First Powerlifting Meet Checklist and Tips
When I started lifting as a freshman in high school for the football, I never thought that I would compete in powerlifting. As a matter of fact, I hated it! We were forced to do workouts, which even to my untrained eye, were clearly absurd. Once I was finished with football; however, I discovered I had a passion for heavy lifting. Seven years later and I’ve competed in multiple raw powerlifting meets over a short period of time, totaling 1576@220 and 1555@198 shortly thereafter. I was fortunate to have guidance through all my meets, especially my first powerlifting meet, and succeeded in large part because of it. By writing this, I am hoping that I can guide you to a performance on the platform that you are proud of too.
Tips for Your First Powerlifting Meet
Spectate a Meet
If you haven’t seen a meet before, you can’t truly be prepared or know what to expect. Before you ever sign up for your first powerlifting meet, attend a local meet to get an idea of what you are getting yourself into. To get the most out of this experience, be more than your average spectator. Watch the lifters, particularly the better ones and see what they do. Take note of when and how they warm up, what food and drinks they bring, their attempt selection and how they’re handled if they have a handler helping out. For many of us, this can also serve as a great motivator. Nothing makes me want to step on the platform more than watching dozens of lifters hit PRs at a meet.
Pick Your Meet
Before you compete in your first powerlifting meet, you have to sign up for it! While this may seem simple enough, there are mistakes that can be made at this time that can ruin your experience. To start, do not pick a meet that is far from home. Not only is it expensive, but being cooped up all day in a car or plane can leave you stiff and achy, which is the last thing you want on the day of your first powerlifting meet. Additionally, you don’t want to deal with the headaches of a hotel or grocery shopping and if you forget something, you are probably out of luck.
Unless you have low expectations, never pick a meet on a whim. In order to do your best, you should plan twelve to sixteen weeks of solid training. Entering a meet last-minute because your friends are doing it could be a recipe for disaster and a waste of your money and time. To find a meet near you, check out Powerlifting Watch’s Meet Finder.
There’s training and then there’s training for a powerlifting meet. If you’re training for aesthetics or just trying to live a healthy lifestyle, you can train however you want, but if you’re a powerlifter, you better train like one. You can train movements that closely mimic the competition lifts, such as bench press variations that I discussed in my Improve Your Bench Press Workout Article, but you need to spend the majority of your time, focus and resources on training the squat, bench and deadlift. Furthermore, you need to be training these three lifts in preparation for your meet. This means you should be walking your squats out if the meet requires it and be using the gear now that you will compete in. If you’re competing in wraps, don’t wait until the final week or two to start training in them. Start squatting in them eight, ten or even twelve weeks out from your meet.
Now is not the time to give yourself some slack. Make sure your squats are to depth by recording from the side and asking for the honest opinion of others. If possible, DO NOT rely solely upon your teammates or training partners to tell you if depth is satisfactory. Your training partners can be wrong. A recording which you can watch over and over again and show to others is proven to be much more objective. I recommend purchasing a tripod (like this) for your phone. For the cost, you will get a lot out of it and you no longer have to hassle someone else in the gym to record for you. A word of note: do not record from the front, as squats tend to look higher from the front which makes it harder to accurately gauge. Instead, set up your tripod from the side and do not angle it up or down.
Be sure to read up on the rules for your meet and see what commands they require. Practice following these commands early and often in training so that you are prepared to follow them in your first powerlifting meet. It is even better if you can have someone you trust to call them for you, especially if they have competed before and know what they’re doing. Pause your benches and don’t immediately throw it back into the rack. Don’t hitch your deadlifts as they won’t count and don’t drop the bar after you finished the lift. You wouldn’t believe how many people I see at meets that miss their attempts because they forget the commands. Don’t be that guy (or girl)! Watch this video, which is also embedded below, to get a better idea of the commands you should expect at your first powerlifting meet. The rules vary from federation to federation though, so be sure to read the rules book well before it’s time to step on the platform.
Once you’ve selected your first powerlifting meet, it’s time to stick with what you are most comfortable with in training. It may be tempting to experiment, but playing around with your bench grip, deadlift stance or where you carry the bar on your back during squats is only going to detract you from the task at hand. Mess around with these variables when you have the time to and there’s nothing at stake, not when you have a meet coming up.
Have the Necessary Equipment
Although you don’t need too much to compete in your first powerlifting meet, almost all meets require that you wear a wrestling singlet like this and a pair of socks that cover the shins so that you don’t bleed on the bar. Don’t put off ordering these. You want to have them well ahead of schedule just in case you have any issues with sizing or delays.
If the meet allows knee sleeves and you don’t have a pair, I suggest you pick some up as well. With a pair of good knee sleeves, you can squat more and protect your knee from damage. For an overview of some knee sleeves that I recommend, click here. Practically every lifter wears a belt on their squats and deadlifts, and it’s not uncommon to get 50 pounds or more out of one. Wrist wraps (store) and foam rollers, which I covered in this article, prove to be valuable as well, but are not required if you are on a budget.
Choose Your Attempts Wisely
Poor attempt selection is one of the most common mistakes I see by lifters at their first powerlifting meet. If you follow my earlier advice and train properly for your meet, this crisis can easily be averted; however, there will still be those who try to be too ambitious with their attempts. The worst thing you can do is miss all of your openers for a lift and bomb out, so my best piece of advice is to pick openers that you know you can do on any given day, regardless of the circumstances. Even if you’re sick with the flu, you still should be able to get this lift.
To truly know what this number will be for a given lift, you have to test in training to find out. Six weeks to a month out depending upon your training level (more advanced should be further out), pick a weight you have recently done for a triple and hit it for multiple singles during the final weeks leading up to your first powerlifting meet. If you ever grind with the weight, then it’s too heavy to be your opener.
After your openers, I would make selections based on feel. I know a lot of people come in basing everything, including their openers, off percentages off projected one rep maxes or a max they have done in the past. I am not a fan of these as neither are an accurate depiction of what you are capable of in that given moment on the platform. Unless the lifter is extremely conservative, their attempts almost never go as planned. Play it by ear and don’t be married to any specific number.
Rest Before the Meet
If you’ve been training hard for the past twelve to sixteen weeks for your first powerlifting meet, chances are you’re starting to feel pretty beat up. The final week before the meet is a perfect time to deload or even take off completely. By giving yourself some rest, you are guaranteed to come in feeling fresh and ready to crush some big PRs. This is also a good time for some mental relaxation. Spend time with your significant other, family or interests that you normally don’t have the time to partake in.
Show up Early For Weigh Ins
Most federations allow you to weigh in as early as 24 hours prior to the meet. Although I don’t recommend cutting weight for your first meet because it will ruin your meet if done incorrectly, you should still show up as early as possible. This way you don’t have to rush, can ask questions and have more time after to do whatever else you like the rest of the day. For those who are curious or experienced lifters who happen to be reading this, I have created an excellent two-part series on the process of cutting weight for a powerlifting meet that’s worth a read. Here are the links: Cutting Weight For Powerlifting Competitions and How to Put Weight Back on After Weigh Ins.
Bring Your Gear to Weigh Ins
Although I have yet to see a meet do this, some meets require you to bring your lifting gear with to be checked at weigh ins. This includes your socks and underwear. Read the rule book, contact the meet director or bring with your gear to weigh ins just in case.
Don’t Skip the Rules Meeting
Every meet has a rules meeting on the day of the meet before lifting commences. While this is optional and often early in the morning when you would rather be asleep, don’t skip it if this is your first powerlifting meet. The rules meeting provides an excellent opportunity to ask questions, solidify your understanding of the rules, meet fellow lifters and get a sense of the judges and what they expect out of the competitors. In addition, rack heights for the squat are typically determined at the end of the rules meeting and this isn’t something you want to miss.
Bring a Handler
Your first powerlifting meet can be scary! I know my first one was nerve-wracking! Luckily for me, I compete with a team of fellow powerlifters that were there to guide me through this new experience. While you may not have access to a team like I do, you most likely have a training partner, friend or even family member that can come along to help. Obviously, it would be best if this person is an experienced powerlifter with multiple competitions under his or her belt; however, anyone is better than being alone!
Make it clear what you expect from your handlers before the meet. Personally, I need a handler to help me with my knee wraps and get my warm ups in on time, but everyone’s needs are different.
Don’t let your handlers help go unappreciated. At the very least, pay for their food and room (when applicable) if you asked them to make the trip just for you. By showing good manners and making the meet an enjoyable event for your handlers, they are more likely to agree to assist you in future powerlifting meets.
Warm Up Early
The most confusing aspect of my first powerlifting meet were the warm ups. You have a limited amount of time to warm up on equipment you’ve never used before and to top it off, you have to share it with numerous other lifters of different strengths and sizes. With all the loading and unloading of plates and changing of rack heights, warm ups can easily become a nightmare. Because of such, I always recommend that you begin your warm ups early. I would rather finish early and re-attempt the same weight a time or two to stay warm than miss my last two warm ups because I ran out of time.
You are going to spend a lot of time standing around at your first powerlifting meet, whether it be between warm-ups, attempts or events. It is imperative that you stay warm at all times. A warm muscle has desirous tensile properties and is less likely to suffer an injury. You would also be surprised at how many powerlifting meets are held in cold venues. Fight off the cold with a pair of sweats and do mobility work or foam roll during your free time.
Arrive with Food, Water and Supplements
My first powerlifting meet lasted for five hours, but one meet that I competed in lasted for twelve hours! I may not have lifted for twelve hours, but that’s still a long time without proper nutrition if you don’t come prepared. Bring a day’s worth of food consisting exclusively of foods that your stomach tolerates well. As much as I love spicy food, it’s off-limits the day of my meet. I don’t want to spend my entire meet on the toilet, nor should you! Stay away from heavy foods as well, as the bloat they cause can be an uncomfortable distraction.
Staying hydrated is one of the biggest keys to success in any athletic event. This holds true for powerlifting too. To improve your hydration efforts, I recommend a formula that I wrote about here. The formula consists of coconut water, Nuun hydration tablets, Intra-MD Periworkout Formula (or any fast digesting carb source) and creatine. If your budget doesn’t allow it, this formula is hardly required for success at your first powerlifting meet; it just happens to be a formula that I find extremely useful.
Don’t forget your favorite supplements, especially your pre-workout or caffeine! For more information on my favorite supplements for powerlifting, check out this article: Best Powerlifting Supplements Stacks.
Don’t Overdo the Stimulants
If you want a guaranteed way to get sick at your first powerlifting meet, load up on the stimulants. According to Examine.com, caffeine comes with myriad benefits including increased power output, adrenaline and reduced rate of perceived exertion. Undoubtedly, caffeine is a potent (and legal) performance enhancing agent, but more isn’t always better.
Caffeine Informer notes many side effects from caffeine overdose including, but not limited to: nervousness, nausea, anxiousness, heart palpitations, sweating, dizziness and vomiting. Based off this, large amounts of caffeine are only going to make nerves and anxiety that naturally come with your first powerlifting meet worse and if you are profusely sweating and vomiting, hydration is going to be impossible.
Rather than cutting out caffeine or pre-workout entirely, test the dose you want to take at your meet in training. If you tolerate it well, then you’re good to go. If not, make reductions until you find a dose that you can handle.
Above all else, have fun! As a competitive powerlifter, I understand that you spent countless hours in the gym and hundreds of dollars on this meet, but it’s all for naught if you don’t enjoy it! Learn from the experience so that you can come into the next meet better and stronger, and savor the victories as they come.
Powerlifting Meet Checklist
Bold items are required for most powerlifting meets.
___ Underwear (make sure it’s legal according to the rule book)
___ Deadlift socks
___ T-Shirt (must have sleeves)
___ Change of clothes
___ Knee Sleeves and/or wraps
___ Wrist wraps
___ Elbow sleeves
___ Chalk (don’t rely upon the meet chalk as baby powder may get mixed in)
___ Baby powder (for legs when deadlifting)
___ Towel (I like to have one in case baby powder gets on the bottom of my shoes)
___ Resistance bands
___ Stickum Spray (Helps you stick to the bench, not legal in some federations)
___ NSAID (Ibuprofen, Tylenol, Aspirin, etc)
Your first powerlifting meet seems like a daunting task, but you have nothing to fear. Through intelligent preparation and dedication in training, you will shine on the platform. Follow these tips and bring the checklist with and you and success will be yours! What are you waiting for?
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