Powerlifting is an incredible field of fitness to get into, but it can also be quite daunting.
For starters, most of the powerlifters you see in the gym train with some pretty high numbers, and for beginners that can be incredibly discouraging. Secondly, powerlifters generally have tweaked their form and mechanics so that they have the most efficient lifts for their body structure, which is something that can take years to figure out and perfect. Thirdly, as a beginner, there’s an increased risk of injury, so it’s necessary that you go about starting the right way. Everyone starts somewhere, and everyone was a beginner at some point, so here are some tips before you begin.
Tip #1 for Powerlifting Beginners
Leave your ego at the door. This applies to bodybuilding as well (think ego bicep curls…) but especially to powerlifting because the weights generally are heavier than the ones used in bodybuilding.
Tip #2 for Powerlifting Beginners
Be prepared to start from the very beginning and work your way up. If you are not prepared to start all over – bar placement, stance width, hand grip, time spent on the eccentric and concentric part of the lift, and most of all, doing volume training and deloading when necessary – then you should definitely become prepared in order to be a successful powerlifter.
Tip #3 for Powerlifting Beginners
Make some powerlifting friends. People that can check your form, spot you, support you, and encourage you as you train. Trust me, it makes all the difference.
Beginning a Powerlifting Program
As for actually starting a program, there are many options out there. You can follow a pre-designed program like Stronglifts 5×5, Wendler’s 5-3-1, or you can start out on your own if you’re a seasoned lifter but are new to powerlifting specifically. There is no one best way to become a good powerlifter – it’s all about experimenting with the lifts and finding what works best for you.
The Three Big Lifts
Powerlifting is defined by the big three lifts: squat, bench, and deadlift. If you compete in a competition, those are the three lifts that you will compete in. However, in order to improve in those lifts, there’s more work to be done both within the realm of those three lifts and outside of it.
Within the realm of the big three there’s many, many ways to manipulate your training and work on your weaknesses. For example, there’s squatting, but then there’s volume squatting, practicing singles, pause squats, double pause squats, box squats, doubles, triples, joker sets, AMRAP’s, squats done at perfect depth, and squats done ATG. For deadlifting there’s deficit deadlifts, block pulls, rack pulls, pause deadlifts, double pause deadlifts, more AMRAP’s – you get the picture. Powerlifting isn’t just three lifts done the same way every time – people employ different methods on different days, and tailor their training to their body’s strengths and weaknesses.
There are a few key compound movements that will help with powerlifting aside from the big three – standing overhead press (OHP) and barbell rows. Some people stop there and just practice those 5 lifts (S/B/D/OHP/rows), while others add in “accessory work”, and these are exercises like Bulgarian split squats, straight leg deadlifts, good mornings, lat pulldowns, dumbbell chest press, incline chest press, cable rows, T-bar rows, leg extensions, etc.
This is usually why people look to starting a pre-designed program to begin with – so they can figure out what they are good at, and what needs work. Otherwise, it can be pretty overwhelming deciding how to plan your training schedule. Furthermore, we haven’t even discussed mechanics yet!
People have different body types – different femur lengths, different mobility and flexibility, different heights – and these all play a role in the type of form you will use in a lift. For example, I have bad elbow flexibility, and placing my grip too close to my shoulders when I squat causes elbow pain later in the day. However, the close grip makes my squat feel more stable, so I have had to do mobility work and extensive warm ups to ensure that I can squat the way I want to.
Overall, powerlifting is incredibly rewarding. Breaking your own PRs, setting goals, pushing through them, persevering even when you keep failing – it teaches you a lot about your body and yourself. Whichever way you start out, do some research, watch some videos on technique and mobility, look into pre-designed programs, take it slow, and always do your mobility work!