Preparing For Your First Weightlifting Meet
Okay, so you decided to compete in your first weightlifting meet. Congratulations! You'll feel much more at ease and lift better if you know what to expect and are well-prepared. Here are a few basic tips to make this a successful event, one that leaves you wanting to do this again.
First off, set the right goals. Lifting big weights, setting personal records, and getting a medal are not the right goals. Nobody cares how much weight first-timers can lift or if they lift more than the next lifter. You goals should be to have fun, meet some new people, have fun, gain some experience, have fun, make your coach proud, have fun, lift within your current abilities, have fun, make most (if not all) of your attempts, and have fun. In that order.
The second thing to do is to sign up for the meet. Don't wait. Nothing sharpens up your training as effectively as signing your name to the registration form and sending in your check. Besides, the meet might fill up and run out of slots. Or you might not be eligible for that particular meet and it would suck to learn that fact a week before the meet! National meets in particular have qualifying totals or other prerequisites. You should not be trying to register for those meets anyway. Check the details on the registration form.
Next develop a plan to prepare for the meet. Check with your coach but the plan should contain a few basic points. Polish up your technique so you don't embarrass your coach by looking uncoached. First-timers impress the crowd with good technique, not big weights lifted sloppily. As the date for the meet approaches the training should get closer and closer to emulating meet conditions. Rep ranges should get lower, weights should be heavier. Get away from exercises that bear little resemblance to the classic lifts - in the last few days it should be just snatch, clean & jerk, and front squat. The meet will likely be on a Saturday so don't bust a gut in training on Thursday and take Friday off from training entirely.
Have a practice meet one week out from the real meet. Wear the same clothing you plan on wearing at the meet, down to the socks. You'll be surprised how freaked out people get if they can't find their favorite socks! Or when they get distracted about how their outfit looks and can't concentrate on the lifts. Even guys are prone to this, especially if they've never worn a singlet before. Don't set yourself up for a freak-out. You'll want to arrive at the meet feeling like you've been through most of this process before. Declare your opening attempts, the same openers you plan on lifting for the meet itself. Get someone to act as a head judge, have them sit in front of the lifting area, give you the "Down!" signal, and rule on your lifts. Make sure the head judge cuts you no slack, especially on press-outs and making you wait for their "Down!" signal. If you put the bar down before you get the "Down!" signal that's a no rep and you'll feel like a dork. Don't be a dork; wait for the "Down!" signal. This may all sound silly and unnecessary but this practice session with its attention to detail will help calm your nerves on meet day a lot.
Read up on the competition rules a little bit. It's not important to know what color blazers the officials are required to wear at international competitions (it's navy blue) but the basics are important. You can read the IWF rules here: http://www.iwf.net/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2013/01/IWF-TCRR-2013-2016.pdf
Rules that are especially important for first-timers to know:
USAW sanctioned meets require a USAW membership. Get yours here: http://www.teamusa.org/usa-weightlifting.aspx
Print out your membership card and remember to bring it to the meet. Put it in your wallet now.
There are clothing requirements. Wearing whatever the hell you feel like shows a certain lack of respect for your coach, the other lifters, and the meet organizers. You might be able to wear shorts and a loose t-shirt in an unsanctioned local meet but for most meets you should wear a singlet or other tight-fitting outfit. Two-piece tight-fitting outfits are now legal. Those compression shorts you own are probably fine as long as you pair them with a tight-fitting top. If you want to insist on non-regulation clothing you must get the okay from both the meet director AND your coach.
Lifting belts wider than 120mm are not allowed. Wraps or gloves or tape that cross the wrist joint are not allowed. If you wear knee sleeves or knee wraps there has to be a gap between them and the top of the socks and bottom of the singlet. Elbow wraps of any type are not allowed, except for onesies that extend past the wrist. Don't wear one of those unless you just happen to be a conservative Muslim, okay? Headgear of any type such as do-rags and ballcaps are forbidden, again with the exception for those Muslim onesies. Footgear must be "sporting gear" and cannot be higher than the ankle. Please don't wear shoes that are obviously made for running marathons.
Touching the elbows to the knees in the clean is a no-no, as is a false start on the jerk. Adjust your grip all you want prior to the jerk, just don't make it look like a false start.
Press-outs, even little ones, are not allowed. If the elbow wobbles at all that's possible grounds for a no-lift. If you are prone to pressing out the bar you might be in for a rude awakening at the meet. If this is one of your little pet problems you'd better fix it in training NOW. If you can't fix it by the time the meet comes up then set aside your ego and call for lighter weights. Don't blame the judges if all three of your jerks get turned down for a pressout. You will make your coach look like an incompetent tool if this happens to you. You have been warned.
Prior to getting the "Down!" signal the feet must finish in line with and parallel to the bar. The head judge will not give the "Down!" signal until he sees this. Wait for the "Down!" signal, count "One Mississippi" to yourself, then guide the bar down. Do not just drop the bar from overhead, that's a no-lift too.
Once you step onto the platform for the first attempt, you cannot ask to take weight off the bar if you fail. So don't bite off more than you can chew! MAKE YOUR FIRST ATTEMPTS! First-time lifters who miss their openers are much less likely to become second-time lifters. MAKE YOUR FIRST ATTEMPTS! YES THIS IS SHOUTING! MAKE YOUR OPENERS! Now is not the time for personal records.
You get only three attempts in the snatch and three attempts in the clean & jerk. You must make at least one attempt at each. You will get one minute to start your lift after the previous lifter or two minutes if you are following yourself. If you miss all three attempts at either lift, congrats -- you have just bombed out. DO NOT BOMB OUT AT YOUR FIRST MEET! It's a really bad sign. We'd like to see you again. First-timers who bomb out are rarely seen again. DO NOT BOMB OUT! YES -- SHOUTING AGAIN!
Here's what to expect on meet day:
On the day of the meet arrive a couple of hours before the start of your session. You'll have an hour to weigh in and then the rest of the time to warmup. The registration/weigh-in person will ask you to fill in a scorecard stating your opening attempts and then they'll weigh you. You can lower or raise your openers later, depending on how warmups go but once your openers are loaded on the competition barbell you will not be allowed to lower the weight.
There will be a warmup area with several platforms. Chalk will be provided. There won't be enough platforms and there won't be a lot of space. Tell your friends/coworkers/family/haters/lovers to stay out of the warmup area. Don't be shy about sharing a platform and barbell with other lifters, otherwise you won't get to warmup! Say hi to other lifters and make sure they know this is your first meet. Usually folks will go out of their way to make new lifters feel at home.
Don't wear yourself out warming up! You will ignore this advice and you will take too many warmup attempts. You will. Truth.
If you don't have a regular coach at the meet then see if someone will volunteer to help count attempts for you. If you ask most coaches will say "Yes." They're at the meet because they love coaching and lifting, not because they're making tons of money at it. So ask.
10 minutes before the first lift all lifters will be called out to the platform for introductions, which might interrupt your snatch warmups. Plan warmup lifts accordingly. Get your coach to check the scorekeeper's cards to see how many attempts there will be before your first attempt. Remember that weight is never taken off the bar, only added.
Figure about a minute or so between attempts. If, for example, your opening attempt is the 10th lowest attempt then figure you'll be opening about 8-12 minutes after the first lift of the session. Your coach's primary job at this point is to help you plan your warmups accordingly. It's also your coach's job to tell the scorekeeper how much weight to put on the bar for your next attempt. Each attempt is allowed a couple of weight changes before you must lift what's on the bar, but don't get crazy using up all of your allowed changes. Gaming the system by asking for multiple weight changes should be reserved for experienced lifters in important meets. Just lift the damn weight, huh? If you miss a lift, ask for the same weight again. As a first-timer you should not be asking for more weight after a miss, no matter how easily you should have made it the first time.
Once you have finished lifting stick around to see the rest of the lifting. It's the polite thing to do. It's also educational. And who knows? You might win an award or something! So stick around, be friendly.