How many times a week should you train if powerlifting is your focus? Is a 4-day powerlifting split sufficient and effective?
While my personal experience (and the experience of some of my powerlifting clients) with a 4-day powerlifting split has been positive, it’s worth understanding for yourself before you make up your mind and just take my word for it.
A 4-day powerlifting split covers your squat, bench press, and deadlift training over four sessions a week. Workouts tend to be longer and more intense than other splits to get all the necessary volume done each week, but it is sustainable due to the fact that you get 3 full rest days.
There’s a lot more to understand about the 4-day split and how to structure it properly, and you should consider all the factors before deciding if it’s right for you.
At the end of this article, I’ll also provide a sample 4-day powerlifting split to help get you started. If you’re an intermediate to advanced lifter looking for a complete 4-day peaking program for powerlifting, check out our training app.
The Theory Of The 4-Day Powerlifting Split
The idea of any powerlifting split is to give the lifter a chance to train each lift at least twice per week, and usually includes training the lifts with different emphasis, or training methods, specifically the max effort method (ME), the dynamic effort method (DE), and the repetition or repeated effort method (RE).
Whatever you or your coach does to structure your program, it should incorporate the following:
- Opportunities to exert maximal effort into a single rep
- Elements to develop force through acceleration
- Other non-competition exercises that target key muscles in the competitive lifts done for high reps to build new muscle and reinforce technique
In the case of the 4-day split, we need to get all of this done in less time than the 5-day split or 6-day split I’ve written about as well, but with the confidence that we have more rest days on this split to offset any extra effort we need to expend in each workout.
Interested in squatting, bench pressing, and deadlifting 3 times per week? Find out whether this approach is right for you and get tips on how to structure your workouts in my article Squat, Bench, Deadlift 3 Days Per Week – Should You Do It, And How To Do It Right.
4 Reasons Not To Do A 4-Day Powerlifting Split
The 4 reasons why you may not want to do a 4-day powerlifting split are:
- Your personal preference
- How much time you have
- Your ability to sustain intense workouts
- You’re recovering from an injury
1. Your Personal Preference
If you don’t like only training four days a week, then you should pick a different split.
You will only stick with a program long enough to make progress if you actually like that program. Consistency will be the biggest factor in seeing results, so set yourself up for success and choose a split you actually like and enjoy.
If you like going hard in the gym and having plenty of time to recover in between, a 4-day split might be a good option. Otherwise, you should follow a different split that you’ll be able to do consistently.
2. How Much Time You Have
You should not do a 4-day split if you only have an hour to train at a time.
On this split, your time constraints will have more to do with whether or not you can spend enough time in the gym each workout than how many days a week you have available to you.
Because these workouts will be longer and more intense, you’ll likely need 90-120 minutes (or more) to get through it all with the appropriate rest time between sets.
If you can’t commit that kind of time to a single workout, consider a 5-day or 6-day split to break up your training sessions more throughout the week.
3. Your Ability To Sustain Intense Workouts
As I’ve said, you have to cram a lot of work into just four workouts when following a 4-day split. We are shooting for the same volume of a 6-day split in just 4 days. If you don’t believe you can sustain that kind of intensity, consider that a red flag.
Some of us have a God-given ability to go hard in the gym, go home and sleep, and do it again the next day without missing a beat. Some are able to perform that way with the help of performance-enhancing drugs. Most of us, however, can go hard but need significant rest to be able to do it again. That’s where the 4-day split comes in.
But this split does require that you give it true intensity and focus during those 4 workouts. Without that, the 3 rest days are just wasted time.
If you don’t believe you can go hard 4 days a week and would prefer to spread it out over more days, a 5-day or 6-day split may be a better option for you.
4. You’re Recovering From an Injury
If you are hurt or recovering from an injury, the added length and intensity of these workouts may only exacerbate those pre-existing issues.
Because there are lots of ways you could be injured, your decision will depend on how injured you really are.
For example, if you have a bad knee, your whole lower body work is impacted, meaning major repercussions to a power program. But if you have a cracked rib, you might still be able to work around the pain and discomfort just fine.
Be sure you consult a doctor to understand your personal situation before jumping into this split.
Check out my complete guide to avoiding a powerlifting injury.
Is a 4-Day Powerlifting Split Right For You? (4 reasons)
Now that we’ve discussed the reasons NOT to follow a 4-day powerlifting split, let’s dive into the reasons why you should follow this split.
The four best reasons to follow the 4-day powerlifting split:
- Lift rested every time
- Develop the ability to train with greater intensity
- Save time
- Personal preference
1. Lift Rested Every Time
The 4-day split offers the most rest time of any decent powerlifting program, allowing you to be truly rested and recovered for each workout. Better recovery means a better ability to train hard during your workout.
This is, in my opinion, one of the biggest differentiators in great lifters versus average lifters – their ability to show up and train with intensity every time. Since most of us are human and have normal limits to how intensely we can train, we need rest and recovery before we can rinse and repeat a great training session.
Because the 4-day split bakes 3 full days of rest into your program, not only are you rested and ready for the day’s workout, but you can also train with full intensity in each workout. You don’t need to worry about saving energy for the next workout because you’ll have a full day to rest before then.
You’ll also know that you’re training upper body the day after training lower body, or vice versa, in the once-per-week instance where there isn’t a rest day in between.
Key takeaway – this split allows you to be an actual animal in your workout without worrying about how it will negatively impact your next workout because of the regular rest built into the split.
2. Develop the Ability To Train With Greater Intensity
If you haven’t figured it out by now, lifters who train with intensity are the ones who get results and the ones who win powerlifting competitions. Intensity is not just an inherent ability some are given, but can absolutely be grown and developed like a muscle.
Because the 4-day split crams 6 days of work into 4 workouts, you have to make those workouts more intense to get it all done. You’ll be doing more reps per workout, and you’ll have to keep doing some training after performing max effort work some days.
You’ll also have to show up and effectively perform max effort reps first thing in your workout after your warmup, going from 0-100 very quickly each workout.
All these factors develop a lifter’s ability to train intensely. The better you are at doing that day after day, the better you’ll be at channeling that intensity when it comes time to test your max lifts, whether in the gym or in competition.
Sure, the 5-day and 6-day split still call on a lifter to train with intensity. But because the 4-day split only allows you 4 days a week to train, we’ve got to inject that intensity into each workout. And we have the confidence to go hard like that because the program offers more rest than any other.
Properly following the 4-day split can absolutely improve your understanding and ability to train with intensity.
3. Save Time
I’ll be honest – getting all my training done in 4 workouts versus 5 or 6 is highly efficient.
I have written very positive things about both the 5-day and 6-day powerlifting splits, and I stand by them. But I am a big fan of the 4-day split for the time-saving benefits.
I’ve got a life outside of powerlifting. I have a thriving professional career, a wife and kids, and other hobbies, too. One way I can have great balance in my life without sacrificing my powerlifting goals and trajectory is to follow a split like the 4-day split.
It leaves me 3 days a week to spend more time with family, catch up on work commitments if necessary, and pursue other hobbies, all while my body recovers from the last workout to prepare for the next.
Since most of us have many other responsibilities that demand our time, the 4-day powerlifting split is an elegant solution for making it all fit.
4. Personal Preference
You will only see results from a split you can stick with for a long time. And you won’t likely stick with a program you hate.
At the end of the day, we lift because we like it. Health, appearance, and personal records are all secondary to having a good time.
If you like the 4-day split, go all in on it! Pick a program you enjoy and you’ll be able to see the long-term results of it with much greater satisfaction than if you followed a split you hated.
Building A 4-Day Powerlifting Split
You won’t be successful training 4 days a week if you don’t have thought and strategy behind it.
Remember that powerlifting is all about training lifts as opposed to a sport like bodybuilding that is about training muscles. In a good powerlifting program, you will improve your ability to perform the squat, bench press, and deadlift through three training methods: Maximal Effort (ME), Dynamic Effort (DE), and Repetition Effort (RE).
Additionally, your program should focus on these three elements each week:
- The main lifts
- Training methodologies (ME, DE, RE)
- Accessory exercises
1. The Main Lifts
Your program should allow you to train each lift at least twice per week each. This is reinforced by research that shows superior gains to lifters who train lifts twice per week, versus lifters who train the same amount of volume just once per week.
Given we only have 4 days a week to train, we’ll need to do some shuffling and train two lifts in a single workout in some cases. For example, your 4-day split may look like this:
- Sunday – Rest
- Monday – Squat and Bench
- Tuesday – Rest
- Wednesday – Squat and Deadlift
- Thursday – Rest
- Friday – Bench
- Saturday – Deadlift
But now that we have structured the week so each lift gets trained twice, we still need to figure out how we will apply different approaches to each opportunity to train the lift.
2. Training Methodologies (ME, DE, RE)
Each time we train the squat, bench, and deadlift, we should have the opportunity to apply each of the three training methodologies during the week. For example:
- Sunday – Rest
- Monday – ME Squat, RE Squat, DE Bench
- Tuesday – Rest
- Wednesday – DE Squat, DE Deadlift
- Thursday – Rest
- Friday – ME Bench, RE Bench
- Saturday – ME Deadlift, RE Deadlift
How will each of these methodologies look in practice when you’re training?
Max Effort Workouts
Max effort sets will generally feature sets of 1-4 reps with a heavy load (85%+ of 1RM).
Max effort sets are intended to train your ability to perform a single rep with maximal effort, but without making you perform a true 1RM. By performing sets of 1-4 reps with a relatively heavy load, you can simulate the feeling of a 1RM, perfect your form under heavy load, and make that final rep of the set feel like a 1RM due to the fatigue from the first rep or two.
In the example week I’ve outlined above, ME work is combined with RE work to follow. I’ll explain the reasoning behind that below.
Dynamic Effort Workouts
Dynamic Effort workouts are intended to train maximal force output through acceleration. These reps should be performed with acceleration through the entire lift.
In these sets, the lifter uses a much lighter load (40-70% of 1RM) in order to develop their speed and force through acceleration.
This all goes back to Newton’s Second Law of Motion, that Force = Mass x Acceleration. In lifting terms, it means we can reduce the load on the bar (mass) and offset it with increased Acceleration (perform the rep much faster) and still get the same (or even greater) product, or Force.
One of the great benefits of this training methodology is that you can keep training and improving your ability to move weight with great force without using a very heavy, very taxing load. This is a huge factor in our ability to train a full powerlifting program in 4 days a week because we can keep training, even when the effects of ME training still linger.
A second benefit is that these DE sets require a strict focus on form, forcing the lifter to really hone in their technique and improve their abilities, even without a heavy load in their hands.
DE work is often performed with some kind of accommodating resistance, like bands or chains. To learn more about how to use these elements in your training, check out my other articles on those topics:
- Do Bands Help Bench Press? (Yes, Here’s Why & How To Use Them)
- Reverse Band Squats: How-To, Benefits, Why Do Them
- The Banded Deadlift: 4 Reasons Why You Should Do Them
Repetitive Effort Workouts
Repetitive effort training is focused on higher reps, usually 6-12, with weights at 60-80% of 1RM. This is usually the first (and only) kind of training your average gym goer will become familiar with and rely on.
This approach of doing lots of sets of 10 reps is not typically going to fill an entire workout for a powerlifter (though in some cases it can be).
In a powerlifting program, RE work is typically done after ME and DE work, when the lifter is too fatigued to keep performing those more intense sets. Since it’s done with lighter weight, these sets can be safely performed even with accumulated fatigue. The RE work is designed to help a lifter continue growing and developing the muscles used in the competitive lifts.
The most common exception you’ll see to this in a powerlifter’s program is during their off-season. In this stage, a lifter will incorporate lots of RE work to build new muscle prior to beginning a strength-developing block or a peaking block prior to competition.
Check out the other resources I’ve written on high rep training:
3. Accessory Exercises
Accessory exercises are movements other than the squat, bench press, and deadlift that have a carryover effect to improve those lifts. They can be compound movements or isolated movements, so long as they target muscles used in the competitive lifts.
You can add these accessory exercises as ME, DE, or RE sets, depending on your needs and goals.
To that point, a cambered bar squat can be a great option as your ME squat variation for a brief period of time. You could also use it for DE speed work, or for higher reps as RE work. Your ME sets don’t have to be (and shouldn’t always be) the squat, bench press, and deadlift in their competitive form.
Whatever accessories you choose to include in your program, be cognizant of the load you select so that it’s appropriate to the ME, DE, or RE work you are using it for.
Want to know more about how to apply squat, bench, and deadlift variations to your program? Check out the following resources for more:
- 9 Squat Accessories To Improve Strength & Technique
- 10 Bench Press Accessories To Improve Strength & Technique
- 12 Bench Press Accessories To Improve Strength & Technique
Takeaways When Structuring A 4-Day Split
Once your program is built, it should have you training the squat, bench press, and deadlift 2x a week each, applying each of the three training methodologies I discussed above, and should include accessories to improve your main lifts.
You have the luxury of breaking that up however you like over the week in a way that allows you to sustain it over time. The beauty of the 4-day split is that you can allow yourself to train really hard on your gym days, because you have 3 full days of rest to play with.
4-Day Powerlifting Split: Program Sample
Using the example week we’ve been building so far, here’s what your 4-day split could look like in practice:
Day 1: ME Squat, RE Squat, DE Bench
- Warm up
- SSB Squat – 5 sets of 2 reps @ 87% of max
- Front Squat – 5 sets of 3 reps @ 80% of max
- Leg Press – 4 sets of 10 reps
- Seated Leg Extensions – 4 sets of 12 reps
- Bench Warm ups
- Bench Press against bands – 8 sets of 3 @ 55% of max plus light bands
Day 2: Rest
Day 3: DE Deadlift, DE Squat
- Deadlift Warmup
- Deadlift against bands – 10-12 sets of 1 rep @ 50% of max against light bands
- Squat Warmup
- Squats against bands – 8 sets of 2 @ 50% of max against light bands
Day 4: Rest
Day 5: ME Bench, RE Bench
- Warm up
- Bench Press – 6 sets of 2 @ 85% of max
- Paused bench press – 5 sets of 3 @ 78% of max
- Close grip bench – 4 sets of 12
- Cable Crossovers – 4 sets of 12
- Rope Pulldowns – 4 sets of 12
Day 6: ME Deadlift, RE Deadlift
- Warm up
- Deadlift – 5 sets of 2 @ 85% of max
- Alternate Stance Deadlifts* – 4 sets of 6-8
- Bent over barbell row – 4 sets of 10
- Seated v-grip row – 4 sets of 12
- Pull-ups – 4 sets to failure
*If you compete with conventional, your alternate stance is sumo and vice versa
Day 7: Rest
As you dig into this full week, you’ll see each lift is trained on 2 separate occasions, each lift is trained under each of the three methodologies, and accessory exercises have been incorporated to supplement the work on the main lifts.
The days are not dedicated to a single methodology, as each workout will include some combination of ME, DE, and RE work, and many of them will train more than one lift.
Remember, this is not the only way to arrange the 4-day powerlifting split. I have also seen splits that have one squat day, one bench day, and one deadlift day, each focused on ME sets followed by RE sets, with a final fourth workout to train DE sets on all three lifts in a single day.
You have options in how you set up your 4-day split. Just make sure you hit the core elements we’ve discussed.
If you want to read more about training frequency with each of the lifts, then be sure to check out my other resources:
- How Many Times Should You Squat Each Week?
- How Many Times Should You Bench Press Each Week?
- How Many Times Should You Deadlift Each Week?
There are several things I like about the 5-day and 6-day powerlifting splits as well, but I am a big proponent of rest and recovery, so I’m a big fan of the 4-day split.
The older I get, and the more advanced I get in powerlifting, the more I find I need significant rest and recovery to train with the intensity necessary to make changes in my performance. For that reason, the 4-day split is very appealing to me, allowing me ample time in my week to rest and recover so I can train hard and intensely on the days I’m in the gym.
However you end up training, your powerlifting program should train the main power lifts a couple times a week, apply the three training methodologies (ME, DE, and RE), and incorporate accessories that will carry over to your competitive lifts.
Do those things and stick with the program long enough, and the 4-day split will be a success for you.
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About The Author
Adam Gardner is a proud resident of Utah, where he lives with his wife and two kids. He has been competing in powerlifting since 2016 in both the USPA and the APF. For the past three years, he and his wife, Merrili, have coached beginning lifters to learn the fundamentals of powerlifting and compete in their first powerlifting competitions.