The last fitness related competition I competed in was the 2010 San francisco Marathon. I wasn’t a specular runner (5hrs 23 mins), but after running bay to breakers, and half dozen half marathons, I thought it was time to tackle the full.
I’m an X-Runner turned powerlifter and I’m sharing my experience at my first ever powerlifting meet. The following is a blog post of my first hand experience of doing a powerlifting meet. (a USPA Lifting meet)
It was not only my first Powerlifting meet, but it was my wife’s as well.
I give play by play account of my experience leading up to the event. I wanted to give a “day in a life of..” type of blog post as it is much easier to write.
2/7/2014 Friday (Day Before Pacific Open)
After I got my son ready and dropped him off at school, my friday started with watching Tommy Boy. As I hung out with my 1.5 year old daughter, I tried my best to stay relaxed about tomorrow.
Later that day I went to go pick up my son at school. I waited in the car and got a comment on an instagram photo from one of my buddies, Tony (workout2eat). Here’s his comment, highlighted in yellow below.
My jaw dropped.
I went to USPA’s website and checked when the weight classes lifted and it turned out that the 90kg / 198lbs weight class lifted on Sunday not Saturday. All lifters 82.5kg / 181lbs and under lifted on Saturday. This meant my wife was going to lift Saturday and I was going to lift Sunday.
What a huge cluster #$%* !!
I had clients and a TRX class to teach on Sunday. This meant I had to cancel all my appointments and figure out another day of baby sitting for our kids.
I had to cancel my clients and figure out the babysitting situation.
Either case, we decided to go to early weigh in that evening so that we didn’t have to stress about it in the morning. Naomi didn’t have a belt yet so we need to stop by sports authority to get one.
Got there and found out I couldn’t weigh in!
There is a 24 hour rule. Yeah I know a bunch of rookie mistakes.
So I go back to the car where my wife is waiting (because of our kids and it was raining) and have her go to do her weigh-in and equipment check.
She had to come back to the car to get her shoes and singlet. A velcro belt is not allowed. Also, a leather belt with padding on the back must be cut off it were to be used. I have a Schiek Nylon Coutour weightlifting belt (which I love – my review of it here), and thought it was not legal because it was more than 4 inches wide in some places. It turns out a velcro nylon belt is not allowed. I should’ve read the rule book more closely.
She forgot to bring her singlet, so they asked her to come back early tomorrow morning to have it checked.
It worked out that my belt fit her, so she just decided to use that instead of going out and buying a new one.
I was pretty bummed that I couldn’t weigh in, because I hadn’t eaten all day. At that point, the only thing I did to cut some weight was I ate 3 grapefruits and had some dandelion root. I only had to cut about 2-3lbs, but I wanted to make sure I wasn’t over.
It just sucked because my day of dieting had to last past dinner. We went for sushi and all I had was salad.
When I got home , I weighed in at 196.5 and 198.4lbs. I have 2 scales that I used to average to ensure accuracy. (I know, I’m a bit anal retentive about things like this). Not too bad after dinner, but I wasn’t sure if I would cut enough fluid before the next morning.
So I decided to try some epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) as a laxative to ensure I made weight. It didn’t work as expected. My stomach bubbled, but no bowel movement. Strange. I took 3 leveled teaspoons.
I figured by the next day, I should be 197 as long as I drink anymore water. I wasn’t dehydrated, but I was sure to control my fluid intake to make sure I made weight.
2/8/2014 Saturday – Naomi’s Day (lifting started at 9am)
5:45am Get up, get kids ready and weigh myself. I lose almost 2lbs over night and weigh in on both scales under 198lbs. Forgot what it was, but I was not worried about making weight anymore.
Because it was raining so badly that day, we didn’t want to drive to my sister-in-laws house the day before. I hate driving in the rain. I figured I could manage the kids while Naomi lifted. (bad idea)
6:30am We get there early to weigh in so that Naomi could check in her equipement.
7:30am I stayed in the car with the kids while I played Flappy Bird.
8:30am I waited in line with Ender and Elle to weigh in at 9am.
I weigh in at 88kg or about 194lbs.
For the most part, having the kids with me wasn’t too bad initially, but as the day wore one, it got more and more difficult.
9:30am We watched mommy do her first squat attempt. She gets 2 reds and 1 white light. No lift
It turns out that having the family cheering in the background was too distracting.
10:00am Laxative decides to kick in (from last night). Not fun while you’re holding an almost 2 year old and managing a 6 year old in a gym that is too small and overcrowded crowded.
My daughter was squirming a ton, which probably meant diaper change time. By that time my bicep was pretty tired trying to hold her.
I missed Naomi’s second attempt because I had to go to the car to change Elle’s diaper.
11am I tried my best to manage the kids. But they were hungry and fidgety. Naomi sent us home.
11:30am-1:30pm I stayed at home feeding the kids lunch and trying to find someone to watch the kids for a few hours, and luckily my best friend thomas was willing to help out.
1:50pm Drive back to Old Skool gym to support my wife do her last few lifts. I miss her bench press, but she was able to bench 99lbs with 3 white lights! A huge PR. She hates bench press.
I was able to see my wife’s first 2 deadlift attempts. She did an amazing job. Here’s the video of the lifts I was able to record at Old Skool Gym Pacific Coast Open Powerlifting meet.
4:45pm Had to leave again to get the kids because my buddy had to go. Drive back to fairfield to get the kids then drive back to Vacaville to pick up Naomi.
5:25pm Pick up Naomi.
Here’s our discussion right after my Naomi’s first meet.
2/9/14 Sunday – Ryan’s Day
Thanks to my Aunt and cousin, we were able to make arrangements for our kids. Needless to say, this day went much smoother. Like 1000% smoother.
We were still a bit rushed because we overslept a little and had to drop Ender off at my cousin’s.
8:15am Arrive at Vacaville at Old Skool Gym. 45 minutes to warm up should be enough time. I check in with the judges to get my measurements for my squat and bench.
Measurements for Setting Squat and Bench
For setting up squat, it’s pretty simple. They set it up for you and you unrack the bar to see if it’s at your desired height. If it’s too high or too low they adjust it and they tell you the numbers (measurements) to give the broadcaster.
For the bench press at the powerlifting meet, they ask if someone is going to help you unrack the bar for you. I was so glad to know that you could unrack the barbell yourself. I know that I could lift more weight if I had help, but I didn’t have practice setting up like that.
I also asked if it was okay to lift my butt off the bench to unrack the weight. They said that was okay too. (if your hips come off during the actual lift you will get red lights)
USPA had safety bars to ensure that if anything were to happen, you’re less likely to get hurt.
Here’s a picture of the rack on the lifting stage.
When you see the lifting stage for the first time, you can get kind of nervous. It’s a feeling of “oh sh*T this is real” type of feeling at the bottom of your stomach. Keep in mind, we’ve never attended a live powerlifting meet.
8:30am I’m freaking out because I have less than 30 minutes to warm up. When I compete here in June, I’ll be sure to do all my mobility stuff before getting here.
Here is what I do before I squat.
I felt a little rushed in to my warm up, but I think it worked out for the better because I typically take too long and get mildly fatigued before hitting my working sets.
1st Attempt: My opening squat was 385lbs / 175kg
I picked this as my opener because it it’s something I hit in training for a double. In one of my training videos I hit here, the same day I hit 405lbs.
My goal for this meet was to hit 405. I’ve only squatted 405 once, and when I did the form was not perfect. (Here’s a video of that training session 2.5 weeks prior) In fact, I almost lost my balance. The bar travels backwards on the way up and that feeling is scary.
For me, a major component of powerlifting is fear. Fear of getting hurt and fear of missing. The numbers are psychologically demanding, simply put, they are f—- scary.
As you can in the video, I nail my opener.
2nd Attempt: 407lbs / 185kg
What’s 2 pounds above my gym PR? A cool thing I had working for me was that most plates in gyms are inaccurate +/- 2 pounds. I learned it from a video by Omar Isuf. (couldn’t find the video, comment the link below if you know so I can update ths post)
This means that squatting 405 could’ve easily been well over 407lb. I wasn’t able to film it, but I nailed it. I could feel the 20lbs+ difference on my back, but my legs couldn’t tell.
3rd Attempt: 429lbs / 195kg
I almost lost my balance, but recovered. I felt myself push into a posterior pelvic tilt (at least that’s what it felt like)to grind the weight up. I think it’s interesting when this happens. It feels much lighter when this happens. The bar path goes slightly backwards as it goes up. I’m so glad I have spotters.
I was so relieved to be done with squats. After that attempt, my right knee felt some mild pain. I went back and did a slow motion review of the lift and noticed that my left knee buckled in slightly as I lost my balance. This probably forced some asymmetrical loading of my right knee which probably caused the problem. When I go back to training I’m going to have to weed out that problem. I’m not sure what it is, but I’m gonna fix it.
THE BENCH PRESS
1st Attempt: 281lbs/ 127.5kg
There are so many things I could’ve done to make this lift better. One thing that is apparent is that my left arm trembled. A weakness on my left side was due to not being tight enough in the traps, rhomboids and lats (I think). I tightened my lats last minute to finish my lock out.
If I had consciously started contraction of my lats from the outset the lockout, it would’ve been much faster.
2nd Attempt: 297lbs / 135kg
I commanded the weight to rise. You here me say “get up there!” Sort of like powerlifter turned youtube star CT Fletcher in his famous bicep video. Dudes got some crazy arms.
Three white lights and the lifts is good! Looking back at these attempts I could’ve worked a lot harder to incorporate a much more aggressive leg drive. There’s always a risk of my hips leaving the the bench and getting red lighted, but there was still a lot left in the tank. I can tell because if you look at my legs and hips, their involvement from he outset of the lift was very minimal, I could have had more.
3rd Attempt: 308lbs / 140kg
It looks like I had it! I wasn’t fast enough off the chest and I know that if I had lifted my head as I lowered the weight I would’ve locked it out. I practiced in training, but very intermittently.
My previous gym PR for bench press was 305lbs. Although I missed the lift, I’m quite happy with my performance. I’m happy because I’m really a lot stronger than I realized.
In my own workout career, I have yet to bench 3 plates on each side, or 315lbs without mark bell’s slingshot.
In between attempts
The powerlifting meet was ran in flights. Flight A, B and C. On my day, there were about 15 lifters per flight usually grouped by weight class (but not necessarily).
Each flight would finish all 3 of their attempts on whatever lift they were on then the next flight would go and do their 3 attempts and so on and so forth.
I was in flight A, and my order was based on what weight I picked in comparison to other people in the competition. Ideally, they don’t want to remove weight off the bar so each person would go based on their attempt.
So if we happened to be in the same flight lifting together and I was attempting 100kg and you’re attempting 102.5kg, I would go before you because I have less weight.
It makes sense so that they transitioning between lifters is faster and they don’t have to remove plates to often.
Your first meet tip #1: take your time warming up and do you’re last warm up set 5-10 minutes before you do your first attempt. This may be hard to time, but it will make sure you’re fully primed.
1st Attempt: 518lbs / 235kg
My favorite lift, the deadlift. My obsession back in October 2012 was to deadlift 500lbs. At the the time I couldn’t get 300lbs. I had some butterflies of missing the lift. Thinking of Omar Isuf 500 pound deadlift challenge when I got 3 reps and missing the 4th.
One of the great advantages of you filming your self and sharing it on youtube is that you can always reference back. I remember that I did pull 525lbs in the gym without a hitch. In fact it felt “light.” I did a ‘slow’ non-aggressive deadlift.
Re-watching that video on my phone quickly subsided those butterflies.
2nd Attempt: 534.5lbs / 242.5kg
I remember pulling this thinking I might fail. Luckily I’m physically stronger than that. It’s really a mental game when it comes to powerlifting sometimes. I was truly at the outer edge of my strength, in this case about 2% above my gym pr. It sounds kind of ridiculous looking back. “Will 2% more weight really stop me?”
I had a mental hesitation and you can see it on my 2nd attempt during the lift. Right in the beginning before I hit mid-shin I tipped forward slightly. This is a weakness and a sign of form break down. When there is a sign of form break down there is a higher chance that the lift will be missed. You can see in this slow motion video of me pitching forward and rounding during a 475lbs deadlift.
My wife, Naomi filmed it and when I reviewed the video I was estimating how much pitch and round I would make on a heavier attempt.
I play it safe and go up only 5kg. I so badly wanted to go up 10kg but I don’t think I could mentally tolerate it.
3rd Attempt: 545.6lbs / 247.5kg
I rip this sh*t off the ground! I was thinking about Chris Ramos’s 639lbs dead lift at supertraining gym in sac. There’s zero hesitation. If there is one thing that deadlift nerd instagram is good for, it’s for motivation before a 90% + lift or powerlifting meet attempt.
I just heard this recently from a video on Omar Isuf’s youtube channel. Where Omar Isuf interviews Jeremy Hamilton. Great video about building strength.
Attack the bar like you’re ripping a head off a lion – Jeremy Hamilton
Why you should compete, My experience and Closing remarks
As I said in the beginning of this post, the last time I competed was in 2010 when I ran the San Francisco Marathon. Four years later and I’m doing the polar opposite of my previous competition. From running a treacherous 26.2 miles to lifting a heavy barbell 9 times.
I remember now why I signed up for these things. They give you purpose and focus. It makes fitness more than fun, it makes it meaningful.
So many people spend so much time trying to diet, lose weight and get in shape. Seldom do I hear people focused on getting better. Getting better at what they’re doing. That’s what makes competition so valuable, sports make you focus on getting better and not dieting or getting bigger muscles.
Competition pushes to be at your best. This easily translates to real world activities . That’s why you should compete – to be your best.