One of the most simple things about powerlifting, in my opinion, is picking proper attempts on meet day.
I mean, it can't be that hard. You just spent X amount of weeks preparing for said meet, with a cycle based around hitting doable third attempts. So you should already know the goals for the meet, and your training cycle should have reflected that.
So often the answer to that is "uhhhhhhhhhhh........"
Training - The first place it all goes wrong
First off, you have to train within your means. That is, your training cycle should represent nothing but success across the board, for whatever length of time it is.
Most of the time it all goes awry because a guy totals 1,850 then sets up his training cycle to go 1,950 only a few months later. Rather than 1,875 or something more manageable. So now the entire training cycle is based around numbers that on meet day, probably aren't really doable.
Now, the lifter has to reach not only on training day, but on meet day as well. Missed lifts ensue, and then confidence wanes come meet day because the training cycle was never set up for success.
If you missed lifts on a fairly often basis, then how solid could your programming have been? If you winged it, well, I guess you'll wing it on meet day too. I don't see any other athletes "winging it" in training then showing up expecting to win. Yet powerlifters do it all the time.
So the first short circuit by a guy in not understanding how to pick attempts properly on meet day, started in the gym. Going too heavy too soon, missing reps, getting burnt out, and then walking into the meet feeling very unsure. So now, the athlete isn't positive what to pick because he bases his attempts around maxes he hit in the gym.
In other words "Well I hit 500 in the gym, so I'll open at 480 and go from there."
Nevermind that 500 was a grinder and had only been hit one other time in this lifters life. So he proceeds to open at 480, it grinds, and he goes to 510 for his second. Which he misses of course. Then misses it on his third as well.
This is common. I see it at every meet. Some guy opening with a grinder, then gets his ass kicked on his second, or then makes it but it zaps him so much he doesn't account for the fact that it will take some off of his other lifts, and then proceeds to miss most of them as well.
I've detailed how I pick attempts and how I get guys to pick attempts in Strength, Life, Legacy but I'm going to go a little more in depth in that here.
Just to get this bit of chest puffing out of the way, I have a fairly solid track record of training and picking attempts for powerlifters ranging from fairly new to elite level guys. Most of the guys I have helped in this regard generally go at minimum 7 for 9 with several PR's. 8 for 9 and 9 for 9 are very, very common. Not to mention that Ernie Lilliebridge Jr. tells me all the time "I don't know how you do that." in terms of picking attempts or nailing every call in terms of when someone will make a lift or miss it. I very rarely miss.
Success fuels success -
As an athlete I always thought that you prepared to be successful. It wasn't until I got into powerlifting that I found out that I had been fooled all these years.
That's heavy sarcasm in case you didn't catch it.
The whole purpose of training for weeks on end, traveling, spending money, and putting forth all the effort you did in preparation for a meet should be to go 9 for 9, with 4 PR's.
That's a squat PR, a bench PR, a deadlift PR, and a total PR. Yet I've read all sorts of fucking nonsense like "if you didn't have a miss you didn't go heavy enough."
"If you got three whites on your squat you went too low."
God damn, I've never been involved in a sport where success was so heavily frowned upon by so many. If your training and competing is spot on, it should reflect that on the platform.
And that starts with your opener. A great opener builds to a solid second, which sets the lifter up for a lot of confidence come that third.
This is what should be the goal on meet day. So where do I feel most guys go wrong?
Let's start with the opener.....
The opener and clarifying -
The opener is both the least, and most important attempt you will pick.
Your opener is least important in the way that, it should be an after thought. It should be so easy, that it literally requires almost no psyche. No second thoughts. You respect the weight, but it's insignificant IN TERMS OF WEIGHT ON THE BAR.
On the flip side, it's the most important because if you do not pick your opener correctly it can really set you up for a shitty day, or of course, you can bomb out.
Your opener should be EASY. I don't know what part of that word most people do not get.
Your opener should be your last warm up. That's it. Your LAST WARM UP. What does a warm up feel like? Fucking easy.
If you wanted me to be a little more specific I usually call it between 85-88% of the planned third attempt. Some guys look at me incredulously and say "really?!?!"
Yes. That light. Who are you trying to impress with an opener? Seriously. I swear to Christ that's what half, or more than half, of these asshats I see at meets are doing. Trying to impress people with openers.
One myth I want to debunk is that "your opener should be something you can do for a triple."
What? You want to open with something that is roughly a max triple? That is a great piece of advice if you plan on leaving the meet that day with a shit ton of misses, or bombing out.
Most peoples three rep max will fall somewhere between 90% and 93% of their TRUE max. And you're going to open with 90+%?
I even had a friend tell me, upon my suggestion as to what his opener should be "that's a waste of an opener".
The only wasted opener is the one you miss.
Second and third attempts -
From a percentage standpoint your second attempt should generally fall around something in the 93% area of your goal.
Again, if you're not being completely stupid, your second attempt should be very doable. It should definitely require you to get "prepared" for it, however confidence should be high that you can make this lift.
Your second attempt is also the attempt that gives you an idea if the goal for the third attempt is there or not. If it grinds more than you'd like, back off a bit. If it has good speed through the transition point, then you should be good to go for hitting that goal.
At the UPA meet a few weeks ago I picked attempts for Pete Rubish, who went 8 for 9 for his biggest total ever. Pete fought me a little bit each time but eventually relented and told me after the meet "man, it's amazing how when you go smoke your opener, and then have a solid second, how much better than third attempt moves and feels."
Yeah man. That's the point.
Managing fatigue -
The other factor that people generally don't think about in regards to their second and third attempts is the accumulative fatigue that it has on the body. A low bar squat will tax the shoulders more than you think. If you arch hard in the bench, then the low back contracts very hard and will be more taxed than usual in the deadlift.
The meet day in general is long and boring, and fairly draining. So you need to take into account that there will be a certain amount of fatigue involved that time in the gym doesn't really account for. Adrenaline dumping after squats tends to take quite the toll as well.
So make sure you understand for example, that if you deadlift on a day you don't squat, then your deadlift is going to be a bit lower on meet day than it is in training. You won't be phresh come deadlift time on meet day.
The methods I don't like -
There are quite a few methods I see that I don't care for. I do know that some good and even great lifters use them, however that doesn't mean they are optimal, in my opinion.
Method 1 - Picking attempts too close
I see this one a lot. The guy will basically make the smallest jumps possible to his third. For example....
455 - 470 - 490
This guy opened with what should have been his second, then took a second that really served no purpose (97% of your goal???? Why???)
His attempts should have looked more like.......
415/430 - 455 - 490
Method 2 - Go for broke
I think this is my most despised method, because well, I think it's completely retarded.
"Open with something you could triple, get a small PR on the second, go for broke on your third."
This method makes my head hurt so bad I'm not sure where to start.
It's the anti-successful method. First off, this sets you up for misses. If you're going for broke on all of your thirds, one thing that is going to happen is you're going to grind the living shit out of them and then your next lift is going to be quite less than you anticipated (as we have covered).
Not only that, but on a down day, you're likely to miss a lot of those seconds. Small PR's are never a given. It's why you save them for your thirds, based on how your second attempts feels. You don't grind out an opener, then go for a PR on your second. Even if you make that small PR, it's probably not going to be an easy lift, and now the subsequent lifts will take a bit of a dive.
Powerlifting is a sport where most of us spend quite a few bucks to go compete, and put in a lot of hard work and time in order to show up and be our best. Therefore it's also important that you make solid decisions about your attempts on competition day. You're not there to miss. Remember that.