Powerlifter Arms

A Powerlifter’s Approach To Training Arms

If you are new to powerlifting or thinking about trying powerlifting out, welcome!

In bodybuilding, lifters chase the illusive bicep peak and trying to add as much mass to those arms as they can.

Powerlifters however, train arms to build strength and increase the maximum amount of weight you can press.

Powerlifter Versus Bodybuilder Arm Training

Bodybuilding Exercises

Bodybuilding generally focuses on building mass and shaping muscles with isolation movements.

  • Bicep Training
    • Barbell Curl
    • EZ Curl Bar Curl
    • Dumbbell Curl
    • Machine Curl
    • Alternating Curl
    • Preacher Curl
    • Cable Curls
  • Tricep Training
    • Extensions
    • Kick Backs
    • Dips
    • Overhead Dumbbell Extension
    • Tricep Extension Machine

Powerlifting Exercises

When someone comes to me and wants to start training to be a powerlifter, I will have them run these types of exercises for their arms.

  • Bicep Training
    • Pull Ups
    • Deadlifts
    • Barbell Rows
    • 1 Arm Dumbbell Rows
    • Hammer Curls
  • Tricep Training
    • Close Grip Bench Press
    • Close Grip Barbell Overhead Press
    • Floor Press
    • Dips
    • Overhead Dumbbell Extension

These exercises generally help carry over to multiple other lifts and I personally feel they help create a more functional body than isolation movements.

This is not to say that doing isolation movements is bad or wrong, but over the years I’ve noticed a better carry-over of functionality through compound lifts instead of machines and isolation.

How does arm work affect powerlifting?

I won’t lie, for over a year I thought direct arm training was inefficient for powerlifting and I actually did not do any myself.

I talked with a few very knowledgeable people including Jonathan Byrd, Steve Shaw, and Fred Ashburn. They all concurred that direct arm training helps with all lifts, especially the bench press.

Duh, tricep work will help with locking out your bench, but bicep work makes it easier to stay in the groove and will help keep the bar on the right path.

As soon as I started adding in hammer curls and adding volume to my rows, I noticed that my bench press was going up.

What do you suggest?

I always say train for fun and train for what you want to do.

Just because you want to be a powerlifter doesn’t mean you can’t do isolation movements, I just recommend adding in some compound movements into your powerlifting workout.

Direct arm training will help with your lifts hands down.

Bonus Powerlifting Workout

Check out a minimalistic powerlifting workout that incorporates direct arm training.

This is a 3 day workout and works best with a beginner or early intermediate where linear progression is still possible.

Sample Schedule

  • Monday – Squat Workout
  • Tuesday – Off
  • Wednesday – Bench Workout
  • Thursday – Off
  • Friday – Deadlift Workout
  • Saturday – Off
  • Sunday – Off

Conditioning Schedule

Conditioning is important to powerlifting since you need your central nervous system to be efficient in producing power.

If your nervous system is being taxed just because you are standing up, you basically have less power to work with.

  • Monday – 10 minute HIIT post-workout
  • Tuesday – Off
  • Wednesday – 15 minute HIIT post-workout
  • Thursday – Off
  • Friday – 5 minute HIIT post-workout
  • Saturday – Off
  • Sunday – Off

Post-workout high intensity interval training is going to be the best for conditioning and will not put you in the gym for hours.

I highly encourage activity outside of the gym and enjoying life; don’t worry about losing gains because you played a game of basketball with your friends.

Powerlifting Workout Routine

Squat Day
Barbell Squat55
Front Squat48
Stiff Leg Deadlift412
Walking Lunges220


Bench Day
Barbell Bench Press55
Incline Dumbbell Bench Press48
Close Grip Bench Press312
1 Arm Farmer’s Walks4


Day 1
Bent Over Barbell Row48
Military Press312
Side Planks3ALAP

Workout Tips

1 Arm Farmer’s Walks – Take a heavy dumbbell in one hand and walk with it. Ideally set a distance, but work with what you have. The idea here is to unevenly load the core and walk, which is going to work the core and many functional stability muscles. Highly recommended exercise.

ALAP – As Long As Possible. This is a static hold and I want you to hold the position as long as you can. Work on increasing the time you can hold the position.

Linear Progression – This routine is designed for anyone whom linear progression still works. There is going to come a time where you simply can’t keep adding more weight to the bar even after deloads; I will address these issues and create routines later for those. The basic principle idea here is to add 5 pounds to all exercises each session.

Weight Per Set – I want you to use the same weight per set. Once you warm up, I want you to stick with your working weight for each set of each rep. I’ve played around with ramp sets and I like the response from using the same weight each set compared to ramp sets.

Program Length – Run this program for 12 weeks, rinse, and repeat. If you are a novice or early intermediate, you will make tremendous gains in strength and muscle.


This is just a glimpse of what will be coming in my Beginning Powerlifting book I am writing.

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2 thoughts on “A Powerlifter’s Approach To Training Arms”

  1. Is the 3 sets of 20 reps a rep goal approach or is it just 20 reps for each set? Also how is 20 reps good for powerlifting? Thanks

    1. Greg,

      I done goofed and I thank you for bringing it up. I used a template from another workout and forgot to finish the other 2 tables.

      I fixed them, they should seem to make a little bit more sense now.

      Thanks for bringing it to my attention,


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