So, you’ve started training for strength and decided to sign up for your first strength competition. But, to ensure your dream of competing actually becomes a reality, where should you start?
Finding a competition
Aspiring powerlifters must first choose a federation, and consider whether they want to compete in a drug-tested federation or not (I competed with the GPC, which isn’t drug-tested, not because I’m on roids but simply because the timing of the competition suited me better as did the weight categories). I competed “raw with wraps” but I would never recommend that a beginner jumps straight into equipped lifting (with suits and so on).
In the UK, you can choose between the Global Powerlifting Committee (GPC), Great Britain Powerlifting Federation (GBPF), British Powerlifting Congress (BPC), British Powerlifting Union (BPU), Britan Powerlifting Organisation (BPO) and British Drug Free Powerlifting Association (BDFPA).
The US has so many federations that I won’t list them all, but you can check out the comprehensive list here (which also lists all the worldwide feds).
For strong(wo)man, I recommend checking out the Starting Strength website, which lists most competitions not only in the US but in the entire world. The US are pretty spoilt when it comes to competition – you can find one almost every weekend.
In the UK, competitions will also be posted on Facebook groups such as Strongman Competitions in the UK, Strongwoman Events Page, The World’s Strongest Women and The Women’s Strength Training Network. Usually, you will find entry forms on the gym’s website or Facebook page.
For smaller, more local competitions (which are often better suited to beginners, as they are less publicised and therefore less intimidating), I’d suggest contacting local strongman/powerlifting gyms directly to see if they are hosting anything or know which direction to point you in. Most cities in the US and Europe have these kinds of gyms; sometimes it just takes a bit of searching to find them, as many tend to be “underground” and found through word of mouth.
Once you compete in your first competition, I can almost guarantee you will make new friends who will invite you to future events – I haven’t competed for a year, and yet I’m still invited to competitions on an almost-weekly basis!
Every strong(wo)man competition will vary in terms of events and weights, so don’t feel as though you have to agree to the first one you find. Find one that plays to your strengths but also challenges you a little.
I recommend selecting a competition that is eight to 12 weeks away. Any longer than that and you risk overtraining or talking yourself out of it, but fewer than eight weeks may not be enough time to feel adequately prepared.
If you are competing in a powerlifting meet, structure your periodisation cycle to peak at the time of competition. Save your PRs for the platform, not YouTube.
If you are competing in strong(wo)man, I recommend starting with a novice-level competition unless you’re freakishly strong. I recommend competing at a novice level first as, on the day, your nerves will be high and I can guarantee that everything will not go to plan. You may miss lifts that you have made in training, you may drop pieces of equipment, and you may even trip over your own feet.
It’s important to feel confident beforehand and know that you can complete all of the events. The last thing you need is to be struggling and grinding through every single event simply because you picked a competition with events that are out of your depth.
Moving out of the novice division (in strongman)
With all of the above said, I wouldn’t recommend doing more than two novice comps. You can do these competitions within pretty short succession (my first two competitions were only two weeks apart, but I normally recommend a gap of four to eight weeks) to become accustomed to the competition environment.
From there, move out of the novice division. Of course, open-level competitions will vary in weights and implements, so it is still possible to choose a slightly easier competition within the open division.
When you first sign up for an open-level competition, you might not be able to complete all the events listed. However, what it will do is light a fire under your butt to train hard and become stronger, quickly. You will improve at a much faster rate than if you just stuck with novice comps. Besides, your fellow competitors will not like you very much if you stick around at a novice level only to dominate the competition.
I’ve signed up for competitions which have involved certain weights for reps that, at the time of signing up, I couldn’t even complete one rep with. As someone who is no longer a beginner and therefore no longer benefitting from newbie gains, I knew it would take a lot of hard work to get me to a stage of repping what would be a new PR. But I always made it in the end, because my motivation was high: I never skipped a training session, I never had big night outs during the lead up to competitions and I even watched what I was eating more closely to ensure it wouldn’t interfere with my training.
It’s perfectly normal to go into a strong(wo)man competition not being able to make all the weights. Don’t let a high event weight prevent you from entering a competition, especially when you have time to train and haven’t factored in the adrenaline of comp day.
(If I remember correctly, this was the only event I’ve not been able to complete in competition:)
Weight cutting in powerlifting
Novice competitions in powerlifting are extremely rare. Most of the time, you will simply set targets for you to hit on comp day. Unless you are competing at a national-level competition and have scoped out the competition beforehand, most of the time powerlifting is about competing against yourself. If someone else in your weight class is attempting a 150kg deadlift but your best is 100kg, you can’t really do much about it.
Where people can go wrong in powerlifting is by trying to cut weight for your first competition. Just don’t. Similar to strong(wo)man, you will be filled with nerves during your first competition. It is highly unlikely you will be breaking any records at your very first competition, so there is literally no point in cutting weight. Even if you’re only one kilogram above the cut-off your weight class, it’s completely unnecessary to cut weight when you’re only competing against yourself.
After you have one or two competitions under your belt, you can then worry about cutting weight, qualifying for nationals and breaking world records.
Competing over the course of a year
If you are a powerlifter or non-novice strong(wo)man, I’d recommend competing a maximum of four times, but more ideally, only twice per year. This will allow you enough time to actually get stronger in your off-season and recover from heavy training cycles and the body battering that comes hand-in-hand with competing.
Have you competed in powerlifting or strong(wo)man? Is there anything else you would have liked to know before your first comp? If you haven’t competed, is there anything stopping you?