Every other week I help with coaching the lifters at Queen Mary’s University WLC in East London. The last session I went to was ten days before the British Students Championships so the session was a mock competition where each lifter had a run up to heavy but not absolute maximum lifts, decided on their openers and got some experience of being refereed before the big comp. We made it as close to competition rules as possible with rising bar, groups etc but it was obviously a more relaxed affair than an official competition would be. I think this type of less stressful competition is a great way to build confidence and gain lifting experience. On top of this, everyone enjoyed themselves. It’s a bit different from a normal workout with everyone encouraging each lifter as they take their attempts and it’s a great way to spend a Thursday evening. All the lifters did their squats after the lifting was finished so they had a heavy-ish snatch and clean session followed by squats – a good workout.
A step up from this is regional level competition. If you’re a national or international standard lifter you can use regional competitions to sharpen up your competition performances. You don’t have to peak for every competition you enter and different goals can still make for a challenging but less stressful experience. Trying to get six out of six lifts isn’t easy and requires sensible weight selection to get decent numbers but also not miss a lift. It’s a different type of pressure to be coming out on a third attempt with a weight somewhere between what you would usually open with and your second attempt but to need it to get your six for six. It is valuable experience for when you need a lift in a competitive scenario. You can try big increases between weights to test you ability to cope with a long wait between lifts as other lifters take their attempts between your lifts or small increases which may test your fitness as you follow yourself. You can cruise through the snatches to try for a PB clean & jerk or vice versa. You can set a limit – maybe 95% on snatch and 90% on the clean & jerk to be sure you don’t take too much out of yourself. There are loads of different strategies you can try other than just going for a PB total if your training isn’t at the point at which this seems feasible or if you have a bigger competition in the near future.
My own lifters will be competing in a league match ten days before the British Championships. The British is the biggest competition of the year for them and the league match will be a good opportunity to run up to openers and forms a part of their training programme up to the comp.
I often talk to (British) lifters who I think limit the amount they compete far too much. They are of the opinion that competing often will interrupt their training and be detrimental to their performances in the big competitions that they really want to do well at. For me, this flies in the face of one of the basic premises of training – to get good at something you need to practice it a lot. If you want to be good at competing you need to compete a lot. Not just when you’re at your best but throughout the year so it becomes an ordinary part of your training. You’ll get to learn what you do well and what you need to improve on. You can experiment with bodyweight reduction strategies and develop your routine on the platform. You’ll get used to buzzers going off, referees staring at you, people coughing at inappropriate moments, having to wait an extra five minutes before your first attempt because the lifter before you has missed their first two goes at their opener. All of these things and more can be off putting if you’re not used to a competition environment
I would advise lifters of all standards to compete as often as possible. If you can, turn a small comp (like a league match) into a workout by adding some squats or pulls after lifting. Vary your goals for each competition so they’re not as stressful as the big events, that way they don’t take an emotional toll on you but you’ll be getting valuable experience and you’ll be a better competitor when the important events of the year come around.
Finally, competing is fun! You lift, you do well or badly, maybe go for a beer/meal after with your team mates and explain how great you are, why the referees were idiots, how the platform may have suited their lifting style but was purpose made to be difficult for you to lift on, why you hate Crystal Palace and won’t ever lift there again (until next time) etc. It’s what all the training is for.