We all know that lifting in a contest is a lot different than lifting in the gym. For one thing, we must perform all 3 lifts in one day. We also have to please the judges. These and many other variables exist that make the actual competition much different than gym lifting. The problem for the most new lifters is to prepare adequately for their initial meets. The best way I know of is to have a 'dress rehearsal'.
What I mean by a dress rehearsal is to set aside one training day 10-14 days prior to the contest to have a practice meet in the gym with your training partners who will also be competing. The goal of this session is to, as closely as possible, simulate meet conditions. The experience garnered here is potentially invaluable in actual competition.
First, performing this dress rehearsal 10-14 days prior to the contest is necessary to adequately recover from the practice session. It will still allow about one more week of moderate workouts to brush up for the meet. I also suggest take two days off prior to this session so you can lift reasonably fresh.
As I mentioned earlier, you should try to simulate actual meet conditions as much as possible. This includes taking the same warm-ups you plan to take in the contest and using the same supportive gear. Of course, start with the squat and finish with the deadlift. At most meets, your actual attempts can come about 20-30 minutes apart so I would suggest mimicking this also. This presents the challenge of keeping warm and focused between rounds in competition.
It is important to have someone knowledgeable actually judge your attempts. You can take turns judging while the others are spotting. If you can find an experienced lifter who is not taking part in this rehearsal to act as judge, all the better. Treat a missed attempt just as you would treat one in a contest. Everyone gets only three attempts at each lift. Spotting is critical, as you will all be lifting heavy weights. It will also make you appreciate the spotters more at contests. After finishing the three attempts for each lift, take a break of about 15 to 30 minutes and start warming up for the next lift. You can limit your attempts to two if you think you are in good shape for the meet or to reduce the chance of overtraining of injury.
A friendly competition can actually be run. Compare your results to your best previous training or competition lifts. The one who compares the best to these benchmarks will be the 'best lifter'. That way, even the novice lifters can raise their confidence levels and 'win'.
It is not critical for you to max out during this practice session. You don't want to risk injury or burnout this close to the meet. Your goal should be to gain a feel of where you stand in terms of overall contest readiness. Don't forget to allow for any weight loss you may still need to make your intended weight class. This can affect your performance at the actual meet. A few lost pounds between the dress rehearsal and the meet itself can impact your lifting measurably, so be sure to take this in account when choosing your contest attempts, especially openers.
For the more experienced lifter, practice sessions may not be as desirable as for newer, less experienced lifters. They should have a better idea of where they are in terms of contest readiness. They also should know what to expect in terms of rules. This is also a good time to become familiar with the rules of the competition you are training for. Try to obtain a current rulebook for that organization if there is doubt. Go over it at the practice session and execute your lifts under their guidelines.
I think that this 'dress rehearsal' can be
of value to many lifters. A lot can be learned about your contest
preparations before the actual competition itself. Your supportive
gear, warm-up procedure, attempt selection, technique, and endurance can
all be tested quite thoroughly in one day. Of course, the next day
or two you may be quite sore. Take a few days off following and then
take your last few workouts, only going as high as openers. This
will assure you that you are not burned for the actual day of competition.
This session is also a good time to take your last deadlift for the cycle.
You should allow 10-14 days between your last deadlift and the meet itself.
Again, I think this practice session can be valuable to all lifters at
various times over their careers, not just novice lifters. A dress
rehearsal can also be of value when there is a long period between meets
to keep your competitive juices flowing. Remember to simulate actual meet
conditions as much as possible. This can also work for one or two-lift
meets. Don't risk injury or burnout by pushing too hard, a 90-95% effort
should give you the feedback you need to perform well at the meet.
Give each other feedback too about technique and optimum attempt selection.
This would be a good opportunity to use a video camera to tape execution
of the your lifts for reviewing later. Powerlifters can gain as much from
'dress rehearsals' as actors, so give thought to having one before your
next big meet.