I did my first powerlifting competition last weekend. It was great fun and I thought I would share my experiences with you. Perhaps it will encourage some of you to enter competitions too, if anything has been holding you back. It would also be interesting to hear from anyone else who competes in powerlifting.
The competition was held by the British Drug-Free Powerlifting Association. There are a number of powerlifting federations in the UK. I got involved with this one because the guy who runs my local gym is a divisional rep for the BDFPA and organises many of the competitions for this region. Last weekend’s meet was such an event, a regional qualifier for the south west of England.
On the day there was a powerlifting competition, which consists of the three events of squat, bench press and deadlift, and also a single lift competition for the squat. All events were ‘unequipped’, meaning that no supportive gear can be worn other than belts (of the regulation thickness) and wrist wraps. Knees wraps are not allowed.
I was not expecting to have any competition in my weight class as there are so few female powerlifters around. So my aim was not so much to win my class – although if there had been another competitor I would certainly have wanted to beat them – but to lift enough to qualify for the BDFPA nationals and get as many PBs (personal bests) in my lifts as I could. I also wanted to have fun and enjoy my first event!
Before the meet
Recovery, rules and regulations, opening lifts, making weight
I stopped lifting just over a week before the competition in order to be fresh for the day. You will not lose any strength in a week but your body will have a chance to rest and recover from the hard training that you have done in the lead up to the event.
In the week before the meet, I re-read the rules for the federation regarding performance of the lifts, clothing and equipment, and decided on my opening lifts. You need to inform the organisers of your opening lifts at the time that you weigh in. I was advised to choose a weight that I could do for at least two reps in the gym. In fact I was a little more conservative than even that. Since it was my first competition and I didn’t know how I would be affected by nerves, competition rules or my wellbeing on the day, I wanted to make sure that I could at least get some lifts on the board. Your second lift cannot be lower than your opening lift, so you need to be sure that you can make it otherwise you will not score for that event (in fact this happened to one competitor on the day).
I was concerned that I wouldn’t make weight for the class I wished to compete in. The last 2-3 days before the event I was very careful what I ate and on the morning of the event I didn’t eat or drink anything until after the weigh in (which fortunately was quite early in the day). I made my weight with 0.2 kg to spare!
Because it was such a close run thing, I was mentally prepared to lift in the next weight class up if necessary and I had also checked the qualifying totals for that class.
I turned up on my own, not really knowing what to expect. But right from the beginning the atmosphere was friendly and welcoming. Plenty of people chatted to me and helped me out, answered questions, gave support and encouragement and were generally quite lovely. Throughout a long day in a cold school gym, both lifters and their supporters applauded every single lift and cheered every single lifter.
I think that any aspiring lifter would have felt comfortable in that atmosphere. The fact that you turn up and lift is enough for people to get behind you. It really doesn’t matter how much is on the bar; if you are out there making an effort everyone supports you.
It is interesting how the reality of a meet can dismiss the preconceptions that people may have about powerlifters: big, mean, unapproachable, elitist types who grunt and yell and won’t speak to you unless you can bench 400 lbs.
Well, although there is occasionally some grunting and yelling, they are certainly not mean and unapproachable – quite the opposite. And they are not all that big either. Most of the male lifters at this meet were between 75kg and 90kg. There were quite a few ‘in shape’ guys who weren’t carrying much extra body fat and would not have looked out of place in a bodybuilding contest. I myself, while having no pretensions to bodybuilding or physique contests, am quite happy being a size 10 (that’s UK size 10, ladies!) with no particular desire to bulk up. You really don’t have to be big to enjoy powerlifting.
There were only two of us female lifters in the competition and the other lady was in a different weight class from me so we weren’t really competing against each other. It’s a pity there wasn’t more competition but at national level there are some really strong girls in my weight class so I am looking forward to pitting myself against them.
It’s a long day and even though the organisers moved things on at a decent pace, it still takes a while to get through everybody’s lifts. One of the hardest things to manage is the length of the session and the time between events. I did my first lift around 11am and my final lift around 5pm. Plenty of food, hot coffee and staying warm helps. The nervous energy and excitement surrounding a competition also keeps you going.
It is advisable to make sure you are absolutely certain of the rules for each lift and if not, to ask a referee. I was relieved not to make any technical errors in my lifts but I saw plenty of other people get the rules wrong and therefore get a ‘no lift’. Common errors were: lifting or moving the feet during the bench press, ‘hitching’ the bar during the deadlift and not going low enough in the squat.
I was privately very curious as to how I would perform in a competition setting. Different people have different experiences; some say that they always do their best lifts in competition, others find that they under-perform and don’t quite get as much as they do in the gym. I have heard people say that a competition can sometimes be worth an extra 10-20kg on the bar due to the adrenalin and the support of the crowd.
I was largely pleased with my performance and it is true that audience support really makes a difference. I got PBs in the squat (by 7.5kg) and the deadlift (by 5kg). The increases were not enormous but several people commented that they thought I had more in me and perhaps they were right. I find it hard to judge just how far I can push it. For example, my third deadlift attempt was a PB and immediately afterwards I felt completely drained. I put myself down for a fourth lift without really thinking that I would get it (legs were like jelly) but I managed to get a PB again. The crowd really helped with this one!
One consequence of having a modest opening lift is that it is harder to really push the poundage on your second and third attempts. Too big a jump in weight between attempts can backfire. I had this dilemma with my deadlift. I decided to reduce my opening lift from 110kg to 95kg just before the deadlift event started because I only needed 90kg to get my qualifying total. I was carrying an injury and feeling a bit fatigued so it seemed like a sensible option. However with a much lower opener, I needed to take big jumps in weight to get into the PB zone. I ended up with a fourth lift of 125kg, which was a PB by 5kg. But if I had started at 110kg, my third attempt would probably have been at 130kg. Who knows, I might have got it…
Being able to judge these issues of course comes with experience. Generally speaking I am happy to be slightly conservative but come away with a respectable result. If my overriding aim had been to get the highest deadlift possible I would have pushed it, but as my aim was to qualify for the next competition, I chose to make sure of that first.
My bench press was somewhat disappointing but since I was carrying an injury (from rock climbing, as it happens, not powerlifting) this was not entirely unexpected. I managed to get my opening lift so at least I had a score for that event. Ironically the impact of my injury was less physical than psychological: knowing that I was carrying an injury, I did not feel confident about the lift and was not as aggressive as I could have been in its execution. There is a great psychological element to powerlifting. You’ve only got one chance to get it right and that weight can seem very intimidating.
I was chuffed, though, that several people commented on how good my technique was, especially in the squat. I am sure that some of the compliments were generous as it was my first competition, but enough people mentioned it to convince me that there’s an element of truth in it! Although I have been lifting for around three years, I have only been lifting in a powerlifting style for a few months. Some techniques, such as my bench press technique I have only adopted in the last few weeks. So it is encouraging to get good feedback.
I am sure you are all curious to know what I lifted. You want to see if you are stronger than me, don’t you! Well, the following table shows all the lifts I attempted on the platform.
63kg female open unequipped
|1st||80 kg||50kg||95 kg|
|2nd||90 kg||57.5 kg Fail||110 kg|
|3rd||95 kg (pb)||57.5 kg Fail||122.5 kg (pb)|
|4th||97.5 kg (pb)||n/a||125 kg (pb)|
My powerlifting total was: 267.5 kg (4th attempts don’t count, if anyone’s doing the maths).
Adding together all my attempts in each event, I lifted a total of 980kg on the platform that day (not including warm up lifts). That is 2,156 lbs or 154 stone.
My warm ups totalled a further 1,530kg. So altogether I lifted 2,510kg which is 5,522 lbs or 395 stone.
Although he didn’t have the figures to hand, the presiding official reckons I broke the south west divisional records in squat and deadlift for my weight class.
Not bad for a Sunday afternoon.
The meet lived up to my expectations and I met all my aims so it was a successful day. It has fired me up to continue lifting and competing. It was also great to see so many powerlifters in one place.
I have written before about the difficulties of finding other people who train in the same way and of having the support of a peer group when lifting. I often feel like the weird one in the gym so it was great to be one of the gang for a change.
I found this one of the most sociable sporting events I have taken part in. There is a lot of hanging around, which perhaps makes people more disposed to fall into conversation in order to pass the time. You also get to know the other lifters in your flight as you all warm up together. Your fellow lifters will support you so there’s no need to bring your own cheerleaders. All in all, it’s a great way to put all that training to good use!
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