For those who don’t know, Powerlifting is a weight class sport. A weight class sport is one in which competitors are divided up into different divisions depending on how much they weigh. You cannot compete in any class where you are above the maximum weight and, likewise, you cannot compete in any class where you do not make the minimum weight. Whatever weight class you fall “inside of”, is the weight class where you must compete.
Weight classes ensure that everyone has a fair shot to win if they play their cards right. You cannot use height as an excuse.
How to pick your weight class
Now, this obviously leads one to ask, “Well, how should I go about determining the weight class that is best for me”? Good question.
I think the idea that one “chooses” their weight class is misleading if not outright false. The weight class that one should compete in is the weight class where the amount of muscle on their frame is maximized relative to the limit of that weight class. Put simply, you want to carry as much muscle as is possible while still making weight. That means you need to be relatively lean in order to maximize and optimize your competitiveness in powerlifting.
Over the past year my focus in gym training has shifted from hypertrophy training to the sport of powerlifting. Why?
I wanted a competitive outlet in my life. I was an athlete growing up and really missed having that in my life. I felt like I was just training for the training sake.
Powerlifting really brought a new meaning to the words “train with purpose.” You can set many PRs in the gym, but the game changes once you step on that platform. Training for powerlifting beat the exerciser out of me and helped me find what I have been missing.
Here are a few things I would like to pass along for those thinking about competing in their first powerlifting meet.
1. Don’t Cut Weight
Cutting weight is the biggest novice mistake I see when people are training for their first meet. There is enough going on with training and peaking for a meet. As you peak, the loads generally increase, and even though volume of training goes down, your body will be ready for the meet to be done and over with the closer to the meet you are.
Adding the stress of eating less and or water cutting has no benefit. You start to focus more on your body weight rather than the weight you lift. If you choose to cut weight, be prepared. As your body weight goes down, your risk of lifting less goes up, especially on the bench press.
2. Don’t Wait Until You Are “More Competitive”
I hear this from people all the time: “I want to wait until I can squat X or Total X before I register for my first meet.” The funny thing is, if they wait that long, the meet may never come. This is all about you vs you and no one else.
The part of powerlifting that is the most fun is setting your own goals and beating your own personal records. If it is your first meet, it is all a personal record. Waiting to be competitive is just an excuse. The truth is no one cares what you lift — they are all focused on hitting their own personal records, not chasing yours. In other words, you aren’t as important as you think you are — just show up and lift. You will find a great and supportive community at most meets that will cheer you on.
3. Set Realistic Goals
Setting realistic goals is crucial and it often takes a coach or trusted and experienced training partner to help with this. If you have only benched 50kg and you set your eight-week peaking cycle to hit 100kg at your meet, you will have a harsh lesson to learn. If you are newer you will see bigger gains, but I would recommend keeping jumps to 5%. If you are a 150kg squatter a 10% jump would be a squat of 165kg. Lifters with smaller numbers may be able to get away with the 10% jump easier.
4. Peak Smart, Don’t Miss Lifts
A five- to eight-week gradual peaking program is sufficient for most lifters. Just make sure to taper volume as you get closer to the meet. Doing lots of assistance work and extra volume doesn’t have any place in your final two to three weeks of training. Also, it is crucial that you do not miss lifts leading up to the meet.
Stay away from grindy and ugly looking reps on the peaking cycle. Nothing is worse than grinding out a weight that is less than your opener before the meet. It will get in your head, which is never a good thing. How does this happen? Doing too much volume and training too much, overestimating your percentages, setting unrealistic goals, or pushing too hard too soon.
If you know you are having an awful day and your warm-ups are slow and not getting better, sometimes it is better to lift the next day and be fresh. Less really is more in peaking. For those who normally exercise themselves into an oblivion this may be a challenge, since your workouts will be short and include only one or two lifts.
5. Practice Commands
Nothing is worse than hitting your all-time PR and turning around to see you were red-lighted because you didn’t wait for the judge to give you the rack command. Each lift has a set of commands you must follow. Your bench press must be paused, so it is best to practice this for a considerable amount of time. Benching 150 at the gym for one rep is different than waiting for a judge to tell you when to press.
6. Be Conservative and Plan Ahead
It makes me cringe to see someone walk up to their opening lift and grind it out as if their life depended on it. This should only happen on your final attempt. Even worse, is when they miss an opener.
Keep in mind, if you miss the opener you can’t go back down in weight. You have two more attempts to make it, but you pretty much know at this point it is going to be a long flight of lifts. Most coaches will recommend to open with 88-92% of your goal, or in other words, open with a weight you can hit for three or four reps.
Feeling confident with your opener is important and sets you up for more success. Many times at weigh-in you will be asked for your openers, so you should know them for about a week leading up to the meet. You don’t want to be scrambling and putting down any number. Also, have your second and third attempts written out so you have a plan. Plans can change, but it is always good to have one.
Most powerlifting federations will have a conversion chart, but be prepared to put your numbers down in kilos. You may find your attempts may be a few pounds off of what you expect, because the units don’t convert perfectly. Most federations will have their kilogram charts available online with the expected jumps in weight. This is also where having a coach or handler helps a lot.
7. Know the Federation’s Rules
Each federation has its own set of rules and they can vary. It is important to know this ahead of time so you can train appropriately. Some allow only the toes to come in contact with the ground on the bench press, and others require the entire foot to be in contact with the ground at all times. Some allow Velcro belts, others have requirements on belt width. There are lots of little things you should familiarize yourself with prior to the meet – and the sooner the better.
8. Get a Handler
Having someone to help you is important. There is a lot going on during the meet. There are different flights of lifters and knowing when to warm up is important. If you warm up too soon, you run the risk of being cold by the time you’re up to lift. Warm up too late and you are rushing right before you want to hit some big lifts.
Depending on the number of people in my flight, I start my warm up sets while the flight in front of me is starting their second attempts. Having a handler will help you keep an eye on all of that, let you know when your attempt is coming up, as well as telling the scoring table what your next attempts are. Your job should be to lift and then sit back down until you are told to lift again.
9. Bring Snacks and Don’t Get Too Excited
Be prepared for a long day. Many times meets can run over eight hours. Poorly run meets can run twelve or more hours. You could be finished with your squat attempts at 11am and not bench press till 1 or 2pm.
It is important to stay hydrated and nourished throughout your day. Sometimes you can get a meal in, but I am not big on eating meals during the competition.
Having caffeine throughout the day isn’t a bad idea for some lifters, but beware of the designer pre-workouts that amp you up. Remember, this is a long day. The higher up these pre-workouts bring you, the farther they will bring you crashing down. If a powerlifting meet was a one-hour event that would be one thing, but if you are crashing on pre-workouts after your squat and you need another fix, you are going to have a miserable day. By the time you get to your deadlift you are going to be wiped out.
Another reason I discourage taking these — especially early in the competition — is that they amp you up, when you should already be amped up just by being there. One of the keys to having a good meet — and not just a good lift — is to manage your energy. If you start screaming your head off after hitting a big squat and jump up and down like you won the World Championships you will have wasted key energy you needed for your remaining two lifts and numerous attempts ahead.
I wish you the best in your journey in strength and hope to see you on the platform soon!