During my journey to get lean I wanted to emulate John Grimek — a famous bodybuilder AND weightlifter in the 1930s and 40s. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Grimek
He would take part in weightlifting events that were also physique events. He looked great and lifted a ton.
I thought that entering into a powerlifting competition once I was lean would validate the whole process as a good and healthy idea. And somehow connect me to a greater history of physical culture.
But I didn’t feel that good when I got lean. I looked pretty good in pictures (if a bit scary in real life). Not that strong though. I felt kind of brittle.
I’d already entered the meet. So I did it. And it was a kind of strange experience. I did manage to learn some things though.
Ten Things I Learned:
- Just do you. Don’t get caught up in anyone else’s deal.
- You might meet your heroes. That may or may not go well.
- Listen to your flight cues. If you’re on your own it’s easy to miss an announcement.
- Compete with a team if possible. Powerlifting seems like a solitary sport (it’s just you on the platform). But many of the most successful lifters are part of a team and for good reasons. Having a handler who knows the ropes is a great idea.
- Eat normal foods. Eat what you’d normally eat. Plan to bring food for the day.
- Settle in. Most meets are a full day.
- Know the rules and practice lifting with the commands. Do that with someone who knows what they are doing.
- You are responsible for the weight that goes on the bar. Don’t hesitate to point out a misload.
- Do it like you always do it. But be ready to roll with whatever happens.
- You don’t get extra points for coming in lean — it’s about lifting more weight.
Bonus as always: The right reason to compete is to win by doing your best.
Just do you. Don’t get caught up in anyone else’s deal.
I was at the meet about a minute when an older competitor figured out that I was new.
Did I want some coaching for the day? In exchange for helping him out? Why of course!
So I spent a big part of the day wrapping this guy’s knees and taking his pictures. And I missed my flight cue to start warming up as a result (see Point 4!).
It may sound antisocial. But if you’re new to competitive lifting don’t divide your attention. Keep your focus on everything to do with your experience.
You might meet your heroes. That may or may not go well.
My first competition was on what’s referred to as a Pro Day. It was Nationals and a record breaker meet, and most amateurs competed the day before. But all the late amateur entries were lumped in with the Pros.
Powerlifting Pros are big dudes. Lots of tattoos and beards and huge muscles.
One of the pros was a person who I followed online. He lifted that day. But he was helping out at the meet as well. That means he’s a nice guy and cares about the sport. He was there with his wife and baby. Another nice guy move.
While he was helping run the warmup squat rack I approached to ask a question. I had just watched him squat 900 lb. While I was asking him my question, he dropped a 45 lb plate on his toe. And then he stopped being a nice guy for a minute.
Your heroes are real people. I keep finding that out.
Listen to your flight cues. If you’re on your own it’s easy to miss an announcement.
As mentioned, while I was fussing with someone else’s knee wraps my flight was called. In powerlifting you lift with a group of people know as your “flight”. The previous flight concludes while the next flight warms up.
I missed my announcement because I was focusing on helping someone else. Helping others is a good thing, of course. But many times in life you have to take care of self first. The classic example is the airplane/oxygen mask scenario. If you try to help someone else with their mask first, you’ll never get a chance to put on your own mask. This was a situation like that.
So keep your eyes on the prize. Don’t miss your chance to show what you’ve worked for.
Compete with a team if possible.
Powerlifting seems like a solitary sport (it’s just you on the platform). But some of the most successful lifters are part of teams and for good reasons. Having a handler who knows the ropes is a game changer.
If you’re there with a team, you have extra ears for things like flight announcements (Point 4 again!). You have someone looking out for you. A good handler will get you food, water, equipment, and talk to the officials for you. They won’t let you do anything but focus on lifting big.
Eat Normal Foods
Some Powerlifters have an attachment towards eating “fun foods”. It’s a bit of a running joke, but there’s a real attachment towards corn chips, cookies and protein drinks. There will probably be a lot of those things around at any given powerlifting meet, including free protein bars and other samples. And that’s a potent combo in the gut.
Some “fun food” is perfectly OK. No big deal. But most of what you eat should be your normal diet. Plan to bring a cooler full of your normal foods. Make sure they are convenient to eat, and easy to digest.
Settle in. Most meets are a full day.
Weigh ins are usually before 9am. Last lift is often past 5pm. All told, it’s a long day.
Bring everything you need to be comfortable. And if you’re lucky enough to have supporters, they should be warned in advance that you don’t know how long the meet will go. And you don’t know exactly when you’ll be lifting.
Know the rules and practice lifting with the commands. Do that with someone who knows what they are doing.
Lots of people who are pretty strong in the gym get confused when they do their first powerlifting meet, with actual rules and judging. Check out the rules and lift commands of your federation.
Then practice those commands with someone who knows what they are doing. This could be a gym buddy, significant other, or coach. Make sure they understand the calls. Practice them for at least a couple of weeks before your meet.
You are responsible for the weight that goes on the bar. Don’t hesitate to point out a misload.
Mistakes happen. And it’s down to you to make sure that you aren’t on the business end of one of those mistakes. It’s a loud, hectic, busy environment.
You chose your openers, second and third attempts carefully. Make sure that’s what’s on the bar. Let an official know if something’s not right.
To keep things simple, make a list of your attempts in both pounds and kilograms. Most meets are tracked in kilos. But many of us are used to lifting pounds. Knowing both will help prevent confusion when your lift is announced.
Do it like you always do it. But be ready to roll with whatever happens.
You’ll be at your best if you keep doing things as you usually do them. It’s too late to take on a whole bunch of coaching cues. You can’t change things up on the day.
With that said, it’s a competition. It lasts all day while your normal lifting session is probably less than two hours. So some things that are going to be a lot different. You might not be able to warm up exactly as you’re used to, for example.
Roll with it. Don’t sweat it. Do your best and let the chips fall where they may.
At the end of the day, stand proud. You did it!
You don’t get extra points for coming in lean — it’s about lifting more weight.
It’s not a moral victory to make things harder for yourself than they have to be. Getting super lean and doing a lifting competition seemed like a cool idea. In retrospect that was vanity.
Especially if you’re competing for the first time, don’t worry about your weight. Unless you’re there to set a world record or money’s on the line, there’s no reason to “make weight”.
Compete weighing what you normally weigh and you’ll probably have more fun and lift more.
Lots of people will compete for the experience. Lots of people will just be happy to be there. But the right reason to compete is not for the thrill of attendance. The right reason to compete is to exceed yourself. And no one will know or care if you are trying to emulate John Grimek by being in the leanest shape of your life while doing a powerlifting competition. If you beat your previous total — or set your first ever total in competition — you win! Notch up those victories. And celebrate your progress every step along the way!