A Letter To First Time Weightlifting Competitors

    A couple of weeks ago I wrote about what it is like to be a new weightlifter and everything you feel as you go through your first year or so of training. The up’s and down’s, when you hate it and why you cannot get enough of it. In that article I didn't touch on the whirlwind craziness that is your first competition. Today that's what we will be doing, covering the thoughts you'll have, the emotions you'll experience, and some personal examples.

    So you’re about to compete at your first weightlifting competition. You're probably a mix of quite a few emotions. For those of you reading this who have competed many times times you may remember this, or you may recognize that is still happens. My goal is to let new lifters know what it's going to be like and what to expect from their own mind, not so much from the meet itself.

    We are going to cover what happens during a meet, how you’re going to feel, and what thoughts are going to go through your head: both the good and bad. In theory I could give you strategies on how to get out of the funk but that isn't why I’m writing this. This is to show you new competitions that all lifters experience some or all of these thoughts at their first meet. As you progress these same thoughts can happen years later at a lifter’s first national or international competition. So just because you’re a seasoned lifter doesn’t mean you might not see this again on a national stage. Knowing what to expect gives you the ability to catch yourself, and change your thought process for the better.

The Truth About Competition

    You hear far too often that weightlifting is just you and the bar. But when you go to a competition, no matter how stoic or philosophical you think you are, if you're a competitor you want to win. And being around your competitors in this setting can make you second guessing yourself. If you are a competitor you compete to win not to take home participation trophies. This is true of all competitors, you might not have the ability or skill to win yet, as it takes YEARS to get really good but you have the desire and the attitude necessary to win.

    I have had those thoughts where I second guess my ability, my physical redness at every meet for four years. Part was due to the team environment I was in of accepted panic, the other part was natural self doubt, and the third was spending too much time in my head.

    Personally I began to avoid this self destructive process of staying in my head by being a goof ball during this entire process, talking and joking with everyone. This keeps me calm, relaxed, and in the moment. Instead of exhausting myself, I am able to stay loose and relaxed until it is time to go out there and get after it. On a scientific level this keeps my sympathetic nervous system to a minimum so I do not burn out to fast.

    So without further nonsense from me this is what you will go through at a meet, as experienced by myself, my lifters, national medalists, and international competitors.

“Waiting In Line”

    You find out the time you are supposed to be to the meet for your weigh-ins a week or so in advance. You walk into the building and walk around aimlessly until you ask someone where you are supposed to be weighing in. But that's not the hard part of the weigh-in process although it might be embarrassing to ask where you are going.

    Mentally, standing in the weigh-in line can be one of the hardest parts of the meet for some people. You stand there with anywhere from 10-20 other lifters. Everyone is quiet and likely doing the same thing. Sizing each other up. This is where you think “Jesus everyone looks so strong” or “I’m going to look so stupid out there”. This can be the beginning of panic.

    I realized that with weightlifting, judging someone's strength or skill based on appearance is about as effective as driving a car with no steering wheel, you just set yourself up for failure. That and the fact that everyone is doing the same thing so it's common, but not helpful. Thinking about this here is a waste of your mental energy.

“Am I Going To Make Weight”

    Boom! It's your turn and you realize that because you were thinking about everyone else you forgot to worry about your weight. Until this exact second. You walk in and you're asked for your name and USAW card. You give it to them. You hop on the scale and you wait for the number to stop. Now you look. You're either under or you're over, but who cares. It's your first comp and you're probably not qualifying for nationals anyways.

    Then you're asked for your openers.

    This is the part that gets a lot of new people because they are inexperienced. You might panic and give them your best lifts ever, or you may just have to go out get them from your coach and come back. All the while being embarrassed by the whole thing thinking other lifters are judging you. They are not. No one cares, everyone is hungry and so are you.

    You leave the weigh in room and proceed to eat. Slight derailment here, if you come from Crossfit you're probably eating some healthy concoction, if you're a purebred weightlifter you're probably eating some nonsense like a steak and cheese sub, french fries, and carrot cake (the worst decision I ever made when competing incase you were curious).

“Should I Be Doing That”

    I remember my first national meet. I look across the training hall and saw someone doing hang pull triples with 130kg in the snatch. I want to be the strongest person everywhere, so guess what I did for the first time ever. Hang pull triples with 135, I only snatched 105 at the time. This was at best useless, and at worst exhausting. This nonsense likely messed up my warm ups and made me do fairly poorly at this meet. That, and the fact that  it was my second meet ever.

    After weigh-in’s you’ve probably been sitting around rolling out or eating for the last 45 minutes when you realize that some people are warming up. So you’ll ask should I warm up now? Should I be doing that thing that guy is doing (probably not. Most people don’t know how to warm up). You’ll look around the entire room and see 15 people doing 15 different things. DON’T do them. Let them warm up the way they warm up and you warm up the same way you warm up at your training hall.

Touching The Bar

    Now that you're actually warming up you grab the bar and will likely forget how it feels to snatch. You’ll do one of 2 things, go way to hard with the bar slam it into your hips and try to be as loud and fast as possible and move like shit or you'll actually have 0 thoughts and move like shit. It’s okay, it's your first meet. If you slow down you'll find your groove. I promise you that.

Finally Some Weight On The Bar

    Starting your warm ups to your opening lift. It'll feel good to get weight on the bar, and to hear that bar rattle, feet it hit the platform and hear the weights crashing. It’s therapeutic to us as weightlifters. It relaxes us to hear and see huge pulls and bars crashing to the floor.

    First rep great, second rep great, third rep it'll probably flash across your mind ‘people are watching me, I better look good’ and... a shitty lift. You might act calm, cool, and collected but 99% of the time first time lifters are in pure panic mode at this point.

    You will miss a lift in your warm ups, you'll say, “why did I do that it's so light. I hit that all of the time. Whats going on?” Nothing is wrong or going on, you're just nervous like everyone else at the meet. The beauty is you’re not alone, the worst part is you're going to feel like you are.

Warm Ups Are Almost Over

    ‘I’m not warm enough,’ ‘I’m too cold,’ ‘I need another rep,’ ‘My warm ups were shitty,’ ‘Fuck this singlet thing’ Women will think, “can they see my underwear through my singlet?” Guys will think, “my package looks tiny in this singlet!” It's a vicious mental game but to be completely honest no one cares either way.

    People are there to see you lift, and they are rooting for you to do well. Weightlifting meets are some of the nicest competitions in the world. It was weird for me for about a year or so to see everyone rooting for you, especially other competitors. But it is still a competition and you need to perform.

Walking To The Platform

    ‘Holy Shit’ ‘Everyone is looking at me’ ‘Its way to freaking quiet, can we get some music or something’ ‘Do I have enough chalk’ ‘If I leave now will anyone notice?’ I have heard all of these from lifters before. Some even from myself. All of that doesn't matter now because you're standing on the platform staring at the bar.

First Attempt

    You probably won’t remember it. It’s incredibly common for people to black out and forget what they did or how to lift. You’ll either stand up with it smile and be incredibly relieved you didn't fuck up. Or you’ll panic, rush the lift and miss it. Then you'll have to walk back to your coach wanting to explain but your coach already knows don't worry, just move on.

The Rest Of The Attempts

    If you hit the first one you'll be more relaxed now and ready to have fun. If you missed the first on you'll be pissed and might put too much pressure on yourself.

    Quick reminder here, unless your first competition is on the world stage and you're competing for the pride and strength of your nation, it really doesn't matter. Just relax, go out, and hit your lifts.

Clean & Jerk

    Good news is no matter how the warm ups and competition lifts for the snatch went, you get a second chance with the CJ. All of the same things are going to happen. Usually most of the same thoughts will happen. If you prefer the CJ then you'll have some more fun and be more relaxed. If you bombed you'll probably be stewing in self pity, but get over it. Remember unless you're representing your country, or trying to qualify for that chance, it's not a big deal.

The Meet Is Over

    You're on a high, you had a blast no matter how you did. Because the competitions are fun for weightlifters, win or lose. You are going to be highly motivated to get back in the gym the very next day and get after it.

    People will congratulate you and reminisce on the happenings of the day. You'll humor them even though all you can think of is eating everything drinking a bunch (to celebrate or to drown your sorrows).

    You get in the car head to the nearest food establishment that likely has some adult beverages. You'll sit down still chatting about the meet. You’ll order. Then out of nowhere a giant wave of fatigue will consume you as your adrenaline wears off and your body realizes it's completely exhausted. You eat your food drink your drinks and head home.

The Week After The Meet

    When you wake up the next day, you're still going to be as fatigued as you were before you slept. If you go to the gym, the bar is going to be extra heavy, moving slow, and you’ll be sore but in places you've never been sore from training.

    But because now you're a weightlifter through and through, the only thing you can think about or want to do is get back to lifting and getting better. If this is you, then congratulations you have found yourself part of a fairly small fringe community of weightlifters. No matter how skilled or strong you are, beating the crap out of yourself, failing, trying again and succeeding is exactly what we do everyday. I wouldn't trade it for a single thing.

Except for a date with Mattie Rogers.