Unlike bodybuilding, which emphasizes the pursuit of a particular physique, powerlifting is a sport of attaining as much raw strength as is humanly possible. Primal in its simplicity, but it is practical, extreme and a virtual guarantee you will never again struggle to move your couch. As to be a powerlifter means being dedicated to a goal: Find out how strong you can get, and then get stronger than that.
A powerlifter basically takes three seemingly simple exercises: the deadlift, squat, and bench press. Then works to learn and excel in every single aspect of them. On its face, powerlifting is pretty simple: Develop as much all-out strength as you humanly can, primarily through the “big three” fundamental lifts: low-bar back squat, bench press, and deadlift. But talk to powerlifters long enough, and you’ll discover that they often develop a specialized feeling about their training. This is why you also get so many opinions about what to do and how to do it. Like marathon runners & triathletes, powerlifters work to operate at the brutal edge of their own physical capability. That means powerlifting can be demanding and extremely taxing, both physically and mentally. For ones who want to want to go beyond merely exercising and dedicate themselves to the pursuit of extreme strength, powerlifting is rewarding and can be the key to transform your body to the next level.
Powerlifting is both a sport of mental fortitude and finesse
Some powerlifters like to say their sport is just picking things up and putting them down. But anyone who’s bench-pressed twice their body weight or deadlifted 500 lbs. knows that powerlifting is both a sport of mental fortitude and finesse. There’s so much to learn: bracing, rooting, breathing, optimal foot position, bar position, eye gaze, head position, activation, and so forth. By doing this you get to know more about your body and yourself. Just as endurance training ultimately becomes a mental battle against your lungs, powerlifting demands steely psychological composure—particularly because training often entails pushing to failure, and then getting right back on the platform. The barbell teaches you discipline, sacrifice, how to power through a weight you thought impossible, and how to navigate the darkness of hitting a weight that you’ve never done before.
It sounds obvious, but choosing your gym is a key step. Sure, you can theoretically train for powerlifting in the average big-box gym, But if you’re serious about training, you need a gym that you can setup and allows you to take your time on the bench press and squat stations (WhenEver Fitness would be an ideal location if you live in the Cottage Grove Area).
Aside from the gym, powerlifting doesn’t require too much gear of your own. Powerlifters often wear powerlifting-specific shoes, which offer a solid, slightly raised heel to help lifters get into better position underneath the barbell while still engaging their posterior chain. For deadlifting, go with a pair of simple Chuck Taylor All-Stars or deadlifting slippers, since their thin rubber heels reduce a deadlifter’s range of motion and maximize the foot’s surface area with the floor. Hand grips can aid your grip when deadlifting and benching, and improves the tightness of your squat. Many powerlifters invest in specialized equipment like knee sleeves and lifting belts, but you can probably hold off on those until you seriously commit to powerlifting.
Work your way up in the weights. Some people get turned off because they experience failure very early on a novice program and that’s because they let their ego get in the way. Check your ego at the door, and make sure you educate yourself on form and basic methodology prior to getting under a barbell.
Stay disciplined. If you’re going to focus on powerlifting, then focus on powerlifting—don’t sign up for a marathon while you’re at it. Just as people training for an Olympic sport never stray far from their dedicated training plan, powerlifters focus on their training.
Strain VS Pain. Do enough to progress, but don’t overdo it for the sake of a social media post.
Full Reps. Make sure you work through a full range of motion as you’re starting and then work your way up in weights. A Half a Rep is no Rep at all for powerlifting.
BASIC PROGRAM (3 day sample guide only)
The program consists of three workouts a week. Each time you come to the gym, you’ll increase the weight on your “big three” lifts. “Most novices can make tremendous progress with 1–1.5 hours of lifting, three movements, three times a week. It might not sound like much volume, but because powerlifting workouts emphasize big, compound movements that challenge both your musculature and your central nervous system, a three-day-a-week program will pave the way for fast novice strength gains without over-taxing your system. It is also a scientific proven method developed many years ago by the best powerlifters.
Look at progress on a daily basis: Each time you come in to the gym increase the weight of each movement. If you fail, take a step back for a day or two and try again.
On Day 1, you’ll establish your benchmarks in the bench and squat. (Your deadlift starting point will extend from your squat benchmark.) Don’t stress if these numbers aren’t that impressive—it’s only ground zero, and you’ll get better soon.
In other words, rather than establishing a maximum and working in percentages of that maximum, you’re establishing a comfort zone and building from that foundation.
From there, you’ll increase your weight each training session:
– Squat and deadlift: 10 lbs. each day, and then by 5 lbs. once it starts to feel challenging.
– Bench press and overhead press: 5 lbs. each day, then by smaller increments once it starts to feel challenging.
Start off with sets of eight reps, as it provides a lot of practice with the movement, and allows the beginning powerlifter to build a base (and some muscle) to support sets of five that you’ll do later on. Once you max out on your daily progression, or you start failing at a weight, deload: Take 10% off your weight and work yourself back up. That should give you enough time to push progress. After about two de-loads, it’s time for a more intermediate program.”
In all workouts, rest 3–5 minutes between sets.
Establishing Your Benchmark Weights
Once you’ve warmed up on your first day (see below), do 10 reps of the squat and bench with an empty barbell. From there, increase the weight each set by 5–25 lbs., depending on what’s comfortable.
Your goal is to ultimately arrive at a weight that you can lift for 8 reps, and confidently lift at least 3 more times if you needed to.
Warmup (do before each workout)
3 sets of 10 air squats
3 sets of 10 good mornings
3 sets of 10 Romanian deadlifts
3 sets of 10 pushups
3 sets of 10 pullups (can scale down to ring rows if necessary)
3 sets of 15-20 seconds of hip stretching like clamshells
Day 1 (Monday):
Squat: 3 sets of 8 reps
Bench: 3 sets of 8 reps
Row of choice (seal row, pullups, bent-over rows, etc.): 3 sets of 10 reps
Planks: 3 rounds for maximum time possible
Day 2 (Wednesday):
Squat: 3 sets of 8 reps
Overhead press: 3 sets of 10 reps
Romanian deadlift: 3 sets of 10 reps
Day 3 (Saturday):
Squat: 3 sets of 8 reps
Bench: 3 sets of 8 reps
Deadlift: 2 sets of 5 reps (Start at 15 lbs. heaver than your starting squat weight.)
Single-arm Row: 3 sets of 12 reps
Written by: Robert Blair; Staff Writer
ROBERT BLAIR is the Operational Manager of WhenEver Fitness, editor of fitness-news, has been in the fitness industry since 2010, and is a certified personal trainer. He attended the UW-Superior and Brown College for Media Creation, Design and Television Production. From 1992 to 2000, he had written and produced several films, music videos, and video advertisements. He has now been able to combine those skills of fitness and media creation to produce high-quality fitness productions and articles. (Click for Bio/Contact)