3 Day Powerlifting Split: How To Structure It The Right Way

3 day powerlifting split How to structure it the right way

Most powerlifters will train anywhere between 3 to 4 days a week. Training 3 days a week is common among beginners, but training 4 days a week is more ideal for experienced lifters. But even advanced lifters can progress with a 3-day powerlifting split if it is structured the right way.

So how do you structure a 3-day powerlifting split the right way? When structuring a 3-day powerlifting split, you can choose whether to train certain lifts once, twice, or three times per week depending on your goals. You’ll also need to consider exercise selection, exercise order, and training volume so you can consistently make progress and maximize your time in the gym.

In this article, I will explain everything you need to know regarding the 3-day powerlifting split so you can decide whether or not it is appropriate for you. I will also break down options of how you can structure a 3-day powerlifting split so that it can suit your goals and weaknesses.

The Theory Behind A 3-Day Powerlifting Split 

the theory behind a 3-day powerlifting split

The theory behind a 3-day powerlifting split is to be able to train the squat, bench press, and deadlift at least twice a week with an even focus across all three lifts. The 3-day powerlifting split can also provide flexibility in exercise order and frequency to focus more on one lift over the others.

There are advantages to using a 3-day powerlifting split, including:

  • Training the squat, bench press, and deadlift at least twice a week 
  • 3-day powerlifting splits can give an even distribution of training days
  • All three lifts can be performed as the first exercise on each training day

Training the Squat, Bench Press, and Deadlift at Least Twice a Week

A 3-day powerlifting split can allow you to train at least two of the main power lifts each training day and allow you to hit each power lift twice a week. 

Each of the main power lifts has different demands for different muscle groups, although there is a carryover between squats and deadlifts. Rhea et al.‘s research suggests that training muscle groups twice a week leads to the best results in people who are already trained.

Training each power lift twice a week also provides you with a good amount of frequency for you to practice the technique of each power lift throughout the week.

However, the body of research has not shown a definitive superiority or inferiority of training muscle groups more than twice a week for maximal strength gains.

There are times when you may want to train the squat, bench, and deadlift three times a week. Learn how to do it correctly in Squat, Bench, Deadlift 3 Days Per Week – Should You Do It, and How To Do It Right.

3-Day Powerlifting Splits Can Give an Even Distribution of Training Days

With a 3-day powerlifting split, you can evenly spread training days throughout the week so that there are one to two rest days between each training day. 

Lifting weights will trigger your muscles to grow and repair. The process of building muscle by taking protein to help muscles grow is called muscle protein synthesis. Research has shown that muscle protein synthesis can stay high for up to 36 hours after a workout.

Having one to two rest days leaves 48 to 72 hours between workouts, which gives you plenty of time to recover enough between each training session.

While having adequate rest in between each workout is beneficial, you can still effectively train on back-to-back days. I cover the pros and cons of training the same muscle groups on consecutive days in the following articles:

All Three Lifts Can Be Performed As the First Exercise on Each Training Day

A 3-day powerlifting split will allow you to perform each different power lift first in each training session. For example, you may squat first on one day, bench press first on another day, and deadlift first on the third day.

Research suggests that this is beneficial for people training for maximum strength because exercise order is an important factor in helping you progress. If you can perform each of the different power lifts first on each training day, you can uniformly push the intensity on all three lifts. 

Wondering if you can squat and deadlift on the same day? Check out Can You Squat and Deadlift in the Same Workout?

Want to get advice on programming, technique, or competing? Speak with one of our coaches.

4 Reasons NOT To Do A 3-Day Powerlifting Split

4 reasons not to do a 3-day powerlifting split

Not everyone should be doing a 3-day powerlifting split, so it is important to figure out whether you should avoid doing one.

Here are 4 reasons not to do a 3-day powerlifting split:

  1. You are only able to consistently train twice per week
  2. You find yourself skipping accessory exercises more frequently
  3. You have plateaued from training 3 days per week
  4. You can and want to train 4 days per week

1. You Are Only Able to Consistently Train Twice Per Week

If you are in a situation where you may be able to train three days per week sometimes but can only train twice per week the majority of the time, you should avoid a 3-day powerlifting split.

You should stick to a 2-day powerlifting split instead because you can have more consistency with how you progress and structure your training sessions. This will apply to people who have inconsistent schedules and lifestyles. It may be very disheartening if you find yourself having to skip sessions due to changes in life events and scheduling.

Not sure if you can still make progress from only training twice a week? Check out my recommendations on how to structure an effective 2-day powerlifting split.

2. You Find Yourself Skipping Accessory Exercises More Frequently

If you are skipping all of your accessory exercises while training 3 days per week, then you should avoid a 3-day powerlifting split. You need to take this behavior into consideration to judge whether a 3-day powerlifting split is realistic for your lifestyle.

There are many reasons why you may be skipping accessory exercises at the end of the session. You may not have enough time, or you find yourself too tired and unmotivated to get through them.

What you should do instead is lump all the accessory exercises that you skip onto an additional fourth training day and turn it into a 4-day powerlifting split.

3. You Have Plateaued From Training 3 Days Per Week

If you are plateauing from training with a 3-day powerlifting split, it’s not the right split for you.

If you are pushing yourself as much as you can while training 3 days per week, and you are no longer able to progress because you’re not able to fit more exercises into your schedule, you should consider increasing your training frequency to four days a week. This increase in training frequency will allow you to fit in more training sets.

For ideas on how to spread out your powerlifting training over more days per week, check out the following resources:

4. You Can and Want to Train 4 Days Per Week

If you can and want to train 4 days per week, then you should not do a 3-day powerlifting split. A 4-day powerlifting split has several advantages over a 3-day split, even if you are a beginner or you can still make good gains training three days per week.

A 4-day powerlifting split offers the ability to spread your training out over an extra day so you’re not spending as much time in the gym. By having an additional day, you are also fresher and more recovered. This means that you can focus on exercise technique better, especially for a specific lift or two that may be lagging behind. 

For many people, training can be a source of destressing from life and work and can also be a source of socializing, especially if you have lots of friends from the gym. Transitioning to a 4-day split gives you more opportunities to catch up with your friends and temporarily escape the pressures of your daily life.

Related Article: Prilepin’s Chart For Powerlifting: How To Use It Effectively

Is A 3-Day Powerlifting Split Right For You? (5 Factors)

3 factors 3-day powerlifting split right for you

You need to consider several factors to help you conclude whether a 3-day powerlifting split is right for your situation. Here are 5 things to think about:

  1. Schedule
  2. Experience
  3. Training phase
  4. Progressive overload
  5. Work capacity

1. Schedule

The first thing you need to determine when considering a 3-day powerlifting split is if it is practically achievable with your work and life schedule.

You need to ask yourself:

  • Can I consistently train three times per week?
  • How long do I have to train in those three sessions?

Powerlifting training can take anywhere between 1 to 3 hours depending on experience. If you can’t afford to spend that much time in the gym three days per week, a 3-day split may not be right for you. 

Wondering why powerlifting workouts take so long? I cover the multiple factors that affect the length of a powerlifting workout in How Many Hours A Day Do Powerlifters Train? (Full Breakdown).

2. Experience

3-day powerlifting splits are most suitable for beginner to intermediate lifters with up to 3 years of experience following a structured training program. Advanced to elite powerlifters should consider opting for higher frequency training programs.

I have seen high-level advanced powerlifters who train 3 days per week, but they are very efficient with their training sessions and minimalistic with training accessories. However, it is rare to come across such lifters.

3. Training Phase

The training phase refers to which stage in the competition year you are in.

You may be in the off-season which refers to the phase of training where training volumes and duration are very high, and you are far from competing. This is usually when you are anywhere from 8-12 weeks out from a powerlifting meet. Or you may be in the competitive season, which refers to training that is leading up to a competition.

In the competitive season, the training intensity is generally higher and training volumes (total sets and reps) may be lower. With lower training volumes, you may be able to easily fit your training in a 3-day powerlifting split.

There are several other ways to maximize your training in the days and weeks leading up to a powerlifting competition. Learn more about what you should and shouldn’t do while peaking for a meet in How To Taper For Powerlifting (6 Mistakes to Avoid).

4. Progressive Overload

You need to be able to progressively overload either weekly or through longer training blocks. Without progressive overload happening, you will not be able to make strength gains.

If a 3-day powerlifting split is allowing you to progressively overload every week or across blocks of training, then you should keep following that split.

5. Work Capacity

A 3-day powerlifting split will work for many beginner to intermediate powerlifters. But as you become more experienced, your training sessions will generally increase in duration from doing more sets and more exercises.

Up to a certain point, your work capacity may not be enough to finish off training sessions, whether the limiting factor is physical work capacity or mental capacity. This will dictate whether a 3-day powerlifting split will work for you. 

How To Structure A 3-Day Training Split

how to structure a 3-day training split

With a 3-day powerlifting split, there are numerous ways of structuring your training sessions to fit your situation as a powerlifter.

Here are 6 variables you need to prescribe when structuring a 3-day powerlifting split:

  1. Exercise order
  2. Accessory exercises
  3. Exercise frequency
  4. Volume
  5. Intensity
  6. Difficulty

1. Exercise Order

Maximum strength is what you want to train for in powerlifting. Research has shown that for muscular strength, exercise order makes a difference. Greater strength gains are made when an exercise is performed earlier in the workout session.

You need to think about what your goal is within each training block. For example, are you focusing more on the squat, bench press, or deadlift? Or do you want a balanced powerlifting focus?

This will have an influence on how often each main power lift is performed early in each of your training sessions. You also need to think about what you want to focus on each specific day as well.

2. Accessory Exercises

Accessory exercises involve a combination of compound and isolation exercises to support a powerlifter’s holistic development. Accessory exercises are normally performed after the main power lifts are performed because the main power lifts are more important for powerlifters.

You need to think about choosing accessory exercises that assist in developing weak aspects of your power lifts, opposite muscles to the primary muscles used in the power lifts, and your core.

For ideas on accessory exercises you can do on your bench press and deadlift days, check out What Else Should I Do On Chest Day? (4 Examples) and What Else Should I Do On Chest Day? (4 Examples).

3. Exercise Frequency

A good place to start is to perform each of the power lifts twice per week. However, your goals for each training block can dictate whether you perform an exercise more or less frequently.

Accessory exercises should be implemented ideally once per week or twice per week if they are of high importance—for example, if you’re trying to overcome a weakness or you’re interested in hypertrophy training as well as powerlifting.

For more information about training frequencies of the main lifts, check out some of my other articles:

4. Volume

Volume refers to the number of repetitions performed in a training session or week. This may refer to the rep range used, total reps performed, or total sets performed. 

If an exercise is of more importance in a training session or training block, you may perform more sets or more total reps.

If an exercise is prescribed to develop strength, you may use a lower rep range as you may use higher percentages of your 1 rep max. If an exercise is prescribed to develop muscle mass, you may use a high rep range.

For more information on the ideal rep ranges for powerlifting, check out How Many Reps For Powerlifting? (Definitive Guide).

5. Intensity

The intensity of load refers to the percentage of your 1 repetition maximum. For the purpose of strength, you want to use higher intensities in your prescription, which may include 80% or more of your 1 rep max.

For the purpose of lighter sessions or hypertrophy prescriptions, you may use intensities less than 80%. 

High-intensity sets should generally be performed earlier in the training session, as fatigue from performing other exercises may negatively influence your ability to do higher percentage sets.

6. Difficulty

The difficulty of an exercise prescription will work in line with your priority. There are a few ways you can make an exercise prescription difficult. You can make sure that you leave low reps in reserve after each set, or you can prescribe a higher number of sets.

Remember that difficult exercise prescriptions will elicit the most immediate fatigue. Therefore, they should be done earlier on in the training session.

3-Day Powerlifting Split: 5 Program Examples

Now that we have gone through the theory behind a 3-day powerlifting split and all the variables you need to take into account, we can look at some sample programs.

The following programs all have different goals and therefore are structured accordingly. Regardless of which program you choose, you should make sure to have at least one rest day in between each workout.

Program 1 – A Balanced Split

3-Day Powerlifting Split: Program 1 - Balanced Split

The below program features a balanced split between the squat, bench press, and deadlift. The frequency of the main power lifts is squat 2x, bench press 2x, and deadlift 2x per week.

Day 1 focuses on the squat, so it is performed first as the priority. The bench press is the secondary priority. 

Day 2 focuses on the bench press, and the deadlift is the secondary priority.

Day 3 focuses on the deadlift with the squat being the secondary priority.

Day 1

  • Warm Up
  • Squat – 3×5 @ 80% 1RM
  • Bench Press – 3×5 @ 75% 1RM
  • Hamstring Curls – 3×10
  • Planks – 3×30 sec

Day 2

  • Warm Up
  • Bench Press – 3×5 @ 80% 1RM
  • Deadlift – 3×5 @ 75% 1RM
  • Lat Pulldown – 3×10
  • Dumbbell Row – 3×8

Day 3

  • Warm Up
  • Deadlift – 3×5 @ 80% 1RM
  • Squat – 3×5 @ 75% 1RM
  • Overhead Press – 2×10
  • Split Squat – 3×6
  • Side Plank – 3×30 sec

Option 2 – Squat Focused

3-Day Powerlifting Split: Option 2 - Squat Focused

Here is an example of a 3-day powerlifting split where the focus is on the squat. The frequency of the main power lifts is squats 3x, bench press 2x, and deadlift 1x per week.

Day 1 focuses on the squat so it is performed first. The bench press is the secondary priority. 

Day 2 also focuses on the squat, and the deadlift is the secondary priority.

Day 3 focuses on the bench press with the squat being the secondary priority.

Day 1

  • Warm Up
  • Squat – 3×5 @ 80% 1RM
  • Bench Press – 3×5 @ 75% 1RM
  • Hamstring Curls – 3×10
  • Planks – 3×30 sec

Day 2

  • Warm Up
  • Squat – 3×3 @ 80% 1RM
  • Deadlift – 5×3 @ 80% 1RM
  • Lat Pulldown – 3×10
  • Dumbbell Row – 3×8

Day 3

  • Warm Up
  • Bench Press – 3×5 @ 80% 1RM
  • Squat – 3×5 @ 75% 1RM
  • Overhead Press – 2×10
  • Split Squat – 3×6
  • Side Plank – 3×30 sec

Option 3 – Squat and Bench Press Focused

3-Day Powerlifting Split Option 3 - Squat and Bench Press Focused

Here is an example of a 3-day powerlifting split where the focus is on the squat and bench press. The frequency of the main power lifts is squats 3x, bench press 3x, and deadlift 1x per week.

Day 1 focuses on the squat with the bench press as the secondary priority. 

Day 2 focuses on the bench press, and the deadlift is the secondary priority.

Day 3 also focuses on the bench press with the squat being the secondary priority.

Day 1

  • Warm Up
  • Squat – 3×5 @ 80% 1RM
  • Bench Press – 3×5 @ 75% 1RM
  • Hamstring Curls – 3×10
  • Planks – 3×30 sec

Day 2

  • Warm Up
  • Bench Press – 3×5 @ 80% 1RM
  • Deadlift – 3×5 @ 75% 1RM
  • Lat Pulldown – 3×10
  • Dumbbell Row – 3×8

Day 3

  • Warm Up
  • Bench Press – 3×3 @ 80% 1RM
  • Squat – 3×5 @ 75% 1RM
  • Overhead Press – 2×10
  • Split Squat – 3×6
  • Side Plank – 3×30 sec

Option 4 – Bench Press Focused

3-Day Powerlifting Split Option 4 - Bench Press Focused

Here is an example of a 3-day powerlifting split where the focus is on the bench press. The frequency of the main power lifts is squats 2x, bench press 3x, and deadlift 2x per week.

Day 1 focuses on squat so it is performed first. The bench press is the secondary priority. 

Day 2 focuses on the bench press, and the deadlift is the secondary priority.

Day 3 also focuses on the bench press with the squat being the secondary priority and the deadlift being the tertiary priority.

Day 1

  • Warm Up
  • Squat – 3×5 @ 80% 1RM
  • Bench Press – 3×5 @ 75% 1RM
  • Hamstring Curls – 3×10
  • Planks – 3×30 sec

Day 2

  • Warm Up
  • Bench Press – 3×5 @ 80% 1RM
  • Deadlift – 3×5 @ 80% 1RM
  • Overhead Press – 2×10
  • Split Squat – 3×6
  • Side Plank – 3×30 sec

Day 3

  • Warm Up
  • Bench Press – 3×3 @ 80% 1RM
  • Squat – 3×5 @ 75% 1RM
  • Deadlift – 3×5 @ 70% 1RM
  • Overhead Press – 2×10
  • Side Plank – 3×30 sec

Option 5 – Deadlift Focused

3-Day Powerlifting Split Option 5 - Deadlift Focused

Here is an example of a 3-day powerlifting split where the focus is on the deadlift. The frequency of the main power lifts is squats 1x, bench press 2x, and deadlift 3x per week.

Day 1 focuses on the deadlift so it is performed first as the main priority. The bench press is the secondary priority. 

Day 2 also focuses on the deadlift, and the bench press is the secondary priority.

Day 3 focuses on the squat with the deadlift being the secondary priority.

Day 1

  • Warm Up
  • Deadlift – 3×5 @ 80% 1RM
  • Bench Press – 3×4 @ 80% 1RM
  • Overhead Press – 2×10
  • Split Squat – 3×6
  • Side Plank – 3×30 sec

Day 2

  • Warm Up
  • Deadlift – 3×3 @ 75% 1RM
  • Bench Press – 3×6 @ 75% 1RM
  • Hamstring Curls – 3×10
  • Planks – 3×30 sec

Day 3

  • Warm Up
  • Squat – 3×3 @ 80% 1RM
  • Deadlift – 5×3 @ 80% 1RM
  • Lat Pulldown – 3×10
  • Dumbbell Row – 3×8

Final Thoughts

The 3-day powerlifting split is most commonly seen among beginners because their work capacity to train any more frequently is limited and it gives them plenty of rest days to recover. However, intermediate lifters can get away with a 3-day powerlifting split if it is programmed sensibly and you don’t have time to train more often.


About The Author: Norman Cheung ASCC, British Powerlifting Team Coach

Norman Cheung

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