I recently returned from competing at WRPF Nationals in Las Vegas, a five-plus-hour flight away from my home. (It went well!) This was something like the sixth large meet to which I’ve had to travel a long distance (including a couple internationally). Through all of those trips, plus hearing stories from fellow lifters, I’ve picked up a few pointers you may find useful if you’re new to the experience of traveling to a powerlifting meet.
1. Plan travel timing strategically
Many aspects of long-distance travel can wreak havoc on your performance if you don’t take them into consideration. One of the biggest is scheduling. When I flew to my first nationals, I made the rookie mistake of not considering the impact of my travel schedule on my physical and emotional well-being.
Time zone changes
If you’re flying a few thousand miles west, changes in time zone may not have a terrible impact on you. Your sleep may get disrupted, but you’re gaining time on the clock. Chances are you’ll manage to stay reasonably healthy.
However, if you’re flying east, or otherwise experiencing more than a few hours difference in time zone, give yourself at least a couple of days to acclimate to the new time. The further you’re traveling, the more padding you should build in. When I competed in Australia last fall, I intentionally built in a full week between arriving there and competing.
It’s also important to build in a few extra days if you’re either close to weight or actively cutting. This is especially true if you’re going to spend a lot of time in the air on the way. Air travel is notorious for causing water retention. Leave time on the ground to lose that extra weight.
If you’re traveling to a big meet, especially your first, you’re probably anxious about the competition itself. The last thing you need is additional stress from leaving too little time between your flights and your meet obligations. What if there are flight delays or cancellations?
When I booked the flights to my first-ever Nationals, I scheduled myself to arrive the same day as the 24-hour weigh-in. I don’t know what on earth I was thinking. I had connections to make AND was close to the top of my weight class.
I got lucky. I made it to the weigh-in by the skin of my teeth. If I’d arrived even 15 minutes later, I would have missed it and had to schedule a special evening weigh-in later. That would not only have been embarrassing but worse, would have meant not eating anything all day to make weight. That would have been pretty catastrophic to my performance. The stress caused by the entire episode was bad enough!
Yes, resources (money, ability to take time off work, family obligations, etc.) can obviously be a factor. You may not be able to give yourself as much padding as would be ideal. Just build in as much extra time as you possibly can. You’ll probably need more than you think if you’ve never done this before.
2. Consider (and scope out) food
Game your food out ahead of time. What you pack may vary wildly depending on your needs and where you’re competing.
Some people pack all of their meet food every time. That’s a perfectly reasonable and good strategy to consider, especially (of course) if you have special dietary requirements.
Whenever possible, I try not to check a bag, so my packing space is limited. Therefore, I typically buy most of my food after I arrive at my destination. However, most of my travel meets have been in my own country; those that haven’t were in countries with pretty similar food options. If you’re traveling to a less familiar place, bring some familiar meet food to be safe.
Is your meet in a large metropolitan area in a familiar country? Will you have time to go to a supermarket to buy food there? Are there restaurants on site? Will you have access to a microwave (if you want or need one)? These are questions worth asking and researching (somewhat extensively) before you pack.
3. Need a gym, sauna, scale? Do advance recon
If you’ll be cutting weight, you’ll probably want access to a scale, and perhaps a sauna. There are portable scales you can buy and bring if that’s worthwhile to you. You can also check to see if the place you’re staying has a scale. Most gyms have a scale as well.
These may not be accurate, however. Meet officials will sometimes let you use a calibrated scale to check weight the day before, provided they’re set up. You can contact the meet director to ask if that’s an option.
Need to do some light training in the days before you compete? If you’re staying at a hotel, you can use the fitness center, but those vary wildly depending on the hotel. I try to find pictures and reviews of the hotel’s gym ahead of time. If there are barbells involved you’ll need at least a commercial gym, if not a powerlifting gym. The latter are often private access facilities; most offer day passes but often require advance notice/communication with the management, so do your homework ahead of time.
Of course, if you’ll need a sauna, that should be a factor in choosing a gym as well.
4. Use a packing list
Do not–I repeat, do NOT rely on memory alone when you pack to travel for a meet. This is not the time to forget stuff. Best case, you forget something annoying but not crucial. That can still can throw you off your game and cause undue stress. Worst case, you forget something truly important and have to scramble to try to replace it, which may involve begging, borrowing, or stealing if you can’t just buy what you need.
Use a packing list. You can of course create your own (I keep mine in a note on my phone) but to made your life a little bit easier, I’ve created a generic packing list you can copy and edit for your own purposes. There are two versions, a Google doc you can copy, edit, and print and one formatted for mobile use. (If you have trouble accessing either of these and/or don’t care about customizing the list, here’s a PDF version as well.)
5. Always, always, always carry on your meet gear
This is a huge one that many newer competitors don’t know or think about until it’s too late.
I still remember seeing social posts from an American lifter a few years ago who had traveled all the way to Europe for her first Worlds. It was her first international meet, and she’d made the mistake of packing her belt, wrist wraps, and knee sleeves in her checked bag… which had gone missing in transit.
Powerlifting being the supportive sport that it is, other lifters were willing to lend her gear, so she was still able to compete
While we’re here, let’s talk about belts. I’ve found, and I think other lifters will agree, that it’s best to keep your belt out and visible when going through security. It only takes one time watching TSA pull your carry-on and mangle your careful packing job to bring this point home. Plus, a belt takes up a lot of space.
A few solutions to this:
- wrap your belt around your personal item (assuming you have something like backpack and it will fit; this may not work if you wear a smaller belt)
- hang it from straps if the belt is too small to wrap around your backpack
- get a training backpack with dedicated space for your belt, like this one or this one (which I’m currently using)
- If all else fails, wear it around your body, put it through security like any other belt, then stow it in the overhead bin on the plane
6. Get the lay of the land on arrival
Traveling to a meet is stressful, especially if it’s your first one, so the more you can do to get familiar with your surroundings before competing, the better.
You’ve hopefully taken the advice above and left yourself an ample cushion of time; use that to get your bearings. If you’re staying and competing in the same place, like a large hotel, find the space where the actual meet will be held and walk around (or watch a little if you’re competing later in a multi-day meet) so the space feels a little more familiar to you.
If the venue is a gym or other location away from where you’re staying, invest the time and Uber fare to go there ahead of time and check it out (assuming you don’t have a 24-hour weigh-in, which will probably require you to do that anyway).
Also take some time to see what’s around you in terms of food options and creature comforts. Do you like having a morning latte or bagel? Do you want to be able to pick up some extra meet food at a convenience store or market? Got an early start time and need to know what time the hotel restaurant opens for breakfast? These are all things worth finding out soon after you arrive so you can mentally map out how things will play out on your actual competition day.
Shortly after we arrived in Gold Coast in Australia last year, I walked around the big mall next to the hotel and found a crepe restaurant. Pancakes and crepes are great meet fuel for me and I was lifting in an early flight, so it was a perfect food option I only knew about because I took the time to scope out my surroundings.
I did the same at this past Nationals: I found a breakfast buffet with lots of options, including pancakes and fruit, that I was able to hit before getting on the platform.
Good planning is the key
Have you detected a theme running through all of these tips? Solid planning can do wonders to help prevent unnecessary stress. You may (in fact almost certainly will) still encounter some unexpected bumps in the road–what traveler doesn’t?
But planning helps you control the things that you CAN control, which will reduce the potential negative impacts of travel on your competition experience.
Oh, and the last and most important piece of advice?
You’ve gotten the opportunity to travel and compete, probably on a pretty big stage. What an adventure!
Embrace it, relish it, roll with any unexpected disruptions, and enjoy the experience!
Are you a seasoned competitor with lots of travel experience? Got other tips to reduce anxiety, lower the risk of snafus, and make your meet more successful when traveling? Share them in the comments so others can benefit from your experience!