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A Day in the Life of a Powerlifting Meet

*this is written with IPF competitions in mind, but most of it will also apply to other powerlifting federations. 


Wake up! It’s your first powerlifting meet today and there is lots to do!


First off, if it’s your first meet, I hope you aren’t trying to cut weight for it, so get up and have a light to normal breakfast depending on how long it is before you will compete. You probably don’t eat a big greasy breakfast most days, so don’t do that today. We would normally recommend something higher in carbs and lower in fat. Oatmeal is a great choice for most, but I also personally like pancakes and some fruit. 


So tip number one, is to just weigh what you weigh and not worrying about making any specific weight class.


You packed your competition bag last night, right? Right?? If not, let's go through this quickly. You will want to ensure you have the following:



These things are also nice and can decrease some stress on competition day:

  • Food and drinks to keep you fueled all day (powerlifting competitions can be much longer than your average training session!)
  • Pen, no 2 pens, maybe even 5 pens, they go missing! (you’ll need a pen to fill in your attempt cards)
  • Headphones for music (powerlifting meets can often have little to no music at them, so if you’re used to training with music to psych yourself up, you’ll likely want these in your bag)
  • Phone & phone charger (if that’s what you’re playing music off of or want your friends to video your attempts)
  • Chalk
  • Baby powder
  • Hand sanitizer/hand sanitizing wipes (these are a new addition to my meet day kit, but I like having the wipes to wipe off the chalk and baby powder off my body when the day is done before getting dressed)

Okay cool, we’ve got our competition bag ready. I would recommend you arrive at least 30 minutes before weigh ins are scheduled to start.  This gives you a chance to get situated and get your bearings on the venue. Find the weigh in area, and there might be an order of weigh in posted so you can get an idea of when you will weigh in. Next find the correct rack to check your rack heights on and get those now. You will needs your squat rack height (and whether the racks are in or out, if you aren’t sure you probably want them out), your bench rack height and safety height, and if you want foot blocks on the bench. 


Weigh Ins


When weigh ins start, you should stay close enough to be able to hear your name called. We would also recommend to remove as much extraneous outer wear as possible, things like hoodies and sweaters can come off beforehand to make the process quicker for everyone. Have a sheet of paper with your rack heights as well as your opening attempts in kilograms written down so you can quickly provide that information. You will also need your photo ID, any membership cards, and potentially anti-doping certificates. You don’t need your singlet on to weigh in. You will likely be required to weigh in with only your underwear on, you can typically weigh in nude if you desire, but again, if this is your first competition, I hope you’re not trying to make a certain weight class. 


Once you’ve weighed in, you should be given attempt cards. Don’t lose these, in fact, take 30 seconds right now to write your name on them all. 


Warm Ups


Weigh ins are done, now to get on with the day! Depending on the federation, you likely have 2 hours from the start of weigh in to the start of lifting. If there is no session currently happening and the warm up room is not being used then now is a good time to take your competition bag and find a spot in the warm up. The warm up room will likely have between 3-5 racks setup for competitors to use. This means you will have to share with others but try to be mindful that if there are 4 racks then try to spread out so that there are approximately an even number of people using each. The warm ups can get hectic and having 7 people trying to use one rack can slow everything down for them. 


Find out if there are flights, and if you are in the first flight that will be lifting. If you are the first flight lifting then you should start getting ready to warm up with enough time. Pay attention to your training to have an idea of how long it takes you to warm up from cold to your opener weight. This time should include any stretching, rolling, or mobility work as well. Give yourself plenty of time to get warmed up. You don’t want to be rushed and run out of time before your opener. 


If you are not in the first flight to lift then allow that flight to use the racks to get warm. Do your mobility work while they are warming up. You may need to get your first few warm ups in while the previous flight is still warming up. Just be courteous and jump in when there is time. 


You have until 3 minutes before your flight starts, or 3 lifters left in the flight before yours, to change your opening attempt. So make sure you are warmed up before that just in case your last warm up doesn’t feel good and you want to drop your opener. 


Speaking of opening attempts, for your first meet (and really for every meet!), make sure that these are something you are confident in executing to competition standards regardless of the circumstance.  Some people like to put it in the context of something you can typically do for an easy triple, or a 6-7 RPE single rep.  Your nerves will likely be high on competition day, so having an ‘easy’ opener will take some stress off and then you can have some fun on your second and third attempts! 


By the end of your warm ups, make sure you are properly attired now, with your singlet on and correct t-shirt. 



Lifting


Okay now the time has come to actually lift. The lifting order will go in increasing weight per round. So for example if we have this list of lifters:



Lifter

Attempt Weight

Jane Doe

75kg

Jane Smith

100kg

Jamie Doe

85kg

John Smith

150kg

John Doe

125kg



They will lift in this order:



Order

Lifter

Attempt Weight

1

Jane Doe

75kg

2

Jamie Doe

85kg

3

Jane Smith

100kg

4

John Doe

125kg

5

John Smith

150kg



There should likely be a computer or display listing the lifting order, this is the case at most events. Be ready to lift when your time comes, in most federations you only have a minute to begin your attempt once the bar is loaded for you. There should be an announcer telling you who’s up and who’s next. If you have your headphones on and you can’t hear anything you may just miss your chance and there are no do overs. 


After your attempt you will have a time limit to put your next attempt in, you still have your attempt cards with you, right?? And a pen? Don’t lose these, they are important. Even if you fail your attempt it’s still good to let the table know if you want to repeat the weight. Vitally important here is that your next attempt CANNOT be less weight than your previous attempt. So again, make sure you pick your attempts wisely. 


At the end of the first attempts of squats, the lifting order is set to the new attempt weights, so just because you followed Jane last attempt doesn’t mean you will follow her again. Keep an eye on the screens and listen to the announcer. 


After everyone in your flight has finished their three attempts of squats you can go back to the warm up room and warm up for the bench press. Same advice applies as with squatting, get your warm ups in quickly, listen for a break time they should announce this, you may only get 20 minutes to warm up. The same rules apply for changing your opening bench press as well, 3 minutes before or 3 lifters left in the previous flight. 


Once you’ve done your bench the same thing will happen with deadlifts. You will get a time to warm up and change your opener if you so need to. 


Hopefully by this point in the day you’ve made all 9 of your attempts and had a ton of fun. The first meet can be so stressful because you don’t know what is happening or where to go. I hope this article has helped shed some insight on what to expect. 


A few more tips:

  • If you have a training partner that you can bring with you to help load plates and help keep track of things that’s a good idea. If they have experience competing, even better. You can normally bring 1 or 2 people with you into the warm up area. Ask the organizer if they have a limit on helpers.
  • There are going to be referee commands that you will need to listen to. 
    • Squat: At the start once you’ve walked the weight out and are standing upright and ready, you will get the “Squat” command, then you do the rep and stand upright and wait for the “Rack” command.
    • Bench: At the start once you are holding the bar and have your body positioned and ready, you will get the “Start” command, you will bring the bar to your chest and wait for the “Press” command, then press the bar to lockout and wait for the “Rack” command.
    • Deadlift: There is no command at the start, you just approach the bar and pull when ready. Then you must hold it at lockout for the “Down” command.
  • When you finish lifting, clean up your area.  It very likely looks like a tornado ran through your bag.  I always recommend double check you have all your equipment, and that you didn’t accidentally pick up someone else's equipment.  Pick up after yourself, unload your deadlift bar if there’s no one warming up with it anymore, and throw your garbage away. This can really help the organizers keep the warm up area clean and neat for the next group of lifters.  
  • Stick around after lifting for any awards that may be happening, maybe you got a medal, or maybe you can find a group of people you can grab dinner with and make some new friends!



Ryan Stinn is the co-owner of Inner Strength Products, and has been competing in Canadian Powerlifting Union competitions since 2005.  He has competed and coached at the National and World levels multiple times, and is married to IPF World Champion Rhaea Stinn.

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