What to Expect Competing in Your First Year Of Weightlifting
By Becca Lee
USAW Sports Performance Coach
Strength Ratio Coach and Co-Owner
Licensed Massage Therapist
Masters National Medalist
When I was a new weightlifter I was transferring over from competing in CrossFit and I had limited exposure to seasoned weightlifting competitors from which to learn from directly. Along the way, I sought out advice from others more experienced than me and got a lot of experience simply by doing. I now have several seasons of competing under my belt and have learned many lessons along the way. These lessons have further been solidified now as I coach and guide other lifters new to the sport. Over the past 3.5 years I have competed in 15 sanctioned meets (including 1 American Open, 2 National Masters Championships and 1 Pan American Masters Championships), as well as 4-5 mock meets. I am very proud of my consistent efforts, as I have totaled in all but 1 of those meets. Many people who are new to competing are excited, but may not know what to expect or even how to set realistic goals. Here are some tips that I have learned along the way and wish to share with others in order to help you to get the most out of your first year of competing in weightlifting.
#1 Process Mindset
Cultivate and instill a process mindset from the beginning. This will save you a lot of mental anxiety. Weightlifting is a very technical skill and it takes years and even decades to master. Understanding and accepting this fact early on will set you up for success. For beginners who tend to make fast progress this can be difficult to remember as you may fall into a trap of thinking you can continue to add kilos at as fast a rate as you did the first few months into weightlifting. Avoid that trap. Certainly enjoy and celebrate all of your PRs and progress but don’t expect that they will continue to flow so easily as you become more experienced. Growth takes time. An intermediate to advanced lifter will improve at a much slower pace than a beginner. Instead, focus on the process of lifting and making steady improvements over time. Here at Strength Ratio, we encourage our lifters to celebrate not just 1 rep max PRs. We highly encourage lifters to look for technique PRs, range of motion PRs, complex PRs and mindset PRs to name just a few. All of these little things will be progress markers along your journey in lifting, not solely the heaviest weight on the bar.
#2 Compete Regularly
In your first year of weightlifting we recommend that you compete regularly so you have the opportunity to learn more about yourself as a lifter. This could be in a sanctioned meet, a mock meet or just a heavy Saturday at your gym. Every meet I have ever done I have learned something about myself and my training that is extremely useful. We offer hear people say “but I am not good enough to compete yet!” If we continue to wait until we are ready or good enough, we risk never trying new things at all. Instead jump in there and get your feet wet because in doing so you will learn so much that will only further increase your readiness for the next meet. Picking a meet to work toward also helps increase a lifters motivation and consistency for getting to the gym.
#3 Build your base in training
Many new lifters think that they need to only be training the classic lifts once they decide to compete. This is a trap. As a new lifter you should focus on building a solid base in strength and power as well as training the technique of the Snatch and C&J. If you neglect the base you may be more at risk for injury due to lack of strength and or more at risk for an overuse injury from only training the classic lifts and its derivatives. Building a base also means you need to maintain an aerobic foundation. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking because you only lift that you don’t need to do cardio! Cardiovascular and aerobic health is important to maintain for lifters. The Aerobic system helps recover our Creatine Phosphate system which is used for intense and heavy lifting. In other words, easier aerobic efforts at the end of your lifting session or on your days off will contribute to your recovery so you can feel better on lifting days. Basic cardiovascular health also comes into play in a meet in two basic scenarios: 1) if you are in the position of following yourself on the platform or 2) if warm up timing goes awry and all of the sudden you have to warm up faster than you initially planned. In both these cases, doing some easy to moderate aerobic work in training won’t leave you so winded.
#4 Set Realistic Process Oriented Goals
In your first year of weightlifting your goals should not be so numbers focused. A numbers focus mindset only, can lead you down an anxiety filled path. Weightlifting is a sport of numbers and it can be easy to fall into the trap of focusing too much on your PRs and total in the beginning. First and foremost, we encourage new lifters to compete at their natural bodyweight, it simply does not make sense to be cutting weight for your first several meets of competing. This is something that can be looked at later once you have more experience and have time to focus on diet and cutting down in a healthy manner. When you are new, your first several meets can be overwhelming so we encourage lifters not to over-complicate things by adding the extra stressors of cutting weight. There is a time and a place for everything and when you are ready to test the waters and try to cut into a new weight class you will know when the time is right. Second, we encourage new lifters to focus on making competition lifts and not only on the weight on the bar. Of course we encourage you to challenge yourself, but making lifts and being consistent will set you up for success in the long run and will increase your confidence on the platform. Bombing out in your first year of competing as a new lifter is not advisable as it will only serve to discourage you and your team mates. Last but not least, have fun!! Setting a goal to enjoy competing will lay a strong foundation. What’s the point of doing something and putting so much time and effort into something if you don’t enjoy it? When you find yourself getting tense or over thinking something, make yourself smile and laugh as that is what it is all about. A smile is infectious and it will bring a better attitude not only to yourself but also to those around you!
#5 Build Community
When looking for your first meet or first couple be intentional to find and attend meets that you can do with your team and a coach (or someone designated as your coach for that meet). Weightlifting is an individual sport but it is all about community. The best lifters in the world don’t simply do it all on their own, they have a supportive community surrounding them. They have coaches, teammates, family and friends supporting them throughout the process. Finding a supportive community from which to compete from and with will make your first year in weightlifting that much better.