My first powerlifting competition
A few weeks ago, I participated in my first powerlifting competition. I only spent about 8–10 weeks preparing, as I had done strength testing before our trip to New Zealand at the end of January, then had the holiday, and once I got back, it was time to work hard. I liken the nerves of lifting weights in front of people to the fear of public speaking—something I’ve had extensive experience in, but still gives me the shakes just before I go on stage. Then once I start speaking, the nerves slowly go away. I think the biggest similarity with speaking in front of an audience and lifting weights with an audience is that you’re performing, and at the heart of it, those people just want you to succeed.
I think powerlifting first became interesting to me simply with the notion of getting stronger. Getting strong in the three big lifts (squat, bench press, deadlift) made me feel mentally and physically good. I find the exercise enjoyable, and I do think it’s important that you do exercise that you can enjoy. Otherwise you feel like everything sucks.
I signed up for the comp earlier in the year, which was at Generation Fitness. A combination of factors—such as upcoming planned holidays, where I was at in my training, and that whole “do it scared!” thing (which, by the way, I find just a little bit cringe, because sometimes stuff is easier said than done)—made me think that if I didn’t do it in April 2023, I may never actually get around to it. Well, look, not never… but I knew that I wanted to give a competition a try, and this was an opportunity for me to bite the bullet. My coach Peter trains someone named Jess who had done powerlifting comps in the past, and Nick and I watched one of them at Generation Fitness last year. It made me want to join in. I actually borrowed Jess’s belt for this comp. 💪🏻🔥
I remember spending one evening picking out tunes to hype me up, because the competition submission form asked what song I wanted to be played as my third deadlift attempt hype-up song. I found it hilarious that the thing I was most concerned about became the deadlift song instead of the actual competition… 🤭 I ended up choosing 2 Be Loved (Am I Ready) by Lizzo. It was a good choice. I threw the rest of my options onto a playlist for my own listening pleasure. 😆
I have always had a hard time believing that I am “objectively strong”. For a long time I thought I wasn’t really strong enough to be worthy of doing a competition. Even if the goal isn’t to win. Time and time again, I’ve had people comment on my strength in the gym, or just generally speaking, but I am always filled with so much doubt. After some introspection, I realised that maybe the reason I don’t think I’m that strong is because I inadvertently compare myself to other much stronger people.
My numbers from testing in January were 80kg squat, 47.5kg bench, and 100kg deadlift, at about 54kg bodyweight. I was planning to keep my weight roughly the same. I was pretty delusional in wanting to increase all those numbers by 10kg each. Holy shit, G. I mean, it’s probably possible, but maybe not in such a short period of time, especially after I’d taken two weeks off on our holiday, so I had to get some of that strength back. Not gonna lie, this kind of training, and the fact that I also prioritise travel in my life, has slowly made me want to actually prioritise working out and maintaining some semblance of strength during my future travels. More on that another time.
Another setback was screwing up my back about 4 weeks out from the comp. I had been pushing really hard, trying to catch up so that my numbers were reasonable, and it just took a toll on my back. A chiropractor visit and a sports massage fixed me up a little, and we figured it was probably the SI joint (the one that is at the lower back and top of the buttocks) as a result of working out so intensely. But my coach Peter and I decided to skip my accessory movements and stayed at a slightly lower weight for a couple of weeks. It was a bit disappointing, but I think about how I pulled through and eventually my body came good, so I just had to listen to it.
In the competition you get three attempts at each lift, and on the day you choose what numbers you’d like to attempt. Generally it’s recommended to have your first attempt be something that you can do for at least a couple of reps, to ensure that you perform the lift well and don’t fail it. The second attempt might be a known personal best, and the third is an attempt to beat your best. Of course, this is just guidance, as you might feel differently on the day of the competition. You might not feel as strong as you would in the gym, or you might feel super geed up. 😆
I told some of my friends well in advance, and invited them to spectate. I actually felt pretty reluctant to tell my family (apart from my brother), unsure if they would care all that much. Or even really understand what the whole event was about. 😅 But they came to spectate, and I’m really thankful that they could come, even if they might not have known what to expect. On the day, I woke up just before 5:00am, maybe a little bit too nervous for my own good. I had a coffee and ate some eggs. I didn’t really have to wake up that early but I think the extra time helped me just ease into the morning. Nick drove us out west and I was very tempted to nap in the car but I found it a bit difficult. I mostly just shut my eyes and calmed my nerves for part of the way. I played Claire Rosinkranz’s music in the car—I only discovered her music recently, and she has a gentle voice that reminds me of Olivia Rodrigo. I didn’t feel like hype music in that moment, so it worked out quite well.
I ended up hitting a 85kg squat, 47.5kg bench, and 105kg deadlift, and weighed in at 54.2kg. I think they are still numbers to be proud of. I attempted a 50kg bench on my third attempt but the press movement just felt a lot more difficult than the 47.5kg. I performed the rest of the lifts well, apart from getting my nail sort of stuck on my leggings in the 105kg deadlift. I hit a couple of PBs in my squat and deadlift, but what’s more, is that I did them in an unfamiliar environment with lots of people watching (and taking pictures and videos and all that jazz). The environment was chaotic, but I mostly minded my own business and put my headphones on between my attempts, to help myself get into the zone. That was the appropriate time for the hype music.
I ended up placing third in the women’s. 🥉🤩 I was honestly a little surprised, as there were obviously other strong women competing as well. But placing isn’t really what matters. All the other lifters clearly put in the hard work to make their own personal records regardless of how they stacked up against others. Everyone is also fighting whatever battles they may have internally and during their competition prep.
The following is a short video I put together which does has the videos of me lifting. Big love to Nick for capturing them all. 💕 (I did upload them to Instagram, but it’s not easy to embed posts, what with Meta’s change in API and all that annoying stuff. If the video embed doesn’t work, here’s the Dropbox hosted link.)
The environment was supportive and the other lifters were so friendly. I believe I made friends with some of them after the comp! (Albeit online. I feel like we’re all a bunch of quiet people, maybe. I did see a meme recently about powerlifters being quiet…) It definitely made me keen to give it another shot. I actually had a really fun time, and I remember feeling far less nervous after doing my first couple of lifts. I actually did the first lift of the comp, my 75kg squat was my first attempt and the lightest weight. 🥲 I wasn’t that panicked when I did my lifts, as the people in the audience were generally too far away for me to visually focus on them, haha. It meant that I wasn’t distracted by people watching. I also made a pretty conscious effort to just stare at the referee and watch for their gestures and listen out for the calls… that made it a lot easier to focus on doing my lifts well. Your mileage may vary. 😂 *stares intently*
Since I had such a good experience, I have really been thinking about doing another competition towards the end of the year. 🙈 At the moment, though, I am on a muscle building program. Just enjoying the process. Can’t wait to train for strength again!