T Nation

New to Powerlifting, Program Advice

Hi TNation, I’m a new member and fairly new to powerlifting. Been training for a bout a year solid now though I’ve trained in a bodybuilding style previously with a break inbetween.

Basically I’ve been training 5x5 for the last year with pretty good success (in my eyes atleast) with Monday being squat day, Wednesday being bench day and Friday being deadlift day. Have slacked on assistance work really only doing what I wanted when I felt like it but nevertheless had good results.

I’m looking to take it a step further now and have come across tens of different programs but a lot seem to focus on geared lifting which I’m not into, yet.

The program that jumps out at me most is the westside style and all its variations, I’ve done my research on it and think I could handle the volume with no real problems but is it really as good as people say? I’ve heard about the wendler 531 program too but feel as my lifts are still progressing well the progress might be less than I’m looking for though please correct me if I’m wrong!

My stats are:
Age: 23
Height: 5’9/10
Weight: 220 though this is up and down each week currently
Squat: 400 x 2
Bench: 210 x 1
Deadlift: 360 x 1

Any pointers in the right direction is much appreciated, and yea I know my bench is kind of lousy at the minute!

Thanks in advance, Joe.

5/3/1 would be a better, simpler choice for you. Yes, progress is “slow” but it’s better to have slow, steady progress then to be killing yourself trying to progress and end up regressing from overtraining. Westside is probably too advanced for you, and it’s aimed more at geared lifters anyway.

If you’re still making progress on your current program (5x5), then I’d say keep doing that until you hit an absolute wall and can’t get any stronger from that program. You want to milk the crap out of it and get every ounce of “noob” gains you can. Then do a deload or testing week and start on Wendler’s 5/3/1.

There are alot of programs out there but 5/3/1 is popular with good reason. It’s a great intermediate program.

Thanks I didn’t really think of it like that. Do you know where I can find good info on the 531 program?

The problem I find with how I currently train is the more my beginners gains are tapering off the more I find I’m missing something if that makes sense? Think I need more dynamic and assistance work which is why I mentioned the westside program.

Also I’m not new to lifting all together and my diet is pretty good so overtraining at the minute isn’t an issue but will definitely be at the back of my mind. Just want to find the best way to progress in powerlifting as I have only been introduced to it a year ago.

Having done Westside for Skinny Bastards (DeFranco’s twist on Westside), then 5-3-1 for about 7 months, followed by Westside for the past 9 months, I’d highly recommend Westside, even at your current state.

Westside is not that hard to understand, and it’s not limited to geared lifters. If you believe in anything Louie preaches, 5-3-1 just doesn’t make much sense comparatively. Working at 90%+ is where you’ll see the best strength gains. On 5-3-1, you don’t handle a weight above 90% of your true 1RM for nearly 2 months. Then towards the end, you’re doing the same exact movement above 90% for 4-6 weeks, and doing some type of ME 4x a week.

So… doing hardly any true ME work for awhile, then doing a bunch of ME work but not employing a conjugate method, so your CNS basically goes to crap during the one period when you’re handling enough weight to see the best strength gains.

Will you make slow and steady gains on 5-3-1? Sure. But for me at least, the strength gains from westside dwarf those from 5-3-1, and this holds true for raw, intermediate lifters as well.

Take a look at the westside threads (part I and II), and specifically STB’s intro. You can incorporate more as you go (different variations, periodization etc.), but follow the basic template to start and I think you’ll see much better gains than 5-3-1 could yield.

Having done it how would you say you found it in regards to overtraining? Was it an issue at any point? What were your stats before and after westside and 531?

I’m definitely looking more towards the westside method as it makes more sense to me (less isn’t more, more is more!) but am wary now after reading Acrophobia13’s post.

I didn’t find overtraining to be an issue, at least not so far. You’ll do a lot of “work”, maybe even more, on 5-3-1 as well, especially if doing all the assistance work suggested by Boring But Big or The Triumvirate. The real difference is the increased intensity on Westside, and the increased variation. The latter should help with the first. If anything, the only time I ever felt burnt out on either Westside or 5-3-1 was towards the end of a 5-3-1 cycle when I’d be working above 90% 4 days a week for a month, doing the same lifts each week and squatting/DLing twice a week.

Westside is great in that it’s not a program, and you can adjust based on how your body is feeling. If you feel like shit one day, you can scrap the assistance work or limit it. If you’re feeling really burnt out, you can replace a ME day with some RE work. Stuff like that. But it really has not been an issue for me thus far. The only time I felt burnt out is when I stupidly started doing the 4 major workouts on a 6 day cycle instead of a week. If you want to work out more than 4x a week, just do small extra workouts with a bunch of mobility work and some dumbbells on a weak area. That actually makes me feel better for the next major workout than if I had done nothing at all in between (should have listened to Louie in the first place here).

I’ll pull some numbers from my logs tonight to get more specific. But I can tell you that I was seeing modest gains in squat/DL on 5-3-1 and almost no gains on the bench over the course of 7+ months, and then have seen much better gains in all 3 lifts in the 9 months since I switched back to a westside template.

I’m sure others may advocate 5-3-1, as it’s a pretty popular program. Everyone’s mileage will vary. But from my perspective, having done both as hard and as smart as I could, the results from Westside have been markedly better.

Thanks for the input! Given me much more of an idea about it. Definitely going with westside from what you’ve said, sounds like a smarter way to train and if the gains are there too it’s a no brainer.

One last thing though, how did you structure your week? I’ve seen, ME, DE, DE, ME. Then DE, ME, ME, DE. Could you not have it as ME, DE, ME, DE? Think personally it’d allow for better recovery but not seen it done that way, and if not then how come?

Thanks again,

[quote]joew89 wrote:
Thanks for the input! Given me much more of an idea about it. Definitely going with westside from what you’ve said, sounds like a smarter way to train and if the gains are there too it’s a no brainer.

One last thing though, how did you structure your week? I’ve seen, ME, DE, DE, ME. Then DE, ME, ME, DE. Could you not have it as ME, DE, ME, DE? Think personally it’d allow for better recovery but not seen it done that way, and if not then how come?

Thanks again,[/quote]

You can’t go ME, DE, ME, DE unfortunately, it would require you to do bench workouts or squat/DL workouts back to back.

Louie doesn’t say much on exact layout, and I don’t think it’s too important. He just says that you should always leave at least 72 hours between a bench workout (same for a squat/dl workout). I believe they tend to do this at Westside, but I’m sure it’s changed:

MON - ME SQUAT/DL
WED - ME BP
FRI - DE SQUAT/DL
SAT OR SUN - DE BP

I personally prefer to leave 2 days between my ME workouts, but I don’t think it matters much. So for that, I do:

MON - ME SQUAT/DL
TH - ME BP
FRI - DE SQUAT/DL
SUN - DE BP

But again, none of this matters too much. Just leave 72 hours between a major workout for BP (same for squat/DL), and give yourself a full week between a max effort workout. If you miss a day, not a big deal. Just push everything back a day, the extra day of rest won’t hurt.

Cheers mate you’ve been a great help!

Think I’m gonna try and stick to their program to the letter and then I’ve only myself to blame if I can’t work it properly. Good about it being flexible too as everyone has off days.

Do you have any good links to some solid info? I know there’s tonnes out there but it’s finding it

If you do go with a “Westside” style program, be sure to consult someone experienced with the method about exercise selection. A lot of people get all caught up and go nowhere because of all the customization options. For now, you probably don’t need to worry about bands or chains either.

That’s the great thing and the tough thing about "Westside’ (conjugate) style training. It’s very customizable, but that demands some amount of discipline and knowledge, versus a simple program like 5/3/1.

Also consider checking out “The Cube” by Brandon Lilly. It’s an ebook for sale for like, $35.00. It’s based on Westside training, but spread out over a month rather than a week. Brandon Lilly used to train at Westside, and is now focusing on raw lifting versus geared. You can also join social network groups about the program and contact Brandon directly with questions about it.

What would you say is a good amount of time to rotate exercises? I know the original program says every week but I read that when starting it and certainly at my level it’s only necessary to swap every two to three weeks.

Have heard about the cube method but kind of dismissed it as I’d heard it was pretty much the same,though I’ll look into it.

For Max Effort lifts, it’s probably only necessary to switch the variation every 2-3 weeks. But there’s no harm in switching every week. Personally, I like to switch every week because what gets me really motivated and locked in is the goal of hitting a new PR on whatever ME variation I’m doing that week. If I do deficit deadlifts, e.g., two weeks in a row up to a true 1RM, it’s unlikely I’ll be breaking that PR in week two. But if it’s been 8 weeks since I last did a deficit deadlift, I’ll be confident and going all out to break that previous PR by 10 or 20 lbs.

Here are some ME variations I’ve found to be helpful for a raw lifter.

BENCH:

Close Grip Bench Press
Floor Press
Incline Bench Press
Rack Lockouts (Pins not too far from chest)
1 or 2 Board Press
Decline Board Press
Bench Press

-In general, raw lifters will be weakest between 3-6" from the chest. I assume your weak spot is similar to mine in that regard. In that case, your 3 board or 5 board presses, rack lockouts with limited ROM etc. aren’t quite as helpful for ME variations.

SQUAT/DL:

Box Squats (varying box heights, but never higher than parallel)
Squats (Both Wide Stance and Narrow)
SSB or Cambered Bar Box Squats
Sumo Deadlift
Conventional Deadlift
Deficit Deadlifts

I agree with the poster above that bands and chains are probably not needed in the beginning for your ME lifts. But my DL lockout sucks, so I’ve found banded deadlifts to be very helpful. And as you progress and could benefit from more variations, the bands can be very helfpul for all three.

As for DE work, I find a night-and-day difference when bands get incorporated. They solve the accomodating resistance issue, the accelerated eccentrics are noticeable and helpful, and squatting or benching against bands with good form/technique should have a nice carryover to your form/technique in the big 3.

Finally, Louie often writes that his guys rarely do one of the Big 3 lifts on ME day, almost always a variation instead. As a raw lifter and not having the skill and technique that his guys have yet, I find it very helpful to treat the BP/Squat/Conventional DL as just another variation that I go through. That way I end up doing each of the big 3 against a ME weight once every 8-10 weeks. Allows you to keep refining that form/technique, and gives you confidence that the variations are in fact accomplishing what they are supposed to do – increasing the Big 3 lifts.

Thanks mate, exactly the kind of info I’m looking for!

Not looking at using bands/chains for a while yet, only when I need them will I get some. Same with bench shirts etc, my raw lifts aren’t good enough yet so don’t wanna complicate things though I do use a belt and wraps doing 1rm squats and deadlifts.

One last thing, how do you work the percentages? Is it from your last 1rm attempt or is it fresh each week? Say if I squat 400 this week will I still work off that next week or do I add a few pounds?

Thanks again, really appreciate you taking time to explain this to me

I assume you’re asking about percentages w/r/t DE days? For your ME days, no real need to worry about percentages. Just work up to whatever your 1RM happens to be on that day. Your previosus PR may be helpful in gauging what that might be, and the weight you should take for your attempts. A good baseline is to do about 90% on the first attempt, somewhere between 95-100% of your previous 1RM on a second attempt, and then go for a PR on the 3rd attempt. But a lot of that can be done by feel. Sometimes you’ll feel like shit, and realize that 95% of your prior 1RM might just be your 1RM for that day in the gym.

As for DE, base the percentages on your actual 1RM, not what you think you’d be able to get now that you’ve made a few weeks of progress since your last 1RM in the squat/bench. But it’s not a great idea to just go strictly on any preset %s for DE days. The idea is to be moving as much weight as you can while still doing it explosively. If you find that you’re not moving the weight explosively, you need to drop down a bit. A good idea is to add 5-10% on your last DE set in the beginning and see how it feels. If it’s still explosive, you can probably work with more weight the next week. If it feels slow, you were probably at about the highest weight you should go on the other sets.

The general thought is something like a 3 week wave at 50%, 55% and 60% for DE Squats. But that’s if you’re working against an extra 15-25% in resistance at lockout via bands or chains. If just straight weight, you should probably be doing DE work for the squat in the 65-80% range, but again a lot of this is feel based on how explosive you are. Some people will also do 3 week waves for their bench, while others will just always work at the same % for the bench (be it 45%, 50%, 55%, whatever is the right balance between maximum weight while still being explosive). I find that I generally have to work against smaller %s on bench than squat to remain explosive, and I think a lot of others have found the same thing. But this varies with individuals and you’ll have to figure it out a bit as you go.

You got some good info above, but to be honest I don’t think Westside would be ideal for you at your level of strength, it is too much dynamic work IMO. If you do decide to go with them I would use 70%+ for your DE work and do a few singles around 90% after that to build strength.

Here are 2 programs that are essentially laid out for you that you would likely do quite well on

I wrote them so obviously I am biased but they are set up for you with your current goals and situation.

Finally not to get too down on you but your strength levels are odd for someone of your size and height, by that I mean your squat is too high in comparison to the other 2 lifts. Not a huge deal, it just likely means you are doing partial squats but it is better to learn that now than later on, so try to squat below parallel for all your reps and maybe take a vid of your form for feedback, I’d expect it to be in the 315-330 range with full ROM but tough to know without seeing you. If you are already squatting below parallel then nice work with that, it is just very rare to see a relatively new lifter with a squat that is 40+ lbs over their deadlift at 5’10 without super short arms (which would really help the bench press).

Hope that helps, good luck with your training whatever you decide to do.

Thanks Rock! Think I’ve got most of the info for the basics of it now.

Tim henriques, thanks I’ll have a look. To be honest though I’mkinda set on westside now, just wanna give it a try and if it works for me then fantastic, if not then I’ve lost nothing and gained some good experience.

I know my lifts are kinda odd and this might sound like a load of crap but I do squat below parallel, I set the spotting arms so they’re about 3/4 of an inch below and try and touch the bar on every rep, not bounce it off though. This is why I’ve been looking for a more structured program such as westside so I don’t neglect areas I have been, see original post. Always had pretty strong legs from playing hockey and judo, plus to me I find the squat alot less technical than bench press or deadlift though I’m sure the opposite is true for most people.

Any input is hugely appreciated as I’m still fairly new to all this

A video of your bench might help to see what’s holding that back so much compared to your squat. But my guess is you’re like me and most others, and your triceps are under developed. Given the deadlift/squat irregularity, you probably have much stronger legs compared to your back too. So developing rear delts, lats and traps would help the bench quite a bit too.

On your bench days for the assistance work, train the shit out of your triceps right after your main lift, then do the same for upper back. JM Presses are awesome for your triceps, DB/BB extensions are great too. Rowing variations, especially barbell rows and high rep Kroc rows have really helped me develop my upper back, and a shorter ROM on the bench along with a nice shelf to press off of will certainly help.

I like how STB and others have suggested doing the assistance work on bench day. Go a few weeks in an accumulation block where you’re doing high rep stuff – 3-4 sets of 12-20 reps in stuff like BB/DB extensions and Kroc Rows. Then do the next few weeks in an intensification block where you’re working more towards strength – 6RMs or thereabout for things like the JM Press and Barbell Rows. This has worked well for me in both building more mass in my triceps and upper back, but also increasing strength.

Joew89 - trust yourself, if you are psyched about Westside go for it, there is something pretty cool about maxing out twice a week every week. Good luck with it

Cookie cutter programs laid out by others typically don’t work for others. They know nothing about your strength, weaknesses, work capacity or technique. You’ll do well with a westside program. Best of luck

Thanks for all the input everyone, going to startwwestside in 2 weeks and will post a log of my progress. Thanks for a warm welcome tothe site too!