Powerlifting Meets: Five Things I've Learned
As I’m rolling into track season, and having put my third powerlifting meet in the archives, I’m beginning to reflect on what I've learned about getting ready. I don’t really mean what I’ve learned about training and peaking—I’m still such a novice at that I don’t know what I don’t know yet. But I’ve been watching and learning about how my body responds, and what other people seem to do and what that must mean, so I feel qualified to offer a few suggestions. Your mileage may vary.
Just lift at the weight you are. Don’t cut weight right up to the meet. Lesson learned the hard way for me. I was determined to lift at 74 kg at Raw Nationals. I was sure I had a chance to win at that weight. I burned it right down to the end, and made weight. Congratulations! Now I was so distracted, dehydrated, and off my routine that I bombed out of squats. Here would have been a far better plan. Register at the 83 kg. Stay hydrated and strong. Be in my zone. Make my lifts. If I’d done that, I’d have been very competitive at 83 kg. If I’d hit my gym PRs, I might even have won. I know I’d have been happier with my performance.
Have a coach, or at least a Sherpa who can handle things for you. I’ve said it before on this blog, but get a coach, for Heaven’s sake! You don’t know enough, if you’re a novice, to build a training progression. Even if you’ve been lifting for years, you haven’t been powerlifting for years. Your federation will judge lifts differently than you think. But that’s coaching. At the meet, you need someone to handle things. Time your warmups. Have you ready to lift when it’s your time on the platform. Help set your lifts after you crush your opener (or after you grind just a little on your opener). Until you have more experience, you just can’t do the best job of handling yourself. Just like mountaineers going up Everest need a Sherpa, you need a handler.
The day is long. A meet can go 8 hours, longer if there are organizational issues or technical problems. You have to be prepared to squat at 8 a.m. and maybe not bench until noon. If you’re not trying to cut weight up to the end (see #1 above), eat a nice breakfast several hours before you will lift. Bring a few dense snacks to tide you through, along with plenty of water. If it’s your thing, bring some caffeine too. But if you’re accustomed to a high flying pre-workout mix, use caution; you cannot keep that level of “high” all day long. You’ll flame out.
The day is long and there’s only so much excitement you can handle. Get “up” for your lifts. Absolutely. But warm up smart. I don’t find it particularly helpful to get wild in the warm up areas. Get focused and make the lifts about form and speed. Respect 135 the same as you respect 400. You’re an athlete; be in your zone during competition, not in the long stretches between flights. Between flights, relax. Listen to music, if that helps. Talk to others if you’re a social person. But do not become the 8 hour Grinch, staying in your Palace of Peakness for the whole time. You can’t maintain that. Be ready for your time to lift, and nail it.
Have fun. This is where everyone’s mileage really does vary. For some poor souls, fun can only be had when their PR coincides with a victory. If that’s true, not many people will have any fun on meet day. For some more fortunate others, and I include myself in this category, “fun” is when you have trained smart, peaked right, and chosen lifts that you can make, with the PR or near-PR on the third lift. “Fun” also is cheering for others who are getting it done right, and cheering for those who are having worse days, encouraging them to their best selves. And for me, “fun” includes meeting a few people I don’t know and hearing what they have to say. There was a time in my life as a sprinter when track meets had a good bit of “head game” going on. The best thing about master’s track is that, even among sprinters, no one really messes with the head games anymore. The best thing about powerlifting, to me at my level, is that it’s us against the weight, not us against each other. I have fun rooting for everyone there.
That’s what I know, or at least what three meets have taught me. I also know that I like this journey, which is about strength to be sure but which, in the end, is a cognitive exercise in increasing understanding as well, about what the body can do, and how to train it to do things better.