Incorporating Powerlifting into your Workout

Performance & Sport

The term “powerlifting” may intimidate you for a number of reasons which include the fact that it’s performed by only a minority of gym members; it also depicts visions of enormous strongmen whose raw power is offset by heavy masses of body fat. It’s a shame that some misconceptions often prevent gym goers from incorporating these three compound moves (the squat, bench press and deadlift) into their training regimen. These are not only efficient and powerful exercises (pun intended), but they have many benefits, the least of which is helping you arrive at your long-term fitness goals faster. So, in this blog post we’re going to discuss some important considerations and often overlooked benefits to using the big three.


Speaking of efficiency, let’s examine how powerlifts rule this consequence of training by looking at exercise fundamentals. Compound movements are the group of multi-joint exercises that require more than one muscle to be used. And there are no greater or more efficient compound movements than the squat, bench press, and deadlift. Since these three moves are virtually full-body exercises, you’ll be able to lift the heaviest weight per rep and burn the most calories too. Due to the full-body effort, the three powerlifts can actually replace two, three and even four other exercises grouped together when performed correctly. In this way, you’ll save time while developing strength force.

Key Considerations

Now let’s get a few things out of the way before you jump into the gym and start powerlifting. These three lifts require a different approach than the standing bicep curl, the lat pulldown or the leg press. While logical, the following considerations are often overlooked:

Warm-up sets are very important. Before you throw yourself under a 400-pound barbell in order to perform a set of squats, you really need to warm-up with a few (yes, a few) lighter sets of five to seven reps of the same exercise. Begin with say 25 percent of your maximum one-rep weight and push out five to seven reps using good form and sound tempo. With each subsequent warm-up set, increase the weight but do not perform a greater number of reps, no matter how easy it seems.  Doing so will cause an unwanted buildup of lactic acid which will cause you to fatigue prematurely.

Do the powerlifts at the very beginning of your workout. This is when you’re feeling fresh and your energy levels are highest. Even if you want to bring up a single muscle group and assume that an isolation move should be performed first, don’t do it. As we’ve already stated, one powerlifting exercise can have the effect of replacing multiple exercises, so be sure to complete them at the beginning.

Training one-rep maximum powerlifts frequently will cause you to burn out and you’ll actually lose strength. We understand completely that you’re a competitive athlete and numbers matter to you; getting that one-rep max on the bench or doing the deadlift means a lot to you. But you have to go about it the right way.  Elite powerlifters use progressions in their long-term training programs that gradually work down from seven reps a set, all the way to a single-rep set over the course of a month, if trained twice weekly. Set a peak time like a competition or your own personal goal and have the patience to progress toward it slowly.

Take a full day’s rest before powerlifting day. This principle is fairly simple, but it’s worth spelling out. When you’re planning your weekly split, aim to have a full day off to build up your energy reserves before a workout involving powerlifting.  Especially do not train your legs on the day prior to performing powerlifts, because they are the dominant half and get involved to the extreme; it’s best to store up energy and get a great night’s sleep before a powerlifting workout, if you’re serious about optimizing its effectiveness.

Knowing Your Powerlifts

The following muscle groups are involved when performing the powerlifts; understanding their involvement will help you schedule the remainder of your workouts to avoid over-training, an all-too-common pitfall of powerlifting:

Squat:  Quads, Hamstrings, Calves, Back, Glutes, Triceps, Shoulders
Bench Press:  Chest, Shoulders, Triceps, Back, Quads, Forearms
Deadlift:  Quads, Hamstrings, Calves, Glutes, Back, Shoulders, Biceps

Sample Weekly Split

To incorporate the three powerlifts effectively by training each of them once a week, schedule three workouts on non-consecutive days.  An example of such a split, blending in the powerlifts with ancillary moves, may look something like this:

Day 1: 7 sets of the Squat (including 3 warm-up sets), followed by 3 sets each of Leg Extension, Hamstring Curl and Seated Cable Row

Day 2: Off

Day 3: 7 sets of the Bench Press (including 3 warm-up sets), followed by 3 sets each of Machine Overhead Press, Cable Crossover and Tricep Pressdown

Day 4: Off

Day 5: 7 sets of the Deadlift (including 3 warm-up sets), followed by 3 sets each of Lat Pulldown, Upright Row and Calf Raise Machine

Day 6: Active Rest (walking or other low-intensity cardio for 45 minutes)

Day 7: Off

Powerlifting is an incredibly valuable and versatile form of resistance training that’s not reserved just for highly skilled competitors.  It has a place in every fitness person’s training arsenal and offers many incredible, often-overlooked benefits.  Don’t be intimated nor reluctant to incorporate these three incredible moves into your workout routine to amplify your effort and intensify your gains!