Your First Meet: Part III The Meet

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It’s here! You’ve set up clearly defined goals. You’ve busted your ass for the past eight, twelve, or sixteen weeks. And now, quite simply, it’s show time. Unfortunately, while this should be the best part of the entire process, it can very quickly become the worst. There’s no feeling worse than not performing as expected on meet day.

In all honesty, this is the article that originally prompted the series. This past April I went to my first powerlifting meet in almost a year, and I saw a ton of mistakes that easily could’ve been corrected. The bad news is silly mistakes on meet day lead to unrealized goals and frustration with the entire training process.

If you’re a seasoned veteran, you may not get much out of this final installment. If you’re a rookie, however, this may be the single most important article that you read. I’m going to cover all the reasons why people may fail in their first meet along with some strategies to avoid these failures. If you’ve trained your ass off and have done things the right way, you deserve to succeed on meet day. Hopefully, this article will help you out on that path.

Get a “handler”

No, this isn’t the guy who’s hanging out under a bridge begging for your change. In powerlifting meets, a “handler” is someone who helps you throughout the day—stuffing you into your gear, wrapping your knees, and running your numbers among other things. A good handler is a true blessing.

If you’re entering your first meet, an experienced handler can give you a leg up on the competition. Not only do they make your life simpler and less stressful, but it helps to have someone knowledgeable to remind you to get your commands, help cue you from a technical standpoint, and help you pick your attempts.

Because this person gives up a day of their life to help you be successful in a meet, it is customary to buy your handler a steak dinner and a beer after the meet. After all, everyone knows the handler quite often works harder than the lifter on meet day. Don’t forget to thank them!

The weigh-in

This may be the best piece of advice I can give a rookie lifter. If this is your first meet, don’t worry yourself over what weight class you will compete in. In all honesty, the only thing that matters up front is that you competed, not that you squatted, benched, or deadlifted X amount of pounds in the Y weight class.

What you’ll typically see is this. A competitor wants to compete in a specific weight class but has no clue how to lose weight. He may drastically cut calories, curb his water intake, or go the more radical route by using a sauna or sweat suit to get the weight off. Bad idea! Not only can these things alter your performance, but they’ll almost certainly affect how your gear fits. As I said up front, regardless of the numbers you want to hit, your primary goal in this meet should be to have some success. If you’re trying to drop ten pounds in 24 hours just to make weight, chances are you’ll end up miserable and under perform anyway.

Choosing openers

This is another issue I see all too often. I don’t remember who told me this, but it is great advice that I’ve used time and again. Your opener should always be easy. How easy? It should be something that you can triple on any given day. Even if you were up all night before the meet throwing up, you should be able to hit your opener. That’s how easy it should be.

This advice has never failed me. There’s nothing worse than missing your opening squat and then having to take it again. Even if it was just a slight technical error, it negatively affects your psyche and forces your hand with regards to the numbers you may try and hit later on.

Ideally, you should smoke your opener with no issues. Some would even say that your opener is your last warm up attempt. Your second attempt should push things a bit. Depending on how seasoned you are with your lifting, this could be the time to break a PR. Finally, the third attempt should be a no holds barred, gut wrenching attempt.

Getting commands

Another issue that I see all too often is lifters who fail to get the commands for their lifts. If you’ve never trained with a powerlifting crew before, this part is really important. I recommend getting full commands from your training partners for your last 2–3 training sessions to make sure it’s automatic.

When you lift in a powerlifting meet, there are specific rules and regulations that you must follow. About thirty minutes before the meet begins, there should be a rules briefing to let you know the specific commands for each lift. For example, there are two commands for the squat—squat and rack. So, for the performance of your lift, you should unrack the bar and either stand up or walk it out (depending on if you’re in a Monolift or not). However, don’t just start squatting! You have to demonstrate command to the head judge, who will then tell you to “squat!” Take the lift down into the depths and then return to the starting position. Again, you must demonstrate control to the judges. At this point in time, they will tell you to “rack.” Then and only then do you rack the bar.

I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen “miss” weights because they didn’t get their commands. And keep in mind, I use the term “miss” for a reason. They didn’t miss it because they weren’t strong enough. They missed it because they didn’t follow the rules! This happens more times than not in the bench press and squat. Some are so jacked up from hitting a big lift that they forget about the “rack” command. This is the worst because you completed the lift but won’t get credit for it because you didn’t follow the commands!

Don’t let this happen to you. Understand the rules and regulations that you must follow in a competition. This will ensure that the only weights you miss are the ones that are just too heavy for you on that particular day.

Have fun

Powerlifting should be fun, especially in the beginning. Just like your fist soccer or basketball game as a child, your first meet should be a positive experience for you. My first meet was a really fun day. I was weak as a kitten, but hey, I got on the platform and lifted my hardest. At the end, I was exhausted, but I had a definite feeling of satisfaction from having pushed myself to the limits.

Over the course of a few years, I had some not so hot meets that really frustrated me and took the fun out of the sport. About two and a half years in, I had a heart to heart with myself and decided one thing. I was working too hard in the gym not to relax a bit and enjoy the actual competition side of things. I needed to let my hard work in the gym show up when I went to a meet. Quite simply, it needed to be at least somewhat fun if I was going to continue competing.

Over the last year that I lifted competitively, I saw the most rapid progress in my training career. I didn’t really change my programming all that much. I simply continued to train hard in the gym and allowed myself to perform well on meet days.

The bottom line is train your ass off in the gym and be confident when you hit the platform on meet day. We all have jobs to slough off to on a daily basis. When your “sport” starts to feel more like “work,” it’s time to reevaluate things.

That pretty much wraps things up. I hope this series has been helpful for you, especially if you’ve been on the fence in regards to lifting competitively. If you’re a former athlete like me, the sport of powerlifting may be one of the most rewarding endeavors in your life.

Train hard, train smart, and best of luck with your powerlifting career!


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