Resistance Training, Powerlifting

Powerlifting for Size and Strength

By Joe Talarico on Apr 16, 2021 1:45:00 PM
5 Minutes Reading Time


Some people love bodybuilding style lifting. They love constantly changing it up, and hitting the muscles from different angles. However, there are a lot of people who just want to move heavy shit. Specifically, the bench, deadlift, and overhead press. If you are in this camp, you just love the idea of generating pure strength and not worrying about the isolations, and details of bodybuilding. And that’s totally fine.

The big thing to understand when you specifically want to get big in these main lifts, is frequency. Just like any other sport, if you want to get good at it, you need to be spending most of your time practicing it. What I’ve found over the years is guys saying they want to get better at these lifts, but they still only train it once a week. Or they go ALL out multiple times per week.

I’d like to use this article to help give you guys clear guidelines on how to build a powerlifting program for size and strength. If you haven’t already listened to the guys podcast episode titled “How To Become The Strongest Guy (Or Gal) In Your Local Gym”, definitely check that out as well to get a fuller picture of what I’m about to describe.

Warming Up

I think before I get into the details of how to build a powerlifting program, one thing you absolutely need to understand is proper warm up (or priming). So if your lift is the bench press that day, you need to do mobility and activation exercises that will target the muscles that help you get the most out of that bench press that day. Getting higher numbers isn’t just about building muscles. It’s about waking up the central nervous system and getting it to fire muscles that may be more dormant on your body.

Example - Do 1-2 sets of these before ramping up your weight for the bench

Shoulder Dislocates - 1x10

Band Rows - 1x20

Also keep in mind, once you are done with a workout, you want to lock in the new range of motion you’ve achieved having put the muscle through a workout that was primed, and taken, under a new load, under a fuller range of motion.

Example -

Pec Stretch - 2x15 sec each side

Building a Foundation

If you haven’t really focused on the big three movements and are newer to lifting, then I recommend easing into the intensity and frequency of lifts. Don’t just jump into 4-5 days a week of squats, deadlifts, and overhead press. Your joints will not be happy. Try Doing one major lift each day to ramp up the workload.  

Example -

Day 1 - Bench Press - 3x10-15

Day 2 - Squats - 3x10-15

Day 3 - Barbell Shoulder Press - 3x10-15

Day 4 - Deadlift - 3x10-15

Accessory Movements

Once you are accustomed to taking on these heavier loads, building that work capacity, you can start to add accessory movements to compliment each lift. The ideal way to choose these are 2-3 exercises that more directly hit what may be lagging body parts holding you back in your lift.

Example -

If it’s a squat day and your hamstrings are holding you back from hitting bigger numbers try:

Lunges - 3x8-12

Leg Press - 3x8-12

Leg Curl - 3x8-12


Eventually you want to hit a phase where you are now in the swing of things. Hitting each main lift twice a week. One day should be heavier and the other should be lighter. Make sure to spread out the days so you get enough recovery.

Example -

Day 1 - Heavy Bench & Light Shoulder Press

Day 2 - Heavy Squat & Light Deadlift

Day 3 - Heavy Shoulder Press & Light Bench

Day 4 - Heavy Deadlift & Light Squat

Progressive Overload

The key here between the two types of lifts is to make sure you’re working at percentages (usually 80-90% of 1RM for heavy and 60-65% on lighter exercises) each workout. Then, make sure to increase those percentages as you continue your program, increasing the weight leading up to an eventual Peaking Phase.

Example -

Day 1 - (Heavy) Bench Press

Week 1 - 4x5 at 80%

Week 2 - 6x2 at 90%

Week 3 - 4x3 beating Week 2 weight 

Day 3 - (Light) Bench Press

3x8-12 at 65% for all weeks

Peaking Phase

The Peaking phase is where you’ll be focusing solely on the main lifts 2-3 days a week for only a couple weeks. Each day will have a main lift emphasis though in terms of maxing out. 

Example -

Day 1 - Deadlift Focus at 90% and other lifts at 70-80%

Day 2 - Bench Focus at 90% and other lifts at 70-80%

Day 3 - Squat Focus at 90% and other lifts at 70-80%

(Eventually ramping up in the subsequent weeks to your max)

I know this was a lot of information, but hopefully it helped clear up a LOT about how to properly program a powerlifting oriented program geared towards size and strength. If you like to build your own programs, this article should give you everything you need to get started.

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Joe Talarico

Joe is a certified Precision Nutrition and strength & conditioning coach. He assisted the UCLA Women’s Tennis team in winning their 2014 NCAA Championship Title, as well as study under the great strength coaches at Pepperdine University. He was a collegiate rower at the University of Rhode Island (where he got his Kinesiology degree) as well as an amateur physique competitor. He is currently the master trainer at Upgrade Labs in Santa Monica where he is combining his years of training clients in the gym with newer technology to optimize their performance and recovery. He also cohosts The RelationSH*T Show Podcast with his fiancée where they discuss all relationship topics unfiltered from who pays on dates, to open relationships.

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