Beginner Powerlifting Programs

Novice lifter completing deadlifts during the initial stages of a beginner powerlifting program
Deadlifts performed by a novice during the final stages of a beginner powerlifting routine.

Picking the correct beginner powerlifting program is more important than you might think. By making the wrong choice from the start, you set yourself up for sub-optimal progress at a time when you could otherwise be making great strides in your strength and physique. On the flip side, using the best beginner program will set you up for success right out of the gate—more muscle and strength, less time wasted.

Backing up a tad, what makes a powerlifting program different from other workouts or training options? Clearly, it is the intense focus on building strength. However, for beginners to advance efficiently there must also be hypertrophy-focused aspects of the training program. In simple terms, this means each workout should have exercises devoted to building strength in the squat, bench press, and deadlift and also include mass-building elements to increase muscle mass which is an extremely important factor in actually getting stronger.

But there is more science and technical programming involved as well. Discussed at length on Physiqz already, periodization is the intelligent manipulation of intensity (weight used) and volume (sets * repetitions) to allow for efficiency recovery and progression.

There are several different programs that intelligently capture all important factors of a novice powerlifting routine. The precise program you choose will depend on your specific goals and how much time you are willing to invest in the gym.

But what is the best beginner powerlifting program?

There isn’t, which leads into a very important point: don’t program hop. Choose a plan that fits your goals and stick with it for the entire duration—then do it again. Focus on increasing the weight you use, improving your form, and increasing your total volume; doing so will lead to a fruitful time spent lifting with plentiful strength and muscle mass gains. Once you have completed a training plan 3 times, switching to a different option is encouraged. Some plans do not include a program timeline—in this case, count 6-week intervals as one training cycle.

Beginner Powerlifting Programs

Starting Strength Routine: this program designed by Mark Rippetoe is arguably the most famous strength training regimen out there. Relying on simple periodization techniques and focusing on compound movements, Mark’s plan is easy to follow and yet robust all at once. Any true novice or beginner in the world of strength and muscle should start here.

Jason Blaha’s Ice Cream Fitness 5×5: this plan is designed for novice lifters who want to absolutely maximize their progress while still maintaining a low level of time invested in the gym—which isn’t necessarily a bad thing—work smarter, not harder. And as a beginner taking the time to learn proper form and progress in a gradual manner will pay dividends in the long run. Powerlifting is a marathon, not a race. With 3 days focused around the major lifts, but enough accessory work to provide the necessary volume to stimulate optimal hypertrophy (muscle mass gain), ICF is a solid choice. Lastly, there is an intermediate version of ICF that includes 4 days of lifting that is encouraged after completing the 3-day version several times through.

Greyskull LP: GSLP is a program build around linear periodization and also uses a 3-day per week approach. However, it includes one aspect that Jason Blaha failed to package into his plan: AMRAP sets. Standing for “as many repetitions as possible,” these sets push you to your limit. Furthermore, they turn your focus where it should be as a beginner: building your work capacity. This simply means improving your ability to do more sets and reps with more weight each time you set foot in the gym. Lastly, it includes additional “plugins” which are important especially in the case of powerlifters. Listed at the bottom of the plan is the powerlifting plugin which is focused on strength.

As you progress as a novice, you will be able to progress in at least one of three ways with each training session:

  • Weight used
  • Sets performed
  • Repetitions performed

This accelerated rate of progress, however, will not last forever. Once you reach a point where you are unable to progress in the above fashion every time you lift, it is time to switch to an intermediate program. The 8 week routine and powerbuilding program are both excellent options.

Note: the amount of weight you lift does not determine whether you are a novice–it is the ability to progress that does.