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Programming for Powerlifting


Charlie Shotton-Gale, Multiple British Champion, World ranked 6

There have been a lot of programs popularised in the media from a simple linear progressive program to the 5/3/1 (8) and Eastern European programs.

If you are training for your first ever competition, or indeed if you are just entering in to a pure strength training program, you will want to keep it simple and consistent.

Focusing on the ‘big 3’, which includes the back squat, the bench press and the deadlift, is key, as  would be starting light and working on your technique before you begin to add load in the form of weight to the bar.      

Developing a good technique is the most important aspect to a beginners lifting career, and this may take up most of their initial few weeks of training before they can add loads (weights) (1, 2). Working solely with a wooden or plastic technique pole developing movement patterns so that the neuromuscular system can familiarise itself has been shown to have immense amounts of benefits to novice lifters when they start to add load to their movements (1).

Keeping to a simple linear progression can be the most effective manner of allowing the body to adapt successfully when increasing load over time. This can be in the form of a 12 week structured load progression and volume (sets x reps)  reduction, such as 4 weeks of 5 sets of 5 repetitions (REPS) on each exercise, separating the week in to a squat day, bench day and deadlift day. This would be reduced to 3 sets of 3 reps per exercise for 4 weeks and completed by 3 sets of 2/1 for 3 weeks.

linear program

This last 3 weeks is termed ‘tapering’ and is used when loads of near maximum are being lifted to ensure recovery is optimal for the muscles, the neuromuscular system and the central nervous system. (3, 4).

During a tapering phase, you will also start removing any auxiliary, or assistance, work you were doing to enhance the movement and ensure the body receives the recovery it  needs.

Once the tapering phase is complete, a rest period of between 2-5 days is necessary before competing. This will ensure that any small aches and pains receive time to heal, and will allow your body to regenerate in time for maximum effort (4).


Dean Bowring, GB Powerlifting, World Champion 2010

On competition day, a minimum amount of work is required to ensure the balance of muscular readiness is achieved but fatigue levels are not detrimentally increased.

Proficient coaches will ensure their athletes are warmed up thoroughly but not fatiguing, and are physiologically and psychologically ready to perform at their maximum.

Strength athletes that have been training and/or competing for at least 1 year may find they need to start altering their basic progression and begin another effective yet simple program such as the 5/3/1 (8). This program bases its progressions over 4 weeks i.e. 1 week of 3 sets of 5 reps (3×5) on each exercise, followed by 1 week of 3×3 then a week of 1 x 5/3/1. This is followed by a lighter ‘de load’ week of 3×5. The entire program is based on percentages and is easy for intermediate lifters to follow.

This program also finishes with a tapering week before competitions, as do all programs to ensure there is ample rest and recovery before you attempt to lift the maximum your body can.

Eastern European programs have become very popular for elite and long standing lifters because they consist of high volume multi lift structures that train each exercise several times a week. Such programs include Smolov (7), Sheiko (6) and the Bulgarian weightlifting program that has been adapted for powerlifting.

These programs follow an undulating progressive nature, training each exercise every training  session under various loads and volumes often utilising high volume low weight technique work alongside low volume high load force development before the program alters in exercises used after 3-6 weeks, depending on the program.

These programs are only recommended for those who have been regularly training and competing for over 2 years as the strain on the muscles and neuromuscular system is immense.

For lifters who have been training and/or competing for under a year focusing on simple progressive programs that develop good technique is the most recommended protocol. Once a lifter has developed their techniques and ability, moving on to a still simple but more varied program can enhance the progress the lifters achieve in their competition weights.

Finally, for very experienced lifters it is recommended that high volume varied lifting programs are adopted, such as the Eastern European powerlifting programs (6, 7.) or Western European programs such as the Norweigan Powerlifting Program and Synthesised Training System.

If you would like to download this article, please click on the link below:

Programming for Powerlifting


  1. Baechle, T.R., Earle, R.W., & Wathen, D. (2008). Resistance training. In T.R. Baechle & R.W. Earle (Ed.), Essentials of Strength & Conditioning (3rd ed.). (pp. 381412). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
  2. Häkkinen K. Neuromuscular and hormonal adaptations during strength and power training. A review. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 1989 Mar;29(1) 9-26. PubMed PMID: 2671501.
  3. Israetel, M (2014). Peaking for Powerlifting. Found at: http://www.jtsstrength.com/articles/2014/08/12/peaking-powerlifting
  4. Pyne, D., Mujika, I. & Reilly, T. (2009).  Peaking for optimal performance: Research limitations and future directions. Journal of Sports Sciences.  Volume 27, Issue 3, 2009, pages 195- 202. DOI: 10.1080/02640410802509136
  5. Rippetoe, M., Kilgore, L. & Pendlay, G. (2008). Practical Programming for Strength Training. Found at: http://www.richard-pye.talktalk.net/practicalprogramming.pdf
  6. Sheiko, B. (2014). Found at: http://sheiko-program.ru/forum/index.php?topic=313.0
  7. Smolov, S.  Found at: http://stronglifts.com/how-to-add-100-pounds-to-your-squat-smolov/
  8. Wendler, J.  (2009).  Found at: http://www.t-nation.com/workouts/531-how-to-build-pure-strength

Keep Lifting!

SG Fitness




Want to try Powerlifting? Know what to do and who to compete with.

This article will explain Powerlifting briefly.

If you would like more information please see Swindon Barbell, British Powerlifting or contact us.

This article will look at:

  • Classic and Equipped Powerlifting in the UK
  • What federations are out there for you in the UK
  • Which federations are best for able body and Paralympic powerlifting.
  • Where to find out more information

What is Powerlifting

Powerlifting is a pure strength based sport that tests leg strength using the squat, the upper body strength using the bench press and the back using the deadlift.

The video here shows the structure of a competition – 3 attempts on the squat, 3 on the bench and 3 on the deadlift.  the best (highest) weight from each lift are added together to give a total.

The person with the highest total wins.

Powerlifting has 3 subcultures – equipped, unequipped (Classic) powerlifting and bench press only.


The video shows an equipped lifter competing which includes wearing squat and deadlift suits, knee wraps and a bench shirt.


Dean Bowering (former IPF champion and multiple British Powerlifting Champion and record holder) deadlifting in a deadlift suit, belt, deadlift socks and deadlift slippers.


Bulgarian lifter preparing to bench press wearing a Bench shirt.


Charlie Shotton-Gale, multiple British Powerlifting champion and record holder, squatting wearing a Squat suit and Knee Wraps.


Powerlifting equipment started increasing in development at the end of 1980’s and beginning of the 1990’s.  It is a very different style of lifting to unequipped (Classic or Raw) lifting because the lifter has to not only be able to lift the weight, they have to be able to contend with the tightness of the equipment as well as the limited breathing and increased amount of pain.


Unequipped or Classic powerlifting is more akin to gym lifting in which you are allowed to wear knee and elbow sleeves along with wrist straps and a weightlifting belt.

Stephen Manuel, GBPF multiple British champion and IPF World Silver medalist, celebrating in Classic powerlifting approved SBD knee sleeves, wrist straps and singlet.

Stephen Manuel, multiple British Powerlifting champion and IPF World Silver medallist and squat record holder, celebrating in Classic powerlifting approved SBD knee sleeves, wrist straps and singlet.

There are many different federations within the UK and the are separated in to drug tested and untested federations.

Which Federation is for you?


The largest and most populated of tested federations is British Powerlifting, which is affiliated to the oldest powerlifting federation the International Powerlifting Federation (IPF) and adheres to the World Anti Doping Association (WADA).

This caters for Classic and Equipped, Full 3 lifter Powerlifting and Bench press only.  This does not have a separate Paralympic section (as of Feb 2018) however all abilities are welcome to compete.

British Drug Free Powerlifting Association (BDFPA) is an alternative which is affiliated to the World Drug Free Powerlifting Association (WDFPA) and is the only federation recognised by the British Services such as Army, RAF and Police at this present moment.

This caters for Classic and Equipped, Full 3 lifter Powerlifting and Bench press only.


There are many untested federations within the UK including British Powerlifting Congress (BPC) and British Powerlifting Union (BPU) or Federation (BPF).

If you are looking for natural or tested federations please check with the federation you competing in or are thinking of joining.

Brithsh Powerlifting

If you are thinking of competing in the British Powerlifting the pathway of competing follows

Developmental competition.

You do not have be a federation member and the cost of competing is generally 50% of that of federation competitions.  You also do not have to wear competition standard attire such as singlets.

Regional competition.

This is based on the area you live and Swindon is included in the South West (SWPLA).  Everyone can enter no matter your experience or ability, however it is required that you are a British Powerlifting member, be wearing competition attire and cost on entry will be full price (usually £25).

National competition.

Depending on weather you are equipped or classic will depend on when your competition is in the year.  Classic powerlifting has become very popular since the IPF introduced the Classic World Championships in 2012 and so national championships have separated from equipped nationals, with a further separation of men and women’s championships due to high numbers.

To enter nationals you will need to:

  • Achieve the qualifying total for your category of lifting (equipped or unequipped), age, weight and gender category.
  • Achieve this within the last 12 months at a regional level and be active within your region. (Please see qualifying procedures)
  • Be a member of British Powerlifting
  • Send in entry form including price of entry.
  • Wear competition attire.

International competition.

To be able to compete internationally you be will required to:

  • Have either won or achieve silver medal status at your national championships
  • Attend the relevant Squad sessions that you would have been invited to
  • Received an official invite from the British Powerlfiting confirming your position on the squad
  • Be able to self fund the trip.  British Powerlifting will partially fund aspects of the trip, but as of 2018 the cost of the trip falls entirely on the athlete and/or their sponsors.
  • Please see full details through International Selection criteria

British Weightlifting Paralympic Powerlifting

This is where it can get a bit confusing because, for Paralympic Powerlifting, they come under British Weightlifting.  Weightlifting is not Powerlifting, it is the Olympic sport of the Clean and Jerk and the Snatch.  However, as it is an Olympic Sport, Paralympic Powerlifting runs within the British Weightlifting banner under the governance of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) but more information can be found on the World Para Powerlifting website.

Help for Heroes Paralympic Powerlifting

Help for Heroes have joined forces with British Weightlifting (BWL) to enable injured vets to use Powerlifting as a pathway to recovery.

This has been taken in to the Invictus Games where a selected few athletes can go and compete in a multi-sport, recovery based competition.

Once these athletes have completed their recovery journey through H4H, they have 2 options in Powerlifting – to access one of the able bodied federations to compete in Bench only (or 3 lift if their abilities suit) or to compete under BWL heading toward World Para Powerlifting.

Alternatively, they could do both!

How can you get involved?

Check out the list of local clubs to you either by using the Brithsh Powerlifting club finder or on the British Weightlifting website.

For more information on anything you have read or seen in this blog please contact SGF by emailing charlie@sg-fitness.co.uk

Keep Lifting!

SG Fitness