Written by Jacob Tsypkin
Look, at some point you’re going to have to do it.
Nothing you do is really going to count until you do it for white lights on a competition platform. And deep down, you know that. I’m here to help you feel more prepared going into your first weightlifting meet.
Yes, you’re ready for a meet. Shut up.
This is always the immediate response when I suggest that someone compete. “I don’t feel like I’m good enough,” “my form still sucks,” “I’ll look funny in a singlet.”
SHUT UP. I don’t care. Competing makes you better almost immediately. The experience itself will give you a clearer view of what you need to improve, and provides motivation to train harder. And EVERYONE looks good in a singlet – that’s just science.
My lifters will compete, if at all possible, within 4-6 weeks of starting the sport. It’s a crucial part of the experience. Can you snatch? Can you clean & jerk? Then you can compete.
It’s also worth noting that in most of the country, meets are few and far between. We’re spoiled here in Northern California, where we are lucky enough to be part of the very active Pacific Weightlifting Association – there is usually at least one meet per month within 2-3 hours of us. Most of you aren’t so lucky, and your local weightlifting committee may only hold 2-4 meets per year. Don’t squander opportunities.
Ariel Stephens did her first weightlifting meet on a week’s notice, having trained the lifts a couple of times each, wearing a swimming race suit and a pair of Vibram FiveFingers. There is no reason for you not to compete, so quit talking yourself out of it.
The Before Stuff
Apart from the snatch and clean & jerk, there are some things you should know before you show up to your first meet.
Know your weight class. This one seems obvious, but there is an important rule here: do NOT cut weight for your first meet. Seriously. Figure out what weight you are during the middle of the day having eaten as much as you normally would. You want to be well fed and watered. Don’t increase the stress of your first meet for the slight possibility of placing better in a lower weight class. This meet will be the first of many competitions – worry about making weight another day.
Know the rules. No one is going to expect you to have the USA Weightlifting rulebook committed to memory, but don’t be that guy who’s surprised when you get red lighted for dropping the bar before the judges give you the down signal. It’s important that you know all the rules which apply directly to you when you’re on the platform. Know what you’re supposed to wear and what you’re not supposed to wear, know what equipment is allowed or disallowed, know where you can use athletic tape and where you can’t. You don’t want your first meet to be tainted by a great lift that you would have had if you didn’t know the athletic tape can’t go all the way around the back of your leg. Furthermore, this meet is a foundation for all of your future competitions – start getting into the habit of knowing, understanding, and being prepared for minutiae.
That confounded metric system. If you’re a weightlifter headed to your first meet without a coach, odds are you train in pounds. If it’s going to be your first time working with kilos ever, you want to be prepared. Bring a conversion chart with you so you know what you want your lifts to be. Know the colors which correspond with plates of each weight. You can go to http://pendlaybar.com/ to practice recoginzing a certain weight on the bar.
A clock? What is this, CrossFit? Well, no, but there is a time limit. Once the bar has been loaded and platform is ready, the lifter has one minute to attempt his lift (the attempt has not started until the bar has passed the lifters knees.) If the lifter is following himself (that is, if he takes an attempt, and there is no one else between him and the next attempt,) he’ll have two minutes instead of one. You don’t need to do anything crazy here, but once or twice, do a workout where you’re taking lifts on the minute, or at least your heavy attempts. This will give you an idea of how long it takes you to approach the bar, get set up, and take a lift.
Ask Questions. Go into your first meet ready to learn. Weightlifting is generally a community of friendly people who will be glad to help you. Make friends as quickly as you can, and if you can find someone more experienced than you to give you a little guidance, so much the better.
If you go into your first weightlifting meet with the attitude “I’m here to win,” you’re an idiot. Yes, it does happen. Weightlifting is a small sport and depending on how talented you are and how strong your local weightlifting committee is, it’s possible that you could place well. However, in your first meet, it is my opinion that you should be attempting to go 6 for 6, or at the least 5 for 6 with the only miss being your last clean & jerk.
Why? Because missing lifts is stressful, and you’re already going to feel stressed out enough. You want each lift to make you look forward to the next one more, not make you worry. Take risks next time. Today, have fun and…
Learn how a meet runs. This is another important reason to get into a meet early on. The more meets you have under your belt by the time you are putting up competitive numbers, the more likely you will be to do well in those meets. Being good at the snatch and clean & jerk is obviously the bulk of being a successful weightlifter, but understanding the details of how a meet works can be the difference between silver and gold. In competition, you’ll get practice at counting attempts, timing your warm-ups, estimating what other lifters are capable of, and keeping track of things like each lifters bodyweight which can be relevant to the final results. Furthermore, you’ll get to fine tune your competitive mindset, which is a skill set nearly as crucial as the lifts themselves.
Make Friends. Like most strength athletes, weightlifters are generally pretty cool. And since the sport is so small, they’re usually very happy to meet new lifters and willing to help out where they can. Your first meet should bring with it some new friendships, and maybe even new training partners.
What to Bring
This stuff is mostly pretty obvious, but I figured a checklist may be handy. Here are some of the most important things to make sure you have with you on game day:
1. Weightlifting Shoes
2. Singlet (hopefully a sweet one with a dragon on it or something)
3. The rest of your training gear. Knee sleeves/wraps, belt, tape. You may want to bring some chalk just in case.
4. A notebook to write down warm-ups
5. Your USA Weightlifting membership card. You’ll need this for your registration. You can bring it out, or just bring it in digital format on your smartphone.
6. Food, water, supplements (including Red Bull,) and anything else you like to use before a workout (such as nSAIDs.)
7. Layers of clothing to stay warm, and maybe even a pillow if you’d like to lie down and relax after you weigh-in.
Determining Your Lifts
Every weightlifting meet comes with six important decisions: your three attempts in the snatch and clean & jerk. There are all kinds of things you can do with your attempts in a meet. You’re given two changes per attempt, and athletes will often use them to jockey for position in an attempt to place higher.
You should not do anything of the sort.
Your opener should be something you can hit for 2-3 doubles in a training session. You should be able to take it 1-2 times in the back (for the snatch, not the clean & jerk) with 100% confidence, and then walk out and absolutely smoke it for your first attempt. Your second attempt should still be something you’re confident in, and not more than a 3-4kg increase from the first on the snatch, and not more than 5-6kg on the clean & jerk. The third attempt can be a bit more risky, but something you typically make at least two out of three times in training.
That pretty much covers it. Keep it simple, take reasonable increases and make lifts.
On that note – if you miss a lift, REPEAT IT! Don’t be that guy who goes 0 for 3 because you couldn’t keep your ego in check.
Now we’re through the stuff that happens before you arrive at the venue. In Part II, we’ll discuss the meet itself.
Jacob Tsypkin is a CrossFit and weightlifting coach, and the co-owner of CrossFit Monterey and the Monterey Bay Barbell Club in Monterey, CA.
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