The Intermediate Powerlifting Sample Program

Andy MorganPrograms22 Comments

The Muscle and Strength Pyramid books were released at the end of last year to rave reviews and continue to be exceptionally popular. This is a sample powerlifting program from the training book. The explanation section there is fairly detailed, so I have cut it down to give just the overview, relevant notation, and exercise selection explanations. It is my goal that this, the Intermediate Bodybuilding Sample Program, and the Detailed Guide to Training Progression articles bring the site up to speed with the level of training programming that I typically find myself using with coaching clients nowadays. I hope you find them useful.

The Intermediate Powerlifting Program Overview

The Intermediate Powerlifting Program is a four-day program that builds upon the base that was established from the novice program. Volume is increased globally, with a greater increase coming in the form of lower-body and upper-body pushing volume. Additionally, a few more accessory movements are added to round out development and ensure that no “weak links in the chain” occur now that the foundations of technical skill have been established.

Four days are utilized to accommodate the increased volume. Unlike the novice program, there is no three-day option.

Heavy loading still accounts for roughly ~2/3rds of the volume while lighter loading accounts for the other third. But, now a little more than half of the volume comes from the competition lifts while a little less than half comes from accessory movements.

A daily undulating model is still the approach used on a week-to-week basis in a similar manner to the novice program. Higher volumes of moderate-intensity work are performed on Day 1. Accessory movements are trained for both strength and hypertrophy on Days 1, 3, and 4, while Day 2 is dedicated to heavy technique work with the competition lifts. Strength work is spread between Day 3 and 4 with squats and bench press being trained for strength on Day 3, and then the deadlift trained for strength on Day 4. Ideally to allow recovery between heavy competition lift training, place a day off between Day 3 and 4 if possible.

As an intermediate, a periodized approach to progression is utilized rather than the single-factor progression model that was used as a novice. A linear periodization model is utilized in a wave loading format for all lifts on a week to week basis.

Savvy readers will realize that they can create versions of this program geared more towards accumulating volume or more towards intensification (determined by the time point in the season) by simply increasing or decreasing the rep range and loads. For example:

  • To make this program more volume focused a lift performed for 3 to 5 repetitions at 82.5 to 87.5% of 1RM could instead be performed for 4 to 6 repetitions at 80 to 85% of 1RM.
  • To make this program more intensity focused, a lift performed for 3 to 5 repetitions at 82.5% to 87.5% of 1RM could instead be performed for 2 to 4 repetitions at 85 to 90% of 1RM.

The breakdown for the Intermediate Bodybuilding Program is summarized in the table below:

  • The left block shows the average reps per week for upper-body pushing exercises, upper-body pulling exercises, and lower body exercises.
  • The center block shows how much of the total training volume is from the main exercises vs accessory exercises.
  • The right block shows the how much of the total training volume is from sets performed in the 1-6 rep range vs 7+ rep range.
(Not including deloads.)

Intermediate Progression

RPE Based On RIR Is Primarily Used To Set Load

Now with some weight training experience under your belt, RPE based on RIR can be more accurately used; you should be able to tell with reasonable accuracy how many reps you have in the tank. For this reason, load progression will be based more on RIR than it is %1RM. The %1RM is more used as a reference.

Progression Rules

Primarily you will be following the intermediate, “Wave Loading Progression” model for all lifts. Intensity will go up over the course of a four-week cycle, while volume will come down. Like the novice program, each day of each week is progressed independently, meaning, you will not compare Day 1 to Day 2 or Day 2 to Day 3, but each exercise progression continues from the same day the previous week.

I’ve published a detailed set of progression rules for you on the site here and that is where you will find the Wave Loading Progression model explained fully.

Intermediate Powerlifting Sample Program

Exercise Selection Guidelines

Notation

  • FS = Front Squat
  • RDL = Romanian Deadlift
  • Vert Pull = Vertical Pull
  • OHP = Overhead Press
  • Hor Pull = Horizontal Pull
  • Opp Sq = Opposite Squats
  • CGBP = Close Grip Bench Press

Vertical & Horizontal Pulls

Vertical and horizontal pulls simply refer to back work in the vertical and horizontal planes, i.e. a pulldown and a row, respectively. Choose whichever movements you enjoy, that you can feel the target muscles working during, and that you have access to.

For the horizontal row, choose an exercise that doesn’t fatigue your lumbar (this is especially critical in powerlifting routines where the performance of the deadlift should not be compromised). I would advise a cable, single arm dumbbell, chest supported dumbbell, seal/bench, or machine row.

For vertical pulls feel free to select what you would like, however, if you do choose to do chin ups or pull ups, make sure you can perform it at the appropriate RPE and rep range. If you are very strong at these, you might need to do weighted chins or pull ups, and if you aren’t strong enough to fall in the appropriate RPE and rep range, choose a lat pulldown or machine pulldown instead. If you don’t have access to either, a band-assisted pull up can work as well.

Front Squats & Romanian Deadlifts

When given the choice of choosing a front squat or a Romanian deadlift (RDL), choose the movement best suited to your situation. You can look at it from a muscular hypertrophy perspective and decide whether you have underdeveloped quads or posterior chain relative to the rest of your body, or you can look at it from a movement perspective, and decide whether you have a weaker deadlift, or squat relative to your total.

The RDL would be the best choice to develop your posterior chain or aid your deadlift (though the upper back is worked in front squats), while the front squat would be utilized to target your quads or aid the squat.

Opposite Squats

Opposite squats are simply back squats with the opposite bar position to your competition squat; low-bar squatters perform high-bar squats, and high-bar squatters perform low-bar squats.

Pressing Movements

The close-grip bench press should not be performed with an extremely close grip, rather just closer relative to your competition bench press grip width. The closest the grip width should be is a width similar to that of a push up performed with the elbows tucked at your sides.

The overhead press is performed with a barbell and can be performed seated or standing with a grip that feels most comfortable.

An Important Note On Sample Training Programs

It’s important to note that the primary purpose of this program is actually not for you just to take it and use it exactly as written.

By definition, a sample program cannot be optimal for you, because it is not specific to you and your needs. The programs in our book can get close, as they allow you to match up your goal (powerlifting or bodybuilding) and your experience level (novice, intermediate, or advanced) to the program, and in some spots they allow you freedom to choose a variation on an exercise or the schedule to fit your needs, but they still aren’t truly individualized programs.

Individuality is key to long-term success, and just like it’s not a good idea to use someone else’s diet regardless of whether your maintenance calorie intake or initial body-fat percentage is similar to theirs or not, it’s also not a good idea to jump into a program regardless of how the volume, intensity, or frequency of the program compares to what you are currently adapted to.

The idea behind presenting multiple sample programs in the book is that instead of readers seeing them as “the be all end all” that they just jump right into, they use them primarily as learning tools. The programs are the synthesis of the entire Training Pyramid, combining the concepts presented throughout the book into usable systems. By examining the sample programs they are looking at only a few of the possible iterations of the concepts embodied in the text. Trainers will be able to use the sample programs to help them learn how to create customized programs for their clients, and athletes will use the programs to help them design a more individualized plan for themselves.

Questions welcomed in the comments. – Andy


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About the Author

Andy Morgan

I'm an online nutritional and training coach living in Tokyo, Japan. After seeing one too many people get ripped off by supplement and training industry lies I decided to try and do something about it. The site you see here is the result of a lot of Starbucks-fuelled, two-fingered typing. It's had a lot of love poured into it, and I hope you find the guides to the diet and training methods I use on this site useful. When I'm not helping clients you'll likely find me crashing down a mountain on a snowboard, racing around Suzuka circuit, or staring at watches I can't afford. (Read more about me →)

22 Comments on “The Intermediate Powerlifting Sample Program”

  1. Pingback: The Intermediate Bodybuilding Sample Program | RippedBody.com

  2. Pingback: A Detailed Guide To Training Progression | RippedBody.com

  3. 1. Question:
    Is it okay to train 4 days in a row? How big is the negativ effect?

    2. Question:
    I do powerlifting, but I want also size. Most bodyparts get enough volume for growth, but I would add armwork, middle and rear delts, traps, more pulling, abwork. Do you think that is to much Andy?

    1. Hi Dennis, thanks for the questions.

      1. You’ll likely recover and progress better if you split your training up across the week instead of doing it all back to back.
      2. Impossible to give a blanket answer here as it will depend on the person. If you are recovering and progressing, then no, but if you aren’t, then leave it out for now. This comes down back to the first point on the importance of adequate recovery.

  4. I have been on this program for 3 weeks now. Very different from any power program I have done in the past. My body seems to be adapting well (week 1 was rough) and I am enjoying it. I will be deloading next week. Any guidance on how I should reduce load? Also should I maintain set and Rep patterns?

  5. Hi Andy, I have another Q, on day 2 when I move on to the deadlift I’m already beat up and my preformance is vrey low, what can I do about that?
    thanks.

    1. Sure thing.

    2. The left block shows the average reps per week for upper-body pushing exercises, upper-body pulling exercises, and lower body exercises.
    3. The center block shows how much of the total training volume is from the main exercises vs accessory exercises.
    4. The right block shows the how much of the total training volume is from sets performed in the 1-6 rep range vs 7+ rep range. (Not including deloads.)
    5. Thanks for asking, Asaf, I’ve updated the article to include that explanation.

    1. Yes, absolutely, so long as that is your preference. The calorie deficit affects our ability to recover and respond to a training plan, the style of training we do should be based on personal preference. You may need to reduce volume slightly while in a calorie deficit, and the easiest way to achieve this is to chop down the set numbers.

      For more background on this scroll down to the first comment I answered here then have a read of the article linked. Especially relevant is the section titled: “How Calorie Deficits Negatively Affect Our Training Response, How Surpluses Positively Impact It.”

      Hope that helps, Zoran. 🙂

  6. Is it okay to add some volume work or backoff sets for hypertrophy?

    Dips, Curls, JM Press, more Chin Ups, Rows
    Backoff sets 1-3 x 12-15

  7. Excellent reply Andy

    What came to mind was:

    “Your body will always tell you when you need to drink, and when you need to eat, but not when you need to exercise”

    1. Most welcome, Albers.
      After years of lifting people tend to feel like shit when they haven’t done anything physical for a few days, which keeps them exercising, but most people haven’t built up that habit yet.

  8. As for the layout for days is it meant to go something like this?

    Day 1
    Day 2
    Day off
    Day 3
    Day off
    Day 4
    Day off

    Repeat?

    Probably looking a bit too far into it there, but was getting myself confused with the day between 3 & 4!

    TIA

    1. As you wish, as long as it fits your schedule and you find yourself recovering well enough. Your example above would likely work, but if you find yourself too fatigued you can shuffle things around as your schedule allows.
      Thanks for the question, Kyle.

  9. My view is that the most difficult part of the nutrition/exercise schedule/program is the exercise.

    If you overeat/undereat, you can easily adjust with a minimal time lag (and no serious consequences).

    However, if you overtrain/undertrain, you cannot easily adjust your exercise schedule with explicit reference to the overtrain side.

    Most people injure themselves overtraining and this essentially changes to a “minimal/no exercise” program and a critical re-evaluation of the nutrition program.

    Be careful of excess volume, and particularly excess volume of heavy weights as this tends to lead to this situation.

    Reminds me of the quote by Dutch coach Henk Kraaijenhof:

    “do as little as is needed, not as much as is possible” (Tim Ferris “The Four Hour Body”)

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Albers. I agree with what you have written regarding injuries. The RPE guidelines in this regard serve as a safety net against that, assuming good form is always used.

      I think the issue with the quote is that people interpret it to justify doing a minimal training routine, without realizing they are leaving a LOT of growth potential on the table (graph 1 vs graph 2). The overtraining issue described in graph 3 is not something the vast majority of people ever have to worry about because they pussy out first. – People fail to get big through lack of effort, not due to too much of it.

      1. Minimum training input leading to maximal growth per unit of effort but missing out a lot of growth opportunity.
      Minimum training input leading to maximal growth per unit of effort but missing out a lot of growth opportunity.

      2. Maximal growth, maximal effort without it being detrimental.
      Maximal growth, maximal effort without it being detrimental.

      3. Overtraining leading to less than maximal response despite greater efforts.
      Overtraining leading to less than maximal response despite greater efforts.

      More on this if it interests you in this article:
      Stress: In The Gym, Out of The Gym, and How it Affects Your Program and Progress

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