If you’re a competitive powerlifter, you know firsthand how demanding this sport can be on time, energy, and resources. And even if you don’t compete, the rigors of loyally training the squat, bench press, and deadlift may well catch up with you. Life can get in the way, and you may find yourself unable to train as frequently as you would like.
Powerlifting programs typically involve training between three to five times per week as a standard expectation. But even if you can only train powerlifting once per week, you can still make gains — assuming you program it appropriately.
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In this article, you’ll get equipped with a once-per-week powerlifting program, along with tips on how to optimize your training if you can only commit to that lone Sunday morning workout. With the right approach and mindset, you can still make progress and achieve your goals.
Editor’s Note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it should not be taken as medical advice. When starting a new training regimen and/or diet, it is always a good idea to consult a trusted medical professional. We are not a medical resource. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. They are not substitutes for consulting a qualified medical professional.
How You Got Here
Regardless of where you are in your journey, there may be any number of reasons that training once per week may be most appropriate for you. It’s important to understand that this can and likely will happen to the vast majority of lifters, so remember to not beat yourself up for it.
Whether your current circumstances were planned for or unexpected, they may impact your training routine. But rest assured — training once a week really is not the end of your powerlifting journey.
Most people are not full-time powerlifters. Instead, you may have a full-time office job along with other life and family commitments. Any of these factors can contribute to your inability to commit to training more than once per week.
Luckily for many, these bouts of busyness may be short-lived and seasonal. When a period of extreme busyness will pass, you can use powerlifting once per week as a way to maintain as much strength as possible until you can get back to more frequent lifting.
Compared to many other sports, powerlifting is very low-impact and doesn’t necessarily have a high rate of injury. But if you train long enough, the possibility of getting injured approaches inevitability. You’re bound to tweak your shoulder at some point or another, even if it’s not too serious.
When you do get injured, the first thing to do is consult a qualified medical professional. You want to make sure you’re medically cleared to exercise before diving back in.
Being injured can hold you back from being able to train as frequently as you did before depending on the severity. But with the guidance of a medical professional, you may be able to train around your injury. Reducing training volume so you can maintain strength without exacerbating the injury may include reducing exercise frequency to once per week.
Mental Burnout or Boredom
It is no secret that the nature of powerlifting can be repetitive in nature. After all, there are only three competition lifts. The rigors of perfecting your squat, bench press, and deadlift require a lot of discipline week to week and month to month. For some athletes, this may make them burnt out sooner than they realize.
It is completely normal to find that you may want to move away from regular and intensive training to get a mental break. You don’t have to feel guilty for wanting to do this — yes, you’re still a powerlifter even when you need a break.
At the same time, you may want to maintain some level of training in the background. Enter once-per-week powerlifting workouts.
The One-Day Powerlifting Split Program
When training powerlifting once per week, it is important to focus on the core powerlifts: the squat, bench press, and deadlift. These three main lifts will be staples on a weekly basis.
While this is true of any powerlifting program, only training once per week will limit your movement variation and accessory exercises. As there can be so much time and effort to be attributed to accessory exercise, these non-powerlifting moves can be alternated every week. This way, you’ll still be training important muscle groups and movement patterns long-term.
The main three lifts are meant to tax most athletes regardless of whatever level, so you have to train them in a way that allows you to still have room for some accessory exercises. To do this, employ a technique called AMRAP, which stands for as many reps as possible.
Using this method will allow you to be able to push as much as your body can at any given intensity. You will also use supersets with the accessory exercises to save time and increase the intensity.
Here is a sample program:
The Once Per Week Powerlifting Program
Most powerlifting programs will have separate days dedicated to each different powerlift. When you’re training once per week, you’ll be training them all on the same day. Be prepared for an intense workout. Make sure to give yourself enough fuel to get through these sessions.
To select the weights, use a percentage of your one-rep max. If you haven’t maxed out lately, use BarBend’s one-rep max calculator to give yourself the best estimate for all of your lifts.
[Read More: Jen Thompson: A Powerlifting Legend’s Training Routine]
- Squat*: 2 x 4, then 1 x AMRAP
- Bench Press*: 3 x 5, then1 x AMRAP
- Deadlift*: 1 x 4, then 1 x AMRAP
- Lat Pulldown +** Arnold Press: 3 x 12
- Plank: 2 x 30 seconds
* Do these lifts at 80 percent of your one-rep max.
** The plus sign indicated performing these lifts as a superset.
* Do these lifts at 85 percent of your one-rep max.
- Squat*: 2 x 4, then 1 x AMRAP
- Bench Press*: 3 x 5, then 1 x AMRAP
- Deadlift*: 1 x 4, then 1 x AMRAP
- Split Squat + Hamstring Curl: 3 x 8 + 3 x 15
- Dead Bug: 2 x 12
* Do these lifts at 87 percent of your one-rep max.
Tips for Training Powerlifting Once Per Week
A one-day training split for powerlifting is arguably not an optimal spread for maximal progress for powerlifting. This means that to make the most of training once per week, there will be some important things to keep in mind.
Your training needs to pack in as much intensity and volume as possible, while the exercise selections need to be efficient. Here are a few key factors that you need to keep in mind to ensure your success.
Focus on the Powerlifts
The squat, bench press, and deadlift are specific for competing in powerlifting. When training once per week, it’s important to prioritize these lifts by keeping them at the start of the training session.
You’ll need to dedicate not only time and energy to these movements but also ensure that your form is in top shape. Perform these moves directly after your warm-up to make sure you’re both ready for intense efforts but also not exhausted from previous workloads.
Allow for Autoregulation
Even if you can only train once per week, you need to bring your best effort to every workout. You need some strategy to let you hit whatever hard training you can on that day and adapt to your level of readiness.
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This means that it’s okay to go a bit heavier if you’re feeling especially pumped and ready to go. Make sure you’re working within your capacity and safety limits, of course. But give yourself enough flexibility to autoregulate within your program — that is, kick it up a notch based on how you feel. Conversely, you can autoregulate down if your body just isn’t feeling it.
Do Not Neglect Accessory Exercises
Accessory exercises are important to help you stabilize your main lifts and keep your mobility sufficient enough. Just because you may not be able to hit all the accessory exercises you want into one session and subsequently once per week, does not mean you should neglect them entirely.
Make sure your workouts are included their share of high-intensity accessory lifts. Superset your lifts together to make sure your heart rate and your muscles get a big challenge. The more punch your workout can pack, the better.
Employ Active Recovery
Just because you train powerlifting once per week does not mean you should be completely sedentary for the rest of the week. It is useful to employ some low-level physical activity such as long walks to maintain some level of physical conditioning and mobility around your lower body.
Being sedentary can lead to your hips and back being very stiff, which may increase the demand for warming up and increase your risk of injury, too. Little things from walking to doing five-minute mobility routines daily can make a huge difference here.
Benefits of Powerlifting Once Per Week
Although training powerlifting once per week may not be ideal for most lifters, there are still several benefits to a one-day split.
If typical powerlifting programs are often four times per week with 1.5 to two-hour sessions, training once per week allows you to potentially save between four to six hours per week.
This approach is perfect for individuals who have a busy work schedule or other extended commitments. It can also open you up for a time to explore other interests you may have outside of powerlifting.
If you were coming from a place of boredom or potential burnout, training only once a week will give you that added space and reduced exposure to fend off a continued lack of motivation. This distancing may help increase your desire to lift and boost your sense of looking forward to training in powerlifting again.
Potential burnout may also be a symptom of overtraining, for which one solution is reduced training quantity. With only one training session per week, you can focus your energy on recovering while maintaining your commitment to the sport.
By focusing on the most important lifts, you can ensure that you are making the most of your time in the gym. You are forced to prioritize the essential exercises and save time from performing the optional exercises that may make a lesser impact on your progress.
If your schedule is pulling you away from the gym more often than not, get after it once a week. This can help you maintain as much strength as possible for when you’re ready to come back to the gym more often.
Drawbacks of Powerlifting Once Per Week
It is no surprise that powerlifting once per week is not ideal for most athletes. While there are benefits to powerlifting once per week, these are some of the main drawbacks to this approach, as well.
Since you are only training once per week, you will have limited capacity to fit in sufficient volume for each lift compared to those who train multiple times per week. Not only that, you will accumulate fatigue from performing all three main lifts in one session. Each big lift may negatively affect the exercises that are later on in the training session.
Also by training once a week, you may lose conditioning to be able to train harder for longer sessions in the first place. As such, you may not be able to progress, and potentially even regress if you were a very experienced lifter before your break.
Reduced Practice on the Powerlifts
Powerlifting may be a simple sport, but it is still a skill-based sport that requires a lot of practice to master your technique. When training once per week, you have limited opportunities to practice and perfect your form.
This may result in you feeling inconsistent when performing the main lifts. You may get the negative experience of finding the lifts somewhat foreign when executing them. This may lead to you feeling very dissatisfied with the training process moving forward.
One and Done
Training powerlifting once per week might not be ideal, but it may be your only option right now. And that may be good enough to get you going where you want to be. Prioritize the most important lifts — the squat, bench, and dead — and follow a well-structured program. With this, you can maintain some of the fitness levels to compete again.
The greatest success you can achieve in powerlifting is when you can train as long as possible in it. It may even mean having moments when you take a bit of a break from hard consistent powerlifting training so you do not quit.
Keep going, even if it’s just once a week — the sport is well worth it.
Featured Image: YAKOBCHUK VIACHESLAV / Shutterstock
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