Inspiration and info for midlife women who lift—or want to start

A gym or warmup room for a powerlifting meet with lots of equipment. Photo by Ambitious Studio* - Rick Barrett via Unsplash.

Powerlifting Warm-Up Rooms: Rules We Learned in Kindergarten

Someone on Instagram suggested I do a post about powerlifting warm-up room etiquette.

I loved this idea. After competing in 14 meets, including some big ones (and judging many as well) I’m pretty familiar with warm-up rooms. They tend to get quite chaotic, especially at larger competitions.

As a side note, if you haven’t competed yet but are contemplating it (or have actually registered for your first meet), try to attend at least one comp as a spectator. It will show you what to expect and make the whole crazy scene feel a little less alien, which should help with anxiety when you do compete yourself.

Warm-up Room Basics

All sanctioned powerlifting meets are required to have a warm-up space equipped with competition bars and plates. Theoretically, this space should be reserved just for lifters in the next flight, so they have enough time to warm up. 

There should also be sufficient equipment and rack space in the warm-up area for the number of lifters competing.

Often, though, neither of these works out quite the way we’d all prefer.

In reality, you never know what kind of warm-up situation you’re going to walk into. This especially happens at small local meets, which are often lower-budget affairs and held in places where space is at a premium.

You may find yourself competing (and warming up) in a roped-off portion of a gym that’s otherwise still open to regular members. They’ll just go about their usual lat pulldowns and leg presses, annoyed that a bunch of singlet-wearing, ammonia-sniffing aliens have invaded their space.

Instead of calibrated kilo plates and a combo rack, you may have to warm up with pound plates in a Crossfit-style rig with no safeties.

You may have to use a power bar when you’re actually competing with a deadlift or squat bar.

You’ll almost certainly end up sharing too few barbells with other lifters. 

This is in no way intended to throw shade on meet directors. Most try their best, but resources and circumstances on the ground often just can’t measure up to the rulebook ideal. 

Even when the officially required amount of premium quality equipment IS available, sharing is the reality in a warm-up room.

And, while theoretically the warm-up space should be restricted to the actual lifters competing in the upcoming flight, plus their coaches or handlers—again, reality often looks quite different.

Friends, family members and even media crews usually manage to find their way in. Things can get quite crowded.

For all of these reasons, and because tension and adrenaline naturally run high in a competitive situation, everyone has a better experience when lifters and their teams follow some basic warm-up room etiquette. 

5 Powerlifting Warm-Up Room Rules We All (Should Have) Learned in Kindergarten

If you’re anything near my vintage, you may remember a book called All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. In this bestseller, Robert Fulghum presented 16 basic rules that any five-year-old could teach us to make life much more pleasant for everyone. 

I’ve extracted a few of these rules that capture the spirit of how I, at least, think we should all aspire to act when we compete.

Follow these, and you’ll be 99% of the way to having perfect manners in the warm-up room.

Rule #1: Share everything

From this rule flows all others. If you can handle only one, make it this one. The rest will come pretty naturally after that. 

When you warm up, you’ll be sharing equipment with other lifters in your flight. So let people work in with you. When they ask, don’t act like they’re ruining your day. 

Better yet, don’t wait for them to ask. OFFER. If you see that someone needs a place to warm up, invite them in. Especially if they’re clearly alone and without a coach or handler.

BUT—there’s a caveat here. Sharing during warmups should be done strategically.

What do I mean?

Some of the lifters around you will likely be a lot stronger (or weaker) than you. This is especially true in smaller local meets, which may have a tremendous range of abilities spread across only one or two flights. Your max attempt may be someone else’s first warm-up. Your squat may be more than someone else’s total. 

With such a potentially dramatic difference across lifters, we all have to work together so everyone gets what they need in a timely way.

Hopefully, you have an experienced coach or handler who plays well with others. Ideally, the lifters (or their handlers) should try to self-organize into loose groups lifting in the same general range. 

But that’s not always feasible. 

So, adapt to the conditions. Don’t walk up to someone with three reds already loaded and insist they strip the bar. Try to find an empty bar or a group warming up with less weight. 

Conversely, if everyone’s mashed together into one flight and equipment is in desperately short supply, don’t be the jerk who loads up a bar and then refuses to take off the plates when someone needs to warm up with lighter weight.

Waiting to lift in a crowded warm-up area at a 2019 National competition.

Rule #2: Don’t take things that aren’t yours

Most gym goers have had someone try to take over a rack or equipment while we were using it.

Usually this an innocent mistake. Occasionally it’s an obnoxious power play. Either way, it’s unacceptable, and the warm-up room is no exception.

In fact, it’s worse in the warm-up room. Time is at a premium, the stakes are higher, and everyone’s feeling the stress.

So… 

  • Communicate. Ask if others mind before stepping in and changing the height on that rack.  
  • Don’t assume. Don’t just start removing plates from a loaded bar. Look around to see if anyone is standing nearby who could possibly already be using it. See a chair? Make sure it’s really unclaimed before plopping your stuff down on it.
  • Be aware. Take care not to grab someone else’s knee sleeves or wrist wraps or water bottle or belt or Airpods. There are only so many brands and colors. And entropy seems to be the rule in the warm-up room; things have a way of spreading out and disappearing. 

You get the idea. Avoid hogging or claiming shared equipment that everyone needs to use. Be careful with your stuff. And be even more careful with other people’s stuff.

Oh, and one more thing. If you are not lifting in the next flight, you should not be taking up space in the warm-up room. PERIOD. You are effectively stealing resources if you’re using the equipment other lifters need to prepare for their time on the platform. If you’re not in the next flight, get out and wait your turn.

Rule #3. Put things back where you found them

We all know, and want to strangle, those A-holes in the gym who don’t re-rack their weights. There’s nothing as delightful as going to use the leg press or belt squat and finding it still loaded with five 45s on each side. 

Putting shit back after you use it is the prime directive of gym etiquette. For some reason, though, some lifters feel entitled to ignore this basic rule when they get to a competition. Their diva-esque attitude seems to be, “I’m competing, so I can’t expend the extra energy to put my weights back.” 

But guess what? Other lifters are in the same boat, and they have to use that equipment too. No one wants to unload 200kg of plates a lifter from the previous flight left on the bar.

“Well, that’s the handler’s job.” 

Oh, please. Reality check: lots of lifters don’t have a handler or coach with them, especially at smaller meets.

If you’re the last one using a piece of equipment in the warm-up room, put it back, or leave it pristine for the next person. Especially plates and collars. And if someone elses notices you’re done and steps in to use your still-loaded bar, have the courtesy to ask them how much weight they’d like left on, and strip the rest.

Rule #4: Clean up your own mess

It varies, but at many meets the space directly behind the platform plays a dual role. Athletes waiting to lift in the current flight and lifters warming up for the next flight often share that area. All of those people can add up to lot of bodies moving around in a cramped space. So:

Keep control of your stuff

I say this with a bit of sheepishness, as I tend to be pretty bad at this one myself. I confess: I’m a spreader. I don’t mean to do it, but sometimes, between my clothing, gear, food, and other stuff, my warm-up room footprint ends up much larger than it should be. I’m trying to get better about this.

Be aware of your surroundings

This one’s especially important if you’re warming up and sharing space with the active flight. Where are those active lifters sitting/standing between attempts?  Where’s the screen they’re watching for the flight order? Where are they keeping their stuff? 

Figure that out, and then stay out of their way. Prioritize their needs and their space. After all, you want others to do that for you when you’re the one who’s about to hit the platform.

Clean up after yourself.

Throw away your Sour Patch and PopTart wrappers.

Consolidate containers after you eat your chicken breast and rice.

Don’t leave chalk caked all over the bars you used to warm up.

And please… if you’re tossing empty nose tork capsules on the floor before you hit the platform, don’t leave them scattered everywhere for other lifters to navigate. Pick them up when you’re done with your flight. It’s no one else’s job to pick up your trash.

Rule #5: When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together

This one seems slightly tongue-in-cheek, but I’m actually deadly serious about it.

The great thing about powerlifting is that it tends to be a highly cooperative sport. Yes, we are in fact competing with each other. But generally, we want to win because we had an incredible day—not because someone else had a bad day. 

The warm-up room should reflect this ethos… and it mostly does (at least in my experience). But from time to time we all encounter that one athlete or coach that acts like a dick. 

Don’t be that person.

Yes, it’s a competition, but you can still walk into the warm-up room in a generous frame of mind. You don’t need to make best friends with the other athletes—although for most lifters, especially newer ones, I highly recommend it; many athletes will tell you they’ve formed lifelong friendships in the warm-up room.

But even if you’re a world-class athlete who’s been trading shit-talk with your competitors on social media and prefers not to chit-chat with them, you can and should still treat them and everyone else with basic respect and kindness.

Be helpful.

If you see a lifter struggling to adjust a combo rack and you know how to work one, show them. 

If there aren’t many (or any) coaches or handlers around, help each other load and unload plates. Many hands make light work. 

If you’re serving as a handler or coach, don’t be the jerk who only takes care of your own lifter. Help the other handlers and coaches and lifters too, and especially lend a hand to help athletes who are there alone (click for an Insta post about how a national champion, and one of my earliest inspirations, did this for me at a meet in 2018).

In that room, you’re part of a community. Act that way.

Bottom line: be a good human.

Yes, you’ve spent months preparing for this day. Yes, you’re pumped.

But guess what? So is everyone else. This isn’t just YOUR show.

We all understand that we’re all our own top priority on meet day, and that’s as it should be.

But we don’t need to prioritize ourselves to others’ detriment. Being a good human actually does matter more than being the best lifter (despite what some people seem to think).

When everyone behaves well in the warm-up room, everyone gets the chance to do their best on the platform.

And that’s what this sport is all about!

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6 Comments

  1. Patricia Donald

    This is a fantastic article Miriam. Thank you for sharing as I am sure you have seen this up close as a lifter and judge.

    Patty

    • Thanks, Patty! Glad it’s got your seal of approval as a seasoned competitor (and I feel quite certain you didn’t need to hear any of that because you are beyond kind and polite)!

  2. K. Swett

    Perfect. Thank you for sharing this. The advice is spot-on. It makes the day easier and smoother for everyone from judges to first-time competitors.

  3. Anna

    Very well said Miriam! Absolutely agree with each point, as a lifter, handler, and competition crew. Most of the comp I attended run by our gym, so breaking Rule#3 and #4 are quite annoying….

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