Many people who make the conversion from regular gym-goer to amateur powerlifter quickly realise that without a specific program they’re not going to shine in this sport.
Powerlifting requires you to be in peak physical fitness on the day of the competition if you want to succeed. This means you need to be following a solid powerlifting cycle.
In this article we’re going to give you a basic powerlifting cycle, a periodized program that you can follow to help you smash through any strength plateau once we’re done with the basic program I’ll add some more complex programs below.
Keys To A Successful Powerlifting Program
Progressive Overload – The main concept, like with all successful strength programmes, is to constantly place more stress on the body i.e. by adding weight and reps. Thus with any program you should be getting increasingly stronger.
Managing Work Volume – You can’t lift heavy and go all out on every exercise. Whilst most of your training will be heavy, it’s also important to back off on certain exercises, i.e. lifting lighter loads (which should make up around 30% of your powerlifting program)
Compound Lifts – the aim of the game in powerlifting is to get strong on exercises like the squat, bench press, and deadlift – that’s the primary focus. Whilst other exercises can be used as part of a powerlifting program (pull ups, rows, leg curls, etc) – these are mainly thrown in to help you improve your main compound lifts, and to back off from strength work, whilst your body recovers. In essence it’s a combination of strength work (all out – 1-5 reps) combined with slightly higher rep work (7-9 reps)
Skill Development – technique makes a huge difference, and a slight tweak in foot placement, or grip can be the difference between adding 20kg to the bar, or causing serious injury! There’s a fine margin between perfection and error. All successful powerlifters know how to lift, and the skill of each lift must be continually refined in order to keep progressing – technique is key.
Meso, Micro, and Macrocycles
The first thing that you need to understand is the different types of powerlifting cycles, being:
Microcycle: A microcycle is a one week program.
Mesocycle: Often, people think that mesocycles are basically training months, but they can be as short as two weeks or as long as twelve weeks. Usually they last between four and eight weeks though. A mesocycle is a period of time where you target a specific skill or goal.
Macrocycle: A macrocycle encompasses the entire training program and can last anywhere from twelve weeks to several years! If you were an Olympic athlete, then your macrocycle would last for four years (provided you prioritised it over other competitions). For powerlifting, the average macrocycle is sixteen weeks which is the length of time between competitions.
Conjugate, Linear, and Undulating
There are three types of periodization that powerlifters use, and often most programs combine the three. But this article is titled “Basic Powerlifting Cycle”, thus we’re going to keep things as simple as possible.
Conjugate: The idea behind conjugate periodization is that you are hitting the three main exercises (bench, deadlift, and squat) from as many different angles as possible. Constantly changing the exercise slightly. One week you are performing a flat bench press with medium grip, the next week you are performing a close grip incline bench press. Get the idea? Each microcycle would be different.
Linear: The exercises stay the same in each microcycle, but you would look to increase the intensity either through increasing the reps or through increasing the load. The volume can also increase.
Undulating: The exercises stay the same in each microcycle, but the reps and load are constantly changing in each session. However, the overall volume would stay the same.
If you’re looking to peak for a competition, then you’ll need your program to be at least linear, otherwise your ability to lift heavier weights will not be enhanced.
Perhaps the most underrated part of a basic powerlifting cycle is the pre-competition week, with many amateur lifters making the mistake of treating it like a regular week. Wrong! If you continue to increase intensity during the last couple of weeks before a competition you will fail to perform your best at that competition.
With about four weeks to go before your competition you want to be peaking in terms of intensity. The next week you want to reduce volume by halving the number of sets performed per exercise, but you can maintain or even increase the resistance used. Thus lifting a heavier weight but for half the reps.
With two weeks to go you’ll want to reduce the resistance, reduce the volume, and cut down on the number of exercises you perform (concentrating on the main exercises). Then in the final week you want to cut down on the resistance even more so that it is half what you were lifting in the previous week.
This will help you to reduce fatigue as much as possible without impacting your fitness or preparedness for the competition.
Muscle & Brawn Basic Powerlifting Program
The following program is tailored to simply help you increase your strength, not a specific guide to use when leading up to a competition.
Day 1: SQUAT
Squats – CYCLE
Speed Squats – 8 sets x 2 reps
Good Mornings – 3 sets
Stiff Leg Deadlifts – 3 sets
Abs – 2 sets
Day 2: BENCH
Bench Press – CYCLE
Overhead BB Press – 3 sets
Closegrip Bench Press – 2 sets
T-Bar Rows – 3 sets
Day 3: DEADLIFT
Deadlift – CYCLE
Speed Deadlifts – 8 sets x 2 reps
Good Mornings – 3 sets
Romanian Deadlifts – 3 sets
Abs – 2 sets
Day 4: BENCH
Speed Bench Press – 8 sets x 3 reps
2-Board Press – 3 sets
Overhead DB Press – 3 sets
Triceps Extension – 2 sets
T-Bar Rows – 3 sets
Week 1: 50 60 70 = 5 sets
Week 2: 55 65 75 = 6 sets
Week 3: 60 70 80 = 7 sets
Week 4: 55 65 75 = 6 sets
Week 5: 60 70 80 = 7 sets
Week 6: 65 75 85 = 8 sets
Week 7: 60 70 80 = 7 sets
Week 8: 65 75 85 = 8 sets
Week 9: 70 80 90 = 8 sets
Week 10: 65 75 85 = 8 sets
Week 11: 70 80 90 = 8 sets
Week 12: 75 85 95 = 9 sets
50% = 1 set x 5 reps
55% = 1 set x 5 reps
60% = 2 sets x 4 reps
65% = 2 sets x 4 reps
70% = 2 sets x 4 reps
75% = 3 sets x 4 reps
80% = 3 sets x 3 reps
85% = 3 sets x 3 reps
90% = 2 sets x 2 reps
95% = 2 sets x 2 reps
Week 1: 50 60 70 = 5 sets
Week 2: 55 65 75 = 6 sets
Week 3: 60 70 80 = 7 sets
Week 4: 65 75 85 = 8 sets
Week 5: 70 80 90 = 7 sets
Week 6: 70 80 95 = 8 sets
Bulldog 3 Day Powerbuilding Split
The bulldog program is designed to make you as big and strong as possible. It is called a powerbuilding workout because the goal is to give you the best of both worlds: a powerful physique with the strength to back it up.
The addition of muscle will help build strength; the pursuit of raw strength using a volume of reps will help you build muscle. Your main goal will be to get every bodypart from head to toe as strong as possible.
As you can see, this program is no nonsense. Not hundreds of different exercises, not filled with lots of clever movements, just simple hard work and concentrating on the big lifts.
You will begin each workout with quad sets, which are simply heavy 4 reps sets. Just to be clear, we’re not talking about your Quadriceps. We mean four sets of four reps of squats on day one, bench on day two, and deadlifts on day three.
During your first workout, start with a weight that easily allows you to perform 4 sets x 4 reps. When your 4th rep feels comfortable and manageable, add 5 pounds to the bar the next time you perform it.
Don’t worry if you are unable to hit 4 reps on every set after adding weight. Try to improve the following week.
There are no planned deloads. If your body feels beat up, drop the weight used by 30% and take an easy week.
Progression of Weight
For non-quad exercises, use the same weight for each set of a given exercise. When you can perform all the reps as listed, add weight to that exercise.
You will be training 3 days per week. Here is a sample split:
- Monday – Squat Day
- Wednesday – Bench Day
- Friday – Deadlit Day
|Still Leg Deadlifts||3||6|
|Seated Leg Curl||5||10|
|Bench Press Day|
|Dumbbell Bench Press||5||10|
|Seated Arnold Press||5||10|
|Cable Tricep Extension||4||15|
|Seated Dumbbell Curl||3||12|
Notes on the 3 day split
- Barbell squats with a normal stance (not sumo)
- For the bench press stick to flat bench rather than incline bench
- If you have any lower back issues you can change the military press to an overhead press which allows you to have your legs shoulder width apart rather than placed together
- Standard deadlifts (not sumo)
- Rest period between the quad sets should be 90-180 seconds long
- Rest period for other exercises should be 45-60 seconds long
- If you cannot perform pull ups then try chin ups, or a lat pulldown as a last resort
Final Thoughts on Bulldog
In some ways, the bulldog three day power building split is a variation of the push/pull program. With an extra leg day rather than splitting these exercises into push/pull. What we really like about this program is the combination of different rep ranges. Training for strength and particularly hypertrophy works best when it involves a combination of rep ranges, rather than just low reps, medium reps, or high reps.
When following this program it’s important to prioritise rest and recovery. You will need to boost your protein intake, improve your sleep quality and quantity; whilst being conscious of signs of overtraining; though if you stick to the three days per week schedule you should be fine.
Have you tried this 3 day bulldog powerbuilding split? Let us know how you got on in the comments below.
4 Day Base Powerlifting Workout Program
Following a specific powerlifting program is a great way to add strength and size to your frame. You don’t have to be a powerlifter to benefit from such a program, for example a bodybuilder, or even the everyday person looking to gain strength and size will also reap the rewards.
That said, if you’re a beginner, new to training, with little experience, then it’s probably not the best place to start – unless you hire a powerlifting coach to teach you.
You don’t want to get the techniques wrong on exercises like the squat, bench press, or deadlift, as if done incorrectly they could seriously injure you. Therefore powerlifting is more suited towards intermediate lifters (with at least 2 years training experience).
In this article we’ll look at a 4 Day Powerlifting Workout Program which is ideal for intermediate lifters…
There are plenty of programmes which you can follow online. BUT in order to get the perfect program, designed specifically for you and your goals, you’d be best hiring a professional coach.
That said, if you want to start following a solid powerlifting program, which will give you great gains, see below:
Day 1 – focus on higher rep work
- Back squat – 3 sets x 7-9 reps
- Bench press – 3 sets x 7-9 reps
- Chin ups – 3 sets x 7-9 reps
Day 2 – Heavy technique work
- Back squat 3 sets x 1-3 reps (80-85% 1RM)
- Bench press 3 sets x 1-3 reps (80-85% 1RM)
- Deadlift (conventional or sumo) 3 sets x 1-3 reps (80-85% 1RM)
Day 3 – Strength Work (1)
- Back squat 3 sets x 3-5 reps (80-85% 1RM)
- Bench press 3 sets x 3-5 reps (80-85% 1RM)
- Horizontal pull movement (cable row or DB row) – 3 sets x 6-8 reps
- Leg curl (seated or lying) – 3 sets x 10-12 reps
Day 4 – Strength Work (2)
- Bench press variation (close grip) – 3 sets x 6-8 reps
- Deadlift – 3 sets x 3-5 reps (80-85% 1RM)
- Horizontal pull (machine row or TRX row) sets x 10-12 reps
9 Week Powerlifting Periodization Peaking Workout
This is a 9 week strength building cycle meant for intermediate level powerlifters and strength training athletes. Starting numbers are based upon your current one rep max for squats, bench press and deadlifts, plus the amount of weight you are attempting to increase.
For example, if your current bench press is 270 pounds and you are aiming for a 285 pound bench press after 9 weeks, you would base your workout percentages off of 285 pounds.
Please use reasonable goals for each 9 week period. As an intermediate lifter it is highly unlikely that you will add more than 15 to 20 pounds per lift, per 9 week cycle. This is not to say you won’t but it will be difficult.
But have no fear, this cycle will not limit you if you exceed your goals. During week 8 you will be attempting a single using 95% of your goal weight. Use this single to judge what your approximate new one rep max is.
Continuing with our 270 pound bench press example. Let’s say during week 8 you attempt 95% of your new PR goal of 285 pounds. This will be 270 pounds.
You place 270 on the bar and the rep feels somewhat easy. You guestimate that you could have comfortably hit 280 pounds.
This “guess” becomes your new working one rep max. Understand that a “working max” will not necessarily be your true one rep max. We are using a working max to help you structure the next 9 week cycle.
So with a 280 pound working max, you decide that during the next 9 week cycle you want to hit a 295 bench press. Percentages for your second cycle will be based on 295 pounds.
Each 9 week cycle consists of:
- Weeks 1-4: Ramping Volume Training
- Weeks 5-8: Ramping Heavy Training
- Week 9: Deload
During this 9 week cycle you will only perform the big 3 lifts: squat, bench press and deadlift. You may either work them in this order, or use the alternative setup of squat, deadlift and bench press.
Training consists of 3 workouts per week:
- Monday – Workout #1
- Wednesday – Workout #2
- Friday – Workout #2
Volume Training Phase: Weeks 1-4
Here is the set and rep protocol you will use for each week of the volume training phase. Perform this protocol each day, for each lift.
- Week 1 – 3×6 @ 60%
- Week 2 – 3×5 @ 65%
- Week 3 – 3×4 @ 70%
- Week 4 – 3×3 @ 75%
Heavy Training Phase: Weeks 5-8
Here is the set and rep protocol you will use for each week of the volume training phase. You will notice that you are only performing one heavy workout per exercise, per week. The other 2 workouts for that lift will be mild.
Each lift will have its own heavy day. This way you will be performing only one heavy lift per training day. The structure is as follows:
- Monday – Heavy Squat
- Wednesday – Heavy Bench
- Friday – Heavy Deadlift
The 4 week heavy cycle will look like this:
- Week 5 – 2×1 @ 80%
- Week 6 – 2×1 @ 85%
- Week 7 – 1×1 @ 90%
- Week 8 – 1×1 @ 95%
A full week for each lift will look like this:
- Monday – Heavy
- Wednesday – 4×4 @ 60%
- Friday – 4×4 @ 60%
- Monday – 4×4 @ 60%
- Wednesday – Heavy
- Friday – 4×4 @ 60%
- Monday – 4×4 @ 60%
- Wednesday – 4×4 @ 60%
- Friday – Heavy
Workout Notes & FAQ
Weight Increases. Start the program by basing percentages on a 15 pound increase to squats and deadlifts, and a 10 pound increase to bench press. Remember that you may exceed these numbers, so they are merely conservative and reasonable starting points that are appropriate for intermediates.
Deload Week. I suggest taking a complete week off during the deload period. Sit, rest, relax and eat. If you want to lift, build up to only one working set of 6 @ 60% of your old one rep max.
Meet Peaking. If you are running this program into a powerlifting meet, take week 9 completely off.
Assistance Exercises. If you feel you need to add assistance work to this program, I suggest only adding 1-2 addition exercises each day during weeks 1-4. These exercises should not be taxing compound movements, nor high volume work that might tax recovery to a great degree.
Exercises you might add could include:
- Ab work
- Tricep Extensions or Dips
- Bicep Curls
- Calf Raises
- Pull Ups or Chin Ups
The Monster Confusion 10 Week Muscle Mass Building Cycle
The importance of the muscle confusion principle is well known. If you keep working your body the same way for months on end, it will adapt. And finding a suitable lifting routine to replace the one your currently on can be a headache.
Consider this article to be your headache cure.
The Monster Confusion 10 week muscle mass building cycle isn’t just an endless string of different styles of training. It is various styles of training interwoven throughout a 10 week cycle. One day you might hit legs with a 5×5 style, and the next day you might use a Dorian Yates style arm-blasting routine. With this cycle, no 2 days – or 2 weeks, for that matter – are ever the same.
And because of this, you can use the Monster Confusion Cycle year round, if you so choose. Or, you can plug in new routines, and take out ones that aren’t suited for your needs. Consider the Monster Confusion Cycle your ultimate mass building tool.
The styles. The following lifting routines and styles are integrated into the Monster Confusion Cycle.
- 5×5. 5×5’s are well known as great mass and strength building routines.
- Bulldozer Training. Bulldozer Training is the creation of Muscle and Brawn’s webmaster. It’s basically Doggcrapp training without training to failure, combined with Max-Stim training without using single reps.
- 20 Rep Squats. The king of torture, which also happens to be the king of all mass inducing exercises.
- Dorian Yates. This Mr. Olympia is know for his high intensity, Heavy Duty-influenced style.
- Gironda 8 x 8. Vince Gironda was known for using this incredible training system. prepare for muscle soreness.
- Moderate Volume. A standard bodybuilding style routine of 3 sets x 6-10 reps per exercise.
- Singles, doubles and triples. Rest-paused heavy single, double and triple rep sets, which help in pushing the body through strength barriers.
- Max-OT. A single exercise involving 6 to 9 sets of 4-6 reps.
- Westside. The famous powerlifting routine that uses max effort (strength training), dynamic effort (speed training), and the conjugate method for supporting exercises.
- Burns. Burn sets are higher rep sets, usually to 50 or 100 total reps, performed with Bulldozer style rest-pause.
- 10×3. 10 sets of 3 reps, with 45 seconds rest between sets.
- High Rep Sets. High rep sets are performed in the 10-20 rep range for most muscle groups.
Training splits. It is beyond the scope of this article to get into training split theory, and the amount of rest needed between workouts. use the Monster Confusion Cycle to your benefit…mold it to your favorite split, and the rest periods that work best for you. For the sake of example, I have provided a 3-day split example program.
The 3 Day a Week Monster Confusion Cycle. This system features a push, pull and legs day.
- Day 1. Chest, Shoulders and Triceps
- Day 2. OFF
- Day 3. Back, Biceps and Traps
- Day 4. OFF
- Day 5. Quads, Hamstrings and Calves
- Day 6. OFF
- Day 7. OFF
NOTE: Perform Ab work as needed, and on the best day suited for you. This may vary week to week.
Chest, shoulders and triceps. Perform the following style training on the week listed…
- 5×5. Bench Press, Overhead Press, Closegrip Bench Press
- Bulldozer. 1 set to 20 reps, Bench Press, Incline Bench, Overhead Press, Triceps movement
- Max-OT. Bench Press, Overhead Press, Triceps movement
- Burns. 50 rep burn sets, Bench Press, Incline Bench, Overhead Press, Triceps movement
- Moderate. 3 sets of 6-10 reps, Bench Press, Incline Press, Overhead Press, Triceps movement
- 8×8. Rest 15-30 seconds between each set, Bench Press, Overhead Press, Triceps movement
- Westside. Max Effort – Bench Press, build up in weight using heavy triples, until you can’t perform triples, and then shoot for a new max. Dynamic Effort – Bench Press, do 8 sets of 3 speed reps with 60% of your 1 rep max, using only 15 deep breaths between sets. Then perform 3 sets of 6×10 reps, Overhead Press, Triceps movement
- High reps. 3 sets of 10-20 reps, Bench Press, Incline Bench, Overhead Press, Triceps movement
- 10×3. 10 sets of 3 reps, 45 seconds rest between sets, Bench Press, Overhead Press, Triceps movement
- Yates. One set per exercise performed to failure, using rest-pause, forced reps, static holds and negatives when possible. 2 Chest exercises, 2 Shoulder exercises, 1 Triceps movement
Back, biceps and traps. Perform the following style training on the week listed…
- Burns. 50 rep burn sets, Deadlifts, Back exercises, Bicep movement, Trap movement
- Moderate. 3 sets of 6-10 reps, 2 Back exercises, Bicep movement, Trap movement
- 8×8. Rest 15-30 seconds between each set, Deadlifts, Back exercises, Bicep movement, Trap movement
- Westside. Max Effort – Deadlifts, build up in weight using heavy singles, and then shoot for new max. Dynamic Effort – Deadlifts, do 8 sets of single speed reps with 60% of your 1 rep max, using only 15 deep breaths between reps. Then perform 3 sets of 6×10 reps, back exercise, Bicep movement
- High reps. 3 sets of 10-20 reps, 2 Back exercises, Bicep movement, Trap movement
- 10×3. 10 sets of 3 reps, 45 seconds rest between sets, Deadlifts, Back exercises, Bicep movement, Trap movement
- Yates. One set per exercise performed to failure, using rest-pause, forced reps, static holds and negatives when possible. Deadlifts, 1-2 Back exercises, 1-2 Bicep exercises, Trap movement
- 5×5. Deadlifts, Back exercise, Bicep movement
- Bulldozer. 1 set to 20 reps, 2 Back exercises, Bicep movement, Trap movement
- Max-OT. Deadlift, Back exercise, Bicep exercise
Quads, hamstrings and calves. Perform the following style training on the week listed…
- Westside. Max Effort – Box Squats, build up in weight using heavy singles, and then shoot for new max. Dynamic Effort – Box Squats, do 8 sets of 2 speed reps with 60% of your 1 rep max, using only 15 deep breaths between sets. Then perform 3 sets of 6×10 reps, Good Mornings, Romanian Deadlifts
- High Reps. A single 20 rep set of Squats, then 3 sets of 10-20 reps, Front Squats or Leg Extensions, Hamstring Curls or Romanian Deadlifts, and Calf exercise
- 10×3. 10 sets of 3 reps, 45 seconds rest between sets, Squats, Front Squats or Leg Extensions, Hamstring Curls or Romanian Deadlifts, and Calf exercise
- Yates. One set per exercise performed to failure, using rest-pause, forced reps, static holds and negatives when possible. Do 2 sets of squats, 6-10 reps, 1 Quad exercise, 1-2 Hamstring exercises, and a Calf exercise.
- 5×5. Squats, Front Squats (optional), Romanian Deadlifts, and some Calf exercise sets with 10-20 reps
- Bulldozer. Squats, 8 sets of rest-paused singles, doubles or triples with 15 deep breaths between sets, or work in Bulldozer style to 20 total rest-paused reps. 1 set to 20 reps, Front Squats or Leg Extensions, Hamstring Curls or Romanian Deadlifts, and Calf exercise
- Max-OT. Squats, Romanian Deadlifts or Hamstring Curls, Calf exercise
- Burns. 50 rep burn sets, Squats, Leg Extensions, Romanian Deadlifts or Hamstring Curls, Calf exercise (100 rep burns)
- Moderate. 3 sets of 6-10 reps, Front Squats or Leg Extensions, Hamstring Curls or Romanian Deadlifts, and Calf exercise
- 8×8. Squats, Hamstring Curls or Romanian Deadlifts, and Calf exercise
Notes. The exercises included in the example routine are just that…examples. Feel free to tweak them to fit your needs. Just don’t stray too far from primary, compound movements.
Also, try and keep your workout times under an hour. As you become experienced with this system of training, you can tweak the amount of exercises performed in a workout to keep you in the 45 minutes to an hour workout range.
On Westside training days, feel free to switch up the exercises used for Max Effort days. It is also recommended that you tailor your supporting exercises to your weaknesses.
Bulldozer style rest-pause sets (to 20, 50 or 100 reps) require that you pick a moderately heavy weight, do as many reps as possible (not to failure), take 10-15 deep breaths, then do more reps. Continue this pattern until the desired rep total is achieved.
On Dorian Yates training days, do NOT use negative reps or high intensity techniques for deadlifts or squats.