by Crystal Hammer
Watching a powerlifting meet before competing in your first one can be of great benefit and you will learn tons, but if you are too eager and don’t want to wait there are a few things you can do to prepare.
Choosing a weight class can seem daunting. You do have to choose your weight class when you register, but if you don’t make the weight you signed up for, then you just lift in the next weight class up. Trying to cut for a powerlifting meet can really sap your strength, especially if it’s more than a few pounds. If you are just one or two pounds over, then yes you can employ a few tricks like not drinking or eating before weigh-ins, and choosing the morning weigh-in instead of the night before (by default you don’t eat or drink in your sleep so will be a little lighter in the morning), or by cutting out some refined carbs for a few days beforehand to lean up. Beware the sauna as it can make you too dehydrated – you don’t want to be nauseous right from the start.
Look into a “peaking” program. There are many to choose from and it doesn’t hurt to have a coach to help you set one up. Regardless of the amount of help you have, don’t just do the same routine for weeks leading up to a competition. Hitting a peak sets you up for PR’s (personal records) because ultimately, you are competing with yourself as much as other contestants.
Don’t forget your singlet! Wrestling singlets are the cheapest and easiest to find and are in most sporting goods stores, but more flashy ones can be found online. You also need knee-high socks to deadlift in. If you’ve ever tried to pull a heavy PR in shorts with no socks before, you will understand. If you are used to lifting in long pants this is especially important to remember.
Don’t max out on your warm ups. Get to a point just below your first attempt. Warming up at a competition can also be different than what you are used to. Please don’t do 10-20 reps here. I warm-up with high reps at the gym myself, but now is not the time. Do a few reps each as the weight progresses up. If you are left waiting a long time, feel free to knock out a few singles. Sweat, breath hard, but don’t kill yourself on warm ups.
You will have three attempts for each lift you will be performing. Some competitions have options for bench only, or are just bench and deadlift. Others are all three: squat, bench, and deadlift. On your first attempt in any of them, choose a weight you can do for reps on any given day. You want to have something on the score card. If you fail all three attempts, you will get DQ’d (disqualified) from the entire competition! Once you have that first solid lift down, the second attempt can be to match your PR or set a new one. Be careful though and don’t get greedy, huge jumps in weight from overconfidence or the adrenaline speaking can get you. If you make the second attempt use your best judgment for the third; now is the time to bump that PR up a little or to just go for something crazy!
Read the rules of the federation a few times over. Each federation is different and will have different rules. This is especially important when listening for commands. Often when your name is called, you only have a minute to start your lift. If you need to chalk up or adjust anything, this time will fly by. Sometimes you have to wait for a “bar is loaded” command to start. This isn’t even to mention all the various commands you are given to lift, press, and rack the weights that vary with each federation. Read the rules and even practice them in the gym in the weeks leading up to a comp.
Know who the judges are and where they are positioned. There are often spotters there to help you, but these are not the judges. Generally there are three and at least two of them have to say it was a fair lift for it to count. If you fail a lift, these people are your friends and are often more than happy to tell you what you did wrong. Don’t get upset, and listen to what they have to say.
Also, use those spotters! Don’t unrack the bench yourself; have them help you on a three-count or whatever you are used to. Let them help you guide the bar in after the squat if the federation allows it.
Once you are finished with the lift, make sure you walk over to the scoring table to tell them what your next attempt will be – I forgot every time at my first competition and they had to hunt me down. These are usually just volunteers doing their best, don’t make them hunt you down as they also have the option to just DQ you.
Bring snacks and drinks, even pack a nice lunch. You are going to be here all day, especially if you are doing all three lifts. On top of the time spent, you will also be burning massive amounts of calories and you are going to have to keep it up. Have you ever spent an entire day working out? It’s not just three lifts three times, its warm-ups and cool downs and staying on your top game for hours. Now is not the time for a diet, but please just make sure you eat foods your body is used to.
Record your lifts and post a write-up of your experience with videos to whatever social media you use. Even if it’s just a journal for yourself. You can critique your own form, or get an outside perspective. It’s also great to be able to look back and see how far you’ve come as you start to build your powerlifting experience.