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Powerlifting Meets - What To Expect

Preparing wrist wraps before bench pressing
Preparing wrist wraps before bench pressing

Occasionally, a trainee will be so bitten by the Iron bug that they will decide to dip their toe into the world of competition. Competing in Power- or Strength- Lifting meets is a good way to add an element of fun and motivation to your training. You do not need to be any certain level of strength to enter these meets, and you certainly do not need to be "world class" levels of strong. Competing is a fun way to chase some PR's, make new friends, and help structure your year with very clear goals. I encourage many people to compete in these meets for these reasons. Before committing to a meet, knowing what to expect can help make your experience an enjoyable one.

First things: How do I sign up for a powerlifting meet and what equipment do I need?

There are many different federations out there - seriously, there are hundreds - but in my opinion, the best ones are the USPC, USPA, and USAPL. You can visit any of these federations online and find their calendars and look for a meet in your area. It will also be a good idea to read the rulebook to find out weigh-in expectations and equipment specification. If you decide to do a meet, you'll likely need to purchase a membership before entering the meet officially.

As far as equipment, each federation is slightly different but if you're competing in the "Raw" division you'll need shoes, a non-padded belt, knee-length socks for deadlifting, a singlet (I used a cheap wrestling singlet) a cotton t-shirt for squatting and benching, and underwear with no legs (whitey tighties!)

Second things: What does the day of a powerlifting meet look like?

Every powerlifting meet starts the day with a rules meeting - attendance is recommended, especially for first-time lifters. Each lift has different commands associated with it, so it's recommended that you learn the commands ahead of time and practice with them, so you aren't freestyling on the platform.

If you are going to attend the meeting, you'll also want to make sure you plan breakfast

time accordingly. In fact, you'll want to have a plan for all your meals. Usually, you'll want to pack 2-3 healthy meals with you for the day, along with a few quick-digesting snacks. This gives you the flexibility to operate the day effectively regardless of the pacing of the meet.

Typically, meets are divided into 3-4 "flights" consisting of anywhere between 8 and 15 lifters. These flights operate like a batting order in baseball. The first lifter will do their first squat, then the second lifter, and so on, until you are back to the top of the order for second attempts. This goes on until all lifters in the flight have completed 3 attempts, and then the flights change. All squats will be completed first, then all bench presses, then all deadlifts, and the meet is over. If you are in Flight A, you are the first lifters of the day.

Getting under a heavy squat
Getting under a heavy squat

Once your squat is complete, you will have some downtime before you bench. This is a good time to kick your shoes off, sit down, and get a small meal in, and then repeat the process at the conclusion of the bench press. Relaxing and ramping yourself back up is perhaps the most difficult part of these meets, and by the end of the day you are pretty well spent because of it.

Third things: The lifts!

This is, after all, what you came to the meet for, so you might as well get these right! When choosing your first attempts ("openers") you want to choose a weight you could hit any day of the week. You'll be very jittery when the opening squats start, so you'll want a weight on the bar that will make it easy to focus on the judges commands and not grinding out the rep.

After completing your first attempt, check the judges lights to see if you received any red lights. If at least 2/3 of the lights are white, the lift counts. If you received any reds, however, it's a good idea to ask the judge who gave the red for an explanation of why, unless it is obvious. Judges are very helpful at meets and will tell you how to execute the lift differently next time in order to complete the attempt. Regardless of if you received white lights or not, you'll need to immediately walk to the officials table to choose your next attempt. On the second attempt, I like to aim for a small PR. This allows you to go for a big PR on your third attempt if you are successful or retry the same weight if you are not.

Conclusion of the Meet

Once the meet is over, there will be a short intermission while the judges and officials table calculate the winners. This usually takes 30 or so minutes, and awards are handed out after. At this point, you are ready to head out and grab a really good meal that can fuel your recovery and celebrate your hard-fought day!

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