When I was getting ready to do my first powerlifting meet, I scoured the web for any and all advice I could find. I found some good advice that helped, but one thing I noticed was that many of the articles I found were more for geared powerlifting. While the little things may not be so different between getting ready for raw and geared, it bothered me a little to see so many articles dedicating most of the energy toward gear-specific preparation. They were still helpful, but all the same, I had some trouble finding help specifically for raw lifting.

So here are some tips for those of you who are considering your first powerlifting meet.

Pick your attempts well: This should go without saying. That’s because it’s one of the most important things. Picking the right attempts and having a solid game plan beforehand can and probably will make or break your meet. Your first attempt should be very easy. I’ve heard people say that your first attempt should be something you can do anywhere from 3 – 5 reps with on any day. Whatever you choose, you want to be able to get your first attempt no matter what the situation. This gets you into the meet and calms your nerves.

The morning of my first meet I was so nervous I felt like I was going to throw up. By the time my second squat was done though, I felt fine because I got them both with ease. Stick to your game plan too. I missed my last bench attempt because I went heavier than I had planned. Had I stuck to one of my planned attempts, I have no doubt I would have gotten all three. It’s a good idea to have two third attempts planned out—a heavier one and a lighter one. Based on how your first two attempts go, you leave yourself some options. You should also know your attempts well so there isn’t any confusion. I had a moment of sheer panic when I couldn’t find my kilo chart and the clock was ticking to get my attempt in to the judges.

Hook up with someone in the know: One of the best things I did at my first meet was walk up to a couple far more experienced lifters and tell them that it was my first meet. Everyone was incredibly helpful, even though they had their own lifts to worry about. That also went a long way to calm my nerves. If you don’t have a coach or handler with you (like me), this can be huge.

Warm up earlier rather than later: It’s better to slow your warm up down than have to speed it up. If you’re unsure when to start warming up, give yourself extra time to do so. You don’t want to rush your warm up or be in the middle of warming up and then get called on deck.

Commands, commands, commands: Know your commands before the meet. Know your commands before the meet. Got it? Maybe one more time. Know your commands before the meet. You don’t want to miss a PR lift just because you jumped a command, especially on your first meet when you’re already nervous. Train to wait for the commands. Get used to them and verbally go over them before you lift. As I was going up to the platform, I went through a mental checklist of the lift commands for that lift. When in doubt, wait longer. You don’t get penalized for taking an extra second after the start command, but you will get red lighted for jumping it. You know what? Read this section again.

Things to bring with you:

  • Gear: If you’re lifting raw, you don’t have much to worry about in the way of gear. You need to have your lifting suit, a T-shirt, deadlifting socks, lifting shoes, a belt, and possibly wrist and knee wraps, depending on your federation’s rules.
  • Water/food: Bring plenty of water with you. It’s also a good idea to have some Gatorade or other sports drink. Bring something to eat too. Make sure you bring something your stomach is used to. You don’t want to soil yourself on your deadlift because you ate something weird that you’ve never had before. Something with some natural sugar (e.g. fruit) and healthy fats (e.g. nuts) and protein is good. Just don’t eat anything too heavy. Most likely you won’t have any time (or desire) to eat anyway. I managed to sneak a bar in between my bench and deadlift attempts with some Gatorade and it was more than enough to keep me going. Just make sure you keep yourself functioning well. Don’t make yourself full, but don’t let yourself get weak from hunger.
  • Protein shake: Most people drink a shake after they work out, so why wouldn’t you drink one after you hit nine max effort lifts? Enough said.
  • Resistance band(s): This is one of a couple things I didn’t bring and I wish I had. Nobody that I know of has ever recommended this, but bringing a couple portable cables can be a lifesaver when it comes to warming up. On one of my first squat attempts, I pulled something in my upper back from locking it up so tight on the lift. If I had brought a band and warmed up my upper back a little bit that never would have happened.
  • Icy Hot: This is another thing I didn’t bring and wish I had. You can use this to either keep your muscles warm or put some on after you’re done lifting to help with anything that aches. Personally, I think the Icy Hot patch is one of the greatest things ever invented.

The most important things you can do to prepare are train well and eat well and make sure you know what you’re doing. Lift what you are capable of lifting, and by that, I don’t mean don’t take a shot and go for a heavy lift or a PR. I mean don’t try to lift something outside of your ability. If you get to the meet and you see that another lifter is stronger than you, don’t try to raise all your attempts to catch up because that’s a surefire way to get hurt. You aren’t going to magically get stronger because someone else there can lift more than you. It’s you versus yourself and the weight. Nothing more. Remember to have fun and enjoy the experience and you’ll do fine.