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Do I NEED a handler?

Written by Sarah Strong

Short answer, no, likely not if you’re a raw lifter. But let me expand. 

As powerlifting has popularized and especially with the rise of lifting on Instagram, the use of handlers at meets has also risen. It seems trendy to have a handler at meets today. I hear many new lifters state that they “need” a handler. But, in most cases, I don’t think a handler is necessary.

What is a handler?

“Handler” is a generic term for a person designated to help you at a meet. This job can have many variants depending on the athlete’s needs. Typical duties of a handler include:

– calling numbers for attempts

– setting up warm-up weights

– wrapping a lifter or helping the lifter get into gear

– doing hand-offs

– making sure the athlete rests, hydrates, and eats appropriately

Many lifters feel they cannot compete without a handler. However, this is not an issue of whether they can physically compete. It is normally an issue of confidence. If you want to compete as a powerlifter, especially as a raw lifter, I do not believe you need a handler. I competed my first four years without a handler and achieved an elite total doing so. It is 100% possible to be a successful raw lifter without a handler. When I first did get a handler, it was because I was in wraps. The handler was my coach, who knew my lifting and knew how I liked to be wrapped.

Too often, I see newer lifters fall into the Instagram pressure and hire some random person to become their handler. Oftentimes, this person has never lifted with or worked with the athlete. They do not know the athlete’s technique. They do not know their limits. They simply know nothing about the lifter other than basics. And lifters somehow trust this stranger to advise them on meet day and call numbers. I don’t know about you, but I trust myself a hell of a lot more than I trust a stranger. 

One common job of a handler is to call numbers for attempts. If you want someone to call your numbers, they absolutely need to know you as a lifter. They need to know what you look like when you’re at your max. They need to know what size jumps you’re comfortable with taking. Hiring a stranger to make these calls is asinine and often leads to throwing the meet away. I believe it is your job as an athlete to know what attempts you should make. Sure, sometimes we might consult a second person if we’re torn. But in the end, this is your meet. It’s your body, and it’s your training. You need to build the mental strength and confidence to pick your meet day attempts.

If you do feel the need to get a handler, it needs to be someone you have trained with. It should be a person who knows your communication style (ie. Do you need tough love or positivity? Do you like pep talks or to be left alone?). It should be a person with a wealth of knowledge not just about powerlifting, but about YOUR lifting. Because this is about you. You could hire the best coach in the world to handle you; but, if that person has never worked with you and doesn’t know your limitations, strengths, and weaknesses, it would be disastrous.

When is a handler needed?

If you compete in wraps or in geared lifting, you would benefit more from a handler. In these categories, you likely need someone to wrap you, help get you in your suit/shirt, and watch the timing of the meet. Getting wrapped or putting on a suit or shirt takes time, and an experienced handler can help time this for you so you don’t miss your time on the platform.

Now, just because I don’t think raw lifters NEED handlers, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have support with you at a meet. There is definitely value in having friends and family there to support you and help out in small ways, like helping load warmup plates or running to get you food in an emergency. But, there’s a difference between having a support person and shelling out the big bucks (I’ve seen people pay A LOT for handlers) to have someone take control of your meet. Remember, this is YOUR meet. Take pride in that and take ownership of your lifting.

At the end of the day, this is your competition. Take power in that knowledge and let it motivate you to not just become physically stronger, but to become mentally stronger. I have seen too many lifters pay exorbitant amounts of money for a stranger to be in control of their meet. If you’re a raw lifter, I implore you to take that control.

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