Michael’s blog – Your first powerlifting competition

In light of a year having came and gone and with 2015 upon us now, I’d like to discuss powerlifting competition for those of you who may have been thinking about competing this year.

Within this guide, I’ll discuss the lead up, during and post competition. I will try make it clear on how to make your competition day run effortlessly. Well..maybe not effortlessly – you will still have to put in 9 very heavy attempts on the squat, bench and deadlift! But my hope is that I can make you achieve your potential for a comp through outlining and reiterating all the details beforehand!

With that said, for those of you on the fence of competing, I’ll aim to get you committed by the end of this article too. But first, let’s remember that Powerlifting, like most sports, is defined by its competitive aspect. You are not a Powerlifter ‘till you step on that platform for your first squat! So why wouldn’t you make your reps in the gym count for something and enter a competition?!

Competition Preparation


Commit to a comp! You won’t regret it. Once committed, in the run up to competition (at least 12 weeks out), you should have selected your specific program that will help you achieve your goals for the competition.

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Figure 1: A key part of Powerlifting is the camaraderie and social aspect – you’ll meet some top people from all backgrounds.

You should have also tailored it to your personal needs and weaknesses. Please see a previous Deluxe Nutrition article of mine on ‘Programming for Strength Training’ – http://www.deluxenutrition.co.uk/2014/04/programming-strength-training/ for many options for your specific level of training. It’s much easier to make progress on tried and tested routines, especially as a beginner without enough knowledge to construct your own.

The next step in committing is to join your divisional federation, for me this would be Scottish Powerlifting (membership here – http://www.scottishpowerlifting.com/membership/registration/) but for others you can find your division at http://www.gbpf.org.uk/. Once you have established your division, apply online or send away your membership forms by post with a cheque or postal order.

There are multiple competitions throughout a year, find a competition date you want to compete on that suits personal circumstances and gives you a good run up program-wise. Now, this time send away the competition forms with a cheque or postal order. Please note that for many divisions, you are required to be a member a month in advance of any competition you apply for.

Competition Rules/Specifications

It’s important that you know the rules of competition and practice these religiously in advance of a competition. Rules for competition can be found here (they are the same for the whole of Great Britain): http://www.scottishpowerlifting.com/membership/technical-rules/

Simply, key rules in competition that many individuals lack are the calls/commands in each lift. I’ll outline roughly the main calls & commands in the lifts (but please read the technical rulebook hyperlink above):

The Squat –

  1. “Squat” (at top of lift after unrack)
  2. “Racks” (once completed lift standing locked out at top – walk into rack the bar)

The Bench Press –

  1. “Start” (at top of lift after unrack)
  2. “Press” (once bar motionless on your chest)
  3. “Racks” (once completed lift and locked out at top – put bar back in rack with assistance of spotters)

The Deadlift –

  1. “Down” (once completed lift – put bar down while still keeping hands around bar)

Additionally, for bench press, your hips/glutes should not shoot off the bench – they should be kept flat on bench and feet should be flat on the ground for the whole lift also (NOT on your toes). As for the depth in the squat – hip crease should be below top of knee.

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Figure 2: A good infographic on squat depth – save image for a closer read (courtesy Titanium Training)

Classic or ‘Raw’ lifting is what I compete in. This permits only the use of approved belt, wrist wraps and knee sleeves, if desired. However, you can also compete with the use of supportive equipment, known as ‘equipped’ lifting. This includes the addition of approved knee wraps, squat/deadlift ‘suits’ and bench ‘shirts’.

Please read the rulebook at the link above for a much more detailed guide, but these are the main key details of competition. You should be practicing lifting without a mirror and the calls/commands/depth etc also on the lifts well in advance (12 weeks out at least).

De-loading/Tapering/Peaking or Whatever…

It’s also important for most lifters that you ‘de-load’ in the lead up to the comp and try and ‘peak’ when it matters most. Known as an ‘art’, but simply for anyone who is not an advanced lifter, if you just reduce volume slightly and frequency (if need be) but keep intensity high this will stand you in good stead. In my opinion, you should cut out most if not all assistance work in the last week or two.

For example, if the comp is on a Saturday, the week of the comp I’d recommend you have your last heavy lower body session at latest Monday and last heavy upper body session Tuesday of that week. Then maybe light squats on Wednesday, with rest and mobility/recovery work Thursday and Friday with the comp on the Saturday!

Making Weight

If you know you have to make weight, the protocol I would recommend is the following (assumes a Saturday competition):

Sodium consumed should be raised to high-ish levels from Monday to Friday the week of the competition to permit the body to hold more water in preparation for the impending water loading/halting and consequent ‘drying out’ the day and night before the competition.

  • Friday 9am (before the comp the next day): start the unpleasant protocol of loading up on water – always have a bottle/glass in your hand. The key here is if you don’t drink enough water you will not flush the body enough. However, of course, do this in a safe manner.
  • Friday 11am: I cut out all extra salt completely and ate only foods very low in sodium.
  • Friday 4pm: I continued drinking copious amounts of water until 4pm that day when I abruptly ceased my water intake. I wasn’t to have any water till the next day after pre-judging.
  • I also increased caffeine and vitamin C intake to act as diuretics from 11am that day.

This protocol is very similar to the one that many athletes will use to make weight for weight-class sports, such as Boxers and Wrestlers. If you need further help with this please read the following article – http://www.marylandpowerlifting.com/page.asp?contentID=76.

The earlier you know you need to make weight the better – please check out the weight classes on the http://www.gbpf.org.uk/ website. For your first couple of competitions, it is generally recommended you do not bother complicating matters and cutting any weight (unless you are very close to the lower weight class). Just go and enjoy the comp, better your PB’s and then think about your optimal weight for future competitions.

Finally, if you don’t need to make weight, you’re a lucky one so EAT up.

Packing for Competition

Some of these may be personal preference, but I highly recommend you bring most if not all of the following:

Equipment/Clothing – approved singlet, long socks, ‘Y’ fronts (most federations will not allow boxers to be worn – don’t ask me), approved belt, approved wrist wraps, t-shirt(s), talcum powder, chalk, nose tork (smelling salts), towel, squat shoes/deadlift shoes, joggies/cottons & jumper, changes of clothes, bands for warm up etc, knee sleeves, foam roller/hockey ball.

Please check that your lifting kit is legal in the rules for competition here (this link applies to all of Great Britain): http://www.scottishpowerlifting.com/membership/technical-rules/

Food/Drink – 2L bottle of water (+more), energy drink/coffee/caffeine, jelly babies, good high GI carbs , bread/rice, bananas/apples, sandwiches, some lean protein-chicken/fish, whey protein shake with oats, powerade etc etc.

Other – membership card, money (in case you might want to buy some competition t-shirts or merch), ipod/iphone+headphones, ibuprofen and deep heat or similar.

Our best advice is to make a checklist specific to you using some of the selection here!

During The Competition

On the day of the comp, you will need to weigh in at the time given on your entry form and then find out your rack height for squats/bench. As soon as possible after weigh in – eat up, fuel up and wait till you need to warm up.

You will be competing in ‘flights’, check your flight and time warm ups off management or discuss with other lifters in your flight (if you can).

Be Prepped

Be prepared for less than ideal conditions, a comp is not like training in the gym so do not allow different conditions throw you off. Some meets are run better than others – some run on time and some don’t, that’s just the reality of the situation.

Usually, there will be many helpful lifters happy to guide you through if its one of your first competitions. However, it also helps to bring a friend, coach or someone with experience of powerlifting competition.

Warm Up Attempts

Time warm-ups as best as possible; you don’t want to be sitting getting cold and immobile for half an hour.  It helps to have some help on the day – for someone to let you know how many attempts come before you etc. However, if you do not have this assistance, identify and find experienced lifters in your flight and discuss timings for warming up with them.

Let every set from your first warm up to your last prepare you for the next one and for the platform – do not take any poundage for granted. Warm up in comp conditions.

Competition Attempts

Your opening lifts should be light to ensure you pass them with ease and satisfy the technical rules. We recommend a weight you truly KNOW you can do any day of the week. A weight you got one to two weeks before the meet NOT a weight you did 3 weeks ago but since haven’t matched, for example. Keep track of the lifters and attempts from the MC and the competition projector spreadsheet. If you’re going to change your openers, change in good time.

As a good rule of thumb, it is generally accepted to open at a weight that you have tripled in recent training (at the most). So if you have tripled 100kg in bench a week before and it was OK, choose 100kg or 97.5kg as your opener for bench. For personal reference, in British Champs in October 2013, I had tripled 197kg in the squat in the lead up but opened as light as 185kg (to prepare for less than ideal conditions comps can bring). I then went 203kg for a new British Junior Record on my second and 211kg for a new British Senior Record on my third.

Your jumps on second and third attempts can be flexible and are your guess, but remember in the end comps are all about hitting PB’s in each lift and lifting as much as you can in the TOTAL. The biggest ‘safe’ total you’re capable of with a 9/9 performance (with lifts nearly at complete max) while hitting PB’s is a exceptionally commendable.  Oh, and make sure to submit your 2nd and 3rd attempts to the table immediately after each attempt.

Other Notes

  • Comps are usually a long day – pack lots of food and drink etc. High GI foods are a good choice, careful not to spike insulin constantly or performance may stoop. The same can be said if you overdo the caffeine too.
  • Generally, you probably won’t be feeling like eating too much anyway but make sure you eat some food as it’s important to keep energy levels primed. In lead up to meet day/on the day, avoid food and drink you don’t normally consume and don’t overdo the protein on the day – its just needed in small amounts on comp day.
  • Technique in the lifts isn’t always going to be pretty when maxing out at comp but strive to keep the technique as good as possible.
  • Between attempts/lifts relax and compose yourself for what’s to follow.

Most of all..have great fun! Soak in the experience and atmosphere, meet new people, lift for yourself and the rest can come later. Make sure you have prepared to the best of your ability and know the calls/commands/rules and you will have a great time.

Post Competition

Post Comp is a strong time for reflection – be satisfied with your performance and/or renew your hunger. The key, especially as a beginner, is personal progress – PB’s! Medals, rankings, records etc can come later with time, consistency and will!

So, ‘Relax-Eat-Evaluate’..and go out drinking to celebrate if you’re mad for it! However, make sure to get a solid sleep also as your CNS/energy levels will be fried. I know the feeling all too well and you will understand what I mean when you experience it!

Get in the gym the following week, after a comp can often be a great time to capitalise on your peaked strength levels. Don’t think you deserve a week off..you will know when you need a week off. Keep motivated on the path of getting stronger and you will be rewarded!

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Figure 4: Some happy Aberdeen University Weightlifting Club (AUWC) Powerlifters post competition…Dat training lifestyle.


The following links you can keep you updated with all events, results, records, rankings, news and the process for application for competitions:

The GBPF (Great Britain Powerlifting Federation): http://www.gbpf.org.uk/  (National Level)

The IPF (International Powerlifting Federation): http://www.powerlifting-ipf.com/  (International Level)

I recommend that for those interested, commit to a competition and I doubt you will be disappointed!

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