Strength Training 64. Weeks 76-78 ... novice competition review, Liverpool 2018

All novice comp photos in this post by Takiyah Daly at

My formal debut as a competitive powerlifter was at a novice competition in Liverpool in January 2018, two weeks ago, and just 10 weeks before my 50th birthday. It represented a significant milestone in my powerlifting journey and was what the previous six months of training and nutritional discipline had been about. My game plan all along had been to hit a qualifying total for the Masters 2 (-83kg) British Championships and I exceeded this by 10kg, though it did not all go as planned. I did not feel as nervous as I expected I would, but then again I was 'in the zone'. I had my focus AND I had a realistic (based on my training experience) game plan. In addition, I had a very experienced guy in my corner who fired me up, coached me through my lift attempts and ran my numbers for me. I cannot thank Darren Stafford of DJS Fitness, Stalybridge enough for this … he saw I was on my own, so offered to help me out and looked after me as if I was one of his own competitors. This took a lot of pressure off me and allowed me to focus on the lifts and he also taught me some very useful competition day tips! At the outset, my plan was to do it all by myself because that is what I am used to and how I normally operate. However, in retrospect I was very happy to have Darren on my side and would strongly recommend that any lifter have a good coach with them, especially for their first competition.

My ORIGINAL plan was to hit the Qualifying Total on each of my second lift attempts, which were planned as follows: Squat: 120kg, 130kg, 135kg; Bench: 95kg, 105kg, 110kg; Deadlift: 150kg, 160kg, 170kg … but not everything went to plan: SQUAT The opener of the first lift is probably the most important of the competition as a successful attempt boosts the confidence significantly. I felt OK walking on to the platform and was confident with the weight, but did have a couple of surprises. I am used to being able to rotate the bar when I set up, but was unable to do this on the platform set up. Nonetheless, I unracked the bar OK and stepped back to await the command … which did not come as I had expected. The problem was that I had not locked my knees out properly and the referee was waiting for me to do so. After a while she instructed me to do this and then gave the squat command. The upshot of this is that I was standing around with a weighted bar on my back for longer than I had anticipated AND the unforeseen set up issue had a minor impact on my mindset for my opener as I was musing over it as I performed the rep. Of course, this was entirely my own fault as it was a set up issue I was unaware of. I completed the opener successfully and encountered no similar problems in the following two attempts. Opener of 120kg, followed by 130kg and 135kg. Prior to the comp I was a little concerned at making depth for the heavier reps and getting the bar back up again, as I had struggled a little with this a little during training. However, my second and third attempts felt reasonably easy and I reckon I could have gone a bit heavier.

BENCH I felt confident and strong. No problem with the opener of 95kg, but I couldn't quite get the second attempt of 105kg past the sticking point. I tried the same weight for my third attempt and had the same problem. I'd had a similar problem with this once during training, though I had usually been able to hit it. Regardless, I was still in the game, having made a good first lift, but I needed to revise my planned Deadlift attempts if I still wanted to make a qualifying total on the sum of my second attempts. I really did not want to leave that total in the fate of my final lift of the day!

I had no idea I was this close to locking out on my first attempt at 105kg (above), though I was clearly suffering from fatigue in the second attempt at the same weight (below). Next time I will smash this weight!

DEADLIFT I maintained my planned 150kg opener, which went up easy, despite me waiting for a command to lift from the referee (there is no command to initiate the deadlift, beyond the 'bar is loaded' statement). I then went for 165kg to hit the qualifying total and that too felt easy, so I put in for 175kg for the final attempt. This represented a new PB lift at my current bodyweight and the last time I tried it in the gym it did not get off the floor. Again, it flew up (as you can see in the video clip) and I reckon I could have gone heavier.

Basically, some of the lifts I expected to be difficult (and potentially fail) felt quite easy, i.e. the heavier squats and heaviest deadlift, whereas others that I expected to feel relatively easy (the second bench attempt), I failed … twice! It just goes to show how competition day is somewhat different from a regular gym training day.

My final total was 405kg, which gave me a Wilks score of 273, placing me sixth in my group overall. However, I was the oldest in the 83kg group by a long shot! There were several competitors under 23-years-old and the remainder were 23-40 (most appearing to be at the lower end of this range), then there was myself turning 50 in 10 weeks from now. If I age-adjust my Wilks score accordingly it brings it up to 309.319, which would have put me in second place. The first two places were taken by seniors (who don't get any age adjustments on their Wilks); second was a total of 455kg (Wilks = 309.172), though first place was way ahead with a Wilks of 362.414 and a total of 530kg. Of course, the current third and fourth place lifters would need their Wilks adjusted also as they were in the under 23 category, but whether or not they would have ended up with a higher Wilks than me is unclear – if they were at the lower end of the age range, e.g. 19-years-old (or 20-years-old for the current third placed lifter) then they would have just pipped me at the post. However, if they were any older than this (and it is not clear from the official results) then the situation would be reversed and I would move slightly ahead of both of them. Another indicator of 'relative' achievement is how many people hit British or English Championships qualifying totals for their respective age groups. In my category of 83kg I was the only person to do this (and this was covered in the local media - here). Out of the total of 52 lifters, 15 people hit British Qualifying Totals and eight hit the slightly lower English Qualifying Totals. Regardless, everybody qualified as a competitive powerlifter and that is something to be proud of and although you compete alongside and against others, the main competition is YOURSELF (we all got new 'competition PBs'!). It is about what YOU can do and next time will be about doing it better than you did the last time. One advantage of participating in the first competition of the year is that I was very pleased, not to mention surprised, to see my name in the top 20 North West powerlifters rankings. HOWEVER, this is for the current year only and as we are only one competition in and not yet even at the end of January, there is plenty of time for me to be shunted off the bottom of this list as subsequent competitions are completed. Nonetheless, I quite like having my name there and I am certainly motivated to see it there again, but how realistic is that? In the short-term not very, but powerlifting is about longer-term goals! Based on my recent competition performance and the rankings for last year (i.e. representing a full lifting season), I would need to add another 145kg to my current competition lift total (this would equate to 550kg at -83kg) in order to stand a chance of sitting at the very bottom of the list.

Over the shorter-term, a more realistic goal would be to chase down the Masters 2 divisional records. I would need to add 60 and 70 kg to my current total in order to match the third and second places respectively, and I believe these numbers (at least the first one) are achievable in the short term. However, Dave Clifford currently holds first place and cannot be seen for dust, with a staggering 582.5kg, being 107.5kg ahead of the current second place. So, my new mid-term goal is to add 62.5kg to my competition total by the end of the year! I would envisage accomplishing this as follows: 157.5kg squat, 110kg bench, 200kg deadlift (another goal) … seems reasonable enough to me … I might even be able to hit the 70kg target too, so watch this space! Following the competition I did a deload week in the gym, then got back on with training for the next comp (which is at the end of April, with more to follow, possibly in May and/or July). I need to continue with linear progression on my deadlifts, start to drive my squat with some volume work and drive my bench press forwards. My plan for the latter is to bulk my upper body up a bit to provide a solid foundation. I have upped my calories as well as my volume, so I need to watch my leanness carefully as I don't want to do too much damage to my current physique. SOME FINAL REFLECTIONS I had a good sleep and woke up early on competition day. Even after a small but very strong coffee (300ml mug, I normally have 1000ml!) I still had around 1.5kg of bodyweight to play with ... but considered it 0.5kg to err on the safe side and account for my home scales being inaccurate! Hence, I was able to have a snack before weigh in at 12.30 just to raise my blood sugar and stop me feeling really crappy. In order to compete in the -83kg weight class, I had been on a very gradual weight cut since July (I will be writing a separate blog post on this), so for a full six-months AND had been increasing my strength at the same time. On the day I weighted in at 81.3kg. In terms of body fat % I look and feel like I am in the best shape of my life ... back in a 32" waist, down from 46-48" just a few years ago. HOWEVER, maintaining this low body fat in order to fit into the -83kg category has required a LOT of discipline and was starting to piss me off (just a little bit) towards the end stages. I looked forward to after the weigh in when I no longer needed to worry about this for a while. On competition day I ate my standard breakfast pancake consisting of: 2 full eggs, 2 egg whites, 80g oats, 1 scoop protein powder, 40g sultanas (half before weigh in, half after); sandwich (2 rounds brown bread, half tub of Tesco cheese sandwich filler) – this was more because I really like it rather than for any macro-balance considerations – I ate this immediately after weigh in; 5 Nitro-Tech Crunch protein bars, 3 bananas and 3 tiny (87 calorie) snack bars throughout the afternoon between lifting sessions. Finally, I had another cheese sandwich on the way home after the competition. I had chosen the protein bars on the basis that they had slightly more sugar in than the zero-sugar bars I normally eat. However, I was not that keen on them, so I am currently experimenting with alternatives for future comps. In addition to my morning coffee, my fluids consisted of two litres of water with BCAAs and a one litre bottle of energy drink. I found myself running out towards the end of the competition, so will take an extra litre with me next time. The following day I was really hungry and given I no longer had to worry about a weigh in, I ate what I wanted quite freely … and really enjoyed it: 3 poached eggs on 2 large crumpets; mueseli with banana and protein shake (skimmed milk); thin-based mushroom pizza; lamb curry with rice (large portion!); cake and chocolates. I chose to travel to the venue by train as it was only supposed to take 55 minutes from Manchester. However, there was a points problem on the line and the journey ended up taking 2.5 hours! Fortunately I had set off much earlier than I needed to because I wanted to watch a friend in the morning session. I was given a real run-around by the train service and was sent to several different stations in order to make connections AND given conflicting information. Under normal circumstances I am quite certain I would have been very miffed by this. I did not want to miss this comp, especially as I had to pull out of the last one due to injury. However, I was remarkably calm about it. Clearly, I was 'in the zone', and I was not about to let external factors affect that … I had the 'it is what it is' mentality and given there was nothing I could do to change the situation, it did not warrant me stressing over it (at the potential expense of my competition performance later on). I did casually mull over the potential plan B of getting a taxi to the venue if things looked like they were getting really bad, but fortunately it did not come to this. I made it just in time for weigh in, game face on!

Considering it was my first proper competition I felt remarkably calm. There were no real nerves or jelly-legs (as I had experienced when I did a deadlift charity event!). I expect there are various reasons for this, including training hard and well for the comp, having a positive affirmation statement posted on my fridge and probably most importantly, that I had volunteered at a competition as a loader and spotter just six weeks earlier. This gave me plenty of platform experience looking from the inside, out. Indeed, given that competitors are on the platform for a maximum of nine minutes, the four and a half hours or so time that I had was equivalent to more than 20 competitions, albeit I was doing something different. I would certainly recommend that all lifters volunteer at a meet as part of their novice comp preparation … it will be of great benefit to you in terms of experience and meeting people, and it will help out your local powerlifting division!

In conclusion, I thoroughly enjoyed the day. I achieved the goal I set out to, but feel there is plenty of scope for additional progress. The competition ran smoothly, the atmosphere was great and everybody seemed really friendly. It is now time to start training for the next one, where I will be looking to open at my closing lifts in this comp! Thanks for reading!