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Your First Powerlifting Meet

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#1 Jim McDonald


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Posted 22 September 2011 - 04:24 PM

How to Prepare to
Smash F’n Weights in
Your First Powerlifting Meet

Cara Westin – www.GetFnStrong.com
You’ve been lifting heavy for a while and want to test yourself on the platform. Are you ready to enter your first powerlifting meet? Are your numbers good enough to enter a meet? There is only one answer to that question, no matter who you are, YES! Powerlifting is at its core an individual sport. We all lift to set new personal bests, and the only way to really do that is to get out there and compete against yourself. What you learn at your first meet, and every meet thereafter, will help you to refocus your training to make you stronger.

So how do you prepare in the days, weeks and months before the meet in a way that gives you the best chance for a successful performance? Here are some ideas to get you there:

Posted ImageStan Efferding - Ultimate Raw

Raw or Gear?  Most people start out raw. Unless you are lucky enough to have a powerlifting group or team like Super Training nearby, it will be a challenge to use gear on your own as a beginner. Besides, gear is expensive. Raw lifting has become very popular and extremely competitive, so it is a great place to start. Don’t sit around being a spectator. Challenge yourself and get some numbers on the board!

Once you’ve been at it for a while, you may decide raw is for you. Or you may look at all that gear and the big lifts with lust in your heart and a grown-up checkbook. Once you decide to move into geared lifting, the choices are endless. Single ply or multi ply? Which shirt is best for me? Tight in the hips or legs? Inzer, Metal, Titan or Overkill? We gear whores are constantly searching for the perfect combination to get that illusive PR.

Whatever you decide about gear will effect what meets you choose to do. You will need to make sure the type of lifting you do is offered at meets near you. At Super Training, we run meets sanctioned by the Southern Powerlifting Federation (SPF). It is one of the few, or perhaps only, federations that offer raw, single ply, and multi ply divisions at the same meet. We are also able to offer the very popular Crossfit division in California, which gives Crossfit competitors an opportunity to test their training and lift against each other. (The CrossFit division is for raw, full meet competitors who belong to CrossFit gyms.)

Posted ImageDonnie Thompson - Ultimate Gear

When you have identified a meet and organization, you should go to that organization’s website and take a look at their rules. Each organization has slightly different requirements with regard to wrist and knee wraps, and the commands for the lifts.  (The SPF rulebook is here.)

Another decision is whether to do the full meet (squat, bench and deadlift) or bench only or bench and deadlift only (push-pull). Unless you have a physical limitation that would keep you from squatting in your first meet, do the full meet. You’ll be happy you did.

Selecting your first meet. Now that you know what kind of lifting you’ll be doing, you can look for a meet that offers the division you are looking for. Ideally, find a meet within easy driving distance so you are not struggling with travel issues as well as a new competition. It is also very important to select a meet that is new-lifter friendly. When you have identified a meet you are interested in, contact the Meet Director. If this is a good meet for first timers, the Meet Director should let you know. A good Meet Director will be able to give you advice on preparing, and may be able to hook you up with an experienced handler at the meet to guide you through. Many new lifters have been handled by Super Training pros at our meets! Here is a good resource for finding a meet near you.  Also, remember to get your entry in by the deadline! 

Posted ImageLisa does her best to make this singlet look good.

Virtually all organizations require that you wear a wrestling singlet when lifting. Make sure you have one or purchase one in plenty of time for it to be shipped to you. Google “wrestling singlet” for sites that sell them. You may also be able to find a store that sells them locally, but don’t count on it. There’s really no downside to buying a somewhat larger size than you might think you need. Don’t waste a lot of time trying to find a stylish one. There is no such thing.

Train Like You Fight, Fight Like You Train!  In the weeks and months before your meet, train to succeed on the platform. Make sure your squats are hitting depth, have someone give you the commands you’ll be getting on the platform, and don’t drop the weight from the top of your deadlift. If at all possible, train with experienced lifters who can critique your lifting.

Practice using the gear you will compete in. If you will use knee wraps, wrist wraps or knee sleeves on the platform, make sure you use them in training, at least for your last few heavy sets.

Make a Checklist.  Create a checklist of everything you will need at the meet. (Check the rules again for this.) Include all the gear you will use, as well as anything else you might need. (The list will grow with each meet.)  Remember to pack liniments, aspirin, food, water and sports drinks. A powerlifting meet will last all day and you may not be able to get food at the venue. Make sure to pack foods that you are accustomed to. Meet day nerves wreak havoc on the insides, so that is not a good time to pack those spicy Indian leftovers in the ice chest.

You will need to time when you eat and drink. Most lifters eat their largest meal after they squat and eat light the rest of the day. You will not want to squat or deadlift with a full stomach.

Pre-Meet Rest. It is a good idea to give yourself one full week of rest and recovery prior to the meet. This period of inactivity is tough for some lifters, but it really is essential for most people. You should continue to stretch and do any necessary rehab during that week.

Weigh Ins.  Most meets offer several weigh in times. Many federations, including the SPF, offer weigh ins up to 24 hours before the meet. The more time before the weigh in, the better chance a lifter has of regaining any weight cut to lift in a particular weight class. It is generally not a good idea to worry about cutting weight for your first few meets, though. Unless you are within a pound or two, lift in whatever weight class is natural for you. Your first few meets need to be about getting experience on the platform and setting baseline numbers. You will use these to guide your future training. Cutting weight is an art and if done incorrectly can destroy you physically and ruin your chances of having a good day.

Gear Check? Some federations also have a “gear check” at the weigh in (the SPF does not), but you’ll want to find out ahead of time if one is required and bring all the gear you’ll wear on the platform with you to the weigh in. Some are even concerned with what kind of underwear you plan to wear (again, the SPF is not). The SPF does, however, require that you wear long socks when deadlifting in the meet (and as mentioned above, a wrestling singlet for all three lifts when lifting raw and the bench when lifting in gear).

Posted ImageGive them your next attempt!

Choosing and Reporting Attempts. You will get three attempts each in the squat, bench and deadlift. You will need to give your “openers” when you weigh in. “Openers” are your first attempts and should be a weight you can lift easily with technical correctness. A good rule of thumb is to open with a weight you can comfortably triple. For your first meet, focus on successfully completing as many attempts as possible. The more lifts you make, the more fun you’ll have. If you leave some weight on the platform in your first meet, you can get it next time.

Immediately after your first and second attempts, be sure to let the scoring table know what your next attempt will be. Remember that you can never choose less weight for your next attempt. Most meets, including those run by Super Training, use kilo plates rather than pound plates. Kilo conversion charts will be available to help you convert from pounds. (Kilo plates are calibrated so that the weights on bar during the meet are exact and accurate.)

Be aware that the order of lifters in the flight is determined by the weight of each attempt. The order is LIKELY TO CHANGE during the second and third attempts. Generally an announcer will repeat the names of the next three to four lifters after each attempt. Listen closely for your name so that you’re ready to take the platform when the bar is loaded.

Read the meet entry, and be on time! Late arrivals can delay the start of the meet and are not fair to other athletes who are preparing lift.

Be at the Rules Briefing and Ask Questions.  The rules briefing is usually held within an hour before the scheduled start of the meet. Listen closely and be sure you understand the instructions being given. If you’re confused about something, don’t hesitate to ask questions. Chances are you’re not the only one who needs clarification. The judges want you to succeed and they will make sure you understand what they’ll be looking for. Good sportsmanship is always expected, and remember there are usually children in the crowd, so don’t swear on the platform.

Posted ImageIf you miss a squat, don't dump the bar. Stay with it and the spotters will help you.

Warmups.  Before the meet starts, flight lists will be posted. This will tell you which group you are in. Know how long it takes you to warm up and be ready for your first attempt. (You should have your warmup plan prepared in advance.) Take your time warming up. The warmup is not a workout. You are preparing your body for a max effort attempt on the platform. You will already be nervous. Don’t exhaust yourself in the back room. All of us at Super Training have at least one story about watching someone warm up to their opener…and sometimes beyond. Don’t be that lifter.

Help! You should bring with you any handlers you need. If possible, they should be people who train with you and know how to assist you with your gear, knee wraps, bench liftoffs, etc. They can also give your next attempts to scorer’s table. Powerlifters are some of the nicest people on the planet (when they’re not on the internet). If you don’t have help, you will usually be able to find some one who can give you a hand.

On the Platform. Pay attention to the commands from the head referee (center chair) and follow them. There’s nothing more frustrating that completing a lift but not getting credit for it because you missed a command. (We see so many new lifters struggle or bomb because they are nervous and forget to wait for the commands.)

If you feel yourself losing a squat attempt, always stay with the bar. Don’t bail out and let the bar free fall toward the floor. Super Training meets typically have fantastic, experienced spotters. They’re there to protect you. If a bar hits the floor, the meet will be delayed while the bar is unloaded, returned to the rack and reloaded.

If you’re not sure why a lift was not passed by the referees, ask one. Be respectful, though, since refs are usually volunteers who are giving their time to a sport that they love. It’s also a nice gesture to thank them after the meet.

Now you’re ready. Put it all together on game day and set some PRs! Every competitive lifter has a first meet story and now you’ll have one of your own to tell. Some of the biggest lifters in the sport have some of the most humbling stories…but that’s a topic for another article.

Good luck and have fun in your first meet!

(Want to see what meets at ST look like? Check out these videos.)

Cara Westin, CSCS, is a certified strength and conditioning coach who offers individual strength coaching for athletes, powerlifters and law enforcement. She has 25 years experience as a powerlifter and 29 years in law enforcement. She can be contacted at Cara@GetFnStrong.com.

Edited by Jim McDonald. Pictures by Jim and Sam McDonald

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