Article written by Jay Stadtfeld for LiftBigEatBig.com
You Need to Compete: Part Three-Selecting Attempts in Powerlifting
As we’ve learned in part one and part two of this series, Powerlifting isn’t necessarily just a bunch of fat, strong guys who grunt, pick things up, and waddle off of the platform to repeat the process. There’s actually a pretty big science behind getting stronger and learning just what you’re capable of that ends up culminating into a meet where you put it all to use for a few hours of “awesome-itude”.
In part two, we briefly discussed the hypothetical opener of 380 because you tripled it in training. Today, we’re going to delve deeper into why this is, and how you should approach it at the meet.
I want to first say that I’m never impressed by someone who goes in with an opener of 600, when they’ve never even crossed the 500 barrier in training. Your opener should be something that you know you can hit. It’s there to build confidence. If you set the bar too high, the rest of the meet will seem like a chore, if you haven’t already bombed out by that point.
That said, when I’m choosing an opener, I typically determine it to be something I know I’ll make a mockery of. I’m not saying that it should be something you can hit for 5 reps, and as a matter of fact, I’d suggest against that. I tend to choose something that I can hit for a triple. To give you a percentage, I’d suggest something in the 90% range of your competition PR. So, if you are looking for 500, perhaps an opener at 450 would suit you well.
Remember, the opener is made to build confidence for the meet. If warm-ups aren’t feeling particularly fast, and 400 feels heavier than it should, I have no issue dropping it and going 430 or 440. You can’t always be at the top of your game.
The Second Attempt:
Presuming your first attempt (opener) went well, this is where you’ll find yourself getting close to PR territory. This is normally a middle ground to the final attempt where you go for broke.
Normally on lower body exercises (unless you’re an advanced lifter) a 25 to 35 lb jump is a pretty sufficient advance on lifts. This should come out to roughly 95 to 97% of the last attempt. So, given our example of 500, that should put you around 475 (if using 95%) for your second attempt.
However, on bench, I find that a smaller increase may be needed. Sometimes manifesting itself in the form of a 15 to 20 pound jump. This varies from person to person, but I find it to work well for me.
The basic idea of the second attempt is to prime your body for the final assault; the third attempt. However, because it’s heavier than the opener, it also adds to your total, which is always beneficial.
One note that I’ll make about the second attempt is that it should set you up well for the third attempt. If it doesn’t, re-evaluate and plan accordingly. Don’t select 490 if you plan on 500, but don’t plan on 450 if you opened with 440. Middle ground!
The Third Attempt:
The attempt you’ve been waiting for. Everything culminates into this one final assault on the barbell. Everything you’ve done to this point should set you up for success.
Selecting a third attempt that you can succeed with can be quite troublesome. If your second attempt was tough, an attempt 30 pounds heavier could be a failure, whereas something 20 pounds could be a success.
That having been said, I normally go with something that will be a PR. If I’m feeling particularly great, I may go with a heavier than expected PR.
For example, if 500 was the planned final attempt (yet still a PR) was fast and easy, I may go 510 or heavier.
An easy way to think about this is by using percentages once more. Your final attempt should be 100-105% of your goal. 105% being the UTMOST percentage you should use, and even then I would use it in a very rare instance. 102.5% would probably be the highest you should go.
Again, we’ll use 500 as an example. 102.5% would give you 512.5. That is a pretty hefty PR and a pretty decent sized advance from your second attempt, so use it wisely.
Learning how to set up your own attempts can greatly benefit you in your training and competitions. Having a training partner to determine how fast a particular lift was will also benefit you. If you don’t have access to training with a friend or a good, reliable partner, I suggest recording your lifts and reviewing them. See where you went wrong, if anywhere.
Author’s Note: If for some reason you miss your opening attempt for a silly reason, such as racking the bar too quickly on bench, but it was a smoke show, go ahead with your planned second attempt. No sense in repeating what you’ve already accomplished. If, for some reason, you missed it for legitimate reasons, repeat the attempt and plan your next attempt around that.