Competition Tips for the Beginner

July 24, 2016

This article is intended to help beginning lifters have a positive experience in their powerlifting meets. I have competed for 30+ years. In that time, I have won National titles and set multiple national records in the USPF, ADFPA, ADFPF, APF and USAPL. Additionally, I have won world titles in the WDFPF and WPC. I think it is fair to say that I have seen the entire spectrum of what is good, bad and ugly in this sport. At the end of the day, we all do this for one reason…..it is fun. No one is getting rich, so if you are not having fun and/or getting healthy then you might need to rethink your lifting strategies.

I had the benefit at age 14 to start training under Coach Dick Connors, founder of the Pit Barbell Club. Dick Connors knows more about training and lifting than anyone I have ever met. Period. If you train as Dick directs, you will have a long, successful, and fun lifting career. I am sure that in the future I will write about these training methods, but for today I am going to focus on preparation for and lifting on meet day. So here we go:

  1. Please do not make your first meet a National level contest. The judging is very strict and it is expected that lifters at this level know what they are doing. They are large meets and there is usually not as much mentoring for participants. There is a reason that the National Meet records are typically a little less the American records. Many lifters have their first meet at Nationals and do quite well. This is usually more of a testament to the coach than the lifter. If you do forego this advice (as many will), then please do not enter the meet expecting that your touch and go bench which you bounced off your chest two weeks ago, beating the national record, is going to get white lights. It won’t! In fact, re-bending your knees on deadlifts will also get red lighted with a much higher frequency at national meets. In fact, virtually every minor rule infraction will get caught. You may not like it, but everyone gets judged consistently on the same set of rules.
  2. Speaking of rules, do you know them? I mean, do you really know them? Have you actually read the rulebook or are you just listening to the ‘roided up, loud lifter who does his half squats in a triple-ply Kevlar suit before pronouncing how great he is? I often hear lifters say “He did or didn’t break parallel, what was wrong or why did that squat pass”? Well, the rule says nothing about breaking parallel. It states that the top of the thigh at the hip joint must go lower than the top of the knee (there is even a helpful diagram). Depending on your body proportions, you may or may not break parallel. Don’t believe me? Watch a 52kg lifter as compared to a 145kg lifter and you will see the definition of “parallel” can get rather skewed.
  3. Remember the loud, ‘roided up lifter mentioned above? Well, this brings me to my next point. He is not competing in the ADFPF and is probably following a different set of rules. I would advise you to get an experienced drug-free lifter to watch your competition lifts and give you appropriate commands in preparation for your meet. Too often, gym partners say, “Looked good,” or “That was all you, I barely touched it”. They are not doing you any favors. You want an experienced competition lifter to watch and critique you. When he says your squat was deep enough, you want to know it was deep enough. Period. Not almost or “pretty much.” Same thing on the bench command. That gym partner who yells “press” as soon as the bar touches your chest is not helping you. During training make sure you hold the bar for a clear, motionless pause. The deadlift is even tougher. A good, experienced lifter or coach knows what a hitch or a re-bend of the knee is and what it looks like. You need to clean that up before your meet. While powerlifting is about strength, part of the competition is the fact that you control the weight. The rules require that you control the weight. You hold it for a squat, start, press, rack and down command. This demonstrates control of the weight at each phase of the lift. Experienced lifters always control the weight even when they fail.
  4. Congratulations, we made it to the meet check-in. Since you are familiar with the rules, you have your briefs (not boxers), socks that cover your shins for deadlift, legal belt and lifting suit and know when you have to wear a t-shirt. And you know your shirt is a t-shirt without cutoff sleeves or inappropriate décor because you read the rules. You know that you need to enter your opening lifts. This is where new lifters (and even older lifters) really fall on their face. Do not open with anything higher than a weight you can complete for three repetitions under contest commands (which you trained for in the previous step). You will not AND SHOULD NOT win the meet with your opening lifts. As a good friend of mine says, “Think of the opener like a poker ante, it just gets you in the game. That’s all.”
  5. Well we are now on the platform. Hopefully your opening lift goes well. If it does, listen to your coach when considering your next attempt. As a general rule, I recommend a jump of 7.5 – 12.5kg jumps for squat and deadlift and 5kg – 7.5kg jump for bench press. Of course, this varies based on how your opener feels. However, an easy opener does not mean you can take a 50 lb. jump and actually succeed. Now, let’s assume your opening lift didn’t go well. Maybe you missed a command, or moved the wrong part of your body or just plain got nervous and lost your balance. No matter the reason…..DO NOT GO UP in weight. Keep your second attempt the same as your first and regroup. Remember that three misses disqualify you from the meet. This is really the opposite of fun. In 30+ years of lifting I have never “bombed” and have only ever missed my first attempt twice. Of all the lifters I have trained over the years, I have only ever had one lifter ever “bomb.” So trust me when I say the advice above works.
  6. When (not if) you miss a lift, politely ask the judges why you received a red light (if you do not already know). DO NOT argue the rules with them, tell them they are stupid, or any other disrespectful thing. Judges are human and if you are squatting marginally or any other borderline infraction, it’s best to have judges that like you and want you to succeed.

Congratulations! You just had a wonderful first meet experience. Now you can train and compete with more confidence in your next training cycle. Before you know it, you will be an example to others (we call that a coach). I hope you enjoyed these tips and they help you reach your goals.

Mike Stagg, President ADFPF

Copyright 2016 by Michael Stagg and the American Drug Free Powerlifting Federation