Tatiana Kasharina of Russia at the London 2012 Olympics
As a beginner, your first weightlifting competition is a very significant milestone in your development as a weightlifter. Not only does it represent the culmination of anything from several months to over a year of hard training, it is also the first time you will put yourself forward and lift in public in front of judges and an audience against other lifters. For many people, their first competition is a rite of passage of sorts, something that truly entitles them to call themselves a weightlifter.
Regardless, the one thing that’s true for everyone is that you want to put in a good performance in your first meet and enjoy yourself. The goal should be to try and go 6 for 6 (make all 3 snatches and all 3 clean & jerks) to help set good habits for all of your future competitions but mostly you want to avoid the nightmare scenario of bombing out – that is, failing to make a total by missing all of your snatches or clean & jerks. These 7 tips for approaching for first competition will set you on the right road to feeling confident on the day and putting you in the best position to make your lifts.
#1 – Don’t stress the weigh in
It’s your first weightlifting competition. Everything is new, you’re probably nervous about making your attempts and you’re at least a little bit excited. The last thing you need at this stage is to worry about your weight as well and potentially run the risk of botching a last minute cut and ruining the competition for yourself. For the majority of lifters, it shouldn’t matter what you weigh in at – just carry on as normal, see what your weight is on the day and go and compete in that weight class. If you have to declare a weight class when registering for the competition and can’t change, round up to the next one if you’re between classes – if you weigh 88kg, register as a 94kg lifter, for example. The only exception to this should be if you have been training quite a long time but haven’t competed yet and have a chance of making a qualifying total for another event in a certain weight class.
#2 – Don’t worry about lifting less weight than anyone else
Sini Kukkonen of Finland lifts in the B session at 2014 Europeans
Many lifters put off competing for as long as possible because they don’t want to be the person who walks out first in their weight class in competition and lifts the least weight lest they become a laughing stock. This is an entirely groundless fear. Everybody has to start somewhere and, ultimately, somebody has to open the competition. There’s no shame in lifting less weight than the lifters you are competing against; ultimately by stepping on to the platform you’ve achieved much more than anyone who doesn’t have to courage to put their money where their mouth is and lift alongside their peers. The weightlifting community tends to be incredibly supportive of new lifters and the assembled crowd will be willing you on to succeed.
#3 Bring your coach
If possible, try and have your coach accompany you to your first meet (and ideally subsequent competitions as well!). They will perform several important functions on the day. Firstly, they will help to settle you down and prepare you to lift in the run up to your flight, while taking care of any admin like informing the officials of your intended openers. Secondly, they will identify the best time for you to begin warming up and coach you through your warm-up lifts to give you the best chance of making your competition attempts. They will count attempts for you once the lifting is actually in progress and work out the optimal time for you to take your final warm-ups so that you are fresh and primed when you step on to the platform. Finally, they will inform the officials of the weight for your next attempt after each lift.
While you can attempt to do this yourself it’s really not recommended – there’s more than enough for an inexperienced lifter to worry about on the day without this additional headache. If your coach can’t make it, it’s a good idea to ask around before the event to see if another coach or experienced lifter may be willing to count for you – many are happy to offer new weightlifters a helping hand once it won’t interfere with coaching their own lifters.
#4 – This is not the time to try new things
The last few weeks of training leading up to a competition and the day of the meet itself are absolutely not the time to start tinkering with how you train and how you behave outside the gym. It’s important to try and keep things familiar so that you don’t have unexpected problems to deal with on the day. If you’ve got a weird quirk in one of your lifts and it’s not going to cause you to get red-lighted, leave it; better to not take the risk of it affecting your ability to make successful attempts when there’ll be plenty of time to sort it out afterwards. Similarly, the day of a meet isn’t the time to try wearing a weightlifting belt for the first time or to wear a brand new pair of shoes or wrist wraps, nor to add something completely new to your diet. The fewer variables there are to go wrong right before the meet, the more successful you are likely to be.
#5 – Make friends in the warm-up room
The warm-up area at your first competition probably won’t be as awesome as this
Unless you’re competing in a particularly well appointed venue, you are probably going to end up sharing a bar with at least one other lifter in the warm-up room. While most lifters will be happy to share, it’s best to choose somebody at a relatively similar level to you to work in with. Time is fairly precious in the warm-up room and lifters are focused on conserving their energy for their attempts so the less loading and unloading of the bar required between each lifter’s warm-ups, the better. It’s also a good opportunity to get to know your competition and even make some friends – never underestimate the last minute confidence boost you can get from a slap on the back as you step out on to the platform.
#6 – Be conservative with your opener
The worst nightmare for any weightlifter is bombing out in competition, whether it’s your first local meet or the World Championships. As a beginner, there’s a good chance that you struggle to hit heavy weights in the 90%+ of 1RM region on a consistent basis in training and so you need to play it safe when choosing your opener. Go for a weight that you can easily hit for a triple any day you walk into the gym. While this approach may seem overly conservative, remember that the goal here is to ensure that you make your openers and total in the competition and give you the confidence to go on and make the rest of your lifts.
#7 – If in doubt, act like you made your lifts
Unless you’ve had the opportunity to do a pretty realistic mock competition as part of your final preparation for a meet, it’s highly likely that the first time you step on to the competition platform will be your first experience lifting in front of judges. While this shouldn’t affect how you approach your attempts, it is important to remember that you are probably going to get red lighted for press-outs, failing to lock out elbows, soft shoulders and elbow touches that might be given as ‘training makes’ in the gym. However, judges are only human and may occasionally make errors that can work in your favour. If you complete a lift and feel that it was a pretty marginal attempt, act like you made it. Celebrate the lift immediately without waiting for the judge’s lights to come on – it might just be enough to convince a judge who isn’t 100% how to rule that it was a good lift.
But most of all, have fun!
Ultimately, the main goal of your first weightlifting competition is to make as many lifts as you can and to have fun. For the vast majority of new lifters, everything else should secondary. In my experience, there are few greater adrenaline rushes in weightlifting than stepping out on the platform and making a successful lift in front of a crowd, nor any greater relief than when you know you’re going to total at the meet. Ideally, you will come away from your first competition feeling energised, more enthusiastic about the sport and ready to jump back into training with a new focus – outdoing your own performance in your next meet.