My First Powerlifting Meet at 56

It was January 2023 and I was seeking a new fitness goal. Some gym acquaintances suggested I consider competing in an upcoming provincial powerlifting meet, which I quickly laughed off, thinking the meet was surely being held in a city a far drive away. After realizing it was actually being hosted right in my own small town, I thought maybe it was just the challenge I’d been seeking.

At 56 years old, my life motto has become: if not NOW, then WHEN? These days, I’m interested in having as many experiences as possible. I had already spent 2022 practicing barbell lifts, so I hired a powerlifting coach and was set to learn as much as possible. I was dedicated to putting in the work in and out of the gym.

The Process

First, I had to register for the meet which would be in March 2023. You need to also purchase a membership for the federation that is the governing body of the meet.

A powerlifting meet consists of three events: squat, bench press and deadlift. You can do all three events (Full Power), just bench and deadlift, or bench or deadlift only. There are also different divisions depending on the equipment used. If you are at your first meet, you will likely be competing in the Raw division, this essentially means without the use of special suits, shirts and wraps that are sometimes used by more advanced lifters to aid them in lifting extremely heavy weight. I registered for Full Power Raw. You also register according to your age and weight class. It is recommended for beginners to compete in the weight class for their current weight.

It is important to become familiar with the rules and regulations of the federation you are competing in, as they do vary somewhat, especially regarding the clothing and equipment required. For me, this included a singlet, t-shirt, underwear, socks, shoes, wrist wraps, knee sleeves and a lifting belt.

It is also important to become familiar with and to practice lift “commands” that will be used on the platform during competition. If they aren’t second nature, nerves on meet day may having you missing these commands.

Each athlete is allowed a “handler” at the event. A handler is an important person as they take stress off the athlete. A handler helps you warm up, keeps an eye on the clock, gets you platform-ready with your gear, pumps you up, helps you pick your lift attempts, and is all-around support.

Training gets intense for a powerlifting meet and recovery becomes important. Things I did to facilitate recovery were listening to my body, stretching, massage, walks, breath work, red light therapy, good sleep, naps, and eating enough healthy food to fuel training. Competition prep is not the time to be dieting or cutting!

Check-in for me was 24 hours prior to the meet. In some federations, it can be 2 hours before the meet. At check-in, you get your rack heights for squat and bench, give your opening lift numbers, present all of your clothing and equipment for approval, and weigh in.

Meet Day

Going into my first meet I had three main goals:

  1. To not get injured while still pushing to do my best.
  2. To be open and observant.
  3. To have fun and enjoy the experience.

I was up nice and early and full of excitement! I ate a familiar large breakfast with good carbs and protein as it would be at least a couple of hours until lifting began. I had prepared extra easily digestible food for the day and had all my gear packed and ready to go the night before. Once we arrived at the venue, there was equipment set up behind the platform for warming up.

My first first lift up was squats. I walked up to the bar and the first thing I noticed was there was no mirror in front of me! I didn’t realize until that moment that I had practiced all of my squats in front of a mirror at the gym and wasn’t sure if I was more dependent on it that I’d realized. It didn’t turn out to be a big deal, but just something to note. It is recommended that you chose an opening weight that you are sure to be successful with, a weight you could easily lift for three repetitions . This sets you up with confidence. You get three attempts at each lift. I was successful at all three squat attempts and since my last lift set a provincial/national record, I was given a fourth lift, which was also a success! My day was off to a great start.

My second and third lessons of the day were about to be learned. Next up was bench press. In bench press, you can have someone lift the bar off the rack for you or lift it off yourself. I had someone lifting it off for me but when I got to the platform, he didn’t show up. I gripped the bar and waited and he finally came running and lifted the bar off for me. Because I had been gripping the bar for about 45 seconds before lifting and my concentration was broken because I didn’t know what to do when he wasn’t there, I failed the lift. I didn’t realize I could just take the bar myself and with my opening weight it likely would have worked out just fine. During my next attempt, I did my opening weight again but I was so anxious to get the lift, I jumped the first command! I only had one more chance to have a successful bench press. I did some breathing exercises and calmed myself down while I waited for my next turn and was even mentored by a wonderful lady who was there coaching other competitors. The third time was a charm for my opening lift. The lift was quite a bit under my one rep max and still set a provincial/national record, so I was given one more lift to increase that record and it was a good one. Whew!

Then it was on to the last event—deadlift. I had two great lifts and on my third attempt, I made a slight up/down motion with my shoulders at the top of the lift which disqualified the attempt. Another lesson learned, but also another record made with the deadlift.

All in all, I feel like the day was a success.

I had fun, didn’t get injured and learned the most from the mistakes I made. I can say that I was impressed by the culture and encouraging atmosphere of the meet—the athletes, coaches, and judges were all so friendly, helpful and supportive.

If you are considering your first powerlifting meet, I say go for it. Don’t wait! There is no prerequisite strength requirement. Anyone can start powerlifting—it doesn’t matter when or where you start. The important thing is to do it.

Competing in my first powerlifting meet was a rewarding, empowering experience for me. Will I do it again? Yes!

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