A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to compete in the 2015 USA Powerlifting American Open in Boston; placing 4th in the 52 kilogram weight division. This year marked the third American Open I’ve competed in, and just three years after I first touched a barbell. And I mean that literally. Just a little over three years ago I was running six days a week before suffering a stress fracture in my foot and, in desperate need of something to do instead of running, I started training with kettlebells. This quickly led me to the weight room and the rest is history.
Barely a year after I started training I decided to compete in the 2013 American Open in Philadelphia.
Going into my first competition I was very much out of my element. I realized just a few weeks before the meet (thanks to my coach and now husband) that the fabric belt I was using in training was not legal and I had to order a new belt immediately. I don’t remember exactly what my first “real” belt was but I do remember the deciding factors were A) who had Extra Small in stock and B) who could get it to my door before we left for Philly. Suffice to say the options were limited.
Arriving at the meet, I was unsure of what to expect. Being so new to powerlifting I hadn’t realized some of the nuances between federations, most notably foot position on the benchpress. I had been training with the foot tucked position common in many geared federations, but at USAPL and in the Raw category the feet need to be flat. If you have ever practiced one or the other you will know there is a huge difference between the two positions. So lesson one I learned was to read the rule book several months prior to your first competition. The second lesson was harder to learn; being overconfident will ruin you. After failing my first bench attempt for not waiting for the rack command I decided to up the weight. Hey that was an easy lift, I thought, I just forgot to wait for the rack comment. This was the wrong decision on my part, especially with being new to pausing at the bottom of the bench. I failed my second and third attempts, bombing out of the benchpress and therefore unable to even get a total at the meet. I was not alone in this fate either. I watched another woman fail on her bench attempts as well. She came back the next year and won 1st place with a 700lb total in the 52 kilo class. Somehow watching another lifter struggle; especially one who was clearly very strong, gave me some solace. The third thing I learned was that the women in powerlifting are extremely supportive of one another and everyone wants to see you succeed. So despite never receiving a total in my first competition, I learned a lot about powerlifting and enjoyed the supportive atmosphere I was surrounded with from the other lifters.
In my second competition I came in knowing what to expect and was much more pleased with my lifts. I totaled 525lb and came in 6th out of 8th, so nothing too impressive. While some may look at that score and be discouraged the fact is that I hit PRs in every lift; and really that’s what matters. Anyone who has been lifting for any period of time knows that the best person to beat is yourself, right? This year at competition, another lifter posed the question “Would you rather win a meet or get a PR?” I think this is a really important thing to think about. Winning a meet is dependent on who shows up, getting a PR is dependent on you doing something you’ve never done before. I think most people who get a little more enjoyment out of a personal best.
My training each year peaks at the USA PL American Open. In the past I have only competed once a year but this year I did a smaller local meet (bench press and deadlift only) in the middle of September. This was a nice chance to see where my 1 rep maxes were and build some confidence going into the December meet.
At USA PL American Open this year, I had really good meet. Did I win? No. But I did set some personal records and I actually ranked. I totaled 615lb and came in 4th place among the 52 kilo women. This year, as was the case the other two years I competed, the women competing had varying levels of experience. You have the first time competitors that have not been lifting long (i.e. me 3 years ago), the women who have been lifting for a while but have never competed, and the women who are coming in with years of competitions under their belt. The most striking thing is that all these women want to see all the other women succeed. Everyone is extremely supportive and this creates a great atmosphere for a competition. I cheered on the other lifters and in the videos of my lifts you can hear the other women cheering me on. This year, instead of being one of the least experience lifters, I was actually able to help/guide some of the first time competitors. Two women in particular approached me before warmups starting asking if this was my first meet. When I told them I had competed before and would be happy to share some of things I learned they were all ears. So another lesson, never be afraid to talk to people.
The warmup area for this competition was a nice size for the women (not the same can be said for the men who have much larger numbers of lifters attempting to use the same space). With the fairly small numbers of women lifting, the warmup area was large enough for everyone to use without feeling rushed. One thing I learn every year I compete, and then somehow instantly forget, is that my pound to kilo conversion calculator in my brain is not that quick! I always remember to figure out my lift attempts in kilos but ignore the warmup weights. When you are nervous and trying to be efficient in your warmups, doing math is the last thing you want to do. So as a piece of advice to others (and hopefully I remember to do this next year), figure out what you want your warmups to be and do the kilo conversions ahead of time.
Getting focused at a competition can be hard. There are lots of people around and a lot of general distractions. I feel like this is something I get better at each year. I try to take a minute or 2 before my turn on the platform to block everyone else out and visualize the lift I’m about to perform. In most competitions there is good music to pump you up and the announcers do a great job of getting the crowd to cheer for a lift. This year one thing in particular stood out, and not in a good way. It was my third lift of the squat and I was attempting 95 kilo (209.4lbs), a 6lb lifetime PR. As I walked out onto the platform I heard something and it almost instantly broke my focus. What was it? A taco bell commercial. Yes a taco bell commercial. Whatever streaming service the meet was using apparently went to commercial so my “get pumped” audio was about a burrito. So two points, 1) the organizers should have paid for commercial free Pandora and 2) I should not have even noticed the commercial. I cannot tell you a single song that played during any lift in this competition or any of my previous competitions, but I noticed the commercial because it was unexpected. If they had been blaring death metal all of a sudden I probably wouldn’t have noticed. But a Taco Bell commercial was so out of the blue that it caught my attention.
Despite losing my focus momentarily, and maybe thinking just for a second about what I wanted to eat after the competition, I was able to regain my focus and get the lift. But if I had missed that lift I would have been kicking myself for allowing such a small thing to interrupt my focus.
All in all it was a great competition; each year I add just a bit onto my total and get a little more confident. I am already setting my personal goals for the next meet; a local federation in May or June. But every year I look forward to the American Open, and next year I have my sights set on totaling over 650 pounds. Who knows? Maybe I’ll see you there. If so, come say hello (and maybe help me load my warmups!). I’ll be the one in the 3rd Attempt shirt.