Wait what??? You are finally ready to do your first powerlifting meet? Tips, tricks, and mistakes to avoid!
Written by: Cory Rebmann, owner/CEO of Trident Strength Systems
Your nerves are racing! Maybe I am not strong enough? I bet everyone will know it is my first meet. What if I get last place? I have no idea what I am even doing. Maybe I should wait a little longer. What if I mess up and bomb out of the meet? Maybe I should get a little stronger first, so I don’t embarrass myself.
Do any of these sound familiar? If you are thinking about signing up for your first powerlifting meet, then I would bet you three white lights these all have raced through your head at least once. I know they did for me and they have for every one of the lifters I have trained for their first competition. So, now that you know you are normal (well as normal as a powerlifter can be), it is time to jump into the tips, tricks, and ways to avoid the common first meet mistakes.
In this journey through your first meet, I am going to guide you from the week leading up to the meet all the way through to the moment you walk up and get your first medal at the end of the day.
WEEK LEADING UP TO THE MEET-
It is imperative that you read through the rules of the federation you are going to lift in the week before the meet. All federations have their rules online. It is not a bad idea to print them off, read them a couple times the week leading up to the meet, and bring them to the meet in case of an issue.
Most federations have similar commands and similar rules as far as attire, gear, etc so I will give a basic overview of commands.
Commands for the squat in most federations are squat and rack. Once you set the bar and lift it off the rack you are live in most federations. So, you have to steady the weight which is especially important if you are walking out the weight. Once steady, they will say squat, you squat down to where your hip crease is lower than the top of your knee, you stand back up, and once steady again they will say rack.
All federations I am aware of allow for a hand off. It is a good idea to get someone to hand off to you to conserve energy but more importantly to keep tight before you start the movement. Some federations require that your feet are flat while other allow you to be on your toes so make sure you know your federations rules. Also, some federations require that you keep your head in contact with the bench at all times while others allow you to lift your head. This is why knowing the rules of your federation and lifting to those rules leading up to the meet is important.
The commands you will hear on bench is start, press, and rack. Once you have the bar in your hands and steady, the head judge will say start which means lower to your chest, once at your chest all federations require the bar to stop moving completely, pause while in contact with your chest, and once this happens the judge will say press which mean push with all your might. Finally, once you have locked out the press and the bar isn’t moving they will say rack which means put it back on the rack.
Most all federations require that you have socks that go to your knee as well as wearing either a deadlift slipper or shoes. All federations I am aware of only have one command for deadlift which is down. You will walk up once the head judge says bar is set, you will get ready and set on the bar, and then you pull once you are ready without a command. Once the bar is locked out at the top, the judge will say down and you lower the bar to the ground. Do not drop the bar; however, most all federations allow you to quickly lower the bar as long as you keep complete control over the bar and it comes to a complete stop before you remove your hands.
Nutrition is very important the week leading up to the meet. Since, it is your first meet we all know that you do not plan on cutting weight…Right? Right? No seriously, you do not plan on cutting weight for your first meet, right?
Now that we got that out of the way, you should be consuming quality proteins, a combination of simple and complex carbs, and healthy fats during this week. Every meal should have the above three items in it. Some meals that I particularly like this week are chicken, brown rice, with pineapple and teriyaki sauce mixed with cashews. Or, lean steak, spinach wraps, spinach, avocado, cheese, and Asian dressing. You get the idea. This week, you cannot eat enough quality foods leading up to your meet. The more nutrients your body receives, the better your body will peak and heal this week while you have reduced your volume and intensity and the stronger you will be on meet day.
During this week, you want your fluid intake high. I personally shoot for 1oz per lb of body weight. So, I compete in the 198lbs class-I try to consume close to 200oz of fluids every day this week. That comes to about a gallon and a half. You want to keep this fluid intake throughout the entire week. The worst thing you can do is stop drinking this level the day or so before the meet. If you reduce your fluids the day or days right before the meet, this is known as a water cut and you will over compensate and actually end up more dehydrated.
I personally try to get my fluids this week from a combination of regular water, glacier freeze Gatorade (because it is the best flavor), and V8 regular sodium. You can also throw in some Pedialyte if you choose.
Do not do it. Simple as that. Your first meet you are going to have enough to worry about while nerves and anxiety are high. DO NOT make that even worse by worrying about a weight cut or what weight class you are going to be in.
Whilst many lifters cut weight before the meet to get into a lighter weight class, this is a controlled process that is planned many, many days in advance. This is also a topic with many conflicting opinions. My take is, unless you are literally within a lb or two of your weight or you are legitimately going for a record, a real record not the Under 86-year-old, left handed, second toe bigger than the big toe, brown hair, and blue eye world record, but a serious record then I do not think it is smart or needed to do a weight cut. This is even more true if you compete in a federation with a 2-hour weigh in. A 24-hour weigh in gives you a little more cushion; however, for your first meet just save the weight cut for another time once you have learned and got the flow of how a meet day goes down completely.
You should have done your last heavy working sets anywhere from one to two weeks away from the meet (the stronger you are the farther away from the meet you do your last heavy workout). There is a possibility of three weeks if you are an elite super heavy weight; however, you probably would not need assistance on your first meet if that were the case so I am excluding that scenario.
Now, you have tapered your volume first leading up to your meet and then tapered your intensity with, again, your last heavy work out a week to two weeks from meet day. Your last heavy deadlift day should be the farthest from the meet-I typically do 10 days but 10-14 days is good. Next, your last heavy squat should be somewhere between 8-10 days from meet time. I do 8 days away for one heavy single. Finally, your last heavy bench should be somewhere between 6-8 days away. I do mine 6 days away-so last heavy bench day is the Sunday before the meet.
Come the last week before your meet you will literally find a thousand different ways to run your last week. There seems to be two different views on what to do the last week. First, do nothing but rest. No lifting no gym and maybe a little mobility work. The second view is go to the gym a couple to a few times the week before the meet but with minimal work. Personally, I favor the later. If I take off completely I do not feel my form is as good and I actually feel weaker personally. What I would recommend sometime after the meet is take a week off and then go for a heavy near maximal lift and see how you feel. Then, try a deload style week and see how you feel. Whichever makes you feel stronger is what you should go with.
Now that we got that out of the way, here is my personal protocol as well as what I prescribe for my lifters. Tuesday before the meet, do your normal warm-up and work up to 60% of your meet goal for 3 sets of 3 reps with about 5 minutes rest between sets. These reps should be as crisp, as fast, and as technically sound as possible. You will do your sets in order with squat first, next bench, and then deadlift. All lifts should follow the commands you will hear at the meet. Then, the Thursday before meet day, do 30% of your meet goal for 3 sets of 3 again with 5 minutes between sets. Once more time, your lifts should be as fast and as technically sound as possible while following the meet commands. Friday, do a few bodyweight air squats, pushups, and air deadlifts. A few literally means just do a few reps to loosen up but do not push it anywhere near fatigue. This protocol keeps me lose and ready to push heavy weights come meet day.
Sleep is extremely important not only for recovery of your muscles but recovery of your CNS. The week before meet you will want to try to sleep as much as possible-especially the days leading up to the meet. Because, the night before the meet and possibly two nights before the meet you may sleep very poorly from nerves. The night before the meet you may be nervous and have a hard time falling asleep. This is normal and should not affect your performance come meet day. An entire week of sleepless nights is another thing though. So, try to get at least 8 hours of sleep every night the week before the meet if possible. However, if you have a couple restless night because of nerves do not dwell on it as it should not affect your performance.
The week before the meet I would really recommend trying to reduce your stimulate intake. Really, if it is possible try to reduce or eliminate caffeine or other stimulates two to three weeks away from the meet. That way when it comes meet day you will get more out of the caffeine pills than you otherwise would.
DAY BEFORE THE MEET-
The morning before:
The morning before the meet it is a good idea to pull out our gym bag and use the checklist provided to make sure you have packed all your needed items for meet day. I take out everything I need and check it off the list (excluding food) as I pack it into my bag. Many federations require that you have your gear at weigh-ins so it is a good idea to get it all together now. Once, everything is packed it is time to head off to weigh-ins.
Most federations have 24-hour weigh-in; however, some have 2-hour weigh ins. Either way, it is very important to get to weigh-ins on time and if possible get there as early as possible. You do not want to be rushed and it is better to have ample time to get your rack heights for squat and bench. I would recommend to bring the shoes you will wear on meet day to weigh-ins to get a correct rack height.
When you arrive at weigh-ins you need to bring all the gear you will be wearing the next day. Most federations require a gear check to make sure you are using approved gear or to make sure the gear fits within the rules of that federation. At this time, you will also receive a lifters card with your weight class, name, class, etc. You want to double check that that information is all correct. This is where you will put your rack heights and whether the squat arms will be in our out. Whether you are using a monolift or a squat stand on meet day-you will need to get a correct rack height. If you are close between two heights, always go for the lower height. You do not want to be fatigued after a maximal lift and have to worry if you are going to get it on the rack or not. This is also a time where asking for help is very good idea. Once you have your rack heights, gear is checked, you have checked over your name and information to make sure it is all correct, and you have weighed in-make sure you turn your lifters card back in before you leave. Most meets, if they do a gear check, will save that for last and then keep your lifters card at that time. But, either way, make sure you do not take it with you.
Evening before meet:
The night before the meet, I pull out all my gear and check it off the list once more. There is nothing worse that can happen then you think you have everything you need for meet day since you packed it that morning, but you accidentally left your singlet at weigh-ins or some other necessity item. So, take your gear out and check it off the list one more time double checking you have everything you are going to need on meet day.
Next, get all your food and drinks that you are going to have on meet day and put it together in sacks in your fridge. You do not want to wake up and have to worry about if your gear and food is already. You want to wake up with the least amount of stress and anxiety you can. You do not want to be scrambling the morning of the meet worrying about where your stuff is.
Try to get as much sleep as you can this night. However, do not go to bed at 8pm if you usually go to bed at 11pm. You do not want to wake up at 4am because you went to bed too early. Now if you go to bed at 11pm, you may try to go to bed at 10am to get an extra hour or so of sleep. Sleep is important
DAY OF THE MEET-
Morning of the meet:
Wake up early enough that you are not going to be rushed. Remember, you are going to need to eat, get in fluids, pack your stuff up, go to the bathroom, get to the meet early, and you do not want to worry about time while doing this.
For your breakfast, you do not want to eat anything that you do not normally eat. Things like pancakes, fruit, and a protein shake is a common breakfast. The last thing you want to do is eat something that may mess up your stomach. Also, it is a very good idea to try to get in at least 64oz/2L of water early in the day before you even leave your house.
Get there early! I cannot stress this enough. If my rules meeting is at 8am I will get to the venue at 7:30 so that I can find a prime location for my gear bag and food bag that will also give me enough space to lay down between lifts. You want to try to find a location where you will have room, not be crowded, and where you will have space to do any stretching or mobility work you normally do.
Every meet I have lifted at began with a rules meeting. You want to be present for this meeting so you can get another refresher course on the rules for that federation. This is where and when you want to ask any questions you may have. DO NOT BE SHY. You want to make sure are lifting within the federation rules.
Flight and place in the flight:
Once the rules are complete, the very first thing you should do is go to the judging table and ask what flight you are in and what number you are within that flight. Yes, you almost certainly will have already received a flight list before you even get to the meet; however, often times the flights and/or ordering may change and you do not want to be caught with your singlet down around your ankles by not double checking your position. Now that we have that out of the way, you have your place with your stuff picked out, no questions on the rules, and you know where and when you will be lifting, it is time to start thinking about your warm ups.
The biggest mistakes I see at meets have to do with warm-ups. The three areas I see that are often huge mistakes are not giving yourself adequate time to warm up, warming up with too many sets and reps, or letting your nerves get to you and start warming up to early. These will be addressed now.
First, DO NOT CHANGE YOUR WARM UP ROUTINES THE DAY OF THE MEET. If you usually follow a routine for your training days, do the same thing on meet day. So, it is a very very good idea to know how long, in minutes, it usually takes you to warm up from cold to what would be your openers for all three lifts.
Here is an example of how to warm up for each lift:
|45lbs, 2 sets, 10/8 reps||45lbs, 2 sets, 10/8 reps||45lbs, 2 sets, 8/6 reps|
|20% for 6 reps||35% for 6 reps||35% for 4 reps|
|35% for 4 reps||50% for 4 reps||50% for 2 reps|
|50% for 3 reps||65% for 2 rep||65% for 1 rep|
|65% for 2 reps||75% for 1 rep||75% for 1 rep|
|75% for 1 rep||85% for 1 rep||85% for 1 rep|
|85% for 1 rep|
You are going to need to take into account there may only be a few squat racks or monolifts to warm up on and there may be 20+ people trying to warm up. So, try to stick to your scheduled warm up; however, you may need to adjust as the warms up move on. I also give myself about 10-15 minutes more time to warm up then normal so I can take into account people changing weights and sharing squat racks. It is easier to take an extra minute between sets during warm up then have to rush 4 warm up sets into a small window because you ran out of time. So, as you are warming up, make sure you are keeping an eye on the flight board to see how quickly the flight is progressing so you can adjust faster or slower as needed.
What the hell should I pick for my attempts? Yep, we all ask that and unfortunately there is not a set answer. Some people recommend your opener be around 90% of your meet goal and others 90% of your current personal record (PR). Some recommend that your opener should be what you could do for a double on your worst day. Still others recommend that your opener should be what you could hit for a triple.
My personal strategy and one that has worked very well for me as well as my lifters is around 90% of your best lift leading up to the competition or what you could easily hit for a double. For example, if squatted 500lbs during training as my heaviest day, I would pick my opener around 450lbs. You do not want your first lift to be a grinder. You want to get on the board comfortably and have confidence you will hit the lift no matter what.
For my second attempt and what I pick as second attempts for my lifters is around 97% of their best lift during the training cycle going into the meet. For example, if my best squat leading up to the meet was 500lbs then my second attempt would be 485lbs. This should be a hard lift, but again you should almost never miss a second attempt unless it is a technical error.
Finally, I pick around 103%-104% of my best lift during training as my final attempt. This percentage takes into account you have peaked, you will have adrenaline, but should still be a very hard but manageable lift. For example, if my best squat in training was 500lbs then my final attempt would be between 515-520lbs depending on how well my second attempt went.
Note-this is a guide to help you go 9 for 9. The reason I use training lifts and not all time PRs is because sometimes training doesn’t go as planned and you are not set up to hit all time PRs at the meet. Also, you can adjust as you see fit. If you absolutely smash your second attempt then by all means, increase your third attempt to 105% or more. However, the goal for a meet is to go 9 for 9 and put up the biggest total possible. Using the above examples, say I smashed my second attempt so I get a little greedy and go for 106% on my third attempt (530lbs) and I miss, that is leaving a lot of weight off my total vs if I just did the planned 103%-104% (515-520lbs) and did would not have gained me many pounds if I had hit it. Also, this should leave you a little energy for your following lifts since you didn’t do a 100% all out total max effort lift.
After the lifts:
Once you have finished your lift, I recommend you go back to the prime location I told you to get earlier in this article, and relax. It is a good idea to eat your largest meal after squats and a good size snack after bench. Once you have eaten your food, I highly recommend to lay down, put on your headphones, and try to take a nap. At most every meet, you should have at least one to two hours if not more, between lifts. Get an idea beforehand based off the number of flight and how many people are in the flight and take a nap accordingly. If I know I have at least 2 hours until I lift again, I will eat and drink at least 32oz, and then take a nap for 45 minutes or so. This will give you time to rest but enough time to wake up before your next lifts. No matter what though, during this time you do not want to be running around, going to the store, or doing anything that requires much energy. You are here to crush it on the platform, not bounce around like Richard Simmons because you set a PR on squat (save that for after the entire meet).
DO NOT EAT FOOD YOU DO NOT NORMALLY EAT WITHOUT ISSUE! The last thing you want to do is eat food that causes you to have stomach issues. You and I both know you do not want to be become a puking or pooping meme on Instagram because you ate something that did not agree with your stomach. Just imagine, your friend brings you a nice hamburger and shake after bench, you eat it, you go to deadlift, and BAM-you poop yourself. So again, save this for after your meet!
With that said, carbs and mainly simple carbs are your friend today. That is right, you were just given permission to eat pixie sticks, bottle caps, and sweet tarts in moderation. Maybe even some sour patch kids if you PR’d on your lift. The idea is to consume carbs with dextrose as the first ingredient. You can also use straight dextrose powder and put it in a protein shake. With that said, I consume two protein shakes during this day and that is it for protein. One shake after squats and one after bench. Also, you do not want to eat any heavy food either that are high in fat. Fats slow digestion and the idea today is to consume items that digest quickly so you do not have full belly before you deadlift, and so your energy is being replenished quickly.
As far as supplements, this is just what I do but feel free to adjust or do as you please. Before I start warming up for squats, I take 200mg of caffeine and 2 Motrin. The Motrin is meant to minimize any issues you may have had leading up to the meet plus aleve some of the pain from three maximal lifts. Before I start warming up for bench, I do the same thing but this time I take 300mg of caffeine and 2 Motrin. Then, before I start warming up for deadlifts I take 400mg of caffeine and again 2 Motrin. It is a good idea to leave most of the caffeine for later in the day and not load a bunch in the morning. Your adrenaline should be high enough and you should be fresh enough to not need a bunch of stimulants.
Finally, nose torque and ammonia caps are a very good idea on your third attempts. There are some studies that say that ammonia does not increase performance; however, placebo or not, I always feel stronger after hitting ammonia before a max effort lift. HUGE NOTE-if you have never used nose torque or an ammonia cap before the meet, DO NOT try it on meet day. Try them in the gym before you try them in the meet. Ammonia can be very intense and if you are not expecting it, it may throw you off before a big lift which you do not want.
Congratulations on deciding to do a powerlifting meet. You first and most important goal for this meet should be to have as much fun as possible. A powerlifting meet in unlike any sports event I have attended and been a part of. The comradery is amazing and everyone is there to root each other on to their best performance. Speaking of best performance, you should set realistic goals for yourself and your goal should be to do the best YOU can do, not compared to other people. Remember to pack all your items ahead of time and get to the meet early. Pick reasonable attempts that you can go 8 for 9 or 9 for 9 with. You will have a whole bunch more meets to start really pushing your boundaries. Absolutely make sure you have read the rule book in advance for the federation you are lifting in and have been practicing your lifts to those standards. Finally, try to relax throughout the day. Your adrenaline will be high and you will be amped but try to save your energy for your lifts not running around the venue like the Tasmanian Devil on caffeine. Finally, remember to double check your flights and order in the flight before the lifting starts and pace your warm up accordingly.
CHECKLIST (Morning before on left, night before on right)
□ Singlet □
□ Underwear (no boxers, boxer briefs or bras with an underwire) □
□ Squat Shoes □
□ Knee sleeves and/or Wraps □
□ Belt □
□ Wrist Wraps □
□ Deadlift socks□
□ Deadlift shoes or Slippers □
□ Towel(s) □
□ Simple carbs (sweet tarts, pixy sticks, or dextrose as first ingredient) □
□ Bananas □
□ Stimulates of your choice (caffeine pills, Monster, Rockstar, etc) □
□ Hydration drinks (Gatorade or Pedialyte) □
□ Mobility tools (Roller, Lax Ball, etc) □
□ Deodorant □
□ Baby Powder (for your legs on deadlift) □
□ Liniment/Icy Hot/Etc (EVERYONE FORGETS LINIMENT) □
□ Ibuprofen or Tylenol □
□ Cash (not a debit or credit card) □
□ Headphones and audio player□
□ Change of clothes for after the meet □
□ Food for the meet (avoid fatty foods) □
□ Toilet Paper (meets always run out or have bad toilet paper) □