Share with someone who might be thinking about doing their first powerlifting meet. Another one of my popular blog posts is the one of my first meet.
A powerlifting Meet, a Play by play experience from a lifter.
6:36am I was wide awake. I was surprised of how I felt considering I had some trouble sleeping. I didn’t feel nervous, but I’m pretty sure I was. I had some caffeine a little later than usual the day before and was wondering if that was the reason. I probably felt so alert because of the mild adrenaline pump that was to come for my powerlifting meet.
Unlike the morning of my first powerlifting meet, I was much more calm and focused. The excitement wasn’t getting the better of me. The main concern is how well I would squat today. A few weeks ago I pulled some spinal erectors near my SI joint (I made a few videos about my injury). Effectively irritating my SI joint which took about 12 days to recover.
I went downstairs into my home gym to foam roll my stiff tissues with a kettlebell handle and get some mobility work in. It takes me forever to warm up to squat. It would be so easy to not squat, but after seeing Brandon Lilly squat 110lbs months after his injury I was determined that my problem was nothing but a scratch. If it came to be, I would squat at least 135lbs.
I practiced wrapping my knees as well as using my newly aquired iron rebel wrist wraps the day before. They still needed braking in, but they were better than the Valero wrist wraps that I ended up returning to Sports Authority.
They were pink, only color left
7:45am We leave to Vacaville to Old Skool Iron. My very pregnant hungry wife was nice enough to drive. I do a video blog on the way there. It actually helps me relax.
If you’re there supporting a friend, significant other or family member, it’s best to get there early so you can get good seats. This was only my second powerlifting meet (at the same location), and it felt awkward to film because it was jammed pack (not to mention it was raining back in Feb).
It seemed pretty normal to have a camera person film their friend while they did their attempt, so even if you don’t get a good seat up front you should be okay. However, with a pregnant wife, I wanted to make it as easy as possible so that she wouldn’t have to keep going back and forth.
8:17am I arrive and do a last minute equipment check of an elbow strap brace I use for squatting. It helps reduce the medial elbow pain when I squat. It’s a band-aid for poor shoulder mobility.
They said it was too long and it can’t have velcro, bummer.
I talked to the USPLA organizer for the meet, Steven Denison. I previously sent an FB message to him about not squatting. He seemed a bit erked that I changed my mind last minute (again). I’m going to make a guess that there were a lot of last minute changes including several that didn’t make weight. This caused a slight delay in the first flight from starting.
Here’s a video a video of a subscriber that follows my youtube channel. Nick, strong guy. Killed it on the squats. He cut down from 220 down to 198lbs.
I did a short warm up by working with 185lbs and 225lbs. Sets of 3-5 reps. The most important thing I finally figured out was my set up under the bar. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to squat in a way that didn’t give me elbow pain while simultaneously staying tight in the upper back. As I get under the bar, I touch the place where I would do a high bar squat, then slide further forward while squeezing my shoulder blades together for a low bar squat. Simple, but a routine I’ve forgotten.
A lot of powerlifters who I follow on youtube and listen to on podcasts don’t seem to emphasize set up enough. Setting up to me is like looking through the crosshairs of a sniper rifle. You might be out of bullets (or saving them, like saving strength) or not ready to shoot your target, but you can still check to see how things look. You can pay attention to where your hands are around the gun. Where your finger is in relation to the trigger.
In the case of the barbell in powerlifting you can practice set up everyday. Why not? Practice unracking the barbell. Practice deadlifting with 135lbs. Practice how you take your breath in.
That what I did for 5 days leading up to my first meet. I was over prepared, and that’s why I did so much better.
Squat 1st attempt
3 white lights! The white lights indicate each judge giving a thumbs up or down. One on each side and one in front. After the lift is completed, each judge will credit the lifter with a white or a red light. You need 2 out of the 3 lights to be white for the lift to be good.
There was something wrong with equipment. My socks were too high. In raw classic there needs to be 2 inches above and below the knee wrap of exposed skin. I also forgot to take off the elbow wrap I was using. I felt bad about that because they said no earlier. I was just using it in warm up.
Squat 2nd Attempt
After each attempt you either had to go to the desk to give your next attempt numbers or someone one will come up to you after your lift to ask what you wanted to try for on the next attempt.
It’s crazy how “light” the weight felt. Something about the environment and all those people watching you lift that gets the adrenaline going. 297lbs felt almost the same as 363lbs.
Squat 3rd Attempt
When it’s your turn to go up, you’ll hear the announcer say something like:
“Jon is up, Ryan is on deck, Billy is in the hole and Tim is 4 out.”
When you’re in the hole (or 3 out) you need to go up there and start wrapping up your knees and wrists (if you’re using any). When they say “4 out,” it goes by really quick. And if you’re nervous it will be like a blink before it’s your turn. There’s usually a seat up front next to platform for setting up your knee wraps. Your coach will either wrap you up or you’ll just wrap yourself up.
I wish I practiced using wrapping up my knees more. I really didn’t use them much because I was planning on going with knee sleeves or just no knee support at all, but changed my mind last minute.
I’m so glad squats were over. The most stressful lift and arguable the most dangerous.
Here’s a one of the strongest guys squatting ~660 in single ply gear
Bench Press 1st attempt
The general rule about setting your attempts
This is what I’ve heard from many people when it comes to setting attempts.
First attempt should be an easy 3 rep near max.
Second attempt should be your heaviest 2 rep max.
Third attempt should be your PR set.
For me, 265lbs in the gym for a pause bench was not an easy triple, but I know I can pretty much hit that on any given week. The closest to kg was 120kg or 264lbs.
I did a few sets of 2 reps with 225lbs in the warm up room. I really focused on staying tight. They didn’t really have any pull up bars (or space for that matter) to set up for my normal mobility routine, so I had to improvise when compared to my standard shoulder mobility routine.
When raw benching for powerlifting, it’s important that you have good mobility to go into shoulder extension and internal rotation. That just means your elbow going behind your body without your shoulder shrugging forward or up.
The middle part of my lat on my right side cramped up like crazy. Luckily I got a soft ball to mash that out.
After my second attempt, I learned a lot about myself. Here’s the thing I learned. I always seem to have an issue with my lock out when it comes to benching. I’m usually pretty strong coming off the chest after a pause, but for whatever reason, my lock out sucks and on that set I realized what it was. After my elbow passes 90 degrees I let off the gas pedal bit. I think it’s unconscious. When the judge said “bench” I came up with the 303lbs strong and I was thinking, “shit i got this!” But then hit that invisible wall at the 0:09 second mark in the video. I slowed down my rep and I don’t know why. This is where I thinking training with bands or chain might help be stop this bad habit. I need to focus on following all the way through.
Some may suggest that my second attempt was too big of a jump, and it probably was. I made the jump because in my mind, I can’t hit 300lbs for more than one rep in any given bench day. Of course, that’s probably psychological, but my other matter of thinking was that if I went for 297lbs, there was a good chance I might miss 303 on the 3rd attempt. So I just went for a small PR. My experience training is that I have trouble hitting multiple paused reps above 280lbs in the same session.
Once I got stuck, you can see my lips move telling the spotters I’m done. On my 3rd attempt on my previous meet (video starts at 2:44) I tried to grind for 5 seconds and still failed. Ultimately I irritated my left AC joint that prevented me from benching and back squatting heavy for 3 weeks; so I cut my losses right there.
I learned something very valuable at this meet. I found out that I don’t follow through aggressively after my elbow passes 90 degrees. I want to say that around about the 110 degree mark of the bench, I have a subconscious slow down of completing the lockout. It’s as if I’m a few steps from the finish line and decide to slow down because I’m so close. The unfortunate reality is that gravity is still working against me and any loss of momentum during max attempts will result in a miss or a really ugly grinder.
This is where I think training with chains and bands could be useful. Really being put in a condition where I have to fully lockout out the weight. However, I’ve always felt that training with bands messed with the bar path too much. If I had a choice, I would bench press with chains if they were available to me.
Powerlifting Meet Deadlift Attempts
Most of my mobility work is done, because for me, squatting has the greatest demands on my flexibility (or lack thereof). However it’s still good to do a little bit. Doing the hamstring floss has always been a staple for me. Gets me into a really good deep hip flexion for a solid pulling position on the deadlift.
I was also creative enough to jerry-rig my own uni-lateral hip thrust. Hip thrust with bands was an idea I got from Chris Duffin on this video at the 1:40 mark. A standing banded hip thrust that helps with deep flexion at hips along with an accompanying aggressive hip extension.
The space required for what Chris Duffin demonstrates was not available to me, so what I did was I did it with one leg. almost like a 1-legged rdl. It seemed to help a lot.
Warm ups were 135 for 10 reps and 225 for 5 reps. I did practice singles with 315-365lbs. I rehearsed my approach, grabbed and ripped. I always big on form,but when it comes time to max lift, you gotta hope that all your training up until that point falls into place when you grab the bar for an attempt.
It’s almost like you have to fall into some sort of rhythm. A rhythm of breathing, or maybe like a dance. Something that puts you mode to walk up to the bar and give your very best physical, mental and technical efforts.
I chose to do a 484lbs (220kg) opening attempt. I won’t say this is an easy triple, but on any given day I can lift this with 99.99% accuracy. When I looked at the roster, I was the second heaviest opening lift. It was satisfying to know that my deadlift was high up there, unlike my bench and squat.
1st Deadlift Attempt
2nd Deadlift Attempt
How to have a successful Deadlift
I’ve been able to distill my current deadlift approach as follows:
1. Approach the bar, placing one foot with the proper distance from the shin.
2. Position second foot
3. Distance check my shins to the bar. If I were to flex my knees my shins would almost touch it.
4. Squeeze glutes
5. Take a long deep breath into spinal extension
6. Grab the bar with my right (under hand) pulling some slack out of the bar. ~40lbs
7. Grab with other hand (overhand) pull another 40lbs of slack out of the bar.
8. Take another big deep breath. Getting a double sip of air to increase my abdominal pressure.
9. Knees flex forward
10. Violently and abruptly extend the knees and hips while simultaneously rocking backwards.
11. Don’t let go
Much of this routine has been learned organically. Everything happens so quickly. It’s my “pre lift routine” which would be similar to a pre shot routine that is similar to what a golfer does before hitting the ball.
The hardest thing I’ve been trying to do in training is to approach 135lbs the same as I would a 600lbs deadlift.
One the big mistakes I’ve noticed with many lifters in the warm up room is lowering the deadlift too slowly. I know for a fact that this waste a lot of energy. I suppose it might makes sense to do so if you have a bad habit of following judge commands and dropping the bar after a deadlift, but lowering quickly is the only way you can conserve energy. 315lbs is light, but lowering it like a stiff legged deadlift will impact energy usage.
484lbs came up like slicing butter. Not my best bar path, but definitely easy as expected. When I went to give numbers for my next attempt, I thought about giving my previous pr of 247.5kg, but decided to PR it try 250kg. At the time of giving my next attempt, I thought if I missed it I would get a second chance.
A few moments later I realize that was bad thinking. From when I finished my 1st deadlift opening attempt to my next attempt I zone out. It was if I had tunnel vision and could hardly hear anything. I was in a meditative state. Listening to my breath and keep my nerves calm.
I made commitment that once I gripped that bar I wasn’t going to let go. I was reminded by an Elite Crossfitter I saw in a video. It was a deadlift and box jump workout. 315lbs deadlift and box jumps for 21-15-9 reps for time. The guy that won that event said in a later interview that he made a commitment to not let go of the bar. 315lbs isn’t heavy but 21 reps is a lot of F*cking reps. I think it was Scott Panchick or Marcus Hendren.
(For the record, crossfit doesn’t help strength in powerlifting, but these elite guys have a solid mental game. Hate crossfit or not, it still takes certain level of mental capacity to reach high levels in any sport.)
When I was 4 out, I went up close to the platform thinking about what Jeremy Hamilton said in an Omar Isuf Video on youtube. Approach the bar like you’re ripping a head off of a lion. It’s what I imagined. Putting King Mufasa in a headlock and ripping his head off.
A messy headless lion.
During: I don’t know what happened, the bar just went up.
After: It was crazy watching it. I was in disbelief.
I felt something in my left shoulder get slightly overstretched during the attempt so I chose to play it safe and decline my 3rd attempt. It felt like my subscapularis. It was a hell of a mind F’ just getting up there for the attempt.
I surprised that I won bronze.
does this guy even lift?
A great experience, looking forward to the next one. I got some big personal goals this year. 600lbs deadilft and a 330lbs paused bench.
Thanks for reading, share with someone who might be thinking about doing their first powerlifting meet. Another one of my popular blog posts is the one of my first meet.
Strength is never weakness:)