Posted by Derek Charlebois on

Powerlifting can be both physically and mentally taxing. Typically, ALL workouts in a powerlifting program are structured to increase strength/performance on the squat, bench press, and deadlift. This type of programming, while productive towards increasing strength, can become monotonous. We have created a version of the PR-BUILDING PROGRAM that is great for a powerlifter who is feeling burned out from the typical powerlifting split and wants to switch things up. No matter how great of a powerlifter/athlete you are, sometimes you just need a break! Additionally, this program would work well for any lifter looking for a challenging program.  

This newest version combines the Push/Pull/Legs (PPL) setup we used in our previous program with a Squat/Bench/Deadlift (SBD) day. All of the powerlifting specific movements are grouped together in one SBD workout, giving the lifter three workouts that do not revolve around powerlifting. Not having your entire training program revolve around the squat, bench press, and deadlift can be a nice mental break while still allowing you to perform the movements in a productive manner.

Push/Pull/Legs (PPL) 

A Push/Pull/Legs split consists of three workouts:

  1. Push = Chest/Shoulder/Tricep movements
  2. Pull = Back/Biceps movements (could also include Deadlifts depending on your goals/needs)
  3. Legs = Quadricep/Hamstring/Calf movements

Squat/Bench/Deadlift (SBD)

As the name implies, the SBD day only includes the squat, bench press, and deadlift. Despite only consisting of three exercises, this day is still very challenging!



Workout Schedule Options 

The SBD day is your performance focus workout for the week. Therefore, you want to structure your weekly schedule to optimize your recovery and performance capabilities for that day. For example, you wouldn’t want to perform the LEG workout too close to the SBD day as muscle soreness could negatively impact your performance on squats and deadlift (***note research does indeed support that soreness does not impair strength, but to maximize performance in this program, I still think you should structure your schedule as stated***). Here are some options of how you could structure your weekly schedule:

You are free to structure your week with whatever schedule works best for you!

Repetitions in Reserve (RIR) 

RIR = the number of repetitions shy of failure.

  • 0 = 0 repetitions shy of failure; concentric failure hit.
  • 1 = 1 repetition shy of failure; could complete 1 more repetition.
  • 2 = 2 repetitions shy of failure; could complete 2 more repetitions.


Key Notes

  • The RIR listed is for your first work set.
  • The goal is to use the same weight for all of the sets listed.
  • Only the last set is taken to failure
  • Failure = cannot complete another rep on your own

If an exercise is to be performed for 3 sets of 12 reps with a RIR of 2, for your first working set, you should use a weight that allows you to complete 12 reps with 2 reps left in the tank (2 reps shy of failure). Theoretically, this would lead to failure being hit on rep 12 of the third set (that may or may not always be the case). In order to maximize performance (i.e. the number of reps you can complete of all the sets), we are only trying to take the LAST set for each exercise to failure. Therefore, if you can perform more than the target number of reps on your final set, you can complete more reps to take that set to failure.

Continuing with the above example, if you complete 12 reps in set 1 and could have completed more than 2 more reps, the weight was too light, and the set does not count towards your work sets. You should increase the weight. If you complete 12 reps and the set was taken to failure, the set does indeed count towards your work sets, but you should decrease the weight for the next set to ensure you can complete 12 reps. 

Note if you estimate your RIR incorrectly and complete more/less than your target reps on a specific set, that isn’t too big of a deal. An example would be if you completed 12 reps in set #1 and thought you could have completed 2 more reps but on set #2 you were only able complete 10 reps with the same weight. You are still training intensely so all is good. The target reps and RIR are there to give you structure and progression, but don’t stress on hitting these parameters PERFECTLY. 

Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE)

RPE is similar to RIR but based more on how you FEEL than the actual number of repetitions you can perform. RPE is a rating system based on the subjective measure of your strength/performance at a given time (i.e. specific set/workout). You decide how hard a set feels and assign it a rating on a scale of 1-10; the higher the number, the higher the perceived exertion. Using the RPE scale allows you to auto-regulate your training intensity (weight lifted) based on your immediate performance.


  • 10 = AN ALL-OUT MAX ATTEMPT! Could not lift any heavier and could not complete any more reps.
  • 9.5 = Close to an all-out max attempt/set but could probably lift a little heavier.
  • 9 = Close to an all-out max attempt/set but could lift a little heavier and/or complete another rep.
  • 8 = a relatively challenging weight/set but could definitely lift heavier and/or complete more reps with the weight.
  • 7 = sufficiently heavy, but not overly challenging.

Repeating the Program

This program can be repeated as many times as desired. When repeating the program, your goal is to lift 5-10 lbs heavier than you did the previous time. For example, if you were able to hit the following on bench press during week 1:

Set 1 @ 7 RPE = 225 X 6

Set 2 @ 8 RPE = 245 X 6

Set 3 @ 9 RPE = 265 X 6


Your goal for week 1 (round 2) could be:

Set 1 @ 7 RPE = 235 X 6

Set 2 @ 8 RPE = 255 X 6

Set 3 @ 9 RPE = 275 X 6

Apply this concept to all exercises where possible. Consistent, gradual increases in weight lifted and reps completed leads to long-term progress and gains.


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