Creating a powerlifting and/or Olympic weightlifting program based on your goals, needs, and abilities takes a methodical approach.
So how do you create a powerlifting & olympic weightlifting program? Here is the 9-step process:
Step 1: Understand the Differences Between Powerlifting vs Olympic Weightlifting
Step 2: Choose Your Timelines
Step 3: Choose Your Training Frequency
Step 4: Choose You Main Movements
Step 5: Choose Your Strength Movements
Step 6: Choose Your Accessory Movements
Step 7: Choose Your Sets, Reps, and Loading Schemes
Step 8: Monitor and Track Progress, Recovery, and Performance
Step 9: Repeat Process and Refine as Goals Change
In this article, we’ll cover this 9-step process in more detail so that you fully understand how to program based on your powerlifting and weightlifting goals.
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Creating a Powerlifting & Olympic Weightlifting Program: Step-By-Step Guide
Below is a comprehensive step-by-step guide on how to create a powerlifting and/or Olympic weightlifting program.
It is important to note that the specific order of these steps may or may not be exact to each situation, however a well thought out program should include all of the steps below.
Additionally, individual circumstances can also come into play, so be sure to take into consideration previous injury, beginner vs advanced lifter considerations, and personal preferences.
STEP 1: UNDERSTAND THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN POWERLIFTING VS OLYMPIC WEIGHTLIFTING
While some individuals may look at the barbell and assume both sports are the same. It is vital that you understand the district differences between both sports.
Powerlifting is a competitive sport in which athletes lift the maximum amount of weight then can in the squat, bench, and deadlift. These lifts are the basis of most strength programs, and are developed through sound coaching and training. Bar speed is less of an important characteristic in powerlifting than weightlifting.
Olympic weightlifting, like powerlifting training, does include squats, deadlift (clean and snatch variations), and presses (not so much bench press, but more push presses, jerks, etc). The main difference in the two sports is that Olympic weightlifting is far more technical and velocity dependent than powerlifting.
This is not to say powerlifting does not require technique, because it certainly does, however Olympic weightlifting movements like the snatch, clean, and jerk require high amounts of precision at faster bar speeds (velocity).
Related Article: Jeff Nippard’s Full-Body Program Review
STEP 2: CHOOSE YOUR TIMELINES
A program, regardless of sport, should have phases in which certain aspects of development are emphasised.
The first phase is the preparatory phase (goal is hypertrophy), in which emphasis is placed on increasing work capacity, building lean muscle mass, and refining technique. This often occurs the farthest out from competition, and the goal here is to set the base for more strenuous and sport specific training to come.
The second phase is the strength phase (goal is strength development), or simply a phase in which strength is built, not necessarily fully expressed (next phase). This is where most lifters spend time leaving up to a competition, lifting in the 80-90% ranges, but rarely lifting over 90%.
The third phase is the competition phase, in which the ability to express strength is developed. This phase is a phase in which high neurological demands and adaptations take place, and a lifter often feels drained. This is done in the last few weeks leading up to a competition to peak performance. During this phase, accessory movements are also decreased to allow for recovery from such high-intensity (% of maximum) training.
The last phase is the recovery or post competition phase, in which a lifter decreases the % they are lifting at, decreases overall volume, and allows the body to recover. This is often less structured and can vary in length based on timelines.
Understanding where you are at in the phases process, and how that correlates with your competitive timeline is essential when developing a program
STEP 3: CHOOSE YOUR TRAINING FREQUENCY
This can vary depending on the individual.
For most powerlifters, training 3-5 days a week can suffice.
Olympic weightlifters may need to train 4 days or more for more optimal results, since some of the days can be low intensity but high technical demands.
The training age (how long someone has been training, not the same as chronological), ability to recover, and overall skill level will dictate how much training one can handle.
Generally speaking, the more advanced a lifter is, and the stronger they are, the LESS high intensity (% of maximum) training they can handle and recover from.
Most beginners have not developed the ability to work towards their true genetic potential, so the risk for that is much lower than a more elite athlete. In elite athletes, proper recovery and making sure you are not doing TOO much is key.
Related Article: What Is a Typical Crossfit Workout? (Let’s Break It Down)
STEP 4: CHOOSE YOU MAIN MOVEMENTS
The main movements, for the sake of this article, are referring to the competitive lifts. In powerlifting, the competitive lifts are the back squat, bench press, and deadlift. In Olympic weightlifting, the main lifts are the snatch, and clean and jerk.
While it is not necessary to ALWAYS train the exact movements in every single phase, it is necessary to devote enough attention to the lifts throughout the training cycle (especially leading up to a competition) to ensure the best technical results and transfer to the full lifts from the other aspects of training.
During various phases, variations of the full lifts can be used to isolate certain problem areas or technical breakdowns. For example, a pause squat can be used to increase squat skill and strength, however in competitions you would not want to do a pause squat. Understanding the value of each variation and how it correlates to the main competitive lift is key.
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STEP 5: CHOOSE YOUR STRENGTH MOVEMENTS
In powerlifting, the “main movements” and strength movements are often the same, however in Olympic weightlifting, doing snatches and cleans will most likely not make you stronger (you will get better at the lifts, but doing squats, pulls, and presses is what is actually needed for strength development).
Doing strength lifts and their variations, such as back squat, front squats, sumo deadlifts, incline presses, etc can create a new strength and muscle mass, add variety to a program, and isolate various strength limitations and issues and address them.
For example, a weightlifter may need to add more front squat into training as their positional strength in the clean is insufficient, despite having a strong back squat.
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STEP 6: CHOOSE YOUR ACCESSORY MOVEMENTS
Accessory exercises are a critical component of a training program. While many beginner lifters and coaches view the main lifts and strength lifts as the most important aspects of a program (which, sure, they are very important), more advanced lifters and coaches understand the true value in including accessory exercises for optimal development.
The purpose of accessory exercises are to help aid overall performance in the main lifts and strength lifts, by adding muscle growth, correcting muscular imbalance, and help minimize injury. This can be a great way to make programs more well rounded, to increase the longevity of an athletes/lifters training, which in the end is one of the most critical aspects of optimal strength and power development (the ability to train day after day, without injury or setbacks).
STEP 7: CHOOSE YOUR SETS, REPS, AND LOADING SCHEMES
Generally speaking, the higher the % of maximum (intensity) a lift, the less total reps you do with it. For most lifters, strength development should occur within the 80-89% range.Skill and hypertrophy can take place in lower ranges, such as 65-80%. Leading up to competition however, lifters will have to acclimate themselves to heavier loads, with weights above 90%.
Overall training volume (sets and reps) can vary based on the lifter’s ability, training age, recovery status, and more.
In short, a coach should always strive to find the minimum effective dose for training, which means a program that elicits a positive training response yet minimizes fatigue and injury risk. Training too much and too hard, for too long, especially in advanced and stronger lifters, is a receipt for disaster and injury.
STEP 8: MONITOR AND TRACK PROGRESS, RECOVERY, AND PERFORMANCE
As you go week to week through a program, be sure to make notes on daily performance, how you felt mentally and physically, soreness levels, and any pains or discomfort your experience during any movements or after workouts. The more info you collect on yourself, the better you will be able to progress and evolve the program month after month, seeing what works best for you (or more importantly, what does not work well for you).
If you’re using Fitbod, the app will monitor and track this progress for you.
This is also helpful to have if you ever plan to seek advice from a more experienced strength coach. When I get clients and athletes who have collected data on themselves in a simple training log, it allows me to gain a deeper understanding of the lifter, their abilities, and what might be the missing link in their training.
STEP 9: REPEAT PROCESS AND REFINE AS GOALS CHANGE
Over time, you will be able to look back and review your programs, determine what works and what doesn’t, and repeat the process over and over again. As you do this more frequently, you will be able to refine your programs more and more, taking into account previous failures, mishaps, injuries, and success to build the best program based on your needs, goals, and abilities.
Building the perfect training program is something that takes time, tweaking, and understanding that every lifter is different. Learning to adapt a program, find what works, and fix issues that come up are all regular occurrences when programming for strength, power, fitness, and sports. Hopefully the above article offers you enough insight to begin to tackle designing your own powerlifting and/or Olympic weightlifting program, and inspires you to take more notes and read up on more exercise science and programming articles like this and many others listed throughout this article.
About The Author
Mike holds a Master’s in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), USA Weightlifting Advanced Coach, and has over 10+ years of experience working with collegiate athletes, national level lifters, and beginners alike. Mike is Founder of J2FIT Strength and Conditioning, a growing global training company with gyms in New York City, Cincinnati, and online offering personal training, online custom coaching programs.
Mike has published over 500+ articles on premiere online media outlets like BarBend, BreakingMuscle, Men’s Health, and FitBob, covering his expertise of strength and conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, strength development, fitness, and sports nutrition. In Mike’s spare time, he enjoys the outdoors, traveling the world, coaching, whiskey and craft beer, and spending time with his family and friends.