The Intermediate Powerlifting Program

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 Powerlifting 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.

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.

RPE Number Meaning
10 Could not do more reps or load without form failure
9.5 Could not do more reps, could do slightly more load
9 Could do 1 more rep
8.5 Could definitely do 1 more reps, chance at 2
8 Could do 2 more reps
7.5 Could definitely do 2 more reps, chance at 3
7 Could do 3 more reps
5-6 Could do 4-6 more reps
1-4 Very light to light effort

If you would like to learn more Eric and I have put together a free email course which you can sign up for in the box at the end.

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

Day 1
Exercise Sets Reps Rep Total %1RM RPE
Back Squat 1 3 7 to 9 24 67-72.5% 6 to 7
Bench Press 4 7 to 9 32 67-72.5% 6 to 7
Front Squat or RDL 2 3 4 to 6 15 80-85% 8 to 9
Vertical Pull 3 3 7 to 9 24 NA 6 to 7
Day 2
Exercise Sets Reps Rep Total %1RM RPE
Back Squat 5 1 to 3 10 82-87.5% 6 to 7
Bench Press 6 1 to 3 12 82-87.5% 6 to 7
Deadlift 4 5 1 to 3 10 82-87.5% 6 to 7
Day 3
Exercise Sets Reps Rep Total %1RM RPE
Back Squat 3 3 to 5 12 82-87.5% 8 to 9
Bench Press 4 3 to 5 16 82-87.5% 8 to 9
OHP 3 4 to 6 15 80-85% 8 to 9
Horizontal Pull 3 4 to 6 15 NA 8 to 9
Day 4
Exercise Sets Reps Rep Total %1RM RPE
Opposite Squats 5 3 4 to 6 15 80-85% 8 to 9
Close Grip Bench Press 4 4 to 6 20 80-85% 8 to 9
Deadlift 3 3 to 5 12 82-87.5% 8 to 9

For convenience, I made this to save to your phone:

For more useful graphics check out my Instagram.

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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  1. Barbell Back Squats (either low or high bar position), or Safety-bar Back Squats.

  2. RDL = Romanian Deadlift. – Choose the movement best suited to your situation. 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.

  3. Chin-ups or Pull-ups (Use bands to assist you if too hard to reach the required number of reps, add weight if they are too easy), Lat-pull Down.

  4. Conventional Deadlift or Sumo Deadlift. Choose one or the other and do it consistently on all training days you deadlift.

  5. Perform the opposite bar position squats to your competition

About the Author

Andy Morgan

Hi, I'm Andy, co-author of 'The Muscle and Strength Pyramid' textbooks and founder of RippedBody.com. This site is my sincere effort to build the best nutrition and training guides on the internet. Some readers hire me to coach them, which I've been doing full-time, online, for the last seven years. If you're interested in individualized, one-on-one coaching to help you crush your physique goals, let's start the conversation. (You can read more about Andy here.)

55 Comments

  1. Uriel ramirez says:

    Can you make a 3 day split intermediate program? Please!! Thank you!!

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      Take Day 4, split it across the first three days. Boom.

  2. Karl O'Donoghue says:

    When you say take a break between day 3 & 4 did you mean 2 & 3?

    Thanks

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      Yes. Can you tell me where you read that? I’ll correct it.

  3. JESSE E HARLAN says:

    How many weeks is this for?

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      As many weeks as you continue to progress using the progression rules.

  4. Molly Crawford says:

    Hey, the program is great but I feel like I’m training squats much more than deadlifts (4x squats and 2x deadlifts). What’s the reason for this? And doesn’t this mean that deadlifts aren’t being trained enough in proportion?

    Also, having the deadlift at the end of day 4 means I’m not as strong for it so I feel I could lift more if it was first for example. Is there a reason for this?

    Thanks

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      Deadlifts are harder to recover from and aren’t suited to as high of a frequency.
      There’s arguably less impact on the deadlifts with those last than if it were the squats that were last.

  5. John Merryman says:

    Hi Andy,
    I enjoy the powerlifting program so far. I have been wanting to increase my squat and bench press for awhile now. I have a couple of questions in regards to warm ups. What do you recommend for warm ups in general on these powerlifting days? Second, what do you recommend for the warm up weight for each individual workout? Also, do you recommend doing anything on your off days like running, yoga, etc.?
    Thanks,

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      Hi John,
      1. You’ll see warmups covered in the FAQ.
      2. Not without a specific reason.

  6. Alexander Walton says:

    Hi Andy,

    In my third week of the programme and seeing some good strength gains already which is great. I’m enjoying every session except Day 2, which feels quite unchallenging. I’m loading the bar with the correct weight, and doing the max number of reps in each set (3), but at an RPE of 6-7, I’m getting to the end of the workout really not feeling that tired/pumped/satisfied. Is there a reason for this? Or am I just being impatient?

    Thanks!

    Alex

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      This is purposefully a low-volume, low-rep, ‘technique practice at high load’ strength focus day, and it’s natural to not feel as challenged.

  7. Vladislav Maletic says:

    I need a little clarification regarding this program. l Just started it, so far so good, but my question is, when can l throw in other exercises such as dumbbell curls or any other isolation exercises? Can l add isolation exercises and when, or do l have to stick just to those stated above?

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      Any time you wish, as long as it does not interfere with the progression of these main lifts. If you wish to have more of a physique focus though, consider this program instead.

  8. Rob says:

    Hey Andy,

    I’m about to enter my 7th week on the program, and I like it a lot. Lifts are shooting up fast, and I want to re-test my 1rm’s soon. Whats a good way to incorperate a round of max testing without disrupting the flow of the program?

    Thanks!

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      Hi Rob,

      I understand the fun of warming up and trying for a 1RM, but testing it is unnecessary to gauge progress (you know you are progressing because how much you can lift for a certain number of reps is higher now that it was before) and poses an unnecessary injury risk. I would advise you don’t. Leave that for the platform, if you compete.

      You can punch your numbers into this calculator I created here if you would like an estimate.

  9. Marcin says:

    Great guide, I have a question regarding the progression.
    Let’s take day 1 exc 1 for example:
    I do 3 series of 7-9 reps (while I could do 3-4 more) with 300lbs (~my 70%).
    The next week I do it with 310lbs, then with 320 and 330.
    What happens after these 4 weeks? Do I deload 10%? Do I continue and go to week 8 and so on? Or do I rest a week and then start somewhere at the middle (let’s say 315lbs)?
    Thanks in advance for the answer!

  10. ryan says:

    Hi Andy,
    What sort of tempo do you recommend ?
    Cheers
    Ryan

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      Explosive concentric contraction, controlled eccentric motion, always with good form. No need to slow it down consciously as you’ll limit the total number of reps you can do.

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