Congratulations on deciding to compete at your first powerlifting meet! If you have not decided which meet you will compete at, visit Powerlifting Watch to find one that you can go to.

If you have not decided whether you should start competing now, the answer is yes. I don’t care if you can only do the bar for each exercise, the experience and knowledge you gain from other experienced lifters is worth getting over your fears. I encourage everyone that has the slightest curiosity about competing in powerlifting to do it and do it as soon as you can.

Don’t expect to set world records your first event, don’t worry about what other people are lifting, and go to have fun.

What is a Powerlifting Event?

Powerlifting events consist of 3 events: Squat, Bench, Deadlift. There are some federations that offer a push/pull event which is a bench and deadlift only. There are also bench only, deadlift only, and other variations including strict curling in some federations.

During the event, each lifter is allowed 3 attempts at the squat, bench, and deadlift. The best successful lifts from each will count towards your overall total. If there is a tie, the lightest lifter will be declared the winner. The competition is against the same-sex in the same weight and age category.

There are three judges that collectively decide whether your lift is considered good or bad. Each judge is represented on a panel with 3 white lights and 3 red lights. If you receive 2 or 3 white lights for your lift, your lift is considered “good.” If you ever hear someone talking about getting “3 white lights” that’s what they are referring to.

Federations

There are many federations in powerlifitng. I would invite you to read up on the different federations and get some feedback from experienced lifters on which federations they prefer. Check out this link to compare the federations.

Some federations offer a 100% RAW division, others have a RAW division that allow wraps and a belt, and other classes for geared lifters and everything in between. Be sure to know your federation’s rules before signing up for the event.

Weight Classes

There are different weight classes in powerlifting and most federations generally use the same setup. Check your federations’ website for specific information.

Men’s Weight Classes

  • 52kg (114 pounds)
  • 56kg (123 pounds)
  • 60kg (132 pounds)
  • 67.5kg (148 pounds)
  • 75kg (165 pounds)
  • 82.5kg (181 pounds)
  • 90kg (198 pounds)
  • 100kg (220 pounds)
  • 110kg (242 pounds)
  • 125kg (275 pounds)
  • 140kg (308 pounds)
  • 140kg+ (308+ pounds, usually SHW)

Women’s Weight Classes

  • 44kg (97 pounds)
  • 48kg (106 pounds)
  • 52kg (114 pounds)
  • 56kg (123 pounds)
  • 60kg (132 pounds)
  • 67.5kg (148 pounds)
  • 75kg (165 pounds)
  • 82.5kg (181 pounds)
  • 90kg (198 pounds)
  • 90kg+ (198+ pounds)

Age Classes

Like weight classes, age categories can vary from federation to federation. Below are the most common:

  • 15-19
  • 20-23
  • Open (any age)
  • Masters (40+)

Erin Shaw Powerlifter

Essential Powerlifting Equipment

When I say essential powerlifting equipment, I should say some essential, some optional… But that’s not very catchy. All of this equipment can be found almost anywhere, but I would suggest checking out East Bay for shoes and Anderson Powerlifting and EliteFTS for the other equipment listed.

Good Shoes

A good flat shoe like some Converse All Stars aka Chucks are arguably the most popular shoe used for powerlifting. A good hard soled flat shoe can make a huge difference in your ability to lift big. There are stability concerns if you use running shoes and other softer sole shoes for your heavy deadlifts and squats.

Some lifters (myself included) prefer a shoe with a raised heel for squats. There are articles and people who swear up and down that they can be good or bad for your squats and even deadlifts but go by how you feel. I use the Addidas Powerlift Trainer 2. Do a search for them, they are available in different colors and plenty of sizes and are usually around $90 so they are a decent price. The Nike Romaleos are popular and I’ve heard great things about them as well, they sell for around $190.

Tall Socks

Unless you haven’t been deadlifting long, you know all about bloody shins. I don’t mind having bloody shins or scars but during a competition you should do your best to have some tall socks to cover your shins. You can purchase regular tube socks from the gettin’ store or check out the links above.

Lifting Belt

As controversial as this may sound, I don’t use a weight belt and I think a weight belt needs to be used correctly if you want to get the most out of it. Your core needs to be worked and needs to be strong, and if you use a lifting belt properly, you can add some pounds to your lifts and keep your back safe. I am going to purchase a lifting belt soon and incorporate training with it. I don’t lift world record numbers but I handle 400+ squats and 500+ deadlifts safely weekly without a belt.

I believe if you use your belt correctly you can really get some great numbers out of your lifts. Buy a good belt, 10mm seems to be good for most lifters and 13mm is overkill. I would suggest doing research and finding a belt that a lot of people agree work and like. There are different types of belts that use the same type of mechanism as your regular pants belt to tighten which can be hard to get on and off, and some that use a clasp and locking mechanism. Do your homework and find one that’s right for you.

Knee Wraps

I’ve never trained much with knee wraps until recently and I find that they give me much more stability and I feel a lot safer and stronger with them. There are different lengths, stretchiness, and widths so as always ask around and see what seems to be the preferred brand.

Your federation will give information on the size requirements for the wraps.

Wrist Wraps

Same as knee wraps, there are different sizes and types so check with your federation to ensure you are using some that are allowed. I’ve used wrist wraps for a while and they do help with wrist stability during bench. Some lifters use them during squats as well.

Singlet

Really a singlet? It can feel embarrassing to wear a singlet but you get at least 20 pounds extra on your total when you wear one. Okay you won’t get extra pounds from it, but you can at least feel assured you won’t get disqualified for not having one. Buy one that looks cool, I would suggest staying away from bright colors unless you like to grab attention. Be prepared for wedgies and moose knuckle.

Contest Preparation

You would think going into a powerlifting competition you would need to drastically change your training style and really “ramp it up” in order to perform well at your meet. I’m here to tell you that if you’ve been making consistent gains on a decent written program, you are not going to need to change much of anything heading into the meet.

In order to come into your meet being your strongest, there are some things I could advise training wise to help you prepare, which I will get into here in a bit.

Know 1 Rep Max

You’re going to have to know your 1 rep max in order to gauge your attempts. If you’ve never done an all out 1 rep max, you need to do this as far out from your meet as possible so your nervous system will have time to recover from this. Don’t do your 1 rep maxes all on the same day, do them a week or two apart. Once you know your 1 rep max you can determine your opening attempts.

Establish Opening Attempts

I’ve noticed many lifters start way too heavy on your first attempt and it really will throw you off. If you miss your first attempt, you cannot go down, you can only go up. Your first attempt should be something you can do for a triple on an off day. This attempt is usually 85% or so of your one rep max. Starting too low is less common so be sure you set the bar high enough, but not too high.

Second Attempts

If you’ve hit your opener, your second attempt should be a 5 or 10 pound personal record. Don’t go for a huge personal record on your second attempt, a 5 or 10 pound from your personal record will be good to prove your hard work is paying off. Remember, a PR is a PR.

Third Attempts

Here is the time to make or break a huge PR. Go off how your last attempt felt and gauge how much you have left in the tank and go for broke. This is your time to get a bigger PR and really let yourself lift something heavy. Don’t go too far out of reach because nothing feels worse than missing a lift, but go for something you are definitely going to have to really go balls out to do.

Training up to the Meet

Generally taking your openers 2 to 3 weeks out from competition. No need to do these on the same day, take your time over the course of a week and do them. Get a feel for the weight and make it feel as light as possible.

One Week Out

To some people this might not make sense but your last week you need to deload. Some advocate light movements to keep the blood flowing, mobility and foam rolling, and other easy exercises.

Some advocate taking a week off completely from the gym resting up, getting food in you and ensuring you are fully recovered. Do whatever you feel is necessary but if you go to the gym, no heavy work at all; you want to be fully recovered for the meet.

Supplementation and Nutrition

Supplementation and nutrition should not be changed during your meet training unless you are trying to cut weight. This happens often so I try to invite people to not make any drastic changes.

I would not recommend for your first meet worrying about making a specific weight class. That variable can be tackled in your next events should you plan to keep competing.

Meet Preparation

When preparing for a meet, there are many things that you need to do and pack and bring with you. When you weigh in, you will need to get your rack height and your bench height. Your rack height will be used if you use a mono lift for squats or have a walk out rack for squats. If you are unsure how the heights work, politely ask around and you will get some help.

1.) Be sure to register for your meet as soon as you can to ensure a spot at the meet.

2.) Get a hotel room and plan your trip as soon as you can, a lot of times you can save money booking in advance. Don’t want to get stuck without a place to stay!

3.) Bring all of your equipment. Each federation has different rules on what is allowed so be sure you understand the rules before you go. Get your wraps, belt, shoes, etc.

4.) Food, Snacks, Drinks – Drink, drink, drink. Bring plenty of water and sip on it all day. BCAAs, Gatorade, Protein shakes, water, anything to keep you hydrated. Keep drinking even if you have to pee 20 times during the meet. Keep lots of snacks and food available for you to eat on during the day. I prefer to train fasted but I still needed food throughout the day to settle my stomach and keep energy levels up. It can be a really long day.

5.) Bring extra supplies. Be sure to bring extra clothes, your singlet, extra underwear and socks. Be sure to bring a shaker or two, they could be a life saver.

Handlers

If there is any way you can recruit a knowledgeable handler to help you with your meet, you are going to have a better experience and you will perform much better than if you have to do everything yourself. A handler will take care of everything you need to do on event day.

A handler is…

  • Someone who can help listen for flight times, name call outs, and timing warm ups
  • Bring you food and drinks
  • Makes sure you’re drinking those drinks
  • Coaches cues during your lifts
  • Your spotter
  • The person who will hand off the bar for bench
  • Your personal mentor
  • Someone who will give your next lift attempts
  • Someone who helps wraps knees and wrists
  • Someone who will push the right buttons and send you into a rage before a PR attempt
  • The first person you look at after your lift
  • Someone you will look up to and listen to

The list goes on, this is just a small list of the things a handler does for you. They are very important.

Tips and Precautions

  • Drink and sip water constantly. If you don’t follow this advice, I feel sorry for you.
  • Set your opening attempts low. Usually try for something you can do for a triple on a bad day.
  • Make your second attempts a 5-10 pound personal record over your previous record.
  • Make your third attempts obtainable but make it a good personal record. No use attempting a weight you have no business doing yet.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Warm up properly. Sometimes less is more – don’t overdo it.
  • Sit down and relax as much as you can, extra points if you squeeze a nap in.
  • Plan your lifts before the meet. Having a tentative attempts list will keep you and your handler’s mind at ease and helps you prepare for warmups easier. You can always increase or decrease going by feel.
  • Bring headphones and listen to music to keep you in the zone.
  • Trust your form and just do the weight. If it feels heavy, do the exercise anyways; don’t let your mind keep you from hitting a PR because of doubt.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Enjoy your time and meet people who share the same interests. You never know where you will meet a new friend.
  • If you get a red light during a lift, politely ask what you did wrong so you know what to fix. Be polite and respectful and you will get a lot further than bitching at the judge.
  • Have fun, don’t over-think the meet, and drink some damn water.

 

Comments and questions below.