by Mike Robertson T-Nation
This year, I competed in my first powerlifting meet in over six years.
Had you asked me six years ago when my next meet was, I would've said in 4-6 months. But **** happened, and life got in the way.
My wife and I moved from Ft. Wayne to Indianapolis. I regularly pulled 14-hour days doing in-home training, and then repeated this schedule again when I opened IFAST.
We started a family. Quite simply, "life" got in the way of lifting.
Finally, at 33 years old, with two thriving businesses and a young family, I knew that if I was going to achieve my powerlifting goals there was no better time than the present.
And getting back on the platform reminded me of how important doing a meet can be.
Training vs. Working Out
I'm not the strongest guy you'll ever meet. My technique isn't perfect, and like everyone reading this, I've got things to work on. But when training for a meet, you suddenly go from "working out" to "training" with purpose.
There's no more "Ho hum, what am I going to do today? I don't really feel like squatting heavy – maybe I'll just do some arms and abs."
That's why I argue that everyone reading this could benefit from doing a powerlifting meet. Want to put on slabs of muscle? Start squatting, benching, and deadlifting heavy with regularity.
Interested in improving your sports performance? Getting stronger is a great first step for many athletes, young and old. And if your only goal is to get stronger? What better judge of your true strength levels than a powerlifting meet?
Whether it's a raw meet, single-ply, or even multi-ply, there's a federation for everyone. So here are 7 reasons why I feel a powerlifting meet should be in your future. Hopefully one (or all!) of them grabs your attention.
1. An honest critique of your squat depth.
The average gym trainee has no clue what "squatting below parallel" means.
Experienced gym veterans know that the more weight you pile on the bar, the more likely you are to start cutting depth. Eventually, your "ass-to-grass" squat becomes nothing more than a power curtsy!
When you lift in a meet, there's no choice but to squat to an appropriate depth, or else you'll be red-lighted mercilessly. If you want an honest appraisal of your squat depth, go do a meet and see what the judges have to say!
2. A truly paused bench is a different ball game!
I don't know anyone (except possibly raw powerlifters) who reports their max bench in terms of a paused bench press. Fact is, considering how hard some gym rats blast the barbell off their chests, I'm shocked more don't suffer from cracked sternums and punctured lungs!
In a powerlifting meet, the bar has to rest motionless on your chest before you get the "press" command. There's no such thing as a "touch and go" bench in a meet.
Even if you decide you never want to do a meet, at the very least run a couple of training cycles where you pause for a 1 or 2 count on your chest. I guarantee when you go back to the standard touch and go you're going to be a hell of a lot stronger!
3. The only thing worse than a paused bench is pulling after you squat.
I can't tell you how many times I've been at a powerlifting meet and heard the following:
"I don't know what happened – I pulled X more pounds in training than I did on the platform today."
I'll tell ya what happened. It's something that I've tried to explain to every young powerlifter I've ever coached. When you hit that PR deadlift in the gym, it was the first exercise you performed in your workout. You were fresh, focused, and ready to smoke a big pull.
But when you go to a meet, not only do you have to uncork three maximal effort squats, but staying rock solid when you bench can tax the hell out of your lower back as well.
Finally, chances are you've been sitting around for a while after you bench before you even start deadlifting. At my most recent meet, it was almost two hours from my last bench to the time I took my first deadlift.
Let me tell you, it's incredibly difficult to stay loose, while simultaneously staying focused, during a 2+ hour lay off!
If you want a true measure of how strong your deadlift is, go to a powerlifting meet and test it out. You might hit a PR, but don't be surprised if it feels a lot heavier than you think it should!
4. To learn and identify weaknesses.
If I learned anything in this past meet cycle, it's that there are certain things that I need to work on if I'm going to be successful in the sport. The most obvious mistake I made was switching from four training days to three, and summarily dropping my heavy lockout work on the bench.
The last three weeks of training were pure hell – I knew what my issue was but didn't have enough time to fix it!
There's a valuable lesson to be learned here, though. The only reason I discovered this limitation is because I pushed the envelope far enough to identify my weaknesses!
Here's a great quote from my good friend Matt Wenning. Matt has squatted 1196 in competition, so he knows a thing or two about training:
"You have to go up to a point where you break form to make form better. If you don't see what's wrong, how can you fix it?"
If you're serious about pushing your training to the next level, you need to push the weights to a point where technique breaks down. Then, take that information and develop a program based off those weaknesses so you can hit PR's in the future.
It's using an assessment to systematically address weaknesses and/or limitations and improve performance – and that's the truest definition of "corrective exercise" that I know.
5. Setting goals and meeting deadlines.
Perhaps the biggest benefit of doing a powerlifting meet is that you have a set deadline, a proverbial line in the sand when you're either stronger than the last time you competed, or not.
They're not pushing the meet back because your girlfriend broke up with you, your dog ran away, or you felt like taking it easy for a week or two in the gym.
A good friend of mine, Jason Wells, wrote this in his training log a while back and it's sheer gold:
"For me, once the entry form is in, my mind set changes. No more bull**** – diet, rest, and training hit a whole new level. What do I get out of the meet? Hitting a number that's legit in competition counts more than a gym number.
"Setting goals for every meet. State records, national records, and pushing myself to being the strongest I can be. Train my ass for 10 weeks, just for one day, put it all on the line.
"When I'm older and looking back, I want to feel and know that I gave it my all. First place is nice, but achieving goals I set for myself is what means the most to me."
I've always enjoyed the process of getting ready for a meet as much as I've enjoyed the meet itself. I love the idea of setting goals, and developing a game plan going forward that will allow me to get stronger.
6. The motivation of competition.
How many of you are actually training for something?
How many of you have definite, written goals?
What about a deadline for when you're going to achieve that goal?
Or a game plan to help you get from A-to-B?
Many of you reading this are former athletes. Do you remember what it was like to get on the field and smash somebody? To dominate them on the mat? To cross them over and break their ankles?
If not, it's been too damn long since you've competed and you need to get that fire back! I'm lucky because I own my own business and there's a definite competitive element to that. But there's nothing quite like competing physically against yourself or others.
If you need a competitive outlet or need to get that fire back in your belly, a powerlifting meet may be the answer.
7. Being scared and uncomfortable.
When was the last time you were scared to do something?
Similarly, when was the last time you were truly out of your comfort zone? Doing something you weren't even sure was sane or right?
If you can't remember, I can tell you one thing – you're stagnant. If you're not consistently scared and uncomfortable, you're not making progress. Period.
This is especially true when it comes to training. When was the last time you thought you might get crushed under a squat bar? Or pulled something heavy enough to remember what "heavy" really is?
Trust me, being scared and uncomfortable is a consistent trait shared by the most successful people in the world. If you want to get your training back on track, I suggest making it as uncomfortable as possible.
You'll thank me later.
The competitive sport of powerlifting may not be for everybody. I get that.
But you may be surprised to know that I initially had no intentions whatsoever of competing. I got into the sport simply because I wanted to learn better lifting technique and, in turn, make myself a better strength coach.
But that first meet changed more than just how I approach lifting – because the lessons you learn from training and competition can be carried over to nearly every aspect of your life.
Hopefully as a result of this article, some of you will take me up on the challenge and do your first meet. If you've been inspired, I'd love to read your comments in the LiveSpill!