Nine for Nine: Ingredients for the Perfect Meet

Written By: Nathaniel Hancock

Photo By: Photo by Maren Ingrid of MRNtography

Last week at the USA Powerlifting SLP Classic in Salt Lake City, something extraordinary
occurred: I relaxed.

In my first meet under Reactive Training Systems (RTS) coach Mike Tuchsherer, I hit all my lifts,
including weights I had never even tried in training. I achieved four lifetime Personal Bests (PBs)
at age 44, breaking into the top ten all-time tested performances worldwide for my weight and
age. What’s more, all third attempts felt fast and effortless.

Looking back over my competitive lifting career, it took seven years of powerlifting training and
five years of competing for me to secure my first nine-for-nine day (in 2018). It did not have to
be thus.

The mistakes I made in earlier meets range from the comical (chalk on thighs) to the careless
(jumping the rack command) to the technical (squat depth). It is my belief that mistakes –
provided we learn from them – can be blessings in disguise.

At the height of the COVID pandemic in 2020, I wrote about the Ingredients of the Perfect
Training Session
for Kabuki Strength. What follows is a related reflection detailing what goes
into generating our best meet performances.

Bringing Out Our Best on Meet Day

Perhaps you have heard of British cycling performance director Dave Brailsforth and the
‘marginal gains’ concept, or making 1 percent improvements in a host of areas (as highlighted in
James Clear’s bestselling book Atomic Habits). If you are anything like me or RTS coach Mike
Tuchsherer (driven, passionate, meticulous, studious), you recognize the value of intellectual
humility on the one hand and lifelong learning on the other. But even when armed with these
character traits, how do we determine which specific areas affect our meet day performance?
Let’s take a look at a sampling of categories as we consider which ones may help you.


How often do we train alongside gym goers who seem to be going through the motions and
never seeing tangible improvements? It is in our power to consult lifters and coaches with more
experience, to read materials and watch YouTube videos, to listen to podcasts and ask
questions; in short, it is within our power to decide to become true lifelong learners – “students
of the sport,” as we often hear.

There is much to be said of the intellectual side of meet preparation; certainly we will only
scratch the surface in an article of this length. That said, consider asking yourself the following

  • Have I asked a professional or someone with significant expertise to evaluate my
    technique in the squat, bench, and deadlift?
  • Have I dedicated time to studying the scientific principles of strength training (to borrow
    the title of a favorite book)?
  • What have I invested in the sports psychology realm? Do I appreciate how powerful the
    mind is for performance?
  • Is my meet checklist as exhaustive and helpful as it could be? What are elite-level lifters
    doing to prepare for a meet that I may not have considered?
Photo By: Photo by Maren Ingrid of MRNtography


In a sport where the expression of strength is being tested in specific disciplines, it goes without
saying that physical preparation is paramount. The following are key areas that merit your
attention going into a meet.

  • Smart programming: Staying healthy and uninjured is my number one goal; getting
    stronger is a close second. When goal #2 comes before goal #1, it is a matter of time
    before setbacks occur. Consider employing the services of an experienced coach to help
    you make more data-driven decisions for your programming. If you coach yourself,
    ensure you are leveraging a seasoned mentor as a sounding board for your game plan.
  • Tapering and peaking: It is sometimes said that getting strong is one thing, but
    expressing strength is another. We have all witnessed meets where the strongest lifter
    did not win for a variety of reasons. Ensure you learn over time what works for you in
    terms of cutting back volume and ramping up the intensity as you near meet day.
  • Sleep: Many lifters struggle with obtaining quality sleep the night before a competition.
    The good news is that you can usually perform well even on sub-optimal sleep, provided
    that this deficit is not compounded (i.e., more than one night of poor sleep). Learn to
    calm your nerves the night before a meet by recognizing that you have prepared well
    and are ready to execute.
  • Meet day nutrition and hydration: I struggle with a lack of appetite on meet days.
    Because of this, I have learned to simply hydrate optimally directly following weigh-ins
    and then graze on things that appeal to me as the meet progresses (raspberries, gummy
    worms, the occasional McDonalds pancake with butter and syrup, etc.). I have found
    that, with Gatorade and other sports drinks with electrolytes and carbohydrates, I have
    the energy I need to perform despite consuming fewer total calories (and much fewer
    protein grams) than usual. Again, learn what works for you, and don’t stress the
    deviation from the norm.


As anyone with whom I’ve trained over the years is aware, I am a sucker for powerlifting attire
and accessories. I’ve owned far too many knee sleeves, singlets, belts, and wrist wraps (not to
mention squat shoes!) to count. While I am not advising anyone to follow suit, I do believe that
investing in what you think is optimal for your performance (within the regulations of your
federation of choice) is well worth your research and money. Only then can you sit back, relax,
and tell yourself that you have squeezed every kilogram out of any possible benefit your knee
sleeves or belt could offer.

Everyone has their own opinions and brand preferences, so please take my recommendations
with that in mind. That said, I am a huge fan of the following products:

  • The Titan Triumph competition singlet (close second: the Inzer Power Compression
  • Titan Signature Series Wrist Wraps
  • Inzer Ergo Pro knee sleeves
  • Wahlanders belts (the same used by Eleiko)
  • Nike Romaleos and No Bull lifting shoes with elevated heels
  • The SABO Deadlift Pro deadlift shoes
  • Rogue compression training socks
  • A7 competition shirts
  • Increasingly hard-to-find ammonia caps (inhalants)
Photo By: Photo by Maren Ingrid of MRNtography

Training the mind for optimal performance has been a focus of mine in recent years. The
literature in this realm has exploded as of late, with many useful reading options now available.
Some of the key recurring themes are:

  • Take time to visualize success
  • Focus on what’s in your power
  • Realize that the hard work is really the months and years of training; allow yourself to
    “go unconscious” on meet day and simply empower your body to do what you have
    “automated” it to be capable of
  • Learn what optimal arousal means for you, and strive to hit that precise zone on meet
  • Set goals that are more process than outcome based
  • Find joy in the journey and avoid “destination fatigue” or post-meet let downs
Photo By: Photo by Maren Ingrid of MRNtography


My father, a Harvard-educated political philosopher, once expressed to me that humans are
emotional (rather than rational) creatures. The longer I live, the more I see this in my
interactions with others, and in my own internal workings as well. While we may sometimes view
our sport as entirely scientific and data driven (after all, a properly executed 700-lb. squat

always wins out against a 600-lb. one), it is nonetheless the case that all athletes are human
beings with life challenges, moods, and emotions; as a result, these aspects play a role that can
either help or wreak havoc on expressing maximum strength when it matters most.
There are many aspects of the emotional game that overlap with the psychological (and
physical) spheres; that said, the following “emotional” themes tend to come to the forefront for
me meet after meet:

  • Relax and win: I have learned over the years to rely on my body of work to calm my
    nerves and ease my mind. When I enter the meet (as I did last Saturday) thinking that
    (1) I am feeling good, (2) I have decades of experience, and (3) it is a blessing to be able
    to compete, I am in a better internal space than when I worry about external factors (my
    competition) or unknowns/aspects out of my control.
  • Time management/handling: Having a training partner or a professional game day
    coach can be very empowering in that it enables you, the competitor, to forget about how
    much weight to put on the warm-up bar or how much time until you’ll step on the
    platform. I find it much easier to control my thoughts and emotions when all I have to do
    is execute when my handler says to.
  • Informed attempt selection: I was fortunate enough to grow up in the sport in
    Maryland, where I met Matt and Sioux-Z Gary at my first USAPL meet nearly a decade
    ago. Matt’s article, A Powerlifter’s Guide to Attempt Selection, has served as a
    touchstone to me over the years as I prepare for meets and consider my meet day game
    plan. I will always prefer a slightly conservative third attempt than a barely-too-much call
    that costs me 5, 10, or 15 kilos at the end of the day.
  • Happy execution: As I quoted Jenkin Lloyd Jones in my Finding Joy in the Journey
    article for Kabuki Strength in 2020: “Life is just like an old time rail journey… delays,
    sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders, and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful
    vistas and thrilling bursts of speed. The trick is to [be grateful for] the ride.” I have found
    that adopting an attitude of gratitude during the meet itself – regardless of what happens
    during each attempt – enables me to optimize my chances at success. I think in my
    mind’s eye of “Superman” David Ricks, who exudes positivity and humility throughout
    every meet in which I have seen him compete (and who hit an open 93kg, 716-lb. world
    record squat in 2017 at age 58).
Photo By: Photo by Jason Murphy

Final Thoughts

There are two lifting philosophy articles that have become foundational for my thinking about
training over the years:

  1. Iron and the Soul, and, more recently,
  2. The Zen of Weightlifting.

Authors Henry Rollins and Brad Stulberg recognize that our time spent with the barbell develops
far more than muscles and physical strength. As I approach 34 years since first maxing out on
the bench at age 11, the themes of resilience, integrity, gratitude, selflessness, and longevity
now underpin my reasons for continuing the pursuit of lifetime strength records. My advice to
you, reader, is that you see in your iron pursuit the possibility not only of realizing the perfect
meet, but of achieving new levels of soul expansion in the process. Numbers will fade in time,
but our impact on others can prove far more enduring.

Author bio:

Nathaniel Hancock is a Master (40+) lifter in the USAPL federation. A former soccer player,
marathoner, and state champion bodybuilder (NPC Utah 2000), Nathaniel is committed to
continue progressing in the iron game. In addition to his powerlifting accomplishments (a
446-lb. raw bench and a 639-lb. raw squat), Nathaniel holds a Master’s in French
Translation and is the father of four children. He and his family currently reside in Utah,
where they frequently enjoy mountain views and desert hikes.