I’m sure I’m not alone among coaches when I say that one of the most frequent questions I get is “how good do you have to be to compete?” or it’s close relative “I’ll compete when I’m good enough”.
People are understandably nervous about taking to the platform and looking silly in the company of a load of elite lifters. Luckily, once you take the first step into competitive lifting you soon realise that this isn’t actually what it’s like. Most domestic competitions are filled with enthusiastic weightlifters covering a wide spectrum of talent. Once you qualify for national championships you will be in the company of very good lifters but that’s what the qualifying totals are for, if you’re there you deserve to be.
I also think beginners tend to have a different view to experienced lifters, coaches and spectators on what’s “good” and what’s not. Beginners tend to focus on the weight on the bar. This makes sense as that’s what the sport is contested on but, in general, it’s not what weightlifting aficionado’s look at when watching a novice or improving lifter. They’re more interested in technical ability and effort. A lifter with reasonable technique straining every sinew to clean & jerk 80kg is much more impressive to those who have been in the game for a while than a very strong person clean & jerking 100kg in terrible style. Neither lifter is going to set the world alight with the poundages they’re moving so a knowledgeable weightlifting fan will be looking at potential and how close to their potential they’re performing. Personally, I love seeing a lifter get a lift which is obviously pushing the boundaries of what they’re capable of. The actual weight on the bar isn’t that much of an issue until you get to national record standards.
So are you good enough to compete? If you can perform the lifts in good style (doesn’t have to be perfect) and be passed by a referee then yes, you’re good enough. Start out with club championships, Lifting League matches (this competition was set up to give competition experience to beginner and improving weightlifters) and the smaller open competitions. I advise my lifters that to feel comfortable competing in a regional championships you should probably be snatching bodyweight and clean & jerking about bodyweight and a quarter as this level is where it starts to get more serious. In London & South East region there are now qualifying totals for the regional championships so the decision is made for you.
Don’t leave it too long either. Competing is a skill which you should develop at the same time as you’re developing your strength and technique. I made senior international standard fairly late and didn’t go to a junior World’s or European’s so only had one international competition under my belt when I lifted in my first Commonwealth Games. The experience was a bit too much for me and I bombed. I improved with experience and eventually competed well on international platforms. As long as you’re technically proficient, start competing as soon, and as regularly, as possible. Choose your competitions to suit your standard and build from there. In this way you’ll be challenged but comfortable with each step up in class.
To finish I’d just like to emphasise that the less pressure you put on yourself in your first few competitions the better. Choose your opening weights wisely. There’s an old saying in weightlifting – “it’s not what you start on, it’s what you finish with that counts”. Get your openers in, choose modest increases. Treat your first competition as a marker to be beaten in subsequent outings. And, most important of all, enjoy yourself!