So You Wanna Be a Powerlifter? Attempt Selection During a Meet

How do you (and your coach) figure out the best attempts to take at a powerlifting meet?

In our previous episode, we talked about the rules of a meet and the process by which the meet actually runs. In this final installment of the So You Wanna Be A Powerlifter series, we will go over attempt selection and some of the nuances to jostling for scoring and position in the final deadlift. We hope you’ve all enjoyed the series and found some value in it all, and we want to wish you the best of luck with your first meet!

Opening Attempts

Opening attempts are something you’ll want to have figured out ahead of time, and it’s definitely worth spending some time looking back through your training so that you can come into the meet with a solid idea of where you should start each of the three lifts. You’ll need to hand this attempt in to the referee/judge when you do your weigh-in, so make sure you have it recorded somewhere – in kilograms.

In terms of selecting your opening attempt, there are some general rules of thumb we use. You want the weight to be something you could probably do 2-3 reps with on a good day. If you’re familiar with the RPE system, you’re looking for somewhere around a 7.5-8RPE. T

his will usually equate to about 90% of your current max. The idea here is that even if everything goes wrong, and you’re rushed and your warmup doesn’t go as planned and you’re late to the platform and nervous as hell… well, if you’ve chosen wisely, you’ll still put yourself in the meet with a smart opening attempt. For example, in one of my equipped meets, I had my right knee wrap loosen up quite a bit as I was setting up under my opening squat. It made the rep much slower than it should have been, but I got it.

It’s worth noting here that the lifter is permitted a change of opening attempt, as long as it is made before 3 minutes prior to the start of their flight, or in the case of a flight B or C lifter, before 3 lifters prior to the start of their flight.

After your opening attempt, you have 1 minute to hand in your attempt card to the scoring table. If you miss this window, one of two things will happen – for a successful attempt, the next will be put in at 2.5kg above the previous attempt, and for an unsuccessful attempt, the next will be put in at the same weight. You cannot ever go lower than your previous attempt – so bear that in mind.

Powerlifting meet attempts
Powerlifting Attempt

Second Attempt

For your second attempt, this is where we start trying to ‘build the total’. Generally speaking, we want 100% sure-thing attempts here that will set you up for a PR, position, or solid progress towards a total on your third attempt. The second attempt is really where we see what the lifter has for that day.

When choosing a second attempt, we’re usually looking for an 8.5-9.5RPE, or somewhere in the neighborhood of 95-98%, and I’ll always advise a bigger jump from attempt 1 to 2 than from attempt 2 to 3. For example, I would much rather see a lifter go 12.5kg from first to second attempt, and then 7.5kg to third attempt, than to go 10kg and 10kg or… even worse, take 7.5kg then a 12.5kg jump. Now of course these sorts of ‘rules’ are always subject to circumstance, but they work for the majority of cases. The reasoning behind this heuristic of mine is that the likelihood of a successful second attempt should be pretty high, which will add more kilo’s to the total overall, while a third attempt is usually a higher risk attempt.

Third Attempts

The third attempt is obviously a very important call for any lifter in any meet. This is the heaviest you will go on the day, and often is uncharted territory, or some kind of personal best for the lifter. I recommend basing this decision around the lifter’s goals. If it’s a small meet, and there is no real consequence or intense competition between lifters in your class (or you’re not part of the intense competition) then ideally, you will shoot for some kind of PR here. If it’s a big meet, or you’re right in the thick of it competition-wise, you need to make lifts. For Squat and Bench Press, a recent study showed a positive correlation between made attempts and overall success, which goes to show that for at least the first 6 lifts of the day, making lifts makes the total.

It’s always better to make a 2.5kg jump than to miss a 5kg jump.

Deadlift Third Attempts

The third deadlift is often the most exciting and impactful attempt of the whole meet. It makes and breaks performances, sets records, and often can make the difference between being on the podium or not. Part of the reason for this is obviously because it is the last lift of the meet, but another nuance to it is the unique quality of being able to change your third attempt deadlift – not once, but twice. Now there are some rules regarding these changes, and they are as follows.

The lifter’s attempt may be changed higher or lower (this is the single instance that is allowed). The bar cannot go below what is currently on the bar, but the lifter has until “bar is loaded” is called for his attempt to submit the change and will be allowed it. If a lifter ends up matching another lifter’s attempt with the change, then lot number will determine who will attempt the weight first.

A lifter’s ‘lot number’ is assigned at or before weigh ins, and in a competitive setting is an often overlooked but important thing to take into account. In the case of matching attempts, you must ensure that your lot number is higher than the other lifter with the same attempt, or you may be restricted from making that attempt change – because lot number would dictate you would need to go first.

The lot number stuff can be a bit confusing, so I hope you were able to make sense of that all. I hope that this series has given anyone looking to do their first powerlifting meet a good primer/guide for taking their first steps in to the sport that has absolutely changed my life for the better. If anyone is interested in more information or has any questions, feel free to reach out via the social media links in my profile below, or shoot me an e-mail. Thanks for reading!