Powerlifting Training Splits

Powerlifting Training Splits

The scheduling and organization of workouts is one of the most important aspects of any training program. Developing an effective training plan calls for a coach to understand the importance of exercise organization and selection, as well as optimal training frequency and how to properly balance training intensity and volume to ensure session-to-session recovery remains optimal and predictable. The goal is an optimized training plan tailored to the athlete's training needs and schedule. 

The Conjugate Method provides the template and programming freedom to ensure training remains optimal year-round regardless of the athlete's schedule. Athletic performance can be maintained or enhanced as long as an athlete can make it to the gym a few times each week. This flexibility is another reason the Conjugate Method is the premier training template choice for athletes. 

Conjugate-based training allows for a variety of training splits to be possible. Considering we focus on training and improving multiple strengths simultaneously, there are many different ways to schedule and program a Conjugate Method training plan. While our typical four-day-per-week training schedule has proven incredibly effective, many other ways exist to design training and organize workouts.

Below, we will discuss the different types of Conjugate-based training splits and various ways to employ the maximal, dynamic, and repeated effort methods to enhance strength, explosive power, work capacity, and overall fitness. 

What are Powerlifting Training Splits?

A powerlifting training split is how training days are scheduled each week and the strategy behind exercise selection and programming each training day. Unlike bodybuilding training splits, which focus on hypertrophy and specific muscle groups each training session, powerlifting training splits concentrate on developing specific strengths to improve sports performance. 

During a typical Conjugate-based training week, we will focus on the development of absolute and explosive strength, hypertrophy, and work capacity. This is much different from a bodybuilding-focused training split, which strongly emphasizes hypertrophy. As a powerlifter, hypertrophy is only part of the equation, but it is the sole focus of a bodybuilder. 

While hypertrophy-focused training is essential for all athletes, strength athletes must consistently improve absolute and explosive strength. When it comes to maintaining strength and athletic ability, there is a lot of truth in the term "if you don't use it, you lose it." Fortunately, the basic Conjugate template allows an athlete to simultaneously improve absolute strength, explosive power, muscle mass, and work capacity. 

This means an athlete stays physically strong and neurologically accustomed to lifting heavy weights year-round. Instead of performance improvement charting in a peaks and valleys pattern, Conjugate-based training allows athletes to progress and continue to build on that progress, with improvement charting in a stair-step pattern. 

With the correct training split, intelligent exercise selection, and proper exercise organization, a Conjugate Method program will be the most effective powerlifting training split you have ever used. With the many ways the methods can be manipulated to meet the current training needs of an athlete, the Conjugate Method is the most efficient way to program powerlifting training. 

Developing the Big Three

As a powerlifter, the primary objective is to develop squat, bench, and deadlift strength as much as possible. Powerlifting is scored by total, meaning the sum of an athlete's best squat, bench press, and deadlift, so it is imperative that an athlete be able to lift adequate numbers in all three lifts to ensure they remain competitive within their weight class. 

With a Conjugate-based training plan, the absolute and explosive strength of the upper and lower body are trained weekly, leading to rapid improvements in the big three lifts. 

At Westside, we train four days per week, with two days focused on developing squat and deadlift strength and the other two focused on developing strength in the bench press. Each week, athletes will perform a variation of the squat, bench press, and deadlift for both maximal and dynamic effort. Additionally, accessory exercises will be performed each training day to strengthen all muscle groups with an added focus on those identified as weak. 

This method of program design leads to stronger and more durable athletes capable of lifting heavy weights regularly and explosively. Instead of breaking down our training into hyper-focused phases, we simultaneously focus on multiple strengths and athletic qualities. This allows for unmatched training specificity and efficiency. 

The Conjugate Method aims to provide athletes with the strength, explosive power, capacity, and durability to lift heavy weights regularly and under any circumstances. It doesn't matter if we are squatting out of an ER rack with a regular squat bar or a monolift with a giant cambered bar; Conjugate trained athletes will have the strength and athleticism to adapt to the demands of practically any barbell exercise. 

Conjugate Method Powerlifting Splits 

The basic Conjugate Method training split calls for a four-day training week, with max effort lower being performed on Monday, followed by max effort upper on Wednesday, then dynamic effort lower on Friday, and dynamic effort upper on Saturday. While this schedule has proven to be one of the most effective ways to structure a training week, it is not the only way to organize a Conjugate-based training week. 

In addition to our standard training schedule, we can also adapt the training schedule to fit a three-, five-, or six-day training week. This allows practically any athlete to employ a Conjugate Method training plan regardless of scheduling limitations. Here's how we go about programming a three, five, or six-day training week at Westside Barbell:

Three Day Plan

Following a three-day-per-week schedule, we recommend performing max effort lower on Monday, alternate week to week between max and repeated effort upper on Wednesday, followed by dynamic effort lower on Friday. With the extra upper body training day being removed, we will program higher levels of accessory training volume each upper body training day. 

Fortunately, much of our lower-body training will improve the strength of the low, mid, and upper back muscles, positively impacting bench press strength and upper-body explosive power. Additionally, the use of the repeated effort method will allow for further improvements in strength and muscular endurance to be made. 

Here's an example of a three-day training schedule:

Week A 

Monday - ME Lower

Wednesday - ME Upper

Friday - DE Lower

Week B

Monday - ME Lower

Wednesday - RE Upper

Friday - DE Lower

Athletes following this plan should follow an ABAB training schedule each month. 

Five Day Plan

A five-day training program can be effective for experienced athletes and individuals with restricted training time. For the experienced athlete, a five-day training plan can provide additional training volume to allow further progression. For an athlete with restricted training time, a five-day plan can be used to disperse training volume throughout the week to reduce the training time associated with each training session. 

With the experienced athlete, it is crucial to ensure that overall training intensity and volume are correctly regulated to maintain optimal recovery times. This means finding the optimal training volume, not the most challenging amount. Ultimately, a five-day training plan is intended to help an experienced athlete improve, so the training plan must be made sustainable. 

Athletes dealing with restricted schedules using a five-day training plan must also stay within tolerable levels of volume and intensity throughout the week. However, unlike the experienced athlete adding volume, the athlete with a restricted schedule disperses four days of training volume over five days. Typically, the fifth training day will be accessory exercises that could not be completed throughout the week due to time constraints. 

Here is an example of a five-day training schedule:

Monday - ME Lower

Tuesday - DE Upper

Thursday - DE Lower

Friday - ME Upper

Saturday - Miscellaneous Accessory Work 

Athletes will repeat this training schedule each week. 

Six Day Plan

A six-day training schedule is typically reserved for the most experienced athletes needing additional training volume and conditioning work to improve their athletic performance further. This training schedule requires the coach or athlete to have a keen understanding of training science to ensure intensity, volume, and recovery are all appropriately managed each week. 

For less experienced athletes, a six-day training plan is almost never recommended. Ultimately, a less experienced athlete will lack the conditioning necessary to handle the additional training volume due to the recovery demands associated with a basic Conjugate training program. 

Max and dynamic effort training requires specific intent and output; if a beginner or intermediate athlete is training at total capacity, six training sessions per week will be too much to recover from. Even if we were to disperse four days' worth of training volume over six training days, the restricted recovery time would still cause issues for all but the most elite athletes. 

Here is an example of a six-day training schedule:

Monday - ME Lower 

Tuesday - DE Upper

Wednesday - GPP Training

Thursday - DE Lower 

Friday - ME Upper

Saturday - Miscellaneous Accessory Work 

Athletes will repeat this training schedule each week. 

Programming Variations and Accessory Work

The Conjugate Method uses special exercises during both main and accessory training to enhance the athlete's strength, explosive power, work capacity, and physical composition. At Westside, we perform different max effort exercises each week while sticking with the same dynamic effort exercises for three-week training waves. 

This means that during max effort training each week, we will select a new specialty bar or movement variation to challenge the athlete further. Typically, we will keep a regular rotation of 4-6 special main exercises specifically selected for the athlete. However, during dynamic effort training, we will perform the same variation using the same bar for three weeks before changing the barbell or adding variation to the movement. 

In addition to these main exercises, we will also perform accessory exercises each training day. These movements will also vary from athlete to athlete depending on muscular weaknesses identified during max and dynamic effort main exercises. Accessory training volume each training day will depend on the total number of training days each week. 

If an athlete is following a three-day schedule, it is likely that the accessory exercise volume will be higher each training day to ensure an acceptable amount of training volume is achieved on a weekly basis. When following the typical four-day training schedule, training volume will depend on the athlete and will be optimally dispersed throughout the training week. 

Athletes following a five-day training schedule will perform the basic four-day program with some modifications made to the order of the training schedule, with the fifth day consisting of accessory exercises only. Typically, the focus of this additional training day will be accessory exercises that directly address recently identified weak muscle groups. 

Athletes will employ a strategy similar to the five-day training plan when following a six-day schedule. However, there will be an additional training day dedicated to GPP-focused training. As mentioned above, due to the experience and fitness level required to deal with the demands of a six-day training schedule, we only recommend this schedule to experienced athletes. 

Whether you are new to training or an athlete with years of experience, selecting the training schedule that best fits your lifestyle and allows optimal recovery to be achieved week to week is essential. 

Balancing Intensity, Volume, and Recovery

Regardless of how many training days an athlete performs each week, having the correct balance of intensity, volume, and recovery is most important. The proper balance changes weekly, so the individual programming training must understand each athlete's strength training needs and limitations. 

If all is going well, and the athlete is showing up to training ready for each training session with no signs of excess fatigue from prior training and hitting PR lifts, the right balance of intensity, volume, and recovery has been achieved. However, if the athlete is showing up to training feeling sluggish, experiencing breakdowns in technique, and rarely achieving a PR lift, no matter the variation, it is time to evaluate the balance between intensity and volume and how it affects recovery. 

The first move should be to reduce accessory exercise volume when dealing with excess fatigue. The athlete should cut each accessory exercise 1-2 sets short of the typical training volume. If this fails to make a noticeable difference, athletes will remove accessory exercises altogether. For instance, if an athlete with fatigue typically performs four accessory exercises each training day, we will reduce the amount of accessory to 2-3 exercises total. 

If fatigue persists, we will deload our max effort training for at least one week. This means that instead of performing max effort exercises for 1-3 reps exceeding 90% training intensity, we will work up to top sets of 3-5 reps around 75-80%. Additionally, we can leave 1-2 sets in the tank during max effort training to reduce the overall training volume and intensity experienced. 

If these adjustments fail to remedy excess fatigue, we will reduce dynamic effort training volume. This is done by eliminating two working sets from each dynamic effort main exercise. 

After implementing all three of these strategies, there is almost no chance fatigue will continue to be an issue. Typically, a reduction in accessory exercise volume will do the trick. However, there can be times when additional fatigue-reducing strategies must be implemented to allow the athlete to continue progressing. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How do I decide which training split is right for me?

A: The right training split for each athlete depends on two main factors: your level of fitness and the amount of time you have available to train. 

Q: How often should I train squat, bench, and deadlift each week?

A: We recommend training the squat, bench, and deadlift twice per week, at various levels of intensity and volume. 

Q: What is the role of a main exercise?

A: The main exercise is selected to improve absolute strength and explosive power in the competition lifts. 

Q: What is the role of accessory work?

A: The role of accessory training is to improve work capacity, increase muscle mass, and strengthen recently identified weak muscle groups. 

Q: What makes the Conjugate Method superior to Linear Periodization?

A: Efficiency. Unlike linear-based training, which causes significant detraining to occur phase to phase, the Conjugate Method simultaneously builds all aspects of strength and athletic performance. 

Optimize Your Training

For any training plan to be successful, it must be optimized to fit the training needs and lifestyle of the athlete. An optimal training plan should allow training to be adjusted at any time to conform to the athlete's schedule while providing optimal intensity, volume, and frequency to enable athletic performance to improve. 

Whether an individual needs to train three, four, five, or six times per week, there is a Conjugate-based training split that can accommodate any athlete's training needs and schedule. Additionally, with the freedom the Conjugate Method provides, training can easily be modified to allow additional recovery without dedicating large amounts of training time to deloading.

The training schedules and strategies described above are all means to the same end - improved athletic performance. The ability of the Conjugate Method to be applied to any training scenario makes it the premier training method for all athletes, not just powerlifters. If you want a powerlifting training plan that can be optimized day to day, week to week, choose a Conjugate-based powerlifting training split.  


Simmons, L. (2007). Westside Barbell Book of Methods. Westside Barbell.

Verkhoshansky, Y., & Siff, M. C. (2009). Supertraining. Verkhoshansky.

Zatsiorsky, V. M., & Kraemer, W. J. (2006). Science and Practice of Strength Training. Human Kinetics

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