If you've read my powerlifting articles before, you'll know I favor having an experienced competition handler whenever you compete in anything. There is less to think about, everything is managed for you and you can just lift. But if you HAVE TO self-handle, the following words in a specific order will be an essential read.
Know The Details
The last thing you need to be is panicked. When details are unknown, panic often sets in.
Know when the weigh-in is. Competitions will post details about this in advance. Often, these details change so re-check the details each week and in the days before competition so nothing gets missed.
Know if there is a kit check and that all your equipment is approved.
Different federations have slightly different operating procedures.
Even under the British Powerlifting umbrella, different local federations have different rules. In Yorkshire for example, there is normally a kit check, whereas in the North West, there isn't usually.
Knowing about a kit check in advance will stop you from being caught out or unprepared for someone rifling through your stuff to make sure it adheres to competition rules.
Know where the venue is and how long it takes to get there so you can plan your journey. It might sound silly, but often where a competition is located is often the last thing considered and that can catch you out if two days out you are deciding to book a hotel and sort transport. You want to be as relaxed as possible going into a comp so plan your route, your stay and your transport well in advance so you are prepared.
Know how many people are in your flight as that will prepare you for how long you'll have between lifts.
Competitions release flight lists.
Flights will run at about 1 minute per lifter.
So if there are 10 lifters in your flight, you'll get roughly 10 minutes between lifts unless they run incredibly quickly or things are taking a little longer due to the lifting crew being inexperienced or mistakes being made.
Flights with bigger lifts take a little longer as more weights needed to be loaded.
Bench tends to run quickest as the least amount of weight needs to be moved to prepare the next lift. This is occasionally by the addition of bench-only lifters increase the amount of people in the flight.
The last round of deadlifts takes the longest as the bar should be cleaned after each deadlift.
Scope Out the Venue as Soon as Possible
Arriving early allows you to get a good spot for your base camp.
It allows you to scope out the layout of the venue and allows you to settle in. This is much better than arriving with everyone else and having to fight for the best space you'll be using all day.
Read the Rule Book
Lyle McDonald reads the rule book before every competition he attends. I don't do that, but I reread it fairly regularly near competition time.
This will make it so you are less likely to be caught out by an odd rule you weren't aware of.
This will prepare you more than 99% of lifters.
I reckon very few people read the rules. You don't want this to throw your competition off. Do your homework.
Go Through Your Equipment List Way in Advance.
Here is the equipment list i give to my clients:
(I bring approximately 10 pens, but I enjoy being hilarious)
Pack your bag way in advance.
Get someone else to check it.
Get another person to check it and check it before you set off to the competition.
If you do forget something on the day, speak up because people will want to help.
Powerlifters are a lovely bunch.
Set Up A Base Camp
Setting up a base camp means you aren't carting your stuff (and losing it) all day.
It means you have a safe space to return to and means you have a space where you can sit down and chill.
I prefer a quiet spot but you might prefer somewhere in the middle of the crowd.
I tend to favour places out of the way because if you need something during the warm up and hundreds of people are watching the lifting, it makes it very tough to get to your base camp.
The area furthest away from the door tends to be a good spot for a base camp as people are silly and tend to congregate as close to the door as possible.
Loud Music Might Not Be the Best Idea
You might love or need loud music when you lift, but if you are self-handling you need to be able to hear what is going on in case anything changes.
The amount of times i've heard about a change because i've overheard someone else in conversation is crazy.
Watch How The Referees Are Behaving
Seeing how the referees behave gives you a good idea on which plan you'll likely be following.
If the commands are quick, squat and bench can usually be pushed higher, especially if you are in a big flight.
If the commands are ridiculously harsh, you know your jumps will be smaller or you'll end up at a slightly lower number on your last lift. This can be a blow if you are going for a total PB, but sometimes the refs can end that dream very quickly.
Bench is the lift most influenced by commands as there is 1) more commands than squat and bench 2) it is the only lift requiring a pause at or near the toughest part of the movement.
Don't Forget to Eat and Drink
Adrenaline is something which messes with hunger and thirst signals. Plan your food in advance. Have foods you know you can tolerate. Keep sipping water throughout (not just monster) the day.
Don't smash caffeine too early. You want to be stimulated not overstimulated.
If you have far more than usual, you'll be a jittery mess and are more likely to perform less optimally.
Work With Timers (3specially if you tend towards time blindness)
Many of my lifters don't have any concept of time beyond how oldthey are. If you are someone who tends to get tripped up on being where you are supposed to be when you are supposed to be there, use timers.
You may set timers for your scheduled warm up times, your meals, your weigh-in, each of your warm ups or anything you think is pertinent. These timers will help you navigate a day of moderately organised chaos with minimal fuss and indecision.
Know How Long It Takes to Warm up
Divide your warm up time by how many warm-ups you take and that is how often you need to take a warm up set. I usually give a lifter between 20 and 30 minutes to warm up for each lift.
So if you need to take 6 warm ups you'll take 30 min and divide it by 6 meaning you'd need to take a warm up set roughly every 5 minutes.
Check Out The Warm Up Room
Are there plenty of squat racks? If yes, you can probably stick to the planned amount of warming up. If you are in a big flight and there is one squat rack, you should give yourself longer to warm up as more people will be in the queue to take warm up reps.
Check out the flooring. If it is super slippy, or dodgy in some way, you may adjust your sumo warm ups or source a thin carpet to put down so you aren't caught out.
You'll need to be brave and ask people to jump in when it is time for your next warm up.
People will be more than willing to let you jump in to do your warm ups but you have to speak up if you don't have a handler.
If there are lots of squat racks and more people keep jumping in on the one you are warming up on, don't be afraid to switch racks to a quieter one, or if you are af4aid, do it anyway.
Often, people will gravitate towards one rack leaving 1-2 others essentially empty. I'm always looking for these empty racks as there isn't a reason they are empty beyond people being unaware they are free. Take advantage of the opportunity and snatch up an empty rack.
Keep An Eye Out For Changes On The Day
The main job of a competition handler is to mask the lifter from all the small changes and issues that crop up.
We are the shield as handlers. Without a handler, you won't have that shield.
Keep an ear out for announcements or people dropping out or openers changing the order of lifts.
Even flights can change on the day.
It's stressful to keep a track on it, which is why I constantly bang on about the importance of a competition day handler, but if you can be know when you are lifting, you can largely plan the rest of your day. Stay vigiliant and you'll smash it.
Have A Plan
With so many things changing on the day, having a script to follow will help you. You should have your warm ups planned and scheduled as best you can.
You should know the rough jumps (which are tried and tested) you want to take.
Don't Be Afraid To Deviate From The Plan
If the warm ups are all grinders, stop putting it off and lower your opener. If they are flying? Plan to take big jumps or access your "everything is amazing" plan.
Set Up Shop Near Scoreboard When Your Flight Begins
Knowing when you are going to lift helps you set up at the right time. Being near the spreadsheet/scoreboard when your flight is lifting will help you to guage when to get in the zone and when to start your lifting ritual. Time how long it usually takes you to set up for a lift and you can work out with reasonable accuracy when to start your set up.
Once you've lifted, remember to give your next attempt in within 60 seconds.
If you've always been handled, a common mistake is forgetting to hand in your next attempt because you've never had to.
You have 1 minute to get your next attempt in.
This is tough.
If you've always been prescribed numbers in the gym suddenly picking your own can easily go to shit.
I would recommend a block or two where you go to RPE over prescribed weight and you'll have a much better idea about what jumps to take based on how a lift feels and looks.
Practice Your Warm Up Timings
You should know how long it takes to warm up for an opener-level weight. Add 10-15 minutes to that time to factor in a busy warm-up room where you can slow down if you needed. Speeding up tends to be more difficult and stressful, but may be required if many people change their openers (keep checking the spreadsheet) or something else happens to speed things along.
In your sessions leading up to the comp, time how long it takes you to go from starting your warm up to starting an 8ish RPE single. This is an excellent statistic to know as it is your minimum warm up time.
To be even further prepared for self-handling you could practice skipping certain warm ups so rushing doesn't catch you out, or skipping your last warm up and going from 6our 2nd to last warm up into your working weight incase you have to make that call on the day.
Dominate/Have Fun/Remember Your Why
The above subheading sounds wanky as fuck.
I know, I know.
But I assume you are handling yourself at a powerlifting competition for a legit reason.
Keep that WHY in mind. The crowd will be behind you and know that people handle themselves successfully all the time. Do the work, reap the benefits and have a wonderful competition.
And if you bomb, I will take the piss. Laughter numbs the pain, right?
By Chris Kershaw
Note: I probably have space for 1-2 clients, whenever you are reading this. I've coached for decades and I'm pretty good at it. Together, we can probably do some great things. Reach out, and let's see if we make a good team.