Most powerlifters at some time or another would have heard of the Candito Powerlifting Program, as Jonnie Candito is one of the most well-known YouTube powerlifting personalities.
So, what is the Candito powerlifting program? The Candito program is 6-weeks geared toward intermediate powerlifters. It is highly specific to increasing strength in the squat, bench press, and deadlift. The load increases each week by 6-8% (after the first 2 weeks of holding the same load), ending with a single set of 1-4 reps at 97% of max for each lift.
We’ve dug into the full program and analyzed what we consider to be the most important aspects of a templated program below. But before we get into all those details, we’ve identified a few key groups that may not be a fit for the Candito Powerlifting Program.
Why The Candito Powerlifting Program May Not Be For You
After diving into this program and considering it’s pros and cons from a coaching perspective, there are a few types of lifters that should not follow the Candito 6-week program:
- Brand new lifters
- Patient lifters
- Lifters who like squatting and deadlifting on separate days
Brand new lifters
A lot of this program is plug and play, which is great for beginners.
However, much of the program is also up to the lifter to decide. Kind of a “choose your own adventure” when it comes to selecting which accessories and lift variations you want to include after your top sets with the squat, bench, and deadlift in their standard form.
Without a working knowledge of exercise selection, the muscles they target, isolated vs compound movements, etc. you’ll be overwhelmed and lost, or at minimum, not effectively following the program.
The supplemental beginner’s guide that can be downloaded along with the program does help connect the dots a bit, but much of the language and terms would be lost on a brand new lifter looking to get started on their own.
This program repeats itself every 5-6 weeks. If you don’t like starting your block over every six weeks, this program is not for you.
For lifters who prefer to more patiently work through each block, spending 3 or 4 or even 5 weeks in a hypertrophy phase, and a strength adaptation phase, or prefer longer tapering phases before maxing out, you will hate this program.
The Candito six-week program moves fast and jumps right from one block to the next, with just two weeks in each stage. While many lifters will benefit from this program, I personally prefer to spend more time in each block (along with the lifters I coach) to develop more in each stage before putting it all together at the end.
Lifters who like squatting and deadlifting on separate days
This program combines squat and deadlift into a single lower body day, performed twice a week. Combining these two lifts makes these workouts much more intense than splitting the two lifts into their own days.
You may not like squatting and deadlifting the same day. I personally don’t, unless it’s a competition day. If you find that performing heavy sets or high volume sets of squat and deadlift is mentally, physically, or otherwise too taxing for you, this program is not for you.
Another Program Option To Consider
Before diving into the full review of the candito powerlifting program, I want to share that…
We’ve created a training app with dozens of powerlifting programs that suits different goals.
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- Ability level (beginner to advanced)
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- Competition readiness (peaking programs for a powerlifting)
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Let’s now dive into the full review of the Candito Powerlifting Program!
Overview of Candito Powerlifting Program
About The Creator
Jonnie Candito won a bronze medal in his weight class in the 2014 IPF World Powerlifting Championships and silver medal the next year in the 2015 IPF World Championships. He makes his programs available for free online, with the request for donations to support him and his content.
Want to learn more from top powerlifters? Check out my article on The 15 Best Powerlifting Youtube Channels.
Who This Program Is Intended For?
This particular 6-week program is intended for intermediate lifters with a working knowledge of powerlifting and supporting exercises who have numbers they can plug in from previous max-out attempts.
Candito advertises his programs for anyone interested in getting stronger, but specifically the lifter interested in natural, drug-free strength training “without the gimmicks.”
He offers programs categorized for beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels, though the advanced programs are specific to the squat, bench, and deadlift each.
Goals of The Program
Candito’s stated goals are to help the natural strength athlete improve their maxes on the squat, bench, and deadlift, while building new muscle mass.
More specifically, the goal of this program is to focus the lifter on the fundamental elements of block periodization, emphasizing the conventional lifts for strength work, and supporting them with variations and accessory work at the selection of the lifter.
The Candito program begins as a five-day split with two lower body days and three upper-body days. The upper body days focus on the bench press and upper body muscles, while the lower body days combine the squat and deadlift and their supporting muscle groups.
Candito emphasizes decreased volume in each workout by splitting it up this way so that the lifter can complete their work in 45-60 minutes, focus on the main work, and then be ready for the next workout. By the final week of the program, the lifter has only three training days.
In his words, Candito says:
“I want you to come [to] the gym on a mission. Accomplish that goal, feel satisfied knowing you did everything you had to in order to get better, and come back next workout excited!”
Do You Need Any Prerequisites Before Starting This Program?
Lifters attempting this program should have a working knowledge of the proper technique to perform a squat, bench press, and deadlift.
Additionally, because the program relies on the lifter to select their own accessories for much of the program, a lifter attempting this program should have a working knowledge of exercises to choose from, the muscles they train/rely on, and how they are beneficial or carry over to the three power lifts.
Candito does provide a short library of his preferred accessories, but a lifter would need to do supplemental searching or research to know how to perform those if they aren’t familiar with them already.
Finally, you will need to know your squat, bench press, and deadlift maxes in order to use the program, as it relies on percentages of those maxes to calculate your recommended weights for each lift each week.
Check out our other articles discussing accessory exercises for powerlifting:
- 9 Squat Accessories To Improve Strength & Technique
- 10 Bench Press Accessories To Improve Strength & Technique
- 12 Deadlift Accessories To Improve Strength & Technique
Candito Powerlifting Program Variables: What To Expect
Candito labels each week with the overview of that period, giving the lifter an idea of why their rep ranges and weight ranges shifted that week, and what the goal of that week is on their overall progress.
For example, weeks are labeled as follows:
- Week 1 – Muscular Conditioning (Moderate Difficulty)
- Week 2 – Muscular Conditioning/Hypertrophy (Higher difficulty)
- Week 3 – Linear Max OT Phase
- Week 4 – Heavy Weight Acclimation
- Week 5 – High Intensity Strength
This is one of the things I really like about this program. I find it very helpful for the lifter to know what is changing and why it is changing week to week, and Candito makes that easily understandable right out of the box.
Also a big plus to the program here is the specificity of the squat, bench, and deadlift. While Candito states that you could use this program to train an incline bench or deadlift variation instead of the conventional forms, it really does emphasize the squat, bench press, and deadlift.
In his beginner’s supplemental PDF, Candito explains that the variations and accessory movements can be optionally removed for time and the lifter will still see strength progress by following only those main exercises.
By following this program, the lifter will have ample reps and exposure to the main three lifts, with the flexibility to add their favorite or most needed accessories to improve those lifts along the way.
There is a clear, linear decrease in volume over the six weeks to offset the linear increase of the weight and intensity.
Volume starts very high in the first two weeks. With as many as six exercises for four sets of 8-12 reps, the first two weeks look daunting at first glance.
The middle two weeks show a marked drop in that volume, with no exercise exceeding three total sets, and the rep ranges never exceeding six, even with accessory movements.
Week 5 drops the volume significantly, allowing the lifter just one set of 1-4 reps with a near-max load for each of the main lifts, and almost no accessory work afterward.
Overall, this program follows conventional trends with high volume early on to emphasize muscular hypertrophy, and decreased volume later in the program (offset with high load, high intensity work) to keep the lifter strong, while allowing for recovery from the fatigue of the previous four weeks of training.
Hand-in-hand with my analysis of the volume, the training intensity increases steadily throughout the six weeks, but this does not mean it starts low.
By my assessment, the intensity of the first two weeks is a little daunting, but sets the standard for the intensity a lifter should expect as the load increases and the rep ranges decrease week over week.
Overall, this program starts with a bang and never really lets up until week five to call for just three very intense sets of the squat, bench, and deadlift and allow for some rest on the total volume.
Actually most advanced lifters who are closer to their biological limits, might not be able to jump into week 1 intensities. Advanced lifters usually need a longer ramp-up period, so I caution you if you are someone who is an experienced powerlifter starting this program at these intensities.
Candito’s six-week program follows a linear overload progression. Each week, the load is increased by 6-8% (after the first two weeks of holding at the same weight), ending with a single set of 1-4 reps at about 97% of max for each lift.
Overall, this overload progression seems very manageable by a motivated lifter. There are no calls for supramaximal attempts (weights above your max) that we see in some programs.
If you fail a required rep (top sets with the squat, bench press, or deadlift at the prescribed weight based off of your max inputs) the instruction is to lower your max by 2.5%.
By including this instruction, the overload element does maintain some flexibility so that if the lifter is unable to sustain the program at the set percentages, they can still proceed by adjusting the input slightly, rather than stubbornly proceeding with a path that is beyond their reach.
The program manages fatigue by steadily decreasing total volume and exercise frequency from weeks two through six.
While the first two weeks appear very intense and tiring, weeks three and four remove an entire day of training, and week five removes another, all while decreasing total sets and reps.
Though the program starts with five workouts a week, it quickly decreases in frequency to allow for more rest and focus to offset the increased load and intensity.
This strategy is very manageable for lifters of any level, as they can take a deep breath and train hard for the first two weeks, then have some reprieve in the form of more rest days as the intensity of the program increases week over week.
The program is adjustable to individual differences from lifter to lifter in a few ways:
- “Percentage of Max” Progression
- Lift Variations
- Accessory Exercises
“Percentage of Max” Progression
The first page of the sheet calls for the lifter to enter their previous one-rep max for the squat, bench press, and deadlift. All the following pages in the sheet are flooded with recommended weights based on percentages of that lifter’s maxes, making the sheet customized to their abilities.
With this flexibility, the lifter can select variations specific to their sticking points in each lift so they can get stronger in those specific areas of their training.
The program allows the lifter to pick their own accessories. On the max inputs page, Candito has created a drop down pick list for two upper back accessories and one shoulder accessory exercise. Each picklist has three or four options you can choose from.
Those preferences are piped into the fields where those accessories are called for later in the program.
Beyond that, there are still fields open for other accessories. These do not pipe in from anywhere and are chosen totally at the discretion of the lifter.
This setup offers similar benefits as the flexibility with the lift variations, as the lifter can choose his or her favorite accessories, or the ones that will best carry over to their weak points or overall goals.
6 Benefits of Candito Powerlifting Program
Overall, we found there are six major benefits to the Condito program. We like it for the following reasons:
- It’s 6 weeks in length
- The periodization structure is strong
- It has a high specificity on the powerlifting movements
- It’s semi-flexible to accommodate individual sticking points
- Follows best practices for volume and intensity
- It’s a solid free program compared with others
It’s 6 Weeks in Length
Most programs seem to be 8-16 week programs, so I really like that this is a 6 week program that manages to include a block of adaptation/hypertrophy, a strength adaptation block, and a tapering period in that time frame.
For anyone looking to try something out and decide quickly if they like it or not, this is a great program to run through in less than two months. In that time frame, you can decide if you see good enough results to where you want to keep repeating it with updated max numbers each cycle.
The Periodization Structure Is Strong
Each week has a clear structure and goal. Candito builds this program around block periodization, with two weeks to acclimate to the intensity and build new muscle, three weeks for strength adaptations, and a week to taper before maxing out again, or repeating the cycle.
There’s no guesswork here for the lifter to understand why each week is structured the way it is, making it easy to not just put your head down and follow the program, but also to follow the strategy and goals behind each workout.
FInally, between the short six week time frame and the concise structure, there’s no fluff to waste your time on.
It Has a High Specificity on the Powerlifting Movements
Candito has done a great job keeping this program focused on the squat, bench press, and deadlift. He certainly meets his claim of providing a program with no gimmicks and just focusing on what works.
While we have our complaints about any templatized program, Candito’s is far from anything we’d gripe about spending too much time on exercises or phases that offer marginal improvement to a lifter’s strength. He’s stripped things down to the core of what will get a lifter stronger in a short (or long) period of time.
It’s Semi-flexible to Accommodate Individual Sticking Points
While any template program lacks complete customization and flexibility, the Candito 6-week program allows a lifter to choose their own lift variations and accessories, making it semi flexible.
All the great work Candito did to keep this program focused on the squat, bench, and deadlift is only enhanced by his decision to make the accessories and variations flexible and customizable to the user.
By leaving this portion flexible, a lifter can repeat the cycle again and again, month after month, but incorporate fresh or new variations to address weaknesses they are currently working through.
Furthermore, it allows a group of lifters who lift together to follow the same core program, while still addressing individual needs.
Follows Best Practices for Volume and Intensity
This program doesn’t try to invent anything new and certainly isn’t slinging any secret sauce or gimmicks. We love the direct approach to using high volume to build muscle and keep intensity high early on, then gradually trading intensity and load for that volume as the weeks progress.
Each block of the program follows proven, conventional models to build new muscle, develop strength, and prepare the lifter to demonstrate that strength shortly after the block has completed.
Best of all, the program is truly repeatable without leaving a lifter feeling bored or burnt out.
It’s a Solid Free Program Compared with Others
Best of all, the Candito programs are all free! For any lifter looking for value in their programs, or just wants to try things out before financially committing to anything, you can’t beat free.
Candito does have a portal to make donations to support his efforts to share his knowledge and experience, for those who enjoy his work.
6 Cons of Candito Powerlifting Program
For as many things as we liked about the program, there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all training program, and this is no exception.
We found six downsides to the program overall, which are the following:
- Progress might be cut prematurely
- Combined lower body days may be too fatiguing
- The volume at the percentages prescribed might be too hard
- It requires prior knowledge
- It requires prior max attempts
- The exercise lists are super limited
Progress Might Be Cut Prematurely
As nice as it is to have a concise program, some lifters don’t do well starting a block over and over again every six weeks, and sometimes six weeks just isn’t enough to see the progress you want to see when you max out.
Granted, Condito offers the option of skipping the max out in week six, so it’s not implied that a lifter on his program will definitely max out every six weeks, but six weeks is still a short time to cram in a full cycle of progress after a while.
This may be more a matter of preference for some, but a 12-week or 16-week program with the same block periodization will allow a lifter to find bigger results in each block, adding to a bigger total.
If a lifter is able to sustain a longer program, you’ll likely want to find one that spend more time developing you before graduating to a new block or repeating the cycle with bigger numbers.
Combined Lower Body Days May Be Too Fatiguing
I’m not a fan of combining squat and deadlift into the same day, so that’s a downside for me on this program.
Of course, you’ll want to squat and deadlift on the same day in preparation for a powerlifting competition, but year-round, I think you can experiment with different training splits that offer heavy squatting and deadlifting on other days.
The bottom line is that the squat and deadlift are far more taxing than the bench press by themselves, let alone doing them together. So combining them on the same day just increases the risk that you’re too burned out to hit all the numbers you need to hit on each lift.
When I punched in my personal maxes to the sheet and saw what Candito’s program wanted me to do one week one, day one, I was already exhausted just reading it. Four sets of six reps with 80% of my squat max followed by two sets of six reps with 80% of my deadlift max.
By themselves, I could smoke those six total sets, but in the same day, that becomes a tall order for me.
If you are like me and don’t like trying to get the most of your squat and deadlift the same day, then you’ll see why this is a big downside of this program.
The Volume at the Percentages Prescribed Might Be Too Hard
Riding right off of my last criticism, Candito punches you in the face with volume right from the start, and that may be daunting to lifters.
This is true both from a physical standpoint as well as a mental standpoint. The volume may not actually fatigue you as much as you think or expect, but if it creates mental fatigue early on and makes you lose interest or confidence in the program, then it’s too much.
If it literally fatigues you too much so you can’t successfully perform the strength adaptation work in weeks 3-5, then it’s too much.
Just looking at the program takes a mental toll on me thinking about how hard it will be to complete what’s programmed here, and that’s a red flag for me.
It Requires Prior Knowledge
As much as we love the ability to customize our variations and accessories, a brand new lifter would not be able to do this program alone. You do need to know what variations carry over to each of the main three lifts, and what accessories use the same muscles as the main lifts.
For anyone with a basic knowledge of lifting, you might be able to match a few exercises to the squat, bench, and deadlift. But an understanding of the nuances of which lifts have a better carryover than others comes from actual experience, both personal and industrial.
If you haven’t lifted before, there is too much variation in this program for a new lifter to figure out on their own.
It Requires Prior Max Attempts
If you do not know how much you can squat, bench press, or deadlift for one rep (or at least closely estimate it), you won’t have much to work with in this program.
Because the weights are all based on a percentage of a previous max, you have to know those numbers and enter them into the first page of the sheet to have the rest of the sheet filled in.
If you’ve never tested those numbers before, you might find better success working with a program built around REP or RIR until you can reach a point to test your maxes and get some real numbers. From there, you can use a percentage-based program like this one.
The Exercise Lists Are Super Limited
This is a little nit-picky, but the functions in the sheet seem a little half-baked. For example, he has drop down pick lists for two upper-back accessories and a shoulder accessory, but nothing else. Yet his program calls for several optional accessories in each workout.
If you’re going to create a pick list for a few accessories, finish the product and allow a lifter to enter all those inputs for all muscle groups and have exercises populate the open fields, or don’t do it at all.
This is more of a user experience critique, but can lead to some confusion or frustration working with the program for many (myself included). And if the program isn’t usable, then what good is the material in it?
Who Is Candito Powerlifting Program For?
By my assessment, the Candito program is great for lifters who already have a working familiarity with powerlifting and the exercises within the sport, both the lifts done in competition, as well as the supporting lifts used to train the athlete in improving those lifts.
This program is great for lifters who want to see improvements in a relatively short period of time, as it is built around a six -week cycle, with the option to test maxes at the end, or roll it into a new block.
Lifters who want a structured program, but still want some flexibility will enjoy this program for that reason – they can follow something planned and structured, based on their own numbers, while plugging in their personal preferences along the way.
Finally, the fact that programs are available for free (or optional donations) make this a great fit for anyone on a budget or wanting to try something without making a financial commitment.
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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.