Powerlifting competitions are comprised of three exercises: the squat, bench press and deadlift. According to USA Powerlifting rules, in women's powerlifting, competitors are divided by age -- juniors, younger than 23 years of age; masters, from 23 to 40 years; and seniors, older than 40. While powerlifting may conjure images of bulky women, this isn't necessarily the case. Competitors are also subdivided into weight categories, so there is no need to add lots of muscle mass or fat. You don't have to be a competitor, however, to enjoy the benefits of strength training. These exercises make an effective workout for maintaining weight, burning calories and boosting metabolism as well, according to MayoClinic.com.
Each week, you need one squat, one deadlift and one bench press session. Many powerlifters add in a second day for bench pressing, concentrating on speed and explosive power. On this day, use light weights -- about 60 to 70 percent of your one-rep maximum, which is the heaviest weight you can lift for one repetition. Do six to nine sets of two to three repetitions. Leave at least 72 hours between your speed day and heavy bench session to let your muscles recover, advises Louie Simmons, former elite powerlifter and owner of Westside Barbell powerlifting gym in Ohio. A second upper body/bench day is also useful, a study in the "European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology" found, as women typically don't possess as much relative upper-body strength as men.
While each session should concentrate on one main lift, you don't always have to do regulation competition squats, bench presses and deadlifts, as this can lead to strength plateaus and overtraining. Elite female powerlifter Jean Fry recommends making subtle changes to the exercises you perform. For example, on your squat day, you could do regular squats, box squats or squats with chains on the bar. Bench press variations include regular, wide-grip and close-grip presses, incline presses or partial benching in a power rack. For deadlifts, alternate between regular and wide stances, elevate the bar or stand on a small platform. Choose one variation per session.
You need ancillary exercises to improve weak points in your main lifts and boost your strength. Pick two to three ancillary exercises each workout. For squats and deadlifts, choose lunges, front squats, stiff-legged deadlifts and core exercises, such as weighted situps, front and side planks, or hanging leg raises. To boost your bench, opt for other chest, shoulder and triceps exercises, such as dips, shoulder presses and dumbbell presses, and upper back exercises, such as chin-ups and barbell or dumbbell rows. Do three sets of six to 12 reps on each using a weight that's challenging but manageable.
Powerlifting training can be demanding, so you must regulate your training intensity. Spend four weeks in an accumulation block, where the weights are lighter -- about 60 to 75 percent of your one-rep maximum -- and the number of reps is high, about five sets of 10 to 15 reps. The next four weeks is a transmutation cycle. Increase your weights to 75 to 90 percent of your one-rep max, and do four sets of six to eight reps. Finally, spend two weeks attempting to break your personal records. Take a week off, then begin another accumulation block but with heavier weights than before, or use different exercises.
- USA Powerlifting: Technical Rules
- MayoClinic.com: Strength Training: Get Stronger, Leaner, Healthier
- Westside Barbell: Bench Press
- European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology: Gender Differences in Strength and Muscle Fiber Characteristics
- Syatt Fitness: Making Powerlifting More Approachable: An Interview with Female Powerlifter, Jean Fry
- Block Periodization; Vladimir Issurin & Michael Yessis; 2008
- Chris McGrath/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images