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Question: “I’m competing in my first powerlifting competition. How do I know what my opening weights should be?”
The general guidelines for attempt selection for a seasoned lifter is as follows:
1st attempt – should be a weight that can be done for 3 repetitions (this is typically around 90% of 1-reptition maximum). The number one goal with the first attempt is to execute the lift with perfect technique, following all rules and judge’s commands, and get an official lift passed on the scorecard for the meet. The first attempt should not be a maximal attempt.
2nd attempt – around 95% of 1-reptition maximum. This lift should cause some strain by the lifter, but should be short of a maximal effort.
3rd attempt – this all depends on how the second attempt went, how the lifter feels and how your competition has faired to this point. However, all else equal this attempt should be for a personal record – around 100-105% of previous 1-reptition maximum.
I would change these guidelines in the following ways for a person competing in their first powerlifting competition:
1 attempt – should be a weight that can be done for 5 repetitions (this is typically around 85% of 1-reptition maximum). The goal for this attempt is the same as above. However, first meet jitters and unfamiliarity with judge’s commands mean that this attempt should be dropped a little below what it would be for a seasoned lifter.
2nd attempt – around 90-95% of 1-reptition maximum, depending on how the first attempt went.
3rd attempt – for the first competition I would not even recommend going for 100% or above of 1-reptition maximum. The reason is that, technically, you don’t even have an official personal record because you have never competed. Go 9 for 9 on the lifts and establish a performance you can build on for future competitions.