Beginner Powerlifting Program

Powerlifting was previously the cellar dweller of the strength sports. Olympic weightlifting used to get global coverage every four years with the Olympics. Bodybuilders gained exposure through tv shows and movies. Meanwhile, powerlifters were moving massive weights away from the public spotlight.

However, times have certainly changed, and powerlifting has stepped out of the shadows. It has grown dramatically in popularity as the importance of strength has been accepted by growing numbers of the population.

Powerlifting is a much easier sport to participate in compared with Olympic weightlifting which requires years of intense technique training. It also delivers better strength outcomes in comparison to bodybuilding which focuses on aesthetics.

The downside of this popularity is that there is more and more information being pumped out daily on powerlifting. If you are new to weight training and curious about powerlifting, typing it into Google or a social media platform is going to lead to information overload.

People with very impressive powerlifting resumes, and some without, are going to be offering you all sorts of advice and programs. Researching all these are an exhausting workout alone. Instead of giving you a clear path to powerlifting glory, you are more likely to be going around in circles.

Instead of wasting your time sifting through all these articles and programs, I will try and make the process of starting your powerlifting journey as simple as possible. Which is not as hard as the principles of strength training when you are starting out and are easy to follow.

Stop searching for Shortcuts

Since weight training started, people have always been looking for the Holy Grail – an easy way to build strength and muscle with minimal effort. Whether it be a program, supplement, equipment or exercise, everybody is looking for an easier way rather than spending years of hard work in the gym and kitchen.

Do not believe any sales pitch. The secret is years of consistent hard work. Do not despair. Ask any gym enthusiast and they will tell you that this is the fun part and what separates them from the Average Joe.

The only time that you need a speciality program when starting out, is if you have a medical condition or pre-existing injuries.

If you do not, your goal should be to learn the basics like the form, breathing, basic nutrition and stretching – things which are universal and can be applied to everyone.

No need to overcomplicate things

Back when I first started training over 10-years ago, I used to train for 2-3 hours a day 4 days a week. I lost fat, gained muscle mass and was able to bench press 100 kgs only after 9 months of training!

Fantastic results if you ask me, the problem is that I was overtraining and not optimizing my training. The risk of injury was elevated and even though I felt good after training it was far from optimal.

It took me a while to switch my mentality from the ONE MORE REP type of training to being as efficient as possible.

After my years of training and research, if I could jump into the Marty McFly’s DeLorean and travel back in time, this would be my first program:


1. Barbell Bench Press – 4 x 6

2. Pec fly’s – 3 x 8

3. Triceps Dips – 3 x 8

4. Lat Pulldowns – 3 x 8


1. Barbell Squats – 4 x 6

2. Front Squats – 3 x 6

3. Lying Leg Curls – 3 x 8

4. Seated Calf Raise – 3 x 8


1. Deadlifts – 4 x 6

2. Cable Rows – 3 x 8

3. Seated Shoulder Press – 3 x 6

4. Face Pulls – 3 x 8

This program follows a similar format of a lot of powerlifting programs in that there is a bench day, squat day and deadlift day. The exercises that follow are typically referred to as accessory exercises.

Accessory exercises work muscle groups that assist the big three lifts (bench press, squat and deadlift). Your aim is to work on the big 3. Do not cruise through the accessory work, but don’t try and break any world records. Nobody cares how much lift on the seated calf raise.

Accessory work is focussed on activating muscles that might not get fully worked when doing the big three exercises. Therefore, pay close attention to your form rather than weight.

There is a distinct lack of “Bro Exercises” like bicep curls and triceps extensions. This might be off-putting for some. Feel free to throw some in at the end of your workout if you have the time or energy. Or you can do some on Saturday evening before you slip into your tight mesh shirt and head out on the town.

The reason there are only four exercises per workout is that there is more than enough work for a beginner starting out. Especially when they are compound exercises. Instead of rushing through a complicated workout, take your time and focus on your form.

A long workout can leave you tired and exhausted toward the end. This is when injuries occur.

Ultimately, it is not the amount of weight lifted or exercises performed that counts, it is the quality of the repetitions. Forget about what others can lift, you are competing against yourself when you start out. You are achieving nothing by using poor form.

If you are going to give this work out a go, for the first three weeks, use extremely lightweight. This will allow you to get used to the training and teach you how to control the barbell throughout different exercises.

Time invested in technique will pay dividends in the long run.

Warming Up

This is something that I like to keep simple. Naturally, you do not want to put the weight that you use in your hardest set on the bar and lift it cold. Equally, you do not need to spend forty minutes performing a complicated warm-up routine.

A lot depends on what you have been doing before you start training. If you have been active before training, you will need less. If you are an office worker and you have been sitting down all day you will need more.

On a squat day, I will do a few sets with just the barbell. The first set I do not go full depth. The second set I will go a bit further. This is where the type of activity preceding your workout will come into play. On a cold day, I will need more sets with no weight.

Then I will do sets with lightweight that I gradually increase until I am near my working weight. By now I am warm and loose, ready to start pushing some weight.

When you move to your second exercise, do not start on your working weight. Do a set or two of lighter weight to prepare your body for the hard sets.

What should be my starting weights for my program?

Whatever you can lift comfortably – and then halve it! Most people, young men, in particular, overestimate their strength. They will start with a weight that is too heavy and struggle through the early weeks and then hit a brick wall.

Most importantly they will not have the chance to focus on improving their form as they are more focussed on heaving the weight.

Do not underestimate the importance of working on your form with light weights as you start out. Focus on all aspects of the lift. You are laying the foundations. The better the foundations the bigger the house that can be built.

When should I add more weight? How much?

When you can comfortably complete your work sets with a given weight it is time to increase weight. By how much? As little as possible. This is where fractional plates are a must, particularly for beginners.

It does not matter if you add just half a kilo to your bench press, squat or deadlift. Even if you can complete your sets comfortably with the increase, stay on it for a couple of workouts. Then go up again.

Your body will barely notice, but most importantly your mind will not notice either. It is sometimes harder to make the jump in weight psychologically than physically. Keep the weight increases minimal and consistent you will be pleasantly surprised at how they accumulate over the year.

How to keep it long term

During your weight training journey, you will hear and see tales of rapid strength and muscle gains. You are probably scratching your head. Didn’t I just tell you the Holy Grail did not exist?

Over my 10 years of training, I have seen some spectacular results. There are a handful of people scattered throughout the world with excellent genetics for strength training.

They can look at a barbell and put on muscle. These people are just plain lucky – don’t compare your progress to these genetic freaks.

Some people use drugs. Now and then a guy will rock up at a competition and smash PB’s and records. In the gym, they are throwing around impressive weights with ease and I find myself being tempted by the forbidden fruit.

Then they disappear. And so, do their gains. Even if you do decide to take drugs you still have to put in the work to stay strong long term.

As someone who has not sustained a serious injury while competing at national and international levels, the secret to keeping your strength and muscle is simple.


If you would search on how to perform a specific exercise, you would be given a specific description. The issue with that is that each of us is different, from joint mobility to limb length.

There are some basic rules, which will apply to everyone, like trying to spread the ground with your legs when you are squatting or following the same bar path.

Every single movement must be controlled and guided into the right path. So, choose a weight which you could easily lift with correct form. If in doubt, just film it, review it, and adjust it.

Never sacrifice your form to lift a heavier weight. A rep performed with incorrect form is not a rep and should not be counted. Why risk injury performing reps with sloppy form. If you injure yourself, you cannot lift, and your progress will be lost.


Both muscle and joint flexibility can save you from an injury or severe pain – both of which can keep you sidelined and keep you off the gain train.

It is dazzling how people would buy all sorts of cooling/heating lotions, pump their bodies with painkillers or go to chiropractors so that they would get temporary relief. If you train and do not stretch, your muscles and tendons will become less flexible. This will give you a lot of problems in the long run.

Without proper mobility, you would not be able to execute the perfect form in a lot of the exercises.

There are some basic stretches which could easily fix these problems. If you are proactive you can keep yourself injury-free.

If you are having trouble performing specific exercises due to mobility issues, I strongly suggest that you seek professional advice.


You will achieve the best results if you will stick to your plan. This means that you cannot skip exercises or miss days of training.

Since the training is broken down into three days for the big three lifts, skipping a workout would create a gap between the same muscle group workouts. Which would be too long and would hinder your progress.

It is only 4 exercises a day, so it will not take your whole morning or afternoon. Unless you are in pain or sick, you should not skip your training. The people who you look up to that are strong are the ones that will go to bed early and not go out so they can be fresh for training. Be like them if you want to get strong.

You also need to have consistency with effort. Unless you approach your training with desire and determination you will not get results. If you cruise through your workouts you will not get results. You must learn to push yourself with greater intensity – without sacrificing form of course.

But I must balance this by saying that do not fall into the one more rep mentality. Try and keep one rep in the tank if anything. Going constantly to failure and beyond can overload your body. Keeping the textbook form will ensure that you are staying within your limits.

What about diet?

My knowledge about diet is very limited. I know what works for me. I know what junk food is and healthy food is. If you eat mostly healthy food, you will get better results than on junk food. Consistency in the kitchen is equally as important as consistency in the gym.

Do not go off advertisements and marketing as to what is healthy and what is not. Generally, healthy food is not or has minimal processing. Try to eat things that are not packaged and are closest to their natural form.

By this, I mean that you know what a piece of fish is from. The contents of a hot dog are still one of the greatest mysteries of mankind. So, eat fish.

Muscle is made up of protein so make sure you are eating quality protein sources. As you are a beginner that does not mean that you need to have multiple protein shakes a day. A balanced diet of healthy foods with protein will do the trick.

How long will I be a beginner?

The simplest answer is basically however long it takes. You will know you are no longer a beginner when you are lifting decent weight and have plateaued. This does not mean if you plateau because you are not training with appropriate consistency and intensity.

The beauty of being a beginner is that you will nearly always experience the most rapid strength gains in your weight training journey when you start out. After the initial few weeks of working on your form, you will notice that you will start getting stronger.

Eventually, this will slowdown – this is not your plateau. This is where the grind begins, and you start applying the consistency and intensity to all aspects of your training. You will still be getting stronger, just not quite as quick.