Article written by Alanna Casey
I am writing this article after volunteering to judge/spot/load at a local powerlifting meet. This article is geared toward a lifter who is newer to competing. I have competed in about 8 different powerlifting meets over the past 5 years. My first meet I made a lot of mistakes. I have since learned, by both trial and error and from listening to those who are much better at powerlifting than me. I’ve been lucky enough to train and learn from powerlifting champions such as Nick Best, and PowerliftingWatch.com founder, Johnny Vasquez. I’m also fortunate enough to be sponsored by the powerlifting gear company, Titan Support Systems.
Read this article and hopefully you can avoid many of the mistakes that I have made over the past few years. I have competed both raw and single ply. I have gone 9 for 9 and I have bombed out (once). I have competed in local competitions and in national competitions such as Raw Unity Meet and the Olympia. Results from my most recent raw meet, in pounds:
Squat: 303 (good lift), 352 (good lift), 386 (good lift)
Bench: 198 (good lift), 237 (good lift), 252 (no lift)
Deadlift: 380 (good lift), 424 (good lift), 452 (good lift)
Total: 1,075 lb
Body weight: 158.0 lb
Learn the Rules, Play by the Rules:
o Understand what your commands will be and PRACTICE your lifts with those commands. If you’ll need a “PRESS” command at the bottom of your bench, have a training partner give you that command. Practice with commands by your final training session (preferably last two) before your meet. Similarly, practice waiting to rack your squat until you get the “RACK” command. Hold your deadlift until a “DOWN” command.
o Understand how all of your lifts will be judged. Do you need to squat below parallel? Know exactly what that means. Get a hold of your federation’s rule book and read what the criteria will be for each lift. Most importantly, train to those criteria. If you’re only training bench by bouncing the barbell off your chest or a touch and go, most likely you will jump the “press” command at your meet, resulting in a no lift.
Make sure your training partner is keeping you honest:
o I suggest having a training partner (who understands the standards you’ll be judged by) judge your squat depth and tell you if you’re hitting depth. Also, video your lifts so you can see your form. It’s okay if you miss a couple squats (by depth) during training but, you want the majority of them to pass as a “good lift.” You want to develop that muscle memory so that when you compete you don’t have to even worry about hitting depth. Your muscles remember when you stop the downward movement and get the bar moving upward! If you’re training partner is being generous with how he judges your lifts, he is NOT doing you any favors. I had a client who kept cutting her squats short. I told her to go lower. She had her training partner film her then give her an “up” command when he thought she was low enough. What ended up happening was that he yelled “UP” whenever SHE had already decided to go up. After I saw the video I told my client that that particular training partner was never allowed to give her commands again. He wasn’t helping; he was hurting her by validating bad lifts. DON’T be that training partner! A great training partner is honest, encouraging, and therefore, helpful.
Check your equipment
o Understand what type of equipment you will be allowed to wear at the meet. Do you need to be in a singlet? Are long socks mandatory on deadlift? What size knee wraps are allowed? The last thing you want to do is show up with 2.5 meter knee wraps and find that only 2.0 meter knee wraps are allowed. That will screw with your head. Find out if your lifting belt is legal (Velcro usually isn’t allowed for powerlifting).
Nourish your body
o Meets take anywhere from 4 to 10 hours. Bring at least a gallon of water and a large Gatorade or other sports drink. Bring simple carbs to snack on as well. For example, bagels, Oreos, Fig Newtons, or a pastry. Electrolyte gummies (Cliff Shot Bloks)/Emergen-C/Pedialyte isn’t a bad idea either, especially if you’re still recovering from cutting weight. Force yourself to eat little bits throughout your meet. Force yourself to drink. If you do not eat or drink it WILL make a difference by the time you get to your bench.
Take Weigh Cuts into Account
o I learned this one the hard way. I cut 12 lbs in one week. I had a 24 hours weigh ins and after I made weight I did rehydrated/eat adequately. But, 20 hours later I was not as strong as I was the week prior. I have since learned that you cannot cut more than 7% of your bodyweight in one week and have zero strength decrease. You can cut about 4% of your body weight in a week and rehydrate and avoid strength loss. But, there is a fine line. A drastic weight cut may or may not be the best for you (most likely it’s not). Ihave previously written a separate article on this topic if you search for it in the LBEB archive.
o Also, take life events into account. There was a woman who showed up at the meet that I volunteered for who attempted a weight that she had nailed during training (her 2d attempt). She missed it. Afterwards she told me that she had only gotten 2 hours of sleep the night before and, she had driven 6 hours to the meet that morning. I thought, “Well duh! Of course under those circumstances you’re not going to be as strong as you were in training!” But, she had given into peer pressure and allowed her lifting buddies to convince her to attempt more than what she was comfortable with.
Choose Your Attempts Wisely
o I suggest you come into your meet with an overall game plan. You should, at minimum, select your openers. Hopefully you have been training with a goal PR weight in mind. Those goal numbers should give you a good idea of what your third attempt will be.
o Your first attempt’s only purpose is to keep you from bombing out of the meet. If you don’t get at least one of your squat/bench/squat attempts then NONE of your lifts matter and you’re out of the overall Best Lifter competition. Think of your first attempt as your last warm-up. I recommend that your opener be a weight you can and have tripled, easily. There is absolutely no use in wasting energy on your first attempt. You’re not there to make your first attempt, that’s not your end goal. You are there for a PR or a title. So, it’s your second and third attempts that you should be busting your balls on, not your opener. Your opener’s only purpose is to keep you in the meet and give you a first “good lift”.
o Your second attempt should be a slight gym PR. By “slight,” I mean about 5 lbs heavier than a recent training PR.
o Your third attempt should be “if all the stars align” PR. If you have a super experienced friend at the meet with you, usually he/she can tell you “if it looked good for another xx lbs,” after your second attempt. Depending on who that person is, you may have a good recommendation. Beware of friends who THINK they are super experienced and tell you, “ohh that last one looked SUUUPPER easy! You have another 30 lbs in you!!” Unless the person saying that has MAJOR accolades under his belt, his recommendations are most likely crap and you probably shouldn’t go up by as much as he recommends. Always do what YOU feel comfortable with. Don’t be peer pressured by Joe Shmo. It’s not Joe Shmo who has to lift the weight, it’s you. YOU, the lifter, always have the final say. Do what you want.
Chalk vs Baby Powder
o Chalk goes on your hands and back. It’s used to help avoid the bar from moving or your hands from slipping.
o Baby powder goes on your thighs during the deadlift. It’s used to help the bar avoid getting stuck and instead, glide across your skin.
I hope this article helps you as you prepare for your next meet. Keep in mind there is much more to learn and you will inevitably make mistakes. Mistakes are okay, everyone makes them, even the most experienced of lifters. But, at least now you know a few things to avoid. Train hard, train smart, and compete the same way!