Powerlifting Meet Openers and Attempt Selection Strategy

The Best Powerlifting Meet Openers and Attempt Selection Strategy To Win

Are you struggling to choose your attempts for your next or first powerlifting meet? Or do you just want to know the best way to max out in the gym? Then read on my strong friends and get ready for a new PR plan! This article is all about how to choose the best Powerlifting Meet Openers and Attempt Strategy to win!

USPA Powerlifting Openers and Attempt Selection

How To Choose Your Lifts Wisely

Recently I was able to attend a small charity powerlifting meet held at Ironworks Gym. At this meet, there were some strong lifters, as well as those just testing their strength just for fun. It was a great powerlifting meet and everyone had a lot of fun, but I noticed that very few of the lifters knew how to choose their openers and attempts.

They would complete their first lift and then take suggestions from anyone around as to what they should attempt next. Very few of them had a plan and as stated by Legendary Powerlifter and Coach Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell…

“If you don’t have a plan, you plan to fail.”

– Louie Simmons, Westside Barbell

Get a plan for success in your next Powerlifting Meet with our proven Powerlifting Programs!

So, this article on how to choose the best openers and attempts is for those of you that need a plan for success in your next Powerlifting Meet. My Powerlifting Team of Strength Warriors and I have all used it to make sure we never bomb out of a meet and always hit a PR by the end.

So, get ready to take notes and let’s begin…

Article Overview:


What is Powerlifting?

“Powerlifting is a sport in which the goal is to become as strong as possible in your chosen division for all three lifts.”

First, powerlifting is a strength sport in which the goal is to become as strong as possible in your weight class and division for all three lifts; the Squat, Bench Press and Deadlift.

In powerlifting, you get three attempts to lift the most weight for each lift. The heaviest completed weight for each lift is added to your accumulative total for that day. However, to complete a lift you not only have to lift the weight but must do so with proper technique

Every Powerlifting Federation has its own set of rules and regulations on how to perform each lift. So check your Federation Rules before you start training in order to practice the proper technique.

Learn proper lifting technique for the: 

The Goal of Powerlifting:

“…you cannot win a powerlifting competition just by simply being strong.”

Next, the goal in powerlifting is to obtain the highest total [weight lifted] that you can. So, you cannot be weak in any of the three lifts. You must be at least proficient in all three lifts so that you can have the greatest chance of obtaining a competitive total against other lifters in your division.

With that being said, you cannot win a powerlifting competition just by simply being strong. You must have a strategy that makes you stronger than other competitors. That is why attempt selection is so important for all lifters. You have to be smart and strong to win.

“You must have a strategy that makes you stronger than other competitors.”

The Goal of the Lifter:

Finally, though winning is nice, the goal of any lifter should be to lift the most weight they can on competition day. To lift the most weight, and get the highest score you can, you must complete each lift. The more lifts you miss, the more weight you leave on the platform.

Beginners should always aim to go 9 for 9, or completing all 3 attempts in each of the 3 lifts. This will help beginners stay conservative in their attempt selection and give the highest chance for obtaining a high total.

More advanced lifters should also aim to go 9 for 9, but getting at least 6 for 9 is still okay. This is because as an advanced competitor you are going to have hard competition, whether that is against others or yourself. So advanced lifters need to aim high on their third attempts and push their limitations. These are the lifts that will define the elite from the competitive.

What is more important for advanced lifters is too beat the competition. Sometimes you will win, and sometimes you will lose, but that is competition. You have to compete and test your boundaries. So do what you can, but go for glory and don’t hold back!

To put it simply, if they go for 225 kilos (496 lbs), you better go for 227.5 kilos (501 lbs)!

Have A Smart Attempt Selection Strategy

Your strength levels will determine how much you can lift on that given day, but your attempt selection is crucial in obtaining the highest total.

Remember, once you have chosen your attempt, you cannot go back down in weight, so you must stay smart. If you do an attempt that is easy, yet jump too high on the next attempt and cannot do that weight, there will be pounds/kilos left on the platform that could have been added to your total.

So your strategy should be to stay reasonable on your first two attempts before going for absolute maximums on your final attempt.

1 Rep Maximum vs Projected Maximum:

Before we get into the percentages of each attempt, let’s go over the differences between a maximum and a projected maximum. The difference between a 1 rep maximum or personal record (PR) and a projected maximum is simple.

  • 1 Rep Maximum = The max weight you have done recently, using proper competition style form.
  • Projected Maximum = Your best estimation of the most you can do based on training and your experiences. Usually, about 5-10% more than your true max when you started a proper 12-Week Powerlifting Program.

However, for a maximum to count though, it must be performed under the same rules and regulations as the competition you will be in. For example, you may have a standard bench press PR of 300lbs but in competition, you must pause on your chest. This pause can take away from your gym lift maximum bench press because it has longer time under tension and you must press from a static position. With this in mind, it is a better estimate for you to use your pause bench press PR while keeping your hips down and following all the rules of competition as your maximum.

Also, you should practice the competition style lift often in your training, so that you build strength with that technique. It is still important to overload with a standard bench press technique, but always be practicing your sport as if you are in competition as well.

Projected Maximum

Most powerlifting programs base all training percentages on your current true maximum. From a proper 12-Week Powerlifting Program you can expect about a 5-10% increase. For example, if you start with a squat program with a 500-pound max, you can estimate a 525-550lb projected maximum after 12 weeks. This estimation is used only on competition day for choosing your three attempts.

The projected maximum should only be used by advanced lifters with years of experience and multiple competitions under their belt. Advanced lifters know their limitations and are much better at estimating their gains from the training they have done over the course of multiple years.

Beginners and moderately experienced lifters should not use this because their gains may still be somewhat inconsistent. This may lead too over projecting your abilities which can lead to missed lifts in competition.

Be Honest

Another thing to consider is that just because you lifted a particular weight one day in the gym while you were feeling good, does not mean you will be able to reach that same weight on competition day. The goal should always be to hit new PR’s during a competition, but there are numerous variables that can affect whether it is a good or bad day for any of the lifts you are doing.

Overall, when selecting weight attempts, just be honest with yourself and think reasonably towards your abilities. It is better to estimate too low and surprise yourself in competition rather than aim too high and miss lifts, possibly losing you the competition.

“…just because you lifted a particular weight one day in the gym while you were feeling good, that does not mean you will be able to reach that same weight on competition day.”

Powerlifting Meet Attempt Selection

Powerlifting Meet Attempt Selection Strategy: Openers (1st Attempts)

First, know that attempt selection is different for a beginner versus an elite lifter. For example, your opener will vary greatly depending on your powerlifting competition experience. However, every lifter should always choose a weight that they have a high probability of completing for each attempt.

For beginners, your first attempt should be a weight that you can do for 2-3 reps, even on a bad day. This is about 90-95% of your true 1 rep maximum.

For elite powerlifters or those with experience, the first attempt should be something that you know you can do. This is also about 90-95%, but of your projected maximum. Consider it a final warm-up lift before you attempt your 100% max on the second attempt.

Powerlifting Meet Attempt Selection Strategy: Second Attempts

Next, your second attempt depends on how your first attempt felt. If it was easy, take a reasonably large jump of 5-7%. If it was hard, to take a small jump of just 3-5% or less than 10 kilos.

This attempt should be around a 3-7% jump to reach 95-100% of your maximum. If you are a beginner, be conservative and wait to hit the big weight on your third attempt. You still NEED to hit this weight, so don’t jump too high yet.

For more experienced lifters, your second attempt should be your projected maximum for the day. The reason you need to go for this weight on your second attempt is so that you have two attempts at it if needed. If you get red lighted or even just fail the lift for some reason, you can go for it again on your third attempt. 

This weight is around or just over 100% of your maximum. It is the weight that simply must be done in your mind. It is why you showed up that day. So go out there and get it!

Powerlifting Meet Attempt Selection Strategy: Third Attempts

Finally, your third attempt dependents on your second attempt. No matter how the second attempt went, the next weight you choose should be something you know you can do.

For beginners, this is usually between 100-105% of your current 1 Rep Maximum. 

Again, it needs to be a weight you know you can do. Usually, it is a weight you have done before. Of course, we all want to hit a new PR, but it is more important you get the lift, rather than set a PR in your first powerlifting meet.

Just make sure that the jump to the third attempt is less than the jump taken between the first and second attempts. This will help you avoid missing your third attempt, as your body is more likely able to handle a smaller weight jump.

By taking a bigger jump up in weight compared to your third attempt you risk overstressing your body with too great of a stimulus that it may not be prepared for. Decrease your jumps from each warm up and attempts will better prepare your body for the weight to come.

For Advanced Powerlifters

For elite lifters, this should be just around or above your absolute projected maximum. Often this is 100-110% of your old 1 Rep Max and should be a PR lift.

This is the all-out lift that makes champions. So, go out and surprise yourself!

 

Powerlifting Max Mindset:

In the sport of powerlifting, you must have a strong and competitive mindset to succeed. You must believe in yourself more than anyone else. You must have full confidence in every attempt that you do. If there is any doubt in your mind then you have already failed the lift.

It takes extreme focus and determination to push your body to the limit as you move with perfect form.

Knowing this, it is difficult for a competitor to select their attempts while in competition. You may know best what your body is capable of, but you must stay confident in your abilities. This is often detrimental for lifters that choose their attempts because they often overshoot their abilities while being confident. So it is recommended that you have someone choose your attempts for you.

This can be anyone. They do not have to know your abilities or even what powerlifting is about. They simply must know your goals for the day and have a plan set in place that you have already given to them prior.

The day all depends on each lift as it is completed but if you give them some options to choose from or consult with them between lifts it will allow you to stay more focused on the lift rather than the weight.

Overall, just never go into a competition alone. Always bring back up. I mean, someone has to hold the camera…right?

“You must believe in yourself more than anyone else.”

Mathias Method Strength Family

Summary of How To Pick Openers and Attempts:

For Beginners:

  • Try to go 9 for 9! Don’t miss any lifts!
  • Open with about 90% of a max weight you have done before (with competition technique) or something you can triple on your worst day.
  • Base your second attempt on how your opener felt. If it was hard, only bump it up a little. If it was easy, go for about 95% or a weight you can double.
  • Base your third and final attempt on how your second attempt felt. If it was hard, only move up a little. If it was easy, choose a weight you are highly confident you can do. Remember, it’s not about a PR. It’s about what you can lift that day.
  • Of course, always redo any attempts you miss whether they be due to technical errors or failed lifts.

For Advanced Powerlifters:

  • Also, try to go 9 for 9! Do what you can that day and only truly push your final attempts.
  • Open with your final warm-up weight to your second attempt. This is usually 90-95% of your projected maximum.
  • Base your second attempt on how your opener felt. If it was hard, only bump it up a little. If it was easy, go for the weight you came to do. This should be 100% of your projected maximum.
  • Base your third and final attempt on how your second attempt felt. If it was hard, only move up a little. If it was easy, go for a PR and show the world what you are made of!
  • Always redo any failed lifts.
  • For missed lifts due to technical errors, use your honest judgment as to whether you can correct it or not before moving up in weight.

Powerlifting Meet Attempt Selection Strategy: Conclusion

Overall, powerlifting is a great sport for anyone that wants to get stronger and test their abilities. Powerlifting will make you better at any sport you do. It takes focus, hard work, dedication, self-confidence, and a very strong mindset to compete in.

I recommend everyone that strength trains compete at least once because it will force you to have good technique and give you a goal to strive towards in your strength journey. Just remember to make a plan for choosing your attempts and never go in it alone.

Always have some support and make some new friends at every meet. It will all help you grow as a person and may motivate you to continue your growth.

So make a plan, stay focused, and execute it with perfection. You are now more informed and better prepared to estimate your best weights at your next powerlifting meet. So go dominate and keep getting stronger my friends!

Strength to you, 

Ryan J. Mathias

Owner and Creator of MathiasMethod.com

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