by Mike Greaves
No matter what sport you participate in, a first competition can be both thrilling and nerve wracking. This is amplified in a sport like powerlifting because even though you might be on a team, you are alone on the platform (not counting spotters of course) with everyone watching you. For someone with stage fright, this might sound like a horrible experience, but when you get up there the world fades and it’s just you and the bar. When the subject of competition comes up at the gym, the most common thing I’ve found people say is that they want to be stronger first. In fact, that was exactly what I said when I first starting going to a powerlifting gym. The advice I was given is the same I’m giving all of you, if you want to compete, then there is no better time than now. Find a local competition, get out there and do it. You’ll never be “strong enough” and will always be worried about underperforming, but you are really only competing against yourself out there. To help ease the experience, I’m going to try and lay out what to expect and how best to strategize for your first meet.
Preparing during the weeks ahead
No matter what programming you’re using, prior to a meet you’ll want to adjust accordingly. You’ll want to start focusing on your single rep strength and less on volume. A powerlifting competition consists of three attempts each on squat, bench press and deadlift (in that order) for a total of nine lifts. The heaviest of each successful attempt counts toward your overall total. Three to four weeks out, you’ll want to complete your last really heavy single reps. This is especially true of the deadlift as it is the most taxing. Two to three weeks from competition you’ll want to start figuring out what your opening attempts will be. A very successful strategy taught by my coach, Todd Christensen, is to make your first attempt something you can easily do for 3 reps in the gym. This helps build confidence for the competition and assures that you won’t “bomb out” (miss all three attempts at the lift).
When working on these opening attempts you’ll want to have your workout partner go through the commands with you as well. Missing a command equals missing a lift in competition, so this is very important for squat and bench press.
The commands are:
• Start – This will be your indication to begin the squat after you’ve walked the weight out from the rack and are stable.
• Rack – After you lock out that squat and you’re feeling so energized from getting that PR, WAIT! If you don’t wait for the command, then you’ll get a missed lift for not following commands.
• Start – This is the same as the squat, the judge will wait for you to be stable and then will give you the go ahead.
• Press – After you bring the bar to your chest, there will be a brief pause before you press. Again, WAIT! The judge is looking for you to be stable at the bottom before you press.
• Rack – WAIT! (again…) This is where most people miss the lift. They are so excited for getting that lift that they don’t wait and miss the lift. Always wait for that command.
Once you’ve drilled the commands and you have your opening attempts figured out, the week (or sometimes two) before the completion is a complete deload. No lifting at all, just rest and eat.
Try to get a full night’s sleep the day before, which is often easier said than done. For most meets, you’ll likely be weighing in the day of competition. Despite what you’ll read about people cutting for competition and trying to make it just under the weight limit for their category, for your first meet just go with where you are. Even if you weigh 200 lbs and want to make it into the 198 class save it for another time. There’s no reason to add that extra stress to your day. Check your equipment (singlet, belt, knee/elbow sleeves, wraps, etc.) and make sure that it all is compliant for the respective federation you are lifting with. Be sure to pack food with you. A competition is a long process and very energy consuming, so you’ll want to be able to replenish throughout the day. I made the mistake of not bringing enough at my first competition and it really took a toll on my deadlift attempts. Having too much is better than not having enough! Once you’re all checked in, go check the board and find out when you’ll be lifting during your flight then head to the warm-up area and start getting ready. After you nail that first attempt, head back to the table and give your second attempt. Try to gauge how the first felt, or ask a training partner/coach how it looked and then give the second. I like to make my second attempt whatever my goal was for the meet that day, whether it is a gym max or some other weight. After you nail the second attempt, it’s time to go for broke and put in that third attempt. If you’ve made your first two then this is where you really push the envelope and go beyond. Make it realistic, but at the very edge of your ability. The most important thing is to get out there and have fun. Don’t worry about anyone else’s numbers and whether yours are higher or lower. You’re really only competing against yourself. We’re lucky enough that in powerlifting everyone is incredibly supportive of each other and there is a strong sense of camaraderie. Good luck!