The 3 Most Popular Powerlifting Workouts – Explained!

woman powerlifter at squat rack

If you plan to do any serious powerlifting this off-season, you’ll want to follow some type of program. Here’s a look at three of the most popular workout programs so you can figure out which one would be best for you.

The three are:


StrongLifts 5×5 Workout Explained

The StrongLifts 5×5 workout plan really amazes me. It is a very, very simple program, but the results are outstanding! Even better, the program is provided by Mehdi of absolutely free to anyone who wants it!

It’s no surprise the program is so popular.

Who Is StrongLifts 5×5 For?

This workout is for anyone! It works for building muscle, gaining strength, and losing fat. Who doesn’t want to do that?

It’s not a pure powerlifting workout nor is it for bodybuilding. But if you’re new to lifting weights, this is an excellent all-around program for you to start with.

I’d recommend any aspiring powerlifters start with this program and do it for at least 12 weeks before moving on to something like the Westside Barbell workout. You’ll learn the ins and outs of good old-fashioned weight lifting and become familiar with your body.

What Lifts are Involved?

The StrongLifts 5×5 plan focuses on compound movements using free weights. You won’t be using any fancy (but extremely overrated) machines.

Best of all, the focus is on the squat, deadlift, and various pressing movements. That sounds great for powerlifters if you ask me.

How Does It Work?

Remember how I said this would be simple? I wasn’t exaggerating – the plan is made up of just two workouts that you alternate.

You only have to do three workouts per week, with each workout session taking about 45 minutes. For example, during week 1 you might do workout A twice and workout B once. Then during week 2, you’ll do workout B twice and workout A once. Etc.

It’s so basic in concept you might think it won’t work… but then you see the success stories from past users (the program has been out for at least three years now) and you realize it is serious business.

Everything Is Free?

You bet. Here’s the link:

There’s a lot there. You’ll get both the workout plan and a set of spreadsheets to track your workouts, view progress charts, and more.

It shocked me at first, but the workout is a 211 page document! The workout description only required a few pages, but Mehdi fills the rest with excellent fitness and training advice, you’ll want to read it all! The second half of the book is mostly success stories, but they’re fun to read and really motivating, so I consider them an excellent addition.

(Yeah, the success stories generally include before and after shots, so you can see what happens when you start training seriously.


If you’re new to weight lifting and want a workout plan that’s easy to follow but brings stunning results, Stronglifts 5×5 could be the one for you.


Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 Workout Explained

The 5/3/1 Workout is a program developed by Jim Wendler, a famous powerlifter with a 1000lb squat, a 675lb bench press, and a 700lb deadlift while competing in the 275lb class.

Wendler is now retired from powerlifting competition, so he wanted to create a new training program that was much simpler and easier to handle for the average person. That’s how 5/3/1 was born.

The 5/3/1 Program Basics

The plan is four core workouts (focus on squat, bench, deadlift, and overhead press) with little to no assistance work. Weights are relatively low compared to a pure powerlifting workout like Westside.

The program can be adapted to where you train 2-4 days per week, great for busy people as well as athletes who train differently throughout the year.

You progress and build strength slowly, just like the tortoise beating the hare (slow and steady wins the race!)

Who Is 5/3/1 For?

The great thing about this program is that you can take an hour or so to read and digest the information and you’re ready to begin training the next day. It’s a very simple program and doesn’t require any chains, bands, or gear (squat suits, bench shirts, etc.) If you’re a beginner, all that makes it a great choice.

You’ll be able to complete the workout in any commercial gym or in your garage (if you invest in some weights.)

Wendler outlines diet, conditioning, and templates to fit all kinds of goals. So just about anyone can succeed with this book.

The only exception would be experienced powerlifters. In that case, Westside is still the best, but 5/3/1 is easier to understand. If you do Westside properly, it’s proven to produce better results. But you’re better off doing a program you understand correctly than attempting a program you aren’t 100% sure you can follow.


What if the choice is between 5/3/1 and StrongLifts 5×5? You could probably get similar results on either plan, so take a look at the StrongLifts 5×5 since it’s free. But 5/3/1 gets excellent reviews!


Westside Barbell Routine Explained

Ever heard of Westside Barbell? If you’ve been involved in powerlifting at all, I’m sure you’ve heard of it. If you’re new to the sport, trust me, you’ll be hearing about it! The infamous Westside Barbell routine is generally accepted as the #1 powerlifting routine known to man.

Continue reading for a little Westside history and an explanation of the training protocol…

The History of Westside Barbell

Westside Barbell is a gym in Columbus, Ohio that was started by powerlifting addict Louie Simmons. Many of the best powerlifters have trained there and continue to do so. Simmons has also trained athletes in other sports, including many NFL players.

In 2008, they finally published “The Westside Barbell Book of Methods” which is the complete guide (over 236 pages long) to Westside style training.

The Westside Barbell Routine Basics

Westside is very complex, but I’ll give you a rough idea of the basics.

There are four days of workouts per week, generally laid out as follows:

  • Day 1 (max effort squat day)
  • Day 2 (max effort bench day)
  • Day 3 (dynamic effort squat day)
  • Day 4 (dynamic effort bench day)

“Maximal Effort” (ME) days involve heavy weights which require your max effort to lift. “Dynamic Effort” (DE) days are more focused on speed.

The squat and bench press dominate training, but obviously the deadlift is used, too. There are also 40 or so popular assistance exercises. Along with that, special equipment such as bands and chains is often used to work on a specific part of an exercise.

If there’s anything to know about Westside, it’s the constant work with extremely heavy weights.

How does it work?

Whereas most other routines are based on a periodization schedule, Westside is based on the Conjugate method and other training protocols. These have been shown to produce consistent gains and avoid plateaus.

Is it complicated??

Typically if someone says Westside doesn’t work, it’s because they tried it but did it all wrong. Hence the big problem – a lot of people don’t really understand the program as well as they need to in order to get good results.

They do have articles and webinars, and the book is very thorough, but I won’t lie – you have to put effort into grasping the program.

Is it safe?

Everyone will tell you the Westside method of training has produced the lowest injury rate in powerlifting compared to any other method.


If you plan to compete in powerlifting and love to hit new PRs, and you have a good training base under your belt, your goal should be to move onto the Westside routine ASAP.


CAUTION! This blog post is just a very basic introduction to the Westside Barbell routine. Do NOT try to start training Westside until you have read the book and thoroughly researched it!


That should give you an idea of which program to start with!

Which one do you like? Let me know in the comments!

Photo Credit: Greg Westfall

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4 Comments so far

  1. Francis on October 8th, 2014

    Thanks Coach for the powerlifting advice. I don’t want to be a CrossFitter so I’m looking into this training regimen.

  2. Levi on October 9th, 2014


    You’ll build some serious leg strength without having to do any extra exercises that could be a little weird or dangerous. Good choice.

  3. Channing all over your Tatum on November 23rd, 2014

    SL 5×5 is NOT a powerlifting workout. What’d you do, use one of those quick blog programs where you type in a few keys words it does all the search and gather for you and then you just hit the button for it to churn out the article for you? Gotta love it when people post articles about lifting then you can immediately tell they don’t know anything about lifting, LoL.

  4. Levi on November 23rd, 2014


    Thank you for re-stating what I wrote and complimenting my button clicking skills.

    If you read the article, you would have seen the part where I said SL 5×5 was “not a pure powerlifting workout” and that it was instead “an excellent all-around program for you to start with if you’re new to lifting weights.”

    If you were coaching someone who has never picked up a weight, would you send them over to Westside Barbell for their first session?

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