You can do the snatch and the clean and jerk at your CrossFit class, and you can watch it during the Olympics, but at some point, there's no better way to learn the sport of weightlifting than to take the leap and do a meet yourself.
Doing a competition not only teaches you a lot about yourself as an athlete and a person, but it also teaches you some of the hardest and most valuable lessons about the lifts, and the sport itself. Competitive weightlifting is more complex than you might think, and things happen in the background that you never get to see as an audience member. I've done numerous meets at the local, national, and international level, and I've learned something valuable at each one.
Prepping for a meet? Here's everything you need to know.
Step 1: Find a Meet
In order to compete in a meet (in the USA), you need to become a member of USA Weightlifting (USAW). This is like having a handicap in golf; you'll need your membership card to participate in any USAW-sanctioned meet.
But aside from the competitive aspect, being part of an organized federation offers some valuable perks. They'll keep track of all your meets and you'll have easy access to information that will help you move along in your career as a weightlifter—even if it lasts only one meet. And, if you get pretty good at it, you'll be able to represent your country at big meets around the world.
Once you've become a member, find a local meet and sign up for it. Especially when you're first starting out, select a meet that's at least two months out. This is enough to see some solid progress in a consistent, rigorous training protocol.
When you sign up for a meet, you'll have to choose a weight class. If this is your very first meet, I suggest you don't worry about cutting down to a specific class. Weigh yourself in kilos (or multiply your weight by 2.2) and select the class you fit into right now.
Competition in your sights? You need a belt that's up to the challenge.
Step 2: Get Systematic About Your Training
If you take nothing from this article but one thing, make this the one thing: You can't hope to do well (or even do OK) at a competition unless you prepare. Preparation does not involve simply doing the same thing more often, it means taking the time to master the snatch and clean and jerk and work on your specific weaknesses with both lifts.
If possible, the best way to get competition ready is to join a weightlifting club near you. USAW's Find a Club tool can help you.
A coach can help you determine your max weight right now, and create a percentage-based plan to help you nudge it upward. They can help you work on the parts of the lifts you struggle to perform well, feel more confident under the weight, and keep you from overthinking during your training—and especially on the platform.
Step 3: Stick to the Program
If you've never done a meet before, and you haven't been lifting more than 5 years, then there's little to no chance you know more than your coach or the person who put your program together. Do the program as it is written—don't skip sets, don't go lighter or heavier than what is programmed, don't try to max when you don't need to, don't do extra or less work. Trust the approach you choose and follow it through. If the program feels too hard or too easy, that might be by design. Talk to the coach about it, but work with them, not around them. One thing I wouldn't do is print a random program off the internet, go at it alone, and expect success.
Step 4: Learn How Meets Work
This is a really big deal. Weightlifting meets can be a little confusing, especially if you've never done one before and you're trying to do one without a coach. Learn the rules of your meet by talking to competitors, reaching out to the organizers, and just getting obsessed about this stuff. Know what kinds of equipment are used and what's not allowed. Try to get your head around the metric system, or at least know what your training and meet lifts are in kilos.
In order to get on the competition platform, you have to wear a singlet. You can get inexpensive ones, or you can try to borrow one from somebody. If you want to make weightlifting your thing, then you should absolutely invest in some gear. Grab weightlifting shoes, a belt, and a singlet you feel good in.
Training systematically? Eat systematically: aim for 0.8-1 gram of protein per day, and use protein powder to help you get there!
Step 5: Step on the Platform
Be brave. Do your best. Remember, it's a learning experience first and foremost, and the real value comes from all that you've been doing leading up to meet day. Meet day is just the period at the end of the sentence. Do everything you can to make it a positive memory, and then put it behind you and begin training for what comes next.