A Primer on Popular Powerlifting Programmes

We’ve now looked at the major models and concepts associated with periodisation and started to break down how some of the most popular powerlifting programmes may be classified.

Now we’ll sharpen our focus on some of these programmes and explain their premise in a little more depth.

Basic linear programmes

Generally considered to be the entry point into ‘proper’ strength training, these programmes keep it nice and simple.

  • Classic LinearTrain full body, three times a week
  • Train the big lifts, don’t worry about assistance work
  • Start light, focus on technique
  • Add load each session

Stronglifts 5 x 5

Stronglifts cycles two full-body sessions (A and B) performed three times per week. Session A consists of 5 working sets of 5 repetitions on the squat, bench press and barbell row. Session B consists of 5 sets of 5 of the squat and overhead press, and 1 set of 5 of the deadlift.

Progression is achieved linearly by increasing the load in small increments (2.5 – 5 kg) each session, with lifters advised to begin the programme at 50% of 5RM.

Starting Strength

Also a basic linear programme cycling two full-body sessions (A and B) performed three times per week. Session A consists of 3 working sets of 5 repetitions of the squat and overhead press, followed by 1 set of 5 of the deadlift. In session B the overhead press is substituted with the bench press. This programme continues until the load for the deadlift exceeds the load using for the squat. At this point, the deadlift in session B is replaced by 5 sets of 3 of the power clean.

Progression is achieved linearly by increasing the load in small increments (2.5 – 5 kg) where possible.

Weekly undulating programmes

Again, solid entry points into strength training that look to keep things simple. Weekly undulating periodisation (WUP) reduce the risk of push too hard given the changes in repetition ranges. These programmes tend to be conservative in regards total volume side.

WUP and DUP5 / 3 / 1

Jim Wendler’s 5 / 3 / 1 is an example of weekly undulating periodisation (WUP) over a four-week block. The programme cycling two upper- and two lower-body sessions during the training week. The squat, bench press, deadlift and overhead press are each trained once per week in the same manner. In week one, the lifter works up to a single attempting 5 or more repetitions with 85% of a training max (< 90% of 1RM). In week two, the lifter attempts 3 or more repetitions with 90% of training max. In week three, the lifter attempts 1 or more repetitions with 95% of training max. The fourth week is a deload week where 5 repetitions are performed at 65% of training max.

5 / 3 / 1 also allows the incorporation of assistance lifts. These are typically performed with a view to developing hypertrophy and, to some extent, strength. Where these are included, this takes the programme into concurrent territory. As the programme gives you the scope to vary the assistance lifts and their prescription, the programme could be set up and used in a conjugate fashion.

Progression is sought through a linear increase in load at the start of each cycle, typically adding 2.5 – 5 kg to the training max. Using a training max of < 90% of 1RM helps to facilitate the linear progression.

The Juggernaut Method

JTSThe Juggernaut Method is similar to 5 / 3 / 1 in the split of four training days with either a squat, bench press, deadlift and overhead press focus. The inclusion of assistance work is integrated in a similar manner also. The main difference comes in a more detailed and progressive macrocycle.

The programme is split into four mesocycles (termed phases) based upon the number of reps prescribed – 1) 10’s phase, 2) 8’s phase, 3) 5’s phase, and 4) 3’s phase. Each block is then split into four weeks – 1) accumulation week, 2) intensification week, 3) realisation week, and 4) deload week. As with 5 / 3 / 1, there are number of open-ended sets. The programme advises how many reps to keep in reserve and periodise this around the training weeks.

Given the linear periodisation of the blocks, progression is achieved by increasing the relative intensities throughout each week of the block (by 7.5% 1RM) and from block to block (by 5% 1RM). The sequencing of the blocks in an example of conjugation – i.e. each block should potentiate the next.

Daily undulating programmes

Daily undlatiuammes (Dng progrUP) are generally considered a progression from linear programmes, although there’s no reason whs couldn’t utilise these too. The premise of DUP programmes is that you don’t lift the same load y beginnerin each session. Two arguments for why this works well:

  • Variation in the stimulus applied to the neuromuscular system
  • Variation in the mentality in which each session is approached

WUP and DUPThe Texas Method

An example of DUP, cycling three total body sessions during the training week. These as are termed volume, light/recovery and intensity days. The squat is performed in all three sessions, the bench in two (or one, dependent on use of the overhead press), and the deadlift only in the volume session for a single working set.

Progression is sought through a linear increase in load each week, again aided by starting the programme with loads of < 90% of each RM. When lifters begin to stall it is suggested that volume is reduced within the volume session, much in-line with linear principles.

Bill Starr / Madcow 5 x 5

An intended progression from the Stonglifts programme. Still linear in nature but now this programme employed some sight undulation of load between training days. Again, this uses two full-body sessions (A and B) performed three times per week.

Session A consists of squat, bench press and barbell row and repeated twice a week (i.e. A1 = Monday and A2 = Friday). Session B consists of the squat, overhead press, and deadlift and performed just once (i.e. Wednesday). Session A1 is moderate-heavy day with the lifts performed for 5 x 5 with the load increasing on each set. Session B is a lighter day for the squat (equal to the third set on A1) performed for 4 sets of 5. The press and deadlift are performed for 4 sets of 5, with the load increasing on each set. Session A2 is a moderate-heavy day. This starts with 4 sets of 5 on each lift, followed by a heavy set of 3 and a back-off set of 8.

As with Stronglifts, load is added to the bar each week in small increments to progress.

Complex undulating programmes

The Farm Open - Squat 150kg Prep 3I’ve termed these ‘complex’ undulating programmes as they employ principles of both DUP and WUP. These programmes are better suited to more advanced lifters and tend to place a great emphasis on the development of power (i.e. rate of force development) and hypertrophy.

The Cube Method

The Cube Method employs principles of DUP and WUP over a ten-week period with four training sessions per week. Each of the three power lifts are performed once per week with the heavy, explosive and repetition sessions cycled in a WUP fashion every three weeks.

During each training week, one lift will be performed in a heavy session, one lift in a repetition session and one lift in an explosive session – thereby employing DUP. The fourth training session of the week is always designated as a bodybuilding/accessory session designed to target specific muscle groups with moderate to high repetitions (typically 8 – 20). Additional accessory work is also performed in the other three sessions following the main lift. Three cycles are completed before a one-week taper is employed in week 10.

Given the linear periodisation of the blocks, progression is achieved by increasing the relative intensities of each day (i.e. heavy, explosive, repetition) when they are next performed by 5% 1RM. The sequencing of the blocks in an example of conjugation – i.e. each block should potentiate the next.

The Westside Barbell Method

WestsidePrimarily an example of DUP, the Westside approach employs two upper- and two lower-body sessions each week. Training is typically blocked into three-week mesocycles. One upper- and one lower-body session are each designated as a maximal effort session. The remaining upper- and lower body sessions are each designated as dynamic effort sessions. Accessory work for either the upper- or lower-body is performed following the main lift. The consistent focus on three different bio-motors, without any sequencing, makes Westside a concurrent training programme. Westside is therefore not conjugate!

During the maximal effort session, lifters perform a variation of the bench press (upper-body) or squat/deadlift/good morning (lower-body) working up to a 1 – 3RM set. This lift is varied each week and typically not repeated in the current or successive cycle. In dynamic effort sessions, lifters perform a variation of the bench press (upper-body) or squat/deadlift (lower-body) for multiple sets (6 – 12) of low repetitions (1 – 3) at loads between 50 – 85 %1RM (an example of WUP). Each repetitions is to be performed as fast and explosively as possible. Cycles of dynamic effort training will commonly use the same variation for the duration of the three-week cycle. Accessory work is typically performed in a moderate repetition range (6 – 10).

Progression is sought through the attainment of new repetition maxes within a given exercise variation. This is facilitated by the vast array of possibilities for achieving variation within the squat, deadlift, good morning and bench press.

The Sheiko Routines (#29 – #32)

Granted, the true routines of powerlifting coach Boris Sheiko aren’t designed to be one-size-fits-all programmes. However, the example programmes from some of Sheiko’s translations have become widely used in this way.

Programmes #29, #30, #31 and #32 form a sixteen-week macrocycle split into four, four-week mesocycles or blocks. This approach employs principles of DUP and WUP across the cycles, although the general trend is for intensity and volume to progress in a linear manner. This programme is designed to bring the lifter to a peak at the end of the macrocycle. Here’s how the blocks can be recognised:

  • Sheiko #29 – preparatory block with moderate intensity and moderate volume
  • Sheiko #30 – accumulation block with moderate intensity and high volume
  • Sheiko #31 – intensification block with high intensity and moderate volume
  • Sheiko #32 – peaking block with high intensity and low volume

The Sheiko programmes are highly specific – focusing predominantly on the squat, bench and deadlift exercises with minimal variation (i.e. deadlift to knees). Assistance exercises are incorporated and are performed in a moderate repetition range (5 – 10).

Given the linear periodisation of the blocks, progression is achieved by increasing the relative intensities (%1RM) throughout the programme. The sequencing of the blocks in an example of conjugation – i.e. each block should potentiate the next.

The ‘Bulgarian’ Method (Perryman)

Despite the name, this is not a real representation of the true Bulgarian weightlifting/powerlifting systems. Nonetheless, Matt Perryman’s book ‘Squat Every Day’ and the likes of Greg Nuckols and John Broz have popularised what we refer to in the West as the Bulgarian method.

The main principle of the Bulgarian method is to work up to a daily max in the back squat in each and every session. The ‘max’ should be smooth, comfortable and achieved without equipment and without psyching up. Following the max, the lifter then performs some comfortable back-off sets. It is intended that the lifter autoregulates the back-off sets too, however, 2-5 sets of 2-3 with 10% less than the daily max is a common recommendation. Because of the autoregulation of load and back-off sets, the Bulgarian system effectively becomes a DUP style of programme. It is recommended that deload weeks in incorporated in the programme, a principle of WUP.

Bulgarian-Method-for-PowerliftingTypically, lifters will look train 4-7 days per week on the programme. The basic template is a simple one – squat/deadlift, press, upper body pull. The daily max and back-off sets are normally performed for the squat/deadlift and press, whereas the upper body pull is performed in a typical hypertrophy assistance style. It is recommended that more squat than deadlift sessions are performed (typically no more than two deadlift sessions).

Periodisation is achieved through a gradual increase in the load achieved for the daily max and, consequently, the load used for the back off sets.

So what?

Training direction question markAs we highlighted last time, there is no ‘best’ programme.

Every strength programme seeks to add load to the barbell to achieve progressive overload.

‘Beginner’ programmes tend to be linear in nature and demonstrate high levels of specificity.

More ‘advanced’ programmes tend to integrate undulation on a daily and/or weekly basis. These programmes place greater emphasis on the concurrent development of hypertrophy and/or RFD.

Understanding how the programme is put together is crucial when seeking to determine which best fits your goals and needs at any given point in time.

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