Powerlifting is associated with heavy weights and low rep ranges. This is not all that powerlifters do within their training though. Powerlifters will work through a range of repetitions and intensities in their training cycles.
So, how many reps should you do for powerlifting? Powerlifters will train in a range of 1-12 reps. When strength or competition is the priority, training will happen in the 1-5 rep range. When hypertrophy or technique development is the priority, reps will increase to the 6-12 range. Accessory work and powerlifting variations are trained with higher reps (8-20).
But that’s not all you need to know, so in this article I’ll explain…
- How powerlifters vary what rep schemes
- How total volume may vary across training cycles and goals
- How individual differences and lifts can impact rep ranges for powerlifting
While this article is the complete guide on understanding reps for powerlifting, I’ve written a lot about this topic elsewhere on the site. Check out the following articles to dive deeper:
- Do Powerlifters Do High Reps? (Yes, Here’s Why)
- The Repetition Method: Pros, Cons, & Should You Do It?
Powerlifting Rep Ranges Change To Suit Your Goals
Your current training goals and how far away from competition you are will influence how many reps you do for powerlifting.
Further away from competition your goals may be to increase overall volume via reps, sets or overall weight lifted across the session or week, build more muscle, or work on technical changes.
Closer to competition you will often reduce the number of reps you are doing on an overall scale and per set, introducing the inclusion of heavy singles, doubles and triples.
So how does your training phase and goals specifically affect how many reps you do?
How Many Powerlifting Reps For Hypertrophy?
The best rep ranges for growing muscle are higher repetitions between 6-12 reps.
With these higher rep sets it is easier to accrue more total volume and time under tension (how long the muscles are worked for under load), which are key for muscle hypertrophy.
Volume can be considered in several different ways, but the most used is sets X reps X load. So, to increase volume you can look to increase sets, reps, or load (not just reps as most people would think).
Load is harder to manipulate as when you increase load significantly, your volume tends to drop down due to your ability to perform sufficient sets and reps.
Therefore, increasing our overall rep or set count is far easier to increase overall volume.
Those that struggle with performing consistent higher rep sets may look to increase the sets instead. For example, 3 sets of 10 becomes 5 sets of 6 for the same overall volume, but performed with better technique.
The main takeaway here is that increasing volume is key for driving muscle growth and that higher reps (6-12) are often the easiest way for us to accrue more volume across a training week.
How Many Powerlifting Reps For Strength?
The best rep ranges for increasing strength are 1-5 reps.
While this is not a rigid constraint, these ranges are used as they allow us to lift weights that are heavy enough to drive direct strength progress.
Training for hypertrophy is largely about increasing volume and time under tension, strength training focuses upon preparing the body to handle heavier loads from a neuromuscular perspective (how the muscles are performing) .
Heavier loads also increase the chances of technical breakdown, so lower reps are more suited as it is easier to maintain position and technique for 1-5 reps than 6-12 under these heavier loads.
During strength focused periods of training, you are lifting loads that you can only do for 1-5 reps, so this rep range is a necessity as well.
In strength focused phases, you will often see the set count increase in order to prevent overall training volume from dropping too drastically. It’s not uncommon to see 6-8 sets of 1-5 reps during this training period.
How Many Powerlifting Reps Leading Into A Competition?
Rep ranges leading into a competition are very similar to training for strength.
However, a key difference is that volume is seen to taper more in the lead up to a competition. With overall training volume reducing by 30-70%.
This means that the overall number of sets will drop, even though the reps are staying consistent.
Specificity will also increase as you get closer to a competition and more focus will be placed upon your single rep training and heavy lower rep sets (2-3 reps) as well. Specificity also refers to which exercises you’re choosing to do for lower reps.
While in a strength phase, you might do lower reps of powerlifting variations (i.e. pause squats, narrow grip bench, deficit deadlifts), leading up to a competition, you will want to perform the lower rep training in the competition movements only (squat, bench press, and deadlift).
Read our article How To Taper For Powerlifting (6 Mistakes to Avoid) to learn the specifics of tapering for a competition and how reps change.
Want to get advice on programming, technique, or competing? Speak with one of our coaches.
Powerlifting Reps Will Vary Between Lifts
The squat, bench press and deadlift all have their own considerations for the rep ranges used by powerlifters.
How Many Powerlifting Reps For Squat?
The squat will benefit from a variety of rep ranges. However, many lifters may benefit from sticking to the lower ranges.
High rep squats (8-15) can be very challenging and offer more downsides than benefits to some.
If you find yourself having to take breaks within your sets to catch your breath, that your technique is drastically worse towards the end of the set or that you simply cannot recover well enough from them, then sticking to slightly lower reps may benefit you.
How you squat will also impact how many reps you should do.
If you are a more hinge dominant squatter (more bent over and a lower torso angle) then high rep squats are unlikely to be ideal for you.
The back will often end up being the limiting factor within higher rep sets for hinge dominant squatters, rather than the lower body. Leading to more technique breakdown and unnecessary lower back stress.
For many lifters I often recommend sticking in the 1-8 rep ranges for squats, and looking to train the higher rep ranges through more squat variations and accessory work.
A high bar or safety bar squat has a more upright torso and is more leg dominant so is often more suited to higher rep ranges for the hinge dominant squatters. The legs end up being the limiting factor rather than your lower back.
Within your accessory work a leg press or leg extension can be used for training with the 8-15 ranges as well.
How Many Powerlifting Reps For Bench Press?
The bench press is the most suited to a range of reps, and far easier to perform in the higher rep ranges.
While specificity and maintaining position under load is key for the bench press, I am an advocate of high rep and less specific bench press training for many lifters too.
Due to it being an overall less fatiguing lift that uses less absolute load and smaller muscle groups performing higher rep bench press is far easier that higher rep squats or deadlifts.
As the bench press is performed with more weekly volume and frequency (often 3+ sessions per week) compared to the squat and deadlift for most lifters this allows us to utilise a wider range of reps.
While I recommend including an element of lower rep pressing (1-5 reps) across most of your training cycles, I believe lifters benefit from spending time working through pressing in some form of higher rep ranges (6-10).
The challenge of maintaining position throughout a high rep set of bench press is great skill practice and improves your ability to do this within your more specific work and lower rep sets.
Given that the bench press can handle more overall volume than the other competition lifts, it is also far easier to accrue this volume by including some higher rep training rather than merely adding additional sets to every training day.
If you are benching 3 times a week, including a lower rep (1-5) day, a higher rep (6-10) day and a variation day that targets your weaknesses is a good place to start (this structure is called daily undulating periodization).
Bench press accessory work can also be used to include even higher rep (12-20) training, such as flys or dumbbell and machine pressing that reduce the positional and technical demands compared to the bench press.
Read more about high reps for bench press in our article 5 Benefits Of High Rep Bench Press (Science-Backed).
How Many Powerlifting Reps For Deadlift?
Most lifters will benefit from lower rep range deadlifts. The deadlift is the most fatiguing of the three competition lifts and has the added difficulty of having to break the floor each rep without an eccentric component.
For the majority of lifters, I will look to increase set counts rather than rep counts to increase overall volume, adding sets in the 1-6 rep ranges rather than including sets of 6+.
Beyond this several other issues hinder high rep deadlifts. They present grip issues, and even with straps, holding onto the bar for higher reps is increasingly hard. You can also have issues with the bar bouncing side to side or back and forth, or plates/clips coming loose throughout a set if you are not in a gym with excellent platforms and full competition kit.
Romanian or Stiff Legged Deadlifts are great in the 8-12 range for targeting many of the same muscle groups as the conventional deadlift.
Hamstring curls, rows and vertical pulls are suited well to the 10-15 rep range for targeting the hamstrings and back with more volume and isolation.
Read more about high reps for deadlift in our article High Rep Deadlifts: Should You Do It?
Exercise Variation Will Affect Powerlifting Rep Ranges
Variations of the competition lifts will also influence the rep ranges you should be doing and can do.
- A touch and go bench press is going to be far easier for a set of 8 than a paused bench press set of 8.
- Tempo variations will be increasingly difficult for higher rep sets so tend to favour sets of 1-5.
The more difficult a variation is, be that technically or via tempo, pauses or similar constraints, the more it will favour a lower rep range.
The easier a variation is, such as touch and go or reduced ranges of motion the more it may suit a higher rep range prescription.
How Many Powerlifting Reps For Accessory Exercises?
Accessory exercises is a term used by powerlifters referring to the exercises they do outside of the squat, bench press and deadlift variations.
These exercises are used to address various muscular, positional or strength based weaknesses.
Compound (multiple muscle group) exercises used will often be performed in the 8-12 rep range. This is as they are more fatiguing and harder to perform for higher rep ranges than this.
The hack squat or dumbbell press are perfect examples of this. Compound exercises that can address specific weaknesses with your squat or bench press, but would be increasingly difficult to push to 12+ reps.
Isolation exercises (single muscle group) that aim to bring up weaker or comparatively smaller muscle groups, will be performed using 10-15 reps, and sometimes up to 20 reps per set.
Such as a leg extension for the quadriceps or a bicep curl for the biceps that are far easier and less fatiguing to push to these higher rep ranges.
Individual Differences Affect How Many Powerlifting Reps You Should Do
Individual differences will affect how many reps you can and should do for powerlifting
The distance the barbell needs to travel, technical efficiency, and your leverages (how long/short your arms, legs, torso, etc. are) will all influence the number of reps you should do.
Taller And Longer Limbed Lifters May Need Less Overall Powerlifting Reps
A 6’5 lifter performing a squat is going to be covering a lot more distance compared to a 5’5 lifter.
The same can be said about lifters with above averagely long arms for bench pressing, yet on the other side those same people will have shorter rep distances in the deadlift.
This distance travelled should be considered when programming rep ranges for powerlifting.
Taller lifters will typically favour a reduction in overall reps in their program, whereas shorter lifters can often handle higher overall volumes.
Similar can be said for those with more or less distance to travel due to their leverages.
Those with increased ranges of motion, think your short armed deadlift or long armed bench presser, will favour slightly reduced volumes whereas your long armed deadlifter or short armed bench presser can aim for increased volumes.
Check out our articles on:
- Deadlift For Tall Guys (7 Tips)
- Squat With Long Legs (10 Tips)
- Bench Press With Long Arms (5 Tips)
- Can You Build Muscle With Powerlifting?
- Are Powerlifters Stronger Than Bodybuilders?
Advanced Lifters Will Be Better At Performing Higher Rep Sets
Advanced lifters will have better overall technique and be more efficient and maintain this technique more easily than beginner lifters.
Maintaining the correct technique throughout a set of 8 may be difficult and lead to more technical breakdown towards the end of a set.
Breaking this up into multiple sets of 4 or 6 may actually allow them to get in the same amount of volume, while maintaining better technique across the session.
High Arch Bench Pressers May Struggle With High Rep Sets
Benching with a high arch is a skill developed by many powerlifters to reduce their range of motion.
This reduced range of motion and less distance traveled suggests they can handle more volume.
However, maintaining this position becomes increasingly difficult throughout higher rep sets.
High arch benchers, while being able to handle more volume, should look to achieve this through increasing their set count, rather than purely increasing the number of reps per set if they find their position changing increasingly throughout a set.
Sumo Deadlifters Can Handle More Overall Volume And Higher Rep Sets Better
Due to the nature of the sumo deadlift; less range of motion, more vertical torso angle and more lower body and less back dominant, lifters can handle more overall volume and higher rep sets.
So, in contrast to conventional deadlifters I will potentially include sets of 6-8 reps for sumo deadlifters to accrue this volume more easily and often see the benefit to the skill practice that comes with higher rep training.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do Powerlifters Only Do Single Repetitions?
Powerlifters will train through a variety of rep ranges (1-12 reps) depending on their current training goals. Single repetitions will be included in the lead up to competitions and strength-focused phases but will also include multiple rep sets too.
Are High Reps Or Low Reps Better For Powerlifting?
While low reps are needed for powerlifting and increasing maximal strength, there is also time for higher rep training. One is not always better than the other and it will depend on your goals at the time. Higher repetitions will benefit muscle growth and increasing work capacity, whereas lower reps will be better for maximal strength and competition.
Rep ranges for powerlifters will vary depending on your current goals at the time. When looking to increase maximal strength or build into a competition, training will focus upon the 1-5 rep ranges. When aiming to grow muscle and build work capacity, training will focus upon the 6-12 rep ranges.
Considering volume overall as reps, sets and load is also important beyond just increasing rep ranges. Individual and lift differences should also be considered when discussing how many reps for powerlifting.
About The Author
Jacob Wymer is a powerlifting coach and PhD Candidate in Biomechanics and Strength and Conditioning, researching the application of barbell velocity measurements to powerlifting. He is involved in powerlifting across the board, from athlete to meet director. Jacob runs his coaching services at EST Barbell. You can also connect with him on Instagram.