We're all guilty of it from time to time: psyching ourselves out for a big competition lift. There will always be certain factors that are completely out of control on the day of your meet, but there are always ways to keep these situations in control. Here are eight ways to be mentally prepared for a powerlifting meet:
1. Stop focusing on what everyone else is doing
Unless you’re going head-to-head with someone in your weight class to win the competition or you’re aiming to break records, stop focusing on what everyone else is lifting.
With the Internet being a useful tool for training, it can also have its disadvantages. We tend to be consumed with what everyone else is lifting that it can negatively affect your training and performance. We’re all guilty of this, I know I sure am but remember: you’re at the competition to put up a respectable total for yourself and hit some new PR’s, so focus on you and what you’re doing not others.
2. Stay away from mirrors
Mirrors are your enemy in powerlifting.
Almost every (commercial) gym has their` squat racks right in front of a mirror. Most lifters when first starting out think it’s great since you can check your form, but in reality it’s not great since in competition there will be no mirrors. I highly recommend facing the opposite direction of the mirror so you’re facing the entire gym and you can get used to people spectating so it won’t be such a surprise when you step on the platform and you can get used to the feeling of the lift opposed to visual cues from staring in the mirror.
3. Limit distractions
In both the gym and competition there are always countless distractions: people starring, people trying to strike up a conversation in the middle of your training, personal issues and the list goes on.
Invest in a good set of headphones for when you’re resting between sets and in competition. It usually signals “DON’T TALK TO ME” and will keep you focused on your lifts opposed to letting your mind wander elsewhere. If you’re open to conversation, you can take them off and people will catch on.
If you’re feeling distracted by work, relationship problems, or family issues, think of the gym and the competition as your peace sanctuary. This is where you forget about your problems and focus on your lifting, it’s your time to block out the negative, release endorphins and feel damn good.
4. Familiarize yourself with the venue
We become very comfortable lifting in our home gym where we’re used to the people and the gym setting. When you first start out in powerlifting it can be intimidating to be in a competition setting with different people.
Try to scope out the venue the day before the competition so you know exactly where everything is and you feel more comfortable in the competition setting. Familiarizing yourself with the venue will help you stay organized and minimize the risk of intimidation and will keep you on your toes when it comes time to step on the platform!
5. Determine your cueing techniques
During each lift everyone uses different cueing techniques to remind themselves or the lifter of certain aspects during each movement, which helps dial in the lift while staying focused during the entire the lift.
For the squat, a lot of lifters and coaches use “stay tight”, “knees out”, “big chest”, “big breath”, “stand up tall” and “control”. For the bench press you’ll hear “stay tight”, “back towards me”, “elbows in”, “big breath” and for the deadlift you’ll hear “stay tight”, “keep it close”, “hips through”, “stand up tall” and many more cues (some which involve extreme cursing, haha!) allowing the lifter to focus on certain aspects of the lift. It’s important to find which cueing works for you and apply it daily to your lifting to add consistency and focus.
6. Learn to control your nerves
Controlling your nerves during a competition is easier said than done but is a definite must.
It’s perfectly normal to be nervous during your first competition but there are different ways for you to think in order to calm your nerves. When you’re in competition, all eyes are on you. Just think they’re always on you, even when you’re training in the gym and it’s no different.
Envision yourself training in the gym and technically you’re doing the exact same thing, just in a different setting. Also, similar to public speaking, try not to look directly into anyone’s eyes, find a focal point and keep your eyes on that point the entire lift. The worst that can happen is you miss a lift; just think you have two more goes at it and you’ll get the next one. You’ll notice after the first squat is out of the way, your nerves will settle almost immediately and it’ll be game time.
Practice these steps and you’ll be in the zone without having extreme nerves hindering your lifting.
7. Exude confidence
Being confident in your lifting is the single and most important factor, not only in training but in competition.
If you don’t believe you can pick up that last deadlift, you probably won’t.
It’s important to always envision yourself lifting the weight beforehand and believing you are going to drill the lift with 3 white lifts. Thinking positively will give you the courage and power to put 100% effort into the lift where you will be more likely to get the lift. Always ensure you’re reinforcing the fact that you will get the lift, be confident and it will show.
8. Avoid having a negative mindset
Sometimes competitions don’t always go as planned and we tend to beat ourselves up. Fact of the matter is it doesn’t make you a shitty lifter.
Don’t ever think that.
It’s too often something feels heavy and we miss an attempt or worse bomb a competition and think “well maybe this isn’t for me”. Well maybe it isn’t and maybe it is. It’s your choice how you decide to look at the situation. You can give up and call it quits because you had a bad day or you can look at it as an opportunity to grow and come back more prepared and that much stronger. Don’t beat yourself up over a poor performance. We’ve all been there – it’s a part of the process. This is what separates the weak from the strong.
About the author
Twenty-three-year-old Alyssa Smith has been an elite powerlifter since the age of 16. She has provincial, national, and unofficial world records (WPC, CPF, CPU, IPF). Her best numbers are a 440lbs squat, 225lbs bench and a 507lbs deadlift. She graduated from Algonquin College, Health & Fitness Promotions with honours and works as a personal trainer (CSEP/Canfit).