My First Powerlifting Meet

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Dehydrated, 9 lbs under my normal bodyweight, electrolyte concentrations way out of whack, sleep deprived, and terrified – that accurately characterizes my body and mind on meet day. I’ve done soccer tournaments, taekwondo compeitions, and track meets; none of those compare to this experience.

For detailed information on my water loading plan to get from 136 to 127, see my more in-depth post.

This was a USAPL “Rookie” meet, so everyone was a newbie to the USAPL. We were lucky enough to be paired up with “veteran” mentors who were extremely helpful. In my particular case, I couldn’t read any of the signs, screens, or projections, so I literally would’ve been lost without a mentor. Equipment check was pretty standard – rules briefing was pretty standard too, but I quickly found out why USAPL is widely regarded as a “stricter” federation. They were super keen on making sure we knew the rules. No toes while benching! After the lift, don’t walk out to the front the platform! You must wear underwear! Wait for the commands! Don’t bail on the weight! And whatever you do, do not drop the weight when deadlifting!

Timing was critical. Five flights of 10-15 lifters each attempting three lifts three times. I was in flight E, so we had access to the warmup area while flight D was lifting. You needed a pretty solid idea of your personal warmup time and the time for a flight to finish. Usually, each flight took 25-35 minutes to complete all attempts on a given lift. I’m legally blind, so I couldn’t see the live updated screens – but I honestly recommend even full-sighted people bring a friend or coach to shoulder the meticulous time management burden.

My weight class was 130 lbs, but I overdid the water cut and came in at 127 lbs at weigh-ins. Luckily, since I was in flight E, I had 2 hours between weigh-in and squat time. Lots of coconut water, peanut butter crackers, and bananas went down in that time. I was super paranoid about squat depth, so I went three for three with conservative attempts: 275, 280, 285. I came away with a couple learnings immediately after squats were done: 1. Speed is your friend going down into the hole, 2. I should try a wider, low bar stance in my next cycle, and 3. I needed to try out wrist wraps.

By the end of squats, my attitude had shifted. No longer scared shitless, I was actually having fun. Pausing at the bottom was fine, but bench was still odd. I had never actually trained with liftoffs. Luckily, you get to tell the spotter how you want your liftoff. My advice: train with liftoffs; you’ll progress faster in training when you don’t have to waste energy on unracking. Not as anxious, I started to take notice of more details too. The spectators were legendary – they knew when to shut up (re: allowing the lifter to concentrate) and they knew when & what to scream (re: encouragement at the right time can make the weights fly up). Bench went 185, 190, and failed 195. Twas a little disappointing to be honest, but I was just looking forward to deadlift by this point. Takeaways from bench: 1. Train with liftoffs and 2. I needed to try out wrist wraps.

Warming up for deadlifts, I found out that a number of powerlifters around my age were anime nerds just like me. I suspect there’s a correlation among those who gravitate towards shounen anime, those who lift heavy, and their reasons for being into fitness. Finding people with shared interests was cool, but there was a surprisingly diverse group of people: all shapes and sizes, colors, genders, and ages. I’ve never seen diversity of that breadth in a sporting event before. Regardless, deadlifts went 385, 407, and failed 413. Again disappointing since I’ve lifted more on commercial bars, but thank god I had trained with a stiff bar! Given my ultra low weigh-in and all other factors considered, the 407 was still 3.18xBW so not that bad.

Now if you’ve read one of my earlier posts, then you’ll know I was actually trying to take a state record at this meet. The USAPL’s California State Deadlift Record for 59 kg Juniors was sitting at 402 months before the meet. However, by the meet date, the record had gone up to 470+, so that was an additional bummer.

In retrospect, here’s my advice for first-time competitors:

  1. Don’t cut to make a weight class unless you have a really good reason (e.g. attempting a record…and even then, should that really be a goal in your first competition?)
  2. Train in conditions as similar as possible to conditions in your competition: no headphones, stiff bar, liftoffs, wraps, etc.
  3. Bring a friend to manage time for you.
  4. Have fun!

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