By: Savannah Kaminski and Julianna King
Does a perfect meet day in powerlifting actually exist?
Every powerlifter plans for the best come competition day. A full 8 hours of sleep even though they had to travel 2 hours to the venue at 5 in the morning. A seamless equipment check where they didn’t forget their left deadlift sock in the dryer. Weigh-ins that go without a hitch. Don’t worry about the fact that you only ate rice cakes and peanut butter. That definitely won’t affect the big PRs. Depth won’t be too high on squats. Pauses won’t be too rushed on bench. After a 5 hour day you will still have tons of energy to make sure you can hit that final PR on deadlifts. A meet day like this sounds almost too good to be true, and maybe it is. What if I told you though there is secret to creating a true winning powerlifter who has the consistent and successful meet days?
There are a million factors into making sure all nine lifts go perfectly on meet day. Powerlifters can try as hard as they can to get every little detail right. But they are only human and when it comes down to it, meet day is just one day. A day where lifters who worship consistency are often thrown out of their element in one way or another. But I mean a perfect meet day is what makes a winner. Right?
A perfect meet day can be rare for a reason. I could go on and on about the thousands of things that can throw off an athlete the day of the meet. Most of them will happen before the athlete even steps onto the platform. The true winners in this sport, the ones that make it onto podiums, are not people who know how to avoid problems. The true winners are the ones that have learned to adapt. They are the ones that have a growth mindset mentality.
Having a growth mindset may lessen psychological stress associated with competition. Mindsets are the “glass half full or half empty” idea. They help to determine how individuals interpret situations and self-regulate. These results impact performance. A prime example of this happened recently at the 2023 Sheffield.
A Lesson from Sheffield
SBD Sheffield took place in March. Following its announcement, it quickly became one of the biggest Powerlifting events in history. It was the first event that SBD brought together in Sheffield. The best of the best in powerlifting came from all over the world to break world record totals. With a crowd of 2,000 people, the aura of the event was most comparable to a “rock concert.”
I took the time to listen to every King of the Lifts podcast and Iron Culture podcast that reviewed the meet. They discussed things like its competitors, coaching calls, and any other noteworthy details. The interviews with the lifters (Evie, Jade, Jessica, Jonathan, Taylor, Gavin, Jesus, Noemie, Delaney) all provided insight to the demands, challenges, and excitement associated with this meet day.
One athlete, Evie Corrigan, surprised everybody by cutting into the 52kg weight class. This put her head to head with Noemie Albert. Evie was set to place 12th at Sheffield. Her sudden weight cut from 57kg to 52kg made the odds seem even more out of her favor.
For a foodie like Evie being in a cut was not the ideal situation. Despite still hitting big numbers in training, the weights were still under her best. It can be hard to watch strength drop as a lifter. It can take years and hard work to hit certain numbers and losing that can feel like a backslide. The mental strain alone from a cut in weight and strength can be detrimental if you let it get to your head. I’m sure every powerlifter has had the “to cut or not to cut” conversation at one point or another. By putting faith in her coach Jason Clark, working with her nutrition coach Kedric Kwan, and trusting the decision, Evie successfully cut down to 52kg.
Soon, Evie and her team were landing in Sheffield. This is where a new mental battle started that every lifter can relate to. Evie mentioned a lot in the podcast about her imposter syndrome when walking into the Sheffield. She was among the best of the best and couldn’t help but be aware of that. A sense of imposter syndrome – aka the feeling of self doubt in your abilities – often occurs when you surrounded by peers with similar abilities. This is not uncommon to feel at meets. It can also tend to lead down a rabbit hole of negative mentality. Evie noted she just wanted to prove she belonged there with all the other lifters.
This is a feeling that a lot of powerlifters will feel come meet day. It can be daunting to be around all the other lifters. Especially when those people have the reputation of being some of the strongest in the world. Despite these challenges along side a recently recovered injury, Evie came in ready to compete.
Corrigan ended up putting up a 460kg total, which was the largest total ever seen for a 52kg lifter. This total, still under her best ever, resulted in her taking the gold. Evie was one of 3 female competitors to go 9/9 and the only 9/9 female lifter in the top 3.
So how did she do it? How does a major weight cut, the intimidation of the competition, and the fact that she was already ranked in 12th place, equal a near perfect meet day and winning Sheffield? Well of course having a good plan in place and people in your corner plays a larger role, but mentality is what reinforces these supports.
Evie approached the day excited to be there and a mission to prove she belongs. Even knowing she had 460kg in her back pocket, she remained humble and trusted in the plan. In a new louder competition environment, she leaned into it saying she felt like a rock star when she walked on the platform – energy that many of her competitors got distracted by. Instead of watching every lift and trying to compare herself, she focused on the lift ahead of her and enjoyed talking with the people around her.
John Henryism, the concept of “efficacious mental and physical vigour, a strong commitment to hard work, and a single-minded determination to succeed,” is positively correlated to sport performance. 1Similarly, having a growth mindset is positively correlated to sports performance.2
Old school ideas say that mentality doesn’t matter, but this is clearly incorrect. Both in and out of powerlifting, go listen to any high level performer – their success didn’t just come out of thin air. They had a combination of things that went right – and often times this was their strong mentality.
Believing in yourself is important, and matching that belief with effort and hard work is important to success. Evie came in trusting her coach and her strength despite the challenges and became the underdog people wished they would have rooted for. Little old Evie from New Zealand (as she said) won it all.
Athletes must juggle several different factors during competitions and when prepping for them. The ability to cope with these stressors and demands truly does separate winners from losers. Having strong coping skills can mediate the effect of mindset on sport performance. Learning a new mindset may sound easier said than done, but it’s worth it to start putting the effort in to try because you can truly start making a difference in your performance. So how do we learn this growth mindset and become the next Evie Corrigan?
Support Your Game Day Mentality
There are so many variables that an athlete must think about when it comes to game day, so it’s important to streamline that thought process as much as possible to bolster a strong mentality going into the competition.There are three main aspects you as an athlete can focus upon to limit external stressors and foster a growth mindset come meet day.
1.) Trust Your Coach
The first of the three things and one of the most important is to trust in your coach and the relationship the two of you have built together. A coach is someone you hired for a reason, not only to support you towards the strongest you can be, but you also hired them to put you in the most successful position possible on meet day. Your coach is your strongest ally, and they are rooting for you just as much as everyone else (likely more). They are there to make objective calls that they think will be the most beneficial for you.
A good coach will always take in account your input, but the trust has to go both ways. Trust their input. Just like Evie trusted in Jason and his idea for the weight cut. Everyone else may have thought it was absurd, but Jason saw the potential in Evie and her cut, and their belief and trust helped lead her straight to the podium (along with her nutrition coach, Kedric Kwan).
Having trust in your coach allows you as the athlete more time to focus on your own mental coping skills, thus the ability to look forward, perform, and view the future with potential rather than doubt or concern about the day and plan. The coach is there (whether in person or not) to support you and ultimately wants you to succeed. Trusting the plan the two of you worked together on enables you to purely focus on execution.
2.) Follow the Plan
In addition to trusting your coach, it’s CRITICAL that you stick to the plan on meet day. We all get it, the “meet day adrenaline” can often make you feel like you can lift the whole world, but sticking to the plan is what will set you up for the most successful meet possible. A good coach/athlete won’t walk into meet day blind. There should always be a discussion of the athlete’s goal and the development of a plan to best achieve these goals prior to meet day.
Attempts are laid out, and all the foreseeable issues will have been thought through and accounted for. Of course we are all only human, so it is important to acknowledge that things can go differently on meet day. Athletes can feel better or worse than accounted for sometimes, and exceptions can be made. Once the coach and athlete are both on the same page concerning the game plan, it’s important to stick to that plan. From the warm up room to the platform, put yourself in the mind set that you are there to set yourself up for success. Success is achieving the goals you and your coach worked together to define prior to meet day.
Over at Fortitudo Fitness x The Strength Guys, we equip all our athletes competing with a meet day strategy sheet. On this sheet, we include pre-planned warm up weights, pre-planned attempts, and the athletes goals listed to remind them why they are doing this. For the attempts, there are several options listed out – many of which account for things not going to plan. This means that there are backup plans which can still set up the athlete to complete whatever goal they may have.
Whether they are being handled by one of our coaches personally or by themselves, athletes can assure that they are taken care of to make meet day go by as smoothly as possible. As soon as the plan is made, it’s up to the athlete to use their growth mindset to trust in their abilities and crush it.
It is easy to get distracted by the competition and how they are doing. But altering a whole plan in order to win can sometime lead to a bigger loss. In a meet, sometimes it’s the person that comes out 9/9 with strength left in the tank as the winner rather then the lifter that gave their blood, sweat, and tears to their last squat and ended up missing every deadlift.
3.) Don’t Make Any Major Changes
The third and final piece of advice is to not change anything major on meet day. This means if you don’t sniff smelling salts for your top deadlift in the gym, don’t decide last minute to sniff it for your third deadlift in competition. If you eat certain things before you lift in the gym, try and stick to those similar snacks instead of loading up on sour patch kids or rice krispie treats.
There are so many things in your environment that have already changed from prep to meet day so try and control what you can control. Don’t throw yourself off if you don’t have to. You need to adapt when you have to adapt, but don’t force it to happen. Trust in the actions you’ve taken up to this point and repeat those.
If there is something you want to try to see how it impacts performance (i.e. caffeine, smelling salts, etc.), try it a few weeks out from competition a few times. See how it impacts your mental space as well as your physical performance. If you find smelling salts pull you out of your mental focus on an RPE 7 single, you’re probably going to find it to be detrimental game day when you’re going for even more.
Keeping consistent from training to meet day enables your ability to complete aspects 1 and 2 above. You are putting trust in yourself, trust in your plan, and trust in your coach – and these three aspects will help support your mental game as you head into your first squat and finish up with your last deadlift.
Mentality is important not only to be successful at a meet but also to have the most fun and the best experience. We all powerlift because we love it. Even though powerlifting meets can often be an environment where you forget to have fun. As much as the idea of lifting heavy in front of judges and other athletes can be nerve wracking, the community is there to back you up. Be like Evie, and make sure you are talking to the other lifters and making new friends instead of worrying if they can deadlift ten pounds more than you.
Make it fun, enjoy the experience, and the numbers will follow.
- González-García, H., Martinent, G., & Nicolas, M. (2023). The mediating roles of pre-competitive coping and affective states in the relationships between coach-athlete relationship, satisfaction and attainment of achievement goals. International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 1-16.
- Sivaramakrishnan, H., Spray, C., Fletcher, D., & Ntoumanis, N. (2022). John Henryism and fear of failure in competitive sport: predicting competitive standard and mental well-being. International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 1-17.