Advice On Powerlifting Only Once Weekly


Having attended a powerlifting workshop featuring two world champion powerlifters - a friend and I decided to become training partners once a week for the three basic lifts.
To me, as a strength foundation to support my bodybuilding training (one day of full body HIT a week + additional accessory training).

What advice re training strategies/routine do you recommend? I am aware that powerlifting once weekly is a disadvantage, but I’m only looking for slow, steady strength progression in the basic lifts alongside perfecting the technique.

Having asked this question in the powerlifting forum @TrainForPain suggested a strength-skill approach that you have created, where you’d work at ~80% of your max for each lift and do 5 sets of 3, next week it’s 5 x 4, then 5 x 5. Then you increase weights and roll again.

I have applied this strategy for 6 weeks with great returns in strength! Where to next, that is when progression has stalled? Any wise alternatives?

Thankful for any advice!

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I did all my competitive powerlifting actually doing more bodybuilding training than powerlifting training.

I see no problem mixing the two, but I never dedicated a single day for powerlifting.

Example: On Monday I started my training with the bench press, training with the powerlifting training philosophy that was available at that time. After the bench press I did the rest of the workout using my bodybuilding methodology.
On Wednesday I started with the squat, and finished with my bodybuilding lifts.
On Saturday I started with deadlifts and finished with my bodybuilding lifts.

I enjoyed competitive powerlifting, but my goal was bodybuilding. I did both.


Well, I do value his contribution. But this time I’m not of the same opinion. The main benefit of strength-skill work is that it can be done more frequently while still recovering, which allows to develop both neurological and technical efficiency. Strength-skill once a week as your only strength work isn’t going to be effective.

I would probably recommend working up to a 2 or 3RM on the bench and squat or deadlift (I would alternate squat and dead weekly0 then doing 3 sets os 2-3 reps with 90% of the reached 2-3M.



Just kidding. I don’t remember the specific context of my original advice, but I’m happy to see a better suggestion here!

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Thank you very much coach! Your suggested route sounds like fun!

Any specific reason you would not do squats and deadlifts on the same workout?

I mean considering the low volume - there should be no major problem, right? …Apart from the strain on the knees and lower back - creating a less than great environment for the second of these two excercises…

I’m been doing squats first, followed by bench, and deadlifts last - and must admit that the lower back is tired during deadlifts. As I think of it, the progression on squats and bench has been brilliant, but more moderate on deads. Having considered shifting places on squats and deads weekly.

My only concern with your advise is whether the volume will be TOO low, compared to 5 sets of 3-5 - considering working out only once a week. The 5×5 session (every 3rd week) has been the manifestation point, where I keep the same weight on all five sets - to consider the weight in question “safe” (for further progression attempts during the lower rep ranges).

Not intending to question your present recommendation, just wanting to better understand the meaning in order to elevate my motivation for change. In @TrainForPain 's “defence”, the strength skill work has worked excellent, with a constant strength increase on a weekly basis. It has proven to be a plateau breaker and even paradoxally allowed for significant strength increase in HIT-training with 90 sec TUT (as well as building muscle mass)! Perhaps the above strength skill route is a bodybuilding approach?

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I jest! My feelings aren’t hurt and I obviously defer to Coach!


It would probably work more than you think

My impression is that the real logic and effect behind a lot of characteristics of powerlifting training (almost no assistance exercises with relevant weight, speed lifting sessions and long bouts of periodization with low weights and long ramp up) is actually to save energy and let your body rest enough between heavy work while still thinking you’re training and doing something

This would also explain why natural powerlifters dont have good physiques and nothing much except their big lifts

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Not true. For example current world junior champion Emil Norling has an interesting training program, with different rep schedules ranging from low to high, bodybuilding, plyometric and conditioning days every week. He’s also a fireman and needs to live up to certain physical standards. A powerlifter of TODAY and a remarkable man. Built like an ardennes horse.

Have you ever worked up to a 2RM and then did 3 sets with 90% of that? While it’s low volume in the bodybuilding world, it is VERY demanding from a recovery perspective.

I had a female powerlifter use that approach (she beat the raw squat world record with a 265kg/583lbs squat at a bodyweight of 67kg/147lbs)… we once did the three lifts with that approach (ramping up to a 2RM then doing 3 sets at 90% on squat/bench/deadlift) and she was trashed for 3 days.

Also, look at volume in terms of total weekly volume. This session might not be high volume (again, it is a lot of volume at that intensity level) but if the rest of the week is higher in volume due to its bodybuilding nature, then it piles up.

Plus, depending on how strong you are, the actual amount of work can still be high with this approach. You ramp up to a 2RM. Meaning that you gradually add weight to the bar on every set until you reach that 2RM.

Let’s assume that you squat 405lbs. A ramp up might look like this:

Bar x 10
135lbs x 5
185lbs x 5
225lbs x 3
275lbs x 3
315lbs x 2
345lbs x 2 (85%)
365lbs x 2 (90%)
385lbs x 2 (95%)
395lbs x 2 (98%)

Then you do…
355 x 2 (90% of your 2RM, 87% of your 1RM)
355 x 2
355 x 2

That gives you 7 sets that are considered “heavy”. They won’t cause the same fatigue as higher reps work, but they place a strong adaptative response to the nervous system and even muscles.

Since you are doing a lot of hypertrophy work during the week, all you need on that day is a strong neurological stimulus… in that case, too much volume is actually detrimental.


Was it really strength-skill work though?

Strength-skill uses weight that should be easy for all your reps. Strength-skill isn’t really done for 5 x 5 unless you are using something like 65%.

If you are using 80% for 5 x 5 it is NOT strength-skill. It’s just hard lifting with moderate reps.

And yes, 5 x 5 work really well. And the progression he mentioned is used as the first phase of my “915” plan. But it’s not strength-skill.

Strenght-skill is, by nature, using. combination of load and reps that are “easy” but use a heavy weight (if that makes sense). This means that in each set your have plenty left in the tank, so that you can:

  1. Focus on technical perfection
  2. Speed of movement
  3. A higher frequency of training

There are several ways to train for strength. All with they advantages and disadvantages.

  1. Hypertrophy work (a muscle’s strength potential is relative to its size)

  2. Strength-skill to improve technical and neurological efficiency by being able to do a high frequency of fairly heavy work. So the weight should be heavy, but the reps low so that each set is done with a lot left in the tank. For example 5 x 2-3 @ 80% IS strength-skill, 5 x 5 @ 80-85% is not.

  3. Hard heavy lifting: something like 5 x 5 with 80% fits that category. The difference with strength-skill is that the load and reps combinations are hard, meaning that you have to grind some reps and it’s challenging to finish your sets. This is the method that “builds” the most strength as it combines both a decent hypertrophy stimulus and good neurological stimulus. But is is also the hardest to recover from

  4. Maximal effort: This is essentially work above 90%. It can be done several ways (e.g. ramping). It gives the strongest neurological stimulus but smaller hypertrophy.

  5. Supramaximal work: utilizing weights above your 1RM either on partial lifts or eccentric overloads. It has good neurological effects too, but work mostly by downregulating the Golgi Tendon Organs, strengthening tendons (both of which will allow you to use a great amount of your strength potential) and can give you a psychological boost.

The best approach will depend on what YOU need to improve specifically.


You cannot prove a concept with an exception. Very few can do what he does and progress optimally.

I’ve trained a few athletes like that (mostly elite Crossfit competitors) but most who tried to follow them crashed badly.

An example is Carol-Ann Reason (Crossfit Games level Crossfitter), I’ve never seen anyone being able to handle as much volume as she did. She would literally train 6-8 hours a day and every single person at the Box/Gym who tried to keep up with her, even for half of her workouts, crashed after a few weeks and they were competitive Crossfit athletes too, not some random guys at the gym.

The fact that Norling is pretty much the only powerlifter in the world training this way should tell you something. If you don’ believe me, try his complete schedule and let me know if you get similar results as him.

There IS such a thing as genetic anomalies (and there is also drug use… not accusing him, but it’s one or the other).

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I also want to point something out.

I DO train the three power lifts on the same day in some phases with powerlifters.

I use that approach in the final block before a competition.

Basically, at that point we train like we compete: doing all three powerlifts at every workout and nothing else at all in the week. Depending on the recovery of the lifter this is done for 2 - 4 weekly workouts (normally, the stronger they are, the less sessions they have).

This is to prepare them for the competition. But to be able to do that, we must drop all assistance exercises.

So a training cycle typically looks like this:

PHASE 1 (general physical preparation): A lot more assistance/hypertrophy work than competitive lift work. We normally do each lift once a week (plus one upper back day) and on that day we do all the assistance work for one of the big lifts and FINISH the workout with the big lift. We also do a lot of core work and loaded carries.

PHASE 2 (specific physical preparation): The focus increases on the competition lifts which will be trained twice a week each (once with heavy hard work and once for strength skill). Typically I pair bench and squat together (twice per week) and deadlift is on the two other workouts. We still have assistance/hypertrophy work but only for weak/lagging muscles.

PHASE 3 (pre-competition): This is how I described above. We ONLY train on the power lifts, for 2-4 workouts per week. Typically one is a max effort session (the ramp I mentioned), 1-2 is/are strength-skill session(s) and sometimes we had a 4th session which is a supramaximal session (partial movements).


@Christian_Thibaudeau your responses are clinics unto themselves. Thank you for all you do for us!

I know you don’t love the “thanks,” bit it’s the holiday season!


This is the approach I take, and IMO would be a good approach for OP. He could vary the type of powerlfiting methods he wanted to use on the lift of the day, then do the assistance more bodybuilding style.

I differ a bit in that I try to have 1 or 2 strength movements on lower body days, and 2-3 strength movements on upper body days. For example, I might deadlift, then do weighted chins on lower body. For upper body it might be bench, barbell rows, then incline bench. I usually don’t do more than 10 reps on these and that is rare. These exercises get a lot of work between 3-8 reps.

After that it is more BBing style on the accessories. I also don’t worry as much as I used to about building the main lift. In the past I might have done good mornings of glute ham raises. I am not after pure strength as much anymore, so I’ll do more stuff to build up my weak points from a BBing standpoint more than a powerlifting standpoint. So more arms for me haha.

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what is your favorite / from 5 points above/ ? and what you recommend to older lifters ?
your thought about speed work ? / read somewhere JM Blakley is not advocate and supporter./

I don’t have one. They are all tools that can be used and the “best” one will depend on the individual’s situation and where he is deficient.

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Again it depends on what they need, although the supramax and max effort methods might not be good for too long with them. But again, that depends on the physical state. You can be an older lifter and have no joint or tendon issues that would make max effort work more dangerous than for others.

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For strength, I’m not a fan (JM and Wendler aren’t either). I think the dynamic effort work done by Westside “works” mostly by being a form of strength-skill work which allows them to do work that they can easily recover from and improve technique. But I don’t think that it directly increases strength much.

For athletes, I see a purpose.


Coach @Christian_Thibaudeau,

Coming from a HIT background, I’m taught and frequently practice emphasized negatives. During our powerlifting attempts my training partner often comment on my negatives being slow (4-5 secs, especially on squats). I feel better control of the weight then, but am reconsidering whether I should rely more upon gravity only,

What is your opinion on slow negatives in powerlifting? Is it any additional benefits strengthwise longterm?