By: Doug Daniels
Newer lifters tend to have less confidence in their contest attempt than do veteran lifters. This is demonstrated when lifters take their last warm-ups with a weight very close to their opening attempt. I've even seen novice lifters take more than their openers. This is done to make sure they can do it on the platform. This results in taking what amounts to 4 attempts per lift. By the time their third attempt comes, they've spent a great deal of strength and energy. Don't think this would routinely take their last warm-up with a weight within 5 pounds of their opener and they were national caliber lifters. This is equivalent to a runner running the whole race before it actually starts, just to make sure he can make it. Don't put your money on him. Lifters must learn to use their training as a guide to what they can do at a meet. If your opener is chosen properly, there will be no doubt and the sooner this fear is shed, the sooner your lifting will improve.
An article on mistakes wouldn't be complete without writing about taking too heavy openers. This is the number one scratcher of lifters. An opener should get the lifter in the meet, not win it for him. In gambling circles, an opener should be a 'lock'. For a novice lifter, I would say take a weight you can comfortably double or triple. One of the best feelings in the world is getting that first lift in; try to experience it often. Your second attempt should be something you have a high confidence level in getting. The third attempt should be the most challenging and possibly a personal record if everything is going well. Taking a too light of a third attempt is not that great either. Although the lift was successful, you left too much weight on the platform. Choosing weights for attempts is an art that may never be completely mastered, but experience will help tremendously here. Veteran lifters make mistakes too. Some a bit too often. Perhaps they too should take a hard look at what they're trying to accomplish.
Another common rookie mistake is not knowing the rules of competition. A common one in the squat is when to rack the weight. A successful, gut busing squat can be quickly nullified by attempting to rack the weight prior the judge's signal. This also holds true for the bench rack signal. The down signal for the deadlift requires the lifter to lower the bar under control to the floor, not letting it drop from your hands crashing to the platform. Another deadlift no-no is leaning back too far at lockout. This is because the lifter is trying to satisfy the judges with a definite lockout. Leaning too far back can potentially result in bending your knees, which can mean a bad lift from an attentive judge. Lockout with your back erect and shoulders slightly back, this is all that's required for a good deadlift. Rule briefings are boring to veteran lifters but novices should attend them and pay attention. Keep the rules of competition in your mind while you're lifting. The rules are basic and simple, but stray from them and you'll be seeing RED.
Anxiety is high at any meet. The wait to lift can seem to be a long one. Maybe that's why so many lifters are warmed-up and ready to go when the preceding flight of lifters is still on their second attempts. Never mind the 10-minute break between flights. Being finished warming-up about 30 minutes before you lift isn't too desirable. Your muscles will be cold by then, which may well mean a lower lift of an injury because you are no longer warmed-up. Ideally, your warm-ups should end about 10-15 minutes before your first attempt. If you are in the first flight of lifters, your start time is determined. Add 1-2 minutes extra for every lifter in front of you. For squats, this may be a minute or 2 more. If you are in the succeeding flight, watch how long it takes to finish all the first attempts of the flight before you. If you double that time and add it to the time that flight finishes its first attempts, you have a ball park figure of when your flight is on. Add any time that may be taken between flights and add 1-2 minutes for each competitor before you in your flight. Spread your warm-ups throughout this time span for best results allowing 10-15 minutes before your attempt. Keep tabs on the flight's second and third attempts for any surprises. Don't forget to compensate for any bomb-outs as the meet progresses. This is just an estimate and not written in stone. Be ready to slow or speed up your warm-ups. Have your warm-up progression figured out in advance. Try it in a practice session a week or so prior the meet.
The other extreme is getting left in the warm-up room while your name is being called to take an attempt. You'll see some real Barry Sanders type moves from lifters rushing to get prepared to take that attempt as the seconds count down. Better off to pass on this one and regroup for your next attempt. Chances are your hurry could cause a miserable, confidence destroying effort or worse yet, an injury. Take the same weight for your second attempt and keep calm, all is not lost yet. Keep track of where the competition is. If you have a helper, have him help in this effort.
All mistakes are not just made during a competition. Some can be made in training, in particular, the week prior the competition. Many novice lifters will train too hard that last week, leaving a lot of their strength behind. I strongly suggest that your training the week before the competition not be an all out hard effort. For example, if the meet were on Saturday, take your last deadlift workout 10-14 days before, working up to your opener. Your last squat workout would be on Monday or Tuesday, again, going only up to your opener. The same goes for the last bench day on Tuesday or Wednesday. That's it for the week. 95% of your training is behind you and another tough training session will not have any positive impact on your total. Better to take attempts that confirm your strength level before the meet, which should quench the need to take those extra openers in the warm-up room before your actual meet attempts. This will also leave you rested and eager to get the job done for real. Lastly, going only to openers lowers your chance for a last minute injury. In addition, any failures this last week should alert you that something is wrong and you can make adjustments. Failures during hard training the week before the meet may be confidence shakers. We want to build confidence coming into a meet and attempts with opening weights are just what the doctor ordered.
To err is human; to succeed is great.
Making mistakes can be a great way to learn, but not the most desirable
way. I hope this article will prevent a few misnomers out there in
meetville. When you do make a mistake, learn from it and move on.
Even at higher levels of competition, mistakes happen. Keep all aspects
of powerlifting in mind. Your brains can add to your total as much
or more than the latest squat suit.