by Stephen Brindle
Are you getting ready for your first powerlifting meet? First off, my hat goes off to you for having the courage to get into a competition. I agree with Steel when he says, “It doesn’t count unless you do it in a meet!!” It’s one thing to say you bench 350 or 400 lbs at 24 Hour Fitness when your butt comes up higher than the ceiling and your meathead spotter is putting his hands on the bar and doing an upright row to help you lock the bar out. It’s totally different to do a legit squat, bench, or deadlift in a respected powerlifting federation where the judges are strict and make you do legit lifts! I think anyone who lifts on a regular basis should get in a meet at some point. The following info should help you better prepare for your big day.
Watch a Meet
I recommend going to a meet in your federation before your actual meet. Not to lift but just to watch. This will help you to get a feel of the environment of a meet and to see how it is run. You’ll get a gauge for how strict the judges are and see what type of competition you are up against in your weight class. There will probably be a few beasts at the meet and this should spark some motivation in you to train harder and smarter. It will also allow you to meet some other lifters and coaches. There are plenty of powerlifters out there that will be happy to share information with you and give you some advice for preparing for your meet. There are others who are just arrogant dirt bags and will act too cocky to even look in your direction. Don’t let that bother you-just lift more than them!!!
Understand the Rules Before You Arrive
Make sure you know the rules of your federation before you get to the meet. Powerliftingwatch.com has lists of all upcoming meets. When you find the meet you want to enter look at the entry form closely to see the specific rules and if you have questions email the meet director. There is always a rules briefing the day of meet but it’s smarter to TRAIN according to the rules before you get to the meet. Each federation is a tiny bit different but here are some general rules that most federations have.
Squat deep in your training all the time! Whether its 135 or 500 lbs. I compete in the USAPL and the judges are strict with depth and want you to get your butt below your knee. Kill your first attempt and sink it deep to let the judges know that you know how to squat. I call squatting deep like this “Scuba Diving”!! If you are not squatting to this depth now you'll need to start to do so- you won't be able to just magically get deep the day of the meet. The commands on the squat are just "DOWN" and "RACK". Make sure you wait until the judge tells you to rack the weight or they won't count it. I've seen people screw up on some nice squats before by not waiting for the rack command.
On the bench press the judges are very strict as well. The commands on the bench are "Down", "Press", and "Rack". They are real strict with these and sometimes make you pause for a while. I recommend pausing on all your bench press reps in training on any set that is 5 reps and under. If you are doing volume work with higher than 5 reps I don't think pausing benefits much. Have a training partner or spotter start giving you those commands about 3 weeks before the meet during each bench press set.
As far as the deadlift goes there aren't too many rules. Just lock out at the top and don't hitch the bar. Also, you have to come down with the weight as well so do not drop the bar after you lock out. They make you wear high socks at about knee height (to prevent people from scraping their shins and getting blood on the bar)
Week Before the Meet
The week before the meet I don’t recommend doing anything taxing. If you are someone who takes longer to recover I recommend doing nothing at all. Most people will suggest doing nothing at all the week of the meet. I personally tend to recover pretty quickly and like to do some short lifts the week of the meet. This is mainly psychological and helps me to get my mind right. It helps me to keep my confidence up by rehearsing my set up on my main lifts with light weight. These lifts will be done early in the week (Monday or Tuesday) and normally consist of just squatting and benching for 3 sets of 3 at 70%. I normally don’t do any deadlifting at all the week of the meet because it takes me longer to recover from it. After this I may do a few real light dumbbell assistance exercises to get some blood flow to my muscles. I’m aware that you do not make any strength gains whatsoever the week of the meet. All of those gains should already have been made in your training. Later in the week I recommend doing a dynamic warm-up and lots of foam rolling. This helps to get rid of any knots you may have in your muscles and will make you feel fresh when you get to the meet. It’s a great feeling when you get to the meet and your legs and back aren’t sore or tight and you can move freely without any pain. You should feel 100% recovered on the day of the meet. You want to be hungry to lift at the meet so be smart this week and don’t do too much!
Day of the Meet
When you get to the meet the first thing you’ll have to do is get your rack heights for the squat and bench. After this you will weigh in. Hopefully you’re at the weight you want to be (Cutting weight would be a whole other article). You have to give the judges your opening attempts on each lift when you weigh in. The time frame for weigh-ins is usually an hour and thirty minutes. After this there will be a rules briefing. Although you should already have looked up the rules I recommend all new lifters go to this to make sure you see how the judges will be controlling the meet. Next you have to find out what flight you are in. Make sure you pay attention to when your flight is going and to when your next attempt is. Also, have your next attempts planned in your mind before your first attempt. After your first attempt you only get 1 minute to tell someone at the table what your next attempt will be.
Plan your opening attempts a few days before the meet. I recommend picking conservative weights on the first attempt (around 90% of your max- something you could smoke for 3 reps). This will build your confidence and allow you to try for some PRs on your 2nd or 3rd attempts. Have fun and hit some PRs!! I guarantee you It will be a memorable experience, Make sure you enter into “Monster Mode” as Christi says and you’ll be fine!
Checklist for the Meet (Pack your bag the night before the meet)
- Squat suit or bench shirt if going equipped
-Training log with warm up sets and your opening attempts written down
-Knee Sleeves (if you are going raw)
-Knee Wraps (if you are going equipped)
-Wrist Wraps (wrist straps are illegal but wrist wraps are legal)
-Shoes (Chucks or a flat soled shoe)
-Socks- (bring a few pairs; normal ones and a high pair for deadlift)
-Baby Powder- to put on your thighs while you deadlift (helps the bar slide up the legs)
-Hoody (to keep you warm backstage)
-iPod- to get you hyped up backstage and during warm-ups
-Plenty of food: peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, chocolate milk, bananas, sandwiches, peanuts, energy drink, protein drinks, etc (The meets can be like 5 hours long and you want to stay energized)
-Training partner or friend who can help put your belt on and put on plates during your warm-up sets
Stephen Brindle is an Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at the University of Pennsylvania. He’s competed in several powerlifting meets and recently placed in the top 10 at the USAPL Raw National Meet in the 220 lb class. (Squat 507, Bench 374, Deadlift 568)