3-Day Beginner Powerlifting Program

So you want to get started in powerlifting, and you are looking for a good beginner powerlifting program?

Good decision.

Choosing the right program sets you off to a great start in lifting and puts you on an upward trajectory of muscle and strength gains for years to come.

Choosing the wrong program, on the other hand, can set you up for injury and waste your time.

In this article, I outline a 3-day beginner powerlifting program that will build your strength and muscle mass, while keeping your injury risk low and the workouts no longer than they need to be.

Who am I?

I’ve competed in and coached powerlifting for ten years, and this is the workout routine I recommend beginner powerlifters do for at least their first two or three months of training.

Daniel Richter deadlifting at a powerlifting competition
Yours truly, hoisting 260 kg off the mat.

In this article:

  1. Powerlifting Training for Beginners
  2. The 3-Day Beginner Powerlifting Program
  3. How to Follow This Program
  4. The Exercises
  5. When You’re Ready for Next Level Training

Powerlifting Training for Beginners

Why is a beginner powerlifting program necessary?

Can’t anyone just jump on an advanced program and then, logically, become strong like advanced lifters?

Nope. That’s not how it works.

The reason we use classifications such as beginner, intermediate, and advanced in strength training, is to tailor our programs for things like:

  • How fast will your muscles respond to training?
  • How much volume are you used to doing per workout or week?
  • What training stimulus is necessary to edge your body into getting a lil’ bit stronger?

Typically, as a beginner you don’t have to train a lot – you’ll gain strength and muscle fast anyway.

And that’s good, since your training tolerance isn’t that high yet. Keeping your training volume below your capacity is the #1 key to avoiding injuries.

Intermediate and advanced powerlifting programs typically have way higher volumes than beginner programs, because, at that point, you need to train more (much more) to gain more.

Those programs also progress slower.

While there are many ways to classify training level, I like 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.

You could also use strength standards for classification, but what really matters is what it takes for you to get stronger, not what strength level you’re currently at.

In summary, the best powerlifting program for a beginner isn’t an intermediate or advanced program. It’s a beginner program.

So what makes this a beginner program?

Mainly three things.

  1. Fast, linear progress. Beginner programs progress faster than intermediate or advanced programs, and that’s why you’ll make faster gains by following a beginner program. This beginner program will have you adding weight every workout. In contrast, our advanced programs add a few % of weight over several months.
  2. Low training volume. You don’t need many sets to gain strength and muscle fast in the beginning. By keeping the training volume low, your body has time to adapt to the stress of training, which prepares you for higher volumes down the road.
  3. It’s 100% free. All of our beginner programs are free. Many of our advanced and intermediate programs, on the other hand, require a premium subscription in StrengthLog. This keeps the barrier low for you to get started. When you’ve squeezed what you can from the beginner program and want to move on to intermediate training, come back and check out our more advanced programs.

With that out of the way, let’s take a look at the program.

The 3-Day Beginner Powerlifting Program

The beginner powerlifting program consists of three workouts per week.

Every workout consists of three exercises:

  1. Lower body: Squat or deadlift.
  2. Upper body push: Bench press or overhead press.
  3. Upper body pull: Barbell row or lat pulldown.

You will do three sets of five reps in each exercise except the lat pulldown where you do eight reps per set, and not counting warm-up sets.

Here’s an outline of the training week.

Program Outline

Workout A

  1. Squat: 3 sets x 5 reps
  2. Bench Press: 3 sets x 5 reps
  3. Barbell Row: 3 sets x 5 reps

Workout B

  1. Deadlift: 3 sets x 5 reps
  2. Overhead Press: 3 sets x 5 reps
  3. Lat Pulldown: 3 sets x 8 reps

Workout C

  1. Squat: 3 sets x 5 reps
  2. Bench Press: 3 sets x 5 reps
  3. Barbell Row: 3 sets x 5 reps

Complete all three workouts over the course of a week, with at least one day of rest in between.

For example:

  • Monday: Workout A
  • Wednesday: Workout B
  • Friday: Workout C

How to Follow this Program

First of all: you can either just screenshot the program above or write it down on a piece of paper, but for a better experience, I recommend you download StrengthLog and follow the program there.

That way we will keep track of what you’ve lifted, automatically add 2.5 kg or 5 lb to the next workout, and give you sweet statistics on your training.

Free 3 Day Beginner Powerlifting Program
It is 100% free to follow the 3-day beginner powerlifting program in StrengthLog, and we’ll automatically add 2.5 kg or 5 lb to your lifts between each workout in this program.

Now then, here’s how you do the program:

1. Pick a Starting Weight

When you start the first workout, begin by warming up for a few minutes. Then, pick a weight for each exercise with which you can easily do all three sets of five reps with complete control of the form.

If you’re new to strength training, start with an empty barbell in each exercise. Except perhaps for the deadlift where you might add a couple of light plates to get the barbell to proper lifting height.

Use the same weight for all three sets and practice your form. Write your reps and weights down in StrengthLog so that you remember them for the next training session.

2. Add Weight and Repeat

The next time you do the same exercise: add 2.5 kg or 5 lb to the bar, and complete three sets of five reps again. (An exception is the lat pulldown, where you’ll be aiming for three sets of eight reps, and which might also have different weight increments.)

If it was super easy you might add a little more weight between the first few workouts. But don’t rush it, and revert to increases of 2.5 kg or 5 lb soon. Use the opportunity to practice the technique and engrain proper form while the load is still light.

Keep adding 2.5 kg or 5 lb to the bar (and to the lat pulldown) every time you successfully complete all three sets with the correct number of reps.

This will be easy in the beginning, and you should be able to increase the weight for several weeks, if not months. Especially in the squat and deadlift, where your strength potential is much higher than in the bench press and overhead press.

The workouts will be really short in the beginning, perhaps just 15–20 minutes, and that’s OK.

It will change soon.

3. When the Going Gets Heavy

Sooner or later, adding 2.5 kg/5 lb will get heavy.

Eventually, you won’t be able to get all three sets of five reps (or eight in the lat pulldown).

When this happens, say, that you only get 4, 4, and 3 reps in your squat sets, then you stick with the same weight for your next workout until you get all three sets of five.

Keep progressing with the other exercises as long as you successfully complete all reps in them.

Keep this method of progressive overload up as long as you possibly can.

  1. Add 2.5 kg / 5 lb.
  2. Strive to reach 3 sets x 5 reps.
  3. Repeat.

Yes, it is uncomfortable.

Yes, it is hard.

No, it isn’t fun.

But it is the best way to progress for the beginner powerlifter, and it will make you stronger faster than anything else.

Don’t mistake the simplicity of this program for a lack of effectiveness. You don’t need complexity; you need consistency and grit.

Consider if you’re training to be entertained, or to gain strength and muscle.

Repeating sets of five with increasingly higher loads is time-tested and effective.

The workouts will start light, but they’ll soon become really hard and uncomfortable as you try your best to complete all sets and reps at a new, higher weight.

It is at this point that much of your success will be determined: will you shy away from the discomfort and seek relief and distraction by switching to another training program, or will you face the hardship, endure it, and push your strength to new limits?

Sooner or later, you will need to switch to another type of programming, but sticking to this program long enough and really fighting tooth and nail to get those reps in at progressively higher weight is what can put you lightyears ahead of where you would be otherwise.

The Exercises

Now, let’s take a look at the six different exercises in this program, and why they’re here.

In order of appearance:

1. Squat

The squat is the first lift in powerlifting competitions, and in my opinion, the key to powerlifting prowess. Not only can you (with proper training) put up heavy weights in the squat itself, but it also has carryover to the deadlift.

In terms of muscles worked, the barbell squat works many of the large muscle groups in your lower body, including your quads, glutes, and lower back.

Below is a brief instruction for the exercise, but you can read a lot more in our guide on how to squat.

The squat can take some practice to learn, but keep putting your reps in and you will get it.

Muscles Worked in the Squat

Muscles worked by barbell squats exercise

Primary muscles worked:

Secondary muscles worked:

More on the squat:

How to Squat with Proper Form

  1. Place the bar on your upper back. Inhale and brace your core slightly, and unrack the bar.
  2. Take two steps back, and adjust your foot position.
  3. Squat as deep as possible with good technique.
  4. With control, stop and reverse the movement, extending your hips and legs again.
  5. Exhale on the way up or exchange air in the top position.
  6. Inhale and repeat for reps.

2. Bench Press

The bench press is one of the most popular exercises in the world, and it is the main test of upper body strength in powerlifting.

The bench mainly targets your chest, front delts, and triceps.

Make the most out of this exercise by lying stable on the bench (no fidgeting!), with your feet, butt, shoulders, and head firmly planted. Lower the bar all the way down to your chest, without bouncing, and then press it back up.

You can read a lot more tips in our guide on how to bench press.

Muscles Worked in the Bench Press

Bench press muscles worked

Primary muscles worked:

Secondary muscles worked:

How to Bench Press with Proper Form

  1. Lie on the bench, pull your shoulder blades together and down, and slightly arch your back.
  2. Grip the bar slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  3. Inhale, hold your breath, and unrack the bar.
  4. Lower the bar with control, until it touches your chest somewhere close to your sternum.
  5. Push the bar up to the starting position while exhaling.
  6. Take another breath while in the top position, and repeat for reps.

More on the bench press:

3. Barbell Row

The barbell row isn’t part of the three competition lifts in powerlifting, but it’s still a popular accessory exercise among powerlifters.

This exercise will work your back muscles and make them bigger and stronger, which is useful in life in general and powerlifting in particular.

It also acts as an antagonist to all the bench press training you will be doing as a powerlifter; the bench press is an upper body push – the barbell row is an upper body pull.

Muscles Worked in Barbell Rows

Muscles worked in barbell row exercise

Primary muscles worked:

Secondary muscles worked:

How to Do Barbell Rows

  1. Grip the bar with an overhand grip, and lean forward with the bar hanging from straight arms.
  2. Inhale and pull the bar towards you.
  3. Pull the bar as high as you can, so that it touches your abs or chest if possible.
  4. With control, lower the bar back to the starting position.

More on the Barbell Row:

4. Deadlift

The deadlift is the last lift performed in powerlifting competitions, and out of the three, it’s the one in which you can lift the largest amount of weight.

This classic barbell lift tests your strength from head to toe with an emphasis on your back, glutes, and grip.

A simple double overhand grip will suffice in the beginning, but later on, you might want to switch to one of the stronger grip techniques for deadlifting.

Once again, we have a big guide on how to deadlift if you want to dig deeper into the technique.

Muscles Worked in the Deadlift

Deadlift muscles worked

Primary muscles worked:

Secondary muscles worked:

How to Deadlift with Proper Form

  1. Step up close to the bar so that it is about over the middle of your foot.
  2. Inhale, lean forward, and grip the bar.
  3. Hold your breath, brace your core slightly, and lift the bar.
  4. Pull the bar close to your body, with a straight back, until you are standing straight.
  5. Lower the bar back to the ground with control.
  6. Take another breath, and repeat for reps.

More on the Deadlift:

5. Overhead Press

The overhead press isn’t one of the main lifts in powerlifting, but it is one of the best shoulder exercises you can do.

Many intermediate and advanced powerlifters omit overhead pressing from their training in order to be able to turn up their bench press volume further. But, for the novice lifter, two bench press sessions per week (like in this program) is plenty, and there is also a benefit to training with a little bit more variation when you are learning strength training.

Plus, the overhead press is pure fun and will give you broader shoulders.

Muscles Worked in the Overhead Press

Muscles worked in overhead press exercise

Primary muscles worked:

Secondary muscles worked:

How to Overhead Press

  1. Grip the bar slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  2. Inhale, lightly brace your core, and unrack the bar.
  3. Let the bar rest against your front delts while you take a step back from the rack.
  4. Press the bar up to straight arms, while exhaling.
  5. Inhale at the top, or while lowering the bar with control back to your shoulders.
  6. Repeat for reps.

More on the Overhead Press:

6. Lat Pulldown

Finally, the lat pulldown is another accessory exercise that mops up the muscles left out by the big three lifts.

As the name suggests, the lat pulldown works your lats, but also your biceps, rear delts, and lower traps.

This is the only exercise in which you’ll do eight reps per set (or more if you like) instead of five reps. This is because our main goal here is muscle growth rather than strength, and eights lend themselves slightly better for that than fives.

If you prefer doing pull-ups, you can do those instead.

Muscles Worked in Lat Pulldowns

Muscles worked in lat pulldown with pronated grip

Primary muscles worked:

Secondary muscles worked:

How to Do Lat Pulldowns

  1. Grip the bar with a pronated grip (palms facing away from you), slightly wider than shoulder width.
  2. Sit down with your thighs under the leg support, keep your chest up, and look up at the bar.
  3. Inhale and pull the bar towards you.
  4. Pull the bar down until it is below your chin or touches your upper chest.
  5. Exhale and slowly return the bar until your arms are fully extended.

When You’re Ready for Next Level Training

Milk this program for as long as possible.

Start light, progress up until the point where the workouts get seriously heavy, and then just try and stick it out in that phase for as long as you can.

If you can’t get past a certain weight, you could try and do a small reset and move back all weights by 10% and progress from there again. This will give you a deload week or two with lighter weights, which might allow you to recover enough to take a few more strides forward.

Sooner or later, however, you are going to have to accept that you’re no longer a beginner, and you will have to adjust your training appropriately.

Enter intermediate powerlifting training.

We have several intermediate and advanced powerlifting programs available in StrengthLog already, and here are three of our most popular ones:

  • Intermediate Powerlifting Program. 3x/week. This is a great next step after you’ve followed the beginner program for a few months. Instead of increasing the weights every workout like in the beginner program, the weights increase weekly, with light and medium workouts in between the heavy workouts.
  • Advanced Powerlifting Program. 3x/week. A training program for the advanced powerlifter who no longer gets stronger from week to week, and needs a high training volume to progress. Nine weeks long, and ends in a short peaking phase and max attempts.
  • Powerlifting Polka. 3, 4, or 6x/week. One of our most popular and effective powerlifting programs. It is six weeks long and comes in three versions: 3, 4, and 6 days per week. Powerlifting Polka is a mash-up of our most popular programs for the three big lifts: Squat Samba, Bench Press Boogie, and Deadlift Disco.

Or, browse all our powerlifting programs here.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Long Should I Rest Between Sets?

Rest long enough between sets to be able to perform the next set with the desired weight and reps, and with good form.

In the beginning, when the weights are light, you might only need to rest for one or two minutes between sets.

After a few weeks, when you have to fight hard to get all five reps in each set, you might have to rest for over five minutes.

Don’t rush your rest periods! If long rest periods are what it takes for you to progress in weight, it is well worth it.

It’s not lazy, it’s effective.

Read more: How Long Should You Rest Between Sets?

Is Three Days Enough for Powerlifting?

Three days of training per week is plenty to improve your powerlifting performance, especially at the beginner stage.

Many of our more advanced programs, such as Powerlifting Polka, still have versions with three workouts per week.

In this program, you will work all the most important muscle groups for powerlifting every workout, leaving two or three days of rest in between each training day. That strikes a nice balance between practicing the lifts and stimulating your muscles often enough, while still allowing for adequate rest.

Do Powerlifters Only Train Three Exercises?

No. Powerlifters compete in three exercises (the squat, bench press, and deadlift) but generally train many more.

The extra exercises might be variants of the big three, accessory lifts, or exercises for muscle groups not worked in them.

Read More: 10 Pros and Cons of Only Training the Squat, Bench Press, and Deadlift

Can I Just Deadlift and Not Squat?

You can do whatever you want. But if you want to compete in powerlifting, you must squat.

I’m sure it’s possible to minimize the squat training and still perform well if you do squat variations and other work for your legs, but in one way or another, you’ll need to train squats.

Are you not intending to compete in powerlifting, but simply like the style of training? Then a whole lot more options open up.

Some people and body types have trouble learning the squat, but find that they can deadlift with ease. In this case, you can absolutely focus more on deadlifting, and replace barbell squats with something like hack squats or leg presses.

Why Not Starting Strength?

I love Starting Strength. It’s a great program, I’ve followed it myself, and this beginner powerlifting program is clearly inspired by it. However, for powerlifting and for beginners, I don’t think it’s a better program, for a couple of reasons:

  • Too high squat frequency. In Starting Strength, you squat three times per week, plus do some deadlifts and power cleans. In my experience, squatting heavy (which you’ll be doing in a few weeks) three times per week is excessive for most, and especially for beginners. The risk:reward-ratio of turning the frequency down to two squat sessions per week is a lot better in my opinion.
  • Too low deadlift volume. In Starting Strength, you’ll only do one working set of deadlifts every other session, for an average of 1.5 working sets of deadlifts per week. Sure, you’ll compensate for the low deadlift volume a bit by doing power cleans, but for a powerlifter, you need to spend a little more time on the lift in which you’ll likely lift the heaviest weights.
  • Power cleans. You’ll do power cleans every other workout in Starting Strength. While power cleans are a great exercise for power development in athletes, I believe the beginner powerlifter better spends that extra time training the deadlift. If you still want to incorporate power cleans in this program, try switching out some of the barbell rows for them.
  • Too low bench press volume. The Starting Strength program splits the pressing volume evenly between the bench press and the overhead press, doing three sets of five, alternating every workout. This might be beneficial for athletes in general, but for powerlifters, it’s a bit on the low side in my opinion. Thus the slight increase from 1.5 bench press workouts per week in Starting Strength, to two bench press workouts per week in this beginner powerlifting program.

It should be noted that Starting Strength was never intended to be a pure powerlifting program, and critiquing it as such is therefore a straw man argument. Rather, it’s a general strength training program for athletes such as football players and the like. And as such, it’s great.

What Should a Powerlifter Eat?

Your training is what triggers muscle growth and strength adaptation, but your diet is what actually provides the building blocks to make it happen.

In order to build muscle and gain strength as effectively as possible on a training program, you should make sure to eat enough to enable this growth. That means consuming enough calories, proteins, and other necessary nutrients.

Our guide on eating for muscle growth will tell you what you need to know. And you can use our protein calculator to get an estimate of your daily protein requirement.

Next Steps

Now, download StrengthLog and get started on the beginner powerlifting program.

Download StrengthLog for free with the links below:

Download StrengthLog Workout Log on App Store
Download StrengthLog Workout Log on Google Play Store

100% free download, workout tracking, basic statistics, and 20+ free training programs and workouts.

Good luck with your training!

Photo of author

Daniel Richter

Daniel has a decade of experience in powerlifting, is a certified personal trainer, and has a Master of Science degree in engineering. Besides competing in powerlifting himself, he coaches both beginners and international-level lifters. Daniel regularly shares tips about strength training on Instagram, and you can follow him here.