Attempt Selection for Powerlifting Competitions

Attempt Selection for Powerlifting Competitions
March 12, 2019 Marco Cipolat

Attempt Selection for Powerlifting Competitions

Question: Does the strongest lifter always win powerlifting competitions? 

The answer may not be as obvious as you would think. 

If the only determining factor in powerlifting was strength, it would be an extremely boring sport to compete in. Obviously, the strongest lifter has a huge advantage; powerlifting is predominantly a strength sport. However, a slightly weaker lifter that succeeds in 9/9 attempts can definitely beat a stronger lifter who only makes 3/9.

Attempt Selection for Powerlifting Competitions

Take the following example; Two competitors meet on the platform. Let’s call them Thor and Hulk.  

Current PRs:

Thor (Sq300kg/Bench200kg/Deadlift315kg=Total815kg)
Hulk (Sq305kg/Bench205kg/Deadlift320kg=Total830kg)

If the strongest lifter always wins, there is no point in watching this competition. 

Lets look at attempt selection;

Thor’s attempts:


Hulk’s attempts:


While Hulk was the stronger lifter, Thor succeeded in more attempts, thus coming away with the win. This example illustrates a very important detail in competition prep: attempt selection is key in powerlifting. Strength is the potential that you bring to the competition, but the amount of successful lifts illustrates the lifter’s ability to demonstrate that strength.  

I have heard people exclaim “if you go 9/9, you didn’t go heavy enough!” I could not disagree with this mindset more. Longevity in the sport, thus building momentum for continual linear progression is a priority. If a lifter goes 9/9 in every competition for 20 years, adding 2.5-10kg on each lift, I can guarantee they will be a bad ass powerlifter by their twentieth year of competition. 

If you are interested in going 9/9 in your next comp, well done! You chose your strategy excellently! 


Matt Gary (USA IPF Team Coach and Owner of SSPT) suggests that your opening attempt should be 90-93%. Lawrence Farncombe (Head Coach GB IPF World Team 2015-2018) suggests that you use your best 3RM, and incorporate testing this 3-4 weeks out from competition. The number will end up being very similar. 

The purpose of the opener is to get a number on the board, making sure you record a good lift on Squat, Bench and Deadlift. The opener builds confidence for the next two lifts. Hitting a flawless opener will set you up for success. There is no worse feeling than grinding up an opener, feeling like you have little else in the tank for your next two attempts. 

Second Attempt 

MG: 95-98%
LF: 2RM 

The second attempt is the stepping stone to the last attempt. While the goal is to go 9/9, a solid second attempt can build the total. Don’t fall into the trap of feeling desperate to PR on your second attempt. Many people do this out of insecurity, using flawed logic such as: “if I fail, then I have another chance”. A good meet day coach selects the third attempt based on the quality/ease of the second attempt. Your motivation during the second attempt should be to prove to your meet day coach that you deserve to go for that meet day PR. 

Final Attempt 

As stated above, the weight will be largely based on how the second attempt felt and looked. On your final attempt, you are attempting to stack the most weight on the bar without failing, thus contributing to your total. This is the time to go for a PR. Make sure the attempt is realistic.  Missed final attempts in your three lifts can reduce the total significantly. As demonstrated by Thor and Hulk above, this can be the difference between winning and losing, between beating your last competition total, or not.

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