Learning to Compete

At my first powerlifting competition in August 2015 I made my fair share of rookie mistakes that really opened my eyes to the sport. Here are just a few examples:

  • Mistake #1: I started the day by poorly timing my squat warmups, I waited too long to start and before I knew it I was told by a friend helping me that day that I was two lifters out. At that point I hadn’t even taken 4 plates yet and had just a few minutes to get ready to take my opener.  I had to skip my last warm up and hurry to self-wrap my knees with a minute and a half to get up to the platform.
  • Mistake #2: I ended up missing the attempt anyways, as I let the nerves and frustration of rushing up to the platform get the best of me and I fell forward with 440 lbs on my back after I had already stood up with the weight. I was lucky to rebound and make the weight on my second attempt and go on to hit a 500lb squat on my third.
  • Mistake#3: Failing to wait for the press command caused me to miss my second bench attempt at 310 lbs. Again, I let the nerves get the best of me here since I had never benched under the pressure of competition before. I also probably could have stood to practice the commands a few more times in the training leading up to the meet.
  • Mistake #4: I nearly ran out of food by the time deadlifts rolled around. I didn’t do my research so I didn’t plan for the meet to last 8+ hours. Anyone who has been to, or competed in a meet knows how taxing it can be, and an ample amount of food is critical to performance. Luckily my brother was there looking out for me and went and bought me a Subway sandwich before I began my warmups. Disaster averted!

Although I rebounded well from my mistakes and had a day I still consider a great success, going 7/9 and recording a 1365 total in the 198lb weight class, the mistakes I made still served their purpose and led me to the realization that day that going forward I would need to not only get stronger, but that I would need to practice competing if I was going to have any significant success in this sport.

After just one meet I gained the understanding that powerlifting is not only about being strong on meet day, but that competing is actually a skill in and of itself. For this reason I like to compete as often as I can. After my first meet, I finished 2015 with two meets on back to back weekends in December, competed in four meets in 2016 (two full, two push/pull) and two full meets this year with a third full meet on the calendar in November. The November meet will put me at 10 meets in less than 3 years.

On occasion, a fellow lifter will tell me that they are interested in competing but follow that up by telling me that they are waiting until they are strong enough to win before they compete. While this makes sense at first glance, from my experience it’s a little more complex than that. It turns out that winning a meet is more often the result of developing a solid strategy to ensure that all efforts in the gym will come to fruition when it counts. In my case, competing so frequently as a newer lifter has allowed me to make continued progress in each meet by learning from my mistakes and zoning in on my overall strategy from my peaking plan, attempt selection, and weight cuts all the way down to the foods I eat throughout the day, and to the music I listen to during my warmups.

Consider this: If I had been more conservative and competed in one meet per year like many have suggested I should, I would have 1/3 of the experience that I currently am able to draw from which I think would have left me playing catch up in the future as far as finding strategies that work for me. In many circles, competeing often is believed to cause burnout, but look at it this way: An average of three meets per year leaves plenty of time to rest and recover after one meet, while still leaving time to complete a full 12+ week training cycle for the next meet if you compete in one meet in the spring, summer and fall for example. These meets do not always need to be full meets either, as push/pull meets can be a great practice run since they present the same meet day situations without the stress of performing three lifts.  Not to mention push/pull meets are often shorter in duration and a lot less grueling in my experience.

My closing advice for any other young lifter like me is to sign up for as many meets as possible when starting out and gain valuable real-time experience. Assuming you take great care of your body and stay healthy, competing multiple times a year is advised! Powerlifting meets are no different than anything else in life, the more we do them the better we become.  By simply putting ourselves through the process of preparing for the meet and competing we can perfect our own strategy over time, which in turn will leave us a more confident competitor and primed for continued success on the platform!

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