The Ultimate Guide to Customizing Your Lifting Program

Written by the Boostcamp staff
Apr 27,2024|22 min| 2710

Lift Smart: Customize Your Lifting Program with These Tips

With so many powerlifting programs out there, how do you know which one is the right fit for you? Finding the right training program to maximize your strength and size gains is crucial, as you do not want to be stuck making no progress and just plateauing. Trial and error is certainly a thing to find the right lifting program, but there is a way for you to customize a program to better fit your training goals and individual needs. 

Whether you’re a beginner or an advanced powerlifter, you want to ensure your training program is optimal and fits your lifestyle. In this article, we will explore considerations and methods for you to adapt and customize your program according to how you see fit. 

Table of Contents

  • Reflect upon and understand your goals

  • Consider your timelines

  • Decide on your training frequency

  • Choose your competition stance

  • Identify your weaknesses

  • Plan for setbacks

  • Putting it all together

  • Conclusion - stay adaptable

Reflect Upon and Understand Your Goals

If you want to customize your powerlifting program, you must first identify what you are customizing it for. Remember, powerlifting is all about strength, rather than hypertrophy, like bodybuilding is. Take some time to reflect on your own goals and where you want to go with your training. Conducting your own workout program needs analysis will better help you to understand how to adapt your training.

Olympic lifters for example might have their eyes set on the Olympics which happen every four years. With this goal in mind, their overall training is inevitably tailored to maximize their shot at being olympic champion. There may also be subgoals along the way such as winning nationals, or setting certain records, but they cannot lose sight of their overarching goal. All your goals, including those of football players and soccer moms, will factor into how you will adapt your training to fit your needs.

If you’re struggling to find a goal in mind as a retired athlete, that is also okay and more common than you may think. If you have no goal you might just not have anything on the horizon, or you’re unsure of where to take your training. However, this can in itself still be a way for you to guide your strength program. Quite often athletes who are in the offseason have no particular short-term goal in mind.

If you don’t have a concrete goal in mind, your training may benefit from being more flexible and open. Perhaps incorporating more variations, and trying new movements will help you fine tune your program when you do have a goal or a competition in mind. However, if you do have a concrete goal such as obtaining the deadlift world record, you’re likely going to want to focus on your deadlift and weight loss.

Tip: Know that your goals change and are malleable. There is more to life than lifting, so be open to change and embrace it as they come. 

Set SMART Goals

When it comes to goals, try to be as specific as you can. Obviously all you powerlifters want to get stronger, but what does that mean for you? Is it 10kg in a year? Is it 100kg? Are you referring to the squat, bench, deadlift, or the total of all three? Really dig deep and be honest with yourself. This will help you set realistic expectations and keep you accountable to your goals. 

You can customize your training all you want, but how do you know if it’s paying off if you don’t have any measure of progress? Consider using SMART goals to achieve this. 

Specific - What exactly are you trying to achieve?

Measurable - How will you know when you have achieved it?

Achievable - Is it genuinely possible to achieve it?

Relevant - Is this goal related to powerlifting or strength?

Time-Bound - Make sure you have a timeframe for when you want to achieve this goal

Have goals with each of the SMART categories in mind and you’ll have a clear path to actually achieve them.

Consider Your Timelines

Once you have your goals, you will also need to figure out what the timeline is for that goal. Is the competition in a few months? A year? Is it a lifetime goal? The timeline greatly dictates the changes you will make to your powerlifting program. 

If you have a competition coming up in eight weeks, you will want to ensure your training lines up for that meet such as running an eight week peak or perhaps a four week peak four weeks out. If the meet is further away or even unknown, then this is not as important but it still is something to keep in mind. You can take a look at your prior training history data to help determine what is an optimal block length, and try to line that up leading up to your competition. 

Decide on Your Training Frequency

Another thing you want to consider when it comes to adapting your training is your training frequency and metabolic conditioning. How often can you train? How often do you want to train for optimal muscle growth? Many times athletes force themselves into doing more and training harder solely because they think it will be more beneficial and lead to much work done in the shortest amount of time, however, if the training frequency is not something you can consistently adhere to or not something you enjoy, then by definition it is not optimal for progressive overload. Incorporating metabolic conditioning into your training can help improve overall fitness and make your powerlifting program more well-rounded.

Consider Your Lifestyle

One important consideration that should not be overlooked is your lifestyle. Your work schedule and other life commitments greatly affect your ability to adhere to a training schedule and determine how much time you can realistically dedicate to working out. Take a look at what works best for your training given your current demands, and let that guide you into what an optimal training frequency is.

For example, if you work five days a week and can usually train after work but are busy on weekends, you can consider a three days to five days per week muscle-gain workout plan depending on your lifestyle and how much energy you have. If you work long days and can only train on separate days, consider training two to three days a week targeting each specific muscle group. What matters is your overall workload, your body does not care when you put in the work.

Previous Training Data

If you have previous training data, you can also look back and determine what an optimal frequency for each of the training lifts was. Boostcamp programs make it real easy for you to see your prior training data. Perhaps you noticed benching 4x a week yielded significantly more gains than 3x a week. Or perhaps you found deadlifting twice a week was too much to handle. This is real data from your prior training history that you can use to guide your future strength training programs, including back squats. Once you have an idea of the frequency per lift, you can put it together with your lifestyle demands to gauge what an optimal training frequency would be.

For example let's say you only had three days to train and you found 2x squat, 3x bench and 1x deadlift worked the best for you. You can then build a three day training split that has you squatting and benching on day one, deadlift and benching on day 2, and squatting and benching again on day 3. Having an idea of your training split and previous training days can also help you choose a better program on Boostcamp right off the bat.

If you’ve found prior Boostcamp programs to be helpful, you’ll be glad to know coaches may have a follow-up program to that one such as Reddit’s Bodyweight Fitness Primer and Reddit’s Push Pull Legs workout. There are also similar programs you can checkout from other coaches that may work well in your case, including exercises such as the overhead press and pulling exercise. Remember to read the program information to get a better idea of whether it’s the right one for you.

Inherent Flexibility

Optimal is often a range, and it’s no different when it comes to training frequency. There is inherent flexibility built into many programs such as when they use an Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale to help gauge your performance on the day. If something comes up and you miss a lift one day or have to move a workout day, it's important to consider how much weight to lift and not to worry too much about it. It’s ok, and it’s part of the process. Life happens and the best you can do is adapt accordingly to keep moving forward. All your gains won’t spontaneously disappear just because you missed a few sessions or had to move your squat day.

Equipment Access

Be sure to also consider what equipment you have access to. This can dictate what programs will work for you and what modifications you may have to make. If you only have access to powerlifting equipment once a week, then you’ll want to take advantage of that and maximize that day in the gym.

Choose Your Competition Ctance

So now that you have identified your overarching plan, it’s time to get into the microcycle (individual workouts) itself. In powerlifting you’ll want to identify what will be your competition stance. This is going to be the stance that you feel the strongest and most comfortable in. After all, the goal is to increase your one-rep max when it comes to the sport of powerlifting.

To choose your competition stance, try to look at your prior training history. If you don’t have any, stick with your typical stance or feel free to try some blocks of training over a decent period of time (at least 2-3 months) where you give an honest shot at the different stances. 

Do you place your bar high or low on the squat? How wide is your stance on the squat and deadlift? How wide do you grip the bar on the squat, bench and deadlift? Sumo or conventional? Once you determine your competition stance, you can start to build your program with accessory or secondary lifts, including heavy weights. The main goal of the assistance work is to get your competition lift stronger so these should focus on your weaknesses (more on this in the section below).

It is normal to notice variances in your competition movement especially if you are losing or gaining weight. Your technique will change and improve overtime. Don’t sweat the small stuff, the key here is to stick with what movement feels best and strongest, not what gets the most social media points. Cue all the sumo and bench arc haters.

Identify Your Weaknesses

From your competition stance, you will want to identify where your weakest point of the lift is, often referred to as the sticking point. This is typically where your lift significantly slows down, and where you usually fail your lift. Review your own lifts and pay attention to any other issues that seemingly arise, such as a lost of balance or tension. Once you have identified potential weaknesses, you can choose an appropriate variation such as dynamic lifts to help with said weakness at the beginning of your training for the most technical focus and recruitment of the most number of motor units. This is a great way for you to adapt your training to your individual lifts, here are some examples.

Squat Weaknesses

Weak in the hole - Long Pause or Pin Press

Weak at lockout - High Pin Squat or Highbar or SSB

Feeling unbalanced - Tempo Squat

Lift feels slow - Chain or Banded Squats

Bench Weaknesses

Weak off the chest - Long Pause or Pin Press or Feet up Bench Press

Weak at lockout - Board Press at sticking point or Close Grip Bench Press or Tricep extensions

Lift feels slow - Chain or Banded Bench Press

Lacking control - Feet up Bench Press

Deadlift weaknesses

Weak off the start - Deficit Deadlifts or Pause Deadlifts

Weak at lockout - Rack Pulls or Pause Deadlifts or Hip Thrusts

Bar drifts away from you - Tempo Pulls

Lift feels slow - Chain or Banded Deadlifts

Obviously this is not an exhaustive list, but it gives you an idea of what variations you can consider using to customize your powerlifting program to have individualized workouts. As you progress your training age, you will also get an idea of optimal rep ranges, and what an ideal amount of volume and intensity, known as training volume, is to maximize your performance and rep schemes. There are an infinite amount of ways to adapt your training, but try to find the patterns in your prior training to adjust accordingly. This of course is ever changing, but try to find the patterns in your prior training to adjust accordingly. For example, if you notice that your deadlift is a weakness, you may want to focus on lower rep ranges to lift heavier weight and build strength in that specific lift during your next workout. Keep a log of your training metrics and you’ll know when to change things based on your performance.

Tip: Don’t change too many things at one time or you won’t know what changes have been working. 

Plan for Setbacks

Now you can optimize your program all you want, but the best way to adapt your training is to actually be adaptable and plan for setbacks throughout your entire athletic career. In the world of powerlifting much like any other sport, things happen. You might get injured or you might be undergoing significant life stress that impacts your performance and that’s ok. Having a plan to prepare you to get through this is the difference maker.

Regardless of your suboptimal circumstances, having a plan b or even a plan c workout in mind can make all the difference. If you show up to the gym one day and you feel off, it’s ok to modify your training and do less. Your individual needs that day require you to do less, and that is your training adaptation. 

Here are some things you can try to modify your training if things hurt. 

  1. Modify the tempo

  2. Modify the load 

  3. Modify the sets and reps

  4. Modify the movement/exercise

  5. Choose a different movement/exercise

  6. Train a different body part

For example let’s say you are unable to tolerate squatting, using the above this is what modifying your squat would look like.

  • Modify the tempo

  • Is slowing down or speeding up the squat more tolerable?

  • Try a three second tempo

  • Modify the load by increasing or decreasing

  • Modify the sets and reps

  • Modify the movement/exercise

  • Try a wider or narrower grip, or a wider or narrower stance by a foot/hand length, or high bar versus low bar.

  • Choose a different movement/exercise

  • Try a hack squat, or a goblet squat, or a leg press

There is always something you can do. Keep in mind, this is not medical advice so please seek a health care professional if you need support and are unsure of what to do. 

Putting it all Together

So there’s a lot to consider when it comes to customizing your powerlifting program so let’s put it all together and see what this might look like.

Say we have a beginner to intermediate athlete that wants to PR their total by their next meet which will be in roughly 17 weeks. They want to train 3-4 days a week based on their work schedule and have determined that their weaknesses are mainly in building more muscle mass. Notably, this athlete lacks lockout strength in the bench press and in general has the goal of building bigger arms as well. 

The first is the full body powerbuilding split from Bill Wong which is catered to beginners. It is an 8 week program that requires 3 days of training per week focusing on building muscle and strength for the entire body. This will build a solid base for our example athlete, and work on weak points such as building more muscle mass and improving lockout strength with additional tricep accessories such as the close grip bench press. Read more about the program here:

https://www.boostcamp.app/bill-wong/full-body-powerbuilding-split

Following this program, they can run TSA’s 9 week intermediate approach to peak them for the competition. This program is 9 weeks in length and requires 4 days of training per week. It is a perfect follow up for our example athlete as the weeks line up exactly with their planned competition. The program itself focuses on maximizing performance in the squat, bench and deadlift for a competition one rep max which is what the athlete needs to do following their powerbuilding program. Read more about the program at the link below:

https://www.boostcamp.app/bryce-lewis/tsa-9-week-intermediate-approach

Other Considerations

Aside from choosing programs that fit, there are also other considerations and adaptations that can be made. If the athlete was weak off the chest instead of lockout, then they could easily sub in feet up bench press instead of close grip on the full body powerbuilding split to personalize their training. If the athlete prefers to train four times a week for both programs, they can easily separate part of the workout from the powerbuilding program into a fourth day. If they find the volume or intensity in either of the programs is too much or too little, they can adjust that to their desired levels. The important takeaway here is that the athlete can utilize the training data they obtain from these two programs to further inform their decisions on adapting and customizing their future training. You can do the same when personalizing your own powerlifting program.

Boostcamp

Most workout apps have programs readily available, and that is great, but is it enough? Not every program is great for each person, as we all progress at different standards so finding the right program can be difficult. On Boostcamp, there are many programs you can choose from that hit every element of your fitness, and you have many different options from renowned coaches.

However, you do not just have to choose from pre-written prorams. With Boostcamp, you can follow proven programs, but you can also build custom routines, track workouts, and measure analytics, so you know exactly where you were, where you are, and here you're headed. On Boostcamp, your goals are the cornerstone that guides you when customizing your powerlifting program.

Conclusion

As a powerlifter, there is no greater joy than achieving a new one rep max. You want to find the most optimal way of making the most gains, so spend some time reflecting on your own needs so that you can better adapt your own training. 

At the end of the day, those that stay adaptable to their current circumstances are the ones that will load the most weight on the bar. So be flexible when it comes to customizing your powerlifting program in order to be the strongest powerlifter you can be.

Boostcamp has plenty of free programs that help with both strength and hypertrophy, be sure to check them out and follow Boostcamp on Instagram and subscribe on YouTube!