Your first meet can be scary. There’s a lot going on and there’s a lot you have to get done before you can start lifting. Without a coach or team with you, you can end up totally overwhelmed before the meet has even begun.
Here’s a brief rundown of everything you need to know to feel at home on your first meet:
A powerlifting competition can last anywhere from one to seven days depending on the competition. With smaller local, open or provincial competitions, it usually takes one to three days and national and world competitions are typically a week event. Though the competitions can last days, you as a lifter will only be competing on one of those days (unless you choose multiple categories i.e. raw/equipped). Competitions are usually a half or full day event depending how organized the federation is - usually with morning, afternoon, and evening sessions that are divided between weight classes and gender.
Ensure you are prepared for a very long day: some competitions can last four hours and some can last up to 12 hours depending on the organization. If it’s a larger competition be sure to step out and get some fresh air. Getting away from the competition environment can be revitalizing.
Always register and have your equipment checked at the registration desk.
Sometimes they do this while you weigh-in and other times there’s a separate desk. At the registration desk they will check that all of your equipment is within the competition standards and will provide you with attempt cards (if required) as well as a care package (usually with a draw string bag, shaker cup, free sample and a meet shirt, depending on the event sponsors). If you are competing in an IPF meet, make sure you have your registered card with you.
Depending on the federation, weigh-in times will vary. Some competitions have a two-hour weigh-in, some have a 12-hour weigh-in, some have an 18-hour weigh-in, but the majority will have a two-hour weigh-in. (see pages 11-12 for more details.)
This plays a huge role in your performance especially if you decide to cut weight for the competition. A 24-hour weigh in allows the lifter to replenish and rehydrate much more efficiently than a two-hour weigh-in.
For your first competition, DO NOT CUT WEIGHT. Focus on your lifting and try cutting weight once you’ve become more competitive, if necessary.
When you weigh-in, be ready to give your opening attempts in pounds (lbs) and in kilograms (kg).
Know that it’s your responsibility to get your rack heights. This is a must do before the competition commences because they won’t wait for you to get your rack heights once it starts. In the warm-up room there will be volunteers taking rack heights who will provide you with the numbers you need to give either at your weigh-in or to the announcers.
There are three numbers that must be obtained for the rack heights:
- Squat bar height
- Bench bar height
- Bench safety height (the arms of the bench that will catch the bar before it hits your face)
Note: If you need boxes for your feet on the squat for bench (due to being a shorty), be sure to do so when you get your rack heights.
Briefing & Warm-ups
About an hour before the competition begins, a briefing of the rules will be given by one of the event coordinators. This occurs before the lifters in the first flight of the competition warm-up. Flights are the different groupings of lifters throughout the day – usually two to four flights per day.
Once the briefing is completed, the lifters in the first flight will begin warming up, however, each location and competition is different. There is usually a separate warm-up room or a section closed off by a curtain. Since the competition starts off with the squat, in the warm-up room you’ll find multiple squat racks to begin warming up. The bars and racks may be different than what you’re used to at your gym so note the differences in the knurlings/marking on the bar and get comfortable so it doesn’t throw you off once you get to the platform.
There’s no structure to the warm-ups, so I like to pretend I’m in the gym with some buddies warming up for a big squat day. It’s important to know your warm-ups in lbs and kg (just in case the competition has kg plates in the warm-up room) beforehand in order to stay organized. Also, you’ll find you’ll need to be slightly aggressive when warming up since it can get chaotic with so many people warming up, make sure you talk with other fellow lifters and volunteers so you can get all of your warm-ups in before the competition begins.
As mentioned earlier, pretend like you’re lifting with your training buddies in the gym. Two common mistakes are either not having enough of a warm-up or doing way too much so you end up fatigued when you get to the platform. Basically you want to find a happy medium somewhere in the middle to stay warm but not over-worked.
Before even hopping under the bar to begin squatting, I like to perform a short five to 10 minute mobility drill, involving a variety of movements including leg swings, body weight squats, hip flexor stretch, band pull a parts and foam rolling.
Afterwards I begin my warm-up, which usually takes 15 to 20 minutes depending on how many lifters there are. My warm-up is short and sweet since I do not want to tire myself out.
I personally have six to eight warm-up sets totaling between 18-26 reps. If my openers were going to be a 402lbs (90%/1RM) squat, 210lbs (89%/1RM) bench and 475lbs (92%/1RM) deadlift, my warm-ups would look something like this:
Squat: BarX8, 135X6, 185X4, 225X3, 275X2, 315X2(add belt & wrist wraps), 355X1, 375X1
Bench Press: BarX8, 95X6, 135X4, 155X3, 175X2, 195X1(paused)
Deadlift: 135X6, 225X4, 275X3, 315X2(add belt), 365X1, 405X1, 445X1
Note: Remember not to do an excessive amount of reps when the weight gets heavy. The goal isn’t to tire yourself out before you get to the platform, it’s to ensure you’re warmed up and everything feels fast and strong. Don’t make your last warm-up too close to your opener. A good 5% away from your opener will suffice and you should never grind reps in the warm-up room.
Since you planned out your attempts beforehand and have come prepared with plan A, B and C, you will make your attempts according to how your warm-ups and then how your first attempts feel. If your warm-ups feel like grinders, ensure that you change your first attempt to something lighter before the cut off time (usually five to 10 minutes before the lifting commences).
First Attempt: It should feel like your last warm-up. You want to start the day off strong and with confidence, so make sure your first attempt is fast and easy. The first attempt should be between 87-93% of your 1RM (your one rep max) - the lower range for beginner lifters and the higher range for more advanced lifters.
Basically, your first attempt should be something you know you could hit on any given day no matter what the circumstance (lack of food/sleep or stress). A good rule of thumb is to open with something you can do for a triple.
Second Attempt: If your first attempt was successful increase the load by 3-4%; if it was successful and felt extremely easy increase the load by 5-6%. If you missed your first attempt I would advise taking it again on your second attempt. Usually the second attempt is between 94-99%.
Note: second attempts are very small PR’s or pretty darn close to your 1RM.
Third Attempt: If your second attempt was successful increase the load by 3-4%; if it was successful and felt extremely easy increase the load by 5-6%. If you missed your second attempt I would advise taking it again on your third, though it’s your choice depending how confident you feel about it. Typically the third attempt is 100%+ of your 1RM.
Note: This is the attempt where you push your limits and hit a new PR.
The Competition Structure
The announcer will say when there’s 5 minutes before lifting begins, so depending on where you are in the flight, adjust your warm-ups accordingly (you usually want at least three to four minutes rest before your first attempt). There will be a computer screen or piece of paper in the warm-up room with the order and list of lifters so be sure to look at the list before the lifting commences.
Once the competition starts, the announcer will state the name of the lifter who will begin followed by the next person’s name with the words “ON DECK” meaning up next, and then the third person’s name with the words “IN THE HOLE” meaning the third lifter. This will continue throughout the entire flight. When it’s the lifters turn you will hear the announcer say the words “THE BAR IS LOADED” which is the cue that you can go up onto the platform to execute your first attempt (ensure you do not go up beforehand).
Note: you have one minute to complete the lift after the words “THE BAR IS LOADED” is announced.
After the first flight of lifters performs their first attempts, the list of lifters will re-adjust according to the amount being lifted on the second attempts and the same will happen for third attempts. Once the third attempts are finished the next flight of lifters will then begin their first attempts on the squat (the lifters in the second flight generally begin warming up half way through the flight of the second attempts on the squat of the first flight).
Note: After each attempt ensure to hand attempt cards in or announce your second and third attempts immediately upon completion of your lift. The table is usually located right beside the announcers.
Once the squatting is completed by all flights there will be a 10 to15 minute (or longer depending on the federation) intermission to set up the bench press on the platform and allow the lifters time to warm-up for the bench press and the same process will continue onto the deadlift.
After the deadlifting is completed by the last flight at the end of the day, the results will be tallied and awards will be given for each age/weight class as well as “best female/male lifter”, meaning the female and male who lifted pound for pound the most that day (wilks/coefficient).
Keep in mind that this process may sound quick, but it can last anywhere between four to 12 hours. It’s important to leave the competition and get some fresh air when you can, as it will keep you sane if you’re in store for a long day.
Alyssa Smith is releasing her very own Powerlifting Handbook to help guide you through your powerlifting journey. Get your own copy March 14 at www.smithstrengthsystems.com/shop.
About the author
Now 23 years old, Alyssa Smith has been powerlifting since the age of 16. She has provincial, national, and unofficial world records. Her best numbers are a 440lbs squat, 225lbs bench and a 507lbs deadlift. She graduated from the Fitness & Health Promotions Program at Algonquin College and now works with like-minded women to build strength and confidence.