Getting started in powerlifting can be daunting. Coaches can be expensive, and as an independent woman, it’s nice to know where to go to learn how to program your workouts for yourself rather than having to rely on someone else.  This article will teach the very basics of programming, and how that changes as you advance in expertise.

The differences between the novice and advanced lifter in programming is not as big as they may seem. The biggest difference is the ability to auto-regulate, or change your training based on how you feel each day. Both the novice and advance lifter needs to make sure that they continue to practice and hone in on technique for the main lifts and increase volume over time in order to get stronger.

The Novice Lifter: 0-6 Months
Beginner Gains

A novice lifter should be squatting, benching, and deadlifting as much as possible based on recovery to cement their muscle memory.  As your body learns the movements, you’ll find that you’ll hit PR’s or PB’s (Personal records or bests) often, and your PR’s will be much greater.  It is common for a novice to gain anywhere from 10-50 lbs. of progress on each lift depending on how their previous training background. Once a novice lifter has established what their one rep max is, training should remain mostly within 60-80% of that amount throughout this training period. These programs tend to focus on linear progression, or adding more weight to a fixed amount of sets and reps each session or week.

Great Beginner Programs:

Intermediate Lifter: 6 months – most of your career
Breaking Through Plateaus

During the intermediate stage, consistency is important. This is when the daily and weekly PR’s become less frequent. The typical intermediate program is run for anywhere from 6-12 weeks.  There are also peaking programs that you can run now that you are likely preparing for your first meet. It is important to focus on your primary lifts (Squat, Bench, Deadlift) as well as secondary lifts (close variations of those ex: Front Squats, Close-grip Bench, Romanian Deadlifts) and accessory work (Dumbbell or cable work – basically movements that isolate certain muscle groups that need to be trained more.)  Intermediate programs may focus on different aspects of lifting such as speed, volume, or maximal effort days (Programs derived from the Conjugate Method), or maybe Daily Undulating Periodization or DUP programs (Heavy Day/ Light Day, Hypertrophy/Power/Strength) are good examples of ways to break past those training barriers. While prepping for a meet, you may feel like you want to do a peaking program help assure you are ready for a big PR.

DUP Programs:

Conjugate Method:

Peaking Programs:

Advanced Lifters: 2+ Years
Fighting For Every Pound on Your Total

Once lifters begin to auto-regulate or listen to their body to control fatigue and help promote recovery in their training, they are considered advanced.  At this level,  a lifter has probably run a few programs and know what works and doesn’t work for their own bodies as they fight hard for every PR that they get. It is not common for advanced lifters to experience 10-20 lb. PR’s.  The advanced lifter usually takes a template they like, and through experience, they will make it their own as they focus on increasing volume (Sets x reps x weight) while still training between the 60-80% range of their one-rep max. Advanced lifters typically use tools to modify load and range of motion in order to break past barriers. Fractional Plates, bands, blocks, chains, or other tools that are popular.

Now that you know what each stage of maturity as a lifter looks like, it’s important to understand that, no two athletes are the same.  Everyone moves at their own pace, and it’s important to strive to understand what programs and training blocks work for you as a lifter. I hope that the tools and templates above were helpful to you. Don’t see the program you use above? Comment below with your thoughts!



Decreasing Range Of Motion In The Bench Press With An Arched Setup

As a female who is passionate about the sport of powerlifting, I tend to be asked a lot of questions about the major differences between women and men in the sport.  My answer is always “Actually, not that much.”  Aside from interesting research by Dr. Lon Kilgore that explains why women are typically able to do more volume work as compared to men at a higher percentage of their One Rep Max (Further reading) Women typically are able to take advantage of increased mobility to change their range of motion – specifically in the bench press. This article will explain what an arch is, why we arch, and the advantages of a large arch during the bench press.

What Does An Arched Bench Press Setup Look Like?

A great way to compare the two setups is to look at side-by-side video from my husband and myself to see the differences between an arched and flat back setup.  (Flat Set Up: ) (Arched Set Up: In an arched setup, there is much more of a stretch in the hips to allow the legs to remain active throughout the entire lift. Shoulder blades are still ground into the bench, and feet are tucked back rather than straight down or in front. This article by Eric Spoto discusses the differences between the two setups.

Jennifer Thompson is one of the best pound-for-pound bench-pressers in the world considering both males and females. She has an amazing informational series for bench press on her YouTube channel here.

Pros and Cons of an Arched Bench:

Pros: An arched bench press can increase tension or the foundation in the lift. Tension allows for the entire body to be used to move the weight. This turns the Bench Press into a full-body lift instead of just working the shoulder, pec, and triceps. An arched bench press also decreases the Range of Motion, or the distance the bar travels from beginning to end of the lift.  A smaller range of motion typically allows for a higher amount of weight to be lifted since it is moved a much shorter distance which is an obvious advantage for a competitive powerlifter.

Cons: Tucking legs back can help decrease the ROM with a higher arch, however, having legs over-tucked back has the potential to decreases your leg-drive. Jonnie Candito explains leg-drive in squat in this video:

Mobility Work For A Larger Arch:

Jen Thompson brings a football with her for her warmup. She puts it under her back when she sets up as she is taking her first few sets in order to stretch out her back. Chris Duffin also has a great article on mobility for an arched bench here.

Make It Work For You:

Every person is different. Mobility, flexibility, and limb length will change each lifter’s leverages.  Some will use only a slight arch, or maybe none at all. Some prefer to pull legs back in order to maximize their arch, and some prefer to have their legs out in front for a slight arch.  It all comes down to personal preference and finding out what works for you and what setup you feel strongest in.  What does your setup look like? Do you have a large arch, a small arch? Or none at all?   Comment below or on our Instagram to share your thoughts!



Attempt Selection for Powerlifting Meets

So you’re finally ready for your meet. You’ve trained tirelessly for months and have only nine attempts to show off all that you’ve worked for.  Don’t waste that time and effort by planning your attempts wrong. There is nothing more heart-breaking than seeing someone bomb out by missing one of their opening attempts because they set their openers too high. The second worst thing is having to leave a meet knowing you’ve left pounds on the platform because your third attempts were set too low.

This article will teach you the basics of understanding how to plan your attempts at a meet so you can show off all the hard work you’ve been putting in during your training. My recommendation is to start by setting projections for third attempts, making a smart choice for your second attempts, and making sure you set very reasonable first attempts.


What is your current one rep max in the gym? How long ago was it?  If you know your current one rep max it can be used as a helpful guideline for your third attempt.  Typically in a meet, you want your third attempt to be something equal to or slightly higher than your current gym max. If you don’t have any idea what your one rep max is you can use an online one rep max calculator to help estimate. (I like EXRX) You can take rep sets from your training to calculate what would be smart choices for your final attempts. I recommend using a 3 to 5 rep PR.


Your second attempt should be between 92-96% of your projected third attempt.  It is important to not set this too high so you aren’t fatigued for your last lift, but you still want to build a high total in case you miss your final attempt.  According to The Strength Athlete (more information on this below) 50% of all lifters miss their final attempts on deadlift, and 45.6 miss their third attempts on squat. Keep this in mind while setting your second attempt.


This is the most important attempt.  I’m going to say it again for emphasis so you really understand. THE FIRST ATTEMPT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT. The quickest way to lose is to bomb out of a meet.  The fastest way to bomb out a meet is to miss your opener on squat. Especially if you are about to compete in your first powerlifting meet. Being prudent in planning your opening squat attempt is the best thing you can do for yourself. Easily hitting your first squat starts your meet on the puts a score on the board and sets the tone for you performance that day. The first attempt should be anywhere from 85-92% of your projected third attempt.  In short, this should be something that you can do in the gym every day even if you’re sick. Like Ebola sick. Like dying. Seriously.


Don’t be a doofus, retake the lift instead of increasing the weight.  Do all lifers follow that advice? No.  Should they? Probably.  If it’s your first meet, you definitely should retake a lift if you miss it.  At the end of the day it’s better to be safe than sorry.


I love the Attempt Selection Calculator which is given away as a freebie on Bryce Lewis’ TSA website here. It calculates three options for each attempt selection based on how you feel on a range from wanting to be safe to reaching.  It is by far the most important tool that I keep on-hand for meet day.

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