Why You Should Game Plan To Go 9 for 9
There are a lot of different opinions on attempt selection and strategy, and one of those debated topics is if 9 for 9 means you had a perfect meet or if it means you left some weight on the platform. In my opinion, the goal should always be 9 for 9 and to some that may seem obvious, but many coaches and athletes set up game plans of attempt selection knowing very well that the 3rd attempts will be a reach. I could write an extremely long post on proper attempt selection, but I’d rather take this in the direction of why 9 for 9 is so important, not only in regards to putting in your best performance but also the psychological factors that its carries post meet.
1.) A missed lift does not add weight to your total. And if the goal is to achieve the highest total possible, we want to create the best game plan to do so. Any time we miss a lift, that is energy expended on a maximal attempt that does not improve your performance on the day. And what a lot of people do not factor in is how each lift affects the next. If you grind out a squat, this will affect bench press and deadlift. Countless time I’ve seen or had someone grind out/miss their 3rd squat, to then find their back is cramping up. This then affects their ability to achieve proper positions in the bench press and no doubt affects their deadlift strength. Low bar squatting also tends to fatigue the shoulders, and that is another factor that plays into the performance on bench press. We want need to expend our energy as efficiently as possible to achieve the best total. And sometimes that means leaving 2.5kg in the tank on squat so that we have an extra 5kg for deadlift.
2.) Powerlifters usually do not get a 2nd chance at a max when they miss. What I mean by that is if you miss your 2nd attempt due to strength, the chances of you coming back and hitting it on your 3rd attempt is slim to none. Now if there was a true mis-groove that is possible, but if you did not have the strength to lift a weight on your 2nd attempt, you probably don’t have the chance on your 3rd. So what this means is we should plan for 1 maximal attempt for each lift, aka our 3rd attempt. We use the opening attempt to get into the meet, our 2nd attempt is used to gauge our strength on the day to pick the proper 3rd attempt, and then the 3rd attempt is our chance at a maximal lift. A very common strategy I see though is to basically take your 2nd attempt as your opener, take your max attempt as your 2nd, and then see what extra bit you have on your 3rd. Summing up points 1 and 2, this is just not an efficient approach. At minimum that 3rd is going to be a grinder, and more likely than not a miss. So you have now created a fatigue debt that did not add to your total and will affect your coming lifts. If the goal is the achieve the best total possible, this strategy is hindering that. And while every world record total wasn’t a 9 for 9 day, I can guarantee the number of successful attempts correlates to higher totals.
3.) The 3rd and maybe most important is the psychological aspect that going 9 for 9 plays, not only during the meet but long after. First off, every lift sets the tone for the next. In my opinion there is not a more important lift to hit for a lifter’s mentality than the 3rd attempt squat. It sets the tone for the entire day. Hit that lift and they are pumped up, excited, and extremely positive which flows right into bench press and deadlift. Miss that 3rd attempt and it changes the entire mood and now they are into playing catch up to try to make up for the lost pounds on their total. For this reason, I am generally more conservative on 3rd attempt squats that any other lift, as it sets up the success for the rest of the meet. I tend to be somewhat the opposite come deadlifts though. If we are going into that final attempt with an 8 for 8 day, why not push it a bit to see what the lifter has. It is the last lift, so it no longer has any affect on the rest of the meet and that is the time to leave it all on the platform. But what I think is very much overlooked is how a bad or good meet plays into the long term psychology of a lifter. In my experience coaching, I have no doubt seen a correlation between going 9 for 9 and the positivity and motivation as we resume training. The opposite holds true as well. The lifter’s I have had that underperformed based on their expectations and missed lifts tended to suffer more from those post meet blues, struggling to find the same motivation as they resumed training. This negative mentality post meet can have lasting effects long term on a lifters progress. So for these lifters “leaving it all on the platform” had another meaning as well, and that meant their motivation and drive.
4.) The final point is where there should be no argument, and that is when you are competing at a high level meet where you are fighting for placing, such as USAPL Raw Nationals, IPF Worlds, the US Open, the Tribute Meet, etc. Every last pound on your total matters in these instances, and championships are won or lost on made and missed lifts. For those who watched IPF Worlds these past couple weeks, there was a direct correlation to made lifts and who won, many times coming down to that final pull. And the thought and planning that went into each one of these lifter’s attempt selection is beyond what most recreational powerlifters can fathom. The fact is the majority of lifter’s and even coaches may never experience this level of gamesmanship in powerlifting, but for those who do, it is a whole different experience.