There are so many powerlifting programs available that it can be confusing for a novice lifter to determine which program is right for them.
Here are some of the most popular powerlifting programs for beginners. The following programs are chosen for their intelligent exercise choice, flexibility for the novice athlete to incorporate accessory exercises they enjoy, and perfecting the basics for later powerlifting programs.
- 1 Powerlifting Workout Programs for Beginners
- 2 Early or Late Novice?
- 3 Ivysaur 4-4-8 Beginner Program
- 4 GreySkull LP
- 5 GZCLP Linear Progression Program
- 6 nSuns LP
- 7 Madcow 5×5
- 8 Frequently Asked Questions
Powerlifting Workout Programs for Beginners
- Ivysaur 4-4-8 Program (3 day)
- GreySkull LP (3 day)
- GZCLP Program (3 day or 4 day)
- nSuns Linear Progression Program (3, 4, or 5 day)
- Madcow 5×5 (3 Day)
These beginner programs were chosen for three primary reasons:
- Focus on the big three competition lifts to master the basics
- Emphasis on linear progression
- Providing adequate frequency for each of the lifts
- Relatively simple programs that are easy to follow
Some popular beginner strength programs like Strong Lifts 5×5, Starting Strength, or Ice Cream Fitness only call for the athlete to bench 1-2x weekly and do not program enough deadlift volume, which will result in earlier strength plateaus (i.e. not getting stronger). While they are great choices for folks looking to learn about programming, add muscle, lose fat, and get stronger, they’re not ideal for powerlifting.
Early or Late Novice?
If you’re not sure if you’re an early stage novice or a late stage novice lifter, it’s pretty easy to figure out.
Are you able to add weight to the bar every training session while still keeping the set and rep scheme the same?
If so, congratulations, you’re an early stage lifter.
GreySkull LP or Ivysaur 4-4-8 would be great for you.
These programs are good choices for those who are running their first serious program ever. This will help you realize all of the noob gains you’re capable of achieving as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Don’t be embarrassed to be running an early novice program. They progress faster than any other type of program.
If you’re able to add weight to the bar once a week (again, while keeping the set and rep scheme the same) then you’re a late stage novice.
Check out nSuns, GZCLP, or Madcow if this is you.
If you have your diet and recovery dialed in and you’re not able to progress weekly, you may achieve better results with an intermediate powerlifting program.
Ivysaur 4-4-8 Beginner Program
Ivysaur 448 is best suited for early stage novices.
The Ivysaur 4-4-8 Beginner Program is structured as follows:
While the Ivysaur 4-4-8 program is laid out in a 3x weekly format similar to Starting Strength, Strong Lifts, etc., there are some things I like about it:
- 2x weekly benching
- Significant deadlift volume
- Incorporation of AMRAP sets to help build out work capacity and keep challenging the lifter
This keeps the lifter on a crisp linear progression cycle while still incorporating enough volume and back work to transition into intermediate programs. If you can’t swing a 4x or 5x weekly program, give Ivysaur 4-4-8 a shot.
I think this program is a great alternative to GreySkull LP. I’m sure you can make progress on either program, though.
Greyskull LP is best suited for early stage novices.
GreySkull LP is another excellent choice for an early novice program. It is well documented and has a long history of successfully getting people bigger and stronger.
It’s kind of like Starting Strength v2.0 – the biggest differences being the auto regulation provided by the AMRAP sets, squatting 2x per week on Greyskull instead of 3x per week on Starting Strength, and the incorporation of curls and weighted chin ups.
While I think benching 1-2x weekly is not ideal, the usage of AMRAP sets helps add additional volume.
Here is a summary of the program as laid out in the spreadsheet:
GZCLP Linear Progression Program
GZCLP is best suited for late stage novices.
GZCLP is the linear progression version of GZCL. It’s a solid, well laid out program available in 3 day and 4 day versions. Both versions are in the spreadsheet below.
GZCL is based on the following training structure, which applies to GZCLP as well.
More loads of program info and spreadsheet variations: GZCLP Linear Progression Program
nSuns is best suited for late stage novices.
The nSuns Linear Progression program is great for beginners because it immediately gets them accustomed to higher training frequency, whereas many novice programs only call for 3x weekly training. The novice trainer is unique in that they are able to rapidly recover from training sessions, so 4x or 5x weekly is not necessarily an issue for beginners. If you’d prefer to train 4 or 6 days per week, those variations are also included in the spreadsheet linked below.
- 2x weekly benching
- 2x weekly squatting (counting the front squat variation)
- 2x weekly deadlifting (counting the alternate stance variation)
- Plenty of room to add accessories that address weaknesses
My only recommendation would be to add in some upper back work as an accessory, as the primary lifts programmed here don’t hit it especially hard.
Madcow is best suited for late stage novices.
Madcow 5×5 similar to StrongLifts 5×5, with a few key differences:
- Weekly progression
- Always bench 2x weekly and OHP 1x weekly instead of alternating that frequency
- Greater intensity variation within each training session
- Instead of hitting a PR on the 5×5 rep scheme each training session, you set a PR on the 1×5 rep scheme each week (after a 4 week ramp up period).
While you may be skeptical about the apparent “low volume” of Madcow, it has a long history of effectively getting late novices stronger once they have exhausted the gains available in the “per session” progression period.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which beginner powerlifting program is right for me?
The most important thing is to select a program that progresses at the correct rate. If you are just starting out and have never really run a “proper” program that included progression as part of its protocol, then it’s likely you’d benefit from running an early novice program. These progress the quickest.
Once you can no longer make progress every training session, it is time to move on to a weekly progression program (“late novice”).
Beyond that, pick the program that you’ll actually follow for 12 weeks before deciding it doesn’t work for you.
Why were these beginner programs selected?
I selected these programs because they have a long track record of successfully getting people stronger and because they have spreadsheets that are relatively simple to understand. Plus, enough people have run them that any questions an individual may have can be answered by using Google.