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Preparing For Powerlifting Competition As An Autistic Person

I've fucked up the competition day experience for a few Autistic clients. I have. It hurts to say it. I didn't know why they struggled at the time. I knew nothing about autism.





Since Coach V self-diagnosed herself with autism, through self-reflection after every competition I've learned some things. I want to share those things with you and help autistic people have a great time on the competition platform.


The article below offers suggestions for a successful powerlifting competition and is not a specific road map.


We're going to cover suggestions for people with ADHD and a combination of the two in a planned article series, assuming I get my ass in gear and write them.


I don't have autism but a large percentage of my family and clients do. I'm by no means an expert but I hope my suggestions are helpful.


Before we dig into this, you may want to check out my podcast series on powerlifting competition preparation with:



Preparing For A Competition As An Autistic Person


Routine


Your Routine will change because of a powerlifting competition. You will be in a new place, around new people, within a context you may be unfamiliar with. Your final week of training will be different, your competition weekend will be different and it will be very easy to be thrown off by proceedings if plans aren't put in place.


You and Your Coach Should Begin Preparing For Your Competition As Early As Possible





(Who) Knowing who is at the competition may help you relax. Competitions often release an entry list via their website or Facebook group. Sometimes they don't so it's not always possible to know exactly who will be there.


Plan who you want to be there to support you. Some friends have a tendency to turn up unannounced at a competition. They mean well, I promise.



All the credit to @lifeinanautismworld for this cracking meme


If the idea of this is abhorrent to you, it's best to tell few people about your competition so you don't get an army of supporters rocking up.


Having a group of people watching her is Coach V's worst nightmare so she tends to keep things on the down-lo when she's about to compete.


When you compete there are referees and officials there. You can often find out who these are on the Facebook page or website. This might help you prepare for your competition. An example of how it helps is that some referees tend to be harsh, and others are more lenient, and knowing who you are up against may help some.


(Where) You could pick a venue that often hosts powerlifting competitions. The venue is announced in advance or at the same time as competition entry. This gives you the opportunity to scope out the place before the competition.


You could pick a venue nearby so it's easy to do some reconnaissance.




You could visit the venue day before the competition to check it out if you've had to travel. If that isn't convenient, you might plan to get to the competition early on comp day to familiarise yourself with the building before many people are there.


I'd encourage you to research the venue online if possible and speak to people who've competed at that venue before if this is something you are comfortable doing.


(What) Running through the plan for the day repeatedly in the build-up to the competition will help you to navigate the unknown of the competition day.



You and your coach can create a roadmap of how the day may go, your coach will keep it running smoothly and you'll be able to "just lift" while utilizing a safe space in-between warm-ups and lifts.


Having a coach isn't for everyone, as much as my bias towards coaching doesn't want me to say it.

If you don't have a coach, it's still possible for many autistic people to have a great competition but it may take research on your part and you'll have more decisions and things to watch out for on competition day.


Some autistic people will need a coach and perhaps other supporting people as well, but as a team, you have every chance of success.


(When) You should know the times things are going to happen like your weigh-in, when you are going to warm-up, when you are lifting in the flight, what time the competition will end, and a few other things.


Some of you reading this will love all these lovely specific times to follow.


Now the grenade...


ALL OF THESE TIMES CAN CHANGE THROUGHOUT THE DAY.




As a handler, I navigate all these potential changes for my client. Most of the time, they don't realize anything has changed because I don't tell them, I just tell them what to do.


If you are at a competition without a coach, there are updates throughout the day and you'll be able to see if the lifters in your class start warming up earlier or later than expected. But it isn't an exact science, and you'll have to keep your finger on the pulse of the competition throughout the day to navigate any changes.


There are officials you can ask about details throughout the day, but if you are someone who doesn't like asking questions during a busy competition, having a coach is such a huge help.


(How) Achieving your best competition result is all about making the most lifts on the day.



The closer you get to making all 9 lifts, the better you'll do and the happier you'll feel because no one likes missing lifts. If you have a coach they will have at least a plan A & B, if plan B goes out of the window, you might end up following plan F in your pursuit of going 9/9!


Squats- The first squat should be a number you could hit if you were woken up at 3 am and given 30 minutes to warm up and hit your opener. It should have been tested multiple times in the gym. It should be a squat you could get under the worst circumstances.


Why? Because this is the scariest lift. If someone is going to forget everything and do something wrong, it's probably during the first squat, so we practice the hell out of it and make sure it's a weight you know you've done lots of times.


Your first should be around 90% of your 1rm or 1 rep max. But it could be far lower if you want to post up a guaranteed opener to set up your day.


Your 2nd will be around 96% of your 1rm, setting you up for either a safe 98% to build the total, 100% to equal your 1rm, or approximately 102% to achieve a reach goal. These numbers aren't set in stone as anything can happen on competition day.


Bench Press- Bench Press is the same as squats in terms of the rough percentages you are working through, however, the bench press uses the most equipment, has the most commands, and often has the most elaborate setup.


This means the referee has the most impact on the bench press because they can be slow with commands. If refs are being slow, I knock 2nds and 3rds down to roughly 94% and 96% of 1rm respectively, because slow commands equal more missed lifts and you are there to build the biggest total, not necessarily PB on the platform.


The bench is the lift missed more than any other, erring on the side of caution is normally for the best.


Deadlift- This is where the competition really begins and is where I always lose. On paper, the deadlifts attempt percentages are the same as with squats and bench presses.


However, as the deadlifts progress, the placings become clearer and opportunities can present themselves.


For example, you might need to slightly overreach on your final deadlift to secure a podium and if you miss it, you stay in fourth, so you might decide to go for the podium place and increase your deadlift by 5kg more than planned.


It might transpire that to get your goal placing, you need to pull LESS than you planned during your final deadlift attempt and you may choose to undershoot the lift.


Take Your Stimming Pack


I'm sure for most of our ASD and ADHD readers, stimming doesn't need to be defined, however for all our interested other readers...


"Stimming – or self-stimulatory behaviour – is repetitive or unusual body movement or noises. Stimming might include hand and finger mannerisms – for example, finger-flicking and hand-flapping. unusual body movements – for example, rocking back and forth while sitting or standing."


I think a stimming kit is important to take to a powerlifting competition because it's a brand new situation and as with Coach V, this may increase your urge to stim, it might not, but it's good to be prepared.


If Coach V competes again, we'll take a few of the balls pictured below. THEY ARE AMAZING FOR STIMMING.



People who stim as needed at competition tend to have a better time than those who mask their stimming. I'm told, and completely believe, that masking autism is exhausting.


It might take a few competitions to allow yourself to stim as you need to, and it can be a slow reduction in masking from competition to competition but the powerlifting community is mostly wonderful and accepting, and many powerlifters will feel more comfortable with each visit to the platform.


Ear Plugs/Head Phones


These may all be in your stimming pack already.


Powerlifting competitions are loud, busy, sensory places. If you hate how loud say supermarkets are, you might hate how busy, loud, and sensory powerlifting competitions are. The community, the competition, and the adrenaline rush of lifting in front of a crowd may win you over towards how great competition is, but we don't want you to be caught out by sensory overload in the warm-up room.


If you feel the need to drown the noise into silence or you want to destroy the noise playing Cannibal Corpse at full volume through your headphones all competition day, do it.





Baby Wipes



My numb-ass, unfeeling body can be covered in chalk, talc, a block of cheese, and nettle stings and I won't feel anything like being touched out.


This isn't the case with many autistic people.


Many autistic people don't like the feeling of chalk, or talc, or the fact that hundreds of people an hour are touching the same barbell. This is why hygiene products are so important as you'll want to get the chalk, talc off your body quickly.


You might want to clean down between every warm-up set and attempt. Having baby wipes on hand can be a great way to avoid bathroom trips, which may be very difficult to navigate as the bathroom areas are often very busy.


Have A Safe Base Camp




Having a base camp in the venue will give you somewhere to go if things are getting too much. It will give you somewhere to be a little more private and creates a central hub in your competition universe.


You can put all your gear here.


Getting to the venue earlier is the best way to get the best space for a base. The later you arrive the more space compromised you'll be which may affect how safe you feel or stress you more than necessary.


Corners make great bases, a group of chairs or a seating area could work, or just somewhere at back of the competition room can be perfect for a base but every competition venue is different and no two competitions are the same even at the same venue so get in, set up camp and relax as much as you can.


Temperature Management



If being at the wrong temperature is triggering, or stressful, you should take precautions and prepare for a range of temperatures to minimise your stress levels.

High temperatures, sweat, and sticky clothing seem to big triggers and can bump up the chances of a meltdown, so we will cover heat first.


1) hydrate properly by drinking regularly throughout the day

2) check its heat intolerance and not something like a medical condition or medicine side-effect

3) fans galore!

4) check the venue has working aircon if you or someone else can

5) use mister spray bottles

6) safe, tested cool clothes for between lifts


Cold weather


While reading up on this subject, I found very little tips on dealing with the cold as an autistic person so I'm going to draw on what my clients have told me and stray into a little guesswork.


You should take warm clothes to the competition. You should know they are comfy, don't irritate you, and can be easily taken on and off as you may have to get changed multiple times per day.


You may want to bring your favourite weighted blanket if it's supposed to be really cold.


If you struggle to know whether it's too hot or too cold, you may want to take a thermometer you can use periodically to check if you need to warm up or cool down.


If temperature of food is an issue for you, you might want see if the venue has facilities to warm your food for you during the day or take a cool box if you need to keep the temperature of the food down.


If you know what food is available at or near the venue, you could buy a hot meal, but research your options so you aren't thrown off on the day.


Utilise A Coach


I can't stress enough how helpful it will be to have a coach on competition day if you are an autistic person.



Coach V has autism. Crowds stress her out. The warm up room is her worst nightmare as she struggles to read people and their facial expressions and their movements.


I load her weights while she is at her base camp, I get her to do her set, and send her right back to the safe place so she is out of the stressful environment. She wouldn't be able to navigate that by herself.


To quote her directly, "If I was alone at a comp, I just wouldn't warm up."


It wouldn't be difficult for her to compete alone.

It would be impossible.

A coach may make your competition day possible.


A coach can help you navigate all the questions you would otherwise have to ask a stranger and can make the competition environment as safe, stress-free and fun as possible. The coach can make sure things are running smoothly and you can focus on coping strategies, stimming, lifting and hopefully having a great time.


Take YOUR Safe Foods


As an autistic person, I'm sure you've developed your own food preferences based on temperature, texture, taste and all the other factors you consider important.


It might be tempting to completely change what you are eating on comp day in search of optimal nutrition for performance but the story isn't as simple as that.


A powerlifting competition is a long day, and the last thing we want is you being burnt out and uncomfortable because you've had to deal with eating uncomfortable food all day.


My suggestion is to gradually make nutritional changes months before the competition so you know what you can eat that also doubles as healthy nutrition for good performance then we have the best of both worlds.


For reference, most people need to eat more protein, more veg, more whole foods, and less ultra-processed food, and drink more water.


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Conclusion

As an autistic person, a powerlifting competition may be a huge challenge. But for many, it will be entirely doable if certain challenges are met. I hope the above will help navigate a few of those challenges and make the process as smooth as possible.


If you have any further questions regarding the above article, please feel free to message me via the website, Instagram (@theheavymetalstrengthcaoch) or Facebook (Chris Kershaw.)


Thank you for reading.


May your lifts be awesome and the gains magnificent.


By Chris Kershaw

The Heavy Metal Strength Coach








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