by Steve Decker
All In Personal Training
The following is a guide to navigating the day of a powerlifting meet. These are based on my own experiences competing for the last six years. This is what currently works best for me. Bear in mind this is my own process and it is always evolving.
What do I eat on Meet Day?
What to eat the day of your meet largely depends on the lifter. There are many factors that will influence your meet day choices. How your body reacts to different energy sources (fat and carbs), whether you can stomach different foods well or if you easily get bloated/gassy/diarrhea all influences your choices. Also, how many flights/lifters are in the meet can determine how long a meet is and the duration between attempts. The consistent factor is that you need to keep your energy levels up without going overboard and bloating up too much You don’t want to poop yourself on the platform (sorry but it’s reality) or get lethargic from too much food to digest. The safest strategy is to try and eat as close to your normal diet as possible with an emphasis on more carbs than usual. Often a meet will run faster than usual. Perhaps not allowing for you to sit down and eat/digest a meal of chicken and rice. This is where simple sugars (aka candy and pop tarts) may come into play. Every lifter is going to be different. Ultimately this is going to be something you experiment with on your own to perfect.
Steer clear of sugary drinks. I have used full sugar Gatorade more times in a meet than I care to admit. Literally every time I wish I hadn’t done so. Something about it just bloats the hell out of me. In my experience, the extra carbs are just easier to eat than deal with that much bloating at this point. Sugar free sports drinks are great to keep hydrated, especially at a hot summertime meet. Still, I try to just eat my carbs instead of drinking them.
In the event of an all particularly long meet, try to sit down between events and eat an actual meal. Then lie right down and let it digest. You’ll have a good amount of energy without crashing this way. It shouldn’t bother your stomach so long as you have sufficient time to digest. My best meet ever was Relentless Detroit last year. While the meet took until night time to finish, I was able to sit down after both squatting and benching to have a real meal. I had a sub for one and a plate of pasta and meatballs for the other. Then I let it digest. I laid right down on the floor and relaxed for twenty to thirty minutes.
In the event of a smaller, faster paced meet, pop tarts can be a lifesaver. Try a package of pop tarts and a ready to drink (RTD) shake right after each event. They will digest easily and give you enough energy to get back into the warmup room quickly.
Bring a gallon of plain water with you. At some point you’re going to want it one way or another. Bring a second gallon jug and dump a zero sugar sports drink in, four scoops of amino acids, and ten grams of creatine monohydrate. Sip on this all day long even if you don’t feel thirsty. It will aid in recovering in-between attempts. It will also keep you hydrated so you don’t cramp up.
Breakfast on the day of a meet can be tricky. On one hand, you don’t want to force feed yourself and then try to squat a personal record. It might result in soiling your singlet. On the other hand, you need a lot of calories to start a big day. I’m a big fan of a Belgian waffle with fruit on it and an omelet. This provides a good mix of enough calories without creating an issue. Pancakes are a great choice if you’re not a fan of six pack abs.
Take it easy on the pre-workout. Slamming scoop after scoop all day will just burn you right out. You will feel dead by the time you pull no matter how many scoops you take. You should be well rested and amped up enough to squat on a cup or two of coffee. A midlevel caffeinated energy drink can work, as well. Are you the kind of person that needs three hundred mg of caffeine to just get going for the day? It may be time to work on lowering your daily stimulant intake to help your body re-sensitize. More is not always the answer. Eventually you could end up needing to blow lines off of your thumb on the way to the squat bar. Not really, but you get what I’m saying. If I do use any pre-workout during a meet, it’ll be during deadlift warmups when all else is exhausted.
How Do I Stay Focused During a Meet?
Again, this is largely an individual thing. Some lifters will sit and watch the meet until it’s their time to warmup and lift. Some will sit around and laugh and joke with their crew. Some will find a corner to hide in. Again, I’ll tell you my preferences, and you can see if they work for you.
Staying focused at a meet, in my world, can be challenging because of my position as a coach. Every meet I go to I wind up handing off, wrapping knees, loading bars, spotting, running the computer and everything in between. I love this part of my job. I’m happy to help everyone that I’m able to. However, if I am competing, this is too draining on me and my performance suffers. I have learned after 6 years to be a little selfish and hide away so that I’m not worn out before I even lift a weight. I also don’t really like to watch the meet because usually there are people in the meet that I get emotionally invested in. I wind up getting all amped up and coming down too many times. Also, I really don’t need to see someone dump a squat or hurt them self before I take a heavy attempt. This is not good for the mental state. This may sound selfish, and maybe it is, but I think I do a lot for the lifters at the meets I’m not in. So I feel like a little balance in that department is ok.
In a perfect world, I will find a quiet spot away from the excitement and just relax with my handlers. Often I go off by myself for a while and just think of nothing at all. The visualization thing doesn’t really work for me. I find that as close to a blank slate as I can get works best. I’ll sit and stare off or talk to my girlfriend or handlers a bit, but stay as low key as possible. I really don’t want to talk much or visit with people. I just want to be. I love everyone who comes out to support me and cheer me on. I’m down for a burger and a glass of scotch after the work is done, but if I’m about to lift it’s time to focus on that. Being amped up, pacing around, ready to stack bodies & listening to death metal all day is a great way to burn out before you even start. It can be annoying to your handler. Sit down and save your energy at every given opportunity. When the time comes to warm up and hit the platform you should be ready to dial it up and go hard. Not be ready for a nap.
How Do I Time My Warmups, and Work Around Other Lifters?
This can be tricky. As easy as it SHOULD be, it’s usually the worst part of a meet. Most Raw lifters really shouldn’t need much more time to warm up than the flight before them. If you have a respectable level of conditioning, you shouldn’t need five minutes between sub-maximal singles in a warmup room. If you do, your training needs to be evaluated. Honestly unless you’re warming up into world class numbers, that’s ridiculous. If you’re competing then you’re an athlete, treat yourself as such. Do some cardio.
Many warmup rooms can turn into a shit show unless there are a couple of very well versed crews running them. Powerlifters can be the biggest Prim a Donnas ever, if left to their own devices. In the event that some jackweed is trying to make a spectacle of him/herself then just switch racks if possible. , This will save you a headache and blood pressure spike. At a meet a few years ago, there was some idiot in my flight that was going out of his way to SLAM the bar back into the monolift hooks after every warmup. Thinking the noise would alert everyone in the building that he had the biggest balls in the room. I really can’t overstate how ridiculous and dramatic this was. We watched it from the bar up to the low 600s, waiting for the inevitable. So, here I am waiting for my last warmup. I’m in full suit, straps up, knees wrapped ready to go. Then this dingleberry goes for the big slam. As he’s descending into the hooks, with the fury of a thousand suns, one side misses entirely and six hundred plus pounds goes catapulting into oblivion, almost removing my handler’s foot. This is exactly the person you want to avoid.
At a big meet, you’ll often find each rack being loaded and organized by a crew of people that obviously train together and know what needs to be done. They’ll call out bar weights, enforce an order to some degree, be mindful of the time and people wrapping etc. Do yourself a favor and stick with them. Or better yet, BRING them. Our sport needs more of that.
In any event, know ahead of time what your warmups should be. Make them feasible in reality and try to stick to some semblance of an intelligent rack choice. You shouldn’t be loading eight hundred pounds on a bar then stripping it to one hundred sixty two point five for some goofball using a calculator to take exactly 67.4598% of their projected three rep max. Take a plate or quarter jump. For smaller lifters use quarters and dimes. A huge pet peeve of mine is using two and a half pound plates in a warmup room. If that’s going to make or break your opener, it may be time to rethink some things. Make it easy and efficient on everyone. This may be a time when you (or, preferably, your handlers) need to get a little assertive (or aggressive). You don’t need to be rude, but you DO have to be ready when your name is called. Your need and right to warm up is no different than that of a new lifter using just the bar, nor a world record holding monster. Get in the mix and get your stuff done. Everyone paid the same entry fee.
If you’re lifting close to the beginning of the flight, try to finish up your last warmup toward the beginning of third attempts in the previous flight. Usually five to seven minutes early if you’re in the first flight. Then you can do a nervous pee, sit and rest a bit before you hit the platform. Seriously, you’re going to have to pee. If you’re toward the end of your flight, finish up right around the beginning of your flight or the end of third attempts of the previous one.
On another note: the lifters should NOT be loading bars. At all. Every meet has forty three people standing around pretending to be important. They need to sack up and actually do something useful instead of standing there trying to look big. They should be loading the bars, adjusting the racks, spotting, etc.
A raw lifter doesn’t need more than one handler in the staging area. You just don’t. One person to wrap and keep an eye on the flight is sufficient. There are few things more annoying than having to elbow three unnecessary hype guys out of the way to wrap a knee or walk to the platform. I really don’t care if you’re breaking a state record, doing your first meet, or about to take the ATWR. The staging area is for lifters and their ONE handler. Your wife, videographer, mom, the local newscaster and former college roommate can all watch the lift from the seating area. So, if you’re THAT person standing around holding an ammonia cap or a wrist wrap just so you can feel important backstage, please give it a rest. Geared lifters may need a couple people for a three person bench handoff in warmups or on the platform. Even then, extra people do not need to be standing around in the middle of the aisle blocking lifters from approaching the bar, etc.
DO NOT SHOW UP TO A MEET ALONE.
You need a handler. I don’t care if you train alone. You need a handoff on the bench. Then you should have help running to get your drink, your wraps, your belt, load your plates, wrap your knees, pretty much everything but wiping your backside. A good handler should be letting you rest and not worry about anything but lifting the barbell. If you don’t have a training crew that will do this for you, find one, hire someone or train a stranger. Just stop showing up to a meet with no help. This leads to one of several things: you wind up stealing someone else’s handler who then is running ragged and not helping anyone enough. You screw everything up because you don’t know what you’re doing at all. Then you don’t enjoy the day or you are exhausted and leave pounds on the platform. None are good. One note for the people in the back: BRING A GOOD HANDLER TO YOUR MEET!! Let them help you as much as possible. Buy them a burger and a beer for the effort, but make them earn it!
In conclusion, these are the things that through trial and error have led to success on the platform for not only me personally but the athletes I train. Over time you will find what works and doesn’t work to triumph at your powerlifting meets.
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