Written by Helena Humphries
Firstly I would like to mention this blog is based on my experiences at competitions in Germany with GDFPF and BVDK, and at WDFDF in Italy 2015, and GBPF (IPF affiliate UK) and is more based on rules for IPF. For specific rules for your federation, please consult your federation’s rulebook. I am also a PT and online coach, if you have further questions or coaching enquiries feel free to email me or contact me via my coaching page on Instagram – these details are at the bottom of the document.
I have been Powerlifting for 7 years and competing for 5 years and I can remember my first powerlifting competition! I was very nervous, it was totally new to me, luckily I had a family friend to go with, this was in Germany when I was living out there. I didn’t have a coach at the time, didn’t know the rules of the competition very well, just the basics, so I wanted to do this blog post for anyone who is thinking about going to their first powerlifting comp, or maybe you’ve been and you’d like to know how to better prepare.
Here is what you can expect from arrival at the comp, to the competition finishing and your day being done ?
Arriving at the competition hall
You’ll arrive at the location, the first thing I would do is scope out the place, find the weigh-in room, check out the warm up zone, and where everything is located. It’s a good idea to look around the warm up zone as there may not be a lot of equipment so you need to figure out when to start warming up, for example if you have 15 people in your group within your weight class, and you are only sharing 2 squat racks, consider that it may take longer than 30 minutes for you to finish warming up for your squats. The last thing you want is for it to be your turn to lift and you still have warm up sets to finish- remember, you only get 1 minute to complete your turn on the platform!
When you arrive you will likely be given pieces of paper to add your opening weights for squat, bench and deadlift on, along with the barbell heights for squat and bench, this piece of paper is often handed in in the weigh-in room, so figure out your openers before then and add them to this.
Before your competition starts, there will be a window of time to find out the height of the squat rack, the bench press height and the safety heights, this might be something you should write down on a your attempt cards, or this info may need to be given to one of the organisers, find out from them.
Try to be there 2 hours before the competition starts, especially if this is your first competition as this leaves good time to warm-up, eat and make general preparations.
Weigh-in might open around an hour and half to hour before the comp start for your weight class and there will more than likely be a queue when it opens up so it is easy to spot, try to avoid a late weigh in because you may need to change your plan depending on the results of the weigh-in –
You may be dieting into a weight class, it is always useful to have your scales with you on the morning of your comp, if for example you are staying at a hotel, to check you are ok for the weigh in. If you get to the weigh in and you are slightly over your weight class, here are some things you can do to reduce you weight by a small margin – go to the toilet, a number 1 or 2, preferably 2, to reduce the weight, but also a trick I learnt before my Worlds in Gela, on the morning of the comp I realised I am slightly over the weight class, I did some short sprints 5x40m ish, also didn’t eat until after weigh in, and I was within the weight class.
If you are overweight after weigh in you have maybe 30 mins-1hour depending on how early you weighed in, to change your weight and come back and weigh in again.
Remember you can actually go naked on the scales if you are comfortable to do that to weigh as little as possible. Take some underwear that you feel comfortable in as you will be infront of some officials – women in the women’s weigh-in and men in the men’s weigh-in.
Before the comp & warming up
Eating! – What are you gonna eat? Carbs are a good idea. Myself and other people I know, often get a chicken pasta, tuna pasta, take some bananas too because often the comp will last some hours. Pasta and bananas are good examples of slow-release carbs which allow energy to be released over a longer duration, this happens as they release glucose into the blood more slowly. It may be a good idea to save your quick-release carbs, such as your sweets for your deadlift, because these can cause energy levels to rise quickly, but then drop, and you want to really avoid the drop in energy levels. So take sweets, you can eat plenty as you go through the comp but I probably would avoid these at the beginning. Energy drinks can be great, again consider how you react to these, if you know you drop in energy levels about an hour after drinking then maybe save it for mid way through your comp ?
Another thing about eating is that you might be too nervous to eat! This is kinda normal but try to eat because you will need the energy, as I said comps can stretch out over hours so it’s good to be well fuelled.
Before you warm up, next thing to do is to check out the info for the running order of the day. There will be most likely a piece of paper, or a screen where you can find your name, sometimes they divide 1 weight class into 2 flights. If you aren’t sure what it means ask one of the organisers but usually if they do split the group it may be Group A and Group B, and all of Group A will squat first, followed by all of Group B.
Allow 30-40 mins for the warm-up – I might do another video/blog post about the ideal warm up for competitions, and how many sets/reps should you do. A good coach will plan out your warm-up for you so you know exactly the weights and reps etc you have to do. This is something I do for my athletes and this helps to be organised.
The Competition begins…
With the running order they will start off with the person who squats the least, for the bench benches the least, and deadlift, deadlifts the least, and build up to the person with the highest attempt.
The lifters will line up ready to go and attempt their first lift. You get 3 attempts to eventually hit your 1 rep max. Hopefully you have timed your warm up well, can go and line up at least 3 lifters ahead of you. They will usually let you know 10 minutes to start or something like that.
You do your attempt, if you achieve this don’t forget to tell the officials at the panel your next attempt, this needs to be given straight after you have made your attempt. If you don’t make your attempt you cannot reduce the weight, you can only make the same attempt again, or if you’re confident you can increase anyway and work on the reason for failure and pray you get white lights. You cannot say “oh well that was too heavy, let’s go lighter for the next attempt”. It is a good idea to chose openers that are light enough for you to be confident with, bearing in mind the nerves are usually racked up for the first squat, but also not so light that the transition to the second lift will be feeling like a shock and feeling too heavy.
Once squats have been done, again check when your group needs to start warming up based on if there is another flight or not, otherwise begin warming up, again you should be able to assess roughly how long it takes to warm up based on your attempts.
The same procedure applies then for bench press and deadlift. Before you get to the last deadlift, the rules allow you make a change to your lift up to a minute before you are due to lift, this is to make the competition more interesting and where more tactics come into play. For example, deadlifts is the last lift, therefore you are getting a good idea of how the competition itself is going. There is usually a screen in the warm up area to show you the standings. If for example you are fighting for first place, you may want to tell the panel you will attempt a higher deadlift than you actually will. This will then force the other individual battling for first to do an attempt they may not be comfortable with and may not make which is riskier for them – this may help you to have the advantage. As I said, you then still have time to change your attempt before you do it, usually 1 minute before your attempt, but double check with the panel to be on the safe side.
After the competition…
Recommendation of having a coach there or someone experienced to guide you through the competition. Help with the maths, organisation, help you with the weights warming up, keeping you calm, guiding you through the process, maybe you need to get some more amenities as you didn’t bring enough they could do this whilst you warm up.
Once deadlifts are finished, that is your competition finished, and there may be a small ceremony/time to give out the medals, but this may not be immediately after you have finished, this is completely up to the organisers and you might have to wait around for this, but it is worth it if you have a medal, you’ll be able to tell who won sometimes by the screen in the warm up zone, or just keeping track yourself.
Then you can relax and go home!!
Competitions can last a few hours, sometimes longer if the organisation is awful, which it might be! You can’t control that, but you can control what you can control, which are all the things I have talked about. I was once at German nationals which were due to start for me at 7pm – unfortunately things were very very late and the competition didn’t start until gone 8pm – we were actually deadlifting at gone 11pm! This was a very badly organised comp and this happens for time to time!
Competitions can be very tiring mentally and physically, sometimes can be a rollercoaster of emotions, maybe disappointment, frustration, hopefully happiness and a feeling of being proud – and remember you can always be proud of yourself for pushing yourself, all the preparation you put in, putting yourself out of your comfort zone – maybe, facing yours fears perhaps with the weights, maybe you’re nervous about the audience watching you, but you accomplished it and did it! It is a great feeling to do a competition, especially when you achieve what you hoped for! Always remember to focus on yourself, there will be people there that can lift better then you probably in at least one of the disciplines, but focus on what you want to achieve and your goals and you don’t have to worry about the competition. There are a lot of nerves flying around, some people might get super aggressive for their lifting, but you might be a calm, collected lifter and that might not be your style- try not to let other people’s behaviour influence you and YOUR ZONE!
You might see various styles of lifting – don’t question your own! You have prepared in your own way for the competition and now is not the time to changing your technique! DO NOT doubt your technique at this point – improvements on technique can come after and that is what training is for. I have had these thoughts myself and you have to ignore this – go ahead and do your game plan!
That is my guide to the competition day! If you are a beginner, perhaps thinking about tactics is your last priority, and you just want to have your first experience at a competition and think about that as you improve. You might be a very strong lifter and be in with a chance at the medals and if this is the case, I would certainly recommend to take a coach or an experienced lifter who can guide you through the more complicated elements of the day, such as the tactics of the competition.
Any questions please put them down below. Are you thinking of competing let me know!
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