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The Big 3 Lifts of PowerLifting

When should you get off from training the Big Lifts- Or do you hang on to them with such Sacredness as the farmer hangs on to his tools or the Preacher Man hangs on to his Bible.  I know how dogmatic Powerlifters can be about their training.  I have been around the Weightlifting Arena all my life.  I spent this year working closely by sponsoring Powelifting Meets and consultanting with some National level Powerlifters.  The more time I spend around Powerlifters the more I see them training the Big 3 lifts with no significant break or rotation of the Big 3 Lifts aka Bench Press, Squat and Deadlift.

This article is about learning or suggestioning on how to take breaks from your primary lifts in order to rest your body from them and secondly to make better gains of strength later down the road.  I was surprise to learn that Benchers dont get off the Bench and Squaters dont like to lay off the Squats.  But this is exactly what a Lifter should do every 8-12 weeks of training heavy with these lifts.

My opinion stems from the basis of using 2 very important principles in training; Specificity and Periodization training.  Whether it be a runner, swimmer or in this case weightlifting most of us will apply the first one Specificity.  Meaning we are training specifically with the Sport or Exercise at hand.  The second principle mentioned is Periodization a concept devloped by a Swimming Coach in the good ‘ol USA back in the early 1960′s. The Idea of Periodization is how to strategize long term training of either a given sport or in this case weighlifting exercise/s. Eastern Block Coaches learned this Theory and Ran with it!  I know this because my mentor Professor Spassov told me so (currently Univ. Tx former Coach of Bulgaria).  They the Eastern European Coaching Community quickly learned that the Body’s Endrocrine System under heavy stress and continous training of a given lift/sport would burn out after a given time of 8-16 weeks.Thereby, the theory of Periodization made sense!  Therefore it was important to change the training variables of intensity and selection of exercise/sport.  Allowing training in some other fashion without losing strength.

How do we apply this to Powerlifting?  We already identified 2 important principles specificity and the long term training in a strategic manner/Periodization.  Simply cycling off the Primary lifts in Powerlifting Bench Press, Squat, Deadlift for 8 weeks or so.  During this change of training program by substituting;

  1. Bench Press substitutes:Incline Bench Press, Machine Bench Press or Dumbell Bench Press.
    • Do not train with any low reps use higher reps such as 10 reps.
    • By using higher reps such as 10′s this will dictate lower intensity estimating at 75%
  2. Squats Substitute:  Step Up Squat, 1 leg squat, hack squats or simply use machine leg exercises such as leg press.  Rule of thumb it must be a leg exercise that is basic involving at least 2 joints (knees&hip joints).
    • Apply the training intensity low and reps high as mentioned above.
    • Step Up are considered a great substitute for the Back Squat because it works the legs very well without placing heavy stress on the low back.  This exercise came highly recommended by Professor Spassov himself.
  3. DeadLift Substitute: Power Cleans (light weight), Modified Olympic Lifts (Hang Snatch, Clean/Press)
    • Apply low intensity 65-75% or another good method for these exercises is using percentage of body weight.  50-75% of bodweigtht is good measure. Keep reps 5-10.
    • If these lifts are new to you they will seem awkard dont get discouraged. Take the time to learn the new lifts because they will tranfer a new stimilus of strength to the deadlift.  Since the body develops faster reaction time from such lifts this will enable the weight to be pulled more effectively off the ground in the deadlift.

*Note: Strong Man/Wrestler-Mark Henry became a successful Deadlifter by building a foundtion of strength by first being a olympic lifter under Professor Spassov’s guidence and trainng.

How Long Do I stay off Powerlifting Exercises?  Good question!  Based on personal experience and training other lifters the same amount of time devoted to the primary lifts should equal time off.  At least 6 weeks.  I managed to peak in the Bench Press in 8 weeks and then strength plateau therefore 8 weeks was taken off the Bench Press.

I know what your thinking…If I lay off my Powerlifts I will lose my strength gains!!  Yes and No. Initially the body will welcome the refresh change of exercises and change of intensity allowing those worn out adrenals to be re-strengthen.  Secondly, take this time to heal those nagging injuries, and your mind will also feel refreshed too.  Another encouraging fact is once you cycle back on your primay lifts (BP,Sq,Dlift) you will be able to regain the strength gains you peak at  by the 2-4 th week into your training.  This will be a good sign your body is on the right track!

In closing,  I can appreciate the dedication of the Powerlifter, this year I saw some impressive performances.  There is always good talented athletes out there performing well.  For long term gains in strength and minimizing burn out or injuries lay off the Big 3 lifts with the appropiate time off from them and create a workout program in the interum that will maintain one’s strength or in some cases help compliment your next training cycle of the Big 3.

As the old Powerlifting Proverbs says “May Your Lifts Be Light& Your Lights be White”.


Ramsey Rodriguez CSCS/CISSN

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