Beginner Powerlifting Program – Introduction
What is the best beginner powerlifting program?
To an outsider, powerlifting can look like a very intimidating, if not impenetrable sport.
After all, it’s dominated by some of the biggest, strongest people in the world!
And yet, if you look at the less elite levels of powerlifting, you’ll soon see that it’s actually a very inclusive activity that is enjoyed by people of all sizes, ages, and abilities.
In fact, powerlifting, even if you choose never to compete, is a great way to train for general fitness, strength, and muscle size.
Powerlifting involves three major lifts:
- the squat,
- bench press, and
In a powerlifting meet, lifters get three attempts to lift the heaviest weights they can, and the winner is the person with the highest total for the three lifts.
Training for powerlifting centers on these three lifts, plus accessory work to improve main-lift performance and prevent injury.
Typically, powerlifters lift heavy weights for low reps to gain strength in the main lifts, while using lighter weights and higher reps in their assistance exercises to develop muscle.
This approach increases strength AND size – something that most exercisers want.
There are lots of different ways to train for powerlifting, and almost all of them work.
Best Powerlifting Program for Beginners
But, for beginners, a simple approach is generally best.
That means dedicating one training session per week to each of the contested lifts.
It also makes sense to train the lifts in the order they’re done in competition.
This naturally moves the training stress around your body and ensures that you are fresh and rested from one powerlifting workout to the next, i.e.,
- Monday – Squat and accessory training
- Wednesday – Bench press and accessory training
- Friday – Deadlift and accessory training
Of course, if you cannot train Monday/Wednesday/Friday, you can train Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday or any other configuration providing you avoid training two days in a row.
Squats and Accessory Exercise Day Plan
Squat and accessory exercises
10 per leg
45-degree back extensions
Bench Press and Accessory Exercise Day Plan
Bench press and accessory exercises
Inc. DB bench press
DB shoulder press
Barbell biceps curls
AMRAP = As Many Reps as Possible – just do as many as you can!
Deadlifts and Accessory Exercise Day Plan
Deadlift and accessory exercises
10 per leg
Hanging knee raises
DB side bends
NOTE: Each workout should take about 90 minutes to complete, mainly because of the long rests necessary for the first exercise – squats, bench press, and deadlift.
If that’s too long, you can make each program a little shorter by:
- Do two fewer sets of exercise #1 (so three instead of five)
- Perform one less set of exercises #2 onward (so two instead of three)
- Doing the final two exercises as a back-to-back superset
- Omitting the last two exercises of each workout entirely.
The core exercises can be done at another time and the arm exercises should be considered “nice to do” rather than critical to your powerlifting success!
Your arms get plenty of work in the compound upper body exercises.
Exercise descriptions, hints, and tips
Get the most from this beginner powerlifting program or any other workout by doing each and every exercise correctly.
This will also reduce your risk of injury.
The squat is the cornerstone of your first workout.
Use a shoulder-width stance, keep your core tight, and rest the bar on your upper back and not your neck.
Push your hips back, drive your knees out, and squat down until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
Above all, do NOT round your lower back!
Squats Accessory Exercises
Working your glutes, hamstrings, and lower back, Romanian deadlifts are an excellent assistance exercise for squats and deadlifts.
Hinge from your hips and lean as far forward as you can without rounding your lower back.
Keep your knees slightly bent but rigid throughout.
Strong quads are a must for a big squat.
Leg extensions will strengthen your lockout, so you can complete your reps a little more easily.
Use light to moderate weights and focus on fully extending your knees at the top of each rep.
Lunges work one leg at a time, making them useful for improving your balance and fixing any left-to-right leg strength imbalances.
They work your entire lower body, so they’re a good squat assistance exercise too.
Use a barbell or dumbbells as preferred, and remember to keep your front shin vertical to take the stress off your knees.
A good squat needs a strong core. Planks develop your core isometrically, which is how it has to work during squats.
Keep your abs tight but do not hold your breath during this exercise.
45-degree back extensions
This exercise works your lower back, glutes, and hamstrings.
Using just your body weight for resistance, it’s suitable for moderate to high-rep sets.
Make sure you hinge from your hips rather than round your lower back, which could lead to injury.
Keep your feet planted firmly on the floor and your lower back arched during the bench press.
To provide your upper body with a stable platform from which to work.
Pull your shoulders down and back and brace your abs to increase stability even more.
See the Greatest Bench Press Benefits, Muscles Worked, Variations + How-To, and The 10 Best Exercises to Improve Your Bench Press Strength for additional information.
Bench Press Accessory Exercises
A good bench press and deadlift require strong lats, and pull-ups are one of the best ways to build this all-important muscle.
If you can’t do pull-ups, you can do lat pull-downs instead.
See The 7 Best Power Towers for Your Home Gym in 2022 + Workout for more details on an excellent piece of equipment for chin-ups and pull-ups.
Incline dumbbell bench press
Your second chest exercise, incline dumbbell bench presses, allows each arm to work independently, which is good for your balance and fixing any left-to-right strength imbalances.
The incline position also means you’ll be working your pecs from a slightly different angle, which is good for strength and muscular development.
The seated row is another upper back exercise.
It involves pulling your shoulders down and back and is an excellent antidote to bench pressing.
Do not allow your lower back to round during this exercise as doing so will increase your risk of injury.
Dumbbell shoulder press
While overhead presses are NOT a part of powerlifting, there is a strong link between bench presses and shoulder presses.
Increase your overhead press strength, and your bench press should increase too.
You can do this exercise seated or standing as preferred.
This cable exercise is good for your upper back and posterior deltoid or shoulder muscles.
Think of this exercise as prehab for your shoulders.
Using this exercise will help stabilize your shoulder joints, leading to a bigger, safer bench press.
Go light and slow on this exercise; really focus on squeezing your shoulders back on each rep.
Strong triceps will help you lock out your bench press more easily.
Triceps pushdowns are a good bench press assistance exercise that is also easy on your elbows.
Keep your upper arms tucked into your sides for the best results.
Barbell biceps curls
Keep your upper arms balanced by working your biceps as well as your triceps.
If you find that barbell curls are hard on your wrists or elbows, try an EZ bar or dumbbells instead.
The last of the three competitive powerlifts, deadlifts can be done using a conventional or sumo stance.
Try them both to see which one works best for you.
Whichever one you do, remember to brace your abs and keep your lower back slightly arched at all times.
Deadlift Accessory Exercises
This exercise allows you to work your legs without using your lower back.
As such, leg presses are perfect after deadlifting.
Use the same width stance as you use for squats to make this exercise as specific as possible.
See Leg Press vs Squat; Which is Better for You to Do? for a deeper dive into the pros and cons of these effective exercises.
Leg curls isolate your hamstrings.
While the gluteus maximus is the prime mover muscle for hip extension in the deadlift, the hamstrings are an important synergist muscle group in the deadlift.
Leg curls will help reduce your risk of a hamstring injury.
Use a full range of motion and light to moderate weights.
Follow the instructions for the type of machine you are using, i.e., seated, standing, or lying.
Floor bridge aka hip thrusts
This exercise works your glutes and hamstrings without overloading your lower back.
It’s a good squat and deadlift assistance exercise, and you can do it with a barbell resting across your hips or using just your bodyweight as required.
The floor bridge is also an excellent deadlift alternative exercise to protect a bad back.
Hanging knee raises
A strong core is a must for all of the 3 big lifts.
This challenging exercise targets your rectus abdominis at the front of your torso, and it’s also a good grip exercise.
A strong grip is crucial for a big deadlift.
Dumbbell side bends
This exercise will strengthen your oblique or waist muscles.
Use just one dumbbell.
If you use two, they act as counterbalances making this exercise much less effective.
Lean sideways only, and do not twist your hips or shoulders during this exercise.
Mistakes to avoid
Novice powerlifters often make mistakes that can undermine their progress.
Avoid doing the following to ensure your training is as productive and safe as possible.
Lifting too heavy, too soon
As a novice lifter, the first few months of your powerlifting training program should revolve around building a solid foundation by mastering the squat, bench press, and deadlift.
And not trying to lift heavier weights every time you train.
Instead, start light and only put more weight on the bar if you are confident your form is solid.
Otherwise, you run the risk of injury if you begin training with loads that are too heavy.
You first have to train your body and mind to get accustomed to the form, range of motion, and new forces that your body will encounter.
Not eating enough
If you want to lift big, you need to eat big too!
That doesn’t mean you can chow down on junk food and get fat, but you do need to eat enough to fuel your workouts and your recovery too.
Build your meals around complex carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats, and eat plenty of natural, nutritious food.
Not using progressive resistance
You are only as strong as your last workout, so if you want to get stronger, you’ll need to try and add a little more weight to your workouts week by week.
Small increases are best, even if it’s just 2.5-5.0 lbs.
If you can’t increase your weights, try and squeeze out an extra rep to keep progressing.
Remember, progress, not perfection!
To be a good powerlifter, you can’t skip workouts.
If you do, you could find one of your lifts progressing faster than the others.
It’s normal to have a lift you enjoy less or find harder than the others, but that’s the one you need to really focus on, rather than avoid.
Pay equal attention to all three disciplines, so you can become a better all-around lifter.
Never skip your warm-up
A good workout starts with a proper warm-up.
If you don’t have time to warm up, you don’t have time to work out!
A suitable warm-up prepares your body and your mind for what you are about to do.
The heavier you lift, the more time you’ll need to spend on warming up, as the more stress you’ll be piling onto your joints and muscles.
Do 5 – 10 minutes of light cardio to raise your core temperature, and then do some dynamic mobility and flexibility exercises for the body parts you’re about to work on.
Finish your warm-up with a few light sets of your chosen exercises to hone your technique and make sure you are 100% ready for what is about to follow.
The Best Way to Program for Powerlifting (Science Explained)
Beginner Powerlifting Program – Wrapping Up
Powerlifting is a great way to work out, even if you have no intention of stepping onto the competitive lifting platform.
Focusing on the squat, bench press, and deadlift will build muscle and strength throughout your body, and if your diet is clean and healthy, even help you lose fat too.
In short, whatever you are training, for, this beginner powerlifting program can help!
Now that you have access to an excellent beginner powerlifting program, you might be interested to know more about the sport of powerlifting.
In that case, be sure to check out What Is Powerlifting? A Beginner’s Guide To A Sport For All!
A sport for all means that powerlifting is a great athletic pursuit for men and women of all ages, even over 50.
See Powerlifting Over 50: Benefits + Best Routine to Get Started for more information and details.
Also, please see my recommended Fitness Gear for this beginner powerlifting program and more.
And last, if you feel you need to take off some weight before embarking on a weight training program, please consider picking up a copy of my Guide to Lose 20lbs in 3 Months, thank you!
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On Pushups / Bench Press
- Great Bench Press Benefits, Muscles Worked, Variations + How-To
- What Muscles Do Push-Ups Work?
- 100 Pushups a day: 30 Things that Will Make You Fit
- The Powerful Benefits of Push-Ups for Body Transformation
- 100 Pushup Challenge: How to Easily Do 36,500 Push-Ups This Year
- 20 Amazing Shaquem Griffin Bench Press Reps Will Blow Your Mind