We get a lot of questions regarding how to choose openers for powerlifting meets and there are a lot of ways to look at this.

Since most veteran powerlifters have their own way of doing things and will probably never read this article, we are not going to address them.  What I am going to do is address the lifter that is entering the first powerlifting meet.

I’m going to assume that most beginner powerlifters are NOT beginner lifters.  There are a few that do not fall into this category, but it’s rare.

The first step in choosing your opener is to choose a goal that you would like to lift.  This goal should be reasonable, but challenging.  Please don’t be an idiot when choosing this.  From this point (not the point of you being an idiot), you need to work backwards.  So let’s say that Gary Gyno would like to squat 405lbs.  He has squatted 380 before but this max was fairly easy.  Since this is Gary’s first meet, I would highly recommend that he is conservative.  There are other meets to do and he needs to just get some experience and learn how to do a meet.  There is a lot more going on at a meet then just lifting.  So with this in mind and with a goal of a 405lbs squat, here is an example of what Gary’s squat attempts should be:

  • Attempt 1:  365
  • Attempt 2:  385
  • Attempt 3:  405

Now if Gary can squat 405 and it’s a good, but tough lift we can say that he had 3 lifts above 90%.  Please understand that this is a meet and this is much different than training, so you don’t have to use Prilipin’s chart.  But for some people, doing this many lifts is going to kill them so you are going to have to be careful.

Now let’s say Gary is a little uncomfortable with these numbers.  He likes the 3rd attempt but thinks that the opener is a little heavy.  So here’s another way he could structure his attempts.  This allows for a lighter opener but the same result.

  • Attempt 1:  350
  • Attempt 2:  380
  • Attempt 3:  405

Using this above scenario, we now have two lifts above 90%.  I like this one better than the first example.  Why?  Because the opener needs to just get you into the meet.  You never lift at a meet to just get your opener, but it will set the stage for the rest of the meet.  That’s why the opener must be carefully planned so that it follows these simple rules:

  • Is light enough to inspire confidence and get you mentally ready for the meet.
  • Is heavy enough that you put yourself into position for your 2nd and 3rd attempts.

These above tips can be used for the squat and the bench press.  But the deadlift is a different story.  Some people really try to post a P.R. deadlift but many others will people use it to post a P.R. total, save their total, or to win the meet.  The last point should really only being taken into consideration if money is involved.   Anyway, the deadlift comes at the end of a long day and many people are good for only two deadlifts.  With this in mind, here the opener of your deadlift should be heavy enough to preserve your total for the day but light enough to be able to move on to a higher weight.  The second pull of the meet should be one that is either a P.R. or to help set your new total P.R.

Very Important Note:

This goes for every lift so please listen up.  This will save you loads of wasted energy and possibly an injury.  I will illustrate this by first using a story of my beloved friend, Sean “The Corporate MetalHead/Metro-sexual” Donegan.

At the 2005 APF Seniors, Sean totaled his first elite.  This has been along time coming and was a culmination of many years of struggle and failure. On his second deadlift, Sean got his elite total.  Needless to say, Sean exploded and was extremely excited.  What Sean should have done is packed up his bag, lit up a big cigar, rented some midget hookers and basked in his glory. Instead, he decided to pull a 3rd Deadlift and failed miserably.  Now I think Sean was physically strong enough to pull it, but not mentally.  There was little motivation for him to do this lift.  He had finally reached his goal of almost a decade of powerlifting.  Pulling the final deadlift had little meaning to Sean.  In fact, right before he did attempted his 3rd pull, I leaned over to a friend of mine and stated, “He won’t get this.”  He had already blown his emotional load and I was right.

So what I’m saying is this:  if during a meet you set a huge P.R. or reach a milestone that you have wanted for many years, be careful what you do next.  Mentally, there is a good chance that you won’t be into your next attempt.  I have seen this many, many times.  Now there are many that will disagree with me and say that I’m copping out or being a wimp.  These people, for whatever reason, seem to possess mostly slow-twitch fibers.  Or they are mouth breathers.

Now I’m going to give you another dingleberry of wisdom that has fallen off the Ass of Knowledge; don’t train for your goal, train for your opener.

I can hear (and smell) the mouth breathers.

I wrote a long dissertation describing how I came up with this idea, but it’s too wordy and boring.  To sum it up; when my opener, especially my squat, was very easy the whole meet went well.  When I struggled, the meet was a struggle.  So with this in mind, I set out to choose my openers based on what I wanted to squat (or bench and deadlift), and then trained like hell to make those opening lifts an absolute joke.

For example, during my last training cycle for squatting I basically did 5 lifts:

  • Box squat
  • Deadlift (or pin pull)
  • Power Squat
  • 45 degree back raise
  • Roman Chair sit-ups

Every time I walked into the weight room, I had the purpose of making my opener a joke.  I knew I wanted to squat 1000, but I didn’t want to focus on that.  I had to take my attempts one at a time and it all began with 850.  So every set of every rep of the above exercises was devoted to absolutely destroying 850.  I knew that if I crushed this weight, my confidence would be so high that I would be one step closer to my goal.  Too many times lifters start thinking of their goal and forget their lighter weights.

I honestly believe that this concept was one of the best things I ever did.  So do yourself a favor and try it.