Training Log

Starting Strength in the Real World

Building a Plan for Powerlifting/Strengthlifting Meets

by Scott Acosta, SSC | January 08, 2019

scott acosta squatting in training

Choosing attempts during a powerlifting lifting meet can be stressful; especially if you’re going in solo. You’ve just finished your previous attempt and you’re soaked with adrenalin. Now you’re expected to turn in your next attempt within 1 minute. On top of that, you have to submit it in kilos, which for some is equivalent to a foreign language. This is no time to take a guess or to be unsure of your entry.

The goal of this essay is to provide you with a referencing tool to help cut through all noise in your head. I would like to share with you a simple table I organize for each lift prior to every meet. I’ve been using this table since 2013 and it has served me well since. It contains 3 options per attempt for each lift: Conservative, Ideal, and Aggressive, as well as rack heights and warmups.

Making the Table

This occurs about a week out from the meet directly after my last heavy day where I work up to my openers and second attempts. The weights in the “Ideal” column are my goals for the competition. If everything goes according to plan I’ll hit those numbers. To the left and right of that are my “conservative” and “aggressive” adjustments. If a particular event isn’t going as well as planned I can mitigate the damage and manage stress by following my backup plan. If the stars are aligning just right and I’m stronger than anticipated I can take advantage of the situation with some aggressive – but not greedy – increases. However, even if I’m feeling super strong and confident I would rather leave a little in the tank, go 9 for 9 and have an awesome meet than get greedy, miss a rep, or get hurt.

The table below provides the blueprint used for each event.

1st– 2.5-7.5kg~90% of 3rd attempt+ 2.5-5kg
2nd– 2.5-7.5 kg or 95% of ideal 3rd attempt~97% of 3rd attempt, Maybe a 2.5kg PR+2.5-7.5kg
3rd0-2.5kg PR2.5kg+ PR+2.5-10kg

Your adjustments may be a little closer or further apart depending on just how strong you are and how good you are at judging your abilities. The next table is a real life example of my squat plan from the 2018 USAPL Georgia Spring Open. I was glad I went with 245 kilos because it was a grinder.

Weights in given in pounds and then kilograms: lb (kg). Attempts in green were successful.

Rack Height 19
Warmup45 x 1-2 sets, 135 (60) x 5, 185 (85) x 3, 225 (100) x 2, 275 (125) x 1, 315 (142.5) x 1, 365 (165) x 1, 405 (185) x 1, 455 (207.5) x 1
1st490 (222.5)501 (227.5)507 (230)
2nd523 (237.5)529 (240)534 (242.5)
3rd540 (245)545 (247.5)551 (250)


I try to keep my warmup as close as possible to what I do in the gym. Anyone who has competed before knows this can be tough to accomplish when you’re sharing a rack with 5 other competitors with limited time. For the sake of time management and not being an asshole, I have to be a little flexible with the rack height and weights. With the exception of the last warmup set, as long as it’s close I’m good to go. I don’t know if the warmup area is going to have plates in pounds, kilos or both so I plan for that also.

Failing Attempts

First, if the table is populated with realistic goals I should never fail a 1st or 2nd attempt due to weight on the bar. Technical error, misload, or freak accident should be the only circumstance. I think there’s a good argument to be made that technical error shouldn’t exist for the 1st attempt either. If at any time I fail a 1st or 2nd attempt due to the bar being too heavy – which has never happened, and shouldn't – I keep the weight the same for the next lift. Since using this table I have failed 3 lifts and they have all been 3rd attempts. Those lifts were either for placing in the meet or a PR.

Adjustments for Strengthlifting

Powerlifting and Strengthlifting are similar in many ways, but there are a couple of differences that require discussion if this table is to be used effectively for both sports in competition.

Weight increases in strengthlifting are in 1 kg increments as oppose to 2.5 kg in powerlifting. I think this is a huge benefit, as it allows the lifter to be much more precise with attempt selection. This is especially useful, when it comes to the press. Two changes (higher or lower) can be made to a submitted attempt right up to the point where the bar is loaded. This affords the strengthlifter ample time to go over the table and decide whether or not their original submission was the best choice. Here, the stress of submitting an accurate attempt on the spot isn’t as high, but the table still serves its purpose as a quick reference tool that was developed using recent data.

Powerlifting and strengthlifting may be sports of strength, but the strongest lifter isn’t always the winner. The person with the highest total is the winner and the total is built with successful, well-planned attempts. Trying to make an adjustment in the moment without a realistic plan could cause me to make poor decisions. I’m not the most genetically gifted lifter on the platform, so I have to focus on patience and building my total throughout the meet. This table helps me concentrate on just that. Pretty simple, huh? Sometimes the value of a thing is in its simplicity. This is what has worked for me

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