How to Pick Attempts for Your Powerlifting Meet

How to Pick Attempts for Your Powerlifting Meet

  • The Golden Rule
  • 5 MORE Attempt Selection Rules
  • Rules of Attempt Selection
  • Selecting Your Opening Attempt
  • Selecting Your Second Attempt
  • Selecting Your Third Attempt

The Golden Rule

The Golden Rule for powerlifting attempt selection is pretty straight forward.
For your opening attempts on ALL lifts you should select something you can do for 3 reps on an average lifting day. This usually falls into the line of 90-92% of your one rep max.

Your second attempt should be decently heavy, somewhere in the range of 96-98% of your one rep max. 

Your third attempts are where you start looking at the fun portion of powerlifting, setting PR's. The general recommendation on this is picking something that is roughly 100-103% of your one rep max.

This rule isn't perfect however. Some meets you may be flying HIGH and you are able to jump much higher than that 103%. Or maybe your cut went wrong and you are feeling weak compared to training.

Well here are some more rules to help guide you on through your training.

5 Attempt Selection Principles For Powerlifting

1. Your training environment WILL be different than the competition

Listen, it happens to the best of us. We get cocky because of how well our training in the gym was going we walk into weigh-ins with a six-iron on our hip.

Then when it's time for meet day, the environment is completely different from what we expected. 

There are more people in the crowd then actually have a membership to your gym.

The refs are looking mighty tough in their official polo's.

The list of changes and difference compared to the "pristine training day" scenario is HUGE.

With that in mind make sure you are 100% DIALED in to what numbers you are wanting to achieve, hit your openers and seconds in training with some left in the tank.

Relieve your anxiety before you step on the platform and you're attempts will go swimmingly.

2. Attempts should be based on training

When people start prepping for meets, they often think of what they want to lift, not what they CAN lift.

There is a huge difference when it comes to dreams and reality on the platform. If you don't train to competition standards, you can't expect the competition to go well.

If you are training and are able to lift above 90% of your one rep max 2-6 weeks out, you are setting the standard for what to expect.

Only look at the recent trends in you training when it comes to picking numbers, not what you have done in the past.

Having a high exposure to 90% and above lets you know how things will feel on average and start laying the pathway to success.

Don't select your attempts based on want, pick them based on recent ability so you have the greatest chance of success.

3. Use each attempt to evaluate your next attempt

There's a problem. Your opener was supposed to be easy as pie, but it slowed down a bit more than you were expecting. Or maybe it moved so quick you feel like a god.
What do you do now? Well that's actually pretty easy.
Using your training as a base for your meet day, you have already created a solid range of numbers for each attempt.

This adaptation is built around letting you get the most out of your total, no matter how the day goes.
Having this range will allow you to have a "Build your own success" story. The range will have a low and high end recommendation based around what you were able to accomplish in the gym on great days, along with using your one rep max and percentages to really hammer it home.
This is a great way to build a total, and we have used it many times to hit home a total that is something we only dreamed of or set ourselves up for smaller PR's along the way.

4. If you cut weight for a meet, your strength will change

We said this a few paragraphs ago and we are saying it again.


That's it. Seriously, we aren't kidding. If you are a new powerlifter and you cut weight, aren't lined up for any records that matter (we are talking national/international), or aren't gunning for a spot in a higher level competition, just stop.

We know it's tempting to try and boost that DOTs score, but no one will remember your DOT's if you bomb out, take it from someone who has been there, set up for a perfect day and lost it all due to cutting weight and not recomping properly.

If you fell you have to cut, 5% or less off of your body doesn't seem to have a massive effect on strength but it can still hurt you. So don't.

5. If you miss a weight for any reason, repeat that weight

If you compete long enough, odds are very likely you will get red lighted on an attempt at some point.

Whether that is a strength issue, technique or something else, our advice is to retake that attempt.

This is incredibly important to remember when it comes to solidifying your meet day total.

If you miss an opener and decide to go up and miss again... Well, you have one more chance before you bomb out of the meet. And before you ask, no you cannot drop the weight back down after it has been attempted.

It doesn't matter if the "strength was there" or that "you'll go deeper next time", because you can't 100% set that in stone.

The only time people may recommend going up in weight is if you are an experienced lifter who has a massive amount of success behind them already.

Remember, if you bomb out because you didn't re-take an attempt, that falls on you.

Selecting Your Opener

We talked about this a bit, but your opener should be something you can do for 3 reps no matter the day. This is somewhere in the 87.5-92.5% range of your one rep max for most strength athletes.

Your goal with the opener is just to get on the board and secure a small starting total.

It should be practiced multiple times in training during your peaking phase and if you have a coach,they will advise you when and how to test it during your session. 

Selecting Your Second Attempt

To most people, your second attempt is the most important lift of the day.

We like to think differently, this is the road map to your third attempt. Most competent coaches will use this to determine exactly what your final attempt will look like.

Slow = reduced Third

Expected = Planned

FAST AF BOIIII = Time to live it up and go for something nutty

That means you need to figure out where on the 96-98% of your one rep max scale this needs to fall to have a fun 3rd attempt.

This comes through careful training and understanding of what you as an athlete are capable of. If your second is to conservative, you may not be giving yourself a fair idea. If it's to heavy you may be wasting engery.

Make sure that the road map to success is built with purpose here. 

Selecting Your Third Attempt

This is what you've built up towards. That absolute BEAST of an effort when it comes to your meet.

Some coaches say this should be a number that you are going to hit 10 times out of 10, but where is the fun in the guarantee?

Use the evidence from your 2nd attempt, your training and make a call. This is where people CAN start to look more at "want vs can" and let loose.

 If the day is going average, pick something from your 101-103% range. If it's a bit grindy pick the lower end. If it's flying off the handle, let loose and have a good time.

But remember to keep yourself safe and healthy when it comes to lifting and don't overpick due to ego.

Attempt Selection Rules For Powerlifting

Here are a few basic rules for when it comes time to place your attempts during the meet:

  • Attempts must be submitted in kilos not pounds - Don't worry if you don't have them memorized though, the head table usually has a handy chart for you to look at.
  • Attempts can typically only go up in 2.5kg increments. However, if you are going for a record you can submit a .5kg jump.
  • You provide your openers during the weigh in process
  • You’ll provide next attempts to the head table after you perform your opener and 2nd attempts respectively
  • You have one minute to submit your attempts after you finish your lift
    • If you fail to get your attempt in, your next attempt will automatically picked for you. Either bumped up by 2.5kg if the previous attempt was good or kept the same if missed.
  • Your attempts can NEVER be lower than a previous attempt.
  • You can skip an attempt if you want to save energy, that is perfectly acceptable.
    • Case in point, something goes funky on your second, you can scratch your third to prevent injury or preserve energy.

Attempting Attempts:

That's the long and short of HOW to pick attempts on your powerlifting meet day. This isn't the attempt bible, but it is a great starting point for people looking to coach themselves through their first meet or a quick reminder for experienced lifters.

How do you pick your attempts on meet day?

More Reading:

If you are looking for a solid meet day check list, check out this article.

If you are looking for some common mistakes in powerlifting, check out this one.

If you have any powerlifting questions, read this guy.


If you are looking to follow and learn from some amazing people and powerlifters follow the links below or read thisarticle for some great stories. Or if you are looking for programming, you can find one of our free programs here or you can reach out to one of our team members to see how to take your training to the next level.

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