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Being the strongest guy or girl in your gym is one thing, but stepping up onto a platform, in a room full of fellow competitors, strength enthusiasts and spectators is an entirely different ball game. Here’s how to make your foray into powerlifting.

So you bench press more than anyone else in your gym? Maybe your squat rivals guys 20 or 30 pounds heavier than you, and you can easily pull a triple bodyweight deadlift? If so, perhaps it's time to stop just claiming these feats of strength in a gym environment and step up onto the bigger stage by entering a powerlifting contest.

Even if you're not quite at these levels of strength however, there's nothing to stop you from hitting the powerlifting scene. The great thing about powerlifting is that it's a completely inclusive, non-judgmental sport.

Despite the fact that the notion of a powerlifting meet might conjure up images of huge behemoths of  men, or women so beefy they scare the living daylights out of you, this is far from the case. Powerlifting, especially at the beginner and local levels, draws people from every background and every ability level.  At most meets, you'll find competitors from the ages of 13 or 14, right up to men and women competing in masters categories of 60 or 70 years old. Men and women alike take to the platform to perform the squat, bench press and deadlift, and the competition is entirely amicable. While you will be watched by judges and ranked against other competitors, the only real competition you have is yourself.

All in all, powerlifting is a very friendly sport.

So that's that cleared up, what can you expect at your first powerlifting meet, and what do you need to do beforehand?

First up is to go and watch a local meet to get a feel of how the day will run, and the general atmosphere among competitors and spectators. This will let you know whether you’re ready to compete yet.

From here, moving from the gym to a competition is as easy a one, two, three. (Plus a few more steps.)

Perfect your form

You might be able to get away with half reps in the gym, where no one questions your form, but at a meet there'll be three different judges watching every lift you do. (You’ll lift nine times in total – three squats, three bench presses and three deadlifts.

For your lift to count, you must execute it perfectly. That means your squats must go below parallel (the point where your hamstrings are in line with the ground,) bench presses must be paused on your chest until the judge calls for you to press the bar back up, and your deadlift must be one smooth motion without any hitching or downward movement.

Learn the calls

On each lift, you'll have to listen to the calls from the head judge. Even if you perform the lift properly, not adhering to the calls will be classed as a failed attempt.

On squats you'll be given calls of "squat" and "rack" indicating when you can start the lift and when the judge is happy for you to re-rack the bar.

For bench, you'll be given calls of "start," "press," and "rack."

On the deadlift, it’s "start" and "down."

Get the right routine

There’s more on this later in the article.

Be prepared for the day

In your kit bag, you’ll need:

- A singlet/wrestling suit

- Knee-length socks (required for the deadlift)

- Chalk

- Baby powder (to stop the bar scraping your thighs on the deadlift)

- A weight belt (if you use one)

- Wrist wraps (as above)

- Lifting shoes (Generally flat-soled pump-like shoes or special squat shoes are recommended.)

- A plain t-shirt

- Enough food and fluids to get you through the whole day, as contests can last up to 10 hours.

Continue reading after recommendations

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