One of the great things about weightlifting is the accessibility of competition, especially more recently—with essentially no barrier to entry for local meets, anyone of any age and ability can go compete.
However, this availability of weightlifting meets doesn’t mean everyone knows what to expect, what to do and how to do it. There are rules and procedures of the competition itself that are a mystery to new lifters (and many coaches), and there are a lot of questions about how to best prepare.
This is all easier if you have an experienced coach to work with—they can guide you through the process and handle you at the competition. But if you don’t have a coach, at least locally, you can still go and get it done.
The following is a guide to preparing for and lifting in your first weightlifting competition—this is everything you’ll need to know. It doesn’t cover absolutely everything in maximal detail, because that’s not the point here, and would just be overwhelming—just know that as you gain experience, you’ll learn more than what’s here.
Registering & Basics
Simple. Check with your local or national weightlifting organization to get a schedule of upcoming meets
. Register as a member of your national federation, e.g. USA Weightlifting
Get a singlet. Yes, you need to. Yes, they look silly. Yes, most people feel weird the first time. You’ll be OK. Just remember to wear under garments if you’re going to bend over in front of anyone.
Make sure your training program
peaks for the date of your competition (unless you don’t care about being at your absolute best—there’s nothing wrong with just training through it and treating it like a heavy training day).
This means that the program will prepare you for maximum snatch and clean & jerk weights, and taper
to ensure you’re as fresh as possible.
There are a number of things you can do in the gym when getting ready for a meet that will help you be less nervous and more comfortable there. This includes things like loading your weights as they will be loaded in competition, and with collars, generally using shorter rest periods, practicing your planned warm-up progressions for the snatch and clean & jerk, and even practicing weighing in before a training session. Read more about these things and more here
Bodyweight can get to be a complicated issue as you advance in competitive weightlifting, but for your first meet in particular, keep it simple and stress-free—register for the bodyweight category
you’re naturally in, no matter how far away it may be. Later you can begin manipulating your natural weight in order to improve your competitiveness if you want.
The first thing that will happen in competition is the weigh-in—this will start 2 hours before the start time of your session, and you have 1 hour to make weight (this shouldn’t be an issue for you at your first meet). All you need to do is be present when the official calls your name to weigh in, and follow their instructions. One thing you’ll need to be prepared for is entering your opening snatch and clean & jerk weights (see Choosing Attempts below)—these can be changed later, but this will be used to create the initial lifting order for the session.
See this video to understand the athlete card:
The first thing you need to plan for is your openers
—your first snatch and clean & jerk. At this stage, this is simple: select weights you’re totally confident in making. This is your first meet—you’re not trying to make an Olympic team. Use this opportunity to get experience, learn how the process works, find out how you do mentally with competition, and have fun. That means making lifts—there’s no sense in setting yourself up for misses and disappointment and a bad day by trying for huge weights you’ve never done before.
Next, have a plan for your remaining attempts. This doesn’t need to be followed exactly—you should be ready and willing to adjust these weights based on the previous attempt—but you want to at least have an idea of what to aim for. At this stage, this is also simple like openers—take weight increases like you would in the gym. This means pretty conservative jumps, smaller in the snatch than the clean & jerk. Don’t get greedy if you smoke your opener and take a 6kg jump in the snatch for a PR and miss it.
Warming up is the trickiest part of weightlifting competition because you need to time it to set you up to take your first lift, and when that is depends on the rest of the athletes’ attempts, which are not entirely predictable. See this article to understand the process
and how your warm-up lifts need to align with the session timing.
This video will also show the process of counting attempts and keeping your warm-ups on time:
Generally speaking, do as much as you need to be warm and ready and not one bit more—it’s a common mistake for new lifters to do way too much in warm-ups for their first competitions. Spend extra time loosening up before you touch the bar, and some more time with the bar and your first weight to really get warm rather than adding more sets and reps at heavier weights—that just tires you out.
You can also consider taking your opening weight as your last warm-up lift, at least in the snatch, if you’re nervous. As you get more advanced, this is rarely a good idea, but in this early stage, it’s not going to tire you out significantly and is more likely to bolster your confidence.
Lifting Rules & Protocols
The good thing about the sport of weightlifting, is that it’s comprised overwhelmingly with friendly, helpful people. There is nearly always someone happy to help you out at your first meet, and the officials will be more interested in helping you do things right than busting you for not.
That said, a few things to know before you learn the hard way:
Most importantly, hold your lifts overhead, totally securely and with clear control, until the referees tell you to put it down. A lot of lifters who’ve only trained in the gym have bad habits of dropping their lifts immediately—no matter how good the lift was up to that point, if you drop before the down signal, it’s a no-lift.
Remember that you have 1 minute to start the lift once your name is called and the weight is loaded (and loaders are off the platform). Except in the most low-budget local meets, there will be a visible clock for you to rely on. If you’re ready as you should be when you’re called, this is plenty of time—don’t rush. Get chalk, walk to the bar, take some calming breaths, find a good focal point, then get started lifting.
No part of your body can touch the platform except your feet, and pressed-out lifts do not count. I don’t mean to single out you CrossFitters, but this has historically been a problem for you, so let me spare you the disappointment—lock your lifts out and keep them locked forcefully until you get the down signal, and if you drop to a knee… just stop. Drop the bar. Save your energy for the next attempt.
Read this article for warm-up room etiquette
. Most of it is fairly obvious—be polite, respectful and courteous—but some things are sport-specific and good to know ahead of time so you don’t start off your competitive career with a bad reputation.