Gym Training vs. Meet Day

May 11, 2017

Gym Training vs. Meet Day

Naturally as humans, many of us have very high expectations and goals for ourselves - especially when it comes to something we’re so passionate about. Some hobbies are more subjective than others - like art. How can an artist know they’ve gotten better, when it’s a hobby left completely up to interpretation? Maybe the lines in a drawing are straighter, the mixing of paint in a watercolor piece is seamless, or the realism in a tattoo is just too good to be true.

Well…powerlifting couldn’t be any more different. Along with most other performance sports, powerlifting is almost 100% objective, and it can be daunting on those who set extremely high, and perhaps unrealistic standards for themselves. You either make your weight class, or you don’t. You squat to depth or you don’t. You lock out the deadlift, or you don’t.

You either lift the weight, or you don’t. White lights, or red lights. No in betweens. No ifs, ands, or buts.

When it comes to competitions, we set goals ahead of time for ourselves in our own heads - it’s natural. For most people I find, these goals are based on an absolute PERFECT day, which is rare in competitions, or even goals that seem like there would need to be a miracle to make happen. Coaches should be there to keep their athletes grounded and realistic, with an unbiased eye - but that’s for a whole other article. What I want to cover in this article is just a few of the many different variables that can affect your performance come game day. With that being said, let’s dive into them.

#1: Equipment

Most federations use a special bar for every one of their competitions. If you’re competing in an IPF affiliate, you’re going to be using an Eleiko, Titex, or Rogue barbell. The tensile strength on these bars are very high, and don’t have much whip to them, unless you’re squatting well above 600lbs - and if you are, well… you probably already know this. If you’re in the USPA or any of the affiliates, you’ll be using a combo of a Texas Squat Bar, Texas Power Bar, and Texas Deadlift Bar. Each of these bars has a different tensile strength, and serves different purposes that I won’t cover in this article. Other federations will use the same, or similar bars. Now if you’re in a commercial gym that uses a standard gym bar, the tensile strength is much lower. The bar will whip on squats and deadlifts with heavier weight. Believe it or not - this can help your lifts. The whip of the bar on your squat can help shoot you back up, while something like an Eleiko will not.

Another variable that can have a serious affect on your lifts is the type of bench you use. If you’re in a commercial gym, the benches will traditionally be very close to the ground, as well as slippery and narrow. This will actually be harder to train on than most competition style benches, but you may adapt to benching on that lower pad, and end up feeling strange on meet day. On the opposite end, if you’re training on a Forza bench, or a Thompson Fat Pad, you can end up higher off the ground than a competition style bench from either of the two federations I mentioned above. This can make your arch bigger, and allow more leg drive without your butt coming off the bench, and you’ll have to adapt and most likely lose lbs off your bench on meet day.

The last one that gets overlooked often, is the type of plates the federation you compete in uses, and what you use in the gym. It’s not uncommon for lifters to go to a meet, and use extremely thin kilogram plates, and have the bar feel heavier in their hands/on their back. The center mass is heavier, and again, will make the bar whip less than you’re used to if you’re using fatter gym plates.

#2: Weight Cuts

A huge part of competition in powerlifting meets is the weight classes. Bigger, more competitive meets can come down to who weighed in the lightest, so there will always be incentive to cut to try and give yourself an advantage over others. If you’re walking into your first competition ever, I STRONGLY advise you to not try to cut weight; have fun, weigh in at what you walk in at, get through the meet, and feel things out. A weight cut gone wrong can SERIOUSLY affect your total.

With that being said, there’s a smart way to do it, with minimal performance drop off. Unless you’re cutting 1-2% of your body weight at most, there will most likely be at least some performance drop off, but it’s a small price to pay for being competitive in your weight class. Ensuring you have a good method of cutting weight, whether through water manipulation, sodium manipulation, macro/calories manipulation, or a mix of all 3, as well as a proper rehydration/refeeding strategy will help ensure minimal performance drop off.

#3: Meet Day Fatigue

Sometimes, meets don’t run as quickly as intended. There can be technical issues, equipment issues, or god forbid an injury on the platform. This can lead to a longer strung out day. You come in, warm up and crush your squats, and you’re all fired up, and ready to bench, but there’s a delay. What now? You’re left ready to bench 1000lbs, but there’s not a thing you can do to speed up the meet.

The affect that a long, strung out day can have on a lifter is extremely under rated. Many people don’t have time to train heavy squats, benches, and deadlifts all in one day during their training week, and now they have a 6-8 hour day with 2 hour breaks between all the lifts; it’s exhausting mentally, and physically. You can’t combat how slow a meet runs, but you can do everything in your power to turn your nervous system down when needed, as well as staying energized. Fast acting carbs, and good protein/fat sources can help keep your energy up throughout the day, proper sodium and electrolyte intake to help keep you from cramping, and dispersing caffeine intake intelligently throughout the meet will help keep you fueled through the long day. If you’re having a long break between lifts, lay down, plug in some relaxing tunes, close your eyes and just breathe. It can make all the difference by the time deadlifts roll around.

#4: Travel Fatigue

Finding competitions at the perfect time in your area can be tough. So, many times that’ll mean traveling for a meet due to it’s convenient time, and the same goes for nationals/international events. With travel comes inevitable fatigue; whether driving, flying, or canoeing, it’ll take it’s toll. Sitting for long periods of time, walking through airports, getting used to different weather, jetlag, being in a new area - it’s all stressful on our bodies. I urge all my clients to arrive a few days to the area the competition will be held a few days ahead of time to give their body’s time to acclimate and recover. If you’re arriving in the airport 12 hours before weigh ins - you’re gonna have a rough time.

#5: Training With High Standards

Last, but by no means least - training with high standards. This is, in my opinion, is the most important thing on the list. It’s also the most controllable variable on here, so the better you do this, the better you’ll end up at your competition, even if all the other variables went horribly, horribly wrong.

You must train all 3 lifts to a high, competition standard. Walking out your squat in 2-3 steps, displaying control, locked knees, squatting to depth (hip crease below the knee), and standing up the way you started before re-racking. If you’re used to squatting to proper depth in training, it won’t be anything to worry about on meet day. Don’t be an egomaniac in training and put another plate on the bar, and cut it high to make sure you don’t fail. If it wouldn’t count in competition, it shouldn’t count in your mind while training.

Hold your bench pauses for a honest amount of time, have people call your commands, make sure your butt stays on the bench, etc. This is where most have a rough time in meets. They chase weights and pause for a millisecond, and then wonder why they fail at a meet with a long press command, or train with the rump roast flying off the bench, and claiming they’ll somehow fix it on meet day.

Lock out your deadlifts - knees locked, glutes pushed through, and shoulders back. Don’t ramp the weight on your quads, and make sure you hold your lockout for ample time. If your grip is an issue, address it before meet day, so you don’t drop your last deadlift.

Again, these are the most controllable variables. Train like you’re in a high level competition every rep, and the competition will feel like training. Simple theory, but hard to follow for many.

Varying Rules

Here’s the rulebooks for both the USPA, and the IPF to ensure you know all the technical rules of whichever federation you may decide to compete in. Again, there’s other federations, but these two are the most popular and most recognized in the United States.



With all this being said, make sure you take all of these factors into consideration before you plan out a crazy perfect day.


  • Open light: 3-4RM is a good standard to use. Go in confident, knowing you can crush this, and build some good momentum and confidence moving forward. A slow opener can set you up for some rough next attempts.
  • Have multiple plans: I give a Plan A, Plan B, and occasionally a Plan C to my lifters for meet day. This way, if something goes wrong, the lifter isn’t left freaking out not knowing what to do for their next attempts.
  • Take what’s there: Don’t chase numbers, and don’t go for something you have close to no chance of hitting. Build your total by making attempts, and keeping a little bit in the tank if you can for the next lift. This’ll save your energy well and build your total to it’s highest potential.
  • Get a handler: Someone who’ll keep track of when you take warm ups, picking your attempts, loading the bar for you, and making sure your only job is lifting the weights.
Competing should be fun, and you should always strive to progress, but don’t get too overzealous about numbers. This leads to disappointment in performance, even when we’re making immense progress. Believe me when I tell you this has happened to probably 99% of lifters, myself included. Be happy with progress, and forget the coulda shoulda woulda. Things rarely go 100% as planned, but you’ll set yourself up for the best day you can by knowing you how to combat the things that go wrong. There’s always another competition, and there’s always room to improve. Be smart, and again - HAVE FUN.

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