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Powerlifting Meet Survival Guide

Updated: Jan 14


Lifter dealing with voices in their head on max attempt squat.

*Major UPDATES since the original post are shown in red*


Have you decided you want to compete in your first Powerlifting meet? Or maybe you haven't decided but want to know what it takes to prepare for one? If you've answered yes to either of these questions, then this post is for you! This survival guide will help you through your first meet, and take it from me, I barely made it out of my first one :)


Be sure to like, share, and comment below if you find this helpful! Also, be sure to check out my previous post linked below where I provide an account of my last meets to give you some insights into what your day might be like. Below is a culmination of experience from multiple meets and lessons learned.

2023 USAPL Maryland Death by Iron - Retrospective Analysis (Coming Soon)


Pick a Meet and Federation

Before competing, you'll need to pick a meet to sign up and register for. Usually, this requires you to become a member of a federation. It seems like there are countless federations but if this is your first meet, I recommend looking for federations with meets near you so you can get some experience under your lifting belt. Once you’ve narrowed down the meets and federations, research the technical rules and standards for each before fully committing. You may find that one federation has standards that more closely resemble your current style of lifting. For example, USAPL requires you to have flat feet while bench pressing. So, if you like to bench press with your heels off the ground, I would not recommend signing up for a USAPL meet unless you are willing to change your technique. Other federations that allow heels off the ground would be better suited for your bench press, which means less time redeveloping a movement and more time fine-tuning.


Other important considerations are drug testing and weigh-in requirements. Some federations require drug testing while others don't or are meet specific. Furthermore, some federations have a 2-hour weigh-in while others have a 24-hour weigh-in.


Pick a Weight Class and Competition Type

Once you've narrowed down the meet and federation, you'll need to pick a weight class and competition type. If this is your first meet, I recommend picking a weight class that is within your normal walking weight. Cutting weight to be competitive shouldn't be a priority for your first meet so it's okay if you don't fill out your weight class.


For competition types, you can typically choose between raw or equipped. Raw lifting means you perform the lifts in a normal singlet, with the option to use a belt, knee sleeves, and/or wrist wraps. Equipped lifting means you perform the lifts in a supportive lifting suit, supportive shirts, and/or knee wraps.


As if you didn't have enough decisions to make, you can also choose to compete in drug tested and non drug tested competitions; in some federations that isn't even an option.


Study the Rules & Standards

All signed up? Excellent, now it’s time to learn the Rules and Standards by heart. Like I already mentioned earlier, each federation has its own rules and standards governing everything from how to perform each lift, to the types of barbells used, as well as a list of requirements and acceptable manufacturers for anything you wear on your body!


Understanding the rules and standards will go a long way in making your first meet a success. The last thing you want to do is show up and find out that your belt, shoes, or even underwear, doesn’t meet competition standards.


Train How You Will Compete

Knee sleeves, lifting belt, wrist wraps.

Ok, so you’ve memorized the rules and standards, it’s time to take what you’ve learned and apply it to your training! Below I’ve summarized everything you should start doing to make your first meet a success.


Gear: To start, get used to training with what you will wear on your body for the competition. If you’re competing with a belt and sleeves, train with a belt and sleeves! If you only deadlift with straps, then practice deadlifting without straps. If you’ve never worn a singlet before, start training in one to understand how it feels. If you always leave wrist wrap thumb loops around your thumb, make sure your federation allows that or get used to taking them off the thumb!


Side Note: I find that I can never seem to find a good belt position when I wear a t-shirt and singlet whereas when I just use a t-shirt, my belt feels more locked in.

Equipment: Most competitions are performed with calibrated kilogram plates with specific barbell types on specific combo racks. If you are able to train with this equipment, it will definitely help. If you do not have access to this equipment, don’t worry, you can do just as well training with typical commercial gym equipment.


Side Note: You will typically find that commercial bars have inferior knurling compared to powerlifting barbells. So, you will typically have a much better grip of the barbell during competition.

Environment: If you’re used to training in front of a mirror and looking at it while you execute a movement, it’s time to undo all of that. A lot of commercial gyms set up squat racks in front of a mirror, so it’s really tempting to look at it while lifting. Sometimes you can adjust the rack so you can face away from the mirror and look at passers by giving you confused looks. Other times, the rack is not adjustable but the mirror is not full height so you can look at a spot close to the floor where there isn’t a mirror.


Technical Standards: Make sure you are lifting according to the competition standards. If your squats are not consistently hitting the depth standards of the federation, you will be setting yourself up for a bad day. If you’ve never paused a bench press in your life, now is the time to start pausing your bench presses. If you let go of the bar at the top of every deadlift, start lowering the bar with both hands.


Weight Conversions: If you don’t train in a powerlifting gym, get familiar with the metric system, specifically converting from pounds to kilograms. All powerlifting and weightlifting competitions are done in kilograms. There are plenty of conversion charts out there so you don’t need to necessarily memorize what all the different plate colors mean, but if you need to figure out weights on the fly, 2.20462 is your best friend.


Programming: Ideally, you would be running a powerlifting specific program, but that is not a requirement. Any general strength and conditioning program can do the trick, in fact I ran my own modified version of Wendler’s Beyond 531 for my first meet but have since transitioned to other forms of training and programming. I currently have a coach and am myself a certified USAPL Club Coach working toward becoming a State Referee . For more on my coaching services, see here.


Referee Commands: Play the commands in your head, or better yet, have a training partner yell them at you. The most common mistake for lifters new to competition is to beat the commands. You can perform a lift flawlessly from a technical perspective, but if you do not execute the lift based on referee commands, then your lift is no good. One thing I recommend here is to exaggerate un-rack and re-rack times in your training as outlined below.


  • Squat: Get used to standing motionless with knees locked out and a loaded bar on your back for 3 to 5 seconds before descending to simulate waiting for a “squat” command. Upon completing your last repetition after locking out your knees, stand motionless for another 3 to 5 seconds to simulate waiting for a “rack” command.

  • Bench: Similar to squats, get used to holding the loaded bar motionless for 2 to 3 seconds to simulate waiting for a “start” command. Pause your bench press for a second like you’re waiting for the “press” command. Upon completing your last repetition after locking out your elbows, hold the bar motionless for another 3 to 5 seconds to simulate waiting for a “rack” command.

  • Deadlift: Unlike the other lifts, the deadlift only has one command. Upon completing your last repetition, get used to holding a loaded bar in your hands motionless for 3 to 5 seconds after fully locking out to practice waiting for the “down” command. DO NOT LET GO OF THE BARBELL AT ANY TIME until the loaded bar is back on the ground.


Meet Prep

Throughout your training, develop an awareness of how hard lifts should feel. Keep in mind that strength fluctuates, so develop a Plan A and a Plan B for each of your attempts based on performance leading up to the meet. Crafted Strength can help you with your plan A and Plan B. E-mail bryan@craftedstrength.com for coaching and consulting.


Meet Day Checklist

Weightlifting shoes and duffle bag.

Checklists make life easier, so below is one you can use for your first meet. Feel free to add or subtract based on your needs and level of obsessive compulsiveness. Make sure your checklist is available offline or in hardcopy form. In my most recent meet at 2023 USAPL Death by Iron, cell phone coverage was terrible if you have Verizon, and it was impossible for me to do anything on my phone that required internet access. Also, make sure you use your checklist not just before the meet, but also AFTER lifting is completed. USAPL Death by Iron was the first meet I lifted in the afternoon session, so by the time the meet ended I just wanted to get out of there. If I had reviewed my checklist before leaving, I would not have forgotten the baby powder and resealable chalk container listed below :(


Administrative

  • Proof of membership for the Federation (Notes 1, 2)

  • Meet Card or Strategy (Note 2)


Gear; no not THAT kind of Gear (Notes 3 and 5)

  • Shoes for each of your lifts as applicable

  • Knee sleeves or wraps

  • Lifting belt

  • Wrist wraps

  • Singlet x2

  • T-shirt x2

  • Underwear x2

  • Socks x2

  • Chalk in hard plastic resealable container (ask meet director for meet specific rules)

  • Baby powder

  • Food & Drink

  • Multiple energy drinks or caffeine sources of your preference

  • Multiple hydration beverages of your preference

  • Snacks and carbs of your preference

  • Ammonia or sniffing salts (if you're into that)

  • Head phones or ear buds to get in the zone


Miscellaneous

  • Eye mask and ear plugs for the night before (Note 4)

  • Baby wipes in case you vomit or do something in your singlet (Note 5)


Notes:

  1. This can vary by federation. Make sure you read communications from the meet director indicating all requirements.

  2. Make sure you have a hard copy. Alternately, keep on a mobile device with off-line back up if cell phone coverage is poor.

  3. Duplicate items are just a recommendation, not a necessity. However, see Note 5.

  4. If traveling for a meet, refer to my post here about why you should consider this.

  5. You are pushing your body to the limit, so it is possible that you push other things out of you as well. Be prepared!


THANK YOU!

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