thing which comes to swing in the hammer that I do want to mention is, it’s usually in almost every scenario I’m going to encourage people to prep for an event and do some things. But if you’re finding yourself already fairly fit, and I’m going to suggest you’re working out a couple of times a week. You’ve been doing that for a year plus and you’re finding your little bored. One thing I don’t hate is having someone jump in.

There’s a 10-mile this weekend. I’ve never ran more than five. Let me see if I can do it. And again, it’s the right person at the right time. And that all goes back to this idea of just seeing what your body is capable, right? Pushing a limit, getting excited about it. And then I want you to go back the next time and actually prep for it. But if you’ve spent your life prepping, throw it out there and see what happens.

I love that. So I have one final question for you and then David, jump in if you have anything. But I want to know– I know you do fitness competitions. Do you have a favorite competition and a story you want to share from a fitness competition that might get somebody inspired?

Yeah. So I’m a fitness competition junkie. It should be said. This is clearly to represent I compete in everything. And I say this, I’m not great at anything, but I compete all the time. It’s the only way I can stay to a level of fitness. My first love when I was younger was strongman competition. Still the coolest thing that I’ve ever competed in where the World’s Strongest Man were trying to lift boulders and do all of these things. There’s a moment and it’s probably why I love them that’s burned into my mind.

When I started training for it, I thought I was really strong because in my college gym, I was pretty strong. Then I started training with these guys that were 300 plus pounds and incredibly big and fit. And my deadlift was 300 pounds less than the next closest guy, right? It just wasn’t– and they were the nicest humans ever. They never pointed that out. They were so wonderful about it.

But when I started training, I remember I signed up for a competition pretty early on their focus and it was about eight weeks away. And there was a deadlift for repetitions of that. And you had 60 seconds to do as many repetitions of a deadlift as you could and I think it was at 450 pounds. And the most I’d ever got lifted at the time was like 400 pounds. So I’m like, “I’m supposed to do multiple reps and I’ve never even done that weight.” So I trained for it, and I peak for it. At the competition, I still have never done it and I’m very nervous and I’ve got these butterflies.

And the guy says, “Ready, set, go.” I reach down. And I’m like, “I’m just going to try and see what happens.” And I pick it up, the bar flies off the ground. And there’s a picture, my mom took it. She got it perfectly, of the look of surprise on my face when the bar came off the ground. I had no idea. So I stood there and cheered. And one of my training partners had to say, “Keep going.” Because I was so surprised. And I ended up doing like six repetitions.

And that’s again, that’s where you learn like, “Oh, wow. I’m not bringing my full to the table every day. And here’s what you could do.” Now, also the next day I woke up and I’ve never been more sore in my entire life than I was after this thing. I thought I was going to die. But it’s burned into my mind. I think about it all the time and I’ve never made faster progress than those few months, all based on those ideas.

Wow. I love that story. I have one. It’s probably not in the same realm as far as lifting but mine was actually a cycling event.


Yeah. And it was a century ride but you had options of doing like the quarter, the 50, 75. So I was like, “Alright, I’m going to do 50. I don’t do much cycling. Let me go ahead and probably knock out 20 miles here, 30 here.” So what happened was, this is where ego can get in the way of things too. When I got to the 50-mile marker, I was like, “Oh, that wasn’t that bad.” I think I’m going to go for the full 100. Man, let me tell you.

I still remember very vividly in my head. It was around mile marker 81 that everything just felt like slow motion. And at one point in time, because we’re in a group. And whenever you pat the helmet, it’s for you to either go to the back so they can drift off of you or whatever it may be.

And I got myself to the front and I was ambitious. I’m like, “Alright, I’m going to lead. I’m a leader right now. I’m going to lead.” And then when I tapped my helmet, and I just kept going back in the crowd. They just kept going. And then I started– I felt like I was hallucinating a little bit. I was like, “Did I just pass that?”

So long story short, got it done. But to your point, it felt like it was the most accomplishing thing ever once I was done. And to push yourself mentally in that space. And when I was alone at that one point in time, it’s like, “What are you going to do?” It was eye opening. And it’s the greatest feeling in the world. So I strongly encourage when you say I think you use the word like jump. Just jump.

Yeah. There could not be a better example than that, David, of just the dive in the try it. Again, you caught ago but challenge yourself in that way. And the lows you’re going to have, the highs you’re going to have. Go through it then that and the things you learn about your body, there’s nothing that– it’s indescribable until you go through it. That’s great. I didn’t know. I thought we’ve done some cops together. We’ve jumped in a few together. I had no idea though you’re a cycling– that you’ve done some cycling.

You too. You’re inspiring me to actually do more than what I’ve done, which is like, I’ve completed a couple half marathons and that was really hard. And when I finished my half marathon, I will tell you this, I was like you should do a marathon first because then you don’t have to double it. So I will never do a marathon. But I do have other ambitions. I want to do some lifting stuff so I might have to get your guys’ ideas on this.

I will throw a plug up. Let me throw one before we go. I’ve mentioned it a few times. Power lifting seems like it’s this world full of gigantic humans you need to. It is one of the easiest intros in. It is the most supportive community you could ever imagine. It’s easy to scale up and down. You’ve got to build a squad of 45 bar to depth.

You’ve got to be able to pick up a 45 pounds bar from the ground and bench press it. And I have seen the loudest cheers for some of the lowest weights ever, right? It has nothing to do with it. I watched a 75-year-old lady deadlifting 100 pounds and it was through the roof. You’d have assumed that there was a professional doing something while this was going. So it’s a great community.

It’s easy to get involved in. And it’s so controlled in that weights are calibrated and everywhere that it’s easy to come back to and see how your progress is going. And one of the coolest parts of the sport is over time, it used to be a really male dominated sport. You’re seeing more and more females jump in to where it’s 50/50. I’ve seen some that are 60/40, 70/30 females. So it’s a super cool thing to jump into that people wouldn’t think of but works. It works really well.

Oh. Well, OK, I might be contacting you separate from this podcast for some local things.

Yeah, I’m in. I’m really good at convincing people to compete in stuff. Just going to toss it out.

What did I just do? That’s what I want to know. What did I just do? So–

And you’re going to have a blast. It’s going to be good.

And my shameless plug, I know I have it on right now, Alpha. It is actually 60/40 as far as females holding that 60 spot as far as the demo. So females are definitely coming into this space more.

David, I’m glad you said it. I should have right away– I got to be honest. The whole reason we’re on this podcast, we’re thinking of talking about competing. Was that happened to the conversation with my wife and I after a Minnesota Alpha showdown. There was an Alpha showdown happening locally. Our clubs here put it together. It was phenomenally done. And just watching people compete who you never think of. That was a true– so that’s a perfect example. I feel terrible that I hadn’t already thought of it because it was the initial inspiration for this conversation. So many cool options.

Well, Danny. We’re at time here but thank you for coming on. I know people can find you on Instagram. What’s your handle?

It’s @dtraining.

OK. Perfect. So follow Danny. We’ll have a link to that in the show notes along with some other resources to help people along if they’re interested. So Danny, thanks again for coming.

Thank you both so much for having me on.

Thanks Danny.


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