As soon as I walk through those gymnasium doors, they are all going to know I’m the newbie.
They are going to be watching me.
They are going to know that I have no idea what I’m doing.
They are going to laugh when they see me warming up with only 95 pounds.
I’m just not strong enough yet.
I’m not out to be the world’s strongest woman, so competing just doesn’t make sense.
I know these thoughts are swirling through your mind.
How do I know? I know because I’ve had countless women tell me these reasons for not competing—for not even stepping on the platform and trying. Yet, every single woman who takes that first step to do a powerlifting meet comes back to tell me how much fun they had, how supportive everyone was, and how they realized they are capable of so much more.
And that unlocks a vast treasure chest of potential in so many areas of their life.
Stop being afraid of what could go wrong and focus on what could go right.
Sounds harsh, right? But that’s the reality. Whenever you go anywhere new (yoga class for the first time, the school PTA meeting, the gym), you’re thinking everyone else is watching you. They aren’t. Especially at a powerlifting meet when everyone is focused on their own performance and the day that lies ahead of them.
I believe this investment is an extremely important part of the process. You are investing in a coach. After 16 years of competing, I still have a coach to help me with programming, technical issues and preparation.
Hiring a coach and paying for their services adds value to what you’re doing. A coach will hold you accountable to your training. A coach will be able to see technical, strength, and muscular flaws that you wouldn’t be able to recognize on your own. Often, we continue to do the things that we like or that we think we need, but an expert lifter and coach sees something completely different.
Find the right coach by asking around. If you have one in mind, ask clients who have worked with them, don't rely solely on the testimonials on their website. Ask others lifters, your training partner, or the owner of your gym which coaches they recommend.
Find someone who can guide you through the training process and preparation for the meet, and does so with professionalism and integrity. I’ve coached many lifters who have worked with several other coaches. None of them are right or wrong, but the best coach is the one you believe in and trust.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had women say, “I’d really love to do a meet someday!” Yet, that someday never happens because they aren’t fully committed to a date. As soon as you sign your name on that registration form and send in your money, your mind fully commits to the process that lies ahead. Nobody wants to waste their money.
Most meets can be found at PowerliftingWatch.com. For a first-time lifter, I typically encourage them to find a local meet, but one that is well run. If you’re not sure, ask. This is where a coach can help. You can also use the power of social media or join websites like Elitefts.com to ask experienced lifters.
On the entry form, you will need to indicate in which division, weight class, and category you intend to compete. Don’t over-think this or make it complicated. Just pick the weight class in which you currently are. The last thing you need to worry about for your first meet is cutting weight.
Choose either the Open division or your age division. Don’t worry about entering more than one. It’s not necessary at this point. Pick Raw if you are competing without gear, which most first-time lifters are. Or choose Equipped if you have squat suits and bench shirts. Don’t worry about all the subcategories beyond Raw, such as Classic Raw or Belt Only, or even about another division. Remember, this is your first meet, and you are just looking to get the experience and set some initial numbers that you can go against in future meets.
You’ve committed to the process, now just train. Hard. Use it as a learning process as well. As I mentioned, finding a coach is critical for first-time lifters. Getting a stock program might work, but every lifter is so unique in lifting style, technique, body structure, strengths and weaknesses that a stock program doesn’t work for everyone. A coach will critique your lifts and change things weekly to optimize your training. (Photo credit: Ken Hicks)
However, if you are unable to hire a coach, a basic template to follow would look like the following for a beginner/first-time lifter:
Squat (sets, reps and intensity varies weekly)
Secondary deadlift exercise (RDL, rack deadlift, snatch grip deadlift) - moderate intensity
Low back exercise
Single leg/quad exercise
Bench (sets, reps and intensity varies weekly)
Secondary bench exercise (dumbbells, push-ups, close grip bench, etc) - moderate intensity
Rear delts/upper back exercise
Deadlift (sets, reps and intensity varies weekly)
Single leg/quad exercise
Low back exercise
Overhead Press (sets, reps and intensity varies weekly)
Secondary bench exercise (dumbbells, push-ups, close grip bench, etc) - light-moderate intensity
Light shoulder exercise
This template can work well for a lifter who has been training for a year or less, producing solid progress weekly, while still concentrating on technique.
Most powerlifting “meet prep” programs run for a concentrated block of 10-12 weeks. Based on the date of your meet, count the weeks backwards so you know when to start the training program.
A powerlifting meet is an all-day event. It includes three squat attempts, three bench attempts and three deadlift attempts. You get about 30 minutes to warm up for each.
Make sure you are prepared for the long day. Panicking because you forgot something is an added stress that you (and those who are there to support you) don’t need. Here's a checklist:
Clothing and toiletries – Pack extra everything. You never know if you’ll get too sweaty, spill something, get cold, get hot, lose it, etc.
Now that you have committed to a meet, found a coach/program, trained hard for 12 weeks and are packed and ready to go, all that’s left to do is perform! I always like to say, the hard work is done, now you just step on the platform and perform what you know you can do.
Check out Part 2, in which I discuss the actual day of the meet—how to warm-up, choose attempts and hit those big lifts.
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