Fifty women competed in the Revolution Powerlifting Syndicate (RPS) powerlifting meet in Newark, New Jersey on January 24th.
Saturday morning, six of the 50 women were in my weight class.
There was a 10 year-old girl and a 70 year-old woman in my flight.
To say the day was inspiring would be blasé.
Inspiring isn’t even half of it.
Talking with the ten year-old little powerlifting girl who was coached by her dad, watching the 70 year-old named Audrey give my friend Adam encouraging words and tips on his deadlift and cheering on my boyfriend Jordan to set a world record are just a few things that happened.
My first powerlifting meet was a whirlwind of learning, facing fears, nostalgia, inspiration and pride.
I finished third in my weight class.
Jordan set a world record lifting four times his bodyweight. It was definitely a memorable weekend.
I want to share six highlights about this meet.
1. Meet Preparation
2. Technicalities and judges
3. The lifts
4. Gymnastic ambiance
5. Varsity squad
6. Feeling the fail
But before I begin, here are my opening stats:
Weight class: 114
Squat attempt 1: 140
Bench attempt 1: 90
Deadlift attempt 1: 205
1. Meet preparation
Let’s be real, I am uber serious about fitness and strength, but my preparation for this meet specifically was not realistic nor ideal.
Technically, I completed a five week training cycle before the meet, however, the fifth week of the program was the week of the meet.
Also, within that five week time period I went skiing for 10 days.
My lifting “history” is pretty short: since September 2014 , I have been deadlifting; I have been bench pressing since October; I have been back squatting since Thanksgiving.
This is not enough time to fully develop strength and skill.
However, because I had never maxed out, I saw this meet as a chance to test my 1 rep max on all the lifts.
Another part of the preparation was making weight. I chose to register in the 114 weight class.
Considering I usually weigh around 120-122 pounds, in order to hit 114, I had to watch what I ate.
“Watching what I ate” consisted of not really changing my normal diet and avoiding festive, holiday treats.
Staying consistent with my regular diet and adding about six hours of skiing for seven consecutive days made it easy to stay light.
When I returned from skiing I spent January 2nd to January 15th (ish) making sure I didn’t overeat. I was mindful of my calories.
Then, the week prior to the meet, I cut back my calories more severely. Three days before the meet I drank my calories.
The day before weigh-ins I cut back water intake.
I made the 114 weight class, as I had hoped, and I learned a lot in the process.
I haven’t truly “watched” my caloric intake militantly in a long time.
“Cutting” for the meet was a cool experience because I got the full effect of what a lot of powerlifters go through. Many powerlifters cut weight, including Jordan. It was fun to cut weight together; we encouraged and supported each other. Accountability matters.
2. Technicalities and judges
In powerlifting there are three judges. Like gymnastics, you must make eye contact with the judges before each lift. They give you the cue to begin each lift and other cues depending on which lift you are completing.
The judges watch for several things.
The morning of the meet began with a rules briefing.
I began to nervously pick at my nails as the owner of the RPS federation, Gene, listed about twelve things you must do and twelve things not to do when squatting.
I was on edge.
Thinking back to gymnastics calmed me down.
I thought about all the body positions a gymnast must hit in ONE tumbling pass out of about FOUR in a single floor routine.
I felt like powerlifting was going to be much, much simpler.
This was just ONE lift at a time.
I got this.
The judges definitely made me nervous, but I liked it.
I liked the critical eye.
It made it more serious and more competitive. The pressure was on. I was there to perform.
The squatting cues: For the squat you must wait for the judge to yell “squat.” Then once the knees are locked the judge says “rack” and you can put the bar down.
Benching cues: On the bench, I was informed that you must have your spotter help you un-rack the bar, then the judge will say “bench.”
You must not begin to bench until the judge says so. Once he or she says “bench” you must lower it to your chest, pause with it on your chest and wait for his next command of “press.” Once you press, you must hold it with locked arms until he or she says “rack.”
Deadlift cues: For the deadlift, you walk out and make eye contact, then begin when ready.
As soon as you touch the bar you must begin within 60 seconds.
Once you pull the bar off the floor and the legs are locked, you must wait for the judge to signal you to lower it down with a hand motion. If you do so without their cue, it does not count.
Each lifter gets three “attempts.”
The goal is to begin with a lift you know you can hit as Jordan says, “at 2:00 a.m. after just waking up.”
If you miss it, you cannot go down to a lower weight, you can only re-attempt it, (IF you have attempts left).
Based on opening attempts (weight-wise) I was in the first “flight” of lifters. (I think of a “flight” sort of like a “heat” in swimming or pole-vaulting).
I was not first, thus I witnessed a few women make incorrect attempts, or technicalities prior to my lifts.
3. The lifts
Squat: My opening attempt was 140 pounds. This was my first time using a belt and I felt like a superhero with super powers.
It made me stronger, for sure.
My second attempt was 155.
Two of the judges gave me a “good lift;” one did not. The judge who said it was no good felt I did not hit depth.
“Depth” is considered when the hips are just past parallel with the knees.
My third squat attempt was 170. Boy was I nervous.
I had never had that much weight on my back.
The belt made me feel capable. I went down, came up without really grinding.
My spotter, Ton, said, “that was too easy!”
The judges said, “no lift.”
My final number was 155.
Below is my third attempt with 170 pounds on my back.
Bench: I opened with 90 pounds on the bench. I listened to the cues and did well.
Jordan assisted me with the hand-off from the rack.
My second attempt was 100 pounds. Never had I ever held 100 pounds in my hands. I listened to the cues and got it.
My third attempt was 105 (my goal). I unracked it, waited for the bench cue, benched, waited for “press,” pressed it and then racked the bar before the cue!
Thus my number was 100.
Although I did not make 105 technically count, I was not upset because I was so excited to learn I could actually bench 105 pounds!
Deadlift: On the deadlift I opened with 205. When I walked out, I tried to make sure I gave notice to the judges. I looked at all three.
One lady said, “Isn’t it funny how she comes up here and smiles at all of us before the lifts?”
I tried not to laugh. The cheerleader in me came out!
I pulled 205 conventional style and felt relieved, but nervous.
I walked off the platform thinking about how difficult 205 felt. It was stressing me out. I didn’t like that. I couldn’t stop it.
Next, I went out, (smiled), grabbed the bar and attempted 225.
I felt like it was not coming off the floor. I felt like I was pulling hard and when I tried to use my legs to push, I could no longer pull.
I tried 225 again in my third attempt. Same thing happened; it felt really tough.
I was super bummed. I am still not sure how much of it was mental and how much was from being slightly dehydrated. Either way I know I tried my best and look forward to getting stronger in time.
4. Gymnastics ambiance
I am not sure how many of you reading have ever been to a gymnastics meet. Regardless, there are several very odd similarities between gymnastics meets and powerlifting meets:
-there are several events
-individuals compete on their own
-there is a lot of one-on-one coaching going on between coach and athlete seconds before and after the athlete takes the “floor” or platform
-athletes are nervous and perform weird “isms” to amp themselves up
-lots of sportswear for sale
-the supportive “mom” is ever present
-giving eye contact to the judges before and after the performance
Unlike gymnastics, the warm-ups are entirely fluid in RPS powerlifting.
There is no timer nor rules in the warm-ups. You can warm-up in whatever attire you want and take as many warm-up sets as you desire or as many as you can accomplish before your flight begins. In gymnastics (and cheerleading for that matter), warm-ups are timed and thus, a bit more nerve racking.
5. Varsity squad
Let me being by saying that I am a novice in all senses of the word.
I am proud of the guts I had to do the meet, and thankful I had the health to actually compete. The women in my flight were remarkably strong and all the women in the morning were an inspiration.
However, I stayed the entire day because Jordan was competing in the afternoon. Interestingly enough, several women elected to lift in the afternoon.
These women were of a different, higher caliber. These women looked tough, intense and were all incredibly gorgeous.
It was like they were the Varisty team.
They all had makeup on, earrings in and curled or done-up hair in some way.
One girl opened her squat with 270 pounds.
Another girl sniffed ammonia before her deadlift.
They wore knee wraps for squatting and wrist wraps for benching. Some screamed with each lift. Others had odd mantras before or after lifts of which I can’t really describe.
They were awesome. I thought I had seen some incredible strength throughout the morning but the afternoon ladies took it to an entirely new level.
I would have driven to Newark without plans to compete just to see them, had I known they’d be there demonstrating such elite strength. They were an experience in and of themselves.
6. Feeling the fail
I am not going to lie, I was VERY upset when I missed my deadlift attempts. Really! It sucked.
However, I realized it could be a bad thing, or a good thing, depending on what I decide.
“Feeling the fail” is a saying/mantra I have recently made up for myself. It came about on my road to press the 24 kg kettlebell. In September I realized I could press the 20 kg bell (barely) the first time I had the guts to try it. However, I stayed with that bell for quite some time. I wanted so badly to be able to press the 22 kg bell and then conquer the 24 kg bell.
One day I stated aloud that I would press the 22 kg bell to fellow lifters at the place I train.
I tried and I failed.
However, I “felt” the fail.
I learned how much more “umph” or power, I needed to give, to press it overhead. Feeling that fail truly helped me. It also made me less nervous for the next time I attempted it.
Eventually I pressed the 22 kg bell. And with the 24 kg bell, I have felt the fail a few times and I KNOW that soon enough I will hit it.
But when it comes to powerlifting I am not sure I liked feeling the fail. It was not a good thing for me…or was it?
For a second the feeling of failure was discouraging. At first, I thought that the kettlebell feel the failure first strategy didn’t apply because I had deadlifted 225 before, whereas I have never pressed the 24 kg bell.
But it *does* apply.
It applies because that mindset is much more appealing and encouraging than being upset or frustrated.
This was my first meet and first time maxing out all my lifts in one setting.
Technically, I did fail on technicalities with the bench and squat– but I wish I had failed in another sense.
I wish I would have had the experienced “grinding” on my squat and bench even if it lead to failure.
These are things that will come in time as I get stronger and better at knowing what attempts to choose.
For example, watch Jordan grind through this 380 pound back squat, a personal record for him:
All in all, I did what I like to call setting “FRs,” or “first records.”
Because I am a novice the meet was full of experiences I had never had before. I had never, ever, even attempted maxing out all my lifts before this meet.
I competed to set some FRs and PRs, and in the end, I did.
I set a PR for my bench and squat. I set an FR for using a belt while deadlifting and squatting!
I went to a freaking meet for the first time!
When I first started warming up, I kept my leggings on to hide the singlet and would take off my long sleeve shirt if I was hot.
By the end of the day I was walking around in the singlet with or without a shirt over it.
I hope sharing my experience with you will inspire YOU to step outside your comfort zone and find happiness in a little competition with yourself.
Enjoy and celebrate your own strength.
If you have any further questions about my experience at a powerlifting meet, how to get started or nutrition help send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org!