Participating in my second powerlifting competition

A couple of weeks ago I participated in my second (novice) powerlifting competition. I had such a fun experience last year and it feels really liberating to get stronger in the gym, so I decided to give it another go. The gym that organised the competition, Generation Fitness, had such a lovely community that I had no qualms about participating in a competition at the same venue. I don’t know if I will ever participate in a sanctioned competition—I mean, never say never 😅 But I like a bit of flexibility in my training, so currently I am not focused on being an “athlete” or participating in powerlifting at a more elite level.

I don’t train like a powerlifter year-round, and my coach Peter does change up my programming every 5 to 6 weeks, so usually I follow a hypertrophy program in between any strength training blocks. I signed up for the competition in late January, although I was aware of it a little earlier. “Fuck it, why not” was the attitude. But also, I’m the kind of person who is a nervous mess after making some of these “giant” decisions.

Last year, I had a holiday planned in January, so I had a couple of weeks without access to a gym, but this time, I guess I had time on my side. Certainly not as much time as some people might give themselves to prepare for bigger competitions, but it was alright. I think the goal is always to get stronger in general, but I was really looking at nice giant numbers for my 55–56kg (121–123lbs) self:

  • Squat goal: 100kg (previous PB 85kg)
  • Bench goal: 55kg (previous PB 47.5kg)
  • Deadlift goal: 120kg (previous PB 105kg)

I mean, a 15kg increase isn’t impossible but it’s a lot, and I’d have to work hard and probably would need more time to prepare. So we aimed for:

  • Squat (more realistic) goal: 90–95kg
  • Bench (more realistic) goal: 52.5kg
  • Deadlift (more realistic) goal: 112.5kg

Last year, I pulled a muscle doing deadlifts about four weeks out, so I wasn’t able to increase my weights week by week as the competition drew closer. I really hoped to avoid that this time, and I did. Injuries are not fun, and even minor ones are an inconvenience. My left hamstring was being a bit funky during most of my competition prep. I think it was mostly muscle soreness from regularly lifting heavy weights. It wasn’t painful when actually working out or even while I was walking and moving. It just felt cramped when I was sitting still or didn’t have my foot completely flat on the floor. It was a funny pain that came and went, so I feel like a couple of sports massages every four to six weeks did keep me in check. I really prioritised warmups and foam rolling during this prep, which was something I was lax on last time—and even generally speaking, I’m trying to be better at warming up before all my workouts.

Instead of any injury, I did get a cold, which didn’t leave me feeling too crook, but was still annoying because I got my period around the same time. The symptoms weren’t unusual. I was still able to get into the gym and hit PBs but mentally I was a little pooped. I had a lot of medical checkups that happened to be booked/organised for mid March to early April so I did my best to not let them get in the way. But once they were out of the way, I did feel relieved.

My squat and bench press were moving quite well during prep, but my deadlift didn’t feel like it was going too well. I was constantly thinking about the numbers I wanted to hit. I felt confident and strong in my bench press and I hit my PB of 47.5kg many times in the gym. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to even attempt 50kg, but we were sure I’d beat it in the competition. I was incrementally increasing the weight in my squats as the weeks went on, so I thought I was on track to at least beat my previous PB of 85kg. But things definitely started to feel more difficult as I approached that number. I attempted 85kg once in the gym, but it was a struggle. I didn’t get an opportunity to try and push past that.

I thought about deadlifting over 100kg while I was struggling with 85–90kg. I don’t know why, but it felt like the most difficult lift to nail. I don’t know if it’s because I had been doing conventional for a while beforehand (which I am awful at), or if I was struggling with some hip mobility, or needed to try mixed grip… I did try mixed grip as the weight became heavier, and it helped tremendously, but I still felt like a rookie doing it, because I was worried I’d fuck it up without much practice actually doing it. Lifting heavy weights is weird, folks. Perhaps it was just a case of the deadlift being most difficult to increase—for me personally, anyway. It was an emotional ride trying to get to that 100kg and do 6 sets of 1 rep during prep, honestly. Deadlift used to be my favourite lift but over time, it has really humbled me.

I would say that I was maybe due for a de-load a couple weeks out. My body wasn’t exactly crying for help, but it felt like I just needed a break from it all. I had a couple of days doing lighter weights then I had three days off before competition day. I think I really needed it and was definitely itching to lift. Mentally, I tried not to overthink the competition. It was just a date that I was working towards, and I was just showing up and doing the work. Naturally, I got a little bit nervous in the lead-up, but tried to remember that it was going to be challenging but fun.

The night before competition day, I went to bed earlier than usual, planning a 5:00am wakeup to allow enough time to drink coffee and mentally chill out before making the 50–60 minute drive to the venue. Thanks Nick for driving! 💕 I woke up in the middle of the night totally excited to get up and go, but not realising it wasn’t time to get up yet. I had to go back to sleep, and eventually got out of bed at 4:45am, hoping I wouldn’t be totally wrecked. I had a little snack before leaving and tried to be as calm as humanly possible on the drive there. I do wonder what it would be like if we didn’t have a long drive. What if it was around the corner or at my local gym? 😆 Would it help me be calmer, or would it actually have the opposite effect? Who knows, haha.

I weighed in at 56.05kg, which was a few hundred grams heavier than I did at home. However, all scales are built different, so whatever. I did take my shoes off but forgot to take my hoodie off, so that might have made me weigh in heavier… oops, will remember for next time. 🫣

Classic me, being a small person, I was the first person out on the platform (like I was last year), as my opening squat of 80kg was the lightest squat attempt of the day. 😆 We matched my PB of 85kg and then went for a little more.

With the bench press I decided I wanted to open strong and match my PB last year, as I felt comfortable enough with that weight after practicing in the gym. The pause at the bottom was a little longer than I was used to, so I feel like I panicked a little during my second attempt when I tried 50kg—I got two red lights because I started pressing before the command. It honestly had me doubting myself. It makes logical sense that if I can bench press 47.5kg easily then I must surely be able to bench press a bit more weight, with even a minor struggle. But getting out of the bottom of the bench is eeeeeeehhh. 😅 With that, I tried 50kg again and was able to manage far better.

My deadlifts felt yuck when I was warming up at the back. I don’t think I was running out of energy; I just felt like my body was not engaging the right muscles and was a bit tight in some places. It was the same sort of freezing-up, anxiety-ridden feeling that I might get in the gym when I have to do heavy deadlifts. Some days they just feel so hard. 🥲 Warming up with 90kg, I was feeling nervous about 95kg but on the platform it felt alright. Peter said we’d next try for my PB of 105kg and I think that for a split second I died inside. 🫠 My brain very quickly snapped some sense into the devil thought and believed I could do it. Off I went. I think I was reeling after the attempt. It felt much better than I expected. But I still had my silly doubts about whether I could pull more weight. 107.5kg next? 110kg? I really wanted Peter to choose for me because I didn’t want to make the decision. He said 110 and I just did the damn thing. Too easy. 😭

My numbers on the day were:

  • Squat:
    • 80kg ⚪⚪⚪
    • 85kg ⚪⚪⚪
    • 87.5kg ⚪⚪⚪
  • Bench press:
    • 47.5kg ⚪⚪⚪
    • 50kg ⚪🔴🔴
    • 50kg ⚪⚪⚪
  • Deadlift:
    • 95kg ⚪⚪⚪
    • 105kg ⚪⚪⚪
    • 110kg ⚪⚪⚪

Here’s a video I put together! (It’s hosted on Dropbox if the embed doesn’t work.)

It does look like I almost knocked myself out with the third bench press attempt, but I’m fine haha! To be sure I racked the weight, I slammed it into the rack with enough force that I think it bounced off. I thought in that split second that it was going to fall on me and I did have an “oh shit” moment, but another part of the rack caught it. 😅

When I picked out my hype music for the third deadlift I chose Hero by Weezer. Last year I went for a Lizzo song that was dance-like and fun, but this time I wanted something a little more fast paced. I do love that others tend to choose heavy metal or hard rock and I’ve got a few of those that I love to lift to—I even listened to more heavy music during my warmups—but on the lifting platform itself, I feel more in my element with something that leans more pop. 🤭

I had quite a bit left in the tank afterwards, especially on the squat and deadlift. I watch the videos back and the weights moved well. I have wondered if we could have pushed more, but Peter knows me well… we went for weights that I could confidently lift in a competition environment, and feel mentally good about, rather than pushing and then failing a lift and wondering if I could have lifted that weight. There was honestly barely a struggle on my squat and deadlift. 😅 I didn’t meet the lofty goals I wanted to hit, but it’s alright.

At the end of the day, I did my best, could have done a little more, but mainly showed up better than last year. I placed second, which felt like an improvement on last year’s third.I know placement can also depend on who shows up on the day, so I try to take it more as a bonus. 🥈

Four women standing on a podium at a gym, with a backdrop of the gym logo.
Congrats to all the women who participated ✊🏻
A man and woman standing and smiling, facing the camera. They have an arm around each other.
I would not have progressed this far without the help of my coach Peter 🙏🏻

When I started writing this post, I thought maybe it’ll be some time before I participate in another competition again. But a year seems like a while away, and I think I wouldn’t mind doing another one in five or six months’ time. I just had so much fun, and I am proud that I showed up stronger than last year. And again I’m grateful for GenFit for putting on such a well organised event and making everyone feel welcome. 💙

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