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Which powerlifting program? [Article]

Posted by Pascal Landshoeft

Jun 19, 2019 9:30:00 AM

Which powerlifting program

Which powerlifting program?

This is an overview of which powerlifting program to choose based on the available options that I have used so far. The main decision for you is to whether you want to put money on the line for a good program or not.

What is your why

Before we go into the details of which powerlifting program to pick, let me ask you a couple of questions:
  • Why do you want to powerlift 
  • Why do you want to get stronger 
  • Why do you want to build muscle 
  • What happens when you do 
  • What happens if you don’t 
These questions will have a bigger impact on your success than which program you pick. Research shows that people who reflect on their goals and write them down are more likely to achieve them. So sit down and think. Then write the thing down and go conquer. Most people follow this form of thinking: 
  • What do I want 
  • How do I get it 
  • Why do I want it 
If you make what you want the center of attention you will be miserable. What you want changes hundreds of times a day. The monkey mind takes over and you drift away. You will run in a hundred directions but arrive nowhere. Your resources will be spread thin and your thoughts scattered between too many activities. Something interesting happens when you flip these questions on their head: 
  • Why do you want something 
  • How do you get it 
  • What needs to be done 
This way you will focus on what is most important. Your thoughts and actions will become more connected and results will follow. If you want to know how this works on a psychological basis read Daniel Kahneman's thinking fast and slow. Simon Sinek's TED talk on the golden circle will change your life. 

Powerlifting programs to consider


For a more detailed overview, you can read my review of Stronglifts 5x5 after doing it for a year. 
Stronglifts 5x5 is a beginner lifting program using linear progression. You will train three times a week and I crease weight from workout to workout. The lifts used are the bench press, squat, overhead press, deadlift, and barbell row. 
You will be mainly doing sets of five for each set at roughly 75% of your one repetition maximum when you have scaled up. You start from an empty bar. 
Stronglifts 5x5 is one of the most popular beginner programs. Mehdi managed to pull together a great progression which he coached and billed an app around. 
The big pros of Stronglifts 5x5 are its simplicity and great app. It will keep you motivated for the first year or even a bit longer as you will make good progression on it. 
For powerlifting specifically, the program is suboptimal. There is no fatigue management or autoregulation present. The more important part for beginners is autoregulation. Autoregulation means that you push yourself on a good day and adjust the sets on a bad day. There is none of that in Stronglifts
The most similar alternative to Stronglifts 5x5 is Starting Strength. The main difference between Starting Strength and Stronglifts is that Starting Strength uses the clean instead of the barbell row. This is attractive to footballers and other athletes who want to develop more explosiveness. 

Starting Strength 

This program is also a beginner program with linear progression in which the load is increased from workout to workout. 
Starting Strength also has you train for three days a week. It also uses sets of five as Stronglifts does. It is usually a little more popular in the USA than Stornglifts as it originated there. The brain behind this program is Mark Rippetoe. Rippetoe also is the author of many strength related books which are a mandatory read for serious strength coaches. 
A big pro of the Starting Strength program is that it uses the clean instead of the barbell row. This way athletes get better body awareness through one complex movement rather than the not so explosive exercises from Stronglifts. Starting Strength will also create a deeper understanding of how strength training works as Mark Rippetoe goes into more detail than Mehdi.
I personally find the instructions and supporting material of Starting strength hard to read and follow. This is the last thing you want for beginners. Even though I think that Starting Strength is the better program to get stronger I will still recommend Stronglifts instead to a beginner. It is more likely to be followed through without a coach.
Alternatives to Starting Strength are Stronglifts 5x5 and the powerliftingtowin beginner program. If you are very serious about powerlifting go for the beginner program if powerliftingtowin. If you just want to get into lifting for a year without having to think too hard, go with Stronglifts

Wendler 531 

If you want to learn about the Wendler program in more detail, check out my review on this blog after doing it for a year. 
Wendler 531 is a very popular intermediate program. The progression comes in waves which is more suitable to the needs to intermediates. Weight is increased week over week and not workout to workout anymore. There is also a progression in intensity per cycle while the repetitions go down. Deload weeks also taken care of to not over stress the body. All in all, this is a solid no-nonsense program which gets results. 
On Wendler 531 you will train for times a day using the squat, deadlift, bench press, and overhead press. There are many options for accessory programs. The most popular are the triumvirate and boring but big. 
Wendler 531 takes care of autoregulation and proper rest. The cycles are a month-long which takes it to the next level from Starting Strength and Stronglifts, but also not too far. With the right spreadsheet, it is also fairly easy to follow. I created one myself which can download for free form this blog. 
The Amrap set on each day is not suitable for beginners. It is too likely that they overestimate their capabilities and hurt themselves. Wendler 531 also seldom has your work in real near maximum scenarios. There is too little work in the very heavy range to be optimal for powerlifting purposes. Still, a very solid program to follow to get stronger and build your lifts. 
Alternatives to Wendler 531 are the Texas method and Madcow 5x5. These are also intermediate programs which are the follow-ups of Starting Strength and Stronglifts respectively. 


Smolov is a Russian lifting program that focuses entirely on the squat. The program has been published in the Stornglifts website and has gotten some attention ever since. The main reason for that is that it is stupid hard and many people get injured while doing it. At least these are the urban myths rankling around it. 
Smolov is a test of your manliness and commitment. If you make it through this program and stick to it, you will have achieved quite a feat. It will also add a considerable amount of weight to your squat as you will focus on this lift only for three months. 
The injury risk is high and Smolov has no relevance to powerlifting. In powerlifting, you want to establish the highest possible total, not the highest possible squat. Your bench press and deadlift will suffer when you do not train them for three months. This only makes sense if you are capable of putting up a new squat world record. Than Smolov might be for you at the expense of other lifts. 
Alternatives to the Smolov program are the Smolov Jr program and the Bulgarian method. They are similarly extreme. The Bulgarian method lets you establish a max every single session while Smolov Jr is a one month version of Smolov. 

Smolov Jr 

If you want to know more about the Smolov Jr program read my review and download the calculator I created for the program. 
Smolov Jr is a shortened version of the Smolov program. You will only run the first month of the three-month Smolov program. It is great to push through a plateau in the squat or bench press when you are stuck for a year. I used it to establish my bench press record of 150kg. I never reached that level again since. 
It is still extreme but not as much time invested as with the Smolov program. It is a great option when you get injured and can only do one of the big three for a month. 
As with Smolov, Smolov Jr only focuses on one lift for a month. This is not ideal for building the best possible total. You should be working on all three lifts continuously to make the best possible gains for the sport of powerlifting.
Smolov and the Bulgarian method are similarly extreme in their approach. You could also run a month of German Volume Training to mix things up a little. 

Juggernaut method 

The juggernaut method is a brainchild of Chad Wesley Smith from Juggernaut Training Systems. This program runs on a three-month cycle and blends hypertrophy and strength together. 
It has been designed with collegiate athletes in mind who want to amp up their strength. The progression is waved and deload weeks are taken care of. This is a professional program for someone who wants to build a solid base and beyond. 
This program is well balanced between strength and muscle building. It also takes the time to develop you without shocking the system. The Juggernaut team is one of the most professional in my opinion that is currently around for the sports of powerlifting and weightlifting.
The Juggernaut method is not designed to peak for powerlifting meets and be your best on competition day. It is not tailored specifically to the needs of powerlifters. There is too little work in the program that goes near to your one repetition maximum. It is also the same for everyone and does not adjust to specific needs. 
The Juggernaut team has partnered with Garret Blevins SkyNet program to create a program which grows and adjusts with you while not having to pay the fees for a coach. The is a good value for money option if you want to get professional from the start.

Powerlifting A.I. 

Powerlifting A.I. is a powerlifting program that has been designed by Chad Wesley Smith and Garret Blevins. You will train on monthly cycles and put your results into a spreadsheet. This spreadsheet will be sent back to Juggernaut and adjustments will be made for the next cycle based on your performance. 
You will work with sets between 3 to 10 depending on what the program gives you. Based on how you feeling the day you also report your fatigue levels.
This is the most comprehensive you can get without hiring a personal trainer. You will tap into the minds of some of the strongest coaches and get real-time feedback.
This is the only program of the listed that has a monthly fee for about 20 to 30 dollars. If you don’t want to pay for your program go with one of the others listed above. 
Juggernaut Training Systems offers the Juggernaut Method and bodybuilding and PowerBuilding alternatives to the Powerlifting A.I. coaching. You can also book virtual personal training with them which is the next step up. 

Which powerlifting program to choose 

This is my humble opinion and your or the one of your trainer might differ. Beginners without a coach should start on Stronglifts 5x5. If you are fit and really committed you can go for the powerlifitngtowin program. Once you have the basics and you are willing to pay a little monthly fee, swap to powerlifting A.I.. if you don’t want to pay money try out Wendler 531. Smolov is only for the ones who want to be silly and massage their ego as I did. 

Further reading


Topics: Lift stronger, Fitness, Strength, Powerlifting