fantastic advantages to competing in powerlifting even if you have no desire to ever try and compete against the best in the world. I would advise just about every serious gym lifter to have a go in at least one powerlifting comp.
Having a set date in which to be ready for gives you a sense of urgency about your training. It makes you accountable. When you train normally there are no time limits. It doesn't matter if you don't achieve your goals or not. When you have a comp round the corner you will have more motivation to train because you know you only have x amount of weeks before you step on the platform. "Shit I'm competing in 6 weeks I better get my ass in the gym!"
Many lifters remark about how they can always lift more in a comp than they can in the gym. The adrenaline boosting effects of competing, the crowd, other lifters etc can all help a lifter psyche up much more than they can in the gym. Simply being in a comp can lead to PRs.
Competing can also help you improve body composition. Powerlifting is a sport of weight classes. If you compete and want the best out of yourself you are going to have to fit nicely into one of these classes. This may mean bulking or cutting depending on where you are. This can be a strong motivater for change. No one wants to be a kilo short of their class and end up with a massive weight disadvantage. Simalary no one wants to be the smallest guy in the class because they decided not to try and grow into it. Again having a deadline to be ready for can certainly ramp up your training sometimes more than the " I want to be cut by summer" or "I want to bulk over winter" business.
Having other lifters to compete against as well as encourage you can certainly bring out the best performances in people. I mean who doesn't like winning? You may find you exceed your own expectations simple because of the great atmosphere at a competition.
So I may have convinced you to compete but how do you go about doing this? Your best bet I is to try and find an experienced powerlifter in your area and ask for advise. Train with them and have them guide you through a competition. Most people don't have this luxury though.
The first thing to do if you want to compete is to join a powerlifting federation. There are 4 that I know of in the UK all with different rules on the use of gear and drugs. I have only competed in the GBPF the British version of the IPF. I also have plans to compete in the British Drug Free Powerlifting Association (BDFPA) both of these federations are drug tested and run plenty of raw or unequipped competitions. I only compete raw because I think powerlifting gear is overly complicated and retarded. Even if you want to compete in gear I would suggest to get some experience in raw comps first before you invest in gear. You need to learn how a competition works and to see if you liked it before you shell out on the latest Inver suit of armour. Look for a competition labelled as unequipped or classic. These will let you wear a belt and wrist wraps. In the GBPF you can also wear knee sleeves ( not wraps). I consider these a much truer test of strength as well as a lot simpler to compete in and prepare for. If you want to compete in gear I suggest you find someone knowledgeable about it and train with them. It seems you can't really train in gear by yourself you need training partners. The other 2 powerlifting federations that I know of are the BPC and the BPO. Neither one focuses much on raw lifting and tend to like the million ply suits and stuff with no drug testing. I never plan on getting into that kind of thing but if that's you then by all means have at it.
Powerlifting is divided into weight classes. These may vary depending on the federation but most are 52kg, 56kg, 60kg, 67.5kg, 75kg, 82.5kg, 90kg, 100kg, 110kg, 125kg, 125kg+ for men and 44kg, 48kg, 52kg, 56kg, 60kg, 67.5kg, 75kg, 82.5kg, 90kg, 90kg+ for women. 2 years ago the IPF decided to distinguish its self from other federations by changing its weight classes to 59kg, 66kg, 74kg, 83kg, 93kg, 105kg, 120kg, 120kg+ for men and 47kg, 52kg, 57kg, 63kg, 72kg,
84kg, 84kg+ for women.
For your first competition I would suggest just competing at whatever you weigh rather than worrying about trying to cut weight. You will be nervous enough at your first meet you don't need extra pressure to make weight as well. You're there for the experience and to try and get PR's. Don't worry about being ultra competitive just yet. Some federations give you a 24hrs weigh in period before the comp. I personally think this is retarded as you have some guys cutting like 10kg of water weight and then gaining it back before they lift. So the lifts being done are not by guys that actually weigh what their weight class is. You have 90kg guys competing at 82.5kg and such nonsense. In my opinion you should compete at what you actually weigh not what you weigh after you have forgone all food and water, spent a day in a sauna and bought a chemist out of laxitives.
The only comps I have done have a weigh in before the actual lifting giving you around 2hours at most before you compete. The GBPF and the BDFPA both run their comps like this. These make a lot more sense and doesn't require a ton of preparation.
I would suggest getting to the venue early to weigh in as you may have to wait a while due to the number of lifters at the meet. While your there scope out the warm up room and platform, talk to some people as power lifters tend to be quite friendly. Talk to the judges or organisers if you are unsure about anything. Try to leave enough so that you can get some food and drink down you. You will have to find out your rack height for the squat before you weigh in if possible. There should be someone going through this with everyone. When you weigh in you will also tell the organisers your opening attempts for each lift.
It is important to study the rules of your federation before you compete. They can be very strict about certain things you may think are only minor. There may be variations between Feds but I can only speak from doing GBPF competitions.
Make sure you wear Y fronts and not boxer shorts. I know this seems rather stupid and you may think why are the judges interested in my underwear choice? This is to ensure that you are not wearing powerlifting briefs under your singlet. If you use a belt make sure it is non padded and no thicker than 13mm. Make sure you wear long socks that can be pulled up for dead lifting. You can get proper powerlifting ones but I just use football socks. These are too ensure you don't cut your shins dead lifting and get blood on the bar potentially risking cross infection between lifters.
If you wear wrist wraps check in your Feds rule book online to make sure they are the right type and correct length. To compete you will also need a singlet. The reason for wearing a singlet besides making you feel sexy is to better allow judges to gauge squat depth between your knee and hips and to ensure your glutes stay on the bench during the bench press. Baggy joggers would make it harder to judge. I also think its partly traditional to wear a singlet kind of like how old time strongmen used to wear them for their acts. There are really only 2 places in the UK to get hold of powerlifting singlets. Also the only 2 places to get hold of anything powerlifting or strongman related. Strengthshop or Pullumsports with strength shop generally being the cheaper option. You can also get belts, wrist wraps and any thing else you might need for lifting. You can wear a belt and wrist wraps during all the lifts I but personally see no benefit to a belt when benching or wrist wraps when dead lifting.
Find out what time you are lifting. You may be in a large group of lifters with serveral weight classes lifting at once. Plan your warm ups in time for lifting. You want to leave around 15-20mins to warm up before you lift. Try to warm up in the same way you do in the gym. If you like to foam roll before you lift then bring your foam roller with you. If you like to stretch, do mobility exercises whatever then by all means do them. Don't worry if no one else there warms up that way. Get yourself to one of the warm up bars and don't be afraid to work in with people. There may be a lot of you between only a couple of bars. Try not to rush the warm up you want make your last warm up weight a few minutes before your first attempt. You don't want to be waiting ages to lift and start cooling off. And please don't be one of those retards who does their openers in the warm up room. Jesus what is the fucking point of that? If you are not confident about your openers them pick a lighter weight. Your last warm up should be around 10kg less than your opener.
So what weight weight should you open with? Most suggest a weight that you can easily triple. I would suggest a weight that you can do for 5 reps. You should open very light because of the nerves and inexperience you have. You opener is a weight that gets you on the board and stops you bombing out. Its not what wins you the competition. I have seen serval lifters bomb out where they are disqualified for failing all 3 attempts at a weight. A simple result of opening too heavy. So drop the ego and open light. You have 3 attempts at each lift so you might as well use them. There is no point in opening heavy then missing your 2 other attempts. Generally the person with the lightest opener will lift first and the bar will increase in ascending order until everyone has done there openers. It will then cycle back to the lightest second attempt and continue from there. This means that the order you lift in may change depending on the weights people select on their second and third attempts so pay attention for your name being called. Typically they will say who follows each lifter when their name is called so you have time to prepare. When your name is called wait for the referee to say "the bar is loaded". This means you are ready to go and the spotters are ready. Don't step onto the platform until the referee has said this as it measns the spotterrs aren't ready or are still loading your attempt on the bar. Once you've had your attempt go and tell the announcer what you want for your second attempt. If you fail a lift you can repeat a weight as one of your 3 attempts but you cannot take a lighter weight.
Now to the execution of the lifts. Probably 90% of the lifts you see in the gym would not pass under powerlifting conditions. So I'll run through the main points of each lifts as well as the judges call signals. Each judge has a light or Ballard of either red or white. White means a good lift red means no lift. You can have 3 whites or 2 whites and a red for your lift to be counted. 3 reds or 2 reds and a white means no lift.
For the squat go up the bar and unrack it. Get your stance. Raise your head and stand still. Wait for the judge to say "squat!" Do NOT squat until the judge says this otherwise you will automatically get no lift even if you lift the weight. A good rule of thumb is to take your big breath of air and hold it after the judge has said squat. Then begin. You have to squat down until your hip joint is lower than the top of your knee. This is likely lower than you think. The judges will be very strict on this. They will red light you if you do not go deep enough. It doesn't matter if it is your first comp or you are world record holder. Do not use YouTube videos of geared lifters to gauge your squat depth. There are many more than questional lifts online.
What I use to gauge it is when my hamstrings touch my calves. Now I know this is actually too deep. Or deeper than necessary but I have never failed a squat due to depth in competition and it puts no doubt in the judges minds. Also it shows complete dominance of the weight. Take this advise or leave it. OK so you squatted deep enough and now you have strained to squat up with the weight. Now you must stand still. Wait for the judge to say "rack" before you walk the weight back in. If you rack the bar straight away before the judges signal its an automatic no lift. Even if you just lifted a world record. If you move your feet or stumble before the judge says rack its also a no lift. This may seem very strict but ensures proper lifting and control of the weight. Its really not that difficult with a little bit of discipline. Just stay still and listen to the judge.
After your 3 squat attempts its time for the bench. This is a little more complicated than the squat. When your name is called for the bench and the bar is loaded get yourself set up on the bench. It good to say "ready" to the spotters to let them know to give you a lift off. If you want to pull the bar off yourself then tell the spotters before you get set up on the bench. If you get a lift off say "my bar" when you have control of the weight this let's the spotters know its safe to let go. Now wait. The referee will say "start!" Then unlock your arms and lower the bar to your chest. As with the squat if you start the lift before the referee gives the signal you will get no lift. So you have lowered the bar to the chest. Now pause the bar there. Stay tight and wait for the referee to say "press" do not touch and go or bounce the bar on your chest wait for the signal before you press the weight. This is the biggest difference between benching in a comp and benching in the gym. You may have to pause the bar for several seconds before you get the press command. This means you are esentaily pressing from a dead stop with no stretch reflex. This will effect the weight you can lift. Its is different for everyone but expect to lift 5-10kg less when you pause the bar like this compared to touch and go. So take this into account when you choose your attempts. When you are pressing keep your legs in place and your glutes flat on the bench. If you bridge you glutes off the bench then it is a no lift. If you move your feet during the lift it is a no lift. When you have locked your arms out stay still and hold the weight. Wait for the judge to say "rack" before you put it back in the rack otherwise you guessed it no lift. This may take some practise to get right so it is best to try out in the gym first. Imagine the judges calls in your head and pratise pausing the bar on your chest with light weights.
So after your 3 bench attempts comes the dead lift. This is the simplest to get right. When the bar is loaded go and dead lift it in your own time. There is no signal to start the lift so don't wait down in the start position like I have seen some newbies do. When you have locked the bar out hold it at lockout until the judge says "down!" The judge will also lower their arm. Lower the bar to the floor. Do not drop it. You don't have to lower the bar really slowly just make sure you keep hold of it on the way down. Make sure you keep your feet still once you start the lift and do not lean back with the weight and hitch of up your thighs like they do on strongman. You can do either a regular deadlift or sumo if you're that way inclined. Stay disciplined and listen to the judges. Watch other lifters to help you understand the commands and what is a good lift and what isn't. When you have pulled your final dead lift and the dust settles hopefully you will have hit some PRs met some cool people and had an awesome day.
A few final pieces of advise
Try to bring small easily digested foods to eat between lifts if you get time. Fruit, nuts, and protein bars work well.
Take with you and drink plenty of fluids.
Sort your gear out the night before.
Learn to prepare mentally for the lifts. Learn how to psyche yourself up for your attempts. Visualisation and mental rehearsal techniques can work well. Refer to my post how to have at it.
Don't try to stay psyched up and on edge the entire time. Learn to switch it on and off. Otherwise try to relax as much as possible or you will burn out. Powerlifting comps can sometimes take a long time to get through don't spend the entire time listening to death metal and hyperventilating.
Your opening attempt should be something you can easily hit just to get you on the board. For your second attempt I would suggest something around your current Max. For your third attempt go for a PR. You should be able to gauge what you are good for based on how each attempt feels. If you can practice the judges calls in your head when you train in the gym and in the warm up room and practise pausing the bench press. You don't want to miss lifts on technicalities when you are easily strong enough for the weight.
Enjoy the experience. powerlifting is not a big or well funded sport but it is full of a lot of passionate people. Try to learn as much as you can at your first competition and go and chase down some PRs.
For anyone in the Essex area interested in getting into powerlifting by all means get in touch. I am always interested in helping newcomers to the sport. I am currently training in Spit and Sawdust Gym in Southend.