I’ve been Powerlifting for five to six years now and I’ve competed in about as many meets. It’s gotten to the point where the fear has faded and I’m confident I know what to do. It’s quite freeing really. I can focus less on my own nervousness and more on performing or helping others perform. Some Powerlifters will use a handler, someone who knows what to do and when to do it. But for the rest of us we have to both lift and handle ourselves. It’s my goal with this guide that you’ll be able to approach the meet as if you were a more seasoned competitor.
The Night Before
The meet actually starts the night before. I say this because this is where you set yourself up for failure or success. The first and easiest way to begin preparation is to put all of your equipment into a gym bag and organize it in such a way that it’s easy to pull out and put back in. Here’s a short checklist of things you should bring:
- Knee high socks (for deadlift)
- Ankle socks
- Wrist wraps
- Shoes (Squat and Deadlift)
- Knee sleeves
- Foam roller
Food is the next important aspect of the night before. I like to have a large dinner, something hardy that will stick. A burrito or a steak works well for this. Plenty of carbs included. Then I’ll go to the store and buy food for tomorrow’s meet. Usually I don’t have a big appetite on meet day so I’ll stick to carby snacks like pop tarts or fruit snacks. I like to drink gatorade and so I’ll make sure to buy plenty.
Sleep is the last important part of the night before. If you don’t usually have trouble sleeping you can skip this paragraph but I usually have trouble sleeping before an important day. The fact I don’t sleep also increases my neuroses about the whole affair and so I make SURE I sleep. This usually involves taking something to knock myself out like benadryl. Make sure you know how you’ll react to something like this before you take it, especially when it comes to performance. You don’t want to take this if you expect it to affect your strength.
Lastly you should familiarize yourself with the rules of the federation you are competing in. Most federations have rule handbooks easily available online. If all else fails a quick google search should bring it up.
The Morning Of
You should have an indication of when to arrive at the meet. This will usually be explained by the meet director in some fashion. Usually you’ll want to arrive when weigh-ins start, if not before. For those of us who do not have handlers meets are usually days full of running around trying to figure out what we need to do and then long periods of sitting. I recommend you get to the meet early that way you have plenty of time with which to do your running around. Doubly so if this is your first meet.
There are several things you’ll need to do upon arriving at the meet. You’ll usually be given a card on which you’ll write several things. Upon getting this card the ref will usually ask you for your openers. You should have these figured out ahead of time. The first thing you’ll need to get are your rack heights. These are the heights at which the rack or monolift will need to be set for your squat and bench. Usually there is a rack somewhere with a helper/referee helping individuals get their rack heights. This should take less than five minutes. Record these on the paper but also record these somewhere else. If you save these then it’s one less thing you’ll need to do at your next meet.
One thing to have on hand ahead of time is your federation membership info. Most meets are sponsored by a particular powerlifting federation and therefore require you to be a member. This usually involves paying a fee and signing up through their website. Some let you sign-up at the meet itself. Some don’t. You should find out what federation you’ll be competing in and sign-up before hand.
The next few things you’ll need to do are weigh-ins and equipment check. There will usually be lines for both of these so you should pick one. Equipment check will involve opening up your bag and showing all of your equipment to the referee one by one. They’ll sign your card and then you’re on your way. Weigh-ins work similarly although they may differ depending upon your federation (24 hour weigh-ins vs. 2 hour).
After you weigh-in and have your equipment checked you’ll likely have a bit of downtime. Use this to double-check whether you’ve forgotten to do anything. At some point the meet director will post the list of flights. Flights are groups of lifters, usually about 10, which will lift consecutively together. Flights are usually sorted from lighter to heavier bodyweights. Find your flight and write it down. This will be important when it comes to warm-ups.
Before lifting begins the head referee, usually the most senior ref, will do a rules briefing. In this they will give a quick overview of the rules and faults for all three lifts. This is worth paying to. While federations usually have a strict set of rules, each referee brings their own background to the meet. It’s worth understanding exactly how they interpret the rules.
If you’re not in the first flight you’ll spend some time watching the flights before you lift. This is another opportunity to watch the refs and understand how they call the lifts, the depth of squats their expecting, etc. Make note of mistakes that other lifters get called on and try not to make them yourself.
Sit tight until the flight before yours begins lifting. At this point you need to think about when to start warming up. Here’s a quick formula that should help you understand how long a flight will take to finish:
T = 1 min * Number of lifters in the flight * 3 lifts
So if there are 10 lifters in the flight it should take roughly 30 minutes for the flight to finish. Based on how long you normally take to warm up should give you and indication of when to begin. You should have your warm-ups determined ahead of time so you know exactly what to put on the bar. Another consideration is whether the warm-up room has pound or kilo plates. This threw me off at one meet. I was NOT used to calculating warm-ups in kilos and so I took a lot longer. This site is a plate calculator in kilos. Worst case you can pull it up on your phone.
When it’s time to warm-up try to find someone of similar height and similar strength to you and ask them if you can jump in! Most lifters are super friendly and have no problem sharing the bar during warm-ups. Most people will also appreciate if you help change and load the bar. While your warming up you should occasionally poke your head out and check out the screen to see how much time the current flight has left. This will tell you whether to slow down or speed up your warm ups.
Eventually lifting will commence! This is the whole point of the meet, what you’ve been training for up to this point. There will be an area off to the side of the platform in which you will wait until it’s your turn to perform. When you’re up next the announcer will say ” is on deck”. They will also usually indicate whose next by saying ” is in the hole”. Sometimes they’ll also indicate who is three out, etc.
When it’s your turn the helpers will change the weight on the bar, the referee will double check everything and then give you the indication “platform ready!” or “bar is loaded!”. Wait until they say this before approaching the platform. Once given the call you are free to setup and begin your lift.
The last thing to say as far as the lifting itself is WAIT FOR COMMANDS!! There’s nothing more disheartening/frustrating/embarassing than missing a lift because you fail to follow proper commands. If you have a friend/handler nearby you can have them call WAIT! Otherwise the best you can do is drill this into yourself. It can help to practice these commands during your normal training sessions before the meet.
After an attempt you’ll need to almost immediately let the referees know your next attempt. You’ll do so usually at the announcers table. It helps to have all of your attempts laid out in a notebook but anything can happen on the day so be ready to adjust. Also, be prepared to offer the attempts in kilograms. It helps to have a kilograms to pounds chart handy. Good meet directors will have this available at the table to help you make your decision.
If you’ve prepared well and understand all of the rules you should have a relatively easy time with the meet. It will still be stressful but less so having prepared. Hopefully you ENJOY the experience, make new friends, and come back with take aways to apply to your training. After all, nothing gives meaning to our training like competition!
Once lifting is over you should stick around for a while. Depending upon your federation there may be drug tests to be taken, and while usually not everyone is tested, failure to show up to a test results in disqualification! In addition there is generally an awards ceremony. You may or may not receive a reward but it’s fun to cheer and clap along with others when they receive theres.
Competing may not be for everyone but given the chance, most people will gain something from the experience. Whether it’s new friends, new medals, or new training tips competing is a worthwhile experience that we can derive much benefit from. I thoroughly recommend you give it a shot if you’re on the fence!