Am I a real powerlifter now?

Am I a real powerlifter now?

I did it! Yesterday was my first powerlifting meet and it was awesome!

I’ve been training for this meet specifically for the last 13 weeks, with a program written for me by my coach, Ten, based on the Juggernaut peaking program, and yesterday was the culmination of all that work.

From the beginning of this training block (in October) here’s how I did (and I’m talking competition legal lifts here, not partial squats):

  • My squat went from 70kg to 90kg (gym PR, repeated at the meet)
  • My bench went from 40kg to 55kg (meet PR)
  • My deadlift went from 85kg to 105kg (meet PR)

On meet day, I ended up making 7 of my 9 attempts, PR’d on bench and deadlift and got sooo close to my goal squat that I know I can hit in training over the next cycle and for sure at my next meet. It was a grueling day (we started at 8:30 with weigh in, squats at at 11:20, bench at 3:00, deadlift just after 6pm, finishing around 7), but it was amazing all around.

Here’s a compilation of all my lifts (filmed by my ever-patient husband, Alex):

I did it! My first #powerlifting completion! So fun, so exhausting, I can’t wait to do it again! . . I made 7 of my 9 lifts, #pr on #bench and #deadlift & built up my confidence for #squat for my next meet. Why, #squats? Why do you mess with my head so much? Everything else about this day 😘😍👏 . . Thank you @tenteerachot for the awesome coaching, @guentheralex for the constant support (and filming) @thailandpowerlifting for the amazing event & @toscakilloran for cheering me on in person! . . Am I officially a powerlifter now? . . #xxfitness #redditxxfitness #powerlifter #girlswhopowerlift #girlswholift #fitness #strengthtraining #workout #training #powerliftingwomen #veganathlete #thisisfemalepowerlifting #tifp #powerlifting #competition #meet #squat #squats #deadlift #bench #benchpress #openers #pr #personalrecord #pb #personalbest #thailandpowerlifting #thailandpowerliftingalliance

A video posted by Kim Cofino (@superkimbo) on

Since I’m totally type-A, doing things like this for the first time are super stressful for me, and even though I feel like I was extremely well-prepared (thanks to Ten and my constant reading and questioning), I learned so much yesterday that I want to record everything here (both for me to remember for myself, and to share with anyone else getting ready for their first meet).

Learning to Prep

I think there were a few things in my programming that were a massive help to me. Of course, these are specific to me and my weaknesses, but I am especially impressed with what a difference they made for me:

Pause Everything

Squats: Squat depth is my enemy. I don’t really know how to bail a squat, and my gym didn’t get safety bars until about a month ago, so when the weight gets really heavy I tend to just barely hit parallel and then shoot back up in fear of having to drop it and hurt myself. (Yes, I need to work on this). One of the things that helped me the most with this mental barrier was pause squats. My first squat day of every training week was heavy pause squats. Over time I started to realize that even with increasingly heavy weight, not only could I get and stay low enough, but I could stand back up without any momentum at the bottom of the lift.

Monday is #legday: #volume #pausesquats & #deadlifts, prepping for my first #powerlifting meet in January. . I needed a lot of attention on my #squat and @tenteerachot is really helping me work on lowering with control, bracing my core & resetting each rep. I can feel my form (and confidence) improving every set! . Here’s what I did today: . 1a. Pause squat 60kg 2×10, 62kg 1×10, 64kg 1×10 1b. Face pulls (aspire 5) 4×15 . 2a. DL 72kg 1×6, 74g 1×6, 75kg 2×6 2b. Cable lat pull down (aspire 5) 3×12 . 3a. Front squat 35kg 1×15, 37kg 2×15, 39kg 1×15 . 4a. Double DB Bulgarian split squat 12.5kg 4×15 . 5a. Sled push 50kg 6EMOM . 6a. Single arm suitcase carry 28kg 4x20m (actually I have no idea how far I walked, this is a total guess) . #xxfitness #redditxxfitness #xxfitness #powerlifter #girlswhopowerlift #girlswholift #fitness #strengthtraining #workout #deadlift #squat #squats #frontsquat #training

A video posted by Kim Cofino (@superkimbo) on

Bench: I never did any other kind of bench during this training cycle except pause bench (and eccentric bench towards the end). Thank goodness. Good plan, Ten! I was so used to holding the bar before I press that it was no problem to transition into competition commands. I also think the pause in competition was significantly shorter than I had been doing during training so lifts felt lighter.

Deadlift: I need to add either deficit or pause deadlifts. We only trained deadlift once a week, concentrating on squats three times a week to build strength. My squat progressed significantly. I was having trouble hitting 70 to depth when I started with Ten in November. Now I can hit 90 without even thinking about it. I think I need to do a bit more technique work with deadlift this cycle – mine should be higher than it is.

Heavy Walk Out Holds

I have a serious mental block with squats (I’m sure it has to do with the bailing issue above). So Ten programmed heavy walk out holds towards the end of my training. Having 120kg on the bar for thirty seconds (when my max lift was 85 at the time) really helped those higher weights feel so much lighter. Next time I think I want to try pin squats with overload and moving the pin lower and lower each training…

I keep forgetting to post this video, possibly because it’s the most boring thing ever, but I am amazed at how much these have helped my #squat in such a short time… . . I’ve been doing #walkout holds for 3 sets of 30 seconds at the end of my training for the last few weeks with much heavier weight than I can actually squat. It’s made a huge difference in how heavy (actually how light) my squat weights feel. . . Here’s 100kg, 110kg & 120kg for 30 seconds each (2x speed to fit them in – and also because basically I do nothing but stand there). . . My squat 1RM was 85kg a few weeks ago, now it’s 91kg and that felt light. First meet is in less than a week. Can’t wait to see what I can lift! . . #xxfitness #redditxxfitness #powerlifter #girlswhopowerlift #girlswholift #fitness #strengthtraining #workout #training #powerliftingwomen #veganathlete #thisisfemalepowerlifting #tifp #powerlifting #pr #pb #personalrecord #personalbest #squat #squats

A video posted by Kim Cofino (@superkimbo) on

Breathing and Bracing

I realized about half way through this prep cycle that I never learned how to brace properly. I can’t believe the difference it makes when I do. I still have a lot to work on here and I don’t have any advice really, except to pay attention to it, it helps more than I thought.

Train and Travel

I had three major trips during this competition prep. One week in KL, Malaysia, two weeks in Seattle, WA, and three weeks in Western Australia (those last three weeks were the weeks leading up to competition). I have to travel for work, so I knew I would be traveling during prep, and I was a little nervous about how it would impact my training. In the end, if anything, I think it helped.

In KL, I learned that you can find a gym that suits your needs almost anywhere, you just have to plan a little bit ahead and make sure you sort yourself out as soon as possible. I did a bunch of searching before we left, found a few potential options, and then the day we arrived, checked them out and chose the one that would work best for me.

More #volume #squats today & 63kgx10x5 felt great! Kinda, sorta starting to look forward to my intensity block coming up next (with heavier weight for fewer reps) so I can see how much I can lift after all of this volume… . Lucky to have found a well-equipped gym here in #kualalumpur to #squat, #bench, and #deadlift today. Thanks @runlorna for the recommendation! . Here’s what I did: . 1a. Squat 60kg 1×10, 63kg 5×10 (5th set filmed) . 2a. Pause bench 33kg 1×10, 35kg 1×10, 1×6, 33kg 2×10, 33kg 1×8 . 3a. RDL 50kg 1×15, 53kg 3×15 3b. 1 arm half kneeling shoulder press 8kg 4×15 . 4a. SLDL 16kg 4×15 4b. Eccentric pull up 5×6 . 5a. Pendalay row 25kg 4×15 5b. Push up 4×15 . #cardiosquats #xxfitness #redditxxfitness #xxfitness #powerlifter #girlswhopowerlift #girlswholift #fitness #strengthtraining #workout #training

A video posted by Kim Cofino (@superkimbo) on

In Seattle, when I had a completely different schedule than I normally do – much longer days, long commute in the car – and much different weather (and those dark evenings), I realized that sometimes you have to switch up your training based on your revised schedule, and as long as you plan carefully, it should all work out. I trained different lifts on different days than I usually do to accommodate my schedule so that I could hit my planned numbers and had time to finish each complete training session.

In Australia, I finally learned the lesson that rest is your friend. I normally train five days a week, but because we were traveling I condensed my training and dropped a few things (with approval from Ten) so that I would only train three days a week. Even though it was my highest intensity block, I felt so much more rested and ready to train each session because I gave myself the time to take a break.

Also, because we visited several different places, I was able to train in six different gyms, which made me much more comfortable for the meet. I normally find myself gravitating towards the same squat rack in my usual gym, and this (forced) opportunity to lift in a wide variety of gyms with all different equipment actually made me feel much more comfortable competing in a gym that I’d never even seen before.

Approaching the Bar

In lots of competition videos you see people doing all sorts of fascinating movements and noises as they approach the bar. I don’t have any cool gestures, but I realized yesterday how important it is to approach the bar every rep with consistency. When there are a lot of distractions in a competition, you want to be totally focused on your lift. When you have to follow commands, you want every part of the lift to be a routine. I am not great at this either, but just paying attention (and valuing the purpose) really helped me in competition yesterday.

Practice the Commands

Sooo, lifting the weight is hard enough, right? But at the meet you have to do it exactly within the schedule, within a certain time limit (mine was 1 minute) and following the exact commands of the judges. You’ll hear in the video the judge says start, press, and rack (for bench), so you can’t start the movement, press the bar or rack the bar until s/he gives you the command. If you don’t follow the commands, even if you make the lift, you get no lift. We practiced the commands for all my training two weeks out. Even the training day before (with 50% weights) I was still messing up occasionally. I can’t imagine how I would have done without practice!

Learning to Compete

It’s You Against You

I was SO intimidated by the idea of lifting in front of other lifters. SO INTIMIDATED. Especially when I got there and saw other women warming up with 140kg (and my max goal was 95). But over the course of the day I realized (that what everyone else says is true) people are watching you, not to compare to themselves, but because they are so excited to see someone else doing the thing they love, trying their hardest, and they genuinely want to see you get your lift.

Everyone knows how stressful it is, they truly want to see each competitor do their best. Now, maybe if you’re number one in the meet there’s more going on, but for a newbie like me, this was such a wonderful and supportive environment, I really had nothing to be scared of.

Make Friends

I almost feel like the meet was more about connecting with other powerlifters in the region than about the actual competing part (again, that may be just my mindset), but it was so amazing to see people fly in from different cities in Thailand, and I think we even had some come up from Malaysia too. Everyone was so friendly and supportive, and it felt super social. Having so much down time between lifts (see more on that below) means you have tons of time to get to know the other lifters and the friends they brought along. Plus everyone is so pumped about their lifting that it has kind of a party atmosphere.

In all honesty, this was my second reason for doing the competition in the first place. Powerlifting is not too big in Thailand so I wanted to meet other (particularly female) lifters in Bangkok. That’s totally what I did!

It’s a Long Day

Update: I have since learned that time between lifts is totally normal (and obviously varies based on the size of the meet).

Oh my gosh. I may have had an inkling that these things take a long time, but I really had no idea. There were three HOURS between each lift. Three HOURS. That means it was 7 hours after my first squat attempt that I took my first deadlift attempt. I have no idea if this is normal or unusual, all I know is it’s pretty hard to sustain any sort of energy for that long.

I was so keyed up from nerves that I really didn’t relax at all even in between. I was chatting, and sometimes lifting (I tried to hit a 60kg bench because 55 felt so easy, but I didn’t get a chance to finish warming up because others needed the bench… duh), watching the other lifts, generally just trying to soak it all up.

In retrospect, I think I could have used not only some mental down time, but also some physical down time. Next time I will bring noise cancelling headphones and something comfy to rest on and try to go in a corner and just relax for a chunk of that time while I’m waiting. I think I’ll feel better – especially for deadlifts, I was complete toast by then.

Hurry Up and Wait

Update: I have since learned that the uncertain timing is totally normal too.

Along those lines, the whole timing of the event is so different from normal training. At the gym, you can take an extra few minutes rest, you can start when you’re feeling fresh, and most of all you finish your training in one session (even if you’re doing two-a-days, they’re two separate sessions). This is not that. You have to judge based on the other lifters when you should start warming up, and then once your flight gets going, you have to lift in your order – whether or not you’re ready.

For example, for every lift my warm-ups were slightly off in timing. We would be told we’re lifting in 30 minutes, so I would go warm up about 5 – 10 minutes after that (I like a leisurely 20 minute warm up), then I would be ready and we’d all be standing around (expected to be there to hear the rules) for at least 20 minutes before lifting. I don’t know if this is normal, or just a Thailand thing, but the point is, you are not in any way, shape or form, working on your own timeline. It’s much much much harder than in the gym.

This goes for making your lift too. We had about 8 women total (it was women’s open, so just one flight of women, not based on weight class), and sometimes they would get the rack set up really quickly and the previous women would lift really fast and my next attempt would be there before I knew it, other times it felt like a longer wait. Next time I will be more focused on the order of lifters in my flight so I am extra mentally prepared (like down to the minute) for my lifts.

For example, one of the problems with my third attempt at squat was that Ten showed up in between the second and third, so I was chatting with him about how I did, showing him videos, etc. The time just blew by and I wasn’t quite ready enough for that third lift. This isn’t Ten’s fault, it’s my fault for allowing myself to get distracted. I’m sure I can practice being diligent about my time, but it’s a good reminder for me to stay super focused particularly during my flight.

Choosing Your Openers

I think you need to choose your openers based on your mindset. Lots of articles I read said go for a weight you can hit for three reps, others had very specific percentage-based programming strategies. On the advice of a few friends, I decided to go with lifts that were easy for me, that I had hit many times in the gym and I knew I could make. I made this choice because it was my first competition and I didn’t know how the nerves would get me. Also because I kind of feel like an imposter – I mean, really, who am I to be competing in powerlifting?

In the end, it was the right choice for me. I nailed all my openers and had the confidence to keep going. However, I do think if I had opened with a 90kg squat (as Ten wanted me to) I would have gotten two tries at 95kg and I really think I would have made 95 on the second try. Same for bench, in the moment, I dropped my opener to 45kg because we were required to use a grip that was different than how I had trained so I had no idea how it would feel. Then I jumped to my planned opener of 50 for my second attempt. In the end, I think I could have made 60kg instead of just 55kg, and now we we’ll never know. For my next meet, I think I will take slightly bigger risks, but this was 100% right for me and what I needed, mentally, to feel confident for the next two attempts at each lift.

Trust Your Spotters

Wow! I don’t normally work with a spotter, let alone three (!), so I guess I didn’t truly appreciate how amazing they are. As we know, I’m scared of missing lifts, so I when I feel like the weight is really heavy I will stop short of parallel rather than going to depth and just trying to grind it up. Because I ended up competing second (even though I was officially number 5), I didn’t have a chance to see any of the spotters catch lifters (and they did, a lot) before I did my third attempt.

I wish I had seen more lifters fail (not because I want them to fail but because of how outstanding the spotters were). If I had seen others do it, I think I would have allowed myself to go all the way to depth on my third attempt knowing that they were so amazing and ready to catch me if I needed it. I know this is primarily a mental thing with me, but now that I’ve seen them very safely catch much heavier lifters, with significantly heavier weight, I know I won’t stop short next time.

Bring All the Things

As I mentioned, I’m type-A, so I thought I had thought of everything. I watched a million videos on what to bring, I read all sorts of lists, I carried two bags. I thought I was golden.

Buuuut, I didn’t know that the gym where the competition was held doesn’t provide water (we’re in Thailand so we can’t drink tap water). You can buy small bottles of water there, or like the actually prepared people, you could have brought a big bottle of your own water. This seems like a ridiculous scenario and like it probably wouldn’t happen in too many other places, but I actually thought about it before we left and decided against bringing water with me (or buying it on the way). My point is, I know the country, I know how water works, and I should have been prepared. You will know your setting, it might not be water that surprisingly unavailable but it could be something equally obvious in your location.

To add to the above, there was no chalk, and no baby powder, both of which I brought my own. But I definitely (definitely) expected there to be chalk available at a heavy lifting gym during a powerlifting competition. People were sharing, so it was no problem, but it’s something obvious that’s easy to prepare for in future.

Along those lines, I didn’t consider the wait time between lifts and how my sweaty, tight workout clothes (no singlet required for this meet) would feel after 12 hours of nonstop wear in a tropical climate with intense sweat, endless waiting, and then heavy lifting again. Some people had multiple changes of clothing. I don’t know if I would go that far, but let’s just say going to the bathroom (since I was drinking like crazy) a million times and having to peel off those sweaty lululemons(and worse, put them back on) every time was not fun.

I also did not consider my feet. I wear Chucks for all three lifts. My feet were hot and tired. I brought flip flops to walk home from the gym, but I didn’t think about between the lifts and wanting to relax with my shoes off. When I considered taking my shoes off and wearing flip flops for a while (going outside, taking a break, etc) the thought of putting the same socks back on again just grossed me out, so I left my Chucks on all day. I think my feet hurt the most of all my body parts today.

Moral of the story. If you’re within taxi ride distance (or car or just not flying), bring whatever you think you might want during the day.

Foooooood

I did not eat enough. I brought enough for an army (type-A, remember), but I think I was so nervous, I just wasn’t hungry. Food is fuel. I guess I forgot.

It’s About Your Mindset

I saved the most important for last! I had so much fun yesterday. Even with the waiting and the stress and the nerves, the whole day was just fun from start to finish. I think it’s because I went in with the mindset that, yes, I’m going to challenge myself to do my best, but I’m doing this first meet for fun, to see if I even like competing.

I didn’t worry about weight class (it definitely helped that it was women’s open so there was no reason to worry – for women they didn’t base the winners on weight class, just who lifted most), I didn’t know anything about what anyone else was lifting, I just went. I think I lifted the least (but form was on point) and it doesn’t bother me a bit. I lifted the heaviest I have ever lifted, that’s winning for me!

Maybe next time I will be more “serious”, but I doubt it. The serious part is my training and doing my best during each lift at the meet. The rest of the time can be fun and social and a great way to spend a little more time doing something I love with other people that love it too!

Just Do it!

If you’re thinking about competing, I hope you do! It was an amazing experience and I honestly can’t wait to do it all again!

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