10 Powerlifting Programs for Intermediates: CUSTOM Calculator & More

Last Update: 19 August 2021

Table of Contents

Finding the right powerlifting program for intermediate level lifters can be tricky. There are many aspects to consider. This article provides an overview of nine of the top powerlifting programs, with an in-depth comparison, so that you can build the perfect intermediate routine that will build your strength and size.  

Intermediate Powerlifting Programs: An Overview

Before we introduce the specific powerlifting program we’re comparing, and offer effective  information for customizing your own routine, ask yourself:

  1. How have you classified yourself as an intermediate powerlifter?
  2. How will your intermediate routine be different from your beginner routine?

Are You an Intermediate Powerlifter?

At some point, every powerlifter is going to have to ask themselves this question, but the answer will vary per person because no two lifters are exactly the same in body composition, metabolism, and a host of other differences. 

It is very common to see the different stages of powerlifting – novice, intermediate, and advanced – categorized by experience. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s the only indicator that you’re ready to move to a new level. 

For instance, a 2018 study on powerlifting techniques classified intermediate powerlifters as those with 1-3 years of powerlifting experience and 3-7 years of resistance training experience [3]. Not only does this seem to be excessively ambiguous, it fails to take into consideration the many different variables that may influence a powerlifter’s competencies, strengths, and weaknesses.

As described in a comprehensive article, 26 Powerlifting and Powerbuilding Programs, using training age to determine if you are an intermediate lifter is suboptimal [2]. Rather, this determination should be made on the basis of your personal progress with your lifts. 

If you can still add weight each workout, you are still a novice lifter. However, once you can no longer increase weight with your current program or routine, that is the best indicator that you’ve become an intermediate lifter. 

Powerlifting Training ‘Pains’–You’re Not Stuck, You’re Ready To Move On

Although it may be frustrating to find your progress stagnating, this is actually good news! It’s proof that you’ve already made significant gains and your body has adapted. At this point, the same routine will not deliver more results. You’ve essentially reached your peak with that program and can move on to a new challenge. 

Finding new, intermediate strength training programs will help you optimize your lifts and give you the ability to continue increasing strength and accomplish your fitness goals. 

Overview of an Intermediate Powerlifting Program

With any routine in life, there is value in simplicity and consistency. When you have a system that generates results, there is no need to overcomplicate it. Very often, this is exactly how novice powerlifting routines are built. They’re designed to help you learn how to be a powerlifter.

However, eventually, the gains in strength and power come to a halt. (This is a good thing!) It simply means that you’re ready to make strategic alterations to your program in order to create new results. Depending on your personal goals, this change may have varying levels of complexity and variety. Your intermediate powerlifting workout routine should be built around optimizing adaptive resistance and progressive overload. 

Adaptive Resistance In Your Powerlifting Routine

Adaptive resistance, regulated by the nervous system, is the body’s ability to respond to a stimulus that elicits a neuromuscular response and grows stronger – adapting to the new demands [3]. Essentially, it means that you need new catalysts to generate new results. 

In fact, studies have shown that in novice lifters, strength gains actually occurred before identifiable muscle hypertrophy [4, 5]. This indicates the presence of a neuromuscular response prior to an increase in muscle size. 

To capitalize on the phenomenon of adaptive resistance, we must constantly find ways to create stress in our system in new ways, forcing the body to adapt to new stimuli. Over time, the body will always adapt to external stimuli. If our training program remains unchanged, it’s nearly impossible to create enough stimulus to continue to grow and develop. Have you ever heard the phrase, “The best workout is the one you are not doing”? This is the reason that phrase is so relevant.

Progressive Overload

Similarly, to get stronger and more powerful, it is necessary to continue to increase the total training load, or volume of stress placed on the body. That means, to get stronger and more powerful, you need to continue to increase the amount of weight you lift [6, 7]. 

Programming Aspects of an Intermediate Routine–Periodization’s Role

The most commonly and effectively implemented programming aspect of an intermediate weightlifting program is the use of periodization. Of course, a novice routine will incorporate a basic form of linear periodization to capitalize on the benefits of progressive overload (higher for beginners). However, this is typically performed only by gradually increasing weight.

As an intermediate lifter, there are more specific strategies you can use to take advantage of progressive overload and adaptive resistance. These include more complex periodization strategies, RPE autoregulation, and split options.

A powerlifting intermediate program should not be seen as intimidating or excessively challenging. Rather, through programming modifications, these natural powerlifting routines can facilitate some incredible results that you may have not believed were possible. 

Non-Linear Periodization

At the most basic level, periodization is any type of manipulation to the training volume, intensity, exercise selection, or otherwise, in a cyclical fashion [8]. While linear periodization refers to a gradual increase or decrease in a single variable, which is usually weight, non-linear strategies incorporate greater variety.

Following the principle of adaptive resistance, a variable training stimulus is necessary to optimize neuromuscular adaptations. For instance, in a 2018 study comparing a non-periodization group to two different periodization groups, it was determined that periodization greatly increased long-term strength adaptations [9]. The non-periodized group only increased strength by 1.5% in weeks 6-12, while the periodization groups’ techniques saw increases in strength of 9.4% and 6.9% during the same period. 

There are three different types of periodization for intermediate lifters: 

  • Undulating Periodization (UP)
  • Daily Undulating Periodization (DUP)
  • The Conjugate Method
Undulating Periodization (UP)

UP has been highly regarded as an optimal technique because it effectively promotes a higher degree of neuromuscular adaptation, relative to linear periodization, due to its training variety [10]. Rather than solely increasing weight, UP requires that the program inversely change intensity and volume during a training cycle. 

In other words, the training cycle includes days with high intensity and low volume, as well as days with low intensity and high volume. Scheduling these variations can be completely customized, and with some UP programs, you can alternate as frequently as every day, or as long as every two weeks [8]. 

Daily Undulating Periodization (DUP)

If intensity and volume are being changed daily, or more broadly, multiple times during a week (microcycle), this is referred to as DUP. Essentially, this is a form of UP with a high frequency of changing training variables.

An example in practice might include high intensity, low volume squatting on a Monday, followed by low intensity, high volume squatting on Friday of the same week. In a single microcycle, the powerlifter incorporates two different types of stimulus in order to maximize adaptive resistance. 

The Conjugate Method

The final type of periodization was made famous by Westside Barbell’s Louie Simmons [11]. It has three core components: maximal effort method, dynamic effort method, and repetition method [12].

To perform The Conjugate Method, a powerlifter alternates between sessions focused on maximum strength, maximum speed, and then maximum volume (at a submaximal weight). Strength, speed, and volume all create different stressors, which maximize adaptive resistance. 

Additionally, The Conjugate Method can also be performed by alternating between different exercises to create even more variety. If a lifter performs front squats in their first workout of the week, they may alternate to back squats on their next squat day. Similarly, you may alternate between flat bench press and incline bench press. 

Given their flexibility, periodization techniques can be highly-customized and combined to meet specific needs. This is the power of periodization and why it is such an important aspect of helping a powerlifter overcome the plateau experienced when transitioning from novice programs to intermediate programs.

RPE Autoregulation

Another technique commonly implemented in intermediate training programs is Rate of Perceived Effort (RPE) Autoregulation. Rather than prescribing volume and intensity through the use of very specific loads, sets, and reps, it uses a powerlifter’s subjectivity to assess training intensity. 

Although there is criticism regarding the efficacy of using subjective measures to assess training intensity rather than objective metrics, there has been significant research that has concluded that RPE is a valid indicator of exercise [13]. 

In fact, in one 2017 study that compared the effectiveness of using RPE as opposed to a percentage of a one-repetition maximum (1RM), it was determined that RPE-based loading may actually provide a slight advantage in maximum strength (measured with 1RM) [14].  

If maintaining levels of sufficient intensity is required to facilitate adaptive resistance and progressive overload, RPE may be highly effective because it can effectively monitor training intensity through various periods. The advantage here is that unlike strict periodization protocols, you can tailor the changes to meet your needs, avoiding overtraining or undertraining. This is the value of implementing a RPE powerlifting program, because training loads will automatically be adapted to the powerlifter’s capacity on a set-to-set basis, offering a much greater degree of accuracy in assigned training volume [15].

However, there is a concern over the accuracy of using RPE in comparison to a more traditional 1RM-based approach. While RPE may be more difficult to accurately assess for sets with a high volume of reps that do not approach failure, research shows that it may actually be more accurate for sets that are completed near failure (within three reps) [15, 16].

Therefore, if you decide to use a RPE Autoregulation scale for assigning training loads and intensity, it is recommended to use a scale that is based on the perceived amount of Repetitions in Reserve (RIR). This RIR approach has been demonstrated to be a far more accurate indicator of actual exercise intensity. Table 1 displays the research-based RIR rating scale that can be implemented [15].

Resistance training specific rating of perceived exertion
RatingDescription of perceived exertion
10Maximum effort
91 repetition remaining
82 repetition remaining
73 repetition remaining
5-64-6 repetition remaining
3-4Light effort
1-2Light to no effort

Workout Splits

Another way to move to an intermediate lifter program is to incorporate workout splits. After you reach a plateau, splits can help you resume gains because this type of routine isolates a specific muscle group in each workout, allowing other muscle groups to completely rest [17]. This can also help to create more flexibility with your powerlifting schedule.

Although research has concluded that the ultimate driver of growth may be training volume, and not the splitting of workouts, split training is highly desirable because it enables highly-specific training based on your strengths, weaknesses, and goals [18, 19].

A Note About Supercompensation In You Intermediate Lifting Program

The real purpose of implementing a workout split is to maximize supercompensation. When lifting, especially with high intensity, the induced stress load generates a fatigue response in the central nervous system (CNS). As discussed, this promotes a neuromuscular response on the basis of adaptive resistance, which is exactly what we want. 

However, in response to CNS fatigue, the body requires sufficient time to properly recover, potentially lasting up to 72 hours for maximum effort training [20]. Interestingly, there is a specific time frame, after training with the proper amount of load and intensity, in which the body’s recovery process actually overcompensates, creating a state of improved strength and performance, known as supercompensation. 

Figure 1 illustrates this process of supercompensation that is critical to making gains [21]. By splitting workouts, you may be able to design a training program that allows for optimal recovery times so that each successive lift, whether it’s your squat, bench, or deadlift (or other) can elevate performance.

A graph showing that timing workouts may optimize supercompensation for muscle growth

Figure 1. Timing workouts to optimize supercompensation for muscle growth [21]. 

If you train prematurely, the body may not have fully recovered from the initial exercise or may have only returned to its previous baseline. Likewise, if you spend too much time recovering, you may return to baseline and miss out on the period of supercompensation.

This factor can also be influenced by the intensity and volume of a workout. Excessive training may create too much CNS fatigue to properly recover from; likewise low intensity training may not stimulate supercompensation at all. This is why RPE may become an effective tool to ensure that your lifts are consistently optimizing training load and intensity based on the capacity of your CNS to perform and recover.

This concept is illustrated in Figure 2 [22].

A graph showing that timing and intensity influence CNS response.

Figure 2. Both timing and intensity influence the physiological response to exercise [22].

Powerlifting Exercises

The core exercises of powerlifting are the squat, deadlift, and bench press. In competitions, lifters are scored based on the aggregate weight lifted between these three exercises. However, many powerlifting programs include additional exercises as part of the training protocol.

While some lifters like to include a wide variety of accessory work, this section provides an overview of the most commonly used powerlifting exercises: squat, deadlift, bench press, bent-over row, and overhead press. For demonstrations of these and additional accessory exercises, watch this video [23].

Powerlifting Squats (Core Exercise For Squat Programs) 

The squat is a compound lift that is highly demanding on the central nervous system. By heavily engaging the lower body, particularly the body’s largest muscles (quadriceps and glutes), squatting elicits a large neuromuscular and endocrine response. Squats have built a reputation for being the most effective exercise for developing lower body size, strength, and power.

Many variations exist with squatting, including the two most common: the back squat and front squat. Incorporating both variations may be effective for enhancing adaptive resistance, however back squat is solely used for competitions.

Deadlift (Program Powerlifting Core Exercise) 

Studies have found that the deadlift is as effective as the squat at eliciting neuromuscular and endocrine responses [24]. Like squatting, variations exist with deadlift as well. The two most common are the conventional deadlift and the Romanian deadlift. 

Conventional Deadlift

In the conventional deadlift, the weight is lifted off the ground from a static position. The intent of this exercise is to maximize strength and power through the concentric motion of pulling the barbell off the ground. In powerlifting competitions, the conventional deadlift is one of the three exercises performed.

Romanian Deadlift

The Romanian deadlift differs by starting from an elevated position and focusing on a controlled lowering of the barbell, the eccentric motion. Further, the Romanian deadlift incorporates a different range of motion and a greater hinge in the hips, creating more engagement in the hamstrings than a conventional deadlift.

For a great comparison of these types of deadlifts including their execution, benefits, and intentions, watch this video [25]. 

Bench Press

The ultimate upper body exercise and for good reason, the bench press is performed by lowering a barbell onto your chest and then pushing directly away from the body. It is the most effective exercise for engaging your chest, shoulders, and triceps.

Although many variations (such as the incline press) can be used to work these muscles, the classic bench press is the ultimate test of upper body strength and power. Accordingly, it is one of the three exercises performed in powerlifting competitions.

Bent-Over Row

One of the most common exercises in powerlifting programs that is not actually a part of powerlifting competitions is the bent-over row. If you want to focus on engaging the largest upper body ‘pull’ muscles, the bent-over row is probably your best option.

By inducing a large load and engaging the five largest muscles in the back, including the lats and traps, research has determined the bent-over row is the best exercise for strengthening  your upper back [26, 27]. 

Overhead Press

Finally, the overhead press is a beloved exercise of many powerlifters because it is very effective at loading the shoulders. Additionally, with less muscular stability than a standard bench press, it induces adaptive resistance. 

If you are looking for a compound exercise to supplement your upper body ‘push’ muscles, the overhead press is a great option and is incorporated into many powerlifting programs.

Intermediate Powerlifting Programs–Moving On from A Beginning Powerlifting Program

Now that we have reviewed some of the important principles that make intermediate training programs unique and how they can help you overcome training plateaus, let’s explore nine different intermediate lifting programs that have been used successfully by many people.

  1. nSuns 531
  2. Texas Training Method
  3. Madcow 5×5 Workout Program
  4. Physiqz 8 Week Powerlifting Program
  5. Physiqz 6 Week Powerlifting Program
  6. PRs 15
  7. GZCL Method
  8. Candito 6 Week Program
  9. Korte 3×3

nSuns 531 

Touted as an excellent program for “advanced novice” lifters, nSuns 531 was popularized by Redditer /u/nsuns, resulting in a Reddit subreddit that has since been closed. This program was designed as a combination of Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 strength program and the Sheiko Program, commonly known as Russian Powerlifting.

Wendler’s 5/3/1 is designed to progressively load over the course of a month, whereas the Sheiko Program is built around high-volume training, often requiring an excess of 200 lifts per week [28, 29]. By implementing the concepts of Wendler’s power approach and Sheiko’s high volume, this creates a unique powerbuilding program, which seeks to maximize the benefits of powerlifting and hypertrophy [30].

In each workout, a lifter performs two compound lifts and accessory work. The four compound lifts central to the training program are squat, deadlift, bench press, and shoulder press, as found in Wendler’s 5/3/1 program [28].

However, rather than sets of five, three, and one rep(s), this program calls for nine sets of the primary compound exercise and eight sets of a variant compound exercise prior to beginning accessory work [31]. This volume is what makes it comparable to the Sheiko programming.

Accordingly, to manage the high volume and intensity of training, it is necessary to implement RPE Autoregulation to ensure that training volume does not overstress the CNS and stunt progress. To accommodate training availability, this program is also available in 4-day, 5-day, and 6-day variations, available here [32].

By following this program, you can be sure to effectively increase both power and size in a true powerbuilding program, joining the likes of many loyal lifters in the Reddit community. One of its benefits is flexibility, which can be implemented in a powerbuilding routine 4 day split, 5 day split, or 6 day split. For example, in this thread, one Redditer shared incredible progress in just seven weeks using a 5 day powerlifting split [33]:

  • Bench: 65kg 1RM to 95kg 1RM
  • Deadlift: 95kg x 5 reps to 130kg x 5 reps
  • Overhead Press: 35kg 1RM to 60kg 1RM
  • Squat: Not shared

Summary: High-volume linear periodization program built around compound lifts

  • Benefits: Increases power and hypertrophy (Powerbuilding)
  • Drawbacks: Requires high volume and careful attention to RPE Autoregulation
  • Primary Lifts: Squat, Deadlift, Bench Press, Overhead Press
  • Training Frequency: Four, five, or six days a week

The Texas Method (Texas Powerlifting And Texas Method Reddit Results) 

Created by Mark Rippetoe, the Texas Method was designed to help intermediate lifters who are no longer realizing gains in their workouts [34]. Training just three times per week, this program seeks to hit PRs every single week.

Each week features one high intensity workout, one high volume workout, and one active recovery day. Typically, Monday will be high volume, Wednesday will be active recovery, and Friday will be the high intensity workout aimed to hit a new PR.

From a programming perspective, the Texas Method incorporates the principles of linear periodization (increasing weekly) and the conjugate method, by alternating between high intensity, volume, and recovery days. Plus, it’s focused on compound lifts that create substantial CNS fatigue, and accordingly, a heavy emphasis on rest.

Despite a lower frequency of training, it is very possible to realize significant gains using this system. Take for example, one Redditer who obtained significant increases in strength and power after one year of the Texas Method [35]. Check out this video for his commentary and final lifts [36].

  • Bench: 217.5lbs x 5 reps to 300lbs x 1 paused rep
  • Deadlift: 325lbs x 5 reps to 525lbs x 1 rep
  • Squat: 305lbs x 6 reps to 455lbs x 1 rep
Summary: One high volume, active recovery, and high intensity lift to set new PRs weekly
  • Benefits: Lower volume, more rest time, geared towards setting PRs
  • Drawbacks: Less emphasis on volume and hypertrophy
  • Primary Lifts: Squat, Deadlift, Bench Press
  • Training Frequency: Three times per week (M/W/F)

Variation: 4-Day Texas Method

For lifters who want to incorporate another workout day, the 4-day variation offers a great option for spreading out the intensity of the days. Essentially it gives you a little more time to increase accessory work with the lifts. 

Basic breakdown:

  • Monday:  Intensity Bench focus, Volume for Presses (accessory exercises focus on chest, triceps, delts) 
  • Tuesday:  Intensity Squats, Volume on Deadlift (accessory exercises focus on lower body, hams, guts, lower back)
  • Wednesday: Recovery 
  • Thursday (alternate):  Intensity Press, Volume Bench
  • Friday:  Intensity Deadlift, Volume Squat
  • Saturday/Sunday: recovery 

Madcow 5×5 Workout Program (12 Weeks Work Out) 

If you have reached a plateau and are looking to take your strength and power to a new level, the Madcow 5×5 Workout Program could be the perfect powerlifting training routine for strength [37].

Based on the core exercises of bench press, squat, and deadlift, this program incorporates high resistance training throughout. For five sets of five reps, this program employs using 80-85% of your 1RM for each high intensity set. Accordingly, sufficient rest time between sets and workouts is required to manage CNS fatigue.

However, there is also a lot of flexibility with the Madcow 5×5 program because you can fully customize loading techniques and the exercises used. It is also common to incorporate the overhead press and bent-over row. 

Also, because Madcow focuses on hypertrophy, it’s common to adapt this program by constant weight increases with each set, and then ultimately every week. In this scenario, weight is increased in increments of 10-20lbs with each set until the final set of maximum intensity for five reps is completed. 

If the prescribed number of reps are obtained in a workout, the weight is increased in the following week.

Many people have implemented the Madcow 5×5 Program successfully, including one Redditer with some impressive strength gains over a period of 7-8 months total [38]:

  • Bench: 195lbs 5RM to 240lbs 5RM
  • Deadlift: 275lbs 5RM to 380lbs 5RM
  • Squat: 200lbs 5RM to 290lbs 5RM
  • Overhead Press: 135lbs 5RM to 155lbs 5RM
Summary: Best powerlifting program for strength
  • Benefits: Rapid increase in strength; heavy emphasis on hypertrophy
  • Drawbacks: Lower emphasis on power or competition preparation
  • Primary Lifts: Squat, Deadlift, Bench Press, Bent-over row, Overhead Press
  • Training Frequency: Three times per week (M/W/F)

Physiqz 8 Week Powerlifting Training Program

Originally designed for the Army Powerlifting Team, this comprehensive program utilizes all of the programming aspects of an intermediate powerlifting routine to ensure that you can take your performance to new heights [39].

The key principles employed are a combination of Daily Undulating Periodization (DUP), RPE Autoregulation, and the Conjugate Method. All of these are packed into an 8-week program with five workouts each week, capitalizing on the benefits of adaptive resistance and progressive overload.

Although designed for intermediate and advanced lifters to achieve immediate results, it is a high intensity program that requires a complete commitment to both training and recovery. 

Built around the core lifts of squat, deadlift, and bench press, this program also incorporates frequent accessory work to fully optimize both power and hypertrophy. Accordingly, this also allows for a degree of flexibility and customization to meet individual goals.

For a complete overview and sample powerlifting program with a week-by-week workout plan, including full guidance for the implementing RPE Autoregulation, check out this comprehensive overview [39].

Although not commonly found on the Reddit pages, you can be sure that a program designed for the Army’s Powerlifting team is certain to generate results. If you are looking to elevate your lifting, this may be the program responsible for your next success story! Given the intense attention to detail, this may be the best powerlifting routine intermediate out there.

Summary: High-intensity 8-week program based on DUP and RPE autoregulation
  • Benefits: Rapid gains; incorporates primary lifts and accessory work; designed for competition
  • Drawbacks: Highly demanding, requiring a total commitment to training and recovery
  • Primary Lifts: Squat, Deadlift, Bench Press
  • Training Frequency: Five times per week

Physiqz 6 Week Powerlifting Program (Strength Building Program) 

Inspired by the Physiqz 8 Week Powerlifting Program, this six week variation is intended for upper-intermediate to advanced lifters, due to the high volume incorporated in this program.

Similar to the eight week program, this leverages the principle of undulating periodization to promote adaptive resistance and maximize neuromuscular adaptations. However, a critical difference is that this program is a 6-day workout routine, while the eight week program trains five days per week.

By increasing the training frequency to six days weekly, this program utilizes multiple days of the primary lifts – bench press, squat, and deadlift – every single week. Therefore, a commitment to proper recovery is absolutely essential to realize the true potential of this program. Given the intensity and frequency of training, this is an excellent powerlifting cutting program.

If you have found that your progress has begun to stagnate and are fully committed to optimizing your performance, this could be the exact program that generates significant gains in just six weeks. For more information on how you can write your own powerlifting success story, check out this comprehensive article [40].

Summary: High-intensity 6-week, 6-day workout program using undulating periodization
  • Benefits: Rapid gains; maximizes adaptive resistance 
  • Drawbacks: Highly demanding, requiring a total commitment to training and recovery
  • Primary Lifts: Squat, Deadlift, Bench Press
  • Training Frequency: Six times per week

PRs 15

Established by PRs On The Platform, this 15-week powerlifting program for strength and power is designed for a specific competition period [41]. However, it can equally be used as a general powerlifting training program.

Designed with the primary intention of competition prep, this powerlifting training program for intermediate lifters is focused heavily on the three primary powerlifting exercises: bench press, squat, and deadlift. Interestingly, bench press is performed three times every week, squat is performed twice per week, and deadlift is performed once each week.

In total, this program operates with four workouts per week. From a macro perspective, the 15 weeks are divided into three, 5-week blocks. Weeks 1-5 are focused on volume and hypertrophy, weeks 6-10 focus on strength, and weeks 11-15 target peaking power and performance. Additionally, every fifth week (weeks 5, 10, and 15) is a deloading week.

Therefore, this program incorporates undulating periodization. On a micro level, all workouts are conducted following the principles of RPE Autoregulation to ensure that training intensity is regulated, which prevents overtraining and an excess of CNS fatigue that may result from such a high frequency of compound lifts.

Although not explicitly using the PRs 15 Intermediate training program, PRs On The Platform has a catalogue of success stories with their athletes putting up incredible numbers in a variety of competitions. To be inspired by some of their success, check out this page [42].

Summary: 15-week program designed to prepare for competitions
  • Benefits: Utilizes periodization, deloading weeks, and RPE autoregulation to peak power 
  • Drawbacks: Not intended for hypertrophy  due to high frequency of primary lifts
  • Primary Lifts: Bench Press, Squat, Deadlift
  • Training Frequency: Four times per week

GZCL Method

The GZCL Method has been popularized and many powerlifters have achieved great success using this approach. However, it is important to note that this is not a specific powerlifting plan, but rather, a general framework that can be adapted to an intermediate lifter’s needs. .

Created by Cody Lefever, a competitive powerlifter and student of the science of lifting, the GZCL Method takes a pyramid approach to programming [43]. Essentially, the top of the pyramid consists of the maximum intensity lifts, consisting of 85-100% of target weights. In the second tier, the lifts are moderate in weight, at 65%-85% of target weight. Finally, the foundations of the pyramid are all lifts at less than 65% of target weight.

Figure 3 displays the comprehensive infographic that Cody Lefever created to illustrate this framework [44]. 

A pyramid of tiers for various exercises to meet one's goal weight.

Figure 3. Adapted from GZCL Applications & Adaptations [44].

The objective of this framework is to design a program that takes a holistic approach to strength and power training, offering a heavy focus on the accessory exercises that can optimize mobility, injury prevention, and aesthetics.

Although highly customizable, GZCL programs often incorporate principles of periodization and adaptive resistance to optimize training outcomes. In one case, a Redditer utilized the GZCL Method to realize significant gains in one year [45]. 

  • Squat: 265lbs to 365lbs
  • Bench: 245lbs to 275lbs
  • Deadlift: 330lbs to 405lbs
  • Overhead Press: 145lbs to 175lbs x 2 reps
Summary: Not a program, but a framework based on intensity and accessory exercises 
  • Benefits: Very adaptable; intended to promote health and sustainability 
  • Drawbacks: Not a specific program; not designed for a specific outcome
  • Primary Lifts: Bench Press, Squat, Deadlift
  • Training Frequency: Variable

Candito 6 Week Program

This program is designed as a powerlifting peaking program to help you reach power output in your lifts. Developed by Jonnie Candito, a competitive powerlifter who has produced many free programs, this 6-week program is highly regarded for intermediate powerlifters [46]. 

Each week during this program focuses on a different phase. From a macro, six week perspective, this program employs linear periodization to increase power. However, volume, intensity, and complexity are all manipulated throughout this program [47].

The following phases are used in the program:

  • Week 1: Muscular Conditioning
  • Week 2: Hypertrophy
  • Week 3: Linear Max Overload Training
  • Week 4: Heavy Weight Acclimatization
  • Week 5: Intense Strength Training
  • Week 6: Deload

Built around the core compound lifts, this program incorporates a lot of accessory work and can be manipulated to maximize results. For more information on customizing a Candito 6 Week Program that is tailored to your goals, read this comprehensive review [47].

Although this program has a reputation for low success rate with increasing bench press, it has been highly regarded to rapidly improve squats. For example, take a look at these numbers from a Redditer using this six week program [48]:

  • Squat: 200lbs to 290lbs
  • Deadlift: 290lbs to 345lbs
  • Bench Press: 245lbs to 245lbs
Summary: 6-week program designed for peaking 
  • Benefits: Short program; especially known for rapidly increasing squats 
  • Drawbacks: Limited success with improving bench press
  • Primary Lifts: Squat, Deadlift, Bench Press
  • Training Frequency: Variable – Tapers throughout the program

Korte 3×3

Tried and tested, the Korte 3×3 is a full body powerlifting program developed by Stephan Korte and has been used by countless Olympic Powerlifters and World Champions over many decades [49].

One of the most attractive aspects of this program is its simplicity. Planning and executing lifts are not complicated. However, they are intense, and without a full commitment to training with intensity and optimizing recovery, this program may be difficult to execute successfully.

It consists of two phases, each lasting four weeks. Phase I is dedicated to high volume and Phase II is dedicated to competition prep, maximizing intensity. Amazingly, every single week consists of only three workouts. And every single workout consists of only three exercises. 

Every single training day, you will squat, deadlift, and bench press. Nothing more. By performing these three complex lifts, these are definitely full body powerlifting workouts. Because it is purely focused on competition prep, this may be the best powerlifting program for raw lifters.

The rationale is that if you are focused on optimizing your powerlifting performance, you should train to perform your best in those three lifts, nothing else. Although accessory training may help to support muscle groups required in the primary lifts, accessory exercises train them for a different function.

Therefore, the theory is that the best way to train every muscle group for squatting is to squat. Doing this, the muscles will be used exactly how they need to be used while squatting. By doing each lift frequently, it also enables a higher total volume for each lift.

The designated training protocol for Phase I and Phase II, as written in Korte’s original article, are shown in Figures 4 and 5 [49].

Phase I: High Volume

Day 1Day 2Day 3
Squat: 5-8×5
Bench: 6-8×6
Deadlift: 5-8×5
Squat: 5-8×5
Bench: 6-8×6
Deadlift: 5-8×5
Squat: 5-8×5
Bench: 6-8×6
Deadlift: 5-8×5

Figure 4. Workout plan for Phase I [49].

Phase II: Competition

Day 1Day 2Day 3
Squat: 3×3
Bench: 5×4
Deadlift: 1-2×1
Squat: 3×3
Bench: 1-2×1
Deadlift: 3×3
Squat: 1-2×1
Bench: 5×4
Deadlift: 3×3

Figure 5. Workout plan for Phase II [49].

For those of us who aren’t Olympic Powerlifters, one individual on a T-Nation forum shared progress from using the Korte 3×3 over a five week period [50]. 

  • Squat: 5 x 5 reps @ 165lbs to 1 x 1 rep @ 225lbs
  • Deadlift: 5 x 5 reps @ 155lbs to 1 x 1 rep @ 315lbs
  • Bench Press: 6 x 6 reps @ 135lbs to 1 x 1 rep @ 215lbs
Summary: 8-week program focused solely on maximizing squat, deadlift, and bench press 
  • Benefits: Relatively simple planning; designed for competitions
  • Drawbacks: High volume; no focus on accessory work; not highly individualized
  • Primary Lifts: Squat, Deadlift, Bench Press
  • Training Frequency: Three times per week

Russian Powerlifting Program (6 Week Peak) 

The Russian powerlifting system is designed as a 5-day, 6 week program that produces a new 1RM at the end of each week. Developed in 1989, this program starts off a little slow, but is created for competitions, so it gets challenging… quickly. Therefore, it’s recommended that you run an 8 or 16 week program before tackling this one. 

This program focuses on the three main lifts, which are performed twice each week, but also includes specific accessory exercises that are intended to help facilitate the weekly gains. The split is intense, so targeted rest periods are designed to generate full recovery before the next big lifting day. You can learn more about variations to this program here. 

Summary: 6-week program focused on increasing squat, deadlift, and bench press 1RM every week
Benefits: Designed for competitions and maximum gains
Drawbacks: Challenging performing heavy deadlifts 48 hours after heavy squats
Primary Lifts: Squat, Deadlift, Bench Press
Training Frequency: Five times per week

Find A Powerlifting Program Spreadsheet for the Best Intermediate Powerlifting Program

With an overview of the most popular powerlifting programs for intermediate lifters, you can decide which method will help achieve your goals. However, having a spreadsheet to use is also very handy (and easier than making your own). You can find spreadsheets for a variety of powerlifting programs here

Choosing the Best Powerlifting Programs for YOU

These are all great examples of intermediate power lifting programs that may help you to overcome your plateaus and elevate your performance. However, knowing that there are so many programs available, and many more customizations available, how can you decide what is optimal for you?

While it depends on many factors, a good powerlifting program is one that closely aligns with your capabilities, training goals, and your overall commitment to your program. For instance, some programs require a high degree of programming and can be complex, while others are very simple.

If you want a routine tailored to your exact needs, you can do that. But if you want something simple, you can do that too. A good piece of advice is to keep your program as simple as possible while ensuring that you can still make progress.

Considerations When Choosing a Powerlifter Workout Program or Deadlift Program

There are many factors to consider when identifying the best powerlifting routine for your needs. While we will cover some of the most important ones, this list is not collectively exhaustive. Some other great options can be found in the catalogue of Powerlifting to Win programs [51].

Furthermore, there is a lot of gray area when trying to determine the optimal program, and therefore careful consideration should be given to your specific strengths, weaknesses, and goals.

Program Length

Without question, the total length of the program is very important. If you have a competition in eight weeks, it doesn’t make sense to undertake the PRs 15, a 15 week program. And even if you are not training for an immediate competition, your desired training length may vary considerably.

Ask yourself:

  • Do you intend to have a deloading phase in the near future? 
  • What has your previous programming been like? 
  • Do you have any upcoming life events that may impact your training schedule, such as moving to a new city, vacations, other sporting activities, or other major life events?

Once you know your desired length, it is much easier to identify the best program for you.

Training Frequency

Similarly, if you are only able or willing to train a limited number of days per week, this may prevent you from performing specific programs. For example, if you are extremely busy with other commitments and are only able to commit to a maximum 4 day powerlifting routine, it does not make sense to try the Physiqz 6 Week Powerlifting Program, which requires six days per week to optimize performance outcomes.

Are you looking for a 4 day powerlifting program, 5 day powerlifting program, or a 6 day powerlifting program? This may vary significantly from person to person.

With all powerlifting training programs, especially intermediate and advanced programs, recovery times are extremely important. Fortunately, different powerlifting training methods offer flexibility with the frequency and timing of your workouts, allowing for a wide range of possibilities.

Training Goals

It may be obvious that your goal with an intermediate power lifting program is to overcome a plateau and continue to make gains. While true, there may be more to it than that. After all, there are a lot of ripped powerlifters out there.

Ask yourself:

  • Are you training for a specific competition? 
  • When is your competition? 
  • Are you training as a fitness enthusiast, for general health, or for aesthetics? 

SInce powerlifting workout programs are not solely used by competitive powerlifters, these are very important considerations. 

Additionally, do you have a specific lift that you are focused on improving? Perhaps you are happy with your bench press and deadlift but really want to focus on squats? In this case, you may consider the Candito 6 Week Program because despite having a lower success rate with bench press, it is renowned for generating rapid improvements in squatting.

Complexity of Programming

Not everyone enjoys the complexity of highly-specialized programs. Whether that is because they prefer a simple routine or because they simply do not have time to fully commit to undertaking a highly-specific training protocol, complexity matters.

Some programs offer a great number of opportunities to fully customize the routine and be highly personalized, while others are very simple and consistent for everyone.

Age and Health

Your lifts when you are 40+ years old will probably not be the same as your lifts when you are 20 years old. That’s not to say that you cannot equal or surpass the performance of younger lifters, or your younger self. However, aging is inevitable.

Therefore, it is important to be conscientious of your health and capacity to undertake high intensity training. Previous injuries, increasing levels of fatigue, and overall health should be important considerations when selecting a program.

For instance, the Physiqz 6 Week Powerlifting Program trains six days a week with high intensity and is physically-demanding. If you are older, have nagging injuries or physical limitations, or generally do not have the capacity to train at this intensity, a less intensive program might be best.  

In this example, a 4-day powerlifting training split of the nSuns 531 while carefully paying attention to RPE Autoregulation to ensure that you do not overstress your system, might be a good option. Alternatively, building an intermediate strength program following the GZCL Method, which is catered to overall health and functionality, may be appropriate as well.

Previous Powerlifting Experience

Experience also plays a role in your selection of an intermediate strength program. If you are just graduating from a beginner program, then you may not need to switch to a complex, high intensity program right away [52]. However, a program that introduces programming variations will be important for promoting adaptive resistance.

To accomplish this, both the nSuns 531 and the Texas Method are highly regarded for their success in helping intermediate lifters elevate their performance. If you are looking to compete or simply want to peak power, the Korte 3×3 or the Candito 6 Week Program could also be great options. 

However, if you are already an intermediate powerlifter, you may be looking for a more advanced powerlifting program. You may have even experimented with one or more of these programs already. Regardless of the reason, experimenting with a different program could make a big difference.

If your gains using nSuns 531 or the Texas Method have begun to plateau, it may be time to try something different. For a high intensity program that can accelerate your gains, Physiqz 8 Week Powerlifting Program could be perfect. But maybe you are really looking to focus on pure strength. In this case, the Madcow 5×5 could be the best intermediate strength training program.

Comparing Popular Programs: nSuns 531, Texas Method, and Madcow

Among the most popular intermediate training programs are the nSuns 531, the Texas Method, and the Madcow 5×5. Before reviewing, here is a quick summary of the primary objective with each program.

Texas Method or 5/3/1

The nSuns 531 is really designed for powerbuilding, meaning that it is also designed to optimize hypertrophy, which is ideal for those looking to add size and muscle mass. It is also a very flexible program, allowing for training four, five, or six times a week. However, there is a high amount of volume and can be very taxing.

Compare this to the Texas Method, which is designed to increase power every week. The bodybuilding aspects of hypertrophy and increasing size are not nearly as prevalent. As a result, the total volume is also less than that of the nSuns 531. 

Therefore, if you have less time or are more focused on power or competition prep, the Texas Method is probably a better option than the nSuns 531. However, if you want to prioritize volume and training frequency and are not concerned about peaking for a competition, the nSuns 531 may be ideal for you.

The Texas Method vs Madcow 5×5

As mentioned, the Texas Method is focused on increasing power every single week. This is obtained by alternating between high volume, light recovery, and high intensity training days (three sessions per week). However, to accommodate recovery, the 4 day Texas Method can be used to distribute the training throughout a four day period, reducing the overall intensity and volume within each workout.

Madcow 5×5, meanwhile, is all about increasing strength. Also using three sessions a week, there is a high focus on volume and hypertrophy. However, this program is designed for peak power or competition prep.

Both programs can be highly taxing, despite only training three or four days per week. Ultimately, the Texas Method is optimal for peak power while the Madcow 5×5 is better for strength and hypertrophy.

Selecting Your Program

For even more information, check out all of our powerlifting programs here

By now, you can hopefully determine what program may be best suited for you or you at least have narrowed a few down. Once you have that in place, explore and customize your program so that you can break through those novice plateaus and become the powerful, strong, and ripped powerlifter that you aspire to be!

References

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