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
- 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
- Adjustable bench
- Squat rack
Optional but recommended:
- General gym machines
Interested in Competing?
If you’re interested in competing, check out this article I wrote about your first powerlifting meet.
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.
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.
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.
- 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 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
|Barbell Step Ups||2||20|
|Stiff Leg Deadlifts||4||15|
|Straight Arm Lat Pull Downs||4||15|
|Incline Dumbbell Bench||2||20|
|1 Arm Tricep Extensions||4||8|
|Cross Body Hammer Curls||4||15|
|Rear Delt Flies||4||15|
|Bent Over Barbell Rows||6||5|
|1 Arm Dumbbell Row||2||20|
|Standing Calf Raises||4||8|
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
- 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.
107 thoughts on “4 Day Powerlifting Routine for Beginners to Try in 2021”
Program is working out quite well 2.5 weeks in lost almost 7 pounds. I have found some good upper and lower body warm ups to do before my workout and I surprised how much it helps you especially on the final sets. My form on stiff legged deadlifts was pretty bad so I am looking at some videos to correct that along with my squat and dead lift. I have a quick quick question on barbell rows is it better to complete the exercise in a dead lift like stance for example straighten the legs with the bar off the ground and have your back parallel to the floor to complete each rep.?
Julian, that’s great to hear! Warmups are definitely the most beneficial thing you can do. You’re literally priming your body to do the movement.
For stiff leg deadlifts, if you’re having some issues with form, try to learn romanian deadlifts. For my form, it’s basically like you’re doing reps with deadlifts but you’re stopping the weight before it hits the ground. Think of your hips hinging, not you bending down.
For barbell rows, deadlift the weight and lock it out, then keep the bar close to your body and hinge at your hips (just like romanian deadlift) and let the bar stop around the top of your shin. Once you get to that position, you can let the bar drift out and do rows. You should feel your hips and posterior chain have tension – not quads or lower back. It takes some practice but once you have a good base, you’ll not have to worry about fatiguing your back.
Keep me updated!
thank you sir
Cutty – could you lay out what routine you would do for more intermediate lifter? I’ve been plateaud at 285 lb. raw bench for a couple years.
Tom, I will. Nice bench numbers man, I would invite you to check out my Build a Bigger Bench article to get some tips that could help you bust through the plateau.
You’re definitely going to have to start using periodization. If you’re pushing maximal weights every time, your body simply can’t recover. If you’ve been consistently working out, taking a deload week of either completely out of the gym or literally 50% weight on everything max for a week. If you come back after that week, I would be willing to bet you’ll break that PR.
I have a few articles on getting through a bench plateau. Record yourself and see where you’re going wrong. Where are you getting out of your groove? Are you dumping a wrist? There’s a lot of little things to look at to improve.
Good luck and let me know how it goes. I’ll work on an article.
Tried the first two days of the program with adjustments here and there! Loved it. Was curious though as to why you incorporate back exercises into squat day or deadlift day. It shows that there are back exercises three out of the four days. Just wondering your reasoning! Thank you.
A stronger back means a stronger everything. Many people don’t work back enough, causing imbalances. All of the pressing that you do needs to be antagonized by working the opposite muscles to stay balanced.
Any person I’ve trained that focused hard on a lot of back work always build a bigger bench press, squat, and deadlift. It works your core and helps maintain a better posture.
I hope this helps! Let me know how it goes!
Hi Cutty, when doing sqwats I am trying to drive from the back of my heels however regardless of how much weight on the bar whether its 45 pound or 185 I tend to lean forward will driving my hips out as I am coming out of break?
Try pausing in the hole and descending slower into it. The reason your hips shoot up is generally a weakness in your glutes or upper back or simply bad form. Record your squats from at least the side and if you can get a front view that would help.
You may need to simply adjust your foot width or point your toes out a bit more so your hips can hinge and sink down and not try to shoot out.
Let me know if you tried something that worked!
Hey man, I’ve been using this program for a while now but my squats and bench have plateaued – what should I do next?
If this is your first slowdown, you could deload the lifts for a week or two and then ramp back up. So lift at 50 to 60% on those and focus on producing a lot of power, come back in a week or two and you’ll be pressing on. If that doesn’t work, you may have to start periodization.
Let me know how it goes!
Can you please explain why lat pulldown is added in squat day workout plan, because it has nothing to do with legs?
Your upper back and lat strength is very important to maintain proper form during squats. Your back is already fatigued from the workout, so finish them off with the pulldowns. You could perform bent over barbell rows, 1 arm dumbbell rows, face pulls, etc. I’ve tried setting up the workouts so that you are improving your big 3 numbers. A stronger back improves your bench, squat, and deadlift.
How long do I break in between these sets? Also isn’t like low reps strength training? Idk
Generally around 30 to 45 seconds for the smaller accessory lifts and 2 to 5 minutes for the bigger compound lifts,
Can I do one of these workouts every other day I am unable to go to the gym 2 days in a row
Also is the 1 arm tricep extensions a dumbell over head extention?
Yes, a day between workouts would be perfect. For the extensions you could use dumbbell one hand overhead, you could do them like a 1 arm skull crusher, or you could use an attachment on a machine. Find what works best for you and run with it or switch it up every couple of weeks to a different tricep exercise.
For the rear delt flies should I use the machine or dumbbells?
Whichever you like best. You could use machines with a 2 hand rope attachment, you could use the chest flies/rear delt flies machine, or use dumbbells. I personally like using dumbbells and then finishing off on machine.
First off, as a 47 year old who wanted to become strong for once in my life – Thank you.
My deadlift has reached 210kg which i thought was impossible 2 years ago given a lifetime of eating like a sparrow and frankly it was this article that was one of my top sources of motivation.
Probably the oddest question here but do you have a link or are able to email a copy of the photo at the top of this article? I swear I’ve looked at that photo more times than I can count and frankly I’m still hoping to look like the guy in the black singlet.
Sure I’m a whopping 91kg and pushing 50 but hey I can dream dammit!
Thanks again for everything!
I am so happy to hear this Cam. I apologize for taking forever to reply to this. Keep going because if you “only” improve 5 pounds per compound lift per week, you can add 250lbs to each lift after a year. That may not sound like much, but you’ll be much stronger and more well-rounded every month. Keep it up!