It’s fun to come up with your own strength workouts and powerlifting programs! I always enjoyed it. When I first got into lifting heavy, strength programming was part of the training, part of the fun.
But many people don’t try because they are worried about doing strength programming ‘wrong’ or they just go round and round in circles.
Men and women have 80% of the same exercises in their average training session – with the bench press, squat, and deadlift at the top.
It’s tempting to go to the gym and just do what you enjoy/what you’re good at (these are usually the same thing).
So here’s my method for constructing a quick and easy strength workout that will actually benefit you. This works even if you only have 20 minutes! And I’ll run you through the elements of a program as well if you’re not sure where to start with your powerlifting program!
What do I need from my powerlifting program?
No matter if you’re using a beginner powerlifting program, intermediate program or advanced powerlifting routine, you’ll see the following components:
- Powerlifting Specificity
- High Intensity
- Weak Point Training
- Block Periodisation
Let’s take a quick look at these five points before we get into the training programs.
According to the principle of specificity, our training methods have an impact on the strength increases we experience.
The same idea holds true for a powerlifting regimen. You will prioritise strengthening your squat, bench press, and deadlift over all other exercises because those three movements are the main objective.
As a result, the initial exercise in the majority of powerlifting sessions will be one of the three powerlifting moves. You’ll perform a powerlifting movement variant after this first exercise.
Any powerlifting program will need to incorporate high levels of intensity, meaning heavy weight, in the squat, bench press, and deadlift.
Your brain instructs your muscles to activate more motor units at once when you subject yourself to high-intensity training in order to fulfil the appropriate loading demand. As a result, you improve your ability to generate maximal force, which eventually enables you to lift heavier loads and increase your muscle mass.
You start the workout here by working up to 1-3 heavy sets. You have your “top sets” here. When fatigue is at its lowest, they are performed first in the schedule of exercises. The top sets are then followed by 1-3 ‘back off sets’ that are in the ‘moderate intensity’ range. You can build up more volume here, which will support good technique and help you build muscle.
Be careful not to push yourself to the point where you can’t recover. It’s always best to consult a personal trainer who can help you with your training program and advise on the appropriate training volume.
Most powerlifting programs will incorporate exercises that improve weak points within the range of motion.
Segment your lifts into ‘bottom’,’mid’, and ‘top-end’ ranges to identify your weak points within the movement. Then, identify the area of those ranges where you are having trouble. Where you fail under larger weights typically determines this.
Based on this study, you can start planning an exercise regimen that will help strengthen those ranges of motion that are still developing. If you fail the bench press off the chest, it can indicate that your pecs are weaker than they should be. Failure at lockout could indicate that your triceps are weaker.
Don’t let weak points dishearten you, I can assure you that even seasoned lifters have weak points, nobody’s perfect!
Periodisation is the deliberate application of particular phases of training. Not just a single programme, but the “overall training plan” is composed of several phases. Periodisation, which can comprise a variety of programmes, therefore, considers months of training.
The idea behind block periodisation is that each block, which typically lasts 3-6 weeks, gets progressively harder until you test your lifts, usually with a 1 rep max.
All powerlifting programmes will include a variety of recuperation components to ensure that lifters can progress without running the risk of injury or burnout.
The concept of “deloading” is one method of managing recovery. This is where you reduce the overall training load for a short period of time, such as a week, on a regular basis. Some lifters will deload once a month, others once every few months.
Splitting your training is one more method of managing recovery. There will always be the right amount of deadlift, bench press, and squat workouts spread out throughout the course of the training week, limiting the amount of tiredness you carry from workout to workout.
The average workout frequency of powerlifters is 3.3 workouts per week, so make sure you take time out on those rest days!
The super quick and easy strength programming method (20-30 min session)
Always remember to warm up before you start any kind of strength training!
Step 1: Exercises
Pick 4 exercises you’re weak in. You know what they are.
Examples for me are overhead pressing, single leg stuff, triceps, conventional deadlift. To name only four…
Tip: Mix up the body parts/movements so that you are training upper and lower body, front and back of body. You’ll end up with a full body workout routine.
Step 2: Reps
Assign a rep number to each exercise. I usually go for 5 or 8. I usually do 5 on the big, heavy exercises like deadlift and 8 on the smaller exercises like the tricep extension.
As a rule of thumb, 5 is good for strength building and for exercises that have a huge demand on the body, like a deadlift.
8-12 is good for strength building in smaller exercises or with weaker muscles, or for fitness (getting out of breath). Strength athletes benefit from a bit of fitness – it helps to get through long workouts and conditions the smaller muscles.
Step 3: Sets/Rest
Decide how many sets or rounds you want to do. I usually do 5 rounds. It can be done in 15-20 minutes.
I’ll do all the exercises circuit-style without an official rest period but if I’m training for strength I’ll wander between exercises rather than run, getting a bit of recovery in.
A rest period trick I learned from a past weightlifting coach, Giles Greenwood, is to slowly wander to one end of the gym, touch the wall and slowly wander back. Giles used to do this between sets of front squats: enough time for a couple of minutes recovery, but gets you in a rhythm and means that you don’t have to sit around or stand like a panting lemon between sets.
Obviously if you are in a commercial gym at peak times, you’ll need to guard your weights like a hawk so this option isn’t necessarily available to you.
Strength programming examples for a 20-30 minute session
5 minute dynamic warm up
A1 Deadlift – 5 reps
A2 Pull up – 5 reps
A3 Dumbbell split squat – 8 reps each leg
A4 Standing overhead press – 8 reps
5 rounds (1 warm up round with easier weights, then 4 working rounds with a challenging weight)
B1 Barbell back squat – 8 reps (focusing on consistent depth)
B2 Bent over row – 8 reps
B3 Good mornings – 5 reps
B4 Lying tricep extension – 12 reps
Intermediate powerlifting program (45-60 min session)
If you’ve got a bit more time, try it this way:
Pick a heavy ‘exercise of the day’. It might be a squat or a deadlift. It might be a smaller exercise like a push up or a single arm press, but you want to go super heavy with it.
Do 5-6 sets of your heavy ‘exercise of the day’ with 1-3 reps per set. Go as heavy as you can while maintaining good form and range of motion.
Do the super quick method above as the rest of your workout.
Example: for someone who wants to get better at pull ups
A Weighted pull up – 5 sets x 3 reps
B1 Dumbbell prone row – 8 reps
B2 Bulgarian split squat – 8 reps each side
B3 Push ups – 10-12 reps
B4 Prone lower trap raise – 10 reps
Example: for someone who wants to improve their clean
A Clean – 6 sets x 2 reps, increasing weight with each set
B1 Front squat x 5 reps
B2 Bent over row x 5 reps
B3 Clean pull x 3 reps
4-5 rounds with 1-2 minutes rest between rounds
Bung anything you like at the end. Have fun! You might want to do some core work. Or get all hot and sweaty with a sled. Or perhaps a bit of chest and arms if it’s a Friday night.
The main work is over, so do whatever you feel like.
Examples of finishers
Core work: Plank x 3 – 60 seconds work, 60 seconds rest
Metabolic: Prowler or sled push, every 30 seconds for 5 minutes
Looking for expert powerlifting coaches for program guidance?
You can probably see how you can apply this to a week’s training. Each session pick a different ‘exercise of the day’ and different circuit exercises. So if you are training 3 times a week, that’s 15 exercises per week.
Do a 3 week block where you repeat the same workouts for 3 weeks, increasing the difficulty each week. This is important, by the way. In strength training, we don’t want to do a completely different workout every time because we want to adapt to the current set of exercises, and this takes a few sessions.
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Powerlifting Programming FAQs
How should a powerlifting program look?
Specifically, the deadlifts, squat and bench press should be the focal point of a powerlifting workout. The ideal work-to-recovery ratio is achieved with 3-5 days of training per week spread across sessions for the upper and lower body.
How is bodybuilding different from powerlifting programming?
Maximal strength is the goal of powerlifting training, particularly in exercises like the squat, bench press, and deadlift. Bodybuilding training places less emphasis on weight lifted and more emphasis on maximising muscular hypertrophy (growth).
How often do powerlifters lift a week?
The majority of powerlifters train three to four times per week. This is to allow sufficient recovery between heavy sessions, for the best strength improvements.