What to expect at your first (powerlifting) competition

After attending the GBPF South East Open at the weekend, I had an idea to write a couple of posts on “Competing 101”. Obviously I’m not an accomplished lifter, but I’ve competed quite a few times now & know what to expect. There seemed to be few newbies on Sunday who looked like they’d never watched a competition before & were a bit confused as to what was expected of them & what was going on. Obviously there are loads of other writers out there who are better lifters than I, but here’s my take on it…

Plan for a long day

Back when I started competing, competitions generally started weigh-ins at 8am, lift-off was 10am and everything finished up at maybe 5-6pm. Nowadays powerlifting seems to be a lot more popular, and it’s not unusual for competitions to end at 8 or even 10pm. So be prepared for a long day with a lot of waiting around. Bring a book, newspaper, your favourite tunes etc and don’t be surprised if you get bored. Half the challenge on competition day is staying motivated when you have to wait up to 2 hours between lifts.

Bring food – enough of it

The chances are you’ll be arriving at the venue before you’ve had breakfast, and leaving around the time you’d have dinner, so bring a day’s worth of food. If you need to make weight then you’ll probably want to save your breakfast for post-weigh in.

Usually, venues are in areas where there are shops nearby, but sometimes they’re not. For example, Moulton College in Northamptonshire is a great venue, but it’s in the middle of nowhere and you won’t have time to pop out between lifts to buy food. So plan ahead, and bring a cooler if necessary.

As for what kind of food to bring: competition day is not a day where you’re going to restrict what you eat. You might stick to 1700kcals on a normal day and avoid sugar etc; but IMHO that should all go out of the window when you’re competing. Don’t bring unfamiliar foods or ones you don’t tolerate well, obviously, but do bring easily-digestible carbs and protein.

Personally, I like to bring a ham & cheese sandwich on white bread, to eat after weigh-in. White bread is nice & light in my tummy and digests quickly, and the ham & cheese are good protein. Once I’m lifting, I tend to mainline Jaffa Cakes (again, nice & light, so they don’t sit heavily in my stomach before a big squat/deadlift), coffee, and Haribo sweets (sugar!!).

Don’t be surprised if you see people scoffing MacDonalds/KFC etc. Most of the articles out there suggest you bring things like granola, bananas, rice cakes with honey etc; but the majority of powerlifters I know don’t stick to “good nutrition” on meet day. You just need calories, and foods that won’t weigh you down. Your weight/fat loss goals can wait!

Bring the right equipment

Check your federation’s website before you pack your bag. On Sunday there were a few lifters who hadn’t brought the right clothing – no singlet, no long socks, no appropriate t-shirt etc. When a competition day is already long, mistakes like this just add more time and try the patience of everyone.

Requirements vary from federation to federation, but for an unequipped meet you will need (at least) – a singlet, a t-shirt (that covers your delts), long socks & appropriate shoes. Check your federation’s allowances on things like knee sleeves/wraps (e.g. in the GBPF, knee sleeves are allowed in unequipped lifting but knee wraps are not), wrist wraps, elbow sleeves, belt type etc.

If you’re in any doubt at all, ask. Most competitions have an equipment check when you weigh in, but if there’s no check, ask the person weighing you in to check your equipment is OK. If you’ve forgotten something, other lifters are often happy to lend you things. Ask nicely 🙂

Also: bring a spare pair of underpants. You will thank me for this later.

Keep warm & mobilized

Bring a sweatshirt, leggings/jogging bottoms and a towel. You will be sitting around a lot between lifts, and you want to stay warm (the towel can be used as a blanket for your legs, as well as for cleaning yourself up after the competition!). Bring Deep Heat and/or ice packs too, if you think your muscles will need the help. Some people bring foam rollers with them to use between lifts.

Know what’s expected of you

Learn the commands before you get on the platform. This is so important. I have seen quite a few competitors who don’t realise they need to pause their bench press, or that they need to wait for the squat command etc. Again, look up your federation’s rules in advance and practise practise practise in the gym. Get a friend to say the commands to you when you’re training; get used to not replacing the bar straight away when you squat or bench; figure out how much you can bench press with a pause, etc. Failing a lift because you couldn’t follow the commands is frustrating – you can lift the weight, but you get red-lighted for not listening!

Similarly, there are different rules in different federations on things like foot position for the bench press; use of monolifts etc. Again, read up. There is no point in arguing with a referee who tells you to put your feet flat on the floor, that you saw so-and-so benching on his toes on YouTube. That guy on YouTube was probably lifting in a different federation (some allow benching on toes, some do not) and arguing with the referee is just wasting everyone’s time. Don’t do it (I’ve seen it happen!).

Have fun!

All the above is probably a bit terse, but hopefully I don’t need to tell you to enjoy yourself!! Competing is quite nervewracking, but it’s really good fun. You probably won’t be looking to break records at your first competition, so try not to stress about your performance – think of your first one as a practice session for later competitions.

Talk to the other lifters and get to know them. Chances are you’ll encounter them again in future competitions, and more experienced lifters will have tips on what to do on the platform. Bring a camera and ask someone to take your picture when you’re lifting – you’ll want to show off your achievements on Facebook 🙂

What are your tips for competing? Is there anything you want to know that I haven’t touched on here?


5 thoughts on “What to expect at your first (powerlifting) competition

  1. mandy @ fatgirlgonehealthy

    This is some good stuff. I’ve had couple people tell me I could powerlift. If I ever move away from Crossfit and focus on lifting, I may give it a try. I had no idea you could go hours between lifts. That would be so hard for me!

    1. lozette Post author

      It does depend on how many lifters there are (on Sunday there were 71) but yes, you can potentially wait around a *lot*!

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