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Selecting attempts FOR NEW POWERLIFTERS

With the Northern Powerlifting Classic coming up this week, I thought I would take a minute to share some insight on choosing your attempts.  This info doesn’t only apply to new lifters, but if you’ve done a few meets, you should have a decent idea of what your numbers are, how you perform on meet day, and how to choose your attempts.  That being said, it never hurts to read and get others’ opinions on the matter.

So you’re doing your first (or second meet) - awesome!  I’m sure being less than a week away you’re a little bit nervous - that’s perfectly normal.  Being prepared with your attempts will certainly ease the tension a here we go!

The first thing I want to say with choosing your attempts, is have a plan ahead of time, BUT be flexible on meet day.  Maybe you’re just not having a great day and you’re struggling with your picked weights - that’s OK! The best thing you can do is not be stubborn and roll with the punches.  Even the best athletes in the world have bad days.

If this is your first couple of meets, I can’t stress BEING SUCCESSFUL enough.  This sport is fun, and should be fun, and getting lifts passed is way more fun than getting squished all day.  Your goal in your first meet should be to go 8 for 9, or 9 for 9 (9 being the attempts you take on the platform - 3 squat, 3 bench, 3 deadlift).  Going 9 for 9 means you got all your lifts on the day.


When selecting attempts, choosing your goal numbers is a good place to start, and then we can work backwards from there.  What do you want to get on the day?? I would suggest your goal number should be something around, or slightly above your gym maxes (granted they were done to competition standards - i.e., squat to depth/ bench with a pause/ a smooth, no hitch deadlift without straps).  BE REALISTIC with yourself. The worst thing you can do as a new lifter is use sloppy gym maxes as your baseline numbers. Once we have our goal numbers, we can start to work backwards. Again, choose your goal numbers wisely. If your best gym squat is, say, 405, don’t set your goal as 500 for the meet - that ain’t happenin.

Let’s use a gym max squat of 405lbs as an example.  I also suggest using your current max, not your all-time max (if they differ).  Use the max that you got in the training cycle leading up to this meet - there’s nothing worse than using a max from 2 years ago that you’re currently not able to do.  If 405 is my max in the gym, and I squatted it to depth and it wasn’t a super ugly grinder, we can set a tentative goal of say 415lbs at the meet. That would be a small PR and something achievable for me.  Remember, you currently don’t have ANY competition lifts to use for numbers, so getting anything will be a meet PR.


Now that we have our goal number of 415lbs, we can figure out our first and second attempts.  My advice for your opener in your first meet is that it should be something EASY and you know can get.  When I talk to our clients who are competing for the first time, I often get scoffed at when I suggest their opener, like they’re offended at such a measly number.  Remember, it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish - and at this point, you don’t know what your body and mind are going to feel like on meet day. BE CONSERVATIVE!!  You never want to grind out your opener - where do you go from there?? Trust me when I say you won’t be able to grind all 9 lifts out on the day without missing some and getting injured in the process.  

So let’s use our 415 as our starting number - we’ll say that is 100%.  As a beginner, I want to open at 85-90% of my goal. Again, being conservative, let’s say 85% - which puts us around 355lbs as an opener.  I know you’re looking at that right now and thinking “I can squat 355 in my sleep!” Exactly. Get yourself in the meet with a number you know you can smoke. Build confidence and go smash your 2nd attempt, too.

Once I’ve smoked my opener, I want to take equal jumps between my first and planned third attempts.  Since we opened at 85%, let’s split the 15% in half and make our second attempt 92.5% - which is 385lbs.  When we make equal sized jumps, our central nervous system adjusts better and our body will perform better.  

So we have an opener of 355lbs, we smoke it.  We make a jump to 385lbs and get that one too.  Now I’m ready for my third attempt - my goal weight of 415lbs.  I’ve made an equal jump again and my body is primed and ready for the PR.  Only thing left to do is go out and hit it.

Let’s revisit being flexible on meet day.  Our goal was 415, yet 385 didn’t move like we thought it should and was quite slow.  These things happen. Again, be realistic. If you’re doubting it, go with a slightly lower number.  So say 385 is slow and you don’t think 415 is there - take 405 instead - go smash it and build your total up with smart choices.  


This method for choosing attempts can be applied to all 3 lifts, I just used the squat as an example.  With that being said, I do suggest your deadlift opener should be what would be your last warmup in the back room.  Yes, that’s right, bump your deadlift opener down a little bit more. Why? Because this is your first meet, and you don’t know what your body is going to feel like after 3 squat and 3 bench attempts, all those nerves, and all that adrenaline.  Remember, you have to get at least one of each of the lifts passed to get a total and finish the meet. The last thing you want is to have squat and bench PRs and then miss your deadlifts because you’re tired and opened with too heavy a number.  It is easy to make that little difference up with your next attempt (remember you can’t take weight off the bar for you attempts, so if you miss, you have to take the same weight again or move up in weight)

Let’s say 500 is my goal deadlift for the meet - based on the directions above my opener would be 425, my second attempt would be 465, and my third would be 500.  If we bump that down slightly we can take 405 as an opener, 455 as my second, and still take 500 as my third - this will ensure that even if I’m tired and beat up, I will at least get my opener and finish the meet.  


I hope that all makes sense.  Being prepared with your attempt selection is important, but again, be flexible with it.  I’ve seen it too many times where a lifter has a number in his head, but it isn’t there on that day and they take it anyways cuz that’s what they wanted, and they go out and get squished.  Meet strategy is as important as being strong, and learning how your body works, responds, and performs on meet day is part of the learning process to becoming a good competitor. As a competitor you need pick attempts that will build success, build your total, and keep you strong for all three events on the day.  Powerlifting is about building your total - it isn’t about any one attempt on meet day.

Good luck to everyone this weekend and for you first time competitors have a blast with it!!

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