So you’ve decided to enter your first powerlifting meet! Firstly – Congratulations! You’ve taken a step that plenty of people talk about taking but few actually commit to the idea. Well done. You won’t regret it.
Before we go any further into looking at some mistakes I’ve made and seen others make over the years I want to address one thing.
It’s ok to be nervous.
Every successful powerlifter you’ve heard of or seen on Instagram has been in the position you’re in right now. Nerves are a perfectly acceptable response to an unfamiliar and uncomfortable environment. As a lifter I’ve been competing since 2010 and I still get nervous before every meet I enter. As a coach I’ve been handling lifters at meets since 2013 and I probably get more nervous coaching than I do lifting.
You’re not alone.
Chances are you’re not the only competition virgin out there and you won’t be the only one who is nervous and scared. The five tips below should help you feel a little more relaxed and help you focus on what matters – lifting the most weight you can!
1 – Know the Rules
This seems pretty self explanatory however it’s so often over looked at all levels, not just the new/novice lifters. I can’t even begin to calculate the number of kilos I’ve seen left on the platform and, in some cases, competitions that have been lost because the lifter did not have a firm grasp on the rules. In my first meet I almost bombed out after getting red lights on my first two squats because they were high. Trust me, it’s not a nice feeling.
Powerlifting is a sport and like any sport there are some simple, easy to understand rules (e.g. don’t drop your deadlift at lockout) and there are some more complicated rules (e.g. how long to pause for on the bench press). Almost every powerlifting federation in the world has a rulebook that’s published and available online for you to read. The vast majority of the rules are very similar or identical across all federations however there are some minor technicalities that differ from federation to federation. At the Burley Strength novice competitions we follow the GPC Australia rulebook (which you can find HERE).
All good meet directors will generally have some kind of lifters briefing before the warm ups start. Make sure you attend this and don’t be afraid to ask for clarification on any rules you don’t understand. In the event you get a red light for any of your lifts make sure you ask the judge what the red light was for so that you know what you need to change. It’s your responsibility to know and understand the rules. Don’t miss out on that PR just because you didn’t read the rule book.
2 – Weight Classes Don’t Matter
If you ever happen to meet my youngest brother, David, ask him about my first powerlifting meet. He’ll happily recall the story of a younger and less bearded John attempting to cut weight using a combination of several metres of cling wrap and all of the hot water in the house for hot baths. Safe to say I was unsuccessful. The reason I failed? I had no fucking idea what I was doing.
One of the most common questions I get from novice lifters in the lead up to competitions is “What weight class will I be in?”.
It doesn’t matter.
Your first meet isn’t about setting world records, winning national titles and earning 1 million IG followers. Your first meet is an experience and an opportunity to try out the sport of powerlifting. The single worst thing you can do to ruin that experience is worry about your body weight and which weight class you’ll be in. I’ve seen so many lifters perform like shit on meet day because they spent the last 3 weeks of their training dieting in an attempt to lose weight.
It doesn’t matter!
Unless you’re an experienced lifter who’s either a) attempting to set/break national/world records or b) attempting to win at state or national championships you have no business trying to cut weight. It’s not only going to effect your performance on the day but it can also be very dangerous especially if done based only on guidance you found on T-Nation.
3 – Don’t Change Things
Acquired a new pre-trainer that you’re just itching to try out?
Don’t do it on comp day.
Your first competition should just be treated as an extended training session. In a similar vein to number 2, don’t try and move the world to improve your performance on the day. At best you might get a small positive improvement, at worst it can have a very negative effect on your performance.
Don’t drastically change your warm up routine.
Don’t try using knee wraps for the first time.
Don’t suddenly decide you need an expensive pair of squat shoes.
Don’t try a new supplement because the guy in the shop guaranteed you an extra 400% on your total.
Don’t go out and get your first deep tissue massage 2 days out from the meet.
Stick to what you know and what has worked for in training. Once you’ve got your first meet out of the way you can start to experiment with things however my advice is always to try it in training before you implement it in competition.
4 – Be Conservative
As I mentioned above your first competition is not about changing the powerlifting world as we know it. Too often I’ve seen lifters come out of the gates with an opening attempt that is at or above their best gym lift and fail. Often these failures end up in the lifter bombing out and having a terrible time at their first meet.
When I coach a new lifter through their first competition the goal is always to go 9/9 meaning they are successful in every weight they attempt. In some cases that might mean that we don’t go above the numbers we’ve hit in the gym though most people benefit from the extra adrenaline of competition day and can often hit more. Don’t desperately search for a PR that isn’t there. Remember that this is your first competition so every lift is a new PR!
Your first attempt (or opener) for each lift should be very conservative. No one remembers your opener unless you fuck it up. Pick a weight that you can do for a comfortable set of 3 in training, smash it and set the tone for the day! If you come out for your opener and it’s slow and heavy you’re going to go into your second attempt lacking confidence and doubting yourself. If you absolutely smoke your opener you’ll be confident and ready to smash your second and third attempts.
5 – Have Fun
This is pretty self explanatory but you’d be surprised at the number of people who forget this. Sports (especially amateur sports) are supposed
to be fun. Whether this is your first or your fiftieth meet you should be having fun.
Make new friends. The powerlifting community in Australia is, without a doubt, the most supportive sporting community I’ve ever been a part of. Find someone in the warm up room who looks as nervous as you feel and say hello.
Don’t take everything too seriously. Sure you might miss a lift or two, maybe you don’t get that PR you were hoping for. It’s ok to be disappointed about it but don’t let it ruin your day. There is always another meet coming up that you can compete in.
Be nice to the judges/spotters/loaders/scorers. Powerlifting is run entirely by volunteers. I can’t express how awesome my Burley team are for giving up 9-10 Sundays every year to help me run powerlifting comps. They don’t get paid, they do it because they love the sport. Don’t be a dick. Treat them with respect and humility.
That just about covers the major areas I see new lifters struggling with in their first meet. Hopefully you’ve picked up a tip or two that will help you crush your first meet! If you have any questions or want to know more just get in touch!
Until next time,