Coach Ken Wheeler | Powerlifting 101: where do I go from here?

Powerlifting 101: where do I go from here?

I held a “101” seminar a couple of years ago (click here) and it seemed to be received fairly well, so, for the benefit of the Garage Gym Barbell followers, I will be sharing snippets of that seminar over the next few weeks. As a brief side note, my friend and boss of the Pitt Powerlifting Team, George Cano, has written a couple of excellent articles that already cover some of what I will be sharing and I would encourage you to digest his words of wisdom, if you have not done so already. Coach Cano has produced some excellent, record holding lifters out his garage gym and proven time and time again, it doesn’t matter where you train as much as it matters how you train. His training philosophy is tried and true, so pay attention.  

Now to the point of the day, whether you are a newbie to this sport or if you have been swimming in our pool for a while, the basics covered in these short articles are, generally speaking, things that you will probably put to use your entire PL career. These are not set-in-cement rules, these are just guidelines that I, and many other coaches, believe that are helpful for the beginners.

So with that in mind, let’s begin with:

How to choose a weight class?

Rule #1 (as we go, you will discover there will be lots of rule #1’s along the way): If you have never competed before, don’t worry about your weight class. Just enter the meet and lift. In my opinion it is much more important to learn how to compete than it is to concern yourself with how much you weigh…for now. It’s kind of like someone who can throw a football very well while playing catch with a friend, but put them in a game and the dynamics of throwing under pressure, while running, and within certain time constraints and rules, changes everything. Learn to compete before you worry about your weight class.

Ok, now that we have rule #1 established, how “DO” you choose your weight class? What factors are important? Here is the list I presented in the seminar:

  1. Current body weight. What do you ‘normally’ weigh? If you are within a couple of pounds of a weight class, choose that one…for now. You can always change later.
  2. -Fitness level. Are you in shape? Are you thirty pounds overweight and need to get into better condition or are you ok where you are? If you are out of shape, then most definitely focus on conditioning more so than strength for the next ‘x’ amount of time until your “GPP” (general physical preparedness) has improved. How much improved? That’s up to you or your coach. Just get in better shape so you can focus on getting stronger.
  3. Are you close to any records in a particular weight class that you can easily get into? Maybe you are already very close to a record in, let’s say the 148# class, but you weigh 152. The meet is five weeks away. To me, that is worth considering a drop to go for the record. (remember…this is just a guideline and as a coach, I am still more interested in you getting experience than I am records…for now.) To restate this in the negative: if you are not close to a record, forget about your weight and just lift
  4. Would it be easy to cut/gain a few pounds? If so, refer to #3.
  5. I stole this one from Dave Tate at, and I think it is a great rule of thumb: “Gain weight until you can’t get any stronger or until your deadlift goes down.” I think that is absolutely one of the best guidelines I have ever heard on weight class decision making. Gaining weight is probably the best thing you can ever do to get stronger except on the deadlift, due to the effect it may or may not have on your leverages for that lift, especially on those of us with any sort of gut in the way. Hey, this is powerlifting, “gut” is a legit term, get used to it! Anyway, more weight usually means a bigger squat and bench, so keep this in mind as you settle in on your personal goals. And by the way…forget the “wilkes” nonsense and just get strong! (that one was free, lol)


There you have it, some very basic guidelines that I hope will help you make a weight class decision for your first or maybe your next meet. Stay tuned for more basics in the following weeks. Thanks for reading and good luck training.

Whatever you choose, enjoy your journey and remember, all we’re doing is lifting weights here, folks. God bless, kw

Coach Ken Wheeler USPA Multi Ply/Vice-President/HogPit Powerlifting

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