Waiting till you're "strong enough to compete"?
You've heard it before. You've probably said it. The same excuse a thousand different ways. "I'm waiting to be strong enough to compete..."
”I’ll do a meet when I can qualify for nationals”... ”I don’t want to do a meet until I can be competitive in my weight class."
These are all things I’ve heard from clients, friends, and regular gym goers. Here’s the reality, competing in powerlifting is very much a skill that you’ll need to fine tune before you have that “perfect” meet.
There is very little barrier to entry when it comes to doing a meet so I would suggest that if you are interested in getting into powerlifting, you do one sooner than later.
Now this doesn’t mean jumping into a meet a month into squatting for the first time, but waiting until you are “strong enough” to compete isn’t the answer either.
When's the right time to compete?
How do you know you are ready to do a powerlifting meet? Let’s go over the small barrier to entry that does exist.
You must be able to perform all competition movements to competition standards. Regardless of the weight on the bar, you must be able to squat to depth, bench with a pause, and deadlift without ramping the bar.
If you can do all three lifts to a competition standard you are capable of successfully doing a meet.
Now, if you don’t know what qualifies as “depth” on squat, “pause’ on bench or “ramping” on deadlifts you might want to familiarize yourself with the standards for each lift in the federation you plan to compete in. I’ll briefly explain the common standards for most federations.
Can you meet federation standards?
For a squat to be given white lights (meaning a successful lift) you must squat to the point that the crease of your hip is below the top of the knee at the lowest point of your squat. This is referred to as “hitting depth”.
For bench press you must pause the bar on your chest until you are given the “press” command by the head judge (usually 1-2 seconds tops). This is the “pause” on the bench press.
Lastly, for deadlifts, you must lift the bar in one upward motion without supporting it on your thighs as it passes the knees.
Failure to adhere to these technique standards will result in red light and an unsuccessful attempt. If you are unsure if your lifts are up to standard, record yourself and analyze the lift in comparison to the standards above mentioned.
If you still are unsure of what I mean by those standards you can look up meet standard videos on your favorite video sharing platform (YouTube. Instagram, Facebook… etc). This should give you more points of comparison to evaluate your own lifts in terms of competition standards.
Still confusing? Find a powerlifter at your gym, introduce yourself, make friends, and ask questions (trust me most serious powerlifters are willing to lend a helping hand).
If you come to the conclusion that your lifts are not up to standard, then you are not ready to successfully compete in a powerlifting meet regardless of the weight on the bar. I would suggest you focus on improving your technique, and address any mobility restrictions you may have in order to eventually complete lifts to competition standards. Now if your lifts are to competition standard then you are ready to successfully compete.
This does not mean that you’ll automatically hit every single attempt on the platform (meet strategies are a subject for a different article), but it does mean that you are able to complete lifts to the standard that will allow you to put a total and have a placing.
Why it's better to compete sooner than later:
As long as your lifts are to competition standards, I would suggest you do a meet at your earliest convenience. This will allow you to gain platform experience and understanding of how you react to a stressful situation as a lifter.
Trust me, hitting some heavy singles with your friends, blasting your music and at your own pace is not the same thing. At a meet you are there early in the morning. You have to lift at the pace of the meet itself, don’t get to have your hype crew right by your side on every lift, and will probably be lifting in front of a crowd for the first time… all this sounds overwhelming doesn’t it? That’s exactly why having meet experience is so important.
Whenever clients ask me if they should compete I almost always overwhelmingly encourage them to do so. The most common rebuttal I get is “I’m not strong enough” or “I want to do it when I’m competitive for my weight class”. As mentioned, there is no barrier to entry in terms of weight on the bar (just quality of movement as discussed earlier) so “not being strong enough” is really not an excuse.
"I want to wait until I’m competitive for my weight class.” Do you think Usain Bolt waited to run the 100m sprint until he was competitive? Of course not. Every successful athlete didn’t start off that way, but it was the journey through lots of hard work and getting comfortable in a competitive environment that allowed them to become that great athlete. You can get the hard work in the gym, but if you want to eventually be a successful powerlifter, you need experience to get comfortable in that competitive environment. The more meets you have under your belt, the more comfortable you’ll feel in that setting and therefore will be able to compete at your best.