Beginners Guide to Having a Successful Powerlifting Meet

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On Saturday, April 16th, 2016, USAPL put on their annual Equinox Powerlifting meet. There were many incredible performances! David Squiller went 9/9, which he always does, and finally crushed his goal of totaling over 1,600 pounds, earning him the Best Overall Male Lifter with a 436 wilks.

What is a wilks? "The Wilks Coefficient or Wilks Formula is a coefficient that can be used to measure the strength of a powerlifter against other powerlifters despite the different weights of the lifters. Robert Wilks, CEO of Powerlifting Australia, is the author of the formula".

David's programming is done by Matt Gary and meet handling by Brad Couillard and Suzanne Sioux-z Hartwig-Gary. He trains out of SSPT of Rockville, MD.

Both lifters, Khaled Abdelatey (age 16) and Phillip (Phil) Labate (age 23) went back and forth punishing the same weights through all of their deadlift attempts. White lights kept flashing. They both victoriously smashed a major deadlift PR and pulled 501.5 lbs as their last attempt within 90 seconds of each other. Both of these lifters are coached and handled byDylan and train out of True Fitness and Nutrition of McLean, VA.

In just about one year of training underneath Dylan, Phil has participated in two different meets. He said,

"Training with Dylan has been one of the best experiences of my life. I have never imagined that I would be putting up as much weight as I am now. At my first meet in November of 2015, I went in blind and had no idea what I was doing. With Dylan's help, I managed to get a respectable first total, set a bunch of PR's, and brought home a silver medal in my weight class. This past week was my second competition. With the help of Dylan's coaching and handling, I felt even more prepared and I brought my total up by 100 pounds. I couldn't have been more happy! Dylan has made what I thought was just a hobby become a sport that I want to do for the rest of my life."

There are too many PR's to count from Saturday, too many lifters to highlight, but what I am getting at here, is that there is definitely a science behind having a successful meet.

Preparing for the meet

After months of hard work getting in volume and then systematically lowering the volume and bringing up training intensity (defined as % of one rep maximum), it should be the perfect opportunity to peak for a meet to display the maximal amount of strength. An athlete's coach and training program are vital to optimizing strength gains and results. Having a methodically drawn out plan months in advance takes the guesswork out of the mix. When the meet is within a week out, part of the packet that Dylan will give his lifter includes a section on what to pack for your meet (food, equipment, etc.), what to expect during the meet, and also a tailored meet card.

What is a meet card?

Good question. It's a road map to success. I've been to a few meets where I've witnessed the lifter completely "winging" their warm up and attempt selection. If there is a methodical thought out plan, I don't witness it. A meet card has the three lifts sectioned off (squat / bench / deadlift). Each of the lifts have the warm ups lined out and the sets, reps and weight is accounted for. The lifters three attempts per each lift is also laid out.

The three attempts should always be either the same or a larger weight jump between the first and second attempt from the third.

A great meet card can includes a few options for the next attempts based on how the previous attempt felt. Should we go conservatively or full steam ahead? With an intelligently designed plan of attack laid out on a meet card, an athlete/coach/handler can look down and can offer up that number immediately after the lift after that lifter's immediate feedback.

Weigh ins

"I need to cut five pounds!" A week out from a meet. There are some pretty simple ways to manipulate your water consumption to squeak out those pounds and get down to the smaller weight class. If you're not competing for a state record or a spot at Nationals, what does it matter? Go up that weight class and come in as strong and as well fed and well hydrated as possible.

When an athlete checks in, they're given a "lot number". That is the order in which they will be called in the locker room to drop trou. They'll call you once, wait for about 10 seconds then move on to the next athlete if no one steps forward. Be aware! The numbers move fast! If missed, you're at the back of the line and hungry powerlifters don't like having to wait to eat...

Rack heights

A lifter sheet is given to the athlete upon check in. It has space for all of the opening attempts. Make sure to write the opening weights in kilos. Proceed to get the rack heights for squat and bench. One of the racks used by the USAPL includes the Texas Strength System's IPF Style Combo Rack(ER Racks are used as well) and it is an incredible piece of equipment. Thankfully, True Fitness and Nutrition invested in a badass set up just for us! #homefieldadvantage #practicehowyouplay

Squat rack height: put on the shoes that one will be squatting in to get the rack height. Don't do it in Rainbow flip flops or uggs. Walk the bar out. Walk the bar back in. All of the variables need to be accounted for. If the rack height is too short in competition, an athlete will do a half squat to get the weight out if the rack! So unnecessary and that is a waste of energy. Just get the proper rack height.

Bench and safety rack height: The shoes worn should be the same as those used for the bench press during competition. I sounds like a broken record here, but let's cut down on the unknown variables. Take your time. Set up as if about to warm up. Take the bar for 1. Rack the bar. How did that feel? Remember, we don't want it to be too low or else it will be a half rep just to get the weight out of the rack before the press command in competition. We also don't want the rack to be set up to high because then an athlete would need to protract their shoulders to rack the weight. Hello shoulder injury.

There are a lot of lifters who do these things properly and they ultimately have an edge over the novice and uninformed lifters.

As for height on the safeties: if the bar was to drop in the middle on your set and roll on to your neck, (not a pretty visual), is the bar touching your neck? Try it. Note down the pin height that would keep the bar off of your throat. It could save your life.

Flights and Warm ups

A flight is the group of athletes, sometimes up to 12 or 13 lifters in a particular set. Usually they're around the same weight classes. Meets will post flights of the athletes a few days before game time. This is subject to change. The athletes openers haven't been submitted yet (see above: weigh ins) so the lifting order has not been determined. It will be posted morning of. The athlete, or coach/handler, needs to be proactive in finding out when Flights/Lifting Order will be posted so warm ups can be timed out.

Could you imagine trying to max out in 10 minutes without warming up? Precisely. That is why understanding flights and flight order is important.

If you have 5 warm up sets, start warming up about 25 minutes out from your position. Allocate about a minute to a minute and a half between lifters. Does this seem like a lot to manage? That's because it is.

Game time

The goal is to go 9/9 and set some PR's!

I would highly suggest reading Matt Gary's article called, A Powerlifter's Guide to Attempt Selection.

As Matt explains, the 1st Attempt is called "The Opener". We want to make sure that one counts. Getting a lift in the books is imperative. This will be around a 90% of the 1 rep max for squat and bench and a little lighter for the deadlift.

The 2nd Attempt is "the stepping stone" to the 3rd Attempt. Taking a look at percentages, the second is around 95% of the max and the third is 100%. This is a general guideline and by no means the end all be all plan for an athlete. A good coach will set your attempts with your training feedback in mind.

If all three attempts in a squat/ bench/ or deadlift is not made, the athletes total becomes zero and that is how someone "bombs out". Attempt selection was sub par in this instance.

White lights

An athlete needs at least 2 out of 3 judges to give a "white light". That means the lift will count. Two or three red lights will give the athlete a "no lift". An athlete can get a red light for many different reasons (ie: not waiting for the commands, not squatting to depth, hitching the bar during a deadlift, or not completing the lift, etc).

Submitting the next attempt

After the first and second attempt, a lifter and coach have one minute (note: 60 seconds) to submit the next attempt. If this is not done, the judges table will submit a 2.5 kilo (about a 5lb jump) for the next attempt. That is the minimum jump allowed.

Baby powder

Have you ever stepped on baby powder? It's slippery. Athletes tend to break out the baby powder around deadlift time so that they can powder up those thunder thighs so that the bar slides up nicely. Pro tip: an athlete should have someone else apply the baby powder so that it doesn't get on their hands and counteract the chalk. Grip will falter and the lift could be lost. We also don't want baby powder on the bar so it's absolutely okay to ask the spotters to brush off the bar before your attempt at a weight after another lifter may have left some lingering powder from their thighs, on your bar.

Sticking to the plan

An NFL Team wouldn't run "summer conditioning drills" for their players weeks before leading up to the Super Bowl. The team would not show up to the Super Bowl without their coach; would they? It just wouldn't happen. Why would training for the sport of powerlifting and the execution of a meet be any different?

Behind the scenes can get hectic but that is precisely why an athlete should try to understand all of these nuances before attending their meet and have a plan going in. For the athletes that take the necessary measures to stack the deck for their successful performance, Elliott White, CEO of True Fitness and Nutrition says,

"A great handler calms the storm and executes the plan so seamlessly the lifter doesn't even realize the chaos surrounding them. Like a well refereed game, people often don't even realize that nothing went wrong."

The best coaches and handlers are usually not noticed because things go according to plan. That allows the lifters to show up and do their job. That job is to lift the weight.

It is my pleasure to give back to a community that is humble and strength focused. USA Powerlifting has welcomed me and my peers with open arms. I've found myself surrounded by thought leaders and competitive athletes that I get to learn from and soak up their best practices. I have found inspiration, motivation, and encouragement around almost every corner in this sport. My advice is to be curious, ask questions, be open to learning, invest in resources, and have a plan for success.

What To Do Next & USAPL Rules

If unsure of where to go for technique training, programming, coaching, or meet day handling, my husband, Dylan Smith, comes highly recommended.

Check out some of Dylan's incredible Yelp Reviews from his clients at True Fitness and Nutrition: HERE

He introduced me to lifting (and protein shakes) about five years ago and convinced me to do my first meet last year. He has taught me everything that I rattled off above in this blog post and I am forever grateful for his love and support. You can email him at:

If you'd like to learn more about USAPL's rules and bylaws, you can do so by clicking HERE.

What about becoming a member of the organization and attend a coaching course? Find out more information by clicking HERE.

About the Author: Lyndsey Smith, USAPL Club Coach

An athlete since she could walk, Lyndsey has a vast competitive sports background. With over ten years of travel soccer for a local Vienna, Virginia team, Lyndsey has dabbled in multiple years of extra club soccer, ice skating, gymnastics, softball, cheerleading, running, and her most recent endeavor is her new found love for Powerlifting. Lyndsey's husband, Dylan Smith, started coaching her in 2011. She jokes that Dylan got her hooked on strength training once he introduced her to Muscle Milk Light, but the truth is, strength training has become an instrumental part in her self empowerment. Lyndsey is the Manager of the Managed Print Solutions Program in Washington, D.C., for Capitol Office Solutions (a subsidiary of Xerox). Every company in Washington, D.C. is either one of Lyndsey's clients, or a potential client. With her full time job, new role (July 3rd, 2015!) as Dylan's wife, and training schedule, Lyndsey is a busy lady! You can find Lyndsey squatting, benching, or deadlifting 3-4X per week, in addition to anything else Dylan has programmed for her.

Check out Lyndsey's blog at