How do you get stronger as an advanced powerlifter?
In this post, I’ll outline an advanced powerlifting program and explain how and why your training should differ from beginner and intermediate powerlifters.
- Still a beginner? Check out our beginner powerlifting program.
- Still at the intermediate stage? Check out our intermediate powerlifting program.
Before we get into the details of the training program, let’s recap our definitions of what an advanced lifter is.
How To Know if You Are a Beginner, Intermediate, or Advanced Powerlifter
There are many ways to classify experience level, but I like the clarity of these definitions from Practical Programming:
- Beginner: Gets significantly stronger from workout to workout.
- Intermediate: Gets significantly stronger from week to week, or bi-weekly.
- Advanced: Gets significantly stronger from month to month, or longer.
By “significantly stronger”, I mean that you can add 2.5 kg (or 5 lb) and do the same number of reps, or use the same weight but do more reps.
For example: If you could lift 100 kg for five reps last week, and can lift 102.5 kg for five reps this week, then you’ve gotten significantly stronger.
- If you’re still getting stronger from workout to workout, then our beginner program is right for you.
- If you’re still getting stronger from week to week, our intermediate powerlifting program is the answer.
But what if you don’t?
What if you’ve been training the squat, bench press, and deadlift hard and consistently for a long time, and you’re struggling to make progress?
Then it’s probably time for advanced training.
How to Increase Your Powerlifting Total at the Advanced Level
As a beginner, you could slap on an additional, small weight plate on the barbell almost every workout. Every workout was “heavy” in the sense that you were always progressing and taking one step forward.
When you became an intermediate powerlifter, you could no longer progress every workout. You started to utilize some manner of periodization, like the wave progression heavy–light–medium that we use in our intermediate program.
At the advanced stage, this model still applies but on a larger scale: You still have heavy, light, and medium workouts. But now, you also start having heavy, light, and medium weeks.
Like in this advanced powerlifting program.
The Advanced Powerlifting Program, 3 Days/Week
This training program is nine weeks long, with three workouts per week.
When you start the program in our training app, you will have to enter your 1RM (one-rep max) in the squat, bench press, and deadlift, and the app will calculate the correct weights for you to use each training session.
Not sure of what your one-rep max is? Use our 1RM calculator to get an estimate.
The training volume increases in waves, and the peak % of 1RM climbs throughout the program, ending in a short peaking phase and a max attempt in week nine.
All in all, the advanced powerlifting program is written to serve as a complete training cycle that ends with breaking your personal records, or competing at a powerlifting meet.
You’ll cycle between workouts using heavy, medium, and light weights.
Here is an outline of the training week:
- Squat: Heavy
- Bench Press: Medium
- Barbell Row
- Deadlift: Medium
- Bench Press: Light
- Kneeling Ab Wheel
- Lat Pulldown
- Squat: Medium
- Bench Press: Heavy
- Romanian Deadlift: Light
(Download the StrengthLog app to see the % of 1RM, number of sets, and reps.)
Complete all three workouts over a week, with at least one day of rest in between every training day.
- Monday: Workout 1
- Wednesday: Workout 2
- Friday: Workout 3
What’s Different From The Intermediate Program?
This is the same structure as in our intermediate powerlifting program, so what is the difference?
Two main things:
- The weekly training volume is greatly increased. Advanced lifters need to do more work to progress. While the number of workouts is the same in this program, you’re doing many more sets.
- The rate of progress is lower. Advanced lifters can’t progress at the same rate as intermediate lifters, so the weights increase slower in this program.
Exercises in the Advanced Powerlifting Program
Let’s take a look at the different exercises in this program.
In addition to the three powerlifts, this program contains four accessory exercises. The point of these exercises is to train muscle groups not worked in the main lifts or to aid the development of the working muscles.
The exercises, in order of appearance:
The squat is usually the lift in a powerlifting competition in which you’ll be able to put up the second heaviest weights – surpassed only by the deadlift.
Like the intermediate powerlifting program, the advanced program slightly prioritizes the squat over the deadlift, with two out of three workouts featuring the squat.
This is for three main reasons:
- In my experience, more people struggle with the squat than with the deadlift. Perhaps because the deadlift more closely resembles lifts we do in our everyday life, it “clicks” easier for many. The squat, on the other hand, often requires far more practice before it starts to feel natural.
- Most people find that they can squat with a higher frequency than they can deadlift, while still recovering enough.
- The muscles worked in the squat overlap to a great extent with the muscles worked in the deadlift. That means, getting stronger in the squat can help your deadlift, and vice versa.
A slight favoring of the squat will generally produce better total gains than a slight favoring of the deadlift, in my opinion. Of course, this might vary between individuals, and you might also want to periodize this by throwing in a deadlift specialization block now and then.
2. Bench Press
Out of the three lifts in powerlifting, the bench press is the main test of upper body strength. It is usually also the lift where you put up the smallest weights out of the three big lifts. That said, it is still an important contribution to your total.
In this program, you’ll train the bench press every workout – three times per week. You begin the week with a medium workout, do a lighter workout in the middle of the week, and finish with a heavy workout.
3. Barbell Row
The barbell row is an accessory exercise that serves two purposes in this program:
- It works the antagonists of your bench press muscles, ensuring that your upper body musculature and strength are balanced and evenly developed.
- It helps your squats and deadlifts by strengthening your back.
You’ll have to choose the weights for yourself in the barbell row, but the same principles of progressive overload apply: try to increase the weight regularly.
The deadlift is the last lift performed in a powerlifting competition and is usually the lift in which you can put up the most weight.
Deadlift training overlaps with squat training, and you can’t train both the squat and deadlift maximally hard at the same time. Therefore, and because of the reasons listed earlier under the squat exercise, your deadlift training will err slightly on the light side in this program. Thanks to all the squat training you will be doing, this will likely be enough to increase your deadlift strength anyway.
You’ll be training deadlifts once per week, using medium weights and low volume, and then you’ll be training Romanian deadlifts once per week using lighter weights to add some additional hypertrophy work.
5. Kneeling Ab Wheel
Powerlifting exercises such as the squat and deadlift mean a lot of training for your posterior core: your spine extensors. To keep your core muscles balanced, we include an exercise for your anterior core: the spine flexors, or simply abs.
The kneeling ab wheel is a great exercise for your abs, but you can substitute it for another ab exercise, such as crunches or planks.
6. Lat Pulldown
The lat pulldown will, like the barbell row, help develop your back muscles in tandem with your chest and front delts and strengthen your back for squats and deadlifts.
Pick a weight with which you can complete all reps, and then strive to increase the weight regularly.
7. Romanian Deadlifts
The Romanian deadlift is a deadlift variation that emphasizes your posterior chain muscles, such as the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back.
You will be training Romanian deadlifts once per week to add some muscle mass in a fairly low-impact way compared to regular squats and deadlifts.
You might want to use deadlift straps in the Romanian deadlift, to be able to work your posterior pulling muscles more effectively.
When You Reach The End of The Advanced Powerlifting Program
This program ends with a short peaking phase and a PR attempt in week nine. Of course, you can time the program so that this peak coincides with a powerlifting competition.
If you gained strength on this program and believe you could gain more from another cycle, I suggest you take a deload week with only light training before starting another cycle.
Enter your new 1RMs or bump up your previous ones by 2.5–5 kg (5–10 lb) to get slightly heavier weights for your next training cycle.
Frequently Asked Questions
- What is the best advanced powerlifting program?
- What split is best for powerlifting?
- How many exercises should powerlifters do?
- What is the fastest way to gain strength in powerlifting?
- How can I bring up my weak points?
What Is the Best Advanced Powerlifting Program?
Sorry, but there is no single best advanced program.
In fact, at the advanced level, the chance of finding a single best powerlifting program is smaller than at the beginner or intermediate level. This is because as lifters become more advanced, the window where the training volume is enough to stimulate growth but still allows for adequate recovery shrinks. Compare this with beginner training where a very low training volume is enough to stimulate growth, and practically everyone can recover from it before their next workout.
Thus, the need for individualization increases at the intermediate and advanced levels, and what might be the right volume for one lifter might be too little or too much for another.
What Split Is Best for Powerlifting?
The best powerlifting split is the one that lets you get enough training in during the week, lets you perform well in your workouts, and fits your schedule.
This program only has three workouts per week, but as a consequence, the workouts are fairly long. You could split this program into six shorter workouts where you only do one of the big three lifts per workout, i.e: squat, bench, deadlift, bench, squat, bench.
If you’re following the program in the StrengthLog app, you can do this by saving your workout when you’re done, and choosing “Move remaining sets to a planned workout“.
A drawback of doing fewer but longer workouts is that you might get tired and perform worse toward the end of the workouts than at the beginning when your energy levels are high. On the bright side, you get more rest days in which you are completely off.
How Many Exercises Should Powerlifters Do?
I’m guessing you’re starting to see a trend here, but: as many as it takes.
All powerlifters should train the squat, bench press, and deadlifts in the weeks or months leading into a meet, but in the off-season, you’ve got a little more wiggle room and can utilize more variations of the big three.
Do you have to? No. Can it help? Sure.
Here are some of my favorite variations of the powerlifts.
Bench press variations:
In addition to the main lifts and their variants, you will probably want to do some degree of accessory work. Accessory training is aimed at bringing up weak links or making sure your body is evenly developed. You can find my favorite ones in this article on the best powerlifting exercises.
What Is the Fastest Way to Gain Strength in Powerlifting?
By training with a volume suited to both your experience level and your recovery circumstances (stress, diet, sleep, etc.) and by progressively overloading at a rate corresponding to your training status:
- Beginners should progress in weights or reps between every workout.
- Intermediate powerlifters should progress in weights or reps every week, or bi-weekly.
- Advanced powerlifters should progress in weights or reps every month.
For some reference on how fast you can gain muscle, which is strongly correlated to strength gains, check out our article: How Fast Can You Build Muscle?
How Can I Bring up My Weak Points?
If you can clearly identify a weak point in your lifts or your musculature, feel free to add some extra strength training to address it.
The most common bottle-necks or limiting factors, and some examples of exercises to target them, are:
- The quads in the squat. Exercises: pause squat, Bulgarian split squat, leg extension.
- The chest in the bench press. Exercises: dumbbell chest fly, dips, push-ups.
- The lower back in the deadlift. Exercises: good morning, back extension, kettlebell swing, Romanian deadlift.
An alternative method is to train the main lifts with correct form and good technique and let the powerlifts themselves bring up your weak points. Performing compound movements under heavy load is a complex skill, and the best way to improve might be to train your weak points in the context in which you will use them.
That being said, if you believe a certain accessory movement or exercise might help, and it doesn’t take away from your practice of the main lifts, feel free to add some to your program.
Follow the Advanced Powerlifting Program in StrengthLog
This program is available in our workout log app. StrengthLog is free to download and use as a workout tracker where all the basic functionality is free – forever.
The app also has a bunch of free programs and workouts. Our more advanced programs (such as this one), however, are for premium users only.
Want to give premium a shot? We offer all new users a free 14-day trial of premium, which you can activate in the app.
Download StrengthLog for free with the links below:
100% free download, workout tracking, basic statistics, and 20+ free training programs and workouts.
Good luck with your training!
More powerlifting programs:
- 3-Day Beginner Powerlifting Program
- 3-Day Intermediate Powerlifting Program
- 10+ Powerlifting Programs
Bench press programs:
- Beginner Bench Press Program
- Intermediate Bench Press Program
- Advanced Bench Press Program
- 10+ Bench Press Programs