If your head is swirling with questions, don't panic. This is normal.
So now what? What do I wear? How do I give my next attempts? When do I weigh in?Yadda, yadda, yadda. Relax, I've got you covered. You didn't think I was going to leave you high and dry for this, did you?
What follows is a helpful little guide to get you through your first meet. I went into my first meet blind. You don't have to.
The powerlifts are judged by a group of three officials. Knowing and understanding the rules for each of the three powerlifts as prescribed by that federation is important.
What You Need to Know Before Your First Powerlifting Meet
Read the Rule BookYou've been busting your ass in the gym, but now it's time to train your brain a little. All of the strength in the world isn't going to mean a damn thing if you didn't read the rule book and can't get your lifts passed by the judges.
The powerlifts are judged by a group of three officials based upon the rules and standards set forth by the federation. Knowing and understanding the rules for each of the three powerlifts as prescribed by that federation is important.
This means squatting to the depth deemed acceptable by the fed, pausing the bar motionless on the bench and not hitching the ever living hell out of your deadlifts. It also means following the commands of the head judge. This may require you to wait for a verbal command before starting the squat and deadlift, or a start, press, rack command on your bench press. Familiarize yourself with the command prompts that you'll be following at the meet, and whenever possible, incorporate them into your training if you've not already done so.
The federation rule book is usually located on the fed's homepage. Open it, download it, read it and then read it again.
The rule book will cover everything from what to wear, what type knee sleeves or what length knee wraps are allowed or not allowed, personal conduct, rules for each lift, how the flights (grouping of lifters) and lifter order in each flight is determined, how the bar is loaded, what type of equipment the meet may be using, etc.
The rule book is your friend. Most of your questions can be answered just by reading it. I've seen countless lifters successfully complete a lift but not be credited with it due to a rule violation.
Dissecting the Entry FormNow that you're familiar with the rules, download or get a paper copy of the meet entry form and read it. Decide what lifts you'd like to perform. When you look at the entry form, there are several choices:
- Full power: This means squat, bench press, deadlift (in that order).
- Push/Pull: This means bench press and deadlift (in that order).
- Bench only: Bench press (you'll wait to lift until the bench portion of the meet starts).
- Deadlift only: Deadlift (you'll wait to lift until the deadlift portion of the meet starts).
- Strength sports: This can include strict over head press and/or power curl (more rare, usually after the deadlift portion is over).
Supportive GearNext, what supportive gear (if any) will you be wearing?
Raw: This is the most misunderstood and hotly contested word on internet lifting forums and Youtube videos. Depending on your federation, this may or may not include knee wraps or certain type of knee sleeves. This varies from fed to fed, so make sure you read up on what is considered raw in your federation. That's where that rule book comes back into play.
Generally speaking, wrist wraps, a lifting belt and most types of knee wraps or sleeves are widely agreed upon to be considered "raw" (USAPL being a notable exception). Unless you're in the comment section of an Eric Lilliebridge YouTube video where even a t-shirt and body hair is considered lifting gear, then you're a cheater for even holding your breath while squatting.
Classic Raw: Some federations like the USPA have taken the step of adding a "Classic Raw" division. In feds that separate the two, the main difference comes down to what you wear on your knees. Belts are still OK in both, but "Raw" allows knee sleeves whereas "Classic Raw" allows up to a certain length of knee wrap in competition for the squat and (God help you) the deadlift.
Single-Ply: A single layer of supportive gear like a squat suit, a bench shirt and a deadlift suit. Some feds require that single-ply suits meet the requirements set forth by the IPF standards. So check with the fed rule book as to which suits are allowed before you blow a couple hundred dollars, only to have to compete with the multiply guys at a disadvantage.
Generally speaking, wrist wraps, a lifting belt and most types of knee wraps or sleeves are widely agreed upon to be considered "raw."Multi-Ply: This allows for multiple layers of supportive gear, like briefs under a squat or deadlift suit. If this is your first meet, you probably don't have to worry about multi-ply requirements just yet. And if you train in multi ply lifting gear, you don't need me to explain it to you.
If you're still unsure, email the meet director and explain the equipment that you wish to use. If you choose the wrong division, you can just change it when you get there. Not a big deal in most instances.
Note that all of the above are worn with a federation approved singlet (wrestling style) with the notable exception of the Hard Core Powerlifting Federation, because they're cool like that.
Finding Your Weight ClassThis is a no-brainer, and it might seem more complicated than it is. If you choose a weight class and don't make it at weigh-ins, you'll just be placed in the weight class that your weight falls into. Not a big deal.
If it's your first meet, your body weight should be the last thing on your mind. Don't over complicate this step. Worrying about this can suck the fun right out of the experience before you even get to the meet.
Age Division and CrossoversThe age categories should be spelled right out for you on the entry form. But what is a crossover?
Crossing over divisions, and crossover fees, allow a lifter to compete in multiple categories for an extra fee. So for instance, if you're a 45 year old police officer you can compete in your Masters age group, AND open, AND police and fire divisions. This potentially gives you more shots at winning multiple trophies if that's your thing. It's not mine, so I never did it.
There may be many more lifters than equipment, so you'll have to jump in with other lifters to warm up when the time comes.
Sending Your Form InOk, so you've navigated the minefield of filling out the meet entry form. Before you click send payment or lick that envelope, make sure you don't forget your federation membership.
To lift in fed sanctioned meets, you need to be a member of that federation! This is usually a small $35-$40 annual fee. Some local meet promoters aren't strict about you having the membership card with you on the day of the meet but many ARE. You'll need this card when you arrive, sometimes at weigh-ins. More on those later.
Your federation membership card will be most likely good for one year from the date of purchase. It should have your name and date that the membership is valid through on it.
Some meet directors will allow you to purchase the federation membership when you arrive and some will not. Either way, it's their responsibility to specify how they'd like to handle federation memberships and that information is usually included on the same website where the entry form is located.
Be proactive and ask questions, but if you're unsure about this step, play it safe and buy the federation membership card online asap (if applicable) and wait for it in the mail. If the meet is too close and the card won't be mailed to you in time for the meet and buying one at the meet isn't an option, then print out or screenshot your receipt of payment for the federation card and present that to the meet director. That should be enough.
Meet Weigh-insThe time(s), date(s) and location(s) of the weigh-ins should be provided on the meet info sheet associated with the entry form. Weigh-in times are usually a few hours before the meet begins, but many feds offer a 24 hour weigh in, meaning that you can weigh-in the night before a meet at a specified time if you wish.
This is beneficial to those lifters who are making large water weight cuts to make weight in a lower weight class. If this is your first meet, just weigh-in when it's most convenient, and BRING YOUR MEMBERSHIP CARD (or proof of purchase).
During weigh-ins, the staff may have you determine your rack height for the squat. For this, you'll approach the monolift or squat stands and get under the bar. The staff will adjust the stands or mono hooks up or down to meet your requirement based on height and build.
Once they determine the number setting on the rack or mono, they'll write it down on your form or in a computer. Although you're not required to know it, ask what the number is and try to remember it (in the event of a miscalculation on the platform later).
Determining Your Opening AttemptsDuring weigh-ins, there is a chance you might be able to register at that time. They'll confirm your name and age group, if you're raw or geared, and they may ask you your "openers."
You'll get three attempts at each lift, or four if you're going to break a record. The only lifts you need to have predetermined are your first attempts.
Your opener is the weight that you will attempt first for each lift. It's necessary to determine your opener so that the meet staff can set the initial order that you'll be lifting in relative to other lifters. Subsequent attempts will be given after you complete each lift, more on that later.
The tried and true method for determine an opener is to pick a weight that you could lift for three reps even if you were sick. Open with a weight that is too heavy, you can't try a lower weight. So choose wisely.
Meet DayIt's all come down to this day. You've entered, paid and weighed. Now you've just got to go lift something. Don't let the butterflies in your tummy change how you eat today though. Get a good breakfast in whether you're hungry or not. If you normally sit down for a #2, this would be a good time for that as well.
Meets can be an all day event depending on the number of lifters and the speed and organization of the meet staff, so you'll want to have on hand the following:
Food: It's important to keep your energy up if you're going to lift your best today. Eat your normal meals and add snacks in between if needed. I personally like trail mix during the meet.
The biggest tip I can give is eat like you would normally. Don't, in all the excitement, lose track of time and forget to eat. But don't binge eat either.
If you're from out of town and staying in a hotel, take advantage of the breakfast buffet if available. They almost always have bananas (aka potassium), so grab as many of them as you can. If there's food being sold at the meet, great. If not, someone with you might have to make a run to pick up some food locally. Thank God for GPS.
Water and electrolytes: Stay hydrated, you'll be sweating more than you think. It's important to keep your sodium level in check too, so bring some sports drinks. Pedialyte is a favorite of mine and it goes good in my sippy cup.
If you have a spare pair of knee or wrist wraps, bring them. Chalk, sunscreen (outdoor meets), folding chairs, towels bring some, extra underwear BRING THEM.Extra equipment: If you have a spare pair of knee or wrist wraps, bring them. Chalk (chalk can be scarce when 40-50 lifters are sharing it), sunscreen (outdoor meets), folding chairs, towels bring some, extra underwear BRING THEM.
There's nothing worse than realizing that you need something that you thought was silly to bring. A change of clothes is good to have after you've been sweating in a wrestling singlet for the past half a day. Deodorant or body spray will get you through to your next shower or hotel hot tub without your friends and family having to congratulate you from a healthy distance because you stink.
Cooler. Keeping food and drink cold is important for an 8-10 hour meet. Coolers also double as a seat. Bring one with wheels and if you're a real baller, or bring the one that's also a motorized scooter.
Baby powder. Great for shins and thighs to help the bar slide along your socks, skin and singlet or suit while deadlifting, terrible for hands when gripping the bar. Take care not to get it on your meat hooks. I used to use my forearms to spread it around on my legs while keeping my mitts well chalked.
Ammonia: You've got 9 attempts at a full power meet. Buy a box of 10 ammonia caps for $4 online. You're welcome.
After AM Weigh-insAfter the last stragglers finally weigh-in during the morning and give their rack or mono heights, the meet staff will determine the order of the lifters based upon opening attempts.
Shortly after the weigh-ins conclude, the meet director (or someone he or she appoints) will conduct a rules meeting with all of the lifters. Here, he or she will give a brief overview of the rules that YOU SHOULD HAVE ALREADY HAVE READ.
At the end of the brief meeting, they'll entertain any questions. If you have any, NOW IS THE TIME. Explain that this is your first meet and ask away. Better ask now rather than on the platform when you're on the clock to perform.
Powerlifter and 10/20/Life author Brian Carroll slamming electrolytes in between squat attempts.
Meet FlightsThe meet flights (group of lifters), and the order in your flight (there may be multiple flights) should be posted for everyone to see once all of the weigh-ins have been completed. While waiting, you should be stretching, rolling and checking your equipment over. Flight order is important information, because it will determine when you should begin warming up and about how long between your attempts you have to rest.
Each flight will cycle through all 3 attempts before the next flight begins. If there are three flights and you are in the first flight, you'll want to be warming up immediately. If you're in the third flight, you have some time.
Depending on the amount of lifters in each flight, a third flight lifter may choose to wait to warm up until the second flight begins their first attempts. Adjust your warm up timing to the speed of the lifters in the flights. Timing your warm up is a variable that you have to contend with on the spot.
Warming UpThere may be many more lifters than equipment, so you'll have to jump in with other lifters to warm up when the time comes. If the meet has started, the music may make things chaotic, so keep an ear out as the announcer gives information about the lifters that go before you.
Keeping tabs on the flight lifting order will help you adjust your warm up accordingly. If you're the unlucky one to be the very first lifter of the meet, then your eyes should be watching the clock like a hawk. Most meets start a few minutes late but don't count on it. Be ready to lift promptly when the clock strikes.
First AttemptAs lifters in your flight are called before you, the announcer will relay the order of the lifters as it draws nearer to you. When you first hear your name, you'll be fourth out. As another lifter hits the platform, you'll be "in the hole" or "in the wings" meaning third out. When another lifter makes their attempt, you'll be "on deck" or second out. You'll be called next.
- 4th (4th out)
- 3rd (in the hole/wings)
- 2nd (on deck)
- 1st (you are called to lift)
Generally, you'll have 60 seconds to begin your attempt from the time the bar is loaded for you. Don't be the inconsiderate person who waits for the last second to start wrapping. This holds everyone up behind you and in stricter meets, cost you your turn.
This is like nothing you've felt before. Your adrenaline is pumping. They call your name and the bar is prepared for you to lift.
ScoringEach lift will scored by one head judge and two side judges. Most meets employ the use of white lights (indicating a good lift) and red lights (indicating a no lift), but slips of paper or thumbs up/down may instead be used. No matter that they use, majority rules. You only need 2/3 white lights for a lift to pass.
- 3 whites/0 reds: good lift
- 2 whites/1 red: good lift
- 1 white/2 reds: no lift
- 0 whites/3 reds: no lift
Taking the PlatformThis is like nothing you've felt before. Your adrenaline is pumping. They call your name and the bar is prepared for you to lift.
You take the platform, the crowd is watching, the music is blaring, the judges are in place and you take your first attempt. If you planned this first attempt thoughtfully, you'll smash it. The crowd of strangers clap and cheer, the announcer says "good lift" and you're in the meet! Don't let this excitement distract you from giving your second attempt to the scoring table.
Example: After you attempt your opener, you have a short period of time to tell the scoring table what you'd like to attempt for your second attempt. After your second attempt, you tell them your third. It's not necessary to go up in weight if you miss your previous attempt but you may not go down.
So if you make your 300 pound squat opener, you have to tell the scoring table what you'd like for your second, say 315 for instance. If you miss 315 on your second, you can attempt 315 again for your third, or go heavier but you cannot go lower than 315.
Missing All 3 Attempts (Bombing Out)If you've planned an easy opener, this should not be too much of a concern. But missing a lift could be the result of a rule violation like jumping a command. Take care to get in quality lift attempts.
But if in the case that you miss all three attempts in a lift, you'll be unable to move onto the next lift. This is called bombing out. If you bomb out, you'll be unable to receive a three lift total and any lifts that you did get credit for won't be compared to the lifters who did not bomb out.
If you do happen to bomb out, the worst thing you can do is leave. This is a perfect opportunity to watch the meet progress and learn from the lifters who are still in the meet. Stay as a spectator and pay close attention to when other lifters begin their warm ups, how they choose their attempts, how they set up during their lifts and how they manage their time. Bombing out sucks, but you can salvage a bad meet experience and turn it into a seminar to learn from.
FinishingIf you've successfully completed just one attempt during each of the lifts that you've signed up for (if doing full power) then you'll receive a total. Your powerlifting total is the sum of the heaviest successful attempts at each of the three powerlift that you've completed that day.
Regardless of the number, hang your head high and be proud of your total. If you're anything like me, you'll vow to return and destroy that total in the near future.
Congratulations, you're now a powerlifter.