I love lifting weights. I’ve have been doing so since my first gym membership at age 13. I’m not gifted with natural strength, in fact, I probably have more talent for long-distance running. My dad was a marathon runner and qualified for the Boston Marathon a few times. Even so, I’ve attained a level of strength I’m proud of; thanks to years of consistently progressing lifts with decent technique. I could be called a recreational lifter, meaning that I lift without the hopes or probability of attaining awards or accolades. The vast majority of people who lift weights fall into this category. I also compete in Powerlifting, a sport where the main objective is to be the strongest person.
You may be asking yourself why, if I don’t expect to win a competition, I would want to compete? Or, better yet, what reasons would anyone who is a recreational lifter have to compete? Let me give you a few good ones...
Training at True Fitness and Nutrition, I am surrounded by a number of very strong people. A number of national level lifters (a competition you must qualify for in order to participate) train at our studio, and I’m friends or acquaintances with just about all of them. A few years ago I was persuaded to start competing myself. I was resistant at first, as I didn’t really feel that my levels of strength were worth showing off. After some persuading from friends (and progress in my lifts) I decided to sign up for a meet. I really enjoyed the experience, and have done a few more since. In fact, I think that anyone who enjoys lifting weights can (and should) participate in a powerlifting competition. Don’t just take my word for it, keep reading to see some reasons why you should sign up for your next local competition.
What does a powerlifting meet entail?
The competition consists of 3 attempts of each: the squat, bench press, and deadlift. Each attempt is judged by a particular set of criteria to ensure the lift meets the standards of the Federation (more on these in a moment). If an attempt is successfully completed it goes towards your “total” (your score, in kilograms, of weight you have successfully lifted). Your final total will consist of your best attempts of each of the 3 lifts, with the goal being to lift as much weight as possible. Prior to the start of the competition, you will be weighed and assigned to a weight class. These groups are important as bodyweight strongly correlates with strength in most cases. Once you have completed the competition, your total will be compared to others in your class, and the competitor with the highest score wins. There are many different organizations (referred to as federations) that one can compete in. They differ based on size, rules, whether or not they drug test, etc. Arguably the 2 most popular federations are the United States Association of Powerlifting (USAPL) and the United States Powerlifting Association (USPA). There are countless other details that can be written about a powerlifting meet, but this is the competition in a nutshell.
Working towards competing in a meet will add structure to your training program.
It will give you a definable metric to measure progress (your absolute strength on 3 major lifts). It will also provide some extra motivation for your training sessions, especially on the days when working hard in the gym is the last thing on your mind. Having a nice quantitative metric to judge your training from will also highlight the progress you hopefully are making from your training program.
If the reasons above have sold you on entering a competition, your next question might be when can you get started?
I mentioned above that I held off on competing until I felt my strength was worth “showing off”. If I could go back, I would urge myself to sign up for a meet as soon as I decided it was something worth pursuing. The issue with waiting until you feel your strength is up to par is that it puts more emphasis on the final result of your fitness journey and not the steps along the way. If competing ends up being all about the numbers, you won’t enjoy the process and the actual meet itself as much. Competing should be fun, and doing so early on should also speed up your progress by entrenching you in a community of fitness natives. Whether it be the coach you hire to handle or take you through the meet, or the fellow competitors you get to know on the day of the competition, you will likely expand your network of peers who can help you get better.
Now that you have a general idea of what you would be getting into, here are the final few reasons that you should sign up:
Number one, if you enjoy lifting weights, competing in powerlifting is a great way to expand that passion. Two, this is an opportunity to officially test yourself under the bar, a way to meet and network with others who share your passion, and a way to showcase to family and friends an activity you enjoy and put a lot of work into. Three, you may be surprised to read that these competitions are not “competitive” in the way other sports can be. The atmosphere at meets is mostly very welcoming and positive. Competitors and spectators alike are friendly and everyone roots for each other, regardless of strength level.
Everyone in the room went on the arduous journey of building strength, and that is what binds them together - the process, not the weight.