This weekend I had the honor of coaching two amazing clients through their first powerlifting meet. Shayna and Bill both train with me at 212 Health & Performance and we’ve been prepping for the USAPL Massachusetts and Rhode Island Open State Championships. They both crushed their goals, set some amazing PRs and cashed in all their hard work. Most importantly, they both had a great time and plan to compete again. Mission accomplished!
Shayna’s session saw over 50 females compete and I’m continually amazed at how the sport continues to grow. She benched over her bodyweight (115.7 pounds at a bodyweight of 113) and deadlifted an amazing 264.6 pounds (nearly 2.5 times her bodyweight)!
Bill met every single one of his goals, including benching over 200 pounds (209.4) and deadlifting over 400 (402.5). He had even more in the tank on his third deadlift!
Every time I step on the platform to compete or coach, I see recurring themes, both good and bad, that make the difference between lifters having a great experience or a bad one. Powerlifting is a fairly simple sport, and taking a few simple steps to ensure you have a great meet can make for a lifetime of lifting success. I’m sure many things on this list are not new pieces of information, but based on all the silly mistakes I saw this weekend, I know some people will learn from reading this.
Here are 10 ways to make sure you dominate the day at your first powerlifting meet:
1. HIRE A COACH
Easy for me to say, right? Self-serving son of a…
But seriously, just go watch a meet. Take note of how those flying solo are running around like decapitated chickens, taking care of all kinds of logistical things when they should really only be focusing on one thing: lifting the bar.
Those lifters with coaches (also called “handlers” in powerlifting circles) don’t have to worry about little things, like reporting attempts to the judges table, converted pounds to kilograms (for us non-metric folk) or wrapping their own knees. Imagine if an NFL player had to fill his own water bottles, paint the end zone, call the plays, give the halftime speech, inflate the footballs… wait, too soon?
While powerlifting isn’t the national juggernaut that football is, lifters should hire a coach – or at least enlist a friend – to handle the little things that can be distracting on meet day. Bill and Shayna only had to worry about lifting the weight and I took care of everything else. I wish I’d had the same experience at my first meet.
2. MAKE A PLAN AND STICK TO IT
Bill and Shayna both started working with me very close to the meet, about 6 weeks out. Usually 8 to 12 weeks is ideal, so time was of the essence. I drew up individualized plans based on their current strength levels and techniques, and they stuck to them to a ‘T’. Lo and behold, they both performed incredibly well and hit some big PRs. Had they gone in without a concrete plan – or strayed from the plan – there’s no way they’d have had the same degree of success.
Pick a meet that allows you ample time to prepare. 12 weeks is best, 8 is OK and 6 is doable (but not ideal). Whatever that plan is, stick to it. It’s tempting to deviate if you don’t feel like you’re getting stronger, but a good powerlifting prep program will have you peak at the perfect time (the meet!) and not before. There’s no use in setting a PR two weeks out if you falter on the platform.
3. SET GOALS
Bill and Shayna both set specific goals, trained for them and attained them. We made sure to set goals related to specific lifts (Bill’s 400-pound deadlift) and relative accomplishments (Shayna’s over-bodyweight bench press).
It’s easy to tell new lifters to just “get a total” or “go have fun,” but without specific goals, you’ll second-guess your attempts and won’t have an objective guide to your meet-day strategy.
4. OPEN LIGHT
There is no such thing as too light an opener. I repeat: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS TOO LIGHT AN OPENER. Your opener (your first attempt in the squat, bench and deadlift) should be so light that you could hit in on no sleep, with minimal supportive gear and explosive diarrhea.
Crushing your opener gives you confidence and lots of freedom to gear up for a heavy second and third attempt. Missing your opener handcuffs you from the start and can be a mental knockout punch. Plus, if you don’t hit each of your openers, you “bomb out” and are disqualified from the meet. So if you don’t complete at least one squat, your day is done early and you’re not allowed to bench or deadlift. I’ve seen it happen way too many times and it’s easily preventable.
5. DON’T CUT WEIGHT
Seriously, if you’re a first-time lifter, don’t cut weight. It sucks. It’s hard to do properly. You want your first powerlifting experience to be fun, not a soul-sucking, sauna-sweating misery-fest.
There will be more meets. You’ll have a chance to win your weight class and set records. But you have to walk before you can run. And you have to learn to lift well on meet day before you can lift well on meet day after sweating your ass off and chewing on ice cubes for 48 hours. It can wait.
6. KNOW THE RULES
Powerlifting rules vary slightly from federation to federation. Read the rule book. Ask a friend who’s competed before. Know what the judges expect for squat depth, bench press commands, singlets, knee wraps and everything else. Knowledge is power, and there shouldn’t be any surprises on meet day.
Then, practice how you play. Practice the commands in training. Pause your bench press reps. Squat to depth. Don’t cheat yourself.
7. BE PATIENT
Maybe the biggest mistake I saw this weekend was lifters going too fast, whether it was warming up, setting up for their attempts or jumping commands. Most powerlifting meets are slow because good lifters take their time.
Without fail, I walk into every meet and see lifters foam rolling and mobilizing 2 to 3 hours before they’re scheduled to lift. That’s ridiculous. These same lifters often start squatting in the warm-up rooms and ramp up to their top set in a hurry, only to sit around and wait for 20 minutes before their opener. They cool down, stiffen up and end up grinding their first attempt, wasting precious energy.
Once you’re on the platform, take your time. Most meets have a 60-second rule (i.e. you have 60 seconds after the bar is loaded to start the lift) and it’s rarely enforced. That’s a LONG time to set up for a lift, so don’t rush. Listen for the commands and be patient.
8. STAY CALM
Piggybacking on the previous point, staying calm and keeping your emotions in check are the only ways to perform consistently over the course of a long day. Psyching up like a Tasmanian devil, yelling at judges and freaking out about missed lifts are quick ways to sap your energy and look like an asshat.
Adam Pine is one of the best lifters and calmest lifters I know. He writes about the importance of composure here.
It’s totally fine to be excited, jacked up and in the moment. But that moment is when you’re lifting, not berating judges or making people uncomfortable in the warm-up room.
9. MAKE FRIENDS
I’ve never left a meet without making at least one new friend. Make it a priority to befriend fellow lifters, help each other in the warm-up room, congratulate EVERYONE and just be a nice person. With emotions running high all day, there’s no use in spending energy being negative or anti-social.
This weekend, I ran into a handful of Strength House lifters and it feels amazing that our sport helps keep us connected.
10. LEARN FROM YOUR MISTAKES
Mistakes make us better as long as we learn from them. And powerlifting meets are prime places of learning because I see a lot of mistakes. If you jump a command, you’d best learn and never miss one again. If you bomb out, remember that empty feeling and pick your openers better next time. If you miss a squat because of depth, squat lower during your next training cycle.
Event + Respone = Outcome
You can’t necessarily control the events around you, but you can control your response, which will surely affect the outcome.
GO OUT AND COMPETE
I hope this post inspires those of you who were considering competing for the first time to go out and do so. And I hope it helps prevent some common mistakes that can take the fun out of lifting.
Want to hire me as your coach to prepare your for your first meet? I’m currently accepting online clients who plan to compete within the calendar year. Click the above link for more information.