How Weightlifters Can Better Prepare for Competition Day

The American Open kicks of this weekend, and I’ve had a lot of athletes come tell me that this is their first big meet to enter. Most are filled with excitement, but as you would expect, some athletes get nervous. After all, it wouldn’t be fun if you didn’t.

Generally when I think about weightlifting, it’s fairly simple. Can you lift it or can’t you? The snatch and the clean & jerk don’t change, but often times, I’ve found that the biggest rewards come from the minutest details. The most important? In my opinion, it’s simple. Train to compete.

You can be in the best physical condition, the strongest you’ve ever been, feel more confident than ever to improve on your total, and then totally crash simply by failing to prepare for meet day. You can never anticipate everything that can go wrong, but preparing for different scenarios can definitely give you peace of mind as your competition day arrives.

To help, I’ve come up with a few ideas that may help you during your first big stage experience. (Or even your 50th big stage experience, because you’re never too old to learn something new.)

Tip One: Play with different warm ups

This one was just recently introduced to me by 2000 Olympian, Cara Heads Slaughter, so it’s relatively new to me also — prepare to be flexible with your warm up weights and competition attempts. I’ve been competing for 13 years and I always took my warm ups somewhat in sync with my training percentages, possibly altering by a kilo or two on occasion.

Lately though, we’ve been playing around with different methods to warm up. Some of it is based on how I feel and how I am moving on that particular day, and some of it is simply to get used to the idea that things may not go exactly as planned.

If the meet slows down, you may have to repeat a warm up weight. Sometimes you take a first attempt and have a long wait with multiple attempts between, so you have to add another lift in the warm up room before your second competition lift. To prepare for this, you can do a few things.

First, try using different warm ups so you don’t feel set on any one approach. Repeat the same set twice, or take a smaller jump, followed by a larger one. You could also try using what I is called a wave approach. Lift up to a heavy single, take the bar down a few kilos and then work back up. This will help you to be prepared if you ever find a yourself 8-10 attempts out after your 1st lift.

Tip Two: Vary your rest time

Some meets have experienced loaders and everything runs smooth and fast with no hiccups. Other times, we have technical difficulties, and that’s just part of the game.

(I’ve worked at the marshal’s table, and believe me, it’s no joke. Everyone should try it at some point in their career, because it gives you an entirely new respect for how hard they work every session of every competition.)

Either way, prepare yourself for it. Varying the rest you take between lifts during training can give you the confidence that you are prepared no matter what happens in the warm up room.

In mid-November, I went and trained in Arlington, VA, with Coach Cara at her CHFP Weightlifting facility. Most of the time, I lifted, but when I wasn’t, I sat and watched the other lifters train. I always find it interesting to watch their tendencies and how they approach training. Every athlete develops their own style after a while; everything they do becomes rhythmic.

One interesting thing I noticed was how quickly some athletes fall into their routine, whereas the newer athletes seemed to take more time. A lot more time. More time talking, more time lingering around, and more time between sets. At least before Cara told them to start watching a timer because 5 minutes was way too long to rest between sets of snatch. She couldn’t be more right though. Generally, you don’t have that kind of time between sets in weightlifting.

Leading into competition, I always keep an eye on a clock. The trick is, I vary that time. Some attempts I’ll rest one minute, some 2 minutes, and sometimes up to 3. If I miss, I’ll treat it like I am following myself in competition and put myself of a 2 minute clock. The idea is to prepare yourself for the unknown, because let’s face it, unless you are Mattie Rogers and always following yourself, you don’t know exactly how much time you have to prepare. For example: someone makes a lift and then takes a larger jump than you anticipated, so you have less rest time than you expected.

Be ready. Also, some coaches don’t play. If you miss a lift, and they have the opportunity to trap you on a one minute clock, sometimes they will. Be ready for it. Learn how to catch your breath, compose yourself, and approach the bar with confidence to give it a good attempt.

It’s rare, but in some cases you have a lot of time between attempts. I took an athlete to the University Nationals a few months ago and she competed in a very tight session. Most of the athletes in that session took the same or similar weights causing long periods of time between attempts. If I remember correctly, she waited almost 8-9 attempts between her first and second lift.

Your coach can add attempts in the warm up room to keep you physically warm, but it’s your job to keep your mind focused between those attempts and undistracted from the chaos around you. You have to be able to pull yourself back in and focus for the second attempt, and I’ve often times found it hard for beginners, and sometimes even myself, to channel that without practice.

Tip Three: Lose the music

People laugh when I say this, but behind wearing a singlet for the first time, it’s the number one thing people mention to me when they talk about their scary first meet. The platform will be dead silent. Prepare for it. I’m not saying that you have to be bored, and lift in silence your entire career. I’m also not saying that you can’t have that song that gets you fired up to lift your personal best. What I am saying is if you aren’t comfortable with the silence and eyes staring back at you, then prepare for it.

Take your warm ups as normal and cut the music for a heavy rep. Possibly even get some people to come stand around and watch it. A few years back I was working at a CrossFit® gym teaching an Olympic Weightlifting technique class and I made them move to a “competition platform” for their heavy singles. We didn’t cut the music on this occasion, but the switch alone blew their minds. It’s an experience unlike any other sport and sometimes like a bad date, so be prepared for the awkward silence.

Tip Four: Test your singlet

I don’t feel like this needs an explanation. Just do it.

Tip Five: Train on different platforms

I actually enjoy moving around platforms now, but this was a big one for me when I first started lifting. I would get too comfortable with being comfortable. Warm up rooms are chaotic and no meet platform feels exactly the same. Allow yourself to take heavy attempts on different platforms, or even occasionally in a different gym to help prepare yourself for meet day.

At the end of the day, it’s just a bar and some weights, but making heavy lifts consistently takes practice. Do yourself a favor and prepare for the little things that can make the biggest difference.

Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

Featured image: @chfpweightlifting on Instagram