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Starting Strength in the Real World

A Weightlifting Meet: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

by Carl Raghavan, SSC | November 08, 2023

carl raghavan snatch

My most recent Olympic lifting meet happened a few months before I adopted my current nomadic lifestyle. I thought it would be a storybook ending, and my last chance to bag some nice round numbers as a Physical Culture lifter. But June 11th 2022 brought me face-to-face with unforeseen challenges, highs and lows, and – most importantly – lessons learned, and I would like to share my findings. Let's start with the good news. 

The Good

My meet prep went well, to put it mildly. I snatched 100 kg multiple times during training – my tied best and target heaviest attempt for the meet. I clean & push jerked 140 kg, no split required – pain free. This lift has often been an issue for me, thanks to some wrist injuries I tend to pick up when handling this weight (due to fear and hence not fully committing to the catch, not for lack of strength).  I front squatted 195 kg and pressed 140 kg.

As I said, things were going swimmingly. What made it even more remarkable was the absence of injuries, a rarity when pushing my limit maxes in Olympic lifting. I’ve had particular trouble with heavy cleans: I used to hate them, but now I’ve come to love them, as they’re a better display of a lifter’s strength than the snatch. The dude with the biggest C&J usually wins the meet. Just as the guy with a biggest deadlift usually wins a powerlifting meet. 

The Bad

During meet prep, there's an element of mental alignment: the meet day is set in stone, so you work back your program from there. However, a curveball came in the form of a rescheduled event. What was originally intended to be an 8-week prep period was extended when the date was pushed back from May 7th to June 11th. While the extra time seems beneficial on paper, it proved to be a test of my mental fortitude, as I had already psychologically geared up for the earlier date.

I also wanted to push on with chasing down a 600 lb deadlift immediately after meet day (something else I wanted to accomplish before I left the UK and became officially homeless – sorry, “un-housed”). Also, in an attempt to save on costs, I decided to forgo an expensive summer-season hotel and relied on an early-morning Uber ride on the day of the meet. Little did I know that this decision would cost me dearly in terms of focus and performance. Sleep, as it turns out, is one of strength’s key allies: don’t skimp on your bed rest. I knew better, and still had to learn the hard way. Again. 

The Ugly

The pressure got the better of me, which is rare. The numbers and the pressure to achieve them got to me, more so than usual. I wanted so badly to tick 100/140 in a meet off my bucket list of lifetime lifting goals before I set off on my travels that it was psyching me out. I didn’t keep my gaze focused, which led to a missed snatch opener at 90 kg. Though I managed to redeem myself with a scrappy second attempt, the third attempt at 100 kg eluded me. That was not the plan. And it haunted me for the rest of the meet. The plan was to have two attempts at 100 kg, to cater to my nerves. I was so angry that I put 100 kg on the bar in the warm-up room and smoked it. You should have heard me swearing under my breath while I was standing with 100 kg locked out overhead, because I knew I was capable and ready (or so I thought).

At the start of the clean & jerk I was practically foaming at the mouth. I’m a perfectionist at heart, which is both a blessing and a curse. My emotions finally swung in my favor: 140 never felt so light in my hands. I even attempted 150 kg, a 10 kg all-time PR. I got folded up like a deck chair when I missed the clean, but thankfully my wrists came out unscathed. So a lucky escape for me, in hindsight. If I’d been just one month older, my total would have been enough to qualify me for the British Masters (35–39) in the heavyweight category. Now I'm determined to best my own records. 100/150 will be mine next meet (and preferably more on my snatch). Next time I would start the snatch at 100 kg, giving me all three attempts. My next powerlifting "mock meet" took place in Victoria, BC – the subject of my next article. I applied the lessons I learned from my semi-successful Olympic lifting meet, which were: 

  • not letting the day’s expectations fully consume my performance (this issue was still there, but better)
  • getting lots of sleep the night before
  • and most importantly: having lots of fun crushing PRs, like I always do. 

This Olympic lifting meet was another reminder for me that success and growth often emerge from the harmony of the good, the bad, and the ugly. It has added more arrows to my quiver and further sharpened my experience as a lifter and as a coach.  

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