There exists an expletive in the world of powerlifting, inoffensive to the ill-informed or the ill prepared but mythical in its existence amongst the experienced.
Bringing back dreaded memories and a torrent of lessons learnt, it resides in most Powerlifting Championships, particularly Equipped, the word that can fill lifters with fear and anxiety and the lasting effects of its crushing disappointment can bring the feelings back to life at its mere utterance, it is of course Bombing!
It exists in the battle scars worn many an experienced powerlifter, can you really call yourself a powerlifter if you haven’t bombed? of course I jest but this is a topic spoken of mainly in jest to avoid the reality of the feelings in conjures up. It is the thing to be most avoided in the performance of your display of strength in a Powerlifting Championship.
Failing to make a successful lift in one of the three disciplines in Squat, Bench Press or Deadlift disqualifies you from the competition, leaving you without a total to show for your weeks and weeks of Championship preparation, and can leave a deep scar and knock your confidence.
There are many common phrases you’ll hear from those who have experienced “a bomb” and much “knowledge” passed around on the reasons for its occurrence.
I’ve bombed twice in my 20 years of Powerlifting competitions. In 2012 at the World Open Equipped Championships in Puerto Rico and most recently at the 2019 World Open Equipped Championships in Dubai. I’ll discuss my own experiences in these Championships but first I’m going to discuss the most common causes and pitfalls that you need to be aware of to be fully prepared to either avoid bombing, reduce its chances or accept the risks.
In my opinion “Bombers” can be grouped into three main categories:
One: Those who have failed to perform the lifts to the competition standard in training and the result at the competition is reflective of the preparation, they are either unaware of the competition standards or are not receiving adequate feedback during their preparation on the non-compliance with the rules.
Two: Those who choose to open “heavy”, in most cases at a % that is greater than 95% of their best maximal lift. This cause is common in Equipped lifting where the lifter chooses to wear equipment that is very tight, making the performance of the lift to the competition standard impossible at lower %s (however I have also seen this many times in classic lifting).
Three: Failure to adjust to the apparent strength levels on the day during warm up. There can be many reasons for this, international travel can play a large part on strength levels. Making bodyweight on the day causing equipment feel too loose or indeed having washed kit and it feeling tighter than usual. Being ill or injured.
These are very generalised reasons and sometimes there is little to no sign during warm up that there is a problem and things just don’t feel right on the platform. In most cases opening conservatively is an easy enough option and there is a general consensus that attempts as %s of previous competition maxes should largely follow the below:
Attempt 1: 90%-92%
Attempt 2: 96%
Attempt 3: 100%-102%
So for example if at my last competition my previous maximum squat was 200kg. Then a reasonable guidance on attempt selection would be as follows:
Attempt 1: 180kg
Attempt 2: 192.5kg
Attempt 3: 205kg
Now, of course, this is very theoretical, it assumes good progress and strength gains have occurred during your training cycle since the last competition. Many times if you are fairly new to lifting and you are advancing quickly, then these %s can seem very conservative. This is where in your training you have to try and still be realistic. Let’s assume instead in this case training has been going incredibly well and the lifter in question during training has managed to triple the 200kg previous comp max squat, what then? Well, assuming there is no risk of falling into group 1 in the “bomber” categories and the triple was performed to competition standards then it would be reasonable to expect the lifters current estimated one rep max to be 215kg-220kg. So applying the same principle to create the attempt selection, it might look something like this:
Attempt 1: 192.5kg (217.5kg / 102 * 90)
Attempt 2: 205kg (a massive comp PR already). (217.5kg /102 * 96) Attempt 3: 217.5kg
Now, let’s throw Powerlifting equipment into the equation and this theory suddenly falls apart. Let’s say the same lifters previous Equipped Squat competition best lift was 250kgs, but the lifter decided to try a smaller suit than the previous competition and in performing training lifts hasn’t been able to reach depth with anything under 240kgs. Now that throws our recommended opening attempt selection out of the window, as the lifter cannot perform to competition standard an attempt of 225kg. So they have some options, open in a looser suit and switch after the opening attempt (not without its risks), or open heavy enough to perform the competition standards. In this case open on 240kgs. Either option is a risk and obviously the lifter has to decide on the risk they are willing to take and accept the consequences.
Now, back to my own experiences. In Puerto Rico in 2012, we had a torrid journey out to the competition, hurricane Sandy had hit the East coast of America and our plane was diverted, our baggage was lost and it took us about 50 hours door to door. Not ideal conditions, however, I arrived at the competition hotel 3 days before I needed to compete, lifting equipment in hand and I felt OK.
On the day of the competition I had a tough day on the squat, I failed my opener for depth with 365kgs but made it on the second attempt, on the 3r d we went for 377.5kgs and for whatever reason the bar rolled on my back, slipped out of my grip and came crashing to the ground, missing some poor loaders toes by a few millimetres.
However, I’d made a lift and was happy to still be in the race as my bench and deadlift had been going well in training. My opening bench was to be 277.5kgs. My warm up to 265kgs had gone well, though I was far from touching with the 265kgs; in haste and for worry of not getting the weight down I wet the shirt. Sometimes this can give the shirt back a bit of stretch rather than dry fibres, however, I think I over wet the shirt and from my opener to my 3r d attempt I just couldn’t get any drive out of the shirt and missed all 3 attempts. After disappointingly bombing on the bench and getting decidedly cross with myself, I decided to throw all of my anger into the deadlift, pulling all 3 attempts up to 345kgs (a PB) and took home the only medal the GB team achieved that year with a silver in the deadlift.
Now more recently at the World Equipped Powerlifting Championships in Dubai, I’d made a conscious decision to go for broke. I had won the classic World Championships in June and knew that to really contend for winning the Championships I needed a total in excess of 1,130kg, with my previous best being 1,100kg it was going to take some risks to get there.
I dropped a squat suit size, a bench shirt size and a deadlift suit size. I’d been making good progress in training but received all of the new equipment only about 6 weeks prior to the competition, so I did as many weeks in the equipment as I could to get used to the new tightness and try and find openers that were feasible.
My best squat leading into the competition was 420kgs, I’d not made depth with anything less that 400kgs in training in the tighter suit so I had to open heavy 402.5kgs was the call I made (96%) – so obviously risky. The first attempt was missed 2-1 on depth, the next two attempts I tried to adjust but trying to squeeze a bit more depth through me out and I bombed.
Bench was going to be even riskier, but at this point in the competition I had nothing to lose. I’d not made a touch in the shirt in training, the closest I had come to touching was with 320kgs, but this was my previous best, so I opted for 312.5kgs opener. I made it touch but in doing so lost the line in the shirt, touched too low and couldn’t track it back into the rack. In the next two attempts we went up, not only to try and make the touch easier but also to stay in the hunt for a bench medal. It failed and I left the competition with no successful squat or bench attempts!
In hindsight I needed longer in the equipment to make the necessary adjustments and I needed some time between equipped sessions training raw to retain some strength which I believe had been lost with all of the attempts to make the equipment work in the 6 weeks before the competition.
This all being said, I knew the risks I was taking and to have a chance for the win I had to sacrifice my chances of making the podium in any other position and that is what happened. Could it have been avoided? Yes, do I regret the decision? Absolutely not.
In summary, you’ll see many more people bomb in future competitions and bombing is not the end of the world, you just have to ensure you learn something from it. Something tangible that you can take to your next competition prep and attempt selection in competition.
I hope you found reading this as insightful as it was therapeutic for me!
I’ll see you on the platform!