Risk Versus Reward: Playing It Smart on Meet Day

Going into a powerlifting meet you want to give everything you’ve got. Balancing this out with smart decision making is important.

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I’ve been preparing for a local raw powerlifting meet for the past handful of months, and this past Sunday was meet day. I’ll run you through my lifts and thoughts throughout the day. If you’re due to compete in a powerlifting meet, I hope you find something useful in here.

I slept fairly well the night before, and I didn’t seem to have any knee pain (my left knee has been complaining over the past few months). Due to complications from knee surgery, my ability to hit legal depth in the squat is always at question. I was particularly concerned as I’ve never lifted with the USA Powerlifting Federation (USAPL) before. However, during warm ups, I had one of the meet officials check me out, and he thought I’d be fine.

Due to this knee pain, I haven’t been putting in the squat volume or frequency that I’d like, so I wasn’t sure if my squat strength would be up to expectation or not. I was about to find out.

The Squat

Warm ups went well. One of the most difficult things about powerlifting, especially for beginners, is timing your warm up lifts relative to when you’ll actually come out for your first attempt. I think my last warm up was a single with 308lb, which, at the time, I thought was 286lb. My opener was 330lb, which felt lighter than expected, and resulted in three white lights.

My second attempt was 370lb, which felt fairly good, but was red lighted for depth. When I watch the video, it appears to be the same depth as the 330lb, but who knows. Judges are just people and there is always an element of subjectivity involved, so it is what it is.

This caused a bit of a dilemma. Should I take the 401lb squat I wanted for this meet and risk a miss, which would leave me credited only with my 330lb opener? Or should I repeat the 370lb, try to sink it a little deeper, and hopefully end up credited with a 370lb squat?

I chose the latter option, and I did make the lift successfully. Unfortunately I don’t have a video of that lift, but my training partners assure me it looks exactly the same as my first attempt with that same weight.

Here’s the thing about the squat: it sets the tone for the rest of the meet. If it goes well, you’ll be on fire for the bench and deadlift. If it doesn’t, you risk being a bit deflated for the rest of the competition. In my case, I was actually prepared for the possibility that I might not even be able to reach legal depth in the first place. After two attempts with 370lb I was confident that I would have had a good shot with 400lb, so I felt positive coming out of the squat round.

The squat is a scary event for me because of the restricted flexion I have in my right knee due to surgical scar tissue. I can barely get down to legal depth, but at that point my knee comes to an absolute stop. It’s like how your elbow feels when you lock it out. If I fail at the bottom and the spotters don’t react quickly enough, bad things will happen. As in, my knee will explode or something similar. So it’s always a relief for me to get through the squat portion of the meet.

The Bench Press

Again, warm ups went well. I finished up with a 220lb single that felt lighter than usual. For reference, my best bench press in training was 260lb. I opened with 242lb, which passed.

My second attempt was 253lb, and although it didn’t feel terribly heavy, I allowed the bar to drift forward a bit which caused a miss. Uggh.

Much like the squat, I now had to decide whether to take my planned 259lb, or play it safe and redo the 253lb. Again, I chose the latter option, which resulted in three whites.

The Deadlift

This is my pet lift, and I’m always excited to see what I can do in the third round. My only slight concern was that unlike some feds who use a dedicated deadlift bar (which is longer and more flexible than a standard bar), the USAPL uses the same bar for all three lifts. I wasn’t sure how that might affect my lifting, but aside from that I felt confident.

Warm ups went well. I’m always amazed at how little warming up I need for the deadlift in competitions. I think I did a few singles with 155lb, a single with 220lb, another single with 315lb, and finally a single with 363lb.

I opened with 418lb, which wasn’t quite as fast and easy as I’d like, but it went up just fine.

My second attempt was with 462lb, which was never in doubt, but it was a bit slower than I’d prefer. No worries, they’re always slower than I’d like.

After this I was pondering about taking a new competitive PR of 510lb, or playing it safer with 501lb. The latter strategy seemed to pay off on the squat and bench, so again I played it safe. I’m glad I did, since it was a bit of a grinder.

All in all, I was happy. I was most concerned about my squat, and that was perhaps my strongest lift despite the fact that I didn’t attempt 400lb. Ironically, even though I was most confident about my bench press, that ended up being my poorest lift of the meet.

As I write this today (Monday the 23rd), I’m a bit sore but feeling totally healthy, so that’s an added plus. This week will be a very unstructured and light week of training. Starting on the 30th, I’ll be switching gears a bit in terms of my training focus. I’ll tell you more about that next week, so until then, thanks for following along!

This Week’s Training

This is a summary of my two-week taper phase along with competition results. There are only a few workouts here, and nothing spectacular at all, but I just wanted to post these sessions for the sake of completeness. After these workouts, I’ve posted a competition report complete with videos.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Bodyweight: 201.8lb


  • Set 1: 45lb × 5
  • Set 2: 95lb × 5
  • Set 3: 135lb × 5
  • Set 4: 185lb × 3
  • Set 5: 225lb × 2
  • Set 6: 225lb × 2
  • Set 7: 275lb × 1
  • Set 8: 315lb × 1
  • Set 9: 345lb × 1
  • Set 10: 375lb × 1 (Video Below)
  • Set 11: 335lb × 1
  • Set 12: 315lb × 1

Monday, November 16, 2015

Bodyweight: 201.8lb


  • Set 1: 45lb × 5
  • Set 2: 45lb × 5
  • Set 3: 45lb × 5
  • Set 4: 95lb × 5
  • Set 5: 95lb × 5
  • Set 6: 135lb × 5
  • Set 7: 135lb × 3
  • Set 8: 185lb × 3
  • Set 9: 225lb × 2
  • Set 10: 275lb × 1


  • Set 1: 135lb × 3
  • Set 2: 135lb × 3
  • Set 3: 135lb × 3
  • Set 4: 225lb × 3
  • Set 5: 275lb × 1
  • Set 6: 315lb × 1

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Bodyweight: 202.8lb

Bench Press

  • Set 1: 45lb × 10
  • Set 2: 95lb × 8
  • Set 3: 135lb × 6
  • Set 4: 185lb × 4
  • Set 5: 205lb × 2
  • Set 6: 225lb × 1
  • Set 7: 240lb × 1
  • Set 8: 250lb × 1

Bicep Curl (Dumbbell)

  • Set 1: 40lb × 10
  • Set 2: 60lb × 8
  • Set 3: 60lb × 8

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