On this site, you will find our calculator for picking attempts for a powerlifting competition, as well as a general meet strategy regarding your attempt selection.
How to use:
- Enter your target weights in the squat, bench press, and deadlift in the fields below.
- We’ll calculate weights for your 1st, 2nd, and 3rd attempt.
Enter your target weights (3rd attempt) here:
Note: this calculator is also available for free in our app StrengthLog.
Where do these numbers come from?
This attempt selection strategy is based on several sources. Former US national powerlifting coach Matt Gary presented it at the European Powerlifting Conference in 2017. A similar strategy is often utilized by powerlifting coaches Boris Sheiko, Bryce Lewis, and Alexander Eriksson.
More recently, a study published in October 2021 analyzed the results from the World Championships in classic powerlifting (IPF) between 2012 and 2019.1 They found that lifters who successfully complete their third attempts, on average opened with 91% of their third attempt, and lifted 96% in their second attempt. That is, the same attempts that I suggest in this article and the calculator above.
For the rest of this article, I will explain two different attempt selection strategies, with slightly different goals:
- One to get your highest possible total
- One to get your highest possible placing
Powerlifting Attempt Selection Strategy #1: Get Your Highest Possible Total
This is the attempt strategy used in the calculator above.
The goal of this strategy is to achieve 100% of what you are capable of lifting for the day.
You want to get everything out in terms of approved lifts. You do not want to leave anything on the platform, and that means you should make 9 out of 9 lifts.
The better estimate you have of your current strength levels, the better your chances of achieving 100% of your capacity on the day of competition. If you have a good idea of what you’re capable of lifting, you can plan your attempts more effectively to increase your chances of successfully making that weight.
This strategy rests on two assumptions:
- You use your first and second attempts to optimize the chance that you make 100% (max capacity for the day) in your third attempt. You want to create a positive chain of successful lifts leading up to the final and heaviest one.
- You seldom have much use of a second try on a very heavy weight. If you fail on a weight that is very close to your maximum capacity for the day, chances are slim that you will be able to make it on a second try. This mostly only happens with pure mistakes, such as missing a signal or some technicality of the rules.
How to Dispose Your Attempts
To use this strategy, you must make a reasonable assumption of the heaviest weight you will be able to lift today. Not what you wish you could do, but what you can reasonably assume you can do. That number is your 100%, and your goal for the day.
1 st Attempt (Opener)
Your first attempt is your entry point into the competition, and it sets the tempo for the rest of your competition. I recommend that your opener is 91% of your estimated 100% for the day.
It is a relatively easy lift, so why should you “waste” and attempt on it?
There’s a couple of reasons:
- It guarantees you a result. Don’t be the person that bombs out on their opener. Lift something so that you get a result.
- It calms your nerves. You will probably start considering your attempts long before the competition, maybe several weeks before. Deciding on an easy opener will help you relax during all this time. On the night before the competition, you won’t lie awake from anxiety that you will miss your opening weight. On the day of competition, during your warm-up, you gain calm from the fact that your opener is well within your capacity.
- It gives you the most specific warm-up. Your opener can be said to be your last warm-up lift, but with the specificity dialed to the maximum. With your opener, you are doing your final warm-up lift on the training platform, with an audience, spotters, referees, and signals. This let’s you acclimatize to the competition environment and get a feel for all of the conditions such as: How quick is the referee with the signals? How slippery is the competition bench? What kind of lift-off does the spotter give you in the bench press?
- It is insurance against unexpected events. In my last competition, one of the lifters got an incorrect rack height in his first attempt. For another lifter, the platform slipped apart. An easy opener is a buffer against this kind of unforeseen scenario that might occur in the competition, and it makes you way more stress-resistant in the face of such events.
The Opener: Summary
Look upon your opener as your last warm-up lift, and use it to start your competition on a positive note, a stepping-stone for your heavy lifts, and to get acquainted with the arena and all of its conditions.
Attempt selection: 91% of the day’s estimated max.
With your opener out of the way, it is time to get serious. By this point, you are probably feeling “in the zone” with a laser-focus on the competition, and you are full of confidence after making your opener with ease.
Your second attempt serves two purposes:
- Secure kilo’s. In this lift, you will grab a big chunk of the kilos you are capable of lifting for the day.
- Act as a tactile rod for your third attempt. What are you really capable of lifting today? Your second attempt gives you a better estimate of today’s max without tiring you out unnecessarily. Teammates or a coach that is familiar with your lifting style and speed can really help you estimate how much more you’ve got in you. A video recording can also be useful for this purpose.
I recommend that you pick 96% of your estimated maximum for the day for your second attempt. If you’ve guessed your daily max somewhat close, it is a weight that should be quite simple. Still, it gives you positive momentum and is great practice for your third and final attempt without being excessively tiring.
Your second attempt is something of a mid-way station. The opener is of great importance, not least in a psychological sense, and your third attempt is where you cash in on all your hard work. The second attempt lies between these two, and acts as a spring board that should optimize your chances of picking the right weight (and making it!) in your third attempt.
The Second Attempt: Summary
You use your second attempt to secure kilos, to prepare for your final attempt, and as a tactile rod to discern what you are capable of today, so that you know what weight to pick in your final attempt.
Attempt selection: 96% of the day’s estimated max.
It’s time for the money shot. With attempts one and two you have put the ball in position, and now it’s time to smash it. When your goal is to maximize your total, there’s only one rule for your third attempt: you must make it.
To help you decide how much you are maximally capable of lifting, you have your recent training and the feel and look of your first and second attempts.
Pick a weight you believe you can make given your current circumstances. That includes your peaking, competitive spirit and audience support, and just general grit and determination. Still, the emphasis is that you should make the weight. If you don’t, then you’ve left kilos on the platform.
A reflection here on the joy of competing and on getting motivated for your next long, hard training block that might last for several months: it feels a heck of a lot better to start your next training block with a 2.5 kg PR in your pocket, than having bombed out on a lift several kilos over your PR. A 2.5 kg PR is worth 7.5 kg in the bush, so to say.
When in doubt: secure a small PR to keep you motivated during your next training block, and if it moves easily, look forward to cashing in that weight (and more) in your next competition.
The Third Attempt: Summary
In your third attempt, you lift 100% of what you are capable of for the day. If you are unsure, err on securing a small PR rather than bombing out on a weight that is too heavy. Make your third attempt.
Attempt selection: 100% of the day’s estimated max.
Use the calculator at the beginning of this article or in our workout app StrengthLog to calculate your attempts according to the 91, 96, and 100% distribution, as well as getting the total result calculated for you for each attempt. While you should still use your head and suit the attempts to yourself, the calculator can be a great starting point or support in picking your attempts.
Powerlifting Attempt Selection Strategy #2: Get Your Highest Possible Placing
You are probably wondering: how can the strategy to get your highest possible placing be different from the strategy of getting your highest possible total? Surely, your highest possible total must give you the highest possible placing?
Yes, it does, but the difference lies in risk minimization.
The Squat and the Bench Press
There is no difference from the previous weight selection strategy in these lifts: your goal is to scrape together as many kilos as possible from your three attempts in the squat and the bench press. That means getting 100% of what you’re capable of for the day and not leaving any kilos on the platform. You want to create as good of a starting point as possible before the deadlift.
Here’s where things change. Unlike the strategy of maximizing your total, you will not necessarily pick the heaviest weights you are capable of when you compete for placement.
Let’s assume that you have one primary rival in terms of placing. If you weigh less than your competitor does, you only need to pick deadlift attempts that put you on par with your competitor’s total in order to win. It might mean that you get away with lifting a little lighter weights in the deadlift than you are capable of, thus increasing your chance of making the lifts and walking away with the medal.
If you weigh more than your competitor, then you only need to pick deadlift weights that put your total 2.5 kilos ahead of your rival in each attempt.
Still – starting at 91% of your estimated daily max is a great idea. It gives you a result and insures you from bombing out, and it better lets you gauge what you are capable of today. The second and third attempts should be enough to out-lift your rival.
Additionally, your lot number matters, and the lifter with the highest lot number will lift last if you have picked the same weight, which is a great advantage.
Example: you are competing head to head with a rival that is about as strong as you. You both have the same total when going into the deadlift. Just lifting 2.5 kg more, or making a weight that your opponent fails, is therefore highly relevant. For the third round of deadlifts, you have both requested an absurdly high weight to conceal your intentions. Let’s say you’ve requested 400 kg in your third attempts, even though you’re only good for about 300 kg. The one of you with the highest lot number will lift last if you have requested the same weight. That means that you can out-wait your opponent. In the last moment, your opponent lowers their requested weight to 300 kg, at which point you can quickly change your third attempt to 302.5 kg.
There can be a lot of strategy in the deadlift when you’re fighting for placings. Sure, you can ignore all of that and just try to lift the heaviest weight you believe you’re capable of for the day. But, then you run the risk of failing your third attempt and losing a medal, when maybe it would have sufficed to lift less weight to win, if you would have played it cool and kept your eyes on your opponents.
That was a short guide on how to pick attempts for powerlifting competitions and meets.
To maximize your total and to give yourself the best possible chances of making a heavy third attempt, I really like going 91, 96, and 100%. This strategy will rarely let you down.
When competing for medals and placings, it gets a little more complicated, even though the strategy for the squat and bench press is largely the same. It is in the deadlift that the major differences arise, and where you need to keep an eye on your competitors. What are they capable of lifting, what do they weigh, and what is their lot number?
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