Tips for Your First Powerlifting Meet

Over the years, I’ve seen countless first-time powerlifting competitors make the same mistakes.  Follow these tips to avoid those mistakes and have an awesome experience at your first meet.

  1. Know your federation’s rules and commands. Nothing will take the wind out of your sails more than lifting a weight only to have it turned down due to a technicality.  Ask an expert to go over the rules with you, or better yet read the rule book yourself.  Practice them in training so that they become automatic.  Common mistakes:
    1. Squat – not squatting deep enough (top of thigh near hip must drop below top of knee), failure to start the lift fully standing and under control, not waiting for the “rack” command before re-racking the weight. Some federations also have a “start” or “squat” command that you must wait for before descending.
    2. Bench Press – not pausing at the chest, dipping the bar after the pause, butt coming off the bench, uneven lock out, foot movement during the lift, not waiting for commands. The normal commands are “press” which is given after the bar becomes motionless on your chest, and “rack” which signals that you may re-rack the weight.  Some federations also have a “start” command that you must wait for before lowering the bar to your chest.
    3. Deadlift – Hitching or ramping (repositioning your body to gain leverage as the bar rests against your thighs), dropping the bar after it’s lifted, moving feet during the lift due to loss of balance, not waiting for the “down” command after the weight has been lifted.
  2. Select easy opening attempts. You’ll have three attempts for the squat, three for the bench press, and three for the deadlift.  If you fail all three attempts on any of the lifts, you will “bomb out” of the meet, meaning you are done for the day and receive a zero total.  As a rule of thumb, your first attempt should be a weight that you can do for three reps on a bad day.  Your second attempt should be a weight that you feel extremely confident you can lift for one rep based on how your opener felt.  Your third attempt should be very challenging and if all goes well a personal record.
  3. Don’t cut weight for the meet. You’ll have enough new things to worry about at your first meet without the added pressure of losing body weight and trying to guess what it will do to your strength levels.  If you’re thinking of cutting weight to be more competitive in a lower weight class, realize that your placing at a local meet usually depends on who shows up more than anything.  Dropping to a lower a weight class is no guarantee of placing higher.  Save weight cuts for when you’re more experienced and trying to win best overall lifter or post an elite total or something of that nature.
  4. Peak for the meet. There are plenty of different peaking routines, but generally speaking you should train heavy in the weeks leading up to the meet and then take it easy the last 7-10 days so that your body is recovered and ready to go on meet day.
  5. Know what you’re allowed to wear. This goes back to your federation’s rules, so read them again.  Normally you must wear a singlet, long socks for the deadlift, and if you wear a belt it may not exceed 4 inches in width.  There are also limits on the length of knee wraps and wrist wraps if you choose to wear those.  If you’re competing in the “raw” division, you may not wear any type of supporting suits/clothing including boxer or boxer brief underwear.  Some federations allow knee wraps in the raw division, while others do not but allow knee sleeves.  Read the rule book to be sure.
  6. Arrive early and plan to stay long. You should give yourself plenty of time to find the meet location, get settled in, weigh in (if you didn’t do so the day before), and provide your rack height for the squat before the rules briefing starts. Meets can last anywhere from three hours to all day depending on the number of competitors and how efficiently it’s run, but 6-8 hours is typical.  Once you’re at the meet, try to find out how many “flights” of lifters there are and which one you’re in so that you have an idea of when you’ll be lifting.  A flight is a group of usually 10-20 lifters that lift together in rotation while the other lifters get a break.
  7. Stay nourished and hydrated. Do your best to eat a good breakfast before the meet, even if you have no appetite due to nerves. Pack food and plenty to drink so that you don’t become dehydrated during the meet.  Bring items that you’re used to eating/drinking – this is not the time to try a new pre-workout drink or food that you don’t know how you’ll react to.
  8. Bring a helper/handler. It helps to have someone you know give you a lift off on the bench, chalk your back for the squat and bench press, and run around getting you things that you may need during the meet. If you choose to compete in an equipped division, your handler can help you wrap your knees and get in and out of your supportive gear.  Ideally your helper will be an experienced lifter.
  9. Time your warm ups. Try not to start warming up too early or too late. I recommend adding 10-15 minutes to your normal arm up period to allow for sharing of equipment and the possibility that you’ll have to go sooner than you thought.  For example, if it normally takes you 20 minutes to warm up to your opening attempt, try starting your warm up 30-35 minutes before you expect to be called to the platform.  When will that be?  The meet announcer should let everyone know when the next flight will start, and you should know your position in your flight so that you can estimate how much time you have left.  Expect each attempt ahead of you take roughly one minute.
  10. Relax and have fun. It’s normal to have some nerves before and during the meet, but try not to let them overwhelm you and ruin your experience. If you’re prone to nerves, you probably won’t get a good night’s sleep the night before the meet, so a good strategy is to make sure to get a lot of sleep the night before that.  On the day of the meet, some nerves can help you lift more weight and hit a PR, but only of you harness that extra energy at the right time before your lifts.  Getting psyched too early or trying to stay hyped all day will just wear you out.  While you’re sitting around waiting for most of the day, consider striking up a conversation with some of the other lifters.  It will calm your nerves, and you might make some friends.  The competitors are usually friendly and happy to talk shop with fellow powerlifters.


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