This is the first in a series of posts about Powerlifting, competing in USA Powerlifting, and the things I have seen both in the chair as a Referee, State Chair, Meet Director, and also as a coach and competitor for more than a decade.
Of course, I am aware that this is an incredibly broad topic, so today I want to limit the discussion to the competitor’s approach to competing in the squat portion of a Powerlifting meet. We will approach this as being done in a sanctioned USA Powerlifting meet, that way we all know the rules and understand the setting in which this discussion takes place. Furthermore, we will limit this to a raw meet (if people are interested in a discussion of equipped lifting please leave a comment saying so).
So, you’ve signed up for the Meet, completed your training program, and planned your openers. The day of the Meet has arrived. Weigh-ins take 90 minutes, and they start exactly 2 hours before lifting begins, and end with 30 minutes to spare. That should give MOST people enough time to get their warm ups done. Older lifters (I’m almost 50, and I count myself among the older lifters) may need a few more lifts on the way to getting warmed up, and stronger lifters may need a few more lifts because building the bar takes some time, but I try to keep it to about “15-18 total reps” in the warm ups.
Hopefully, you called an opening attempt at a number that you KNOW you can easily double or even triple in the gym. Do not be the person who sets an opener at a new Personal Record. That usually ends in heartbreak and tears because the lifter bombs (fails all 3 attempts) on their squat. Remember, you’re not here to get a workout done, you’re here to warm up the lift and COMPETE.
My advice to new competitors in the warm up area is to talk to a few people that are roughly the same size as you, and organize a system that has you all sharing a rack and helping each other load it; get some mobility done, hit the empty bar for 6-8 reps, then do something like this:
3-4 @ 40-50%
3-4 @ 60%
2-3 @ 70%
2-3 @ 75%
1-2 @ 80%
1 @ “spilt the difference” between the 80% and the opener.
1 @ within 5-15kg of your opener depending on how heavy the opener is. If you’re opening with 90kg, then 85kg should give you a good bearing on how 90 will feel. But if you’re a stronger lifter, and you’re opening at 200-220 kg, a 15kg jump from the last warm-up is probably fine.
While you are doing your warm-ups, always keep an eye on the clock and listen to the announcements that are being made. One of the most important rules in USA Powerlifting has to do with when you may make a change to your opening attempt. Lifters have until 3 minutes before their flight begins to make ANY change to your opening attempt (note: if there are multiple flights in your session, you have until 3 lifters are left on their 3rd attempts before your flight begins to make a change). If that barbell is flying in your warm-ups and your confidence is high, you may want to go to the scorer’s table and request a change to something a bit higher. Conversely, if the weight feels like the Grim Reaper is gripping the bar and trying to pull you six feet under, then you may want to adjust that opener down a little bit.
How do you know when that will happen? There should be a posted start list either on paper, or on the lifting software (check the monitors if the system being used is NextLifter, or check the web if the system is Liftingcast). Usually it takes a little longer than a minute per lifter to get his/her attempt completed and have the next load on the bar unless the spotter/loader crew is running a super tight ship (then it will be marginally quicker). A good rule of thumb is about 75 seconds (1.25 minutes) per lifter who is ahead of you. Be sure to check the start list a few times throughout the warm-ups in case other lifters have changed their attempts because that can effect where you are lifting in the flight, based on whether those lifters have pushed their attempts up or down.
The warm-ups are over, the Rules Briefing has taken place, and you and the rest of the lifters in your flight have moved to the athlete staging area. Sit down, watch the competition if you can see it, and listen for the announcer to call out who is lifting next, who is “on deck” (second) and who is “in the hole” (third). When you get called to the platform for your attempt the Chief Referee will state that “the bar is loaded/ready.” You then have 60 seconds to get the “Start/Squat” command. The Chief Referee will be facing you with his/her arm raised and will be waiting for you to un-rack the bar. The Chief will not give you that command until you have un-racked the bar and shown control with your knees locked and you are in an upright position. So, if you are a fidgety type, who shifts weight back and forth, you will wait for that command for a while.
Once you are set, the Chief will give you the start command verbally and should wave their arm downward indicating that you are now good to start the lift. It is up to you to squat to the proper depth (the hip crease below the top-line of the knee), and stand it back up showing lock out and control. Then the Chief will wave his arm back toward himself and give you the verbal command “rack.” Once those commands are given, the spotters should assist you to get the bar back into the rack.
When you leave the platform, you only have 60 seconds to submit your next attempt, so you should walk directly to the Scorer’s table to tell them what you want on the bar next. There are two Default Rules if you don’t submit a new attempt: 1) if you failed the attempt, and you do not submit a new attempt, the same weight is automatically put on the bar for the next attempt; 2) if you made your attempt, and you do not submit a new attempt, the weight on the bar will be increased by only 2.5 kg. So, it is important to always check with the Scorer and submit an attempt or else the Default Rules will control.
What happens if you called a weight that is too heavy and you get pinned at the bottom of the squat? DO NOT PANIC! The spotters are there to help you get the bar into the rack. However, to do that, they need you to STAY WITH THE BAR. Generally, “failure” is only a matter of a few kilograms, so the spotters are relying on you to use what strength you have left and then they will pick up where your strength fails, and guide you back into the rack. DO NOT DUMP THE BAR. This can injure you, the spotters and/or damage the equipment. Plus, you could be immediately disqualified from the meet. Please stay with the bar.
Finally, I want to go over a few common faults that the Referees are looking for in addition to whether you fail to hit the proper depth (Red Card) on your Squat:
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