In case you don't follow me on any other social media platform or you have been under a rock, I competed in my first USAPL meet last weekend in Raleigh, N.C. While I've done a smaller meet before and have spectated at several, I had never actually competed in a legit sanctioned meet of this magnitude. While I had a great day, walking away with a 2nd place finish in the 72kg class and Best Female Lifter (the only time a diet has done anything nice for me), it was a HUGE learning experience for me. The days since the meet has been a big time for self-reflection for me so I've been writing down my thoughts and takeaways so I don't forget them next go-round!
I also feel like some of these things I was left in the dark about - not that it was anyone's fault or anyone's responsibility to tell me these things - but because a lot of it are things you don't know until you experience it. I am a research junkie. Online reviews, blogs, YouTube videos, etc. - I will research whatever big thing is happening in my life until I feel like I am prepared for it. (Nothing gave me more satisfaction than half of the plane asking to borrow my pen to fill out their Customs paperwork on the way to Mexico for my honeymoon. How did I know to bring a pen you ask? THE GOOGLE.) However, most of the things listed below are things I did not see on any post, video, or Q&A about powerlifting meets. So I thought I would save the next hopeless online researcher that happens to enjoy lifting heavy weights some post-meet grief and let you in on some secrets.
1. Kilo Math is hard. This is America, most of us operate in pounds, but being that USAPL & USPA fall under international sanctions, they operate in kilos. While they try to make it super easy for you with the conversion chart, many times you will have kilo plates in the warm-up too. Nothing is more fun than sitting around with your fellow competitors staring at each other trying to figure out how we use a 45 lb plate, a 20 kg plate, a 10 kg plate and a 10 lb plate to make 250 lbs. It is also both a blessing and a curse when picking attempts because you have to make a decision between hitting 198 lbs or hitting 203 lbs in order to achieve your 200 lb bench press. Moral of the Story: Learn how to multiply in your head or get familiar with working in kilos prior to the meet.
2. Warm-Ups - Moving off point #1 into a slightly related topic, be prepared for warm-ups. While my coach had sent me my warm-ups written out and I have done that for myself in the past, the environment in general is a little awkward. It's a really easy way to make friends, don't get me wrong, but until the initial ice is broken you have to ask strangers to let you work in and you have to pick strangers near your height for squat & bench. I tried to wear headphones during warm-ups to block out some of the noise and help with nerves but that wasn't very beneficial as you have to be able to hear what said strangers are saying, as well as keep an ear out for where the flight ahead of you is. By deadlifts, warm-ups were a breeze but it was definitely a bit nerve wracking for squat and bench.
3. Attempt Selection - Chances are you will have your attempts pre-determined going in to the meet. My Coach was even awesome enough to give me a "low" option - i.e. not feeling the best - "goal" and "high" - feeling above average - selections. Unfortunately, you will most likely be hypersensitive to everything the day of. So be prepared for everything to feel heavy in warm-ups and then your first attempt may feel super light. Some weird stuff goes down on meet day. I remember saying that everything felt heavy in warm-ups and then thinking that 349 lbs felt "not that heavy" while doing my walk-out on the platform. I then proceeded to fail that attempt so like I said - weird stuff happens. I also learned what kind of jumps work best for me. Mentally a 15 lb jump feels okay to me, but a 25+ lb jump causes me to doubt. I really can't tell you the best way to learn this as it's individualized but pay attention to your thought processes when testing maxes whether in a meet or gym setting. If something really gets you on edge - make note of it and try not to do that on game day.
4. Write Out Cues - If you've been at this sport for any length of time, you probably have cues that you tell yourself while training that work for you. For me, that's "Knees Out" "Drive Hips Forward" during squats. Like I stated previously, I failed my 3rd squat attempt. Do you think either of these cues popped in my mind while on the platform? NOPE. I don't even know if they crossed my mind all day to be honest. Maybe I'm not the best example, but when you're on the platform and 3 judges, several spotters, and a crap ton of people are all watching you, your brain can go to mush. And mine did. I have watched the video of that squat over and over and over again and could kick myself for not trying harder. I feel like if my brain had worked, I would have gotten the lift. So my plan for October (my next meet), is to write out the cues I normally use during my workouts the final weeks of training and memorize them, recite them and study them during warm-ups. That way they are at the forefront of my mind when I walk up there and the nerves kick in.
5. Food - Everyone has a different philosophy about eating during a meet and I feel like it's something that evolves as you progress in the sport. First meet you normally pig out on everything you love - and feel like crap after. Next meet - you make improvements but still figure out something else. For me, I had never participated in a meet that was this long. I ate a meal after weigh-ins and then snacked during warm-ups, but I wish I had brought a meal to eat between each lift as the waiting period was close to an hour each time. Luckily my friend was able to run to the Chic-Fil-A next door and get me a sandwich before deadlifts and I seriously cannot tell you how much life that sandwich gave me. Uncrustables & trail mix can only do so much.
6. Drink more water than you ever thought you could - Duh, but it does help to come over prepared with water. I was concerned I wouldn't have enough with me the morning of as I saw no water fountain in sight, so my friend thankfully brought me another gallon. It was a good thing she did because I drink 90% of the fluids I had with me that day. Be prepared for it to be hot and to pee all day.
7. Over exaggerate everything - Obviously you are told to practice commands and hold things longer than you think you have to. So the weeks leading in to the meet I was practicing waiting for a squat command, waiting for a rack command, holding the pause on the bench press longer than anticipated, etc. The bench pause tends to be the biggest one. What I failed to think about was the static hold at the top of the press while you wait for the hand-off person to get out of the way. While having Jennifer Thompson hand off for me on bench was the best & most terrifying thing that could've happened to me that day, and she was super speedy about getting out of the way, I had not considered the seconds that it would take her to get out of the way. So while I practice taking a big breath in to brace during the hand-off, holding your breath for several seconds waiting on the start command is not recommended. I failed my 3rd bench attempt and I think that is why - I merely ran out of breath. So now, I unrack the bar, hold it for a few seconds, take a breath and then go down. And this will be my protocol moving forward. Maybe thats why Jen is such a fan of static holds....
7. Equipment Checks - And no I'm not talking about the standard federation equipment check. I'm talking about your own personal equipment check AT LEAST a week prior to your meet. The Wednesday night before my Saturday meet I took my deadlift slippers off to find a huge rip in the toe of my right one. *Side Note: I have a hole in the toe of every right shoe I own because I walk with my toe up apparently.* So this should not have been a surprise to me, yet it was. And if you've ever seen a Metal brand deadlift slipper, the material is a type of rawhide that cannot be sewn. And if you've ever ordered them you know that 2 day shipping is as much as the actual slipper. So I frantically ordered another one without paying $35 for rush shipping, sent them a sob story email and hoped for the best. The hole was obviously not new and if I had checked over my equipment a week before I probably would've noticed it. My advice is to give your equipment a good once over for any damage a few weeks out so you can make note of anything that could be detrimental to your performance and/or mental state. My slippers did not make it before the meet but I was able to use mine and get by (with a PR too!).
9. Winning isn't everything - wait what? If you're competitive like me you're probably rolling your eyes. We all love this sport because you're essentially competing against yourself. You want to hit PRs and be better than you were last time. So at the end of the day if you don't win, who cares? You hit some new numbers and are feeling pretty swell. 9 times out of 10 people don't come to win. If you do win, you get a medal and the satisfaction of saying so and a little bit of glory for a short time. I have been in a very weird state this week. While social media has seen my Best Lifter plaque and all of the pictures, I've been silently kicking myself in the butt. People have asked how I did and I say "I did okay" and then they find me nauseatingly humble when I'm not trying to be. In reality I'm kind of maybe just a little bit disappointed. I wanted a squat PR and while it was a meet PR and a bodyweight PR (last time I hit 325 I was 10 lbs heavier), I've hit that number before and it wasn't a challenge for me on the platform. I wanted a 200 lb bench and I didn't get that either. Sure, there will be a time when I will get it, but when you go in with expectations, you want to meet those. If I had hit everything I wanted to I could've possibly won my weight class AND done better than 7 for 9 AND had new PRs. But I can't say that I didn't go for it and give it my best shot (minus brain not working but we're working on that lol).
10. It will never go as expected and that's okay - If my meet had gone as anticipated, you would not be getting all these nuggets of knowledge from yours truly. You will more than likely fail at least one attempt at your first meet. You will pout about it, but you've gotta be able to pick yourself up and move on from it to the next lift. Each workout and each meet is a learning experience. You gain more insight into yourself and the sport each time and that's why we love it. The outcome is almost entirely up to you if you come prepared to do your best. My friend Nicole also competed Saturday and she went 9 for 9. She has been powerlifting for 6+ years and she said she thinks that was the first time she had ever had a perfect meet. A meet environment is going to be so much different than a gym, but I can assure you the environment is addicting and it's energizing. If you love powerlifting, you will more than likely not let your first meet be your last.
So here's to research, preparation, failing and learning - may we always strive for 3 white lights and never take the red ones for granted.