The Ultimate Guide to Powerlifting Programming

Powerlifting Program


Strength training is a dynamic field with various disciplines. However, powerlifting stands out as a gateway to unlocking maximum force development and is vital for those seeking to reach their full potential in strength training. In this article, we will discuss not only powerlifting in general but also powerlifting programming. The goal is to understand the significance of a well-designed powerlifting program and how it will help build maximum strength for maximum results.

Powerlifting is a competitive strength sport that centers on three core lifts - the squat, bench press, and deadlift. The goal of any powerlifter is to lift as much weight as possible in each of these three exercises. Afterward, these three lifts are added together to represent the "total" amount of weight lifted that represents this athlete's effort.

While this might seem straightforward, the simplicity of a powerlifter's goal is significant in building maximum strength for any athlete. Powerlifting also provides an incentive for the lifters to push themselves in order to have a "higher total" to outrank their competitors, whether it's your first powerlifting competition or you're not competing.

For a powerlifter to get the best out of all their lifts usually requires the use of a powerlifting program. A well-designed powerlifting program is indispensable due to its significance in helping a lifter build a balanced anatomy, optimizing performance, and ensuring continuous progress. A well-developed powerlifting program can help a lifter build all aspects of their anatomy, which can aid in their performance on all lifts. This program should reduce the risk of muscle imbalances and injuries, and facilitate long-term strength growth.

Additionally, a well-developed powerlifting program should enable athletes to reach their peak performance at the right time for competitions, driving them to achieve their full potential. The importance of a well-designed powerlifting program is understated, and in this article, we will investigate this topic further and discuss critical components and considerations for building a better powerlifting program.

Understanding Powerlifting Programs

With the current growth in powerlifting, we are seeing more and more programming exist. On multiple platforms, we have programs created by many different authors that provide different levels of programming for different needs and preferences. This includes the following:

  • Juggernaut AI Program: Juggernaut AI is an innovative program that employs artificial intelligence to generate personalized training routines based on in-depth surveys of an individual's current strength levels.
  • Jeff Nippard's Powerbuilding Programming: This program combines powerlifting and bodybuilding elements to create a balanced approach focusing on strength and aesthetics.
  • Layne Norton's "PHAT" Program: PHAT, or Power Hypertrophy Adaptive Training, merges powerlifting and bodybuilding principles, emphasizing both size and strength gains for all athletes.
  • Jim Wendler's "5/3/1" Method: The 5/3/1 program employs a simple yet effective methodology, emphasizing gradual progression through increasing weights and various assistance exercises to help athletes get bigger and stronger.

These programs represent the variety of interests within powerlifting. You even see an emergence of AI-driven customization! However, among these options, it's crucial to recognize the value of individualized and customized programming.Nothing can surpass the efforts of an individually customized program.

While various powerlifting programs can be effective, a custom and individualized program reigns supreme for optimal results. Individualization tailors every aspect of training to an athlete's unique needs and goals. The big problem with this, though, is not many people understand what should be included with a powerlifting program. Have no fear, though! We are here to help and give you guidance on what should be included in a powerlifting program for increasing your size or single rep max strength!

Needs Assessment

Building a custom program starts with a comprehensive needs assessment. This involves identifying an athlete's strengths and weaknesses in terms of specific lifts. For example, if you are leaning forward on your squats, you could use movements that prioritize the idea of being more balanced with your squatting mechanics. This could mean doing "box squats" so you learn to sit back more onto your heels to have better success. Leaning forward could also mean you are lacking hip strength, which correlates to weak glute muscles. In training, it would be wise to use variation lifts that help improve your mechanics, then to do exercises to grow those muscles that might be causing those weak mechanics to exist.


Frequency refers to how often one trains. It's essential to determine how frequently a specific movement or muscle group needs to be trained to maximize progress and recovery. For new lifters, you might want to have a higher frequency of squat, bench, and deadlift exercises in the program just to master the movement. If you are a veteran lifter, you might have a lower frequency of the traditional squat, bench and deadlift movements and focus more on variation lifts that can enhance your squat, bench and deadlift.


Intensity involves the weight or resistance used in training. Customization means choosing the appropriate intensity for each exercise and individual, considering their current abilities and long-term goals. At the beginning of the powerlifting program, the intensity should be lower so you are not lifting close to your one rep max. Instead, you should be focusing on the volume of the exercise and doing higher reps instead. The higher the reps, the lower the intensity. The lower the reps, the higher the intensity. Intensity in both examples has to do with percentages of your one rep max.


Volume refers to the total amount of work performed, including sets and repetitions. Customized programming adjusts the volume to match an individual's capacity for recovery and adaptation. Early in the program, you should hit higher volume to make the muscle more fatigued. This fatigued state helps trigger an anabolic response by the body, meaning it wants to grow in muscular density to support these fatiguing workouts.


Custom programs plan for gradual, sustainable progression, ensuring that intensity, volume, and frequency increase systematically to avoid plateaus and overtraining. Progression also includes the idea of using tougher exercises that make more sense for your squat, bench and deadlift. You should do more simple movements earlier in your progression, as it is easier to do high volume with easier exercises. As the program continues, do harder and more complicated movements that would challenge your strength and can do a better job improving your squat, bench and deadlift.

Individualized programming also considers factors like age, experience level, injury history, and lifestyle constraints. The goal is to hit an athlete's specific needs, enabling them to target weaknesses, optimize training, and ultimately achieve their full potential. While a variety of powerlifting programs exist, the path to true success involves tailoring training to the unique requirements of the individual through a thorough needs assessment and an understanding of frequency, intensity, volume, and progression in their workouts.

Developing a Custom Powerlifting Program

For custom programming, whether building your own program or seeking a coach to guide you, it is a meticulous process of various factors. Experience level, training goals, and time commitment are key elements in shaping the path to progress. If you are a veteran lifter who has all the time in the world to train, this means the program can be thorough, enhanced, and lengthy to target all your needs. This is huge as every bit of effort helps those veteran lifters grow their strength. However, if you are a new lifter and don't understand the basics of powerlifting, you might want to start off with easier workouts and not shoot for the stars too soon. Patience is a huge factor when becoming a better powerlifter.

Principle of Periodization

But whether you are a veteran lifter or a beginner lifter, the foundation of any program should be through the use of the "principle of periodization". The term periodization is a fundamental concept in powerlifting and strength training. It involves structuring a training program to optimize progress and avoid plateaus. Most individuals follow a linear periodization model, gradually increasing training intensity and lowering the training volume over a span of 12 to 16 weeks. This approach allows lifters to build up to new max effort lifts, more times than not. The gradual increase in intensity helps the lifter adapt to the training stimulus and ensures that they are constantly moving towards their goals.

Periodization can also take on different forms, such as block periodization, which focuses on shorter, more concentrated phases of training, or undulating periodization, which varies in intensity and volume within each training week. The block could accommodate newer lifters, while veteran lifters could benefit from undulating periodization. Regardless, periodization is a crucial tool for powerlifters to ensure they peak at the right time, break through plateaus, and continue making progress.

Programming Methods

When it comes to the design of a powerlifting program, there's no need to reinvent the wheel. Many well-established powerlifting programs and methodologies offer excellent frameworks for success. For example, Jim Wendler's "5/3/1" method is highly regarded for its simplicity and emphasis on gradually challenging squat, bench, and deadlift strength with a linear mindset of periodization.

Another valuable source of programming is the Westside Barbell's "Conjugate" method, developed by Louie Simmons. This approach emphasizes the use of variation lifts to target weak points in a lifter's performance. It also advocates speed work to enhance maximum power output, making sure strength athletes aren't showcasing slow strength gains but also developing explosive strength.

Important Exercises in Powerlifting

In powerlifting, the selection of key exercises is pivotal. These exercises form the core of a comprehensive workout routine, targeting specific muscle groups and challenging the body in unique ways. The main movements in any powerlifting program, though, are going to be the squat, bench press, and deadlift.


The squat is a fundamental powerlifting exercise that primarily focuses on lower body strength. It engages muscles such as the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and lower back. A well-executed squat involves maintaining good posture, flat feet, and positioning the resistance on the midfoot to avoid favoring the heels or toes. Common mistakes include leaning forward, which places undue pressure on the lower back and knee joints.

Bench Press

The bench press is an upper-body strength exercise that targets the chest, shoulders, and triceps. Proper form entails enforcing a powerful arch while keeping the head, shoulders, hips, and feet flat on the floor. This position tightens the back and enhances stability for a heavy bench press. A common mistake in the bench press is flaring the elbows outward, which increases the pressure on the shoulder joint and reduces overall strength.


The deadlift is a full-body exercise that particularly challenges the back, glutes, hamstrings, and grip strength. Key aspects of proper deadlift form include maintaining a flat back, solid hip positioning, vertical shins, and ensuring that the shoulders remain stacked above the knees. A common issue in the deadlift is a flexed spine, which places excessive pressure on the lower back and increases the risk of injury.

All these lifts are instrumental to your performance in powerlifting. However, as stated above, there are common mistakes amongst these big three lifts that can be a challenge to master. Sometimes these issues have to do with how strong you are, while other issues could be your level of mastery within that movement. Overall, there are general concerns for these three lifts, and with practice, you can improve your powerlifting by following these tips below.

For squats, focusing on maintaining good posture, flat feet, and pushing weight onto the midfoot helps prevent the common mistake of leaning forward, reducing the risk of lower back and knee strain. In the bench press, creating a powerful arch with your feet flat on the floor ensures a strong and tight back to support heavy loads on your chest. In the deadlift, a flat back, correct hip positioning, vertical shins, and shoulders stacked above the knees promote safe and effective lifting.

It's easy to point out proper technique with lifting, but putting that plan into practice can be tough, especially if you are lacking strength in certain areas of your body. That's where accessory lifts can help you thrive in this sport. These supplementary movements serve to correct postural problems, improve weak points, and enhance overall strength gains.

Postural issues encountered in the squat can be addressed with exercises such as the good morning and front squats. These movements help strengthen key muscles and reinforce proper form.

For those struggling with bench press form, exercises like dips, when executed with tight elbows, can aid in rectifying the common mistake of benching with wide elbows. This adjustment not only reduces the risk of shoulder injuries but also enhances lifting performance.

With a flexed spine on deadlift, exercises like the RDL or hyperextension machine can help strengthen those postural muscles in the context of a posterior-dominant variation of movement. The use of a lifting belt is also ideal to help support your brace during a squat or deadlift session to improve your posture and positioning.

Powerlifting is a demanding sport that necessitates meticulous attention to form and technique. Each of the three main powerlifting lifts targets specific muscle groups, challenging the body in unique ways. Proper form and technique, alongside accessory exercises, are critical components in the pursuit of increasing size and strength for better performance.

Structuring a Powerlifting Training Program

Creating a well-structured powerlifting training program is essential for long-term progress and peak performance. It typically involves various training phases and splits to address different aspects of strength development.

Hypertrophy Phase

The hypertrophy phase in powerlifting is designed to increase muscle size. More muscular size often translates to the potential for more strength. During this phase, lifters focus on higher repetition ranges (8-12 reps) and moderate weights. The primary goal is to stimulate muscle growth and build a solid foundation. Hypertrophy is stimulated from the multitude of reps performed that causes the lifters to be exhausted and in return, creates a long-term anabolic response for growth.

Strength Phase

Following the hypertrophy phase, the strength phase emphasizes the ability to lift heavy weights. This phase typically consists of lower repetition ranges (3-6 reps) with high weights. It's here that the lifter begins to acclimate to the specific intensity required in powerlifting competitions. The strength phase aims to maximize neuromuscular adaptations and increase the lifter's ability to lift heavier loads.

Power Phase

The power phase, often known as the peaking phase, is where the lifter builds their maximal strength for competition. The lifter trains with very high intensity of 90% or more between 1-3 reps to refine technique, boost power output, and achieve peak performance. The power phase is typically brief, lasting a few weeks leading up to a competition. This is the phase most strength athletes like to exist in, which causes them to be burnt out and miss their peak.

During any of these phases of training, workout splits are employed to structure workouts effectively and optimize strength development. For newer lifters, the 3-day split is a straightforward approach, focusing on one of the three main powerlifting lifts each training day, making it suitable for those with time constraints while maintaining adequate training volume.

The 4-day split divides training into four sessions, with a primary lift and supplementary exercises each day, offering a balanced regimen that allows for exercise variety. A more advanced split could be the "Push-Pull-Squat" split that categorizes training based on movement patterns: push (bench press), pull (deadlift), and squat movements. This approach ensures a well-rounded development to hopefully hinder overuse injuries.

These splits are created for many reasons, but one primary reason has to do with the amount of rest and recovery an athlete needs in between sessions.

Importance of Rest and Recovery within a Powerlifting Program

Rest and recovery are indispensable in any strength program, including powerlifting. Recovery isn't just for the muscle tissue, but also for the nervous system. As lifters approach the 90% range of their one-rep max, both muscular and nervous system fatigue become significant. To optimize recovery, it's wise to schedule rest days strategically within the training program, perhaps limiting muscle groups from frequencies within 2-3 days.

A common approach is to train for two days and then take one to two days off, depending on individual needs. This allows the body and nervous system to recover adequately, reducing the risk of overtraining and enhancing long-term performance and injury prevention. Remember, powerlifting is a demanding sport, and proper recovery is vital to maintaining peak strength and consistent progress.

Progressive Overload and Strength Gains

The concept of progressive overload is what truly helps anyone build muscle mass and increase strength through weight training. It involves consistently challenging the body with heavier resistance to stimulate muscle growth that drives strength gains. As someone close once told me, "mass moves mass". Might be one of the truest statements I've ever heard.

The key to implementing progressive overload effectively is through gradual, controlled increases in resistance. This idea basically summarizes linear periodization, which utilizes a structured approach to intensify workouts over time by steadily building up resistance. The idea behind this approach is to acclimate the athlete to the stimulus of heavyweights, allowing them to handle progressively heavier loads as their strength improves. This method ensures that the body continuously adapts to greater demands, resulting in muscle growth and strength development.

At times, though, this heavy weight could cause a toll on the body. Using supportive gear such as wrist wraps and lifting belts can help support athletes under extreme loads.

If you are not finding success with linear periodization, it might be wise to consider "block periodization". Block periodization, a strategy where intensity increases every four weeks, serves to push the body to its maximum effort. This approach disrupts the body's comfort zone and helps the athlete surpass performance plateaus.

Another valuable strategy is undulating periodization, which allows for variation in training intensity within a single training week. This is particularly useful when working with intensities beyond 90% of a one-rep max. By incorporating lighter and heavier weeks for specific compound movements, this approach keeps the lifter's training fresh and challenging, preventing stagnation and promoting consistent progress.

Considerations for Intermediate and Advanced Lifters

Differentiating training needs for intermediate and advanced powerlifters is crucial in ensuring continued progress and optimizing performance. While pre-designed programs can be effective, they may not always meet the unique needs of experienced lifters, potentially leading to become stagnant.

Advanced lifters often require specialized training techniques to challenge and stimulate further strength gains. Techniques such as accommodating resistance, involving the use of bands or chains, can be valuable for those who have already mastered the basic squat, bench press, and deadlift. These methods help lifters learn to accelerate through lifts, enhancing explosiveness and lockout strength, which are vital in powerlifting competitions.

Listening to the body and making necessary adjustments is of much importance, regardless of one's experience level. Not every day is the same, and an advanced lifter must be attuned to their body's signals. It's essential to prioritize safety and well-being, ensuring that training is never uncomfortable or potentially injurious. Being flexible with frequency and intensity are essential for advanced lifters. By acknowledging and respecting the body's cues, experienced powerlifters can tailor their routines to maximize performance while minimizing the risk of overtraining and injury.

Monitoring Progress and Adjusting the Program

Tracking progress and measuring strength gains in powerlifting requires a systematic approach. First and foremost, it's essential to have a written plan, including the specific exercises, sets, reps, and weights used. This consistent documentation allows you to observe your progress over time and identify areas where you've made significant gains or where improvements are needed.

It's important to recognize that the adaptation phase of training can take weeks to happen. Therefore, consistency is key. Stick with your program for several weeks before making any judgments about its effectiveness. Understand that strength gains are often gradual, and small improvements add up over time.

Importance of Regular Assessments and Modifications to Optimize Program Effectiveness

To optimize the effectiveness of your powerlifting program, regular assessments are essential. Every 12-16 weeks, take the time to evaluate your absolute strength and the efficacy of your programming. Assess whether you are on the right path and whether you might be missing opportunities for improvement. This periodic evaluation allows you to make informed decisions about what is working and what needs adjustment.

During these assessments, pay attention to factors such as technique and form. Identify any plateaus or areas where progress has stalled. Based on these findings, modify your training program accordingly. This might involve adjusting exercise selection, changing training splits, or revising your periodization strategy. By consistently assessing and modifying your program, you can ensure that your training remains aligned with your goals for powerlifting success.

Final Thoughts

A well-designed powerlifting program is not just about lifting heavy weights; it's about optimizing performance, building a balanced physique, and ensuring consistent progress. The key components of an effective powerlifting program include understanding the importance of powerlifting phases, splits, and periodization. Other considerations are embracing progressive overload and getting rest for your physical health and neurological health.

As you embark on your powerlifting journey, remember that individualized and customized programming is often the most effective path to success. By assessing your unique needs, addressing weaknesses, and fine-tuning your training approach, you can achieve your full potential in this dynamic sport.