You've just completed 16 weeks of hard training in preparation for your upcoming meet. You've put in the work required, you've done countless sets, reps and hit numerous volume PRs- you have done everything in your power to ensure a successful meet day before you even step foot on the platform, so now it's time to guarantee all your hard work doesn't go to waste. Intelligent and well thought out attempt selection is key to putting up your best total and making sure you don't leave any pounds on the platform- since the sport of Powerlifting is centered around who has the best TOTAL and not the best single lift, you must ensure that your attempt selection process is as well thought out as your programming was leading up to this point.
Any well thought out attempt selection plan begins with your Last Warm-Ups and your Openers. This is crucial for setting the tone for a lift and ensuring that you don't bomb out- because bombing can really put a stop to a big meet day total. Although there are many varying opinions on how to pick an opening attempt- which can include, but are not limited to using 85% of your training 1-rep-max or your "best clean triple in the gym". In my personal opinion, I believe that an Opener should be identified prior to the beginning of your Peaking Block, then work to build your confidence upon that particular opener by driving the volume and frequency of it, while simultaneously practicing proper execution so that when meet day comes your openers will be familiar, while your confidence with that weight will be sky high.
Below I will lay out a real-life example of how you'd "build an opener", while also working to Peak your lifts in a timely and effective manner- because as most of you know, Peaking too early is just as detrimental as peaking too late.
In this particular example, the athlete is a 63KG Open Female with a 253 pound meet PR in the Squat. The Opening Attempt in the Squat for her upcoming meet is 238 pounds (or 107.5KG)- this number has been identified 6 weeks out from competition, prior to the start of her Peaking Block.
Day 1 of her Peaking Block will consist of the following;
Competition Low Bar Squat | Top Single @ RPE 8-8.5 (~250 pounds), followed by (Planned Opening Attempt) 238 pounds for 4 sets of 2 reps.
As you can see she worked up to a top single @ RPE 8-8.5 (which ended up being her projected Second Attempt on meet day), followed by back down sets of her Planned Opening Attempt at 238 pounds. This method of Peaking allows the lifter to have a high level of Sports Specificity by hitting her Planned Openers after the top work, but also allow for a higher level of training volume to ensure that the athlete does not peak before she is planned to- balancing the "Fitness-Fatigue Relationship" through varying training volumes, intensities and frequencies.
As the Peaking Block progresses the athlete will continue to raise the intensity, while simultaneously lowering the training volume in an effort to shed fatigue and display the fitness built over the course of her training cycle. By the time the athlete reaches the final week of the Peaking Block, she will have hit her Planned Opening Attempt in training a total of 27 times over the course of a 4-6 week span. By constantly hitting her opener in training she has built up the requisite sports-specific skill and confidence required to successfully complete the attempt on meet day.
As you get closer and closer to the meet, the final piece of the puzzle is when and how to "Test" Openers during a Peaking Block. In my opinion it can vary from lifter to lifter and is highly determined upon skill, age, gender and career (total years of training, strength to bodyweight ratio, etc). A 130 pound Female lifter with a 700 pound total should test her opening attempts in training closer to the meet than a 180 pound Female lifter with an 1,100 pound total should. This is centered around the fact that more fatigue is generated by the bigger, stronger lifter and therefore requires more time to recover and adapt to the training stimulus. While simultaneously the smaller lifter should be taking her attempts closer to competition due to the fact she has less fatigue to dissipate and the longer she has between training sessions the more fitness she will lose in the process- as I mentioned before, the entire idea of Peaking for competition is balancing fitness and fatigue while knowing the factors that go into the whole process.
Continuing on with the aforementioned example, the 63KG Open Female lifter with a 238 pound (107.5KG) Squat Opener will test her opening attempts on the Monday before the meet (Meet day being on Saturday), and it will look like this;
Squat | (Opening Attempt) 238 pounds for 3 singles, followed by (Last Warm-Up) 225 pounds for 3 sets of 2-3 reps.
As you can see, she took her Planned Opening Attempt and then followed it up with backdown sets of 225. This is to engrain sports-specific practice, while also providing somewhat of a fatigue element in the form of back down volume to ensure that the athlete does not peak too early and honing in the technical proficiency required to successfully execute the lifts- practice, practice, practice. Although I did not include it, on this day you'd also hit your Planned Opening Attempts on the Bench and Deadlift, but for the sake of simplicity I only used the Squat as the main example.
Finally, your last day of training before the meet will consist of a 3-lift day @ 55-70% of your training 1-rep-max. This day is to simply ingrain technique and ensure that you "stay fresh" as the meet approaches. The amount of volume performed in this training session should not be enough to induce fatigue, but rather to help dissipate it. It should go as follows;
Squat | 60% for 3 sets of 3 reps
Bench | 65-70% for 3 sets of 3 reps
Deadlift | 55-60% for 4 sets of 2 reps
With such a well thought out plan you are able to go into meet day prepared and confident that you have done all that you can up until this point- now all that is required is execution. All of the aforementioned programming, training and planning is over and you've just submitted your Opening Attempts- you're ready. In the past I've utilized a "decision scale" for meet day attempt selection and I've found it to be very useful for both planning and bridging the gap between the lifter-coach relationship. As an athlete it's sometimes difficult to communicate to your coach how you're feeling, so the decision scale allows you to be totally objective about your attempts, allowing you to pick the appropriate attempt without much thought- which is useful when you've only got 60 seconds to submit your next attempt. The decision scale would look something like this;
Squat | Opening Attempt 238 pounds | 107.5 KG
Feels Like "Garbage" - > 242 pounds | 110 KG
Feels "OK" - > 248 pounds | 112.5 KG
Feels "Great" -> 253 pounds | 115 KG
Feels Like "Garbage" -> 248 pounds | 112.5 KG
Feels "OK" -> 253 pounds | 115 KG
Feels "Great" -> 258 - 264 pounds | 117.5 - 120 KG
As you can see, the decision scale allows you to accurately and quickly select your attempts based on how the previous one looked and/or felt. I would use this type of decision making model for all three lifts (Squat, Bench and Deadlift). This type of approach to attempt selection takes some of the guesswork and anxiety out of the meet day confusion. It is also an excellent way to analyze and diagnosis meet day performances after it's all over- if you found yourself only picking "Feels Like Garbage" on the decision scale, then maybe you should go back and evaluate the training and peaking process that took place. Planning, execution, analysis, diagnosis and an action plan are all keys to continued success, as well as increases in performance from meet to meet. If you truly want to be successful you must take all that data that you are given and analyze it to ensure that you are moving in the right direction with the desired outcomes.
Although to some this may seem as "too analytical" or overkill when you can simply select attempts based on comfort or percentage, but to those I say this; having a well thought out approach can ensure to an almost certainty that your attempts will be successful, regardless of conditions or outward influence on meet day- Having a set action plan and being prepared cannot be overstated. The aforementioned method of Peaking for competition and attempt selection has worked for all of my lifters and is a true testament to the planning process itself. I would suggest that you try something similar to this or simply take a more methodical approach to meet planning and attempt selection. Take what words and discard what doesn't- don't feel like you have to commit to a certain plan or program if it doesn't pan out. Meet Day performance is highly dependant upon your planning up to that point, so if you fail to plan, then you plan to fail.
As always if you have questions or comments leave them in the comment section below or on Facebook. I'd be happy to answer any questions, comments or concerns that you may have regarding Peaking, Attempt Selection or any other topic pertaining to training.