Effectively training for powerlifting can be done in a variety of ways. Some prefer to train as often as possible, 6-7x a week, while others see success and enjoy training just 3-4x a week.
For those that want to train often but still have room for more than one rest day each week, the 5-day powerlifting split is a great approach.
A 5-day powerlifting split takes the work of training the squat, bench press, and deadlift and spreads it over five workouts per week. With two days of rest, the lifter can train often while still allowing for room to push themselves with an intensity that requires full rest before the next workout.
While this is an effective way to break up your powerlifting training, you should consider the details of this split (and a few alternatives) before jumping in and changing your program entirely.
In this article, I’ll provide an overview of a 5-day powerlifting split, discuss the reasons why you may not want to implement a 5-day split, and discuss how you can determine if this split is right for you. I’ll also show you how to structure a 5-day powerlifting split and provide a sample workout at the end.
For a complete intermediate 5-day powerlifting program, check out our training app
The Theory Of The 5-Day Powerlifting Split
Training 5 days a week as a powerlifter not only allows you to train each of your main competition lifts more than once per week but also allows you to train these lifts with different methods or dynamics of strength training, specifically the max effort method (ME), the dynamic effort method (DE), and the repetition or repeated effort method (RE).
However you look at it, any good powerlifting program will include the following elements:
- Train a lifter to exert maximal effort into a single rep
- Train a lifter to develop force through acceleration
- Incorporate exercises performed for higher reps to build more muscle and improve form and technique.
While lifters certainly can and do train only 3-4x a week and get all this training done, spreading it out over 5 days makes it easier to get the necessary training in, allow yourself time to rest and recover, and focus on different elements of training throughout the week.
Find out whether or not I recommend lifters to squat, bench press, and deadlift 3 times per week 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 5-Day Powerlifting Split
Let’s get the negatives out of the way first – why would the 5-day split not be right for you?
Please don’t look at this list of cons as a list that pertains only to the 5-day split. There will be downsides to any powerlifting split. Your job is to consider your own circumstances and decide what fits you best. This isn’t a debate for which program is best for everyone all the time.
With that said, the 4 reasons why you may not want to do a 5-day powerlifting split are:
- Personal Preference
- Your Time Constraints
- Risk of Overtraining
- Presence of Injury
1. Personal Preference
If you don’t like training 5 days a week, you shouldn’t train 5 days a week.
This may not seem like an earth-shattering bit of advice, but it really is important. Training is only effective if it’s sustained for a good amount of time (months and years). It’s difficult to sustain something for years that we dislike, so it’s important to set yourself up for success by choosing a style and frequency of training you enjoy.
If you like training 5 days a week and having a couple days of rest, the 5-day split can be a great option. If you feel strongly about another split such as a 4-day split or 6-day split, you should definitely consider those alternatives for your own sake.
2. Your Time Constraints
You should not do this program if it will be difficult to fit 5 workouts into your schedule.
The same goes for those with more time. If you have the opportunity to train 6 days a week, you may wish to reconsider the reason why you are choosing a 5-day split.
We all have to juggle training with other priorities – work, family, education, social life, etc. Be real with yourself about how much time you have. If the 5-day split fits, give it a shot for a few months and monitor your progress! If it’s not working for you, don’t be afraid to try something else.
3. Risk of Overtraining
Beyond preference and time constraints, you must know your own limits and abilities in terms of how much training you can sustain and still recover each week.
Some lifters have an amazing ability to show up often and train with an intensity that many of us can only sustain once or twice a week. Some lifters take drugs and PED’s that allow them to train with intensity each session and still recover in time to repeat it the next day.
Everyone has a limit, and you need to know what yours is. If training 5 days a week is just too intense for you to sustain, you should consider making changes.
That said, you do have a few levers within the 5-day split to adjust before calling it quits. You can try adjusting your intensity, rearranging which lifts you are doing back to back, and a number of other things to make it manageable.
At the end of the day, you need to find where your limits are, and follow a program that allows you to push those limits without exceeding them to a point where you suffer from overtraining.
4. Presence of Injury
If you’re dealing with an injury right now, there’s a good chance the extra frequency won’t help you as much as when you’re fully healthy.
Since there is such a wide variety of injuries possible, much of this decision will come down to the nature and severity of your injury. A broken foot will eliminate a large portion of your program, while a stiff neck might just call for a few adjustments to one or two workouts each week.
Whatever your situation, be smart, consult a doctor, and focus on healing your injury before getting nit picky about how many days a week you are able to train.
For tips on how to stay injury-free, check out my complete guide to avoiding a powerlifting injury.
Is a 5-Day Powerlifting Split Right For You? (4 Factors To Consider)
If none of the reasons above for NOT wanting to do the 5-day powerlifting split apply to you, that doesn’t mean you’re still the perfect candidate for the program.
You should still consider a few factors to determine if this split is right for you.
Based on my experience, the four reasons that you should consider following a 5-day split are:
- Address Training Deficiencies
- Develop Novice Lifters
- Personal Preference
- Time Constraints
1. Address Training Deficiencies
The 5-day powerlifting split can give you more time/flexibility to address your weaknesses in training.
The best indicator of where you need to improve is a video of your last failed max effort attempt of the squat, bench press, and deadlift. Watching the video, you’ll see where you lost the lift – bottom, middle, or top of the range of motion. You’ll see where form broke down, which muscles were involved (or needed to be involved) during that breakdown, etc.
You can try to just hit the lift again, but chances are you need to take time to address those failures in training to really overcome them.
The 5-day powerlifting split allows lifters the ability to have more training sessions each week than a less frequent program (say 3-4 sessions per week), which gives you more time to address personal weaknesses without cutting the fundamentals you need to keep doing.
Best of all, with 2 rest days baked into the program, this split allows you the chance to train your intensity. Maybe your form is great and your muscles are fine, but you just haven’t taken the time to train being under heavy weight enough. That’s a factor that needs addressing.
By structuring your week to put a rest day right after a day of training ME sets of 2-3 reps, you can safely and strategically improve your ability to exert maximal effort and intensity into your lifts. This would be difficult to train on a 6-day split with limited rest and recovery time.
You may currently have some areas you are working and need some guidance. Check out more of our resources to address some common needs of powerlifters:
- How To Fix Losing Tension At The Bottom Of The Squat (8 Tips)
- 5 Tips To Improve Your Squat Walkout
- Is Your Bench Press Weak Off The Chest? Try These 6 Things
- Is Your Bench Press Weak In The Middle? Try These 6 Things
- 9 Proven Ways To Strengthen Your Bench Press Lockout
- Is Your Deadlift Weak Off The Floor? Try These 7 Tips
- Is Your Deadlift Weak At The Knees? Try These 5 Tips
- 10 Tips To Improve Your Deadlift Lockout
2. Develop Novice Lifters
If powerlifting is new to you, frequency will be a huge benefit to you, so a 5-day split is a great start.
Novice lifters also benefit from faster adaptations, meaning you make gains much faster than those that have been at it for years. That means you can quickly bounce back and show up again, day after day, and make great progress.
Sure, powerlifting is only three lifts, but there’s a lot to learn and a lot of work to be done to get really good at them – much more than just doing the exercises once each during the week.
I find the 5-day powerlifting split is a great middle ground for new lifters (or any lifters) that need to train frequently without sacrificing rest and recovery.
3. Personal Preference
It all comes down to what you like and what you can stick with for a long time!
For most of us, we lift because it’s fun – the strength, looks, and health benefits are all secondary to having a good time.
For that reason, you should absolutely consider the 5-day split if it matches the way you like to train, so you know you can stick with it for a good amount of time.
4. Time Constraints
If you have the time and flexibility to train 5 days a week, that should be a big factor in encouraging you to follow this split.
Time is a legitimately limited resource, so if you are fortunate enough to have more of it to dedicate to training, my recommendation is to use it.
Alternatively, maybe your time constraints limit you from doing the 6-day split you’d really like to do, so you settle for a 5-day split.
Whatever your constraints, if you’ve got a chance to do the 5-day powerlifting split, I definitely recommend giving it a fair shot.
Building A 5-Day Powerlifting Split
Five days of training each week is not by itself magical. You have to put the right plan in place to make the most of those five days to really get the benefits of this split.
In powerlifting, we are focused on training lifts, while in bodybuilding, we are focused on training muscles. In any powerlifting program, we want to improve our ability to perform these lifts through max effort (ME), dynamic effort (DE), and repetition effort (RE).
Ultimately, your program should include the following elements each week:
First and foremost, you should plan to train each lift at least 2x during the week.
Since you only have 5 days to train, you’ll need to do some overlapping to make it all fit. For an example, see below:
- Monday – Bench
- Tuesday – Squat
- Wednesday – Rest
- Thursday – Deadlift
- Friday – Bench
- Saturday – Deadlift and Squat
However, this view of lifts alone doesn’t give us a very robust program until we consider how we are training the lifts each session.
To expand on our arrangement of which lifts we perform each day, we must now consider how we will train the lifts each workout. We now expand our split to show the three training methodologies (max effort, dynamic effort, and repetition effort):
- Monday – ME Bench, RE Bench
- Tuesday – ME Squat, RE Squat
- Wednesday – Rest
- Thursday – DE Deadlift, RE Deadlift
- Friday – DE Bench
- Saturday – ME Deadlift, DE Squat
Now let’s look at how each of these workouts will differ based on the training methodology applied with each workout.
Max Effort Workouts
Max effort days typically include heavy sets of 1-4 reps with a heavy load (85%+ of 1RM).
These sets should simulate the feeling of performing a 1RM in competition without requiring you to truly perform a 1RM. By performing 2-3 rep sets, you can simulate the intensity you’d expect with a heavier single rep due to the accumulated fatigue from the first rep or two in that same set.
In the example above, we sometimes augment the ME work with lighter rep work, or RE sets in the same workout, which we’ll detail below.
Dynamic Effort Workouts
The dynamic effort workouts focus on creating force through acceleration of the weight, or moving the weight as fast as you can.
As such, the lifter typically uses a much lighter load (40-70% of 1RM) to train their speed and acceleration.
Believe it or not, training for acceleration increases your overall force output, improving your ability to move the weight overall.
One huge benefit of these workouts is the ability to become a better lifter without taxing yourself with heavy loads close to your max. They can serve as a great way to continue training throughout the week, even when it would be impossible or not ideal to train max effort again.
Secondly, these workouts require a strict focus on form. They allow the lifter to get out from under the super heavy weights of ME work and hold themselves accountable to strict, perfect form on each rep.
You may have seen DE work done with some form of accommodating resistance, like bands or chains. To learn more about that, check out my other articles on the subject:
Repeated Effort Workouts
Repeated effort training is focused on higher reps, usually 6-12, with weights at 60-80% of 1RM. This is typically the type of exercise you see average Joes doing when they walk into a gym.
While most everyday lifters will lift this way exclusively, filling an entire workout with sets of 10 reps, it’s not typically done as a single workout in the powerlifter’s program (though in some cases it can be).
For the powerlifter, they typically perform this RE work after being fatigued from their ME or DE work of the day, rather than giving it a dedicated workout of its own.
The biggest exception would be for lifters training in an off-season, focused on building more muscle, in which case you would want to be fresh and give all your focus and intensity to these workouts.
The third element to plan into your program is your accessory movements, or exercises besides the squat, bench press, and deadlift that will help strengthen those main lifts. These should be selected based on your personal goals and weaknesses.
As an example, if you noticed in your last 1RM attempt video that you struggle to keep your chest up during the squat, you’ll want to program accessory movements that address it, like good mornings or SSB squats.
These accessory exercises can be programmed as ME, DE, and RE work, depending on your goals and needs.
For example, you could program an SSB squat or cambered bar squat for your ME squat during a training block. You could also use it for your DE work instead. ME and DE work don’t have to be (and shouldn’t be) the competition lifts in their conventional form all the time.
However you fit accessory movements into your program, be sure to select the right weights to fit the purpose of the workout, whether it’s for max effort, acceleration of force, or for reps and hypertrophy.
We’ve got several resources to help you better understand and apply squat, bench, and deadlift variations to add to your program. Check out the following resources for more:
Takeaways When Structuring A 5-Day Split
By the time you’re done with your program, you should be hitting each of the three lifts at least 2x a week, training them with different methodologies, and incorporating supporting accessory exercises to improve on your weaknesses.
You can arrange that over the week however you like in a way that your body can sustain and recover from. The beauty of the 5-day split is the built-in frequency, with the luxury of 2 full days of rest wherever you need them.
5-Day Powerlifting Split: Program Sample
In practice, here’s what the 5-day powerlifting split could look like, using the methodologies we’ve been building on throughout this article.
Day 1: Max Effort 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
- Rope Pulldowns – 4 sets of 12
Day 2: Max Effort Squat, RE Squat
- 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
Day 3: Rest
Day 4: DE Deadlift, RE Deadlift
- Warm up
- Deadlift against bands – 10-12 sets of 1 rep @ 50% of max against light bands
- Alternate Stance Deadlifts* – 4 sets of 6-8
- Stiff leg deadlifts – 4 sets of 8-10
- Good Mornings – 4 sets of 8-10
- Pull-ups – 4 sets to failure
*If you usually pull conventional, you’ll do these sets with a sumo stance. If you pull sumo, you’ll do them with a conventional stance.
Day 5: DE Bench, RE Bench
- Warm up
- Bench Press against bands – 8 sets of 3 @ 55% of max plus light bands
- DB Floor press – 4 sets of 10
- DB Chest Fly – 4 sets of 10
- Cable Crossovers – 4 sets of 12
Day 6: ME Deadlift, DE Squat, RE Deadlift
- Warm up
- Deadlift – 5 sets of 2 @ 85% of max
- Squats against bands – 8 sets of 2 @ 50% of max against light bands
- Bent over barbell row – 4 sets of 10
- Seated v-grip row – 4 sets of 12
As you look at the overall program, each lift is trained at least 2x per week, utilizing a different training methodology each time.
The methodologies don’t dictate the full day, but each day will include at least two of the three. They are applied equally and spread out for the lifter to be able to recover from ME work with one lift before having to perform it again with another, or by performing lower body work after upper body ME work and vice versa.
Again, this is not the only way to arrange the 5-day powerlifting split, but it should serve as an example to demonstrate how you can build a complete program with this split.
I’m a big fan of the 5-day split. While it does cram a bit of work into each workout when compared to the 6-day powerlifting split, many lifters will benefit greatly from the added rest day without sacrificing key elements of a successful powerlifting program.
If you struggle getting all of the work done in 5 days and prefer to spread it out, a 6-day split might be a better answer. If you need even more rest but have no problem doing more work in each workout, you might like the 4-day split better.
However you break it up, every good powerlifting program will keep you training the lifts a couple times a week. You’ll also train them with different dynamics to develop you as a skilled, well-rounded lifter. You’ll incorporate variations and accessories to overcome weaknesses, and after a good amount of time, you’ll see results whether you train 4, 5, or 6 days a week.
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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.