The Novice Powerlifting Program

If getting strong as hell is your primary goal, knowing that size and symmetry will mostly come along for the ride anyway, then you need a strength training program that will emphasize that for you. 

This Novice Powerlifting Program taken from our Muscle and Strength Training Pyramid book is a three or four-day program built around developing skill and strength with the competition lifts, while also developing a base of muscularity to aid further strength development.


The Novice Powerlifting Sample Program Overview

How To Use The Program

You will see a 3-day and 4-day option to choose from. Training volume is the same in both versions.

If you have no issue with the cumulative fatigue of performing the main lifts first and don’t mind dedicating more time to longer training sessions, go with the three-day version. If you would prefer shorter training sessions but one more session per week or find that the fatigue of the main lifts is detrimental to your accessory work, choose the four-day option.

Spread your workouts out across the week and try to have no more than two sessions back to back. This is better for recovery. Example for the 4-day option: Train-train-rest-train-train-rest-rest, or, Train-train-rest-train-rest-train-rest.

Exercise Selection Guidelines

Skill development is more important to a powerlifter than a bodybuilder, so the variety of exercises used is fewer by comparison. Sometimes you will have options and in that case I have added little buttons like this which you can click to see them1. I’ve included links to tutorials on the exercises where I thought this might be particularly useful.

Choose movements you enjoy, that you can feel the target muscles working during, and that you have equipment access to. Take this program and run it as is, or customize it to your needs. I have a further guide to exercise selection for you here.

How To Progress

In it’s simplest form you just need to choose a weight you can lift for the number of sets and reps written, add a little weight each session, and avoid training to failure.

The %1RM is a guideline for choosing the load to use for your first session. The RPE is a guideline for the maximum weight you should use on any given session thereafter. You don’t have to use these right now, but I want to explain them as they can be useful.

The %1RM notation stands for percentage of 1-rep maximum. So, where you see Squat 2*8 (70%), this means you should put 70% of the weight of your maximum single-rep squat on the bar, and then perform 2 sets of 8 reps. If you don’t know your %1RM you can use this calculator I created for our book readers. If you don’t have a lot of experience with the lift, you are new to it, or you are coming back after time off, just warm up adding a weight to the point where you can comfortably squat 2 sets of 8. Then for each successive session add little weight each time without going over the RPE guidelines.

The RPE notation is there to tell us the intensity of effort with which we should lift. The number means how far away from failure we should end each set. While you will aim to add load each session, On a scale of 1-10, a 7 means to stop the set when you could perform 3 more reps, an 8 means to stop when you have 2 more reps in reserve.

This is the method that powerlifting legend Mike Tuchscherer uses to consistently put his clients on the podium at the IPF world championships. My co-author Eric Helms, recently got his PhD. studying this. So, even if this seems new right now, it’s worth learning a little about as you will find it useful.

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

After reading this make sure you read the novice section of my detailed guidelines to training progression which will give detailed examples. 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.

The 3-Day Option
Day 1 (Hypertrophy)
Exercise Sets Reps Rep Total %1RM RPE
Back Squat 2 2 8 16 70% 6 to 7
Bench Press 3 8 24 70% 6 to 7
Front Squat or RDL 3 2 5 10 82.5% 8 to 9
Vertical Pull 4 2 8 16 NA 6 to 7
Day 2 (Power)
Exercise Sets Reps Rep Total %1RM RPE
Back Squat 3 3 9 82.5% 6 to 7
Bench Press 4 3 12 82.5% 6 to 7
Deadlift 5 2 5 10 82.5% 6 to 7
Horizontal Pull 6 3 5 15 NA 8 to 9
Day 3 (Strength)
Exercise Sets Reps Rep Total %1RM RPE
Back Squat 3 4 12 85% 8 to 9
Bench Press 4 4 16 85% 8 to 9
Deadlift 3 4 12 85% 8 to 9
Overhead Press 3 5 15 82.5% 8 to 9

 

The 4-Day Option
Day 1 (Hypertrophy)
Exercise Sets Reps Rep Total %1RM RPE
Back Squat 7 2 8 16 70% 6 to 7
Bench Press 3 8 24 70% 6 to 7
Front Squat or RDL 8 2 5 10 82.5% 8 to 9
Day 2 (Power)
Exercise Sets Reps Rep Total %1RM RPE
Back Squat 3 3 9 82.5% 6 to 7
Bench Press 4 3 12 82.5% 6 to 7
Deadlift 9 2 5 10 82.5% 6 to 7
Day 3 (Strength)
Exercise Sets Reps Rep Total %1RM RPE
Back Squat 3 4 12 85% 8 to 9
Bench Press 4 4 16 85% 8 to 9
Deadlift 3 4 12 85% 8 to 9
Day 4 (Accessory Work)
Exercise Sets Reps Rep Total %1RM RPE
Horizontal Pull 10 3 5 15 NA 8 to 9
Overhead Press 3 5 15 82.5% 8 to 9
Vertical Pull 11 2 8 16 NA 6 to 7

 

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

For more useful graphics, check out my Instagram.

Why We Built It This Way

Programming is different for novice, intermediate and advanced lifters. However, the primary differences are simply the rate of progression that is attempted, the total volume of work that is performed, and the structure of the program related to organizing these differences in volume. Most of the other aspects of programming remain the same.

As a novice, complex approaches are not necessary to maximize the adaptive response. Thus, unlike the intermediate and advanced programs, you won’t see the same elements of block or linear periodization. Rather, a simple single progression model where increases in load occur session to session is used. (More on this below.)

However, that doesn’t mean training should completely lack variety and be highly monotonous. You will see that the program is built on the framework of a daily undulating model where hypertrophy, “power” (essentially heavy technique work), and strength are trained.

Additionally, training with a lack of variation in load or volume is not only psychologically monotonous but also has been shown to increase the chance of overtraining, degrade performance, increase the frequency of illness; and when training that is highly monotonous (little variation in load and volume) is made less monotonous, increases in performance occur.

For these reasons, different rep and load combinations are used on different days.

If you use the three-day version, Day 1 is dedicated to higher-rep, moderate-load work to accumulate a relatively high volume (hypertrophy). Day 2 is dedicated to low-rep, moderately-heavy work at a low volume (power). Day 3 is dedicated to low-rep, heavy work at a moderate volume (strength).

If you use the four-day version, the structure is the same, except only the main lifts are trained on Days 1 through 3, while Day 4 is dedicated to accessory work.


An Important Concluding Note

This is just one example of many that will work for a novice powerlifter. 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.

When you’d like to learn more, you can check out our book from which this sample program is taken.

Questions welcomed in the comments. – Andy

Read Next:

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  1. Good job!

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

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

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

  6. Cable Rows, Dumbbell Rows, Barbell Rows, Seal Rows, TRX Rows.

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

  8. 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.

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

  10. Cable Rows, Dumbbell Rows, Barbell Rows, Seal Rows, TRX Rows.

  11. 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.

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.)

68 Comments

  1. Sean says:

    Hi Andy

    How do you structure warm up sets?
    Say for a 2×5 @ 220kg or a 3×3 squat @ 220

    Many thanks

    Sean

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      Hi Sean, check out the FAQ section titled, WARM UP: What should I do?.

      1. Sean Dunn says:

        Cheers Andy I missed that article. Much appreciated!!!

  2. Vedang says:

    Does the order of the training days matter? For example can strength be day 1, power day 2, hypertrophy 3 and then accessory day 4. Also would this program be effective for teenagers, as I’m trying to gain muscle and strength simultaneously? Thanks in advance.

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      1. Yes, the order matters for recovery reasons, but you could do it that way because the power day (which is a relatively lighter day) comes between the two harder days.
      2. Yes.

  3. rick says:

    The amount of sets for each day, 3 and 4 a week, seem pretty small. Can we add lifts and sets to days or extra accessory workouts to these routines or would that defeat the purpose of following these routines?

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      The question is not whether you can do more, it’s whether you need to do more to progress. (The goal, after all, is progress; not doing the most volume you can). If yes, then try the Intermediate Program. If you’d like more exercise variety, then the powerlifting programs are probably not for you, but try the bodybuilding ones. (Just swap that word in the URLs.)

  4. Ivo says:

    When you fail to progress using linear progression. Do you advise following the same program, but with the wave-loading pattern, before trying the intermediate one ?

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      if you’re recovering fine, move to the Intermediate program. If not, yes.

  5. Jo says:

    Hi Andy

    Thanks for all the info.

    How do you schedule your fitness training?

    Taking your novice three day program as an example: fitness on the training days or on the days of?

    A second questiin, what kind of fitness training you prefer or match with your program(s)?

    Thanks

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      Hi Jo,
      1. Try to space your training days across the week as best you can to aid recovery.
      2. Thoughts on cardio, if that is what you are referring to, here.

  6. Mark James says:

    Hi Andy,

    I’ve been looking at starting a powerlifting program, and both the novice and intermediate programs look great.

    I have recently started training for hypertrophy to add some size but have become more interested in getting stronger over specifically adding size. I have trained on and off over the years, mostly doing calisthenics and don’t have any specific powerlifting experience, and I do have a reasonably good strength base although the my squat is weak compared to my other lifts. I’m wondering whether or not I should start at novice or intermediate? I’m assuming novice but wondered whether or not I may plateau quickly. My max squat is 110, bench is 107.5 and deadlift 160. ( kg ). My weight is 85 kg and I am 6ft.

    Do you think I could expect to see reasonable progress in the novice program because I have no prior powerlifting experience and have only trained sporadically?

    Thanks in advance

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      Good question. Switching from a low frequency of doing the compound lifts to a high frequency in a powerlifting program will take some getting used to. So, I’d suggest you start with the Novice and then move to the Intermediate when you stop progressing. You could go straight to the intermediate, but you’d probably end up with DOMS for days and hate yourself, life, me, and kill a few kittens. And we don’t want that, do we?

      1. Mark Smeeton says:

        Hi Andy,

        Thanks for the response. I have another question. I am a bit short of time sometimes and may have to train some days back to back. I am going to be doing the 3 day novice program to begin with. Would it be detrimental to progress for me to train day 2 ( power ) and day 3 ( strength) of the 3 day novice program, back to back? The third day around 24 hours after the second.

        Thanks in advance

        1. Andy Morgan says:

          It will compromise recovery to a degree.

  7. Ivo says:

    Hi Andy,
    Thank you for the information you give to all of us newbs for free :). I am following the novice powerlfting program but on my bench and ohp i can’t add 1.25kg anymore. I have microplates at my disposal and can add 0.5kg per workout. Do you think i can microload instead of jumping into periodization or adding an extra set is the better option ? I have that idea in my head that by using microplates i can milk out my linear progress before jumping into the wave-loading pattern.
    Thanks in advance.

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      If you have them, by all means, use them. When you fail to progress further, check out the progression guide.

  8. Jean says:

    Hi Andy,
    Thank you for this great article. I’ve been following the 4-day novice program and been able to make some good progress … except with deadlift. My grip strength is not improving. I’ve been lifting using the double overhand grip (I use it always as it feels most balanced to me) and a quite narrow stance (to get the glutes and hamstrings activated properly), and without straps. When I have tried with straps, I can lift more and still with good form.
    Would you have any recommendations or good excercises in mind that might help? I’ve tried farmers walk and hanging from a bar.
    Thanks.

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      How long have you been training the deadlift?

      1. Jean says:

        For about two years, and once a week. Now the last two months, twice a week according to the program.

        1. Andy Morgan says:

          Gotcha. So, you’re not a novice and I take your “my grip strength is not improving” comment to mean that your grip is now the limiting factor in how much you can pull. This is normal. The best thing to do is to start using straps.

  9. Hi Andy , would you recommend the powerlifting programs either novice or intermediate for someone who is on a cut and is getting close to single digit body fat . Or to put it another way a trainee who has been in a calorie restricted diet for a while . I currently have been using the RPT program and have had a few deloads , and have been maintaining my strength . But was wondering if a switch to the powerlifting programs would shake things up and give some new life to the final stages of my cut . Thank you .

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      Choose the training program that matches your training level. The fact that you’re cutting isn’t really relevant to that decision.

  10. Josh Lundberg says:

    I understand how this routine will work just about all the muscles. However, to me it looks like the calf muscles do some stabilization, but no full work.

    Can some calf accessory work be added in?

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