I just competed in my third powerlifting meet, Empire of Renegades. It was a blast!
Originally I had planned to lift at Europa Orlando two weeks ago, and had trained for that, but the airplane nose landing gear broke and Matt and I got temporarily stuck in Adel, Georgia. Luckily while I was sulking in my hotel room, I found this meet, which was only about 10min from my house, so I signed up and got ready to kick it. I have long had the goal of getting to 1000# total and I thought that maaaaybe this might be the day, if everything broke perfectly well for me.
Training and meet prep
Most athletes who are preparing for a meet will follow elaborate training programs with a goal of peaking their strength right at meet time. Because I’m coached by the team at Complete Human Performance, I just do what my coach (a pro triathlete) tells me to do. Typically I lift 3x/week (upper one day, squats/deads one day, one day of combo), usually with a LISS run or bike afterwards. The other days are higher intensity cardio. This is liberating since I don’t have to worry about my programming, but undoubtedly means I’m leaving pounds on the rack since I am not trying to optimize my lifts. I lift in my garage, with no spotter or live coaching. My technique probably has lots of room for improvement. So I didn’t do anything super special for the meet other than tell Jon, my coach, three months ago that I had a meet planned.
All powerlifting federations separate lifters into different weight classes. In general, you want to be as heavy as possible within your weight class, but as light as possible overall (because your overall score is computed using your total bodyweight). Like wrestlers and UFC fighters, then, powerlifters have a whole science around trying to drop weight without losing muscle. I usually walk around about 205 lbs, and that would put me in the 220lb weight class against much stronger lifters. I decided to try to get down to 198 or below using a water cut. The idea behind these cuts is simple: by manipulating your fluid and salt intake, you trick your body into dehydrating itself. A typical plan might look like this for a Friday morning weigh-in:
- Monday: drink a gallon of water, cut down dietary salt, lower the amount of carbs you eat
- Tuesday: drink 2 gallons of water, with minimal salt and low carbs
- Wednesday: drink a gallon of water and don’t eat anything
- Thursday: drink half a gallon of water, no carbs, and nothing after 5:30pm. Spend a little time in the sauna in the afternoon
- Friday: wake up, go get weighed in, and then start dehydrating and refeeding
I roughly followed this plan, but I didn’t start until Tuesday (Monday I had the Cotton Row 10K race in hot, humid conditions so I ate and drank like a pig until I got up Tuesday morning). That worked fine; I weighed in at 88.1kg. after having 2 gallons of liquid Tuesday with a mostly normal diet, nothing except eggs, cheese, and hot sauce (and a handful of peanuts, I’m weak) with 1 gallon Wednesday, 1/2 gallon and protein only Thursday, then weigh-in Friday morning.
Mid-week I stumbled across Bigger, Smaller, Bigger and will probably use it next time. It makes for a fun read even if you aren’t a powerlifter.
Crossfit Xiphos hosted the meet; we had 45 lifters arranged into 3 flights. I want to start off by saying that the meet was very well organized and run. Everything was smooth despite the fact that more than half of the lifters were doing their first meet!
A digression about how meets are organized. Each lifter gets 3 attempts for each event. In a full power meet (meaning the lifters will squat, bench press, and deadlift), you thus have 9 tries to lift. Saying that you went “9 for 9” or “2 for 9” thus indicates how successful you were overall. You tell the meet officials what your opening attempt weights will be for each of the 3 lifts, then, if you lift that weight, you can go up (by as much or as little as you want) for each subsequent attempt. There is a lot of strategy behind choosing weights; more on that later.
Once everyone’s checked in, the officials break all the lifters into groups called flights, based on their body weight and the amount of weight they said they’d lift in their opening attempt. The lightest lifter is the first lifter in the A flight, and (in general) the person lifting the most weight will be the last lifter in the last flight. For each lift, the first lifter in the A flight does her thing, then the second person in A flight, and so on. After the last A lifter has lifted, the first A lifter takes a second attempt, and so on. This is harder to explain than it is to do.
I was either #1 or #2 in the B flight for each of the 3 lifts. Based on my lifts, the only reason I wasn’t in A is because more than half of A were novice female lifters (several of whom set Alabama state records, which was extremely cool to see!)
During each lift, there are 3 judges watching you: the head judge is in the center, with one judge on either side. They each have a little switch that illuminates either a red or white light. You need 2 or 3 white lights for a lift to count– get 2 or 3 reds and your attempt is considered a “no lift” and doesn’t count. The head judge gives the lifter commands. You have to wait for these commands before you do anything. For example, in the squat, here’s what happens:
- The head judge says “The platform is ready” and you get on the platform and address the bar.
- At your own pace, you unrack the bar and walk it out to your preferred position.
- The judge says “SQUAT” and you can start the squat, at your own pace. You come up at your own pace.
- When you’ve stood all the way up, and have the weight under control and not moving, the judge will say “RACK” and you put it back into the rack.
There are different commands for the other lifts, of course. These commands are what burned me at my last meet– I missed my first squat attempt and was thereafter so frazzled that I blew a couple of attempts just by missing commands. It’s easy to get so focused on your body that you lose awareness of what the judge is telling you to do.
I warmed up light: 10 reps bar only, then worked up to 125kg x1. I’d planned for an opener at 140kg, with my other attempts bracketed per David Dellanave’s excellent advice about attempt selection. Summary: pick an opener that’s “a weight you can lift 10 times out of 10 with a cold and a headache,” then decide ahead of time what your second and third attempts will be based on how easy or hard the opener is… and then stick to the plan.
My opener was a headache-and-cold winner: 140kg, 3 whites. Sadly I had a camera problem, so no video of that.
Second attempt I chose 150kg, at the top end of my bracket. Three more whites.
Third attempt I had 155kg at the top of my bracket. I took 157.5kg instead, smoked it, and ended up with a new 12lb PR… sadly, I was too conservative here and could probably have gone 162.5kg. That choice turned out to be important later.
(Side note: we had two dudes go over 700#. One attempted 777# and damn near got it. This was super motivating to watch.)
I have poverty bench. At 6’3″ with giant albatross arms, my leverage sucks, and my form is, shall we say, unique. I opened at 100kg, well within my cold-and-a-headache range, and got it.
For round two, I had bracketed 105 at my top end and got it, but it was a bit of a fight– probably RPE 7.
Discarding good judgement, and David’s advice, I went for 110kg on attempt #3 and couldn’t lock it out. That was the only lift I missed but I was bummed. Learning for the future: don’t get greedy.
I love the deadlift. I especially love it at meets, when the crowd gets more and more excited as people work up to their third attempts and we see some crazy numbers on the bar. My opener was 165kg, which flew up. However, I got one red light because I lowered the weight before the command– too much excitement, I guess.
I had bracketed 172.5 through 177.5 for my second attempt but had forgotten to look at my bracket before I went on the platform. Sadly I told the scorer that I wanted 172.5 for my second attempt– that proved to be too light, as it flew up. You can see the bar flex as I lift the weight. It’s not that I was lifting a lot (although 380lb is respectable), but that a deadlift barbell has more “whip” in it than a bar that you’d use for squats or bench press. The whip makes a big difference. On my shopping list for my home gym: a deadlift bar. Maybe someday…
For attempt 3 I decided to try for a PR at 182.5. I smoked it too. David talks about the importance of choosing a big third deadlift attempt when you’re competing against other people and trying to win, but I wasn’t, so I didn’t get as aggressive as I could have here.
Only after I sat down did I realize that I totaled at 445kg, just 10kg short of my goal. This goes back to a key point David makes in his attempt selection guide. In retrospect, I could have made up that 10kg by not missing my 3rd bench (putting another 2.5kg on the total) and then getting a measly 7.5kg total across squat and deadlift– both of which I could’ve done.
Despite that I was well satisfied. With two PRs on the day, and 8/9 total, it was a day well spent. My neighbors Ashley, Erica, and Michael came by at various times to watch; Dana was there cheering me on and making sure I had food, and it was a great positive and fun atmosphere. I feel like my hard work in the gym paid off and I look forward to what’s next!