So you want to start powerlifting and you are looking at a blank piece of paper. Where do you start? Don’t feel overwhelmed as once you have finished this blog you will be able to put together a basic powerlifting programme. There are going to be many aspects to this blog which will include different types of periodization, different type of blocks (hyper, strength, peak & recovery) and exercise selection.
Periodization is the process of dividing an annual training plan into specific time blocks, where each block has a particular goal and provides your body with different types of stress. Periodization also helps you develop different physiological abilities during various phases of training. For example, hypertrophy is used to build muscle and increase work capacity whilst peaking is used to find your absolute strength during competition. To further understand this, we need to dive in the different types of cycles (not steroid cycles) to optimise our strength gains.
Macrocycles are the longest of the three cycles. These incorporate all 52 weeks of the year and all of your different blocks (I.e hyper, strength, peak & recovery). For example, if you want to peak for a competition or event one year from now, you can mark that date on your calendar and work backward to create a program that allows you to peak at that time. However, if you do not have a competition or event then working forwards is even better. As a powerlifter, if you do not have a competition, there is really no need to peak at any point. I would just keep getting stronger with hypertrophy and strength blocks.
The mesocycle represents a specific block of training that is designed to accomplish a particular goal. These tend to last between 4-6 weeks (maybe even more if you are a true beginner) and focus on a particular aspect you want to work on. For example, if you struggle to get the bar off the floor during a deadlift then you could focus on deficit deadlifts to aid your pulling off the floor. This is where you can break up your hyper, strength, peak and recovery blocks. Hypothetically, if we have 6 weeks per cycle, that means there are only 8 blocks per year so you can allocate your time for each block accordingly (give or take) but you have to be adaptable as some blocks might last longer than others.
A microcycle is the shortest training cycle, typically lasting a week with the goal of facilitating a focused block of training. Generally speaking, three or four microcycles are tied together to form a mesocycle. For example, using percentages or RPE to focus on a specific element of the block, i.e 70%x10 Squats with back offs then increasing the percentage per week. I am facilitating a focused week to get stronger. The next week I might increase the weight or % depending on the goal.
Types of Blocks
In Powerlifting, we call mesocycles “blocks” and I like to divide them up into 4 categories which are hypertrophy (yes powerlifters do hypertrophy), strength, peaking & recovery blocks. Others, such as juggernaut call them bridge blocks as you ‘bridge the gap’ between cycles to give your body a little break from all the intensity of the peaking block.
Creating training blocks for hypertrophy creates the foundations for your strength gains. Simply, the more muscle you have, the more potential it has to be stronger. Hypertrophy blocks increase volume so increasing number of sets with a lesser emphasis on intensity. Relatively speaking, hypertrophy can be in the 6-12 rep range. Hypertrophy blocks are perfect to increase work capacity and you are less likely to get injured as you use lower weights (55-75% of 1RM).
After all your new gains from your hypertrophy block, it is time to put it to good use and start your strength block. The main idea here is too start lifting a little heavier by reducing volume. Maintaining muscle mass and increase chances of that muscle becoming stronger. You want to be looking anywhere within the 3-6 rep range here. Strength blocks will increase chances of adaptation due to intensity and high % of your 1RM.
A peaking block is very important when it comes to preparing for competition. This block is like the icing of the cake. Peaking is very hard for each individual because you could peak to early or too late, you need to have good knowledge and know your own body to know how your peak is going. Sometimes, it might be better to get a coach who has had many years experience with athletes competing.
As you have just peaked, your body should be very fatigued and couldn’t think of anything worse than jumping into another hypertrophy block as your body isn’t ready to handle alot of volume again. Jumping straight back into a hypertrophy block could increase risk of injury and that’s not what we want. I would give yourself a few weeks of slowly increasing volume again with medium intensity so your body (and mind) is ready to go again.
So how we do put a programme together to gain strength? In my programming I always add a primary movement which are squat, bench, deadlift & row. Secondary movements or assistance exercises to strengthen the squat, bench, and deadlift such as paused work. Thirdly, as I like bodybuilding will have hypertrophy work to stimulate muscle growth such as leg curls, leg press etc. Lastly, I put in exercise to aid smaller muscle groups such as rear delts.
An Example of a hypertrophy day would look something like this
Stiff Leg Deadlifts 3×10@RPE8
Incline Press 4×8 @RPE8
Rear Delt Fly 3×12-15@RPE7
So there you have it, you have the foundations to make a solid powerlifting programme to aid your muscle and strength gains. If you need extra ideas, you can grab a 6 week powerlifting programme below for just £1