Powerlifting can be a time-consuming sport, but with thought-driven programming, anyone can make time to train for powerlifting. For a powerlifting program to be appropriate, it should be designed around the lifter’s availability, even if they only have 2 days a week to train.
A 2-day powerlifting split is a useful and minimalistic way of getting powerlifting training done through a busy week. A properly-designed 2-day powerlifting split gives an opportunity for all three powerlifts – squat, bench, and deadlift – to be tackled twice a week.
In this article, I will go through everything you need to understand the 2-day powerlifting split so you can decide whether or not it is right for you. I’ll also show you how you can structure it within your own training and provide a sample 2-day powerlifting split at the end.
The Theory Behind A 2 Day Powerlifting Split
The theory behind a 2-day powerlifting split is to be able to train all three main lifts twice across two days. So you perform the squat, bench press, and deadlift on both days. Within the confines of a 2-day powerlifting split, there are options to how each day is structured.
There are advantages to using a 2-day powerlifting split, including:
- Training the movements twice a week is enough to make good progress
- 2-day powerlifting splits can give a lot of scope for recovery
- 2-day powerlifting splits can give room for other modes of training outside of powerlifting
Training Movements Twice A Week Is Enough To Make Good Progress
Having a 2 day split for powerlifting gives you a chance to hit all three main lifts up to twice a week, which is enough to make good progress on all three lifts.
Research done by Rhea et al. suggests that training muscle groups at a twice-per-week frequency is most appropriate for optimal gains in trained individuals. Trained individuals refer to lifters who have had previous experience lifting weights, which may include powerlifters who are at an intermediate or higher level.
Other research done by Grgic et al. and Ralston et al. suggests that training frequency does not matter that much for rate of strength gains. They also suggest that higher training frequencies only matter if it allows for lifters to do more training.
2-Day Powerlifting Splits Can Give A Lot Of Scope For Recovery
With a 2-day powerlifting split, you have 5 days per week to recover. This is plenty of recovery time if you are going to train hard during those 2 days.
When you lift weights, you stimulate the muscle to repair and grow as a consequence. The process that describes your body’s building of proteins into muscles is called muscle protein synthesis. Research has shown that muscle protein synthesis can be elevated up to 36 hrs after a bout of resistance training.
This means that giving your body 2 or 3 days rest between each session is plenty before you can feel fresh enough to tackle another hard or long training session.
2 Day Powerlifting Splits Can Give Room For Other Modes Of Training Outside Of Powerlifting
A 2-day powerlifting split gives you more than enough rest days, which means you can also incorporate other modes of training outside of lifting weights. This could be useful if you are a multisport athlete or if you also like to do cardio or GPP workouts on your off days.
Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 powerlifting routine is a program that you can customize to fit a 2-day per week training schedule. Learn more about it in my article Texas Method vs Wendler 5/3/1: Differences, Pros, Cons.
4 Reasons NOT To Do A 2 Day Powerlifting Split
A 2-day powerlifting split will be suitable for some people, but there are others who should not do a 2-day powerlifting split at all. It is important to find the split that is most appropriate for your situation and athlete profile.
The 4 reasons not to do a 2-day powerlifting split are:
- You want to incorporate a lot of accessory work and your workouts become too long
- You plateau from training twice a week
- You do not have a high work capacity
- You have more capacity to train more frequently
1. You Want To Incorporate A Lot Of Accessory Work And Your Workouts Become Too Long
A 2-day powerlifting split is likely to incorporate the squat, bench press, and deadlift on both days. If you also account for an appropriate warm up for each of the three lifts, a training session can take between 2 or more hours in the gym.
If you want to incorporate a lot of accessory work to either improve movement and technique quality or build muscle, this can easily extend the training sessions to 3 hours or more in the gym.
You may not have the time to be able to fit more exercises on top of training the three competition lifts, and you cannot successfully complete a program if it is not practically viable for you to stick to it.
Even if you are able to fit in the extra work, you may not have the capacity to successfully complete the additional exercises or the motivation to focus on them at the end.
As well, research has shown that exercise order matters for the purpose of strength gain in a single training session. This means that if you do have a lot of weak points to fix, a 2-day split may not be suitable for you because you won’t be able to perform a lot of accessory exercises in the most optimal order for strength gain.
Looking for the best accessory movements that powerlifters should do for arms and legs? Check out my articles How Do Powerlifters Train Arms? (Definitive Guide) and How Do Powerlifters Train Legs? (3 Powerlifting Leg Workouts).
2. You Plateau From Training Twice A Week
If you plateau from a training program, you may need to increase volume by increasing the number of total sets you do.
As I mentioned earlier, running a 2-day powerlifting split means that you have to extend the length of your training sessions. Because 2-day powerlifting splits are already quite time consuming, fatigue will build up quickly during each session.
If you do not have the work capacity to withstand a longer training session, you will find yourself struggling to progress with a 2-day training split. In this case, training splits spread out over more days during the week will be more appropriate.
For ideas on how to spread out your powerlifting training over more days per week, check out the following resources:
3. You Do Not Have A High Work Capacity
Performing 2-day powerlifting splits will require you to have a high work capacity to successfully perform multiple compound movements in a single training session.
Not having a high work capacity means you will struggle to perform a certain weight for more sets. You may also struggle to lift a meaningful enough weight for later exercises. This will limit how much you can progress. It may also mean that your form may start to break down, which can increase your risk of injury and reinforce poor technique.
4. You Have More Capacity To Train More Frequently
If you have the ability to train more frequently than twice per week, it will be beneficial to increase your training frequency to 3 or 4 days per week. This will allow you to focus on lower priority exercises while you’re well-rested instead of cramming them on to the end of a long workout.
You’ll also have more days with which to vary your training intensity. By giving yourself more time to focus on lighter squat, bench press and deadlift sessions along with more accessory exercises, you have more energy to perform each set with a stronger emphasis on technique.
Is A 2 Day Powerlifting Split Right For You? (5 Factors)
To figure out whether a 2-day powerlifting split is right for you, you need to consider your own unique situation.
Here are 5 factors to think about when deciding whether or not a 2-day powerlifting split is right for you:
- Mental Capacity
- Technique and Weaknesses
Over the course of a training block, you may not always progress on a weekly basis. But over several weeks, you need to have progressive overload. A 2-day powerlifting split can be restrictive as you have to fit all of your training into 2 sessions per week.
If you are able to progress in your weights over a training cycle, then a 2-day powerlifting split may still be suitable for you. If you are struggling to progress, plateauing, or finding that fatigue is accumulating fast, then a 2-day powerlifting split is no longer right for you.
If you are an absolute beginner, you can make good progress with a 2-day powerlifting split. But you may also benefit from spreading your sets across shorter, more frequent training sessions.
This means you are fresher each time you train so you can focus better on technique, which is a priority for a beginner.
If you are an intermediate powerlifter, you can more easily get away with a 2-day powerlifting split, as you do not need to have high training sets or difficult sessions to make good progressions.
If you are an advanced powerlifter, you may find that a 2-day powerlifting split is not enough to help you fit in all the work you need to make good progress, which is already harder to make as you get stronger. The stronger you get, the slower your rate of gains due to natural biological factors.
How long can you expect newbie gains to last as a beginner powerlifter? Check out my article How Long Do Newbie Gains Last? (Science-Backed) to find out.
If you only have enough time to train twice per week, a 2-day powerlifting split will be inevitable as you need to shape your programming around your lifestyle.
If you do not have the capacity to allocate 2 hours or more for any training session, then you may want to opt for a higher frequency split.
4. Mental Capacity
If you find that you are less diligent and get complacent with exercise technique later on in the session due to fatigue, then you are better off training with a higher level of frequency.
If you can mentally handle a 2-day powerlifting split, including all of the accessory exercises you want to do, then a 2-day split is suitable for you. However, this is assuming that you’re honest with yourself about your ability to remain focused even on the last exercises in your training session.
5. Technique and Weaknesses
You should have a solid foundation of good technique and movement with all of your lifts regardless of exercise order.
If you are someone with underlying weaknesses in certain areas, or you do not have solid technique, you will benefit from practicing the lifts more frequently to reinforce proper technique.
Pre-exhausting yourself during the start of a session can lead to poor movement patterns and an increased risk of injury if your 2-day training split consists of long workouts.
How To Structure A 2 Day Training Split
Within the confines of a 2-day training split, there are various ways of organizing your training sessions to serve your needs as an athlete.
Here are 6 factors you need to consider to structure a 2-day training split:
- Main Exercise Order
- Accessory Exercises
- Reps In Reserve
1. Main Exercise Order
For powerlifting, which is a maximal strength sport, exercise order is important. Research has shown that an increase in muscular strength is greater in exercises that are performed earlier on in the training session.
So when you program each of the 2 training days, you need to consider which exercises you want to focus on for each day and do them in an order that will help you achieve your goals.
2. Accessory Exercises
Accessory exercises are secondary exercises performed after the main powerlifts. As such, they should be completed in the latter half of the training session.
This means that the energy and freshness of going into the accessory exercises is going to be less than optimal. You are also not going to be able to fit in a high number of accessory exercises depending on how much time you have available to train.
You should think carefully of what you want to achieve during a training block. You will need to be more minimalistic with your selection of accessory exercises by choosing exercises that give you the most bang for your buck and target multiple weaknesses at the same time.
You should perform the main powerlifts twice per week to make the most of a 2-day powerlifting split. Training any of the main powerlifts once per week is not going to give you enough technique practice.
With the accessory exercises, you can train them between once to twice per week depending on how important the exercise is to your situation.
Volume refers to the sets and reps being prescribed. If you are going to perform one of the main powerlifts to a high number of sets or high reps, it can be fatiguing for subsequent exercises, even if you’re lifting at a low intensity.
If any of the powerlifts for a given day is higher volume, it should be performed earlier in the training session when you are still fresh and have more energy.
Higher intensity sets are normally prescribed if a certain lift is a priority for that day and should be done at the beginning of your training session.
Let’s say you have a higher-intensity prescription for the squat and a higher volume prescription for the deadlift and bench press. You should perform the higher-intensity squat sets first so you aren’t too tired to perform them later in your workout.
5. Reps In Reserve
Reps in reserve or RIR refers to the number of repetitions you can complete before reaching failure for a given exercise.
You need to keep in mind that if you perform one exercise with low reps in reserve, that fatigue can roll up and negatively impact your performance on later exercises.
So you may want to be more conservative with your reps in reserve for your main powerlifts. You should avoid leaving anything less than 2 or 3 reps in reserve for most sets.
For your accessories, you can afford to push them to lower reps in reserve if your goal is to use them to build more muscle.
2 Day Powerlifting Split: 3 Workout Examples
Now that we have covered the theory behind 2-day powerlifting splits and factors to consider when creating a 2-day split, here are 2 examples of training weeks to give you an idea of how to apply those principles when creating a program.
Program Example 1: Balanced
Here is an example of a balanced routine, where there is not a bias towards training any specific area.
The first day focuses on the back squat so it is performed first. The bench press has a medium priority and the deadlift prescription has a low difficulty.
On the second day, the deadlift is the main focus and the back squat and bench press have a low difficulty prescription.
There is also a balance between upper body and lower body accessory exercises.
Day 1: Squat Focused
- Warm up
- Back Squat – 4×4 @ 80% 1RM
- Bench Press – 4×4 @ 80% 1RM
- Deadlift – 4×4 @ 70% 1RM
- Hamstring Curls – 3×10
- Planks – 3×30 seconds
Day 2: Deadlift Focused
- Warm up
- Deadlift – 4×4 @ 80% 1RM
- Bench Press – 4×4 @ 75% 1RM
- Back Squat – 4×4 @ 75% 1RM
- Dumbbell Rows – 3×10
- Side Planks – 3×20 seconds
Program Example 2: Upper Body Focused
Here is an upper body-focused example. In this routine, there is a bias towards the bench press, which is why it is performed first on both days.
After the bench press sets are done on the first day, the focus shifts to the back squat. As such, it is performed before the deadlift. On the second day, the deadlift is prioritized after the bench press, so it is performed before the back squat.
There is also a priority for upper body accessory exercises.
Day 1: Bench Press and Squat Focused
- Warm up
- Bench Press – 5×4 @ 80% 1RM
- Back Squat – 4×4 @ 80% 1RM
- Deadlift – 3×4 @ 70% 1RM
- Lat Pulldown – 4×10
- Dumbbell Row – 3×10
Day 2: Bench Press and Deadlift Focused
- Warm up
- Bench Press – 5×3 @ 85% 1RM
- Deadlift – 4×4 80% 1RM
- Back Squat – 3×4 75% 1RM
- Dumbbell Shoulder Press – 4×10
- Deadbugs – 3×10
Program Example 3: Lower Body Focused
Here is a lower body-focused example, where there is a bias towards the squat and deadlift, which is why they are performed first on both days.
The first day focuses on the back squat so it is performed before the deadlift. On the second day, the deadlift is performed before the back squat.
There is also a priority for lower body accessory exercises.
Day 1: Squat Focused
- Warm up
- Back Squat – 5×4 80% 1RM
- Deadlift – 4×4 75% 1RM
- Bench Press – 3×5 80% 1RM
- Barbell Row – 3×8
- Split Squat – 3×6
Day 2: Deadlift Focused
- Warm up
- Deadlift – 5×4 80% 1RM
- Back Squat – 4×4 75% 1RM
- Bench Press – 3×5 75% 1RM
- Hamstring Curls – 4×8
- Copenhagen Planks – 3×20 seconds
The 2-day powerlifting split is not a common one as it can be very restrictive with what you can put into the session. However, this does not mean that you cannot make it work for you.
If your personal circumstances only allow for training 2 days per week, this guide can help you determine how to structure an effective 2-day powerlifting split.
About The Author: Norman Cheung ASCC, British Powerlifting Team Coach
Norman Cheung is a powerlifting coach and an accredited strength and conditioning coach under the UKSCA. He has been coaching powerlifting since 2012 and has been an IPF Team GB coach since 2016. He has experience with coaching a variety of lifters from novices to international medallists and international university teams. Along side coaching, he takes interest in helping powerlifters take their first step into coaching. He currently runs his coaching services at strongambitionscoaching.com