The Skill of COMPETITIVE Lifting


5 factors to consider when stepping out of the gym and onto the platform.

From Fitness Trainer March/April

Many say that the people who win powerlifting competitions aren’t necessarily the strongest lifters, but the best competitors. To those unfamiliar with competitive lifting, this statement doesn’t seem to make much sense—the objective of power lifting, after all, is to lift as much weight as possible. But competing well requires more than just brute strength. This article will examine some of the many factors that influence success in competition.


1. Knowing and Understanding the Rules

The most significant difference between a lifting competition and merely lifting weights in the gym is that competitions have rules.

  • In the gym, you can select whatever weights you want, take as many attempts as you want, and lift any way you want. But in competition, you only have three attempts per lift, you need to follow the referee’s commands, and you need to execute the lifts to a certain standard.
  • New lifters often under perform at meets because of one or more rule violations, costing valuable pounds on the platform. It is crucial to know the rules of your federation and practice lifting according to those rules, which brings up the next point.


2. Technical Execution of the Lifts

Consistently performing the lifts according to the standards in the rulebook, both in training and on the platform, will maximize a lifter’s chances of success.

  • Squatting to proper depth, pausing bench presses, and locking out all lifts in training will ingrain proper habits that will carry over to platform success and eliminate the chance of getting “redlighted” for rules violations.

One other important part regarding technical execution is the importance of having a consistent, repeatable setup.

  • Many novice lifters set up differently every time they go up to the bar, often not even paying attention to how they set up before they even begin the lift, which leads to wildly inconsistent performances. In contrast, the best lifters treat every set the same, whether there is no weight on the bar or it’s their third attempt. Training in the gym should be seen as an opportunity to practice technique, for optimal performance on the platform.


3. Attempt Selection

Putting the right weight on the bar is crucial. Not only does missing lifts increase your risk of injury, but in competition the only attempts that count toward your total are the ones that you make.

  • With only three attempts per lift, even a single missed attempt can be very costly. “Only” calling for 290 pounds and making the lift is much better than jumping from 280 to 300 and missing.
  • As tempting as it may be to chase other lifters or milestone numbers, lifting within your own capabilities is the best way to maximize your chances of success.


4. Making Weight

One other aspect that separates competition from gym training is the presence of weight classes.

  • While this does allow lifters of different body types to compete on a level playing field, this can present issues for many lifters, especially if they decide to compete at a lighter weight class than their normal weight.
  • Competing as close to your normal weight as possible is ideal, but some lifters do gain a competitive advantage from cutting weight. In those cases it is important to know how much weight you can cut while minimizing decreases in performance, and to try not to stray too far from that weight range.
  • Of course, if staying within cutting range requires constant dieting, it may be best to move up a weight class.


5. Competition Mindset

While this article covers many of the differences between meet environments and the gym, nothing can replace the actual experience of being at a meet.

  • Nerves, as well as the timing and flow of the meet, are among the many variables that are present but can only be managed with experience.
  • The conditions at the meet may be very different from what most people are used to at the gym. That said, everyone at the meet experiences the same conditions, but some people respond to these conditions differently from others. The ones that respond well are usually the ones who perform well.
  • On meet day, there are many variables, some of which are beyond your control. Controlling the ones that are under your control will maximize your chances of success.


Manny Prieto

Is a Registered Dietitian, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, and Competitive Powerlifter from New York City. As a powerlifter he has held a Nationally Ranked Total on Powerlifting Watch from 2013-2016 in the 60 kg/132 lb Weight Class and currently competes in the 66 kg/145 lb Weight Class where he has made multiple appearances at USA Powerlifting’s Raw National Championships. His personal records include a 170 kg/374 lb Squat, 120 kg/264 lb Bench Press, 202.5 kg/446 lb Deadlift, and 490 kg/1080 lb Total. He has also coached several of his clients to nationally ranked performances.

Instagram: @bigredmanny Twitter: @bigredmannyp Blog: