Attempt selection is very important in the sport of Powerlifting. Proper attempt selection will set you up with the highest chance at hitting all 9/9 attempts.
Today I’m going to outline how I go about attempt selection and talk about the many different factors that need to be taken into consideration. Hopefully some of you can take something away from this little write up!
If you aren’t competing at a high level or aren’t going for the win, you should have an attempt selection plan and you need to stick to it. If you are at a high level competing, you may have to take unplanned attempts in order to get that win or podium finish.
I typically recommend the following percentages for attempts –
3rd Attempt: 100%
2nd Attempt: 95.5 – 97%
1st Attempt: 89.5 – 91.5%
It’s important to note that this is only a guide. If your opener or second attempt doesn’t move like it should have, you need to be adjusting your following attempts on the fly during the meet.
Something would have to be very off in the warm-ups that would require you to change your opening attempt. I like to look at the opener as essentially your final warm up before your two important attempts. A weight in the range of 89.5-91.5% of your planned third attempt should move very comfortably.
I like to ask lifters who open with a much higher percentage of their planned 3rd attempts this question – how would you warm up to your planned 3rd attempt if you were working up to it in the gym? Almost every time they wouldn’t be taking such small jumps. By not opening too heavy, you don’t use unnecessary energy which is very valuable for your third attempts and the remainder of the competition.
There should be zero doubts in your mind that you can hit your opener to a comp standard. The opener however will be heavy enough for you to know what you’ll be capable of on the day. I like to plan a 2.5-5kg range for the second and third attempts from where I will choose the appropriate weight based on how the previous attempt moved, how it felt, as well as factoring any red lights.
The most important factor of the attempt selection is the target third attempt. This needs to be constructed based on how the training cycle has gone.
Not constructed from: Your goals 5 months ago, your goals before you had a major injury, your previous meet where you were in a heavier weight class, milestones that are most likely out of reach but you really want that milestone, gym lifts that weren’t to competition standard i.e squatting high or touch and go bench press.
Here’s two example lifters with different competition scenarios and how I would decide what weights to choose on their attempts based on different results of the previous attempt –
82.5kg / 181lb male lifter, 3rd competition. Previous meet (6 months ago) result of 225kg / 135kg / 245kg. All training done to competition standard (i.e depth on squat, competition calls on bench press). Their training cycle leading into the meet suggests the goal target for the 3rd attempts to be 230-235kg / 137.5-140kg / 250-255kg, which are realistic gains (+5-10 on squat and deadlift and +2.5-5 on bench press in 6 months).
Using the above percentages, I formulate a competition attempt selection plan.
Squat: 210 / 222.5-225 / 230-235
Bench Press: 125 / 132.5-135 / 137.5-140
Deadlift: 227.5 / 240-245 / 250-255
Fiction results and how I would select weights: Squat opener at 210kg moves well and to plan, 3 white lights. 225kg elected on second. Second attempt moves well and to plan, 3 white lights. 235kg elected on third and is successful.
Bench opener at 125kg moves a little slower than anticipated, so 132.5kg is elected on the second attempt with a revised planned 3rd attempt of 137.5kg. For this lifter to now be confident with 140 on the third attempt, they must execute the 132.5 much better than expected, otherwise they will be playing it safer and opting for 137.5kg on their third attempt. 132.5 moves as expected so 137.5kg was elected on third and is successful.
Deadlift opener moves really fast and to plan, but received one red light for soft knees. Due to the red light and the extra thought needed to lock out the knees, we opt for 242.5kg on the second attempt even though the opener moved really fast. 242.5kg moves really well and 3 white lights so 255kg is elected on the third attempt and is successful.
56kg / 123lb female lifter, 2nd competition. Previous meet (9 months ago) result of 107.5kg / 55kg / 125kg. All training done to competition standard (i.e depth on squat, competition calls on bench press). Their training cycle leading into the meet suggests the goal target for the 3rd attempts to be 112.5-115kg / 57.5kg / 132.5-135kg, which are realistic gains (+5-10 on squat and deadlift and +2.5 on bench press in 9 months).
Using the above percentages, I formulate a competition attempt selection plan.
Squat: 102.5 / 107.5-110 / 112.5-115
Bench Press: 50 / 55 / 57.5
Deadlift: 117.5 / 125-127.5 / 132.5-135
Fiction results and how I would select weights: Squat opener at 102.5kg moves well and to plan, 3 white lights. 110kg elected on second. Second attempt moves well and to plan, 3 white lights. 115kg elected on third and is successful
Bench opener at 50kg moves as anticipated, so 55kg is elected on the second attempt. 55kg is a huge grinder and the lifter received 1 red light due to a bar dip. Third attempt passed.
Deadlift: Opener at 117.5kg gets two red lights due to soft knees. Second attempt we re-attempt 117.5kg due to Lifter B not having much competition experience as well as not being in contention for the win and it isn’t a high level competition. I always highly recommend repeating the same weight on a second attempt if you miss your opener, even if it was only a slight technical error. 117.5 moves really fast and receives 3 white lights. In this case, I will opt for a weight between the planned second and third attempts and take what is there based on the speed. We elect 130kg on the third and is successful.
These two lifters are just to emphasise that there are multiple factors that impact attempt selection on meet day, and a good lifter will take what is there on the day and have a plan.
Some other things to consider
For females that have a bench press around the 45-60kg mark, if your second attempt is very hard and grindy, you most likely don’t have a third attempt in you. This is because even the smallest increment (2.5kg) with a 50kg 1RM is a 5% jump, and there is a very low chance of adding 5% to the bar if your previous attempt was a grinder. It would be in your best interest to skip your third attempt in this case to preserve energy and your body for the deadlifts.
If you have squatted high, or have been doing short pauses or touch and go benching throughout your competition prep cycle, you will need to take into considering the extra difficulty of squatting to depth and a competition length pause.
If you are cutting a significant amount of weight (5-10% of body weight), you need to take into consideration a potential drop in performance – especially if you have not had much experience cutting that much weight.
If you are travelling, you need to take into consideration a potential drop in performance – especially if you have not had much experience travelling.
If you’ve never bench pressed after squatting, or never deadlifted after squatting & bench pressing, you need to take into consideration a potential drop in performance.
If the competition is scheduled to run over 9 hours and you’ve never competed or done any long competitions, you need to take into consideration a potential drop in performance.
I see so many lifters get attempt selection wrong – even at a high level. It’s hard to identify where they go wrong – whether it was not allowing for a slight decrease in performance from a large weight cut which they didn’t fully recover from, they got sick before the meet, or if they were simply too ambitious and set the goals before their prep started and were too stubborn to adjust these goals when things weren’t going to plan or if they had setbacks.
I see lifters hitting their last warm ups in the warm up room and it moves like an opener should. Their opener is set too high – and the speed, execution and confidence reflects that. On the second attempt, some jump up to a PR weight – above a PR that was done outside of competition, much less pressure, without any weight cut and not to competition standard. If they do hit this weight, more often than not the lifter doesn’t have a third attempt in the tank yet they attempt it anyway which severely taxes them for the rest of the competition as well as negatively affecting the lifters mindset.
Making 9 out of 9 lifts should be the priority of any competition. Leaving 2.5-5kg in the tank on the squat and bench press is never a bad thing – unless of course you are at an elite level fighting for placings. Even then, leaving some in the tank on the squat and bench press will leave you with more in the tank to give on the deadlifts. Hitting 9/9 lifts with perhaps a little in the tank, is always better than hitting 4-7 lifts out of 9. Hitting 9/9 lifts builds competition momentum. It builds confidence meet to meet, and if you already had 2.5-5kg in the tank a the previous meet that will carry-over as long as your training has been good and you haven’t had any set major setbacks.
Missing lifts halts momentum from competition to competition. Most lifters add weight to their attempts each competition regardless if they got those lifts at the previous competition. Even if they missed their second and third squat, they will want to increase their opener at the next meet. This can lead to lifters being in a competition “rut” where they string multiple meets of 3-6 lifts made out of 9 if their progress in their training doesn’t keep up with their attempt increases or if there isn’t enough time between meets.
I hope this has given you a better insight on attempt selection in the sport of Powerlifting!
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