8 Week Powerlifting Program

8 Week Powerlifting Program
Dan Green uses periodization in his own training to set world records.

Table of Contents:

Training hard only gets you so far—you also have to train smart. But how do you know what workout template or powerlifting program to use? With so many options out there, especially for intermediate and advanced lifters, it can be hard to pick.

First off, If you’ve been training for less than two years, you are still a beginner when it comes to training age, and a beginner program will not only be easier to complete, but more effective as you will be able to advance faster with a simpler linear approach.

Unfortunately, this method doesn’t work for those who’ve been in the gym for longer than 2 years. Note this is a general guideline—you may be ready for an intermediate program after only 1 year of training or less, but that isn’t going to be the case for 90% of people.

Undoubtedly, an intermediate program must take advantage of periodization. First developed by sports specialist Tudor Bompa, this type of program utilizes differing weights and intensities throughout—aimed at maximizing long-term gains.

How does it work? A traditional program uses the same sets, repetitions, and percentages throughout. An example of this would be the famous Starting Strength beginner program that is centered around three sets of five repetitions in the main lifts.

But as stated above, this only works for so long. Once you’ve taken advantage of “noob gains” this very simple training structure simply won’t work as well. It may still provide progress, but at a much slower rate.

This is because our bodies are extremely good at adapting to whatever we throw their way. And this phenomenon is precisely why periodization is so, so powerful—it keeps your body guessing at every workout, which in turn leads to massive results.

On top of the increased muscle and strength gained through this intelligent approach, it is also extremely effective at helping you “peak” for a powerlifting meet. And even if you don’t compete, it is still a good idea to test your lifts at the end of each cycle so that you can record your progress and then adjust the weights used for your next training cycle.

But even all periodized programs aren’t created the same. In its traditional form, it looks something like this:

  • Week 1: 3 sets of 10 reps
  • Week 2: 4 sets of 8 reps
  • Week 3: 5 sets of 6 reps
  • Week 4: 3 sets of 5 reps

While this will still work much, much better than a beginner approach, it still isn’t the best we can do.

Then what is?

Undulating Periodization.

8 week powerlifting peaking cycle
The best powerlifting training plans use periodization to cause the largest amount of muscle and strength adaptations in the shortest period of time.

In this form, variation is used throughout the training block to continually force your body to adapt to the stressors being placed on it. It is based on Hans Seyle’s model of the General Adaptation Syndrome.

Simply put, when the body is introduced to a new, unseen form of stress, it works hard to bring itself back to homeostasis. In workout terms, when you use varying levels of reps, sets, and weights, your body is forced to continually adapt. And these adaptations occur in the form of increased muscle and strength.

But undulating periodization goes even further by intelligently including just enough rest—the correct type of rest—for you to recover fully and capitalize on your newfound gains.

However, we can still improve even further. Traditional undulating periodization is done from microcycle to microcycle (week to week). This will still capitalize on many of the benefits described above. But what is the best answer then?

Daily Undulating Periodization, also known as DUP.

Using this periodization protocol, volume and intensity are inversely altered within the same microcycle–your squat workout on Monday will be fundamentally different than the one on Friday. This absolutely maximizes your results.

Our extensive strength and muscle guide breaks down the nuts and bolts of how a program like this is created if you are interested in learning how to develop and adjust your own programs.

Without further ado, here is the good stuff…

8 Week Powerlifting Program

The first two weeks are dedicated to increasing your workload and getting you ready for the volume and intensity to follow.

Before continuing, if you would like to follow along with the program in excel format, just enter your email information below and you will able to download immediately:

Some important things to note that apply for every week:

  • Accessory exercises can be swapped for personal preference, but you can’t change the amount of sets and reps
  • Following from point 1, you can’t substitute anything for the main lifts (squat, bench, deadlift)
  • If there is no percentage or sets and reps listed for a given exercise, that means it is designed to be autoregulated
  • Percentages on main lifts can be autoregulated up, but not down (if you want to increase the weight for a given day, that is acceptable; but you cannot decrease it)

Some people like to recommend a completely dynamic autoregulated approach for the main lifts, but I personally believe that is a dangerous game to play. It is easy to shave off a few pounds on days that you feel tired, especially when “real life” hits. By only allowing yourself to autoregulate up, however, you can still get the benefits of a killer workout if you are feeling great on a given day—while still keeping yourself accountable on those days that you don’t feel so great.

You will notice that almost all accessory movements do not have a percentage. As stated in point three above, this means you must use “autoregulation” to determine what weight to use for any given workout. To do this, keep track of how much you lift for any given exercise and simply increase the weight over time as you progress. By far, the easiest and most effective way to do this is to simply keep a notebook and write down everything.

Keeping a workout log may seem like something of necessity only for beginners, but it is actually the complete opposite—intermediate and advanced lifters have to be much more meticulous and precise in their training to continue making a high level of progress.

Gathering information on the weight you are doing for each set on each exercise  allows you to become scientific in your approach to making progress. Make sure to write down the RPE as well—this will give you an idea of how much to use for next time.

RPE means “rate of perceived exertion” and is a measure of how difficult any given set was on a scale of 1-10.

RPE Chart

6 = warm-up weight

6.5 = “heavy” warm-up weight (anything more would be a working set)

7 = could have done 3 or more reps

7.5 = maybe could have done 3 more reps

8 = could have done 2 more reps

8.5 = maybe could have done 2 more reps

9 = could have done 1 more rep

9.5 = maybe could have done 1 more rep

10 = maximum effort, almost failure

Throughout the program, an emphasis on rear delts is also present. Because of daily modern life (sitting at a computer, looking down at a phone, driving, etc.) many people have poor posture that leads to internal rotation of the shoulders. Even though you lift, there is a strong chance you have this issue.

Add in a lot of pressing movements like bench press with little or no exercises that focus on the upper and mid back, and you have a recipe for a nasty shoulder injury. We don’t want to deal with that in the first place, so make sure to hit your rear delts.

Now that you are ready to track your data effectively and avoid injury, it’s time to dive into the breakdown of the program.

8 Week Powerlifting Peaking Cycle

Week 1

The first two weeks include four lifting days—two upper body and two lower body. Additionally, there is a lot of variation. During the early phases of a training cycle, an intelligent approach includes many different types of non-specific lifts.

This builds a foundation of fitness and mobility that leads to a dramatically reduced rate of injury. Furthermore, it can allow you to pinpoint imbalances or weaknesses you may have, thereby allowing you to bring up those areas.

Note: if you haven’t already, you can get the program in an easy-to-follow excel spreadsheet–just enter your email information below:

Day 1:

  • Back Squats: 5×10 at 60% of your 1RM (1 rep max)
  • Snatch-Grip RDL: 3×10 at 50% of your 1RM
  • Glute Ham Raise: 4×10
  • Ab Wheel Roll-outs: 4×10
  • Leg Exensions (optional)
  • Leg Curls (optional)

Day 2:

  • Pull-ups: 4×10
  • Dips: 4×10
  • Bench Press: 5×10 at 60% 1RM
  • OHP: 3×5 at 75% 1RM
  • Pendlay Row: 3×10 at 50% 1RM
  • Rear-Delt Flies
  • Curls (optional)
  • Tricep Pull-downs (optional)

Day 3:

  • Front Squats: 5×10 at 50% 1RM
  • Deficit Deadlifts (conventional): 5×5 at 60% 1RM
  • Glute Ham Raise: 4×10
  • Ab Wheel Roll-outs: 4×10
  • Leg Extensions (optional)
  • Leg Curls (optional)

Day 4:

  • Pull-ups: 4×10
  • Dips: 4×10
  • OHP: 5×10 at 60% 1RM
  • Dumbell Flies: 4×10
  • Pendlay Row: 3×10 at 60% 1RM
  • Rear-Delt Flies
  • Curls (optional)
  • Tricep Pull-downs (optional)

Week 2

The second week is identical to the first except for an increase in intensity and volume on certain movements.

Day 1:

  • Back Squats: 5×10 at 65% of your 1RM (1 rep max)
  • Snatch-Grip RDL: 3×10 at 60% of your 1RM
  • Glute Ham Raise: 4×10
  • Ab Wheel Roll-outs: 4×10
  • Leg Exensions (optional)
  • Leg Curls (optional)

Day 2:

  • Pull-ups: 5×10
  • Dips: 5×10
  • Bench Press: 5×10 at 65% 1RM
  • OHP: 3×5 at 80% 1RM
  • Pendlay Row: 3×10 at 50% 1RM
  • Rear-Delt Flies
  • Curls (optional)
  • Tricep Pull-downs (optional)

Day 3:

  • Front Squats: 5×10 at 60% 1RM
  • Deficit Deadlifts (conventional): 5×5 at 60% 1RM
  • Glute Ham Raise: 4×10
  • Ab Wheel Roll-outs: 4×10
  • Leg Extensions (optional)
  • Leg Curls (optional)

Day 4:

  • Pull-ups: 5×10
  • Dips: 5×10
  • OHP: 5×10 at 65% 1RM
  • Dumbell Flies: 5×10
  • Pendlay Row: 3×10 at 60% 1RM
  • Rear-Delt Flies
  • Curls (optional)
  • Tricep Pull-downs (optional)

Week 3

The third week is when you start to work with heavier weights. After building up a solid foundation of work capacity (your ability to exercise at a high volume) and putting on some mass at the same time, you are ready to crush the strength-building part of the training plan.

Day 1:

  • Back Squats: 5×3 at 75% 1RM
  • Front Squats: 5×10 at 60% 1RM
  • Snatch-Grip RDL: 5×10
  • Hanging Leg Raises: 5 sets

Day 2:

  • Bench Press: 5×3 at 75% 1RM
  • Close-Grip Bench Press: 5×10
  • Pull-ups: 5×10
  • Dumbell Flies: 3×10
  • 1-Arm DB Row: 3×10
  • Rear-Delt Flies: 5×10
  • Curls (optional)
  • Tricep Pull-downs (optional)

Day 3:

  • Deadlifts (2 second pause below the knee): 10×3

Day 4:

  • Back Squats: 5×5 at 70% 1RM
  • Front Squats: 5×5 at 70% 1RM
  • RDL: 5×5
  • Hanging Leg Raises: 3 sets
  • Abdominal Planks: 3 sets

Day 5:

  • Bench Press: 5×5 at 70% 1RM
  • OHP: 5×5 at 70% 1RM
  • Pull-ups: 5×5
  • Incline Dumbell Flies: 3×10
  • Dumbell Pullover: 3×10
  • Rear-Delt Flies: 5×10
  • Curls (optional)
  • Tricep Pull-downs (optional)

Week 4

The fourth week is very similar to the third in regards to sets and reps—the main differences will include tweaks to intensity and volume in specific areas.

Day 1:

  • Back Squats: 5×3 at 77.5% 1RM
  • Front Squats: 5×8 at 62.5% 1RM
  • Snatch-Grip RDL: 5×10
  • Hanging Leg Raises: 5 sets

Day 2:

  • Bench Press: 5×3 at 77.5% 1RM
  • Close-Grip Bench Press: 5×8
  • Pull-ups: 5×10
  • Dumbell Flies: 4×10
  • 1-Arm DB Row: 4×10
  • Rear-Delt Flies: 5×10
  • Curls (optional)
  • Tricep Pull-downs (optional)

Day 3:

  • Deadlifts (2 second pause below the knee): 10×2

Day 4:

  • Back Squats: 5×5 at 72.5% 1RM
  • Front Squats: 5×4 at 72.5% 1RM
  • RDL: 5×5
  • Hanging Leg Raises: 4 sets
  • Abdominal Planks: 4 sets

Day 5:

  • Bench Press: 5×5 at 72.5% 1RM
  • OHP: 5×4 at 72.5% 1RM
  • Pull-ups: 5×5
  • Incline Dumbell Flies: 4×10
  • Dumbell Pullover: 4×10
  • Rear-Delt Flies: 5×10
  • Curls (optional)
  • Tricep Pull-downs (optional)

Week 5

On the fifth week, intensity gets turned up to begin actualizing your strength gains—the previous volume builds your work capacity while adding on muscle mass. The lower reps of this week onward, however, will adapt your neuromuscular system and allow you to produce the most amount of force possible on all three lifts.

The exercises remain the same, but don’t forget about the note above; accessory movements can be changed as long as the amount of repetitions and sets remains the same.

Day 1:

  • Back Squats: 5×3 at 80% 1RM
  • Front Squats: 5×6 at 65% 1RM
  • Snatch-Grip RDL: 5×10
  • Hanging Leg Raises: 5 sets

Day 2:

  • Bench Press: 5×3 at 80% 1RM
  • Close-Grip Bench Press: 5×6
  • Pull-ups: 5×10
  • Dumbell Flies: 5×10
  • 1-Arm DB Row: 5×10
  • Rear-Delt Flies: 5×10
  • Curls (optional)
  • Tricep Pull-downs (optional)

Day 3:

  • Deadlifts (2 second pause below the knee): 10×1

Day 4:

  • Back Squats: 5×5 at 75% 1RM
  • Front Squats: 5×3 at 75% 1RM
  • RDL: 5×5
  • Hanging Leg Raises: 5 sets
  • Abdominal Planks: 4 sets

Day 5:

  • Bench Press: 5×5 at 75% 1RM
  • OHP: 5×3 at 75% 1RM
  • Pull-ups: 5×5
  • Incline Dumbell Flies: 5×10
  • Dumbell Pullover: 5×10
  • Rear-Delt Flies: 5×10
  • Curls (optional)
  • Tricep Pull-downs (optional)

Week 6

The volume begins to decrease as the amount of weight increases. While both are responsible for producing fatigue, volume is much more taxing on your body than intensity. As you gain strength in the final weeks, you should also begin to feel much more recovered.

Day 1:

  • Back Squats: 5×3 at 82.5% 1RM
  • Front Squats: 5×5 at 65% 1RM
  • Snatch-Grip RDL: 5×8
  • Hanging Leg Raises: 4 sets

Day 2:

  • Bench Press: 5×3 at 82.5% 1RM
  • Close-Grip Bench Press: 5×5
  • Pull-ups: 5×8
  • Dumbell Flies: 4×10
  • 1-Arm DB Row: 3×10
  • Rear-Delt Flies: 5×10
  • Curls (optional)
  • Tricep Pull-downs (optional)

Day 3:

  • Deadlifts: 10×3

Day 4:

  • Back Squats: 5×5 at 77.5% 1RM
  • Front Squats: 5×2 at 77.5% 1RM
  • RDL: 5×5
  • Hanging Leg Raises: 3 sets
  • Abdominal Planks: 3 sets

Day 5:

  • Bench Press: 5×5 at 77.5% 1RM
  • OHP: 5×2 at 77.5% 1RM
  • Pull-ups: 5×5
  • Incline Dumbell Flies: 4×10
  • Dumbell Pullover: 4×10
  • Rear-Delt Flies: 5×10
  • Curls (optional)
  • Tricep Pull-downs (optional)

Week 7

This is the last week of training heavy and is a great time to test your progress. On each of the heavier days (the first two days of the week), you will have the opportunity to do a set for maximum repetions. Using the Epley formula, you can then get a general idea for what your actual 1-rep-max is.

Epley formula = 1RM = weight * (1 + reps/30)

Day 1:

  • Back Squats: 5×3 at 85% 1RM, 1x* (as many reps as you can possibly do while keeping good form)
  • Front Squats: 5×3 at 75% 1RM
  • Snatch-Grip RDL: 5×6
  • Hanging Leg Raises: 3 sets

Day 2:

  • Bench Press: 5×3 at 85% 1RM, 1x*
  • Close-Grip Bench Press: 5×3
  • Pull-ups: 5×6
  • Dumbell Flies: 3×10
  • Rear-Delt Flies: 4×10
  • Curls (optional)
  • Tricep Pull-downs (optional)

Day 3:

  • Deadlifts: 10×2

Day 4:

  • Back Squats: 5×5 at 80% 1RM
  • Front Squats: 5×1 at 80% 1RM
  • RDL: 5×5
  • Abdominal Planks: 3 sets

Day 5:

  • Bench Press: 5×5 at 80% 1RM
  • OHP: 5×1 at 80% 1RM
  • Pull-ups: 5×5
  • Incline Dumbell Flies: 3×10
  • Dumbell Pullover: 3×10
  • Rear-Delt Flies: 4×10
  • Curls (optional)
  • Tricep Pull-downs (optional)

Week 8

This is the final week in the 8 week powerlifting program. Both the volume and the intensity drops allowing your body to supercomensate in preparation for a maximum attempt.

If you are competing, make sure to complete three singles sometime throughout the week that will be your planned openers. It is recommended that you be able to hit your opener for a triple—you want it to fly up in competion and build your momentum and confidence.

If you aren’t competing, this is a great time to deload and prepare to restart the cycle again with your new 1RM based on the sets you completed in week 7 (hopefully you set a new personal best).

Day 1:

  • Back Squats: 3×3 at 75% 1RM
  • Front Squats: 3×5
  • Snatch-Grip RDL: 3×5
  • Hanging Leg Raises: 3 sets

Day 2:

  • Bench Press: 3×3 at 75% 1RM
  • Close-Grip Bench Press: 3×5
  • Pull-ups: 3×5
  • Dumbell Flies: 3×10
  • Rear-Delt Flies: 4×10
  • Curls (optional)
  • Tricep Pull-downs (optional)

Day 3:

  • Deadlifts: 5×1

Day 4:

  • Back Squats: 3×5 at 70% 1RM
  • Front Squats: 3×5
  • RDL: 3×5
  • Abdominal Planks: 3 sets

Day 5:

  • Bench Press: 3×5 at 70% 1RM
  • OHP: 3×5
  • Pull-ups: 3×5
  • Incline Dumbell Flies: 3×10
  • Rear-Delt Flies: 4×10
  • Curls (optional)
  • Tricep Pull-downs (optional)