My son has ADHD. His mind works at the speed of light and I can't keep up with him for shit. Coach V has a lot of ADHD traits and at least 5 of my clients and numerous former clients display a high number of ADHD traits.
I have a lot of experience with ADHDers but don't have it myself.
I feel like there should be more information on this topic, but when you type in 'preparing for a powerlifting competition with ADHD', you get few results on the subject.
We're here to change that.
Below is my neurotypical AF article about prepping for a powerlifting comp as an ADHD person.
The aim is to help you navigate competition day as effectively as you can.
Preparing For A Competition With ADHD
I have clients who are medicated for ADHD, clients who are unmedicated, and some who are somewhere between the two who have seen a huge decrease in ADHD traits on competition day.
This could be because of hyper-focusing. This could be a feeling of being "less ADHD" because neurotypical people tend to exhibit ADHD traits under high pressure, like on competition day.
If you are an ADHD person, and you are obsessed with powerlifting, you'll likely be the model athlete on competition day.
If powerlifting isn't floating your dopamine boat at the moment of competition? You may need strategies to get through the competition effectively, but that's why we are here today.
I think it might be worthwhile working through a few of the traits of ADHD in turn, discussing how to deal with them on competition day, and seeing where we end up.
My first thought when writing this section was to recommend fidgeting to your heart's content, but it's not always as easy as that is it?
Oh, I should fidget should I, Chris?
I should fidget away because I'm TOTALLY not worried about:
wanting to make friends
coming across as 'too much'
(Massive thanks to my client and good friend Helena for her perspective on the above and a great post by @mollys_adhd_mayhem on this subject.)
My advice is to fidget in any way you feel safe. There are discreet fidgetting strategies such as tying and untying your wrist wraps, twirling a pencil, throwing and catching a ball, rolling a foam roller between your feet, squidging blu tac, or using something out of your fidget kit.
Moving When Sitting Still Is Expected
Because of the adrenaline of competition day, even the most neurotypical AF people are moving around all over the place, pacing, getting psyched up, wandering off, and showing more ADHD traits than they do on any other day.
If you get up, move around, and pace, you will not look out of place whatsoever because everyone is doing it. In fact, you'd probably stand out more if you WEREN'T pacing, walking, and moving around.
The source of restlessness is important. If you feel restless for no apparent reason and you want to move around or distract yourself with a special interest. My son would probably play his Nintendo Switch in this situation and his restlessness would pass.
If you want to get up and move until the restlessness passes, as we said above, everyone will be moving with the same nervous energy, meaning there is a high chance you will feel like you fit in more than usual.
At a powerlifting competition, there is always a warm-up area with training equipment. If you have any exercises which take away the restless feelings you can use the facilities to do those movements and everyone will assume you are warming up for your competition lifts because people do all kinds of things to warm up.
Excessive Talking/Blurting/Interrupting People
Having a coach who understands you is important here. If your coach knows you are a blurter, an interrupter, or an excessive talker, your coach can provide you with a safe outlet for these traits.
When I'm handling an ADHD person, they are free to talk as much as they like. If the person tends to do it when people are quiet, say when someone is about to go for a big lift, the coach can navigate the person to a louder area, where it doesn't matter if they are loud or chatty.
Powerlifting competitions are loud, busy places. Adrenaline is high, and conversations are happening that wouldn't on any other day. Once again, we see neurotypical people behaving in a more ADHD way because of the circumstances, it's for this reason I've never seen a lifter struggle with blurting, interrupting, or excessive talking on competition day.
Difficulty Waiting Your Turn
There are a few potentially difficult queues to negotiate as a powerlifting competitor with ADHD.
2. Selecting squat and bench rack heights
3. Waiting for your turn in the warm-up room
4. Waiting your turn on the competition platform
To navigate waiting for the weigh-in I would take some of your favorite distractions, talk to your coach or chat to the lifters around you. Lots of the lifters will be hungry and grumpy at this time, so taking distractions is a good idea until after weigh-in.
You'll probably be in a short queue when you select your rack heights for squat and bench press. Your coach should be on hand to make sure you stay in the queue and don't get distracted.
You may need to do some discreet fidgeting, but this queue is unlikely to last any more than 10-15 minutes.
In the warm-up room, everyone is fighting to get their warm-ups in. It's best to have a coach on the day if you are nervous about this process. When many clients compete, I have them off to the side and tell them when they need to lift. No queue jumping is possible, because I'm sorting it.
As will be the theme throughout this article, many neurotypical people will be showing more ADHD traits than ever. People will be warming up at the wrong time, queue jumping, and making poorer decisions. Competition day is loosely organised chaos where your behavior won't stand out if you say, jump in on a squat ahead of schedule.
On the competition platform, you are kept to a specific lifting order and the referees are good at keeping people away from the platform when it isn't their time to lift.
If you want to know when you'll be lifting, most competitions display a live spreadsheet giving you the order of the lifts and showing where proceedings are currently.
Filters and Acting Before Thinking
Your coach can be your accountability buddy for the day (as well as any other support people you bring to the competition) where if you are having a 'bad' filtering day, you might talk to the coach about all the stuff you want to say.
Coach won't take offense or mind because you have a great relationship and they understand your ADHD traits will come out more sometimes.
As I have said ad nauseam, everyone's filters are a bit off on competition day. There is a strong possibility you'll feel like you fit in more than ever. This is one of the reasons why people with ADHD tend to love competitive environments.
Another strategy to help with your filtering is having your journal with you to write down your ideas or anything you want, it's your journal after all!
Powerlifting competitions are loud, busy affairs (with plenty of opportunities to escape if you need to.) Unfiltered blurting is often lost in a sea of noise, and because most people are acting on adrenaline, other lifters won't be focussing on what you are saying anyway.
I've never seen my ADHD lifters have a problem because of their filtering on competition day, but we will be armed and ready.
At a powerlifting competition, it's my job to keep people from rushing.
Here is a list of things I see people rush on competition day:
When they start warming up
Eating all their food
Opening squats (but it could be any lift)
Commands on any lift
For many, the competition day is a day of rushing. People are running around, talking to everyone, being everywhere at once. It's an intense day. Having a coach can stop you from rushing your warm-ups and competition lifts.
Having timers for when to start your warm-up or when to take your next warm-up could work well.
Timers aren't a foolproof plan. You may need other distractions on hand to keep you from doing something you shouldn't be doing until your timers go off.
You should be preparing for your first squat weeks in advance. You'll have taken the weight in training many times. You know you've got it if it's your worst rep of all time, you have the wiggle room to make it.
A great way to prepare for rushing the commands is pausing for a couple of seconds at the top and bottom of each heavy squat and bench press rep so you rarely miss the 'start' and 'rack' commands.
You are most likely to rush a command on the bench press because during bench press you are given 3 commands. You are 2nd most likely to skip a squat command because there are 2 commands and you are least likely to skip a deadlift command because there is one command.
If you are worried about rushing commands, you should practice the hell out of them spending the most time on the bench press, then squat, then deadlift.
If this process sounds too boring for life, get a coach to go through it with you or make a game out of the process.
Games you might play:
Miss a command, do a forfeit
Replacing the commands with swear words
People watching- practice giving commands to those lifting in the gym privately, in your head.
No matter who I am handling on competition day, I have to be constantly on the lookout for rushing. Everyone is at it. It's another area where everyone is exhibiting a common trait of ADHD meaning if you DO rush, you won't stand out as it's the norm on competition day.
Difficulty Sustaining Attention
One of the main draws of powerlifting is that it requires full attention for a short amount of time.
As long as you've had lots of practice pausing at the top of each lift, you have a high likelihood of making a high number of your lifts. If hyperfocusing is one of your superpowers then as long as you've done your command practice you'll nail it on the big stage because you'll be in the zone.
If you have difficulty focussing in the warm-up room, use timers, prompts, or lean on your coach to keep you paying attention when you need to.
Appearing To Not Be Listening & Daydreaming
I've repeated the fact most neurotypical people will act more ADHD on competition day.
Here is another manifestation of this phenomenon.
Lifters, handlers, supportive yet clueless partners that secretly think lifting all this heavy stuff will result in having no knees and all arthritis will appear to be half-listening because they have a million things going through their heads.
If you look like you aren't listening, people will either understand or not notice because everyone is doing it.
Having a coach or support buddy can help you navigate daydreaming. I can't say I've seen my ADHD clients struggle with daydreaming on competition day because there is so much going on.
Missing Key Instructions
Here is where having a long preparation for competition comes through gloriously.
If you are trying to nail down the details on the day of the competition, key things will be missed.
You could use multiple versions of a plan. You could have an audio, video, visual, and spoken version of the plan with all the relevant details, you could have timers, and to-do lists, or you could ask your coach to sort everything.
As long as those commands aren't missed and you know your lifts adhere to competition standards on your worst day, then you should be fine.
On competition day, missing key instructions normally manifests itself as say, forgetting to put your belt on before a lift, or forgetting knee sleeves are needed for your heaviest squat. If the people around you know what you need to be wearing for the lifts, they can keep you accountable.
Difficulty with Organisation
Plan to be early to the competition. Like, really early, giving you lots of wiggle room.
Pack your competition back well in advance. Triple-check it and have others check it against a list of essential things to take to the competition.
When you are packing to leave for the competition, triple-check you have everything and have someone else check you have everything.
Check you have your food. Check you have water.
If you do forget something, people will flock to help you out, but to keep you in the best mindset, it's best to get everything you need to the competition.
In an ideal world, you'll pack up gradually in the days leading to the competition, you'll triple-check you have everything, and waft into the competitive environment like some stress-free diety.
But life doesn't always work like that for someone with ADHD. Lean on your coach to make sure you are setting off on time, you know where the venue is and you know everything you need to take.
Losing Required Equipment
Ah, another behavior everyone is engaging in on competition day. People leave stuff everywhere on competition day.
A good way to keep a lot of your kit near you is to wear it. You might want to have your singlet already on by the time you reach the competition for example.
You will have the most success with a coach or support buddy who can make sure you aren't leaving your required kit everywhere.
You might want to pack spare wrist wraps or knee sleeves in case you leave a pair somewhere. Take plenty of drinks in case you keep losing your water bottle and keep snacks in numerous bags so you are guaranteed to have food if you need it.
The powerlifting community is great so if you do lose anything, people will fall over each other in the quest to help you out.
Everyone will be distracted and forget things during the day.
If you are worried about being forgetful, talk to your coach or a supportive person about being worried about forgetfulness and they can help you 'stay on plan'.
I've had ADHD lifters forget to start warming up on time, and they always go missing at some stage on competition day, but as long as you stay in the competition building itself, your coach will be able to find you and keep you on point.
Occasionally, we might run into distraction problems while on the platform. You should always practice pausing for a couple of seconds at the top of each squat, at the top and bottom of each bench press, and at the top of each heavy deadlift.
This isn't a guaranteed way to hit every lift, but it's a good habit to be in and has rescued a few of my lifters who told me they didn't hear a command during their attempt.
Know How Long It Takes To Warm Up On A BAD ADHD Day
As ADHD traits fluctuate daily, it's important to know how long it tends to take you to warm up on a bad day. Begin timing your warm-ups in the gym from stepping onto the gym floor to hitting your first working set in a big lift. This will mean we can look at the data and give you enough time to warm up for your lifts when you are at the competition.
Many ADHD people love the high-pressure environment of powerlifting competition and there are many reasons people with ADHD are drawn to powerlifting.
Most if not every ADHD person is capable of putting together a strong competition performance if the preparation and support structure is put in place.
Having an understanding coach can be extremely important, but for many, even that won't be ESSENTIAL but it will help a great deal if you feel you need help managing your traits, especially if you struggle to be aware of when they hit hardest.
On competition day, your ADHD traits are likely to be within context. You'll see people behaving in an ADHD-ish way all over the place. Except you'll be used to dealing with it, and many others will not.
The lifters I've handled at competitions who have ADHD have all smashed it on the platform. There have been better and worse days and competitions haven't gone the way we wanted but we've never come away regretting the decision to compete.
If you have ADHD and want to compete, I would encourage you to do it with the right training and the right support. I don't think you'll regret it (unless your coach makes you do split-squats.)
Here is a wonderful article on mitigating ADHD In Youth Athletics By EliteFTS author Amy Wattles.
I heavily drew from the work of the Instagram account @mollys_adhd_mayhem and consulted with @helslifts throughout writing this article. Massive thanks to them for their work.
If you are interested in reading about handling a powerlifting competition with Autism, check out the related articles below.
By Chris Kershaw
The Heavy Metal Strength Coach