• Chris K

How To Quickly Chill The F Out Before A Powerlifting Competition

When I began as a powerlifting coach, I didn't appreciate how important stress is in cultivating the best performances from lifters. We want our lifters to be as relaxed as possible as this means recovery is higher when stress is lower.


Over the years, my methods to help clients relax as competition day approaches have vastly improved. We're using today's article to explore those methods.


Big Rocks


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Know The Rules


You should have a good grasp of the competition commands. You should know how long you have to perform the lifts and how long you have to select your next attempt.


You should know what you are allowed to do with your feet/knees/hips/shoulders during each of the lifts. You should know the rules on missed lifts. You should know what kit you are allowed, and make sure all your kit is approved for use in your federation.


You should know how lifting flights work and you should know how your attempts can be selected. Once you have a solid grasp of the above, you can relax knowing you probably know enough of the rules to get by as long as you promise to revise the rules 4 weeks before every competition!


Know Your Lifts Abide By The Rules


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In order to relax during a competition prep, thinking your lifts adhere to competition standards isn't enough. You have to KNOW your lifts would pass inspection during competition.


If you know your lifts abide by the rules you can relax knowing you have a good chance of having a good competition.


A coach or other powerlifter can help you establish whether your lifts are to competition standards. If they aren't, it's time to make it happen. If they do, you can relax with the knowledge you are a superior powerlifter-being.


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Feedback on your lifts is critical to your success and stress-levels. A coach with lots of powerlifting experience is your best source of feedback but hundreds of referrees, powerlifters and former powerlifters are available to help you out too. There are many great groups on Facebook. I recommend Eat Train Progress, it's an awesome vibe and is very well moderated.


The feedback needs to be from a trusted source or sources, or it will stress you out.


Feedback on your lifts means you aren't going into a competition with lifts you are unsure of. Obtain feedback well before your competition so you have chance to make the needed changes. Leave it too close to competition, and it might be too late to make the changes without negatively affecting your performance.


Practice The Commands


Now you know the rules, you should practice applying them to your training.


I have lots of fun testing athletes knowledge of the commands by putting them on the spot until they can recite the commands in their sleep.


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I haven't tested any of my clients on the commands while they slept yet to confirm the efficacy of my strategy, but my lifters assure me that me constantly droning on about commands is their favourite part of competition prep.


You've practiced them enough when you are sick of the commands and you've finished competing.


Know How Competition Day Runs


The powerlifting community is awesome, if you prepare properly it's difficult to look stupid at the competition, and people will want you to succeed, but you won't believe me until you've experienced a competition yourself.


Lifters have all sorts of questions and worries while approaching their first competition such as:


Will I fit in?

Will I look stupid?

What if everyone hates me?

What if I get everything wrong?


To answer many of these questions, you should go to at least one official powerlifting comp before your first competitive event so you can see how it all works, soak up the atmosphere, and know what to expect.


Knowing what to expect removes the fear of the unknown and less fear = less stress and less stress often leads to better recovery and performance.


Being a volunteer at competitions is a great idea. Competitions always need more volunteers, you get a look behind the scenes, and in some federations, when you Volunteer, you get priority entry privileges meaning you are more likely to get a spot at the more popular competitions.


Have A Coach


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A coach like me makes competition easy. How do I know this? Because that's what my lifters tell me. If you are unconvinced and would like to talk to them, drop me a message and I will hook you up.


Have Your Comp Kit Ready Well In Advance


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You should have a kit bag ready in the weeks leading up to the competition with a checklist of everything you need to pack closer to the time.


THIS and THIS are excellent articles discussing what you need in your competition kit bag.


Keep it somewhere the cat won't defile it with urine, as my cat loves to do on anything remotely smelling of the outside world and for the love of Greyskull, don't forget it on competition day.


Sort Your Travel Arrangements


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Find out where your competition is being held ASAP. Sort out exactly how you are getting there and where you are staying. Sort child and pet care as far away from the competition as possible so you aren't having to sort these things during the final few days where stress should be minimised as much as possible.


Make sure you know your way to the competition venue well before the morning of the competition. If you are flying make sure you have wiggle room in the presence of delays.


Sort out any currency you need well in advance or use a cash card which is useable in the country you are heading to.


You should know how you are getting home after the competition in order to relax your mind as much as possible while you are competing.


Travel can be a big worry. Sort it as far away from the competition as you can.


Know Your Peak Week In Advance


You should know the plan for your final week before it begins. This will help you relax into executing the plan instead of expending energy trying to understand the plan.


When are you testing your openers?

When are your deload sessions?

When is your final pre-comp check-in with the coach?

How many litres of water should you drink on a given day?

How about salt intake?

What calories are you on?


When you understand the plan it's easier to relax, to provide feedback and to be adaptable.


Know Your Warm Ups


I usually make my lifters a graphic with all of their warm-ups as in the example below:



Knowing your warm-ups in the build-up to competition reduces uncertainty. This is a key argument in favour of keeping your program consistently heavy and featuring heavy 1's, 2's, and 3's to allow you the chance to perfect your warm-up set weight jumps.


From as far out as you can, lockdown the same warm up weights and rep schemes which can be tweaked as needed. This will give you less to remember in the build-up as you will have been practicing your warm-up dozens of times.


Know How Long You Need To Warm Up


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Time your warm-ups. Add 5-10 minutes. You'll need to add another 5-10 minutes if there are more than 6-7 lifters warming up per platform in the warm-up room. That's how long you need to warm up on competition day. You should know when you are lifting and keep abreast of any scheduling changes so you know when to start warming up.


The best way to navigate the above is to have a coach think about that for you. I offer competition day coaching, and my lifters have good things to say about me. That's my sales pitch for the day.


Each lift in the flight will take about a minute so if you're 8th in the flight, you'll be lifting about 10 minutes after lifting begins.


If you're 8th to squat and your warm-up takes 20 minutes in the gym to warm up and your flight kicks off at 10 am, you should be ready to start warming up by 9.30.


This means changed, toileted, and ready to begin at 9.30, not starting to get ready at 9.30. Be ready for your warm-up time.


Practices Bad Day Scenarios


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You can't plan for every scenario at a powerlifting competition. There are common scenarios you can prepare for including bad spotters, miss-loads, slow commands, a rushed warm-up, having to warm up quickly, and having to lift earlier or later than usual.


You can prepare for all of these easily.


Bad-spotters (normally only a problem during a bench press)- in the weeks leading to comp have someone hand the bar out badly during the bench press. Have them hand out too heavy, too light, wonky, whatever you want. You should also practice a self-handout fairly frequently in case the spotter is so bad that you would be better bringing the bar out yourself.


Miss loads- Either pretend to miss load a bar, go for a partial rep then get set and go again in two minutes or have your coach actually miss load it and go again in two minutes. Mistakes and miss loads happen in comps and when they do, you need to be able to hold it together and go for a lift very soon after the mistake is rectified.


Slow commands- We covered practicing the commands earlier. I'll use this section to remind you to find someone who is willing to be harsh with the commands because if you prepare for the worst, the competition will go better.


Rushed Warm-Up- Practice lifting with a shortened warm-up. Do this by missing out a few of your usual warm-ups. It's often best to do this on days you are short on time to simulate competition conditions.


If you can skip some of your usual warm-ups and still hold it together to nail your opener, you have a high level of preparedness for your competition.


An Extended Warm-Up- Once, I delayed an entire competition by 45 minutes because they didn't have the weight plates needed for my attempts. I proceeded to miss the lift 3 times like the complete powerlifter I am.


Everyone lifting after me had to extend their warm up by nearly an hour. While this may not ge convenient to fully replicate, it's good to occasionally warm up as slowly as you can so you know you can perform well with a longer warm up.


Lifting At A Different Time Than You Are Used To- If your comp requires you to lift at an unusual time, it's good to get in a couple of sessions at that time under your belt as the competition approaches. If you can cobble together a good training session at this unusual time, you will most likely be fine on competition day and you can relax knowing your lifting time won't throw you off.


Comp Day Nutrition


Plan what you are going to eat on the day of competition. Make sure you plan to hydrate properly after your weigh-in.


This is especially true if you are doing a water cut.


Foods should be things you know you can tolerate, and manage your energy levels as optimally as possible.


Don't be the powerlifter who weighs in, eats everything in their pack within 10 minutes, feels like crap and ruins their competition.


Plan your meal timings. Have a copy of your nutrition plan on hand so you don't forget the details and follow it as closely as the day allows.


Go Through The Plan With Your Coach


Talking through the plan with your coach will help you relax.


Knowing certain details like "you'll be taking squats fairly easy" or that plan B involves pushing bench a little harder will allow you to know what to expect throughout the day.


If you are water-cutting, you should go through the plan with your coach from at least a week out.


You should know when you are training in the final week and what is expected of you.


This will allow you to follow a plan and keep unanswered questions and uncertainty to a minimum.


If Your Coach Isn't There On The Day, The Handler Should Be Fully Prepped With An Info Pack



Above is the information pack I provided for Daniel Bedford of Prevail Performance when he handled my wonderful client Amy Leiper at the 2022 All-England Championships. She nailed a podium placing in her rookie year and in such competitive sport, that is insane.


Daniel did a wonderful job. The purpose of the info pack is to make the job as easy as possible for the handler which should in turn make things as easy as possible for the lifter.


If You Are All About The Process


Make friends with the other lifters, be drawn in to battles with other lifters and fully engage in all the parts of the process you enjoy. Soak up the atmosphere and make every competition an experience you'll never forget. Focus on having fun. Focus on lifting for you and for the experience. Focus on being unashamedly you.


If You Are All About The Result/Numbers/ Data


If you are more on the rational/intention/analytical side have a detailed plan. Review as you need to, follow it to the letter or have a coach write, execute and adapt a plan so you can just lift in the methodical repetitive way you've no doubt developed over the weeks, months or years you've been powerlifting. Document as much as you can for later analysis.


Research the competition. Look at how your rivals perform at competition and assess how you can give yourself the highest chance of success. Nail as many of the details of the plan as possible.


Considerations Around Autism and ADHD


OK, full disclosure, this section immediately became an article length section in it's own right, so will be covered in another article.


SHOULD YOU SOCIAL MEDIA BEFORE A COMP?


I used to tell all my lifters to reduce social media time, and to unfollow their competitors from the moment the entered the competition.

After to speaking to Jason Coultman on my podcast (you can hear it HERE), he changed my mind to a nice middle-ground answer of "it depends.")


If being on social media and seeing your competitors posting their best lifts gets in your head as competitions approach, come off social media in the weeks leading up to competition.


If social media wafts through your brain like a gentle breeze without making an impact, you have no reason to come off social media.


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Fitness is full if black or white false dichotomies. Whether you should be on social media in the build up to competition has the potential to fall into that category.

To prevent that, you need to be moderating your social media exposure. If you are stressed and willpowered out after a long few days at work and 3 hard training days in a row, social media might be a bad idea. Alternatively, if you spend the odd hour scrolling Instagram on your day off, you will probably be fine carrying on doing that.


As with the section above, I should probably make this section into it's own article.


Conclusion


We could continue to go further into the weeds with this one, but this article is already four times longer than I expected.


I think a relaxed prep is the ideal foundation towards creating a great competition experience. I hope the above helps you get near that goal.


If you have any questions, please feel free to drop me a message on here or on Instagram (@theheavymetalstrengthcoach)


By Chris Kershaw

The Heavy Metal Strength Coach

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