Powerlifting Programs and Routines

Man performs low-bar barbell squats in physiqz gym following an advanced powerlifting program designed for maximal strength and muscle

When it comes to choosing from the many different powerlifting programs available, there are countless opinions and everyone will likely have a different take on which is best.

While it is true that many powerlifting programs will get you results, not all of them are optimal. Choosing the correct plan for your specific training age and abilities will not only maximize your progress, but keep you injury free.

List of Powerlifting Programs and Routines

Any successful powerlifting routine understands the concept of adaptive resistance and progressive overload.

Adaptive resistance simply refers to any stimulation that forces your body to adapt. In the case of strength training, that is lifting weights.

However, you also need progressive overload; over time you have to continually increase the amount of training stress placed on your body. In simple terms, you have to lift heavier weights over time if you expect to see continued progress.

To make sure these two training variables are met, programs are designed with the use of periodization.

Periodization refers to the specific and systematic creation of your strength training schedule. Its goal is to produce the best results, and usually includes an emphasis towards preparing for a specific event or powerlifting meet.

But even if you aren’t prepping for an upcoming meet, it is the best way to train. By cycling different training variables over a set period of time, it continually forces your body to adapt (adaptive resistance).

Periodization isn’t all created equal though. It comes in several different flavors:

  • Linear periodization: only one training factor is increased over any given time period, almost always the weight being used.
  • Undulating periodization: inversely changing intensity and volume during a given time period.
  • Daily undulating periodization (DUP): refers to inversely changing intensity and volume multiple times throughout a microcycle (week). In practice, an example of DUP would be 5 sets of 3 reps at 80% for squat on Monday and 5 sets of 5 reps at 75% for squat on Friday.
  • Conjugate periodization: refers to constantly alters training stressors. This usually occurs from training cycle to training cycle as accessory lifts are changed. It can also come in the form of daily conjugate periodization where exercises are alternated—for example front squats on Monday and back squats on Friday.

DUP and conjugate periodization can also be used together alongside linear periodization of intensity to create even more variation:

  • Front squat 5×3 at 80% on Monday and back squat 5×5 at 75% on Friday during week 1
  • Front squat 5×5 at 77.5% on Monday and back squat 5×3 at 82.5% on Friday during week 2
  • Front squat 5×3 at 85% on Monday and back squat 5×5 at 80% on Friday during week 3

But this begs the question, how much variation is too much and which powerlifting program is right for me?

How to Choose the Best Powerlifting Program for YOU

The answer to this question will depend on several factors, but the main one is your training age. If you have been seriously strength training for less than two years, there is a high chance you fall into the novice category.

But the real answer is much simpler: when linear periodization (adding more weight each week) becomes impossible, it’s time to switch to a more advanced system.

In a case study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, the examiners found that even for advanced lifters, conjugate periodization is good—in other words, they can still benefit from periodization.

Furthermore, you should always use the simplest plan you can that will still allow you to see results. This will make sure you are constantly able to progress and get stronger over time.

The same concept is applied to weight loss. When you first start dieting, if you make extreme changes–your body adapts and your progress stops. So instead, the correct method is to make only the required changes necessary to keep losing weight, whether that is subtracting just a bit more calories from your diet each day or doing just a bit more cardio to burn calories.

Note: on top of training hard and training smart, you should be following a powerlifting diet if you expect to maximize your results and fully capitalize on your gains.

In the same way, if you attempt to jump to an extreme training plan from the get-go, you will stall your progress significantly and put yourself at a very high risk for injury.

It’s just not worth it.

If you are just getting started, a simple linear approach will work phenomenally well for you—anything else is too much for you to effectively recover from while staying injury free. You would also be wasting your efforts—if you are a novice you barely have to touch a barbell to see massive strength and muscle gains. Stick with a beginner powerlifting program.

But as you see your progress begin to slow, you then switch powerlifting programs. This will keep the gains coming and make sure you don’t burn out or get injured. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, long-term success in powerlifting is largely dictated by your ability to remain injury free while constantly progressing. Many people are able to progress, but they often do so in a chaotic or unplanned manner which leads to injuries or simply plateaus that last for way longer than they should.

Each plan has its own in-depth review, and they are grouped in several different categories to help you better decide which is right for you at the current time.

When you stop seeing consistent results, come back and select your next plan to ensure you never skip a beat.