PL Newbie Guide

TAGS: Pl Newbie Guide, Charles Bailey, raw powerlifting, josh mcmillan, Marshall Johnson, dave kirschen, competition, scott yard, MEET, matt rhodes, Jo Jordan

Powerlifting's best athletes did not come out of the womb with jacked out traps, crying and flailing about with bulky, muscled thighs. They started out like the rest of us: weak, determined, hungry to excel... and a little bit clueless. Take a look at what a few of them have to say about their first times on the platform.

The First Time, What was it Like?

Jo Jordan

Believe it or not, my first meet was unequipped in 1997. The meet was put on by Orange County Government here in Orlando for its employees and was unsanctioned. I had to get a training routine off the internet since I was pretty much clueless when it came to powerlifting. I ended up using a routine that was from Chris Confessore, and I’m sure I screwed it up in one form or another. On top of that, I was training at a commercial gym and they frowned upon deadlifting, squatting heavy and using chalk, so I was asked to “keep it down” or to “put the weights down easier” numerous times. I did what I could.

The day of the meet I showed up not really knowing all of the rules and was briefed on them before it all started like we normally are, but still was clueless about some things. My first squat attempt I walked up to the bar and wrapped a towel around it like everyone did at the gym I trained at and did my attempt without anyone saying a word to me about it. I proceeded to do it on my next two attempts too. Still no one said a thing. When it came time to bench I had these square rubber cut-outs the size of your hand that I’d use when benching, so I used them on all of my attempts and still no one said a thing. I used them while deadlifting too and still nothing. I guess they all knew I was a newbie and had no clue, so figured what the hell and just let me have fun, which I did…a load of it. Someone did finally say something to me after the meet and I felt like a complete jackass, but he was nice about it, told me I did a good job and directed me to a couple of websites to help with the learning process.

I do remember while at the meet I saw guys putting on squat suits and bench shirts and wondering what the hell was wrong with them and why were they putting on such a thing. I laughed at one guy that had about four guys surrounding him trying to get his bench shirt on him and over his head. Little did I know that I’d be that guy years later…a gear whore and loving it.

For those of you wondering I went 460, 310 and 460 for a huge total of 1230 at 220 pounds. Good times!

Josh McMillan

In the winter of 1993 (Freshman year of High School, 16 yrs old) I entered my first bench meet at Motrose, MI High School. I went in at a bodyweight of 175-180, 181 pound class. There were about another 9-10 in my weight class.

  • I opened up at 240 pounds, good lift
  • Second attempt 260 lbs, good lift
  • 275 pounds for a PR, and good lift

I ended up winning my weight class and from there on, I was addicted to the sport of powerlifting, and every other sport became second to it.

Scott Yard

My first meet…

I remember everything!

I remember every little thing, as if it happened only yesterday.
I was barely seventeen, and I once killed a boy with a Fender guitar

Oops, wrong story!  (That was for all you closet Meatloaf fans out there!)

All kidding aside, I do remember every little thing as if it happened only yesterday. I was 17, but there was no guitar. I didn’t kill a boy either, but my Standard Blast shirt did kill my arm pits. The year was 2000, and the meet was the APA Worlds in Lancaster, PA. I was a bench-only whore and didn’t even know it. I had trained about every day. I benched every fifth day, and I had already bought three blast shirts and worn them out. I kept my meet shirt in the box because as everyone knew, these shirts were basically “one and done” after the first workout. I competed in the 220 weight class. I shit 18 times that morning, and by the time my flight was up, all I could think about was how chapped my ass was. I didn’t know what “nerves” meant until then.

I opened with 400 pounds. I had done this multiple times raw and thought it would be a good opener. I brought the bar down, beat the press command, locked it out, and racked it. I jumped up beaming with pride, only to see three reds on the lights and heard, “That’s why we have rules folks!” blasted over the speakers. It turned out, I beat every damn rule there was. Well I didn’t raise my ass but hell, back then my legs were so short it couldn’t anatomically be done. Unscathed by my 400 pound miss, I jumped to 430 and flat out missed it two times.  That was also the first, but not last time, I heard the word BOMB.

So here I am, my ass is on fire and I’m out of the meet. Needless to say I was pissed, but I was also hooked and planning my next meet cycle on the way home. I ended up doing two more meets that year and bombed out of them as well. It wasn’t until my fourth meet almost a year later that I finally got a lift in. Luckily, it was 460 at 220 for a new teenage national record that time.

Gotta love the first time! Now that I think about it,  I’ve had a lot of shitty “first times.”

Charles Bailey

Well let’s see, my first meet was in Daytona Beach at Sea Breeze Elementary (AAPF Sothern States). The meet took place, October 2002, and my weight at the time was around 235 pounds. I had no idea what to expect from my first meet. The one thing I can remember is how much fun I had. I remember thinking how much better this was than when I was bodybuilding.

This is how green I was at the time. On my first squat attempt, I wrapped my leg with my slip-ons still on. When I got to the monolift, I was informed that this was not allowed and the clock was running. So, I removed the knee wraps and slip-ons and did it without the wraps. I think I squatted 585/677/683 pounds.

The benchpress didn’t go any smoother. I was not aware I needed a singlet to perform the benchpress. My only solution was to use my squatsuit which was super tight. I was only able to bench 405,440 compared to my raw at the time of 460 figure.

Now you’d think after that I would’ve figured most of this out, but no, there’s more. In the deadlift, I noticed the white stuff on everyone’s legs, and it looked like a good idea. What do I do? I went over to the chalkbox and proceeded to chalk the front of my thighs. The funny thing here is no one said anything to me. I went on to pull 650, 677 and missed 705 probably because of the chalk.

I was part of a three-man team, and we ended up winning the team trophy that day.

I would rate this if I had to as probably my best meet experience ever.

Countdown to Competition

I'm hoping to be in my first meet next month since I was a youngin'. Being so far away, should I do anything any different than I do now? I think I'm just going to pull. I just need to break PRs and then do something maybe slightly different, maybe like five weeks out right?

The last week only go up to 50% for a single. The second to last week only do a double or triple at 90%. No max singles three weeks out. As for the rest, just do as your doing. Being so new to this, the only thing you will gain from your first meet is experience. Just remember that you have never done a meet, so you technically don't have a PR yet. Just focus on going three for three. Open super light. If your best gym lift is 400, I would open at 300. Gym lifts are just that. They don't count. Good luck.

 Scott Yard

I know I'm probably over-thinking things, but I'm two weeks out from my first powerlifting meet, and I have a couple questions.

  1. I just deloaded this past week as part of my regular training, and I am wondering how I should approach the final two weeks.
  2. I am also wondering about how you warmup before the meet, and how you choose your openers.

Any help at all would be great. Thank you very much.  

Whats up,
When I get close to a meet, I like to do a meet rehearsal two weeks out. Or, if I feel like I need the rest and recovery, I will just work up to what I consider an opener. So two weeks out, I would just work up to what you plan on being openers. The week of the meet, I would just hit the gym during the week doing very, very light weight with higher reps, like a bodybuilding type workout. Your main goal should be blood flow, not over-exerting yourself and not working your ass off. Just getting to the gym, keeping blood flowing to your muscles, and keeping limber. I find that if I take a week off without training, I get stiff and sore. So just go for the sake of keeping blood flowing to your muscles.

Your warm ups should be a conservative effort. A weight, for example, you know you could hit on any given day- sick, tired, sore, anything. My openers are usually around a 100 lbs. less then my final third attempt. Your opening attempt should be an easy weight, something you can destroy. There is nothing more important than starting a meet, destroying your opener, and riding that confidence. You don't want to take an opening weight and grind it slow and painfully. It will mess you up so bad mentally. The more experienced you get, the easier it will be for you to judge your openers and attempts.

I warm up at a meet the exact same way I warm up in training. Your meet should be just another training day... just in front of a lot of people, haha. When it comes to training, diet, competing, and wearing gear, just KISS. Keep It Simple Stupid, haha. It's great advice. Don't get yourself riled up thinking too much about shit, man. Just keep it simple and train your ass off. Hope this helps you. Good luck at your upcoming meet. Hit me back and let me know how you did.

Marshall Johnson

Right Before You Hit the Platform

Hi, Zane. I have an easy question for you: I keep seeing phrases in meet posts for the terms "on deck" and "in the hole." Seeing as how I am doing my first meet soon, I figured I damn well need to know what these all mean, haha. From my understanding, "in the hole" means I'm somewhere in the next three lifters to go, and "on deck" means I have a minute to get to the platform to lift. Is that sorta correct? And are there any other terms that are important to know? Thanks for any clarification you could give me.

You're right. It is a good idea to know these things.

"On deck" means you're next up. Once your name is called as the current lifter (after "on deck"), you have one minute to get on the platform. "In the hole" means you're going to be on deck next. This is warning you that you better start getting your shit together.

Other than that, just know where you're at in the flights (order of lifters) when they post them between events. And most of all, know the rules. Don't forget the "press" command or the "squat" command. They'll go over all that in the warm-up room/rules meeting. Make sure to pay attention, a lot of guys won't but should.

More questions? Shoot em over...
Zane Geeting

Moving On to Another First: Gear

I have never used gear and wanted to try something for my squat and conventional pull. Any recommendations? Do I start with single-ply? Pretty clueless here. Thanks guys.

Assuming you are interested in competing, I would first decide what federations you would prefer to lift in. If you're starting out, this decision could come down to something as simple as who runs more meets in your area.

If you will most likely be in a single ply fed, like the USAPL, then that's what you should get. If you're not sure, but want the ability to compete in any fed that allows gear, than my recommendation would be the same. That way you do not need to buy and learn different pieces of gear for different meets. If you're a wide stance squatter, go with the Metal IPF Viking V-Type Squatter. If you use a more narrow stance, I'd rock the Metal IPF King Squatter.

On the other hand, if you want to compete in one of the fun federations (sorry, had to say it), I would go with the the Metal Pro Squatter. It's stout enough to give you a lot of support, but it's the easiest suit to learn in the metal line. Since you're new to gear, I would not wear a brief under it just yet, and I would practice in it with the straps down for a month or two before going full gear in it.

We have also had success with putting gear virgins in a brief only for their first meet, and wearing it under a singlet. Since the singlet counts as a layer, this combo is only allowed at multi-ply meets.

As far as the pull, there aren't many suits that will work well for both the squat and conventional pull. You can give the squat suit a shot if you don't want to pony up for two suits just yet, or you can go with the Metal IPF Deadlifter.

If you have any more questions, shoot them over. I could talk about gear all day.

Dave Kirschen


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