Your First Competition

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Many people often tell me they like the idea of competing but they’re not ready for it. I’ll always tell them “there’s only one way to find out.” Like most things don’t waste time waiting for the “right time”, because, in truth, there never is a right time. Speak to any powerlifter and they will all tell you they wish they had started earlier than they did. Your objective for your first meet is to enjoy it & experience it. “I think the reason most of us compete is not to compete against someone but to compete against ourselves.” And your first powerlifting competition should embody this, out-do yourself, test yourself. Set your attention to meeting the judging standards and listening to the referee’s commands. Setting your mind to winning, qualifying totals or records will only add to any nerves you may already have.

“I’d much rather have a first time lifter walk away and tell me “I could have lifted way more!” than to walk away having bombed out on squats because they didn’t hit depth” It’s worth noting at this point that you don’t want to overshoot your openers; don’t go too heavy.

Now I’ve convinced you to compete we can go over some of the finer details. Like where to start finding a competition? Start by going to; then click the link to your region to find out information on competitions local to you (Note England is divided into divisions, check out the map to see which one you’re in).

Once you’ve decided which competition you need to decide which weight class you’re going to be in. Don’t try and cut weight to make the next class down, this will add unnecessary stress to your first competition. Dropping weight may also rob you of energy during the final weeks of training. Not something you want going into your first competition. Look to compete at the bodyweight that you train at.

Now that you’ve signed up for a competition it’s time to specify your training. When training make sure you’re following the commands for each lift. Missing the referee’s commands is something I see a lot with first-time lifters. So be sure to execute each lift under strict commands as per competition rules. It can be very disheartening to finish a squat or a bench press, only to fail because you jumped the command (re-racked the bar before the “rack” command).

Come meet day it’s important to get there early so you can get your bearings, then run through this little checklist.

  • Rack height: You can go and choose your preferred rack height for squat and bench press. Doing this makes sure that the platform crews have the rack set up ready for your lifts.
  • Weigh in: You’ll need to weigh in between a certain time (e.g. 8:30-10:00). It’s at this time that you tell the referee your opening attempts for each lift (as well as your rack height if you’ve already done them). Step onto the scale and make weight!

Once weighed in you’re ready for the platform. You’ll need to find a rack and a small area to run through your warm-up routine. When warming up try not to overdo it. Often I’ll see novice lifters perform too many reps/sets that they’ve already completed a session by the time they’re called onto the platform. It can be helpful to write down your warm-ups beforehand so you have an idea of what jumps you want to take.

Here are some guidelines to help you that I use regularly with my lifters:
30% x 8-10, 45% x 5, 60% x 2-3, 70% x 1, 75% x 1, 85-90% x 1 (the % is the given number % of your opener, not of your true 1RM, this will waste energy).

Having a game plan for your warm-up can help reduce stress & time in the warm-up, conserving energy for the platform but it’s also helpful to have a game plan for your attempts. For example if your first lift is super fast and you’re feeling good, what jump will you take on the 2nd? It’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of emotion, make a mistake and jump too high or too low for subsequent attempts. Have a game plan and leave the meet with the powerlifting Holy Grail: 9 for 9 (this refers to the lifter achieving each attempt).

Food and hydration are obviously going to play an important role. Depending on how many people are competing would depend on how long the day is going to be, but if you plan for it to be a long day, then you’re prepared for any eventuality.
Much like your warm-ups you don’t need to do anything vastly different from what you’d do on a normal training day. If you start eating foods that you don’t normally eat and they have an adverse affect on your gut, you’re going to be kicking yourself for not sticking with what you knew worked. Most you’ll see will have some food for pre/post weigh in (a breakfast of sorts) to have before squats, then something sweet and maybe a caffeine drink during squats and bench press. Generally you’ll have a little gap between bench press and deadlift which will give you chance to take on some more food and, or caffeine if you so wish. But be careful not to overfill.

Finally, and this isn’t essential, but having someone there to keep an eye on the timing, telling you when to warm up, how many lifters are ahead of you and when to hit the platform can be invaluable. There will often be many people buzzing around on the day, which of course can be daunting but it’s also very exciting. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement, so whatever helps to keep you calm in training, do that on this day.

Remember to set your own goals. If it’s your first competition, it’s a personal record. Other competitors are focused on their own goals, so be sure to do the same. The crowd will get behind and cheer anyone who steps up to compete, expect a warm welcome to powerlifting…

You can motivate by fear, and you can motivate by reward. But both those methods are only temporary. The only lasting thing is self-motivation.

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