The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Your First Powerlifting Meet

You’ve taken the plunge. You signed up for your first powerlifting meet. You’re not sure what to expect. And you’re a mixture of scared, excited, and nervous.

First off, congratulations. You’ve taken a huge step, and you won’t regret it. Competing in my first powerlifting was one of the best experiences of my life. It brought out a sense of passion and focus, and introduced me to a new, exciting world and community.

90% of women never make it this far. You’re already part of the elite family of powerlifting.

Here are some tips to physically and mentally prepare you for your first powerlifting meet.

Pre Meet:

  • Plan your openers and ranges for your 2nd and 3rd attempts before the meet. Set these in a way that your confidence BUILDS throughout the day. This means not being too aggressive on your second attempts.
  • Attitude is everything. I’m not going to tell you not to be nervous or anxious, because you 100% will be. But you need to consciously choose to not take yourself (or this meet) too seriously. Go in with an open mind, learn a lot, and have fun. I know how cliché that sounds and I rolled my eyes at it too, but it honestly makes a world of difference.
  • You’ll need a handler.  Someone to tell you when to warm up. Who helps you choose your 2nd and 3rd attempts, and ensures you’re on the platform when you need to be. Ideally, this will be your coach. However, if that’s not possible, choose a close friend. Someone who understands your lifts and knows you well enough to talk you off the ledge if you miss a lift.

My handler, Amy. Could not have done this without her. Photo Credit: Photographing Strength

  • REST REST REST. You need to deload and taper your training the week before your meet. Some coaches (like mine) ask you to take this week completely off. Some may want you on the bar, but only lifting weights 50-60% of your max. Each lifter will be different.

It was REALLY hard for me to take an entire week off and I hated every second of it. But honestly, it was the right choice for me. The rest helped my body be physically prepared on meet day. Not being able to lift made me just the right amount of excited and hungry for the weights. I cut about 10 pounds of water weight the week before the meet. My lowered activity level the week before ended up being extremely helpful in managing hunger and energy during this time.

  • On cutting weight: Considering dropping a few pounds to make a weight class? It’s not as hard as you’d think. However, I don’t recommend it unless you absolutely need to. Even cutting water weight can mess with your strength. and the quickest way to screw up your lifts is getting dehydrated the week before your event.
  • Practice using commands. Each federation may use unique commands during meets. In other words, the cues that tell you things like when to rack your bar, when to press your bench, or when it’s okay to lower your weight on your deadlift. I recommend you look up the commands that will be used during your meet and practice them for a few weeks before. You can typically find these commands on the website of the federation you’ll be competing in. If you can’t find them, send an email to the meet director and they can hook you up.

During the Meet:

  • Have fun. Screw around. Take stupid pictures. Tell Jokes. Smile.

Photo Credit: Photographing Strength

  • Unusual things to bring with you:
    1. Extra underwear. You never know what will happen on the platform.
    2. Gum. Cotton mouth is a bitch.
    3. Easily digestible carbs to keep your energy high like pretzels, PB&J sandwiches, fruit, premixed protein shake, and Gatorade.
    4. Water. Plan to bring about twice as much as you think you need.
  • Peeing in a singlet is hard. Plan more time for pee breaks than you think you need, and always pee WELL before you have to be on the platform.
  • On nerves: you’ll be nervous for your first lift of the day (usually squat). After that, you won’t be nervous anymore. But you will likely have a really hard time focusing on the platform. The audience, the cheering, the spotters all in your business, and the pressure from the judges may distract you.

This was my biggest struggle. Once I got up there, my mind went blank. I recommend repeating a few critical cues to yourself before you step on the platform and as you’re setting up to lift. I missed my second squat because I didn’t set up my hands on the bar like I normally do and lost my upper back tightness. I’ve done this a million times in training, but didn’t focus enough to do it on the platform. Know your cues and repeat them to yourself while you’re waiting for your turn on the platform.

  • If you fail a lift, that’s okay. Leave it on the platform. The last thing you want is to fail one lift and then get in your head. Don’t allow a missed attempt to screw up the rest of your lifts. Mental toughness is more than half the battle during a powerlifting competition, and inexperienced lifters can have an extremely hard time maintaining a helpful mindset. Remember, this is your first meet and failing a lift doesn’t really matter. Leave the lift on the platform and focus on your next attempt.

Photo Credit: Photographing Strength


After the Meet:

  • Coming down from the adrenaline of a meet SUCKS. It felt to me what I imagine a drug withdrawal must be like. Nobody warned me about this, and honestly I wasn’t prepared at all. Post-meet “flu” is a real thing. You’ll get incredibly jacked up at the meet. But then you’ve got to give your body and mind a chance to chill out afterward. Don’t plan anything for the rest of the day or the next that will require any mental or physical energy. If you traveled for your meet, definitely plan to have someone else manage your travels home.
  • Take a full week of rest after your meet. By the third or fourth day of rest, you’ll be extremely antsy to lift. Don’t. I talked to several competitive powerlifters about this itch, and they all said the same thing—the biggest mistake they made after their first meet was not taking the week after to recover and come back stronger.
  • Your appetite is going to be weird for a couple days following the meet. I personally hated all protein for several days. I couldn’t bring myself to eat eggs or meat of any kind. If you track your macros, this may be a good time to take a little break—mentally and physically. There will be plenty of time to nail nutrition in the coming months, and in the grand scheme of things one week off isn’t going to make or break your progress.
  • Don’t dwell on mistakes made during the meet. This was your first experience with the wonderful world of powerlifting. The first anything is never amazing.

Your first powerlifting meet is kind of like losing your virginity; it’s not going to be amazing or perfect, some parts get a little messy, and you’ll learn a lot about yourself. Take 1-2 key things away from the meet that you can use as fire to fuel the next phase of your training.

Photo Credit: Photographing Strength

Competing in your first powerlifting meet requires a huge leap of faith. It’s simultaneously one of the scariest yet also one of the most gratifying things you will ever do.

Relax. You’ve done the work. You’re prepared, physically and mentally.

Go smash some weight, girl.

Want more tips & tricks on beginner’s powerlifting, getting strong AF, and increasing your physical and mental confidence?

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