In 2010 I competed in my first powerlifting competition. A small, unaffiliated competition hosted by a local gym.

That day changed my life forever.

I didn’t set any records.

I didn’t win anything.

To put it bluntly…

I sucked. 

Since that fateful day, I’ve competed in around 15 competitions, hosted nearly 40 and attended countless more. In a little under 8 years in the sport, I’ve made my fair share of mistakes, both as a lifter and subsequently as a coach. This blog is the first instalment of a 3 part series where I intend to tell the stories of my mistakes in the hope that you can avoid repeating them in your first meet.

Each of these lessons applies to powerlifters of all levels however I’m specifically aiming this series at first-time competitors. Enjoy!


Part 1: Do Your Homework

Powerlifting can, for the uninitiated, be a confusing sport. If your exposure to powerlifting is limited to clips on Instagram you’re probably going to be a bit out of your depth when you arrive for your first meet.

I know I was.

When I entered the gym for my first meet I was overwhelmed and a little bit confused. I’d never attended a competition before. At the time there was maybe 1 competition a year in Canberra (for reference we now host around 8 meets a year at Burley). All I had to go on was what I’d read about online. Based on those articles I was assuming we’d have a very long day ahead and I’d prepared adequately by filling my bag full of high caffeine energy drinks and an iPod full of heavy metal. I was ready!

Spoiler alert: I was not ready.

I had 0 ideas about how the day runs or when I needed to start warming up. After stumbling my way through the arrival and basically copying what everyone else was doing I managed to get myself sorted and started warming up. As I came out for my first squat attempt I was feeling as nervous as I’d ever been before. Stepping onto the platform is nothing like lifting in the gym. After nearly 8 years of competing, I can happily tell you that feeling never goes away.

In the experience I’ve gained since I now know the best way to calm the meet day nerves is to nail your first squat and walk away confident that today is your day.

That is not how my day started. Before we delve into that story let’s have a quick look at powerlifting as a sport.

There is one lifter is on the platform at a time and there are 3 judges (one in front and one on each side). Judges give either a white light (good lift) or red light (bad lift). You need a minimum of 2 white lights for the lift to be passed. You also need to pass at least one lift in each discipline to receive a total and be considered in the competition results.

For my first squat, I received 3 red lights.

I had no idea what to do. I was so confident going in that I hadn’t even considered that I might miss my first attempt. After asking the judges it was determined that I had not squatted deep enough and that’s why I got reds. I wasn’t happy about this as I was certain I’d squatted deep enough. The judges must have been wrong however I couldn’t change it at that point so I did the only logical thing I could think of…

I went up.

The time came for me to hit my second attempt. I walked up to the bar far more nervous than I was for my first knowing the pressure was on and I was attempting a heavier weight. I un-racked and I was fairly certain I had buried it.

I had not. This time I got 1 white light and 2 red lights. Close but no cigar. This put me in a position that, having since experienced a couple of times, I would not wish upon any lifter. I had missed my first 2 squats and it was now or never. I had to be successful on my final squat or I was out of the competition. Not a fun place to be for a new lifter in their first comp. I was fortunate enough to get 2 whites on my third attempt and saved my day. To say I was relieved would have been an understatement.

I went on to finish the day with 5/9 successful attempts. Overall a pretty poor showing and definitely not the way I would have liked my first comp to finish.

What’s the moral of the story?

Do your homework. 

In all of the time, I’d been training for the comp (and for powerlifting in general) I’d assumed I was squatting deep enough. Apparently, I was wrong. Logic suggests that if you’ve never competed in a sport before it’s probably a good idea to do some research. Clearly logic was not enough to save me.

Powerlifting, like any sport, has a rulebook. Each lift (squat/bench/deadlift) has its own set of technical requirements. These requirements vary slightly depending on where/who you’re competing with. At Burley Strength comps we follow the GPC Australia rulebook (you can read that HERE). A good meet director should run a lifters briefing session at the start of the comp. I’d strongly suggest you do what you can to attend that and make sure you ask questions if you’re confused about anything.

I was not the first novice powerlifter to miss a squat on depth and I was definitely not the last. It is still the most common mistake I see from new (and sometimes experienced lifters). Other common mistakes include not waiting for the calls, not pausing the bench press on the chest and hitching or lapping the deadlift. All of these are relatively simple to avoid with a little bit of research. If you’re not sure what rules you need to read make sure you ask the meet director well in advance so that you have time to make any adjustments you need to in training. The fewer surprises you have on meet day the better.

If you’ve read the rules and you’re still unsure of your lifting I’d suggest you find your local powerlifting coach to run an eye over your lifting. If you don’t know anyone in your area be sure to get in touch and I’ll do my best to point you in the right direction. Alternatively feel free to tag the gym on Instagram and/or Facebook in your videos and I’d be happy to take a look and give you some feedback.

I hope that, unlike me, you take the time to do your homework and make sure you’re in the loop before stepping on the platform for the first time. Knowing what’s expected of you will go a long way in ensuring you have an awesome time on the platform.

Until next time,

stay strong.



P.S. If you’ve made it this far feel free to check out THIS video playlist that we send out to all the competitors for our novice comps at Burley. It’s got a breakdown of just about everything you need to know about your first comp!

John Sheridan
John Sheridan

Burley Owner & Bearded Overlord

Burley Strength

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