First of all, congratulations on taking the plunge. It’s a great time in every lifters life to make the commitment to training for something instead of just training. The most important thing about going to your first meet is going in the first place. Get acquainted with the flow of meets, the norms, and the environment, and lay a good foundation for future meets. The 5 tips that follow come from a competitive lifter with a current total in excess of 1600 lbs in the 198 lbs class that happened to win his age group, open, and best lifter in his first meet 5 years ago.
Don’t Worry About Cutting Weight
Did I cut weight for my first meet? Yes, actually, I did, but do as I say, not as I do. I didn’t cut much weight – only 8 pounds. Nowadays it’s a 15-20+ pound cut, and if I really wanted to be as competitive as possible, I should cut to 181, but who wants to be under 200 lbs for more than 1 morning? Not me. For most of you, if you don’t have any experience cutting weight, don’t do it. If you’re only a few pounds from being in a lower weight class and get in there just by taking a big dump before weigh-ins, go for it. If it’s more than that, it’s not important. I was fortunate enough to have help from a very experienced veteran and didn’t have a lot of weight to lose, so it was achieved with a simple sodium load/water cut. If you think you’re going to break some records in the future, make sure you don’t shoot yourself in the foot by not having the competitive experience. Cut weight when you have less things to worry about than “where do I warm up?”
Learn the Rules
This one may seem obvious, but there are hundreds of powerlifting organizations you could be competing in, and they all have different rules. If you were an actor, you would be pretty damn embarrassed to get up on stage and forget your lines. It’s basically the same thing here. Know what you can wear. I didn’t do this my first meet and had to send my girlfriend to get me some tall socks because the organization didn’t want you bleeding all over the bar in the deadlift. Luckily, I didn’t screw up something on the squat because I would have screwed my whole meet. Know what they are expecting for squat depth, train for it, and bury it anyway – at least on your first attempt. Learn the commands for all the lifts. Don’t get a red light for dropping your deadlift. Things like that.
Pick a Local Meet
I think this one is one of the most important. You’re not (yet) a hotshot lifter that needs to travel for meets. It’s a lot easier to compete in the comforts of your home town. Call it home field advantage. You can sleep comfortably the day before; you don’t have to worry about finding food; you don’t have to worry about finding the venue; you don’t have to worry about travel. There are just a lot of nonsense things that go along with traveling that you don’t need to bother with when you have no firsthand experience competing. If you’re from a small town and have to travel a few hours to the next largest city, a lot of these benefits still apply. You’re probably familiar with the area to some degree; your supporters can still come and support you pretty easily; you can get home if you forget something important – lots of benefits. Compete locally in your first meet.
Depending on the size of the meet and the experience of the promoters, your meet could last a very long time. My first meet was small and took about 8 hours. The longest meet I ever competed in took almost 15 hours. It was stupid. But I wasn’t. I ate a dozen doughnuts that day. It was spec-f*ckin-tacular, and I qualified for worlds. For the record, I also had other food, but doughnuts were the highlight. If you’re lifting on caffeine, you don’t want to crash after squats, so bring your caffeine source of choice (HyperMax has 325mg per serving!). Don’t bring a lot of food or supps that will upset your stomach. I may have had a dozen doughnuts, but I didn’t have a dozen cups of milk. I’d probably have barfed on deadlifts. We can’t all get what we want.
Make Sure you Taper
A lot of people get all weird and skeptical when you tell them to train less. Don’t be one of them. For 3-5 days leading up to the meet, you should do nothing. You need to rest. About 5-7 days out, do a low-volume dynamic effort session. Focus on your technique including commands. About 10 days out, hit your openers. Again, consider the commands. For the 3-4 days prior to hitting your openers, take it easy! Doing nothing is the simplest thing you can do to make sure you peak for your meet. The more frequently you compete, the tighter you can dial in how many rest days you need and when you should do the other training sessions to peak at the right time. P.S., your opener should be something you can hit for 3 reps, so about 85-90%. Don’t be afraid to adjust these if your practice session doesn’t go as well as you’d like.
That’s it. Stick to these tips, and your first meet will go well. Worry about crushing everyone at the next one!