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Competing In Powerlifting


Article written by Barrie Nelson, GBPF Referee and Coach

What follows may all seem glaringly obvious to you. It certainly does to me. But, Iíve seen more people than I care to remember make an absolute ragshop of competing because they didnít seem to understand the very basics of competitive powerlifting.

Right off the bat: Not many people will remember what you missed, but you certainly will. (Particularly if it happens to be all three attempts on the same lift - youíll remember that all right! Or, you should!)

Listen, anyone can Ďbombí. Itís happened to some real experts. Nobodyís immune.

But, there are ways to make it a hell of a lot less likely. And, Iíll tell you the old one about the three most likely reasons for bombing out Ė Too heavy, too heavy, and too heavy. It might be an old one, but itís still mostly true.

So, very obviously: always start with a weight you can do properly, any time, anywhere, in any conditions, on any kind of equipment, and in front of any referees in the world. Having seen some of the decisions I have that can sometimes be a tall order, but youíve got to try your damnedest to see that thatís the case.

Itís no good giving it, ďI did it for two/three/five in the gym last weekĒ. This is contest day! Never mind what you had written on the piece of paper when you walked in the place. Try and find out what youíre going to be good for today, at this competition. Bear in mind what competition it is, where it is, when it is.

If itís a World Championships, for instance, and youíve traveled half way round the world, youíve had time changes of 7 or 8 or more hours, itís 30 degrees hotter or colder than it was at home, youíre lifting in whatís normally the middle of the night for you, youíve probably been hanging around for a couple of days, trying to stay relaxed, the referees are going to be as strict or more strict than youíve ever seen before. Believe me, youíd better be prepared and ready to make some adjustment to what youíd expect at your local contest where you set off from home an hour or two before weigh-in.

You often hear people, having seen the results from an International, saying that certain lifters were down on expectations. Whoís expectations? The readerís? If youíve been lifting abroad much youíll know there are a dozen or more reasons for the prospect of totals being lower than a lifters previous best. Not always, of course, but sometimes. Quite understandable, given the various changing circumstances that can, and do, arise.

Still, this is about maximizing your abilities on contest day Ė wherever and whenever it is. If you take a look at the results of almost any meaningful powerlifting contest, in the majority of cases the better-placed lifters will have more passed lifts than the lesser-placed lifters. There you go.

Competing at powerlifting is an art. Iím not talking about training for powerlifting, Iím talking about competing at powerlifting.

Iíve heard people say, ďIf Iím going to have a chance of winning I have to start with (whatever).Ē Sorry. No. To have any chance at all, youíve got to be on the scoreboard on squat, bench, and deadlift. Too simple for words? Youíd think so.
Hereís one of mine, ďYou keep getting lifts on the board, let the others make mistakes.Ē

Iíve actually heard lifters say, ďAnyone who gets all nine lifts in canít have been trying hard enough.Ē Words fail me!

As Andy Kerr says (and heís a real expert at getting nine lifts in, and has been for the best part of thirty years), ďYou get nine attempts so that you can maximize your abilities on the day. Trying to get all nine lifts passed in the only sensible course to take.Ē (Iím probably paraphrasing, but it will do). As I say to people occasionally, you donít get three attempts at a lift so you can try the same weight three times!

And Iíve heard all the; ďYour first attempt should be a lift you can do for two (or three, or five) in the gym. Your second should be within 5 (or 10, or 15) of your previous best. Your third should be a new best by 5 (or 10, or 20). Rubbish! Take account of where you are, and of the circumstances of THIS competition, and then be prepared to adjust your attempts accordingly. That means ALL the circumstances.

The first thing you have to do, of course, is develop lifting techniques that will satisfy the referees. Itís no good relying on your mates in the gym who are giving it lots of noise and ďgreat liftĒ when youíve just cut your squat by two/three/six inches. Get someone who knows what a good squat is and will tell you the honest truth. Anything else is doing you no favours whatsoever.

Then you have to be realistic about what youíre good for on the day. If the warm-ups are harder than expected, or not as technically sound as they need to be, then for Godís sake make adjustments to your opener. If the refereeing is tougher than you expected, make adjustments. If the contest is going faster than is good for you, make adjustments. And so on.. Whatever the circumstances, be ready to make adjustments if itís advisable. Iíve seen loads of people who insisted on sticking rigidly to the plan that was made four weeks ago and come a real cropper. Donít let it happen to you.

Hereís a couple more thoughts. Iíve often heard, on the squat, ďItís not heavy enough, I need more weight on the bar.Ē Oh dear! I donít think so. Get down, you nutcase. And, if you canít get down, then take some bloody weight off the bar and get down. On the other hand, with these crazy bench shirts these days, I have (often) seen people not be able to get the bar down. Weíve all seen it. (There are now more bombers on the bench than on the squat). Well, here are a couple of suggestions. Firstly, try using a less-tight shirt! Sorry, I know itís not too good for your ego, but Iíll bet you it works. Secondly, either donít put a belt on for your opener, or, donít tighten it up as much, and/or, donít pull the shirt down as much or at all. It might not be as good for your ego, but getting three white lights for your opener will more than make up for that, I guarantee you.

Hereís another thought. Three white lights for your opening squat will make you feel at least 100% better than you did three minutes ago. If you get three reds youíll feel about 100% worse. If you then get three reds for your second youíll be almost suicidal. Anyone who goes out and gets their third squat passed after having the first two turned down has my undying admiration; it takes a hell of a lot of guts and determination at a time when youíd rather be absolutely anywhere else in the world.
Thereís nothing new in any of this. Itís all common sense. Unfortunately Ė and Iíve been around this sport since before it was a sport Ė Iíve seen too many people to remember make the most glaringly obvious, stupid mistakes at powerlifting competitions. And it keeps on happening. It happens at virtually every competition I go to.

And another thing; learn to count! Or, better still, have someone look after you on competition day who can count. The number of times I see people post stupid deadlift attempts because whoeverís doing the numbers canít count, or doesnít bother. Still amazes me. At every competition it amazes me.

And I donít mean on the squats, or the benches. All you have to do there is keep getting lifts on the board and let others miss attempts. Donít even count until you get to sub-totals, THEN youíd better have your act together. This is where the contest begins. There IS no contest until you get to deadlifting.

Keep it simple. Take attempts that youíre good for today. If itís going badly, donít try to play catch up. Realise youíre having a bad day Ė for whatever reasons Ė and pick your attempts accordingly. Similarly, if youíre having a spectacularly good day, likewise. Remember, at the end of the day (literally) itís your powerlifting total that counts.

Now, having got your techniques fine-tuned, and your mind on the job of competing today, (Cos this is the day you have it to do; itís no good wishing it was last week, or next week. Itís today, and you have your job to do today). Iíll give you the very best bit of advice I can. You lift the weights! Thatís it. If you possibly can, get someone else Ė someone you trust to do it absolutely right Ė to do everything else. On contest day your job is lifting the weights to the satisfaction of the duly appointed referees. THAT IS ALL! If youíve got this competing thing sorted, you shouldnít have anything else to do.

I mean it; on contest day your only job should be lifting weights on the contest platform.
Not looking at the scoreboard, not figuring out what you need, not concerning yourself with what anyone else is lifting, not worrying about when youíre on or who you follow. Get someone else Ė someone who knows exactly what theyíre doing Ė to do all of that. As Iíve just said, your job Ė your only job Ė should be lifting the weights.

Try that. If youíve got the right kind of back-up youíll be astounded at what a difference it can make.

Competing at powerlifting is a whole different game to training for powerlifting. What youíre trying to achieve is success on the contest platform. Get better at competing. Donít let your ego get the better of you. Lift smart. Thatís where itís at.


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