Preparing For Your First Olympic Weightlifting Competition

If you are reading this, you are probably thinking about competing or is a new coach that may be a little anxious about taking your athletes through their first weightlifting competition. Being nervous is completely normal and to be expected as navigating a competition can be challenging. A great first competition can help set off what might become a long career within the sport. Here are some pointers to help navigate your first competition as either an athlete or a coach.

  • Have Fun!
  • Selecting Openers
  • Arrive early to check out the venue
  • Counting attempts
  • Familiarize yourself with the basic rules of the competition
  • Be nice to your fellow athletes and coaches

It’s already stressful enough being the first competition so the athlete shouldn’t worry about cutting weight or qualifying for any major competitions. The focus should just be to have a positive first competition experience. This is one of those times where focusing on the process of going through an entire weightlifting competition supersedes breaking personal records or striving for a podium spot. Aiming for a good 6/6 performance will help gather momentum for competitions to come. I heavily caution against being too ambitious the first competition since a negative experience can lead to the athlete or yourself quitting the sport all together.

Selecting Opening Attempts

Selecting openers should be very straightforward and done well beforehand. Upon registration the athlete is required to submit their opening lifts. The coach should have discussed with the athlete during registration the plan for the competition. The general rule of thumb is

  • The first attempt should be the heaviest lift the athlete can make on any given day regardless of how tired they are. It’s usually about 85-90% of their 1RM. It’s important that the first attempt not be too heavy since missing it can cause a lot of anxiety and throw off the athlete. Once a total is posted generally most beginners start to relax and enjoy the competition more.
  • The second attempt should be a challenge but still well within the athlete’s abilities. Something like 90-95% is a good place to start picking your second attempt. This should be an encouraging lift for the athlete where they start to gain confidence in their own preparation.
  • For the third and last attempt you’re allowed to try and lift a maximum or a new personal best. Given the heightened state of arousal this is a great time to push the athlete.

Arriving Early to Check Out the Venue

For first time competitors and coaches it’s always a good idea to arrive early at the venue to see the layout of the place.  Coaches should familiarize themselves with where the announcer table is and where the attempt cards will be during the competition. This will help you figure out where you need to go to declare your openers and which warm up platform would be the most convenient. Learning the layout of the facility can help the coach map out the best way to navigate easily through it once the competition starts. This can help with an efficient flow and easy first competition. Another added bonus is it allows athletes enough time to weigh in early and eat something if they prefer to. You never want to be in a rush during competition day. There is already a lot of anxiety that comes with competing, so you want everything else to run smoothly.

Counting Attempts

Counting attempts can be a bit tricky and take some getting used to. This is more of an art then a science and will differ amongst athletes and coaches. This is what I usually like to do. About 10 mins prior to the start of the lifter’s session the officials will lay out the attempt cards from which every coach in that session will huddle around the table to see the order of lifters. The lifter with the lowest opener will always go first, which makes it easy to figure out if you or your athlete is going in the beginning or the end of the session. From there, start counting how many attempts are ahead of you or your athletes before they get to your opener. Each attempt can be anywhere from 45 seconds to 2 minutes (if an athlete is following themselves or they miss an attempt) so if you count 5 lifts ahead of your lifter it can be ~4 to 10 minutes before your lifter has to go onto the platform.

You have to pace the warm ups accordingly so as to not move too quickly or too slowly. Moving too quickly through the warm up can cause fatigue to build up too quickly leaving little gas in the tank for the lifts that matter. It can also leave the lifter with too much time between their last warm up attempt and their opener, which runs the risk of getting cold. Moving too slowly can run the risk of the lifter not being warmed up enough and having too little of a gap between their last warm up weight and opening attempt which increases the likelihood of a miss. I like to start my lifters with about 1 minute and 30 seconds rest between attempts with the last warm up lift finishing about 2-3 minutes before their opening attempt on the platform. I found most of the time this provides enough rest to not allow fatigue to build, but also at a good enough pace to keep the athlete warm. It’s also important that the coach checks the attempt cards frequently as the session goes on to see how the order and lifts are changing. If there happen to be a lot of small increases or a lot of missed attempts where many lifters will follow themselves then your pacing will have to slow down to match it. Likewise, if lifters are taking large jumps and lifters aren’t wasting any time lifting the rest time between attempts will have to be shortened a little to keep up with the session. Within a competition the situation is very dynamic so both the athlete and the coach need to be adaptable.

Familiarize yourself with the rules of the competition

It sounds like common sense but being familiar with the basic rules of the competition is a must. I’ve seen many coaches or athletes get frustrated because they didn’t do their homework ahead of time and ended up with a less than ideal first competition experience. Some of the basic ones that you should know are:

-Weigh-ins start 2 hours prior to the session

-Lifters have 1 minute for their attempt

-Lifters following themselves will be given a 2 minutes clock

-If an attempt is successful the lifter will be given an automatic 1kg increase as their next attempt unless they declare something else. If the lift is unsuccessful, the lifter can choose to follow themselves or increase their weight as their next attempt.

-After a successful or failed attempt an official attempt declaration needs to be made within 30 seconds after the weight has been changed otherwise the officials will default to an automatic 1 kilogram increase for successful lifts and no change for failed lifts. No changes can be made after the 30 seconds has passed

-Lifters need to wait for the head judges down signal before they can drop the barbell otherwise the attempt will count as a failed attempt

Remembering these rules early will help move the competition along in a way that you want and for your lifter to lift the numbers that they intended.

My last piece of advice is to be polite and courteous to your fellow lifters and coaches. Being your first competition it’s in your best interest to make friends. At almost every competition except for high level international ones you are likely going to share a platform with another lifter or two. It makes a less than ideal situation easier when you’re using your “pleases” and “thank yous”. If you are a new coach or athlete it also helps to ask more experienced lifters for advice. These little tips can help your training, competition preparation, and help run a competition better. The last benefit is that it’s just plain good sportsmanship. Weightlifting like any other sport is only as good as the people that participate in it. Having respect and being generally pleasant can only further the sport, encourage a stronger community, and form new lifting relationships. You might find a great lifting buddy at your local competition. Beyond being a competition amongst lifters every competitor is there to lift more weights so be courteous and supportive of your local community.

Hopefully these little tips were helpful in calming you down for your first competition. Have fun and good luck!!

Jason Li, Exercise Science BS, USAW LVL2, Catalyst Athletics LVL1, NSCA-CPT