It is a common idea that technical breakdowns begin to occur in the 85-95% range and if you already have a very pronounced technical inefficiency (for example, Valgus Collapse [knees caving], or hips shooting back hard in the Squat) then it is very unlikely you'll even reach 95% of your true 1RM. In order to move the most amount of weight possible you need to have the most efficient technique for your body type, strength level as well as training experience.
Technical efficiency comes with lots of practice, over years of training and may come more naturally to some compared to others. If you truly want to become better at the 3 lifts then you need to dial in your technique. In most cases simply managing your volume, intensity and frequency can be a great first step to learning the lifts. If you're a beginner lifter (less than 2 years of experience) you can play around with a higher level of frequency, with your total weekly training volume spread out over 3-4 days, as well as a lower intensity so that you can really practice the movements, while also accumulating volume, but not missing reps due to percentage.
Also, one of the exercises I have my newer athletes do before ever getting under the bar is Kettlebell Squats, Belt Squats or Banded Kettlebell Squats. These are all excellent tools to teach the positioning for the Squat, while also reinforcing technique and accumulating a good amount of volume. This way you're allowing for the athlete to gain a training stimulus, but they aren't put in a compromising position that may cause them injury. In this type of scenario it's important to weigh the risk-reward benefits of such a new athlete.
Not only is it important to practice the lifts, but it's also important to find your deficiencies, as well as your technical errors and correct them. Wether it's a simple case of poor positioning, mobility, stability or improper breathing patterns, it is important to address it as early as possible. Below I'll link a few articles and videos on some of the most common technical inefficiencies and errors people make, plus how to correct them. If you don't see your technical issue or are unsure of something, please feel free to leave a comment in the comment section on Facebook.
"Knee Valgus (Valgus Collapse), Glute Medius Strengthening, Band Hip Abduction Exercises, And Ankle Dorsiflexion Drills" By Bret Contreras
"Breathing 101" by Ryan Brown
"Fixing the Hip Shift in the Squat" By Dr. Quinn Hennoc and Chad Wesley Smith
"How to Prevent Lower Back Rounding in the Deadlift" by Jonnie Candit0
Although this may be the most obvious of the the four, fatigue plays a huge role in an adaptive response to training, but if it's not managed properly then you'll be unable to hit true maxes in competition or set repetition PRs in training. Fatigue can be your best friend during a Planned Overreaching Phase of training, or it can be your worst nightmare during competition if you didn't Peak properly; balancing the fitness-fatigue relationship in such a way that allows you to express your Powerlifting-specific fitness (the ability to perform a max single).
There are many different ways to manage fatigue, peak properly/effectively and get the most out of your training, but, a few general recommendations are:
-Have a well thought out, systematic approach to your training that includes phases dedicated specifically to Hypertrophy, General Strength and Peaking. Although the lengths and structure of these blocks will vary from person to person this is a general guideline for how training should be organized.
-Understand that recovery has a vital role in performance and consistency in terms of putting on muscle, adding pounds to your total and allowing for a lower rate of injury. Sleeping around 8 hours per night, getting in enough calories and allowing for rest is crucial.
Although this could be a topic all on its own, I'll link below an article by Dr. Mike Israetel, "Everything You Need to Know About Recovering", as well as a few others related to recovery and fatigue management.
"Everything You Need to Know About Recovering" by Dr. Mike Israetel
"Fatigue Management" by Juggernaut Training Systems and Chad Wesley Smith
"Fatigue Indicators and How to Use Them" by Dr. Mike Israetel and Dr. James Hoffman
Strength (overestimating a set or attempt)
This is more common with the beginner level lifters, but sometimes it happens with the more experienced. In most cases this is simply a case of, "just not being strong enough yet" in the wise words of Mark Bell. But, also going back to the idea of fatigue and its influence on max attempts, this could be a situation where you would normally have that particular weight, maybe an RPE9-9.5, but this time you fail it. This is still a case of strength, since on this given day you didn't quite have it in you, but could also be a case of poor management of the fatigue-fitness relation, poor programming or a combination of the two.
Typically though what you would in counter is a lifter, usually at the beginner level, who is excited about making progress, hitting PRs and just getting stronger. Although this is an excellent mindset, as it shows the dedication and desire, it also gives way to many missed reps and failed attempts which can serve as a learning experience, but also is detrimental to progress.
I've talked about it many, many times before but let me reiterate it once more; sub-maximal training (65-85% of your 1RM) is the most effective and safe way to train over the long term. Since the sport of Powerlifting is a sport of longevity, long term development and health is key to success. If you plan on being in the sport for a long time you need to manage your training properly by having a systematic approach to training (having Hypertrophy, General Strength and Peaking Blocks), adhere to proper recovery modalities (massage, active recovery, ART, etc), rest as much as possible, as well as incorporate Deloads and extended periods of rest, just to name a few.
Below I've linked a few articles, also on the Girls Who Powerlift Blog written by myself, that talk about sub-maximal training and how to organize your lifting into blocks, utilizing repetition, peaking, etc.
"Why You Should NEVER Miss Reps in Training" by Gage Reid
"How High Volume Can Help You Destroy The Platform" by Gage Reid
Lifters Mentality (Giving up on a lift or not being mentally prepared)
One of the most overlooked, but more important factors to consider in wether or not an athlete makes a lift. If you are not mentally prepared, focused and confident then it is more than likely you will not make that lift.
Below I've linked a study done by Deborah L. Feltz of Michigan State University titled, "Self-Confidence and Sports Performance". It's amazing how the cliché of "believe in yourself and you can achieve your goals" has a lot of merit in sports performance. If you're an athlete in any sport it's important to be just as mentally prepared as you are physically. Taking a few moments to think before hitting a max attempt squat or thinking about a training session a few days or a week in advance can make a huge difference in terms of performance, as well as the mentality going into the session. If you hit a certain lift 1,000 times in your head, then do it once on the platform, you've mentally prepared for it. Having that strong mental mindset is crucial to consistently hitting PRs.
For example, some of the most common mental blocks are weights (some girls see the 185 Bench and 225-315 Squat as a mental barrier just because seeing 2-3 45 pound plates stacked on a bar can be intimidating). One of the ways I suggest to break these mental barriers is to surround yourself with like-minded, driven people who have the same goals as you. Below I will link an article I wrote a while back called, "Powerlifting and the Law of Attraction". It talks about how surrounding yourself with fellow lifters who have similar goals is crucial to success and to busting through barriers.
"Powerlifting and The Law of Attraction" by Gage Reid
"Self-Confidence and Sports Performance" by Debotah L. Feltz
So now that you know the factors that contribute to missed attempts in the gym or competition, how do you fix it and stay more consistent?
It's important to understand that training is a long term process, most of us will be lifting for 20-30+ years, so there's plenty of time to get stronger and most of the best lifters in the world right now have been doing it for a long, long time. Yes there are a few exceptions, but this is not a sport where people can lift for 4-5 years and all of a sudden become a world record holder. Many people use the example of Jesse Norris or Heather Connors, both are young for the sport of Powerlifting but excel greatly in their weight classes. There are even younger lifters who we saw at USAPL Raw Nationals, 17 and 19-year-old Female lifters who were out lifting the Junior and Open Divisions!
It may seem as though these athletes have seen "immediate success", but the fact is even though they're young they've been training for 10+ years, in most cases starting at 12 years old. A trend I've noticed in North America during the last 10-15 years is that people are getting into lifting earlier in their life, and with the explosion of information/training resources out there it's no wonder why we are seeing such an increase in talent at all levels of the sport. There's more readily available information, coaches, meets/federations and groups/teams of people who are welcoming new comers in.
Progress is not linear, and training must become more difficult overtime as to continuously see results (The Principle of Overload). It takes a long time with a lot of hard work to get strong, and I know that may sound cliché, but it's very true. Developing strength, building a base of muscle and acquiring a high level of technical prowess can take a decade or longer. Even the best lifters on the planet say that they've been training for decades and are still learning new things, still refining technique and still getting stronger. If you are truly in this sport for the long haul then you need to focus on every aspect to get better, and understand that Powerlifting is a marathon, not a sprint. Now that you understand some of the factors that contribute to missed lifts, you can go into the gym next time with the knowledge to prevent them, and plan your training more accordingly.