Well done on deciding that you want to compete in powerlifting.
It takes a shit tonne of guts to decide that you want to lift in front of other lifters and a crowd and showcase what you’ve worked on in the gym for the previous weeks/months/years.
Taking the leap of faith and entering your first meet can be a daunting event.
It can feel like a massive deal to enter one. You have that thought in the back of your head like:
“I’m gonna make a tit out of myself here”
“I’m gonna finish last because everyone else will be so much stronger”
“I’m not strong enough to enter a powerlifting meet yet”
This ^^^ is perfectly normal.
I’ve been competing in powerlifting now for 18 months, and before I entered my first meet, I had these exact same thoughts running through my head. Worrying that I wasn’t going to do well, worrying that everyone would be stronger than me etc.
But the thing is, what I come to realise from that first meet.
Nobody at the meet was even arsed about the amount of weight anybody else was lifting, literally, all they cared about was that you stood/pressed/pulled that weight up and got 3 white lights.
Unless you’re about to break a regional/national/world record, all people care about is that you complete the lift.
My personal advice, as to when ‘the right time’ for your first meet should happen, is as soon as you can.
There is no ‘right time’ per se; because the longer you put it off, the bigger deal it begins to feel like.
Powerlifting is pretty good for ease of entry as a sport. Meaning that, there are loads of novice competitions that you can enter, which means you’ll be up against people in the same position as you, which always makes the whole thing a lot less daunting.
Often the reason people don’t feel ready is that they look at elite/national level lifters posting up huge numbers on Instagram, facebook etc and people assume that’s the regular standard of lifter. So, if you adopt that thought process, then yeah, you might not be ‘ready’ for a national level competition, but that’s exactly why there are novice competitions in place.
The biggest step you can take is to get yourself signed up, get a singlet and start consistently training for the competition, irrespective of the numbers you’re currently lifting in the gym.
However, there are a few factors that you should take into account firstly.
- Is your technical skill there?
Powerlifting, although on the outset looks like a sport where you just muscle the weights up, does require a tremendous amount of skill. Squatting, benching and deadlifting all take time to learn the skill of the movement. And they take even longer to get to a decent level of strength with them. So, take 8-10 weeks to just actually learning the skill of each of the lifts and how that movement works for you.
If you’re not sure?
Hire a coach that knows what they’re talking about, someone who has either coached powerlifters or is a powerlifter themselves. Better than that, if you can find a club where there are lots of lifters, you’ll have an even better chance of success; training in a group setting helps to increase your technical skill (provided the group’s skill is good), because you’ll model their lifts, reinforcing better technical skill.
Without getting too bogged down in the logistics of the big 3 lifts, you’ll need to be able to perform them to competition standards, these are outlined below:
- Squat so that the crease of your hip goes below your knee.
- For your bench press, the lift will need to be paused on your chest until the centre judge gives the press command. So, if you’ve never practised a paused bench (which I hadn’t before my first meet), you’ll want to get at least a few sessions in of this first.
- For your deadlift, you’ll need to practice holding the weight at lock out until you’re told to put the bar down, this is usually only a second (sometimes less), but when you’re lifting maximally, it can feel quite a bit longer.
Once your technical skill is there, you’ll want to train consistently for a powerlifting meet.
- Training for a powerlifting meet
Similar to point 1, if you’re unsure of how you should be training towards a powerlifting competition, then don’t be afraid to approach somebody for help. Often letting someone else take control of your program can make things a lot less stressful, as this will take out the common analysis by paralysis out of the equation for you.
To gain a decent amount of strength, it requires time and patience, so book your powerlifting meet well in advance, they usually open for entry 7-8 weeks out from the meet, but if you block it out in your calendar around 12-16 weeks away, this will give you plenty of time to train for one.
Ensure that as you near the end of your training cycle (2-4 weeks away), that you’re getting used to lifting near maximal weights, in the 85-95% range, as lifting maximally is an entirely different skill to that of lifting in the 70-80% range.
Most of your work prior to a meet (maybe besides the last 2-4 weeks), should be focussed in the 70-85% range, as this is where not only will you gain the most amount of strength, but also, you’ll gain a solid technical base that you can build upon after your first meet.
My advice to people considering entering a powerlifting competition:
- There is no magical ‘ready’ zone; strength is all relative, so get out on the platform, learn from the experience and use this to fuel your next training block/cycle.
- Dial in your technique. Whilst powerlifting is a maximal lifting sport, if you focus on your technique now, it won’t be an issue later down the line. Lift for longevity, not for constant pb’s.
- Remember that unless you’re going for a new regional/national/world record, nobody is concerned with how much you’re lifting, just that you complete the lift.
Joe Corbin is a personal trainer and a coach to powerlifters and weightlifters; he has also donned the platform himself 3 times. Prior to this, Joe studied for his master’s degree at the University of Edinburgh whilst working at the Centre for Sport and Exercise as a strength and conditioning coach.