We all have those things that in hindsight you realized were big mistakes. I can think back to dozens of examples as a powerlifter.
One such example was that before my first competition I shaved my head into a mohawk because I thought you had to be ‘hardcore’ to compete in the sport. Obviously, there are more people without mohawks than with mohawks in powerlifting (lol). I was totally naive.
Without proper guidance, you don’t know what you don’t know, and you have to learn things the hard way through your own mishaps and failures. Hopefully, you take those lessons moving forward and vow never to make those mistakes again.
In putting together this article, I surveyed 14,738 powerlifters and asked them what their biggest mistakes were in powerlifting. I consolidated the responses and came up with a list of 55 powerlifting mistakes that people make.
I’m here to share with you those mistakes so that you can apply these lessons to your own powerlifting career. Let’s get started!
1. Assuming you will always set a personal record at a meet, then get overly frustrated when you don’t
It’s common in the early stages of your powerlifting career to lift more in the training environment than in competition. This is because a competition environment is unfamiliar and you’re not yet used to going through a weigh-in and warm-up process, and performing in front of judges.
2. Identifying with your training/meet performance too much
It’s easy to get wrapped into thinking that all you are is a ‘powerlifter’, and then hinging your identity on whether you do well or not in competition. Remember, powerlifting is what you do, not who you are.
3. Getting used to putting 5kg on a lift every week (unrealistic expectations of progress)
You can linearly progress workout-to-workout with the same increment for several months when you first start, but those sorts of gains don’t last forever. At that point, you need to think of your progression on a more long-term basis, gaining 5kg every few months, not every workout.
4. Making last-minute technique changes before a competition because ‘everyone else is doing it’
The last thing you want to do is start experimenting with your technique or using a new cue within weeks of competition. At that point, you simply want to focus on how fast the bar is moving and getting used to the heavier weight on your body.
5. Not doing enough hypertrophy work to build muscle
When you build muscle, you create a bigger engine to produce force. Doing phases of training where you focus on higher volume and reps at lower intensities is important for your long-term development as a powerlifter.
6. Always thinking you can handle more and not understanding why your body hurts
Novice lifters chase quick gains by often loading the bar up too heavy, too fast, with too much volume. It only takes one training cycle to feel the effects of burnout, fatigue, and injury before you start prioritizing your recovery.
7. Program hopping every month because you aren’t seeing results
A lot of new lifters have ‘shiny object syndrome’ when they stop seeing results. It doesn’t matter what program you’re on, you will have peaks and dips to your performance. Don’t make the decision to switch programs just because you’ve had a few bad workouts.
8. Not understanding the role of recovery
Well-planned recovery takes into account how many times per week you’re performing the movements, the overall training split (when you squat/bench/deadlift throughout the week), how many rest days you take and what you do on your rest days, nutrition, sleep, and de-loads.
9. You don’t lift to competition standards in the gym – “I’ll pause it on the chest on competition day”
I tell my athletes that your worst rep in training will be your best rep on competition day. In other words, if you’re not pausing the bar on your chest while benching in training, or squatting too high, then you should expect to miss lifts in competition for not following the technical standards.
10. Thinking you know more than your coach/not following the program
This might come down to the coach not explaining the ‘whys’ behind the program effectively. I find athletes who understand the reasons why certain protocols are programmed are more likely to stick to the program. If you don’t understand the purpose behind the program, then it’s easy to just ‘do your own thing’, which naively, won’t give better results.
11. Picking a fancy internet coach
Picking a powerlifting coach is a serious decision because you will be working with them for several months and years. You should thoroughly vet your powerlifting coach, making sure you understand their experience, education, and their track record.
12. Jumping right to complex programming
Even at the elite level of powerlifting, it’s best to keep your program simple. This means focusing on simply doing a bit more of ‘something’ over time (i.e. linear progression). Complex intensity/volume schemes, and always varying your exercise selection may not lead to a faster rate of progress.
13. Not knowing your openers in kilos when they show up to the weigh-in room
When you show up to the weigh-in room, you need to provide your opening attempts in kilos, not pounds. If you don’t have this information prepared, they will ask you to leave the weigh-in room and you’ll be moved to the end of the weigh-in roster, which can be 30-60-min of extra time.
14. Weight cutting for your first competition
This first competition is going to be stressful enough, don’t make it more stressful by adding in a weight cut.
15. Not understanding how to weight cut properly
When you do get to a competitive level where cutting weight makes sense, people either make the mistake of over-cutting, losing too much weight, or not cutting enough weight, and having to do aggressive measures within hours of the weigh-in. All of this can lead to extra stress on game day.
16. Rushing your set up in competition
You have 60-seconds when the speaker says “bar is loaded” to get the referee command to start the lift. 60-seconds is actually a lot of time, but new powerlifters rush their set up, which changes their technique in competition.
17. Opening too heavy
Your opener should build confidence for your next attempt. Generally speaking, it should be something you can do for 3 reps in training or around 90-92% of your 1 rep max. I’ll even have my athletes open up lighter if it’s their first competition.
18. Prioritizing numbers you ‘want to do’ versus going 9-for-9
New lifters get stuck on doing certain numbers in competition because it’s what they ‘want to do’. They fail to adjust the plan based on how they’re performing on meet day. You should always aim to make every attempt, as going 9-for-9 will give you the highest total possible.
19. Not reading rules and guidelines around equipment regulations
You wouldn’t start a board game without reading the rules, so why would you start powerlifting without reading the rulebook. Importantly, you should know the rules around how competitions are run and how lifts are judged.
20. Doing all your own programming
If you do your own programming, you will find that you second guess what you’re doing a lot, and it’s much easier to ‘go off program’ because you’re the one making the program. It’s better to have an objective set of eyes on your training, even if you are well-versed in powerlifting programming.
21. Not practicing the competition commands
In each lift, there will be commands that the referee gives to either start or end the movement. New lifters overlook the importance of practicing these in training before their first competition.
22. Not adapting the attempts on game day if needed
My best advice is to treat every attempt as an evaluation for what you think you’re capable of doing on the next attempt. If you objectively look at each attempt independently of what you ‘want to do’ versus how you’re performing, then you’ll make the appropriate adjustments needed on game day.
23. Eating food you wouldn’t otherwise eat on game day
New lifters make the mistake of eating food they would never eat on a regular basis. You want to try to replicate the same foods you eat before training.
24. Not knowing how to warm up properly
It’s been shown that an effective warm-up routine allows you to lift more weight. You can follow my guide on how to warm-up for powerlifting. Don’t just jump into barbell lifting when you’re cold.
25. Always maxing out on every workout (i.e. ego lifting)
Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. If you always max out in training, then you’ll eventually run into a recovery deficit, which will wither put you at risk of injury or not allow you to train as hard in the long run.
26. Not having a coach for your first meet
There are so many little technical things you need to know when you compete, from what you can wear on the platform, to the timing of your warm-ups, to how to structure your attempts, that having a game day coach can alleviate a lot of stress.
27. Not doing enough beltless training
Having an over-reliance on your belt can lead to general core instability. It’s always good to structure some blocks of training or individual workouts where you don’t use your belt. This will be a good opportunity to practice proper breathing and bracing technique.
28. Comparing yourself to others
In the early stages of your powerlifting career, the only person you should be concerned with ‘beating’ is yourself. Compare your numbers to your numbers.
29. Buying equipment you don’t know you’ll use just because someone ‘famous’ said they use it
The only mandatory equipment you need is a pair of shoes, singlet, t-shirt, and knee-high socks (for deadlifts). Everything else is optional. You can check out my guide on competition gear for powerlifting.
30. Thinking you’ll go to worlds from the starts
This is more of a pet peeve than anything else. Don’t say you want to go to World’s when you haven’t even competed in your first competition. Going to World’s will likely take 8-10 years of training under the best-case scenario, and you don’t even know if you like the sport yet or not.
31. Focusing on competitors instead of yourself
This is when you’re in a competition going head-to-head with someone else, and you’re more focused on them rather than you. You should be trying to extract as many kilos as possible from your own individual performance. You can’t control what other lifters are capable of on game day.
32. Focusing on pushing numbers instead of improving form
A lot of lifters push their intensity up before they’re technically ready to do so. For example, if your back always rounds above 90% in the deadlift, you need to get stronger erector muscles before frequently attempting heavier loads.
33. Not knowing your 1RM properly when you start powerlifting
A new lifter’s 1RM will be changing quite rapidly. This is because you’re getting stronger at a faster rate than someone who is intermediate or advanced. Therefore, you should have more regular assessments of your strength so that your training percentages are based on accurate rep maxes.
34. Mimicking other lifters technique and not finding what works for you
It’s okay to mimic other lifters to ‘experiment’ with your technique. But make sure you work to make it your own based on your individual leverages and preferences. Don’t force yourself into positions that aren’t natural for you.
35. Not focusing on things like joint stability and intraabdominal pressure
These are the small things that provide a base for your strength. Don’t neglect stability and core work just because it’s not as sexy as lifting above 90%. It can lead to things like having an uneven bench press or a forward-leaning squat position.
36. Not understanding the technical rules of the sport, like where proper depth is on squats
You might read the rules, but then fail to know how to apply them. If you’re unclear whether you’re training to a specific technical standard or not, ask someone with more experience. If they’re a certified referee, that’s even better.
37. Understanding the importance of sleep and nutrition
You should aim to eat no less than 2.4g of protein per kg of body weight and 4-6g of carbs per kg of body weight each day. As for sleep, general recommendations are 7-9 hours per night, but for highly active individuals, an extra hour on top of that is suggested. A Stanford study showed that getting 10 hours of sleep per night for basketball players increased performance by 5-9%.
38. Worrying too much about the minutiae (like lifting with calibrated plates)
Until you are at the elite level, you shouldn’t worry about the variables that account for less than 1% of your overall performance. Just be consistent with the things that will make the biggest impact in the short-to-medium term.
39. Doing too much frequency too soon
You don’t need to squat, bench press, and deadlift 4-5 days per week. Most of my lifters start off with 1-2 days per week for each of the lifts. If they’re still making progress with that level of frequency, we don’t move it up.
40. Getting upset when progress is less instantaneous (being patient)
At some point, you will get to a competition and not set any personal records. This is a normal part of the powerlifting experience. It means that your gains are slowing down, and you now have to think about progress over a longer period of time. Be patient and learn to love the process.
41. Not having a properly periodized training program
You should have an idea of how your training will look like in the next 4-6 months. I don’t mean planning your individual workouts 6 months in advance, but knowing what sort of phase of training you’ll be implementing at certain intervals throughout the year.
For example, ‘this is when I’ll be doing my high volume phase’, ‘this is when I’ll be doing my high-intensity phase’, this is when I’ll be prioritizing my squat training’, etc.
42. Always waiting until you think you feel strong enough to compete rather than just competing
The reality is that you’ll never feel prepared lifting at your first competition. You will always feel like you’re not strong or prepared enough. What you need to realize is that the first competition isn’t necessarily about ‘testing your strength’, but rather, learning what the competition environment looks and feels like.
43. Buying the most expensive gear
There are definitely ways you can save money when buying powerlifting gear. For example, buying deadlift slippers versus deadlift shoes, which is a cost-saving of about $100. You can also choose to buy used versus new, or borrow equipment from a training partner for your first competition.
44. Knowing that ER and Eleiko racks have different heights
In a powerlifting competition, you’ll be lifting on specific racks. The two main manufacturers are ER and Eleiko. Your rack heights, i.e. where the bar sits on the rack, will be different depending on which rack you use.
45. Not knowing your kilo and pound conversions when selecting attempts
You only have 60-seconds to put in your next attempt after you finish your lift. So if you’re bumbling around trying to do conversions between pounds and kilos you may run out of time to put in your next attempt. Make sure to bring a conversion chart with you on game day.
46. Training too much competition specificity, and not enough variations of the lifts
When you are 6-10 weeks before a competition, you want to be doing high amounts of practice in the competition movements, and not much variation. However, outside the competition period, you want to ensure you’re balancing your training with supplementary lifts that you otherwise wouldn’t do.
47. Hyping up too much for your opener
In a competition, you have 9 attempts. If you get too hyped up for all your lifts, you’ll likely run out of energy by the time you get to your final deadlift. I tell my athletes to be “calm and strong” on their openers in order to build momentum across all three lifts.
48. Not doing enough core work
It’s really easy to skip your core work at the end of your workout. But if you skip too much, you’ll start having issues holding certain positions under load, and you’ll create an overall instability with your movement patterns.
49. Lack of warm-up timing in a competition setting
In competition, it’s better to have ‘too much time’ to warm up than feeling like you have ‘too little’. So always plan to warm-up early, and make sure you get your last warm-up completed within 5-minutes of the event starting. This will ensure you have adequate time to change your opener if needed.
50. Going too hard on one lift only to have the other two suffer
If you grind a 3rd attempt squat, you can be certain that your deadlift strength will be impacted later in the day. This is more the case for beginner athletes who haven’t built up the tolerance to do all three lifts on a single day to max effort.
51. Believing there is some magic X, Y, or Z that will lead to dramatic progress
Strength is a long-term quality, taking years to develop. This is unlike any other physical skill, like improving your balance and coordination, which takes a relatively shorter period of time to master. So in powerlifting, there are no short cuts. You simply need to be consistent over a long duration.
52. Assuming you know everything
The best lifters I know are always constantly trying to learn new ways of improving. Once you stop learning, you stop progressing.
53. Thinking a taper does something special in terms of your strength
A taper is a period of time just before the competition (3-7 days) where the goal is to offset any lingering fatigue. You should feel fresh by game day, but don’t expect that your lifts will automatically jump up 10% just because you feel more rested than usual.
54. Restricting yourself to a specific weight class too early on
Just compete at whatever bodyweight you walk around normally, even if this is in between two classes. It’s not as big of a deal as you think it is. Making a specific weight class only matters when you want to optimize your placings, qualify for a regional or national championship, or set a record.
55. Maxing out the week before the competition
You should NEVER be doing weights in training that will be your 3rd attempts in competition, especially within close proximity of the event. You will always perform less than these numbers on game day because you won’t be able to recover from the neural fatigue these lifts create.
I hope some of these mistakes resonated with you and you can take these lessons moving forward into your next training session or powerlifting competition.
I don’t think there will be a time when we stop making mistakes. But, so long as we learn from them, and continuously strive for improvement, then we’ll be the best powerlifters we can be for the moment.