I think that anyone who is serious about lifting should compete in a strength-based competition. Not only does it give you a goal to work towards, but it can act as a reality check – it’s easy to think you are really strong when you train in a commercial gym surrounded by guys curling in the squat rack, but when you are up against the best in your city/state, things become a little humbling.
This is especially true for keyboard warriors who talk shit about people’s lifts on YouTube. Unless you have competed yourself, you have no right to criticise. In a similar vein, you cannot call yourself a powerlifter without actually having stepped out on a platform in front of judges. I have never competed in powerlifting, so I will never criticise someone’s powerlifting regime or competition experience.
Lifting in a formal competition is a lot different to a casual gym workout. There are certain rules and regulations that must be met, not to mention the fact you have to deal with the nerves and anxiety a competition brings. But the feeling it gives you is amazing!
Everything you do from your sleep, recovery, nutrition and training itself has a new-found purpose when you commit to a competition.
The hardest step in competing is making the initial decision to do it. I first started toying with the idea of competing in powerlifting over a year ago, but it took me months before I actually signed up for a strongwoman competition in July. I remember the night I sent my now-coach a message, shaking with nerves as I told him I wanted to sign up.
It is scary and it is does take some courage, but you really have nothing to be worried about. The strongman community in the UK – and also what I’ve seen of the powerlifting community – is one of the most supportive groups of people I’ve come across. These people become more than just your competition – they become your friends. For the past three weeks, I’ve been training with the strongest woman in the UK in my weight division. Instead of feeling useless and intimidated like I would have in the past, I am constantly striving to improve myself.
You have to remember that you are competing against yourself more than anyone else. You are striving to become a stronger, faster and better athlete.
If you are a woman based in the UK who would like to get in to strongwoman, send me an email!
If you are looking to compete, here’s what you need to decide:
Powerlifting, Strongman or Olympic lifting?
These are generally the three most common types of competition for strength. Powerlifting is based on three main lifts – the squat, bench and deadlift – while strongman is based on a variety of lifts – ranging from log pressing to atlas stones to pulling trucks – and is designed to test your absolute strength as well as your muscular endurance. Olympic lifting is based on the clean and jerk, and snatch, but I will not say much about it as I have limited experience with it. In strongman, you are only given one attempt at each event, but for Olympic lifting and powerlifting you are given three attempts at each lift.
What federation should I choose?
If you are competing in powerlifting or Olympic lifting, there will be a number of different federations in your country. It’s important to research the federation to see if it is drug-tested, raw or equipped (meaning you are able to wear special suits, shirts, etc).In the UK, strongman is not drug-tested. This means that I am going up against women who could potentially be on all kinds of drugs, and a lot of natural competitors are turned off for this reason.
What competition should I do?
Now comes the fun part of choosing a competition! With powerlifting and Olympic lifting, you generally know what you are getting, however, you can get single lift powerlifting competitions. There is a deadlift-only comp coming up in two weeks in the UK, which I briefly thought about doing.
Strongman competitions are quite variable. Some competitions are more strength- and static-based, while others are big on loading medleys and timed holds. It is very common that at least one event will change on the day, so it is important to train all strongman events as a back-up. Unlike other competitions, you have to lift the weights that the organisers set – and this can vary significantly. For example, I have seen weights range from 50 to 85kg per hand for farmers walks in my weight division. It’s important to pick a competition that has challenging weights, but not filled with events you won’t be able to complete.
By having a specific date locked in the diary, there is no getting out of it. You will be less likely to half-ass workouts knowing you have a comp looming. I would recommend picking a date which is about 12 weeks away, as that gives you enough time to effectively program while not being too far away to really motivate you.
Research upcoming events in your area, and be prepared to travel. It is often difficult to find information on strongman competitions online, which is why networking is so important.
What program is best/should I hire a coach?
I would highly recommend finding a coach to guide you through your first competition. Choose someone who has competed successfully themselves, and will handle all aspects of your programming. My coach was invaluable not only for the training itself, but also by providing mental coaching and handling all aspects of contest day including nutrition, equipment and recovery.
If you have limited money, invest in just a few sessions. A few simple tips about proper technique can add a significant amount of weight to your total.
Where should I train?
I would highly recommend finding a gym specific to your needs. If you need to practice your cleans and snatches, you need to be in a gym where you can drop the weights without getting evil glares from other members. It counts more than you know to be able to train for a powerlifting meet while surrounded by other powerlifters who are stronger than you are. It is damn hard to train for a strongman competition unless you have access to the special training implements, not to mention it is very difficult to train on your own due to the space and set-up involved.
I can’t tell you how many times someone sends me an email saying they want to do strongman but don’t have any gyms in the area. All it takes is a quick search on Google, and I can typically find 2-3 gyms within 30 minutes from almost anyone.
Strongman and powerlifting gyms are often ‘underground’ and don’t do any advertising – members are recruited by word of mouth. Many of these gyms have very basic websites, or no sites at all, but you will likely find information on forum threads. I can almost guarantee you will have a strongman gym around you – you just don’t know it! My gym is a 20 minute walk from my house and I had no idea it was there until I Googled.
What weight category should I enter?
If it is your first competition, don’t cut weight – just pick the weight division you already fit into. When I signed up for my first competition (which I later switched out of) there was only a single weight division, which I would have had to lose 5kg to compete in. Given everything I’d read about not cutting weight, this made me feel uneasy. You should not be worrying about setting records or annihilating your opponents in your first comp. You will have plenty of time in the future to worry about cutting weight, so just keep your focus on increasing strength.
What equipment do I need?
For any competition, most people wear a lifting belt and special shoes at a minimum. For strongwoman, I have four different pairs of shoes (football boots for training outside, Merrells for astro turf and pulling events, Nikes for pressing and flat Pumas for squatting and deadlifting), a lifting belt, wrist straps, deadlift straps, regular chalk and liquid chalk.
Not everyone will have an interest in signing up for a competition. My husband, for example, has absolutely no interest in competing against himself or anyone else for that matter, and that is totally fine! But, if you lift primarily for strength, I encourage you to try it at least once, as I can almost guarantee that you’ll love it. I would highly recommend going to watch a competition – you will either be bored or, hopefully, itching to get up there yourself!
Have you or would you ever consider competing in a strength competition? Why or why not?