Handling Lifters at a Meet

TAGS: bench, powerlifting, Elitefts Info Pages, barbell, bench press, training

This will be the first of a four part series devoted to the handling of a lifter at a meet. This installment will revolve around general help and handling. Part two will cover the squat, part three the bench, and part four will pertain to the deadlift. Meet help is critical to a lifters success or failure, knowing what to do and when to do it is the key.

Before going to the meet the handler and lifter need to be on the same page about several things. The biggest is directions and scheduling. Make sure you, the handler, knows where to meet your lifter and when. Make sure to be on time. The lifter doesn't need to worry about whether his help is going to show or not, he has too many other things on his mind. You should also have a general game plan for lifting attempts thought out before you get to the meet. Along with that, know what the warm-ups will be and have them written down.

When you get to the meet site make sure your lifter has taken care of all pre-meet requirements. Such as weigh in, attempts handed in, rack height given, and membership card purchased. The only thing the lifter has to do and concentrate on is the lifts. Sit with him and remind the lifter of the little things, like to drink plenty of water.

The warm-ups for each lift should usually start as the previous flight is beginning first attempts. If your lifter is in the first flight, you should plan 30-45 minutes for his warm-ups. The lifter should take five to seven warm-ups, spaced out evenly. The last warm-up should be timed so that your lifter has about ten to fifteen minutes before his first attempt. Warm-ups for each event will be covered in more detail in the subsequent articles.

The handlers main job is to do whatever your lifter needs done. If the lifter needs water, you get the water. If he needs a towel, you get the towel. If he needs to take a dump, you wipe his.....All right, so I wouldn't do that. But, you get the idea. The lifter does nothing but lift. You are there to do whatever needs to be done to ensure the success of your lifter.

You need to understand how your lifter gets motivated. Some are quiet and reserved, while others are on the verge of being out of control. You need to adapt to your lifter, not the other way around. I'll use Bob Coe and George Halbert as examples. Bob is wild and on the verge of being out of control. When I handle Bob, I know I need to be ready to hit him when the time is right and be ready to get hit back (what we do for friends!). When I handle George I know I need to be quiet and simply sit there. One very important thing to remember is to never leave your lifter alone. If he sits and says nothing for 10 minutes, you sit close by and do the same thing. You are always there. There is nothing worse for a lifter then to miss a lift and look around for his support network. When your lifter is down, that is when he needs you the most. Never ever leave his side.

Another important, yet overrated, aspect of a meet is strategy. People usually get too caught up in who they will be competing against. The most important person you will compete against is yourself. Where you place in the meet should be secondary to how much you improve your total. Focus on yourself and don't worry about the other guy.

With that being said, it is still nice to win. You should have the openers figured out before you get to the meet. The opener is a weight the lifter can definitely make legally. You should also have a ball park range of your second and third attempts. Don't deviate from the plan, the lifter must believe in himself! The handler must help guide the lifter on the attempts. Be honest with your lifter. If the lifter is not having a good day, be conservative. If the lifter looks real strong be aggressive. But, always discuss the attempts with the lifter. Get a feel for how he is feeling.

I also like to remind the lifter of one critical aspect to focus on during the lift. It may be to keep his head up in the squat or take the bar low in the bench. Choose just one thing and make sure it is the most important thing. To many times I hear a coach tell his lifter to remember to do too many things. This will only serve to confuse the lifter. That is why I say, only one thing.

Now, from the lifter's perspective, bring someone who knows what they are doing. If that isn't an option explain to the person, who will be helping, of what to expect and what you will need him to do. Make sure you bring someone who isn't afraid of big weights. I've seen people leave a lot of weight on the platform, because their handler talked them out of attempting more weight. The handler let their own weakness or lack of confidence hold back their lifter. Don't bring someone who is afraid.

These are just some general points to keep in mind when helping a lifter or choosing who you want to help you. Help at a meet will make or break you. Make sure you bring someone you trust and who believes in you.

SQUAT

It's time to start the warm ups. Now the fun part really starts. You should have the entire warm ups planned out in advance, don't just wing it. Try and use easy to load weights in your warm ups. Nobody wants to hear you say, "I'll have two forty fives, a quarter, a ten, a five, and a two and a half". Here are three sample warm ups. One is mine, the next for a 500 pound opener, and the last is my wife's for an opener of 275.

750 opener:
145x5
255x3
345x1
455x1
545x1
655x1
*Notice all of these are combinations of 45 and 100 pound plates. This also assumes a 55-pound bar.

500 opener:
145x5
255x3
295x1
345x1
395x1
435x1
*This one uses 25s, 45s, and 100s.

275 opener:
Barx5
145x3
195x1
235x1

The next question is, how do you add in the equipment on the warm ups? The first warm up should be in shorts. The next warm up should be in briefs. Add the suit on your second to last warm up. Pull the straps up on your suit for the last warm up. You won't put the knee wraps on until your opener.

Knee wraps are a very important part of your equipment. I highly recommend that the helper put the knee wraps on the lifter. This really helps with conserving energy. The first step is to have the knee wraps wound up already. Do this by stepping on one end and winding up the other like a roll of tape. The tighter the better when winding the wraps up. When to start wrapping is a question I get all the time at meets. I recommend that you start when the lifter who is two before you has just re-racked his attempt. This will give you the lifter before you to get your knees wrapped, straps pulled up, and belt fastened. The person doing the wrapping needs to be fast, but the less time you have to sit around in the wraps the better.

The wrapper should know how you like the wraps before you get to the meet. The key points are how tight, how far below the knee, and how far above the knee? Start at the bottom of the knee and go in a circular pattern working your way up the knee. I prefer my wrap to be one whole wrap below the knee. Work your way up to the highest point the lifter desires and work your way back down with any left over wrap. I prefer my wrap to be one full length above the knee. Tie the wrap off by pulling the end through the most recent circle. Make sure there is enough sticking out that it won't unravel.

Some odds and ends about knee wraps. How tight should the wrap be? That is really up to the lifter. I prefer mine to be fairly loose by most people's standards. I have noticed that most heavy lifters like a looser wrap, while the smaller guys like a very tight wrap. Also, the helper should pick the lifters leg up and hold it between his. This allows the helper a better position for the wrap. Most people will tell you that the wrap should be pulled to the outside, while others argue it should go to the inside. I do mine clockwise on both knees and nobody has ever complained. I do this because it is the way I am comfortable with the wrap.

The next step is to pull up the suit straps. Make sure your helper is tall enough to get the straps up. He can stand on a chair if he needs to. The straps should be pulled as high up on the trap as possible. The belt is then fastened. DON'T PUT THE BELT ON TOO TIGHTLY! The lifter needs to have some room to push his belly out into the belt. If the belt is too tight, your lifter won't be able to use his abs properly. Make sure your lifter has some chalk on his back and he is ready now.

Some meets will allow you to have your own rear spotter. The helper should always take advantage of this if possible. It is a huge boost of confidence for the lifter to have someone he trusts behind him. Make sure your lifter is in the middle of the bar. The helper needs to be careful of where he places his hands. If his hands get in the way of the judges, it will be a red light. You know your lifter best. Don't be afraid to say take it if you know he isn't going to make the lift.

After each attempt, get the knee wraps off as quickly as possible. Then, get the belt and straps off. The helper should discus the next attempt with the lifter and then hand it in. Most meets have an expeditor to hand in attempts to. Make sure you know whom that person is before the meet starts. You have one minute to hand in your next attempt.

BENCH

The bench seems to be the most popular lift at most meets I go to. The bench involves less effort as a handler than the squat does. There aren’t as many different pieces of equipment to worry about. But, the equipment in the bench can be much more difficult to get on properly. This installment will cover warm-ups, shirt usage, and handoffs.

Here are two sample warm-up plans. The first is for a 200 pound opener and the second is for a 500 pound opener.

200 pound opener:
Bar x 8
75 x 5
100 x 1
125 x 1
150 x 1
175 x 1 *put shirt on for this warm-up

500 pound opener:
Bar x 8
95 x 5
135 x 3
185 x 1
225 x 1
275 x 1
315 x 1
365 x 1
405 x 1
450 x 1 *put shirt on for this warm-up

You will notice two things. The first is the shirt on for the last warm-up. This attempt shouldn’t be able to touch the lifters chest. I feel the last warm-up with the shirt on allows the lifter to get the shirt on and fitted to his/her “sweet spot”. The other thing you will notice is that there are a lot of warm-ups for the 500 pound opener. This is how we do it in the gym, so I do the same thing at the meet. There aren’t a lot of reps involved, so you should still be fresh for three good attempts.

The bench shirt can be the greatest thing in the world if it fits right. It can also ruin your day in a hurry if it is off by even a slight bit. When putting the shirt on be patient and don’t yank on it. Pull evenly with consistent pressure. Try and get your lifters head thru as quickly as possible. This will allow the lifter to breath while you get the shirt on the lifter.

Once the shirt is on some people like to wet down the shirt. People will do this for two reasons. First, to help eliminate blow outs. Second, to help with getting the opening weight down to the lifters chest. To wet the shirt you’ll need a spray bottle with luke warm water. Spray all seams in the shirt from the chest on up. Also spray the triceps and chest areas.

Now we are ready to head out and do our opener. Find a seat as close to the action as possible. I recommend that the handler sit directly in front of the lifter so the lifter can rest his/her arms on the handler’s shoulders. When your lifter is three lifters out get their belt put on. I recommend a belt for everyone, as it will hold the shirt in place. The belt doesn’t need to be too tight, just snug. When your lifter is two lifters out put their wrist wraps on. The wrap should be to the tightness of your lifters preference.

When your lifters name is called, you should be at the head of the bench ready to give your lifter the hand out. Remind your lifter of one or two key aspects to remember. There are two ways to time the hand out. One is a count and the other is on a non-verbal command or body action. I prefer the body action. I have all of my lifters pick themselves up the bar when they are ready to start the lift. The moment that the lifter comes back down and makes contact with bench is when I will hand the bar out. Some people aren’t comfortable with this method and prefer a count method. The one recommendation I have about the count method is to have the handler count. This way the lifter can get their breathing timed right.

I always use a double over-hand grip when handing out. Louie Simmons pointed out to me that most people will slightly wind mill the bar when handing out with an over/under grip. Make sure you have tension on the bar before your lifter is going to take out the bar. Get the bar out over your lifters lower chest area. Don’t just release the bar as quickly as possible. It will be very brief, but release tension on the bar over a half second or second time frame. Don’t forget to get out of the way so the head judge can give your lifter the press command. You should have your escape route planned before you get out there.

After your lifter’s attempt, you will have 60 seconds to submit the next attempt. After the attempt has been submitted get your lifters wrist wraps and belt off. Let him/her catch their breath and take their shirt off. Yes, take their shirt off. It will allow your lifter to get blood flow going again and feel more comfortable.

Since open backed denims are very popular, I will get into some of the adjustments that can be made (contact Inzer about their denims with the open back). Basically, you can pull the front down on the shirt and that will make it tighter for the next attempt. I recommend marking with a pen where the shirt is for the opener. You will do this by writing right on your lifter. It will come off later. Now you know where to position the shirt for the second and third attempts. I recommend pulling the shirt down a half an inch more for each attempt.

Now you’ve punched out three successful attempts in the bench and it’s time to deadlift.

DEADLIFT

As the saying goes, “the meet don’t start till the bar hits the floor.” The deadlift is usually the make or break lift for most peoples totals. Mostly because it is the last lift to be done. The deadlift is the easiest lift to help in as far as equipment is concerned. But, it is the hardest to help in in the mental aspect of it. The deadlift is the one lift that seems to be emotional for every lifter. You have to know how to push your lifters buttons and get him or her fired up. Make sure you know what your lifters subtotal is and what their goals are for the day. This will go a long way in determining attempts. I highly recommend that you go for the lift your lifter needs to achieve their total goal on their second attempt. Most people seem to be good for only two deadlift attempts.

Let’s talk about warm-ups for a minute. Here are examples of openers for a 650, 400, and 200 pound attempts.

650-
135x5
245x3
335x1
445x1
555x1

400-
135x5
185x3
245x1
295x1
335x1

200-
barx5
95x3
135x1
165x1

Add in the belt when the lifter feels it is time. I usually where my belt for the last two warm-ups. I wear my deadlift suit with straps down for all warm-ups. I only pull the straps up for the last warm-up.

Now it’s time to get your lifter ready for their opener. Most lifters will be well served to apply baby powder to their thighs where the bar will make contact with the leg. This will serve to reduce friction. When your lifter is three lifters out or “in the hole”, the first thing you will do is pull the straps up on their suit. Make sure the strap is high up on the trap. Then, put the belt on. Make sure it isn’t too tight. The lifter needs to have room to push the stomach into the belt. Bigger lifters may prefer to have the buckle on the backside of their body. This will allow them more room for their gut. If your lifter has a weak grip, you may want to use very tight wrist wraps. This will help to keep the hand closed. However, if done properly, it is VERY uncomfortable. You should try this out in the gym before you get to the meet.

As your lifter is approaching the platform, you still have a couple of things to worry about. The first thing is to check the bar and make sure there isn’t a chalk build up where your lifter will grip the bar. If there is too much chalk build up it will negate the knurling on the bar. Also, check for sweat on the bar where it will be in contact with your lifters thighs. If any of the above is on the bar ask the spotters to clean the bar for you. Remind your lifter about any technical flaws they need to prevent. Now get them fired up. You should know what to say. Get in their face and say it. If they need to be hit, hit them. When else do you get to smack a friend in the head and have him be thankful for it???

After the attempt get the belt off and straps down. Make sure you hand in the next attempt within the one-minute time limit. If your lifter is neck and neck with another competitor, make sure you understand the rules for changing third attempt deadlifts. Most federations will allow you to change the third attempt up in weight up until the point your lifters name is called.

I hope this four part series has opened your eyes as to just how important meet help is. Make sure you bring someone with you who you can count on and knows you as a lifter. They will play a big part in how your day will go.

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