The day is here!  After my minuscule three weeks of training like a power-lifter, the competition day has arrived and I’ve got everything ready to go.

It’s a bleary eyed start as the competitor briefing commences at 7am!  But already backstage is full of bodies, in various stages of stretching, foam rolling, eating, chatting and generally looking huge.  There are four squat racks for warming up on, heaps of weights to choose from, a TV showing the front of house action and plenty of areas for relaxing. With so many new regulations, I’m feeling pretty overwhelmed, but am never without someone to help me, advise me and make sure I feel included.

First thing is gear check and weigh in! Only gear specified and approved by Powerlifting Australia is allowed and the regulators are very thorough to ensure that everything qualifies.  Not having a weight belt or soft suit myself, I’m extremely lucky that two kind souls, one of whom I’ve never met or even heard of kindly volunteered theirs.  The approved weight belt is worth $350 and a beautiful piece of equipment – I want to wear it all the time!  The soft suit is worth about $150.  This just shows the generosity of the power-lifting community! Isn’t it amazing?  My socks, shoes and t-shirt are also checked and if I’d used knee sleeves or wrist bands these would have had to go through the process as well.

Weigh in – luckily a very warm room!  I’ve made my weight class with 2kg to spare and immediately regret not having a morning coffee or snack! But I make up for that with a triple shot of coffee immediately afterwards!

All competitors are divided into three groups.  A whiteboard back stage continually keeps groups in the know about what they should be doing: Resting/Warming Up/Lifting.  The atmosphere starts to heat up with the clank and thunk of weights, grunting, back slaps, chalking up, stretching, jumping, strong words of encouragement, cheers and clapping from the audience and the MC on the microphone explaining the categories and introducing each athlete. Heart rates are up!

Once the MC announces “bar is loaded” the athlete has 60 seconds to commence their lift. Every lifter has to nominate their opening lift in each category. After each lift they have 60 seconds to nominate what their next lift will be.  If they don’t nominate, the weight increases by 2.5kg.  It’s a hectic environment with all the to-ing and fro-ing to the desks, backstage, front of stage, chalk pot and snacks!

First event – Squat

Image taken by Russ Tatlow at www.russtatlow.com.au

There are some massive lifts in this category!  Some of my favourite moments are:

  • A girl with long blonde hair lifting three times her body weight.
  • The lifting faces of some of the big boys.
  • The intensity of the judges and spotters.
  • A 70 year old woman who couldn’t put a barbell on her back last year due to back pain smashing her PB.
  • A blind man being led to the bar by his helper, whilst his dog waited patiently back stage.

I did a PB myself for the depth required and I could have gone heavier in the end but I ran out of tries. Thank goodness for Matt McKay, the organiser of the competition, because he yelled at me about what to do when!  Without him I would have stepped forward to re-rack the bar before the judge gave the call and that would have meant disqualification.

But the best thing?  And the thing that was constant all day?  The overwhelming crowd, spotter and fellow athletes support for every single athlete, no matter their size, shape, gender, ‘fame’, age or how much they were lifting.  Every single person was encouraged, believed in, supported and cheered for. It was the most amazing environment I’ve ever been in!

Second event – Bench

I went okay in the warm up for this, although the 60kg weight did feel pretty heavy and I struggled a bit getting it up. I was a bit surprised about this since I was sure I’d lifted it plenty of times before – it was just the warm up after all.  But people were impressed with the weight, which I put down to my squat seeming pretty feeble really.

Then I’m standing in line.  The starting order had changed slightly from the first round, as the order starts with the lightest nominated lift and goes to the heaviest, so I had to pay attention to when I should be waiting at the side, a little surprised that I was almost right at the end of this round.

The chalk pot is here. The other girls in my class and the two weight divisions above me are here. We yell and cheer and clap with all our might as athlete after athlete goes for a PB. Suddenly a cold wave of fear goes over me.  I’ve mistakenly put down my absolute PB as my opening lift. Damn maths! Not my strong point!

It’s extremely touch and go as to whether I can lift it at all, given that in power-lifting you have to keep your butt and shoulders on the bench at all times, your feet have to remain flat on the floor, and you have to hold the bar isometrically at the bottom of the movement, motionless, before you can press it up, none of which I’m used to!  I turn to Matt “I’ve made a mistake!  I need to change my nominated lift weight!”  “You can’t” he says with finality. “You’ll be right.” Ha!  60kg is my body weight!  But it’s too late anyway, my name is called and I force myself to walk out and get on the bench.

Unlike so many before me, I can’t do the super flexible back bend that looks so impressive.  I un-rack the bar.  The spotters and I hold it.  We have a small tussle as neither I nor they know whether they should keep holding on to it or not.  I later learn I should have said ‘The bar is mine” here so they knew they could let go!  Eventually, one of them takes charge and says “The bar is yours.”  I hold it, waiting for the command to begin and when it comes I lower the bar (too slowly) down and hold it at the bottom of the movement, motionless.  Man it feels heavy! I am waiting, waiting, waiting for the judge to say “Press” so I can try and get it up and not waste my energy at the bottom! “It has to touch your chest!” Matt yells from the sidelines. Bugger! I drop it the extra inch to my chest and at last the call comes to press. I give it my all but I can’t get it up. The mind-reading spotters take it at the exact microsecond I need them to and I get up and walk off to encouraging applause.

I go backstage to change my next lift attempt amount.  “Are you going up the 2.5kg?” asks Matt, very kindly trying to hide his surprise. “No!  I’m going down!” I say. “You can’t” he says once again!  So my next lift comes around. I’ve given myself a massive talking to backstage and the crowd is on my side. This time I widen my grip, as per Matt’s recommendation, go down faster and touch the bar to my chest for the hold. “Press!” calls the judge, and press I do! Thank goodness I get it this time! What a relief!

Third event  –  Deadlift

Image taken by Russ Tatlow at www.russtatlow.com.au

The most exciting event of the day!  The cheering and support reaches whole new levels. PBs are smashed all over the place!  There are some monster lifts!

I opened with a lift I knew I could do: 100kg. Added 10kg for my next attempt. It was decision time on the third attempt. I’d done 120kg (twice my body weight) once before at my own gym, but I’d missed it on my first attempt that day. Go for it here and maybe miss it and then only have my 110kg lift count?  I decide to go for 117.5kg.

I can’t even tell you what was on my mind, I just went blank.  Again the spotters whispered to me that I could do it, with such conviction. I went through the routine I always do: do up weight belt, chalk hands, address the bar, feet evenly aligned and a tiny bit wider than I first think, right hand placed first, overhand grip, swivel it around until it feels comfortable, left hand exactly the same distance from the middle, underhand grip, swivel it around until it feels strongest, squat down, flick ponytail out of face, stretch up through hamstrings, big breath in and hold, squat down again, remember not to use my back or lean too far forward, show the crowd my chest, stand up. Pretty sure I did a grunt at the top!  But it went up pretty easily in the end and it was another “all white card” lift for me!

So I could have gone a bit heavier in the end, but you never know! This is one of the most addictive things about power lifting I think – you always think you could have gone just a bit more!

The final result

Then it was presentation time and there was so much happiness everywhere! Everyone loved their Bulk Nutrients competitor packs. I came second and received a silver medal! So excited!

The most hotly contested men’s class was decided by a mere 2.5kg on the very last dead-lift of the day! Day done, but never forgotten. I made so many new friends and have some great memories.  Will I go again? I’ll never break any world records as it’s not a sport I’m gifted in, but just like bodybuilding and physique competitions it is such a personal journey of improvement, and isn’t that what we all strive for?  To improve.  The difference with power-lifting is that improvement is measured objectively and it is so basic.  You lift it, or you don’t! What do you think?

Check out all of the results from the day here.

Or read more about Bridget’s training here.

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Bridget Freeman

Bridget Freeman

Bridget Freeman is 44 years old, wife, mum, national and international figure champion, employee, small business owner, custodian of several fur babies, and someone who is constantly trying to find that elusive work/training/life balance.