Powerlifting for Beginners (and Mistakes to Avoid)

Powerlifter Putting on Wrist Wraps before Bench Pressing

1. Know the 3 main lifts.

Before you get into powerlifting you should have at least 2-3 years of consistent weight training behind you and built up some muscle with decent form performing the barbell squat, bench and deadlift. If you're completely new to weight training and eating for size and strength, check out this guide 4 Steps To Get Big For Beginners first and then come back to this one. In the Training Programs point below, I have a program I created to build my strength base back after a long lay off. It could be useful for you if you're just starting out too.

2. Training programs.

There's a ton of powerlifting programs out there like 5/3/1 or 3/5/1 by Jim Wendler, The Cube Method by Brandon Lilly, Sheiko, Conjugate System or Westside Barbell Method by Louie Simmons and more. They all work. Just pick one, shut up, and get strong. A lot of people overthink things. Don't spend weeks researching how it could increase your gains. Figure out how the program works and go out and do it. That's the only way you'll know and learn.

A mistake I made that set me back a few years that you should avoid is following these advanced powerlifting programs before building a solid training base and knowing your body like I mentioned in point #1. I kept getting injured and at one point I was out for a year with a rotator cuff tear. So after coming back from my last injury, I followed my own advice and built myself back up before going all out. I added a whole bunch of muscle and bulk and got my raw numbers up to the point where I could bench 315lbs for reps any day whereas before I struggled to get it for 1 and sometimes got injured in the process.

Here's the program I created to build up some more bulk and strength to prepare for an advanced powerlifting program. It's a 3 day a week program. Click here for the 4 day program.

For simplicity we'll call this program P4P or Powerbuilding for Powerlifting.

Week 1

Day 1 - Bench Press
  • Barbell Flat Bench Press - Work up to a challenging 3-5 rep set. (Challenging means you shouldn't be able to complete another set at that same weight.)
  • Close-Grip Bench Press - Drop the weight to around 50% of what was done on the challenging set. 6 sets, 10-12 reps for hypertrophy. The last 2 sets should require a lot of mental and physical stamina to complete.

Day 2 - Rest & Recovery

Day 3 - Back & Biceps - Bodybuilding Day
Go for a pump on this day.
  • Barbell Rows - 4-6 sets, 8-10 reps. Some days I get a pump faster than others that's why the sets number can change.
  • Landmine Rows/One Arm Barbell Rows - 4 sets, 10 reps. Video of landmine rows here (1:03). (Alternative: Bent Over Dumbbell Rows)
  • Bicep Curls - 4-6 sets, 10-12 reps. Any type of bicep curl will do to build up some muscular balance between your biceps and massive triceps from benching.

Day 4 - Rest & Recovery

Day 5 - Squats
  • Barbell Back Squats - Work up to a challenging 3-5 rep set.
  • Stiff Leg Deadlifts or Good Mornings - 6 sets, 10-12 reps
  • Weighted Ab Work - Cable/Band Crunches or Weighted Sit-ups - 4 sets to failure

Day 6 & 7 - Rest & Recovery

Week 2

Repeat Week 1

Week 3

Day 1 - Shoulders & Triceps - Bodybuilding Day
  • Standing Overhead Press or Military Press - 6 sets, 10-12 reps. (Alternatives: Machine Presses, Dumbbell Presses)
  • Upright Row / Barbell Raise Cheat (video) - 3 sets, 10 reps. (Alternatives: Upright Rows, Front Raises)
  • Rear Delt Raises - 4 sets to failure. (Alternatives: Cable Face Pulls or Band Pull Aparts)
  • Tricep Pushdowns - 4 sets, 10-12 reps. Cable pushdowns with a rope or bar.

Day 2 - Rest & recovery

Day 3 - Deadlift
  • Conventional Deadlift - Work up to a max effort single or a good strain from the rep. Here's an example of a strained or max rep on video (1:42).
  • Hamstring Work - 6 sets, 10-12 reps. Stiff Leg Deadlifts, Pull-Throughs, and Hamstring Curls are good.
  • Weighted Ab Work - Cable/Band Crunches or Weighted Sit-ups - 4 sets to failure

Day 4 - Rest & Recovery

Day 5 - Back & Biceps - Same as Week 1 & 2.

Day 6 & 7 - Rest & Recovery

Start over again on Week 1.

Week 3 is different because it stops your body from becoming accustomed to the routine of week 1 and 2. This cycling allows you to keep progressing without hitting a plateau.

For a powerlifting diet, read point #3 in this article.

3. Enter a meet.

Get in a meet asap. Set a total and see how you stack up next to others in your age and weight class. Use this new info to further fuel your training with new lift goals or people to beat in mind. Find a meet near you and read up on the rule book of the federation you plan to compete in.

4. Train with other powerlifters.

There's no faster way to learn than training with other experienced powerlifters. Find some nearby. Every week for 3 years after my 9-5 job, I took public transit for 2 hours one way, twice a week to train in a garage gym with other powerlifters. My story isn't unique either. Many do the same commute and others have even moved across a country to be closer to a powerlifting gym. How bad do you want it?

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Words by Dan Profane

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Anonymous said...

This is a good and true post. I've worked out and lifted for the last 25years. Started powerlifting and became the small fish again. Listen about building a powerlifting base, learn and listen to your body. Great post!!!

Unknown said...

Great info. I'm back at it after a long layoff. The first year, was mostly getting old strength back, and dealing with tendinitis in my rotator cuff, biceps and forearms. Now, that's past. I can deadlift, squat, bench again. I'm a bit worried about military press for my shoulder, coz of the rotator cuff weakness. I used the press up machine, which only goes to 165lbs. How did you work around your rotator cuff problem at first? Also, I've a problem with my forearm strength, limiting my dead lifts. (And lat pulldowns, etc.) Recommendations? BTW, great site.