4 Day Powerlifting Routine for Beginners to Try in 2021

This powerlifting routine is designed for the beginner interested in strength training and competing in powerlifting.

Topics covered in this article will include:

  • Nutrition and Tips
  • Supplementation
  • Cardio/Conditioning
  • Powerlifting Routine Schedule
  • The Routine
  • Exercise Substitutions
  • Workout Tips

Powerlifting is all over; chances are you’ve seen a video of someone lifting some heavy ass weight and thought “wow, I’d like to do that.”

Fortunately, powerlifting is a sport anyone can get into. While there can be a lot of competition when you get to the elite levels, powerlifting is mostly a competition against yourself to see how much more you can lift than yesterday.

If you are new to the gym or have been lifting weights for a few months, this routine is going to show you how to get started on your journey to becoming a true powerlifter; including information about competing.

There are only a few requirements of this routine:

  • Passion to get stronger
  • Committing to the routine
  • A Barbell
  • Weights
  • Dumbbells
  • Adjustable bench
  • Squat rack

Optional but recommended:

  • General gym machines

Strength Junkies

Interested in Competing?

If you’re interested in competing, check out this article I wrote about your first powerlifting meet.

Powerlifting Nutrition

Powerlifting is a demanding sport which requires a lot of nervous system recovery to perform optimally. Just because you don’t see someone doing 30 sets of an exercise doesn’t mean they don’t need proper recovery.

This section will go over some of the foods I recommend eating and some of the foods you could cut out. I am not a licensed nutritionist so consult your doctor before taking my advice.

Take a look at what you eat

Regardless of your weight goals, eating healthy is important if you want to maintain a healthy lifestyle. The quality of foods you put into your body reflect the quality of your performance and life. I’m not telling you skip the donuts or pizza, I’m showing you how to enjoy those and get healthy.

But how?

It goes without saying that eating fast food and restaurant meals are not the way to get healthy… you are going to have to learn to cook. There are a lot of recipes that you can cook including this awesome reader submitted recipe: Chili lime chicken with potatoes and green beans.

What else?

I’ve done a few articles about eating healthier which I will link below so you can read them if you’d like.

The first article is once I wrote a long time ago: 11 Cheapest Good Protein Sources and still is relevant today. Find out what types of proteins you should buy and more importantly, how to afford them.

The next article contains the 15 best foods for building muscle and provides a wide variety of foods you can get into your diet to start building strength and muscle.

If you are a bit overweight and want to look at trying a low-carb diet, check out some of the science behind low-carb dieting.

If you are a “hardgainer” and you are having a hard time putting on mass you simply can’t eat enough, check out my skinny to swole guide.

If you have a hard time eating during the day because of work or you have heard about intermittent fasting, I wrote a pocketbook guide you should check out.

One last thing…

Before I go on, the notion of an OCD-like obsession with what you eat, when you eat it, and how you eat is prevalent and I wanted you to be aware of orthorexia and how to avoid it.

If you are already obsessed with every morsel that goes into your mouth or you start developing habits like this, please get in contact with professional help or reach out to someone like myself and I’ll help the best I can.

Now onto the fun stuff…

For those who want to bulk:

Bulking needs to be done with caution because using this as an excuse to eat as much as you possibly can all of the time will add a lot of strength but also a lot of fat as well.

The first thing I recommend when bulking is being able to eat consistently. This will be tough if you regularly overeat or forget to eat one day.

Too many times I see someone go on a “dirty bulk” which means they stuff whatever they can in their mouths to gain strength and weight.

This is effective but you will gain a lot of body fat and possibly develop eating disorders or conditions such as heart disease or diabetes… it’s not worth it.

What I recommend:

If you consistently eat and maintain your weight, I want you to add 300 calories a day to your diet and maintain the same activity levels. This means if you train 3-4 days in the gym, have a job, and have a life; stay doing just that… don’t add in random hour-long cardio sessions daily because you are eating more.

After about 3 weeks you are going to notice you are feeling stronger, weights feel lighter, and you may notice some gains in the mirror. You shouldn’t be gaining too much weight at this point.

This is considered a clean bulk and for those who are looking to gain weight can be run for long amounts of time since you are eating healthy and slowly adding weight.

Tips to adding 300 calories easy:

  • Use whole milk instead of water for your protein shakes
  • Don’t be afraid to use cheese
  • Olive oil
  • Spoonful of peanut butter
  • Sour cream

Adding 300 calories doesn’t take much when you add healthy fats to your diet.

For those needing to lose body fat:

If you read anywhere online or in a magazine, there are articles about how you can’t lose body fat and gain muscle (or strength) at the same time. This generally is true, but for a beginner, you are going to notice fantastic changes to your physique and strength.

They are called beginner gains and you need to take advantage of them while you can. Check out my article on making the most of your beginner gains.

Just like going on a bulk, losing body fat needs to be done slowly and sustainably…otherwise you are going to just gain it back.

What I recommend:

Since everyone has different diets, the first thing I am going to recommend is getting more exercise in. This doesn’t mean you have to trudge through a session on a treadmill, you can get out and walk, bicycle, hike, or play basketball. Whatever you do, choose something you want to do and are willing to do regularly.

Since exercise trumps cutting calories for a variety of reasons, I don’t recommend you cut calories yet unless you are very overweight. For those who need to lose 50 or more pounds, I have some advice for you at the end of this section.

If you enjoy going to the gym and doing cardio then feel free to do so, I’ve noticed better success with clients losing weight if they find something they enjoy outside of the gym. Seriously, try a new sport out.

Onto the food:

If your diet consists of mostly microwave dinners, sodas, and fast food, I’m going to give you some simple ways to gradually change your diet and make a huge difference in your performance in the gym.

Soda: If you drink regular soda, start cutting back and drinking a diet version or try teas or water. I like to use the calorie free sweeteners in my waters and even diet sodas to make them taste better. For example: I will use tropical punch Kool-Aid liquid in my diet mountain dew and it tastes a bit like a red mountain dew.

If you eat breakfast at your favorite fast food restaurant, start making a breakfast in the morning (or the night before) to take with you or eat before you leave.

Breakfast ideas:

  • Hard boiled eggs mixed with sour cream and hot sauce – boil up a dozen of these and use for a few breakfasts.. they are filling and tasty.
  • Peanut butter on your toast with 1 scoop protein in milk – tasty, quick, easy
  • Protein bar and a piece of fruit

Skip the heart burn and mud butt by making a sensible change for breakfast every couple of days. Gradual changes work better than stopping all at once.

General nutrition ideas:

Replacing a meal you eat out with 2 scoops of protein in milk with some chicken and vegetables is an easy way to cut a lot of calories and carbs while getting in more flavor than a crappy McDouble. Try a mediterranean blend steamer bag of veggies, some fajita chicken, some olive oil, salt, pepper, and hot sauce for a filling and tasty meal. All of this stuff is easy to make and can be made in advance.

Losing weight is about moderation. You can enjoy all of the foods you love and get healthier at the same time.

Ever since I started eating healthier and learning how to cook I’ve learned that I enjoy the flavors I create more than the foods I eat out. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll eat a Wendy’s #8 every once in a while too.

For those who are very overweight:

I’ve created a special section for those who are very overweight because I know what it is like and I want to help.

The first thing you are going to have to do is address why you overeat and what causes you to do so. This might take some quiet time in a secluded area to sit and think about some things you might not want to think about.. but you need to do it.

Don’t start cutting huge things from your diet because you will see it as a restriction and you are going to revert faster than you cut it out. First thing is first, learn to cook.

Once you learn to cook, you are going to see how you can create flavors you enjoy and do so without the added calories.


Depending on your health, you’re going to have to move, and move a lot. This doesn’t mean you need to walk on the treadmill every day for 2 hours, you just have to get active and start seeing how your health increases. You are going to feel better and be able to go do things you want to do without worrying about being sore or becoming tired.


Start by making a log and writing everything down that you eat and drink. With this list, look for things that are needless calories you add.

Sodas, chips/snacks, and sweets are your biggest culprits in excess calories and that’s going to be the first thing you need to start with. Take my advice with the soda like I mentioned above, it really does taste alright. Once you start getting used to drinking more water and other calorie-free drinks you will notice your palate won’t like soda as much anymore.

If you drink soda daily and you cut that out of your diet, that with exercise is going to start shedding weight off of you like you’ve never seen before.


I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, supplementation can be useless if you do not already have your nutrition and training down pat. I will say that supplements can help and they are worth the money if you have some to spare.


Ever since I tried MTS Nutrition’s protein, I’ll never go back. I’ve had their Vanilla, Cookies n Cream, Key Lime Pie, and Red Velvet Cake and love them all. I haven’t heard a bad word about any of the other flavors. If you would like to try out MTS Nutrition, support the site and use my affiliate link here: MTS Nutrition Whey Protein


Creatine is one of the most studied supplements in the industry. It helps with strength, recovery, and muscle endurance. Creatine Monohydrate is cheap and is something I highly recommend. If you would like to support the site, use my affiliate link: Creatine Monohydrate


BCAAs are intended to be use while you are training but can be had throughout the day as a pretty tasty beverage. Sipping on BCAAs are a way to get extra amino acids into your system and they taste great. Marc Lobliner has his sweetening game on point and I really like hit MTS Machine Fuel BCAA, if you would like to support my site, use my affiliate link: MTS Machine Fuel BCAA


Pre-workout isn’t a must but if you need a little kick in the pants, MTS Clash isn’t bad. It’s my favorite pre-workout and it’s fairly priced. If you would like to support my site, use my affiliate link: MTS Clash


There are other supplements that I take or I enjoy taking when I have them. Most of the MTS line I will use including their Probiotic that are chewable tablets that are chocolate wafer flavored. They really taste like candy. Protein bars are filling, MHP’s protein pudding is alright, and you can’t go wrong with a multi-vitamin.


Doing some form of cardio or conditioning work is important for health and will increase your anaerobic capacity. This means you can lift more weight.

I recommend getting exercise outside of the gym at least 2 to 3 times per week for at least 20 minutes. This means go for a walk, ride a bike, or play some sports with friends.

For those who want to live in a gym or don’t have any interest in doing activities like that, 20-30 minutes on whatever machine you want to do will suffice.


Complete 5-10 minute of exercise to help prime your nervous system for exercise… This shouldn’t strain you at all, just get the blood flowing.


Complete 20-30 minutes of exercise to help promote recovery. HIIT or LISS is fine.

Powerlifting Routine Schedule and Progression

For a 4 day routine I recommend 2 on, 1 off, 2 on, 2 off which would look like this:

  • Sunday: Off
  • Monday: Squat Day
  • Tuesday: Bench Day
  • Wednesday: Off
  • Thursday: Accessory Day
  • Friday: Deadlift Day
  • Saturday: Off

If you can get your schedule to work with that, feel free to experiment and see what works best for you.


Since this is a routine designed for beginners, you need to use linear progression. In basic terms it means you strive to add 5 pounds to the bar every time you train.

Warming Up

Warming up is critical to your health, prevents injuries, and primes your body to lift heavier weight. Without warming up, you won’t lift as much, and you will probably get hurt. Warming up is different for everyone so I won’t throw out percentages of your lifts and timing; that’s just stupid.

Here’s a sample of a warm up I would have someone do:

You are going to bench 225 for 4 sets of 8.

  • Bar x 20
  • 95 x 10
  • 135 x 10
  • 185 x 8

Same weight for each set

For this routine, you will use the same weight for each of your working sets. So if you are going to be doing 4 sets of 8 on squats at 315, you will leave 315 on the bar for each set.

If you perform the sets and reps at the weight you’re supposed to, increase the weight by 5 pounds for the next time you train.

4 Day Powerlifting Routine for Beginners

Squat Day
Exercise Sets Reps
Squats 3 12
Barbell Step Ups 2 20
Stiff Leg Deadlifts 4 15
Goblet Squats 4 8
Straight Arm Lat Pull Downs 4 15


Bench Day
Exercise Sets Reps
Bench Press 3 12
Incline Dumbbell Bench 2 20
Floor Press 4 15
1 Arm Tricep Extensions 4 8
Pec Deck 4 15


Accessory Day
Exercise Sets Reps
Military Press 3 12
Arnold Press 2 20
Cross Body Hammer Curls 4 15
Pull Ups 4 8
Rear Delt Flies 4 15
Bent Over Barbell Rows 6 5


Deadlift Day
Exercise Sets Reps
Deadlifts 3 12
1 Arm Dumbbell Row 2 20
Dumbbell Shrugs 4 15
Standing Calf Raises 4 8
Leg Extensions 4 15

Exercise Substitutions

While the exercises in this routine are chosen to serve a specific purpose, there are times when exercises need to be substituted in because of an inability to do the exercise correctly, not having the right equipment, or not wanting to wait for the equipment to become available.

Here are a list of suitable exercise substitutions that I would recommend:

  • Barbell Step Ups – Barbell Lunges, Dumbbell Lunges
  • Straight Arm Lat Pull Downs – Wide Grip Pull Downs, Wide Grip Rows, T-Bar Rows
  • Floor Press – Close Grip Bench, Skull Crushers
  • Pec Deck- Dumbbell Flies, Incline Dumbbell Flies, Cable Cross Machine
  • Arnold Press – Alternating Dumbbell Overhead Press, Hammer Strength Overhead Press Machine
  • Pull Ups – Any type of lat pull down or assisted pull up machine
  • Dumbbell Shrugs – Trap Bar Shrugs, Barbell Shrugs
  • Standing Calf Raises – Seated Calf Raises
  • Leg Extensions – Hack Squat Machine, Leg Press

Workout Tips

  • Strive for progression – Increasing the amount you can lift in either reps or weight is going to get you stronger and build muscle
  • Learn proper form – Heavy weights come with time. Learn the form now before you pick up bad habits
  • Deload when you feel sluggish – If your warmup weights are feeling heavy, don’t keep pushing yourself. Take a week and recover; eat more, sleep more, and come back stronger next week.
  • AMAP – As many as possible. Do this until your form starts to break down.

105 thoughts on “4 Day Powerlifting Routine for Beginners to Try in 2021”

  1. Hello cutty . I really enjoyed the article. I am familiar with fitness but recently started working towards more strength and power. Would u recommend this program to me .

    5 foot 10 inches. 200lbs

    Bench 275
    Squat 385
    Deadlift 375

    Thank you.

    • Cassian, apologies for the long waited reply, I have had some family issues. You would benefit a lot from this routine. Keep up the good work.

  2. Hey cutty.

    So I’m just curious when I should do the AMAP part. I’m just now learning about powerlifting and have learned a lot from this article.

  3. Hi Cutty,
    I am fairly strong for a beginner, however I buldged 2 disc and slipped one in my lower back a few months ago, I’ve had a hard time getting into a routine. I want to start powerlifting to see if that makes it better. Will doing DL’s compromise my back or will i be ok if u work up to it starting light. Flat bench hurts my back but incline and decline do not so I have adjusted my workout to compensate for that, how would I do that for deadlifting?
    Thanks for the great article, and the links as well. Jared

    • I would advise finding a doctor who is familiar with kinesiology or at least one that has a firm grasp of exercise science. I honestly wouldn’t feel comfortable giving any advice since I’ve not dealt with many people with spinal injuries. Do the footwork and find a doctor that understands lifting and gives you tips on how to improve your spinal muscles instead of telling you to “just stop.”

      Good luck Jared, only thing I can recommend is to train around your injuries and work on getting healthier so that you can do all exercises again.

  4. Great article, lots of help! Do you have an intermediate workout routine or should I just alter the beginners workout in some way?

    • Intermediate work starts getting into periodization and other protocols that should only be used once you get to the point of not being able to linearly progress. Even if you’re getting 5-10 pounds added to your lift every month, that’s a lot of progress.

      I do have a few intermediate workouts, check them out under workouts.

  5. Hello there, great article liked it so much but anyways, i just started hitting the gym again after stopping for almost 1.5-2 years so ive been hitting the gym for few days now and my weights are hell to the ground .. i used to easily lift 20-30kg on a bench press but now i did a 10kg and it was a little bit heavy XD , and im thinking of starting powerlifting but my main goal was to cut down some weight cause ive gained a lot after that break, will powerlifting help me lose weight or should i just stick to what im doing and if it will i am worried about my weights cause im kind of in a bad weight station cant lift that heavy on bp and dl and on sqauts .. what should i do? And sorry for asking so much .

    Much love

    • Powerlifting is more a training technique more than “you can only bulk” etc. This will help your strength gains and eating a balanced diet will help you lose weight. Add in some conditioning work to help with your cardiovascular health and power output.

      Just keep your nose to the ground and keep working to get back to where you were. Taking a break lets the body get back into a sedentary state, so your strength will come back faster than the first time around.

      Good luck and let me know how you progress!

  6. I’ve just returned to the gym after a multi year layoff and have been back about 5 or 6 months now with size and strength coming back shockingly fast.
    I’ve been training 3 on 1 off, heavy one cycle of 3 days, the next light with more volume and shorter rests. Previously I’ve got over a decade in of serious training with a few years off here and there, but never in powerlifting… though my lifts were reasonably good. Best bench 365×3, squats 455×5 or 6 but never really deadlifted excepting stiff legged for hams. I’m currently back to bench 275 for 3, 315 for 5 or 6 and recently started ding deadlift for the first time which is like a sad 315 for maybe 5 or so on my top set.
    I’m currently 215 at 5′ 10″ and perhaps 15+ % bf at a guess since I can now just see my top set of abs if the lighting is good. Lol
    The thing is I’m 40 now but I’m thinking I’d like to see what I’m capable of. Considering my past where do you think I should start to shift over.
    Thanks for your time. I hope you can suggest something since my position is probably a bit unusual.

    • Since you are in decent shape I would say work on cleaning up diet and ease back into the gym and start training like a savage. You should get back your strength relatively fast so putting emphasis on lifting heavy weights and getting plenty of recovery should yield some good results.

  7. Wow Cutty,
    This work out kicked my butt. I started it on Tuesday and barely made it through the step ups much less the stiff legged dead lifts. The second and third day where a little easier for me. I did the dead lift today and nearly passed out but I am happy to say I made it through the entire workout. On Monday I am going to rest more in between my sets to allow me to finish the entire work out. Most days through out the week I am limited to an hour in the gym because of work and school but on Mondays I can take the time needed to finish all my sets just need to wake up earlier. Thank you for this routine I started out back in the gym full time like two weeks ago and needed a program to utilize and I am satisfied with this one. It provides a great foundation for beginners to follow whether its power lifting or body building. Still trying to work in the core work out you had posted and at least 10 minutes of cardio to start with.

    • Thank you for the kind words.. I have a couple suggestions to try – for the cardio think about warming up as parking down the street and walking to the gym. You could also do a few lunges and some medicine ball work for a warmup, etc.. you have plenty of options, find one that you like.

      As for the training I would recommend possibly starting with a lower weight on everything. While the work is intense, you should be able to make it through the first month or so without struggling too bad on weight. Adding 5 pounds to your lift is adding 20 pounds a month; that’s a lot of weight to jump up once you get more experienced in training. Don’t worry about starting below what you’ve normally been doing, you’re going to go well above and beyond that following this.

      Also you can do core work at home, and again think of cardio and conditioning as things you can do outside of the gym as well. Try walking some trails, hiking, playing basketball… whatever you think you would enjoy. The more you improve your cardio and conditioning, the more work output you’ll be able to do.

  8. Hi Cutty,
    I have a crazy schedule and I know it’s important to get 7 hours sleep. Right now I am getting like 6-6 1/2 because I usually don’t get home till about 10 at night. I wake up at 4:45 and go straight to the gym. The problem is I am not eating anything till after my work out. I love the program because I feel like I just got done going to battle and my energy level is great. I am adjusting my diet during the day to about 5 meals and stop eating at 5 pm before going to school after work because I heard eating to close to bedtime can hinder your quality of sleep or cause you to gain weight. I wanted to know if not eating prior to work out is going to make me weaker when I weight train. I am trying to lose weight but I also want to gain strength. I am limited to an hour at the most and that doesn’t leave much time for nutrients to enter my blood stream. Will creatine and a banana or a couple slices of wholewheat bread be good to scarf down at like 4:30 Prior to training. Do you know of anything that can help me. Or do you think I will be ok waiting to eat breakfast afterwards. Love this work out by the way.

    • I prefer training in a fasted state, try to “unplug” and unwind 45 minutes before you can sleep and help prep your body to go into deep sleep faster.

      Quit listening to myths and worrying about eating at night. I run a pretty strict 20 hr non eat and 4 hr eating window for intermittent fasting and I eat usually from 11pm-3am. Metabolism does not work in 24 hr chunks.

      Quit worrying about the small things.. go to the gym, put in the work, and succeed in life and it all comes together.

  9. Hey Cutty, I enjoyed this article very much. Im hoping it helps me. Im 34 and over weight. im 6’0 and 310lbs. BMI is 40. I plan on using what you have suggested here. I also will be cleaning my diet up quite a bit. Anyhow, im excited to have found this and wanted to say thank you for writing it, as im sure it will be the basis on which I get fit. Thank you agian

    • Thank you for the kind words Brandon. Start working on cleaning up the diet slowly, breaking habits, and put the work in and you’ll see the results.

  10. Hey Cutty,

    How long should I be on this program? I am small framed but packed a few pounds of muscles, not strong but not weak. Been on and off in the gym. Would like to begin on this program to strengthen myself and discipline myself.

    • You could (should) run a program until you quit making progress. Jumping programs frequently doesn’t let you get the full effect of the workout. I would run this for at least 12 weeks if you want to see progress.

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