Thinking about competing at your first powerlifting meet but wondering if you’re strong enough? Many lifters never compete because they are waiting to be stronger – but how strong is strong enough?
How strong do you need to be at your first powerlifting meet? At your first meet you need to have enough strength to be technically competent in the competitive movements. Max strength is not as important as learning the rules, managing your nerves, and understanding the process of competing. Having 2 to 3 months of training experience is ideal, but not required.
In this article, I will:
- Provide strength standards for novice, intermediate, and expert lifters
- Explain why you don’t need to be strong at your first meet
- mention what factors are more important than strength
Before starting, I want to mention…
If you want a complete understanding of how to compete in powerlifting, then check out my online video course The First Time Powerlifter.
The course promises to eliminate mistakes at your first competition, help you make more attempts, and allow you to achieve your personal best lifts.
I’ve been the Head Coach For Team Canada Powerlifting through 8 World Championships, and this course is everything I know about preparing athletes to feel confident in their abilities to perform at their first competition.
I created a video that explains what the course includes HERE or click the button below.
Why You Don’t Need To Be “Strong” At Your First Meet
We don’t need to be strong at our first powerlifting meet because the value of the first competition comes from gaining experience, learning about the structure of a meet and refining our mental preparedness rather than being as strong as possible.
It’s important to understand that even if I am the strongest person at the competition, I could lose by forgetting to wait for the commands, not attaining the lift requirements (ex: not squatting to depth), or not being mentally prepared for the meet day environment.
At the first competition, our goal should not be to win. In fact, local meets can be so small that there may not even be any other competitors in the weight class we compete in. At our first meet, the focus should be on how to improve our own performance rather than focusing on the performance of others.
A meet is won or lost based on the number of good attempts we make, which is why we need to practice and prepare to avoid missing attempts for technical reasons and not because we are not strong enough.
Make sure to check out our other strength guides and standards:
- What Is The Average Squat Strength For 13-18 Yr Olds?
- What Is The Average Bench Strength For 13-18 Yr Olds?
- What Is The Average Deadlift Strength For 13-18 Yr Olds?
Strength Standards For Your First Powerlifting Meet
Even though there is not a level of strength that we need to achieve before we can compete, it can be helpful to gauge what level of strength we would expect to have based on how long we’ve been lifting.
The strength standards are classified by sex and bodyweight categories and divided into novice, intermediate, and proficient standards.
Novice: Individuals who have been training for a few months
Intermediate: Individuals who have been training for at least a year, and have been going to the gym regularly
Proficient: Individuals who have been strength training for 2 or more years
Learn more about how powerlifting is scored in my complete guide.
Other Factors That Are More Important Than Being Strong
Lifting In Front Of Judges
Rather than strength, your focus at your first powerlifting meet should be to learn what criteria you have to meet for each lift, to practice the commands, and to be confident in your lifting abilities under evaluation.
Lifting in front of judges is a different experience than lifting in a gym setting, and it can throw you off your game if you’re not prepared. The first meet is an opportunity to get used to this added pressure and to learn to follow direction
The judges have the final say on whether you get credited for your lifts and increase your total, or miss the lift.
Meet Day Emotions
When we compete, especially for the first time, its common to experience:
- Stress & Anxiety
Stress & Anxiety
Stress is brought on as a response to an external stimulus (like competing in your first powerlifting meet), and anxiety is an internal reaction to that perceived stress.
The way we interpret feelings of stress and anxiety has a massive influence on our performance. Research in the sports psychology field tells us that If we are able to interpret feelings of anxiety in a positive way, like feeling “in the zone” or prepared, anxiety can work in our favor.
However, when feelings of stress and anxiety are associated with negative emotions or experiences, they can be detrimental to our meet day performance.
The first meet is an opportunity to accept that we may experience the stress and anxiety of competition but we can also build confidence in our ability to perform in front of judges, to feel prepared, and to thrive under pressure.
Many lifters, new and seasoned, miss attempts and let it ruin the rest of the competition because they are not able to get past the disappointment of failing a lift.
When we’re competing and we miss a lift, whether it be from strength or a technical aspect, it can be very disappointing. It’s okay to be disappointed when something doesn’t go as planned, but we need to learn to let the feeling go and focus on the next attempt.
Learning to focus on the task at hand despite feeling disappointed, is a skill that must be practiced. In order to succeed, we need to be able to adapt and overcome rather than let one or two bad attempts ruin the meet experience.
For example, I missed a squat that has been a goal of mine for a long time and it was very defeating but I picked myself up, prioritized what was next and was able to finish out the day with a massive deadlift personal record.
The competition isn’t over until it’s over, don’t mentally check out early.
Learning The Weigh-In Process
Learning the weigh-in process is more important than how strong you are at your first meet because it sets the tone for the rest of the day, it’s when we submit opening attempts, and it’s when we provide documentation to participate in the meet. If we aren’t prepared for the weigh in process, we can’t compete and it won’t matter how strong we are.
- Choosing Opening Attempts
- Anti-Doping Course Completion Certificate
- Proof Of Powerlifting Membership
At every meet, there will be a list of names posted to state the order that the athletes will be called in to complete the weigh-in process.
This process should be fairly stress-free at our first competition because we won’t be cutting weight (or we shouldn’t be!). When our name is called, we proceed to the weigh-in with photo ID to verify our identity.
Provide Opening Attempts
When it’s time to weigh-in, we need to be prepared to submit our opening attempts for squat, bench and deadlift in kilograms and our preferred rack heights for the squat and bench press.
Being realistic with our opening attempts is more important than being strong, because if the opening attempts we submit are beyond our capabilities, and we cannot successfully complete an attempt in a lift, we can be disqualified or “bomb out”.
The first attempts we submit are not final and can be changed later, if our warm-ups aren’t feeling as good as we had planned. However, if we don’t change our opening attempt in time and the attempt we submitted is too heavy, we may bomb out of the meet and fail to put up a total.
Anti-Doping Course Completion Certificate
Check to see if your association requires you to complete a drug testing course prior to competing.
Read my article on Are Powerliting Meets Drug Tested. Some federations are, some aren’t.
Proof Of Powerlifting Membership
We need to be registered with a powerlifting association to take part in the meet. During the weigh-in, we are required to bring proof of this registration (printed or digital).
Learning The Warm-Up Process
Knowing how and when to warm-up is more important than being strong because we may need to coordinate with other lifters, plan what jumps to take up to our opener, and pace the warm-up to be as prepared as we can for the first attempt.
- Secure a Rack
- Make a Warm-up Plan Ahead Of Time
- Timing The Warm-Ups Appropriately
Secure a Rack
If we’re lucky, we can be the first one to secure a rack; but it is unlikely that we will have a rack to ourselves for the warm-up. This is when we practice our communication skills and learn to work with other lifters.
If possible, try and share with lifters of similar strength and/or height to make life easier when adjusting heights and weights. This is a time when having a coach would make the day easier for us, as they would be the ones adjusting the rack and the weight on the bar for our attempts.
Make a Warm-Up Plan Ahead Of Time
Having a warm-up plan is more important than being strong because a warm-up sets the tone for the attempts on the platform.
During the warm-up we need to prepare the body for movement, dial in the movement pattern, and gradually increase the load to prime the body for the opening attempt.
Prior to the meet, we should plan the jumps we want to take to warm-up effectively rather than taking random warm-up attempts and fatiguing early or barely warming up and being unprepared for the opening attempt.
Timing The Warm-Ups Appropriately
At our first meet we need to learn how to pace the warm-up attempts to complete the jumps we had planned, but also not flying through them too quickly, and getting “cold” before we step on the platform.
All that being said, sometimes our warm-up routine doesn’t go according to plan, and we need to learn to adapt. Being able to adapt is a key ingredient to success, especially at the first meet when everything is new. Check out my other article on how to warm up for powerlifting.
Understanding The Flow Of A Meet
The flow of a meet is important to know what to expect, and to avoid being overwhelmed.
While there are many components of a meet, the ones that are the most important to know are the:
- Grouping Of Lifters
- Order Of The Lifts
- Order Of Attempts
- Time Limits
- Breaks Between Lifts
Grouping Of Lifters
When 15 or more lifters sign up for a category, we are grouped together based on age and bodyweight categories or as decided by the organizer of the event. Each grouping is referred to as a “flight”. Flights are usually announced at least a week before the competition.
When it’s their turn, each flight will warm-up and complete their 1st, 2nd and 3rd attempts while the other flights wait in the warm-up area.
Example: 2 Flights (Flight A & B)
Flight A will warm-up for squats, then compete.
Flight B will begin their warm-up for squats while Flight A competes.
Flight A will begin warm-up for bench while Flight B competes in Squats
And so on…
Check out my other articles on Master Powerlifting:
- Powerlifting Over 40: How To Start & Get Stronger
- Powerlifting Over 50: How To Start & Get Stronger
- Powerlifting Over 60: How To Start & Get Stronger
Order Of The Lifts
The order of lifts always goes squat, bench, and then deadlift. All flights will complete their 3 attempts in squats, before moving on to compete in the bench press, and the same process occurs before competing in the deadlift.
Order Of Attempts
When each flight competes, they will start with the lifter who submits the lowest weight for their 1st attempt. Then everyone in the flight will complete their 1st attempts before moving on to 2nd attempts, and then onto 3rd attempts
The bar always increases progressively, from the lightest weight submitted to the heaviest weight submitted. Therefore, the weights submitted for attempts decides the order that we compete in.
- Time Limit To Start Attempts
When it’s our turn to take the platform for an attempt, the announcer will tell us that the bar is loaded with the weight we requested. Once this announcement is made, we have 1 minute to get the start command. If we don’t get this in time, we don’t get to take this attempt.
- Time Limit For Submitting Attempts
After finishing your 1st and 2nd attempts for each lift, you have 1 minute to submit your next attempt in kilograms. If we do not submit our next attempt before the clock runs out, we get an automatic increase of 2.5kg (if our previous lift was successful), or remain at the same weight (if the previous lift was unsuccessful) for the next attempt.
Breaks Between Attempts
After all flights have completed their 3 attempts in a lift, there will be a 10-minute break before moving on to the next lift.
Learning What It Feels Like To Compete
Performing all 3 lifts, and 9 attempts in one day is an entirely new experience. If we over-exert ourselves in one lift, it will affect our performance in other lifts. There is a balancing act to how hard we push ourselves on each 3rd attempt, in order to finish the day with the biggest total possible. This is why I advocate for doing a mock powerlifting meet before competing.
Start Powerlifting Guides
After reading this article you should check out my other powerlifting guides:
- How To Start Powerlifting
- What You Should Bring To A Powerlifting Meet
- How Powerlifting Meets Work
- Competition Gear For Powerlifting
- How To Pick Your Attempts In Powerlifting
- How Powerlifting Is Scored
- What To Eat During A Powerlifting Meet
- How To Pick Your Weight Class For Powerlifting
- 55 Powerlifting Mistakes To Avoid
- How To Find Powerlifting Meets
- How To Qualify For IPF World’s (Step By Step)
There are a lot of details that go into a powerlifting meet that we don’t fully comprehend until we experience it. This is why being strong at your first powerlifting meet isn’t as important as the experience it provides.
The value of our first powerlifting meet is in the ability to reflect on our performance and to tweak our strategies based on what went well and what needs improvement.
It’s important to become competent in the movements, familiarize yourself with the rules, and compete for the learning experience. Once your competition foundation has been built, you can focus on increasing your total and working to be more competitive.