How to Get the Most Out of Your Powerlifting Program

Owning a Powerlifting gym, coaching lifters and training lifters online allows me to see things many don’t.


Today, I’m going to share one tip with you about How to Get the Most Out of Your Powerlifting Program that might seem obvious, but clearly isn’t.

Today, we are talking about Accessory work.
Your training usually has:
Main Lift: this is obvious. A Squat, Bench Press or Deadlift or variation of one.
Assistance Work: This is a “builder” for the main lift.
EG: Close Grip 2 Board Bench as your second exercise after the Main lift.
Accessory Work: All of the other stuff you do after the primary movements.
What is the purpose for doing Accessory Work?
There are many, including:

  • To build muscle
  • To increase strength
  • To eliminate strength imbalances
  • To eliminate weaknesses
  • Improve GPP

Someone once said that back in the day, Powerlifters used to be judged by their dimensions!
Because they typically had tons of muscle everywhere and were huge.
How did they get that way?
It certainly wasn’t from looking at their phones for 10 minutes between sets of curls.
They trained HARD!
The did their accessory work hard, with effort.
And of course they ate. A lot.
Now I know these days not everyone wants to be huge, but if you are in this sport, or if you are in the gym for any reason, you might as well give it 100% every time. Why waste your time?
You will not get the results from the work that you didn’t do.
Do the work, and do it to 100% of your ability.
One of the primary reasons for doing accessory work is to build muscle right?
Do you treat it like this or do you go through the first one or two exercises and then toss out the anchor?
I ask because I see this. All the time.
Listen, to get a bigger total, you’ve got to do your accessory work properly.
I’m about to give you a few tips on how to get this done based on what I see.
Let’s look at programs first.
Many coaches, including me will list Accessory exercises like this:
GHR- 4 sets x 8-12 reps
Pullthrough- 4 sets x 8-12 reps
DB Bench Press-3 sets x 8 reps
Pulldowns- 4 sets x 8 reps
The exercise, the number sets and reps doesn’t matter here for the purpose of this discussion.


What matters is that as coaches, many of us need to get better and relay what we want better.

People take things literally many times and if they see 4 sets x 8 reps, that is what they do.
I’ve noticed this as a place that I need to improve as a coach and am now adding notes that say “only work sets listed on Accessory work, do a few warmup sets before counting work sets.”
Let’s look at the DB Bench Press as one example.
If it says 4 sets x 8 reps and you are capable of doing 90’s for 8, but you start at 50’s to warm up and do 8, then count it as a set, then go to 70’s count it as a set, then 80’s, then 90’s and call it a day you have not done what the program calls for.
There was only one working set.
The others were warmups. They don’t count as work sets.
They do count for something.
They are additional volume and that additional volume is good.
It builds muscle. And you can’t blame the lifter if they took what you wrote literally.
Older lifters know that you need to do the work and you need to warm up for each exercise.
Yes, I know if you just benched 405 for sets of 5 and then did some 3 Board Presses you are pretty warmed up right?
If you switch to dumbells your nervous system needs a minute to adapt to the new movement pattern.


Do one or two warm-up sets to get it dialed in. Your working sets will be stronger and safer, and the additional volume will do you good.
If you’ve been doing this after following a program for a year and have not added a good amount of lean mass, don’t blame the program. Blame the lack of work.
Here’s a better way to warm up for your work sets on Accessory work.
Let’s say it is DB Bench Press for 4 sets of 8 and you are capable of using 90’s as I said above.
How’s about we take 60’s for 5, 70’s for 5, and maybe 80’s for 3 to get the pump primed.
Doing this, you have added in 1780 additional pounds of volume without taxing your nervous system to the point of not getting the work done.
Do you think that doing this will add muscle and increase strength?
That is 7120 additional pounds of volume over a month on ONE exercise!
Of course it will help!
If you do this on 3 exercise a day with roughly the same volume on each it is 5340 additional pounds of volume per week, and 21,360 per month.
That’s a master chef recipe for more strength and muscle.
More strength and muscle leads to bigger totals and lower injury risk.
Seems to make sense to me.
The warmup sets should be just that, warm up sets. Enough to prime the pump but not enough to spill over into work capacity or recovery.


More Tips on How to Get the Most Out of Your Powerlifting Program

I’m a huge fan of body weight exercises as many coaches are, especially while in an intensity block.
Body weight exercises are awesome for getting in additional muscular work with little nervous system fatigue. But you have to do them right.
A lot of times I see people cruise through these and go through the motions. You have to do everything with purpose!
Using an Inverted Row, or a Fat Guy Pullup as I like to call them, how many of you make these hard?
At a 45 degree angle I can do about 50 or 60 of these, and while high reps are good for many things, wouldn’t I add more muscle and strength if I simply lowered the angle?



How to Get the Most Out of Your Powerlifting Program NO

How to Get the Most Out of Your Powerlifting Program YUP


Pushups are the same.
For some they are very hard (and if you are a Powerlifter with over 6 months experience-THEY SHOULD NOT BE!)
You’ve got to make them harder.


  • Elevate your feet
  • Add a band
  • Do them in Blast straps
  • Add some chain on your back

Treat the body weight work like any other exercise.
One last tip.
Again, this is because I see it, not because I am a grumpy old man.
A trend that I have noticed over the last few years is that people rest a LONG time between sets on Accessory work.
They talk, look at their phone, post on social media…..
Just stop.
You are in the gym to get stronger.
You are not getting stronger resting 5, 8 or 20 minutes between sets.
I’ll illustrate this with one of my lifters, let’s call him Lt. Dan or some day, Captain Morgan.

Captain Morgan
Dan is fucking strong.
When I took him on as a client I explained that I do not want to see a damn phone at all unless I am recording a set for him. I need to see work because he is capable of great things on the platform.

Last week I went through a full session with Dan and implemented it as written. Dan usually trains alone and I review video, but if we have the chance to work together we do. On this day, we had the full training session together.
When we got to Accessory work he as was surprised that it didn’t take his usual hour or more.
I made him work hard, and I made him go when he was ready.
Many people don’t realize that you don’t need 3-4 minutes or more rest between sets of GHR’s or whatever the Accessory exercise is. You might on your Main lift!
On that note, as we were warming up for his squats I let him rest much less than he usually does.


  • Bar x 5
  • 30 seconds rest
  • 135 x 5
  • 45-60 seconds rest
  • 225 x 3
  • 60-90 seconds rest
  • 275 x 1
  • 60-90 seconds rest
  • 315 x 1
  • 60-90 seconds rest
  • Works sets
  • As long as he needed.

So how do I know when he is ready to go?
I use the Chit Chat Rule.
If you are recovered enough to start telling me a story, you are recovered enough to squat 225.
Many lifters will be ready and then talk, or fuck around for an extra two or three minutes.
While this may not be bad, you’ll improve your GPP and shorten your training session from 3 hours to 90 minutes if you go when you are ready.
And remember, I said on his main lifts, we rest until he is recovered and ready to go.
On a max effort lift this could be 5 minutes or more.
Let me sum up How to Get the Most Out of Your Powerlifting Program:


  • Give 100% effort
  • Go when you are ready, not 5 minutes after
  • Do some warm up sets to acclimate to the movement and accrue volume
  • Don’t over warm up-you don’t need to do 5 or 10 warm up sets, just a few.
  • Warm up sets should usually be lower reps than working sets

That’s all for today kids.
Now go and go get the most out of your program.

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Vincere vel mori

C.J. Murphy

September 24, 2020


Total Performance Sports

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