The Best Bodyweight Program for Powerlifters

Pushup
 xavierarnau / Getty Images

“Elite powerlifting sessions can include moving thousands of pounds on metal plates, barbells, chains, and dumbbells,” says Andy Speer C.S.C.S., personal trainer at Soho Strength Lab. Powerlifters show their strength by competing in the squat, bench press, and deadlift, after all. “However, the focus on pushing and pulling immense amount of weight with both feet planted on the floor may lead to bilateral strength imbalances as well as mobility deficiencies,” Speer explains.

Weaknesses (even small ones) and a lack of flexibility don’t seem serious, but they’re going to hinder your progress in the gym, preventing you from hitting the big numbers in the three main lifts. That’s where this bodyweight program comes in. “The goal is not to gain specific strength in the three power lifts, per se, as without external loading this is nearly impossible,” Speer says. “The goal of this program is to improve your symmetry, mobility, and general strength and speed, which will make you a stronger, healthier lifter.” And while this program is designed specifically to help powerlifters with issues common to the sport, any lifter regardless of skill or goals can benefit from better hip and shoulder mobility, grip strength, and bilateral balance.

This four-week program is comprised of two distinct mesocycles. Mesocycles are typically 3- to 4-week training blocks designed to accomplish a particular goal(s). Here are yours:

Lower body
– Find and begin to correct strength imbalances in the lower body
– Improve hip mobility
– Increase dynamic speed of the hip hinge and squat pattern

Upper body
– Improve grip strength
– Improve shoulder mobility
– Increase rate of dynamic speed in the horizontal press
– Strengthen upper back
– Strengthen your core
– Improve trunk stability

Each week will consist of an upper-body day and a lower-body day that you’ll complete on back to back days, 2x per week each. Take 1-2 days rest between the two training days.

“As this is a bodyweight program, you can continue your regular lifting program,” Speer says. “If you want to use this program concurrently with your lifting program, I recommend doing this at the beginning of a new program.” That’s because the start of a new program usually prescribes lower weight intensities and higher rep ranges, he explains. It’s easier and safer to incorporate outside variables at this stage than midway or late in the program when there are higher intensities and recovery periods.

“Secondly, if you start this bodyweight program at the beginning of your new lifting cycle, you’ll have some wiggle room to experiment with where you place the program in relation to your lifting schedule; i.e. lower-body BW on lower body lifting days or BW program on a recovery day…both can work depending on the lifter and program,” he adds. It’ll also help prepare and balance your body for more rigorous workouts, making your strength training more effective.

Week 1

Upper body
1. Shoulder extension stretch – 1 min 

Sit on the floor with your hands behind your back about shoulder-width apart, fingers facing back. Gently pull your hips away from your hands until you feel a stretch in the front of your shoulders.
2. Shoulder internal rotation stretch – 1 min 
Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat. Lift your hips off the floor, and bring you hands behind your back, palms down (like hand cuffs) under the small of your back. Gently lower your hips down to the floor so you are lying on your hands.  
3. Floor angel – 1 min 
Lie on the floor with your knees bent. Press your back firmly against the ground, and bend your arms so your palms are facing up and your elbows tucked in toward your sides, creating 90° angles; you’ll resemble a goal post. While maintaining contact with the floor, extend your arms and try to touch them over your head.
4. Eccentric pushup – 3×12 reps, rest 60-75 sec between sets
Take three counts to lower into the bottom phase of the pushup, pause for three seconds, then explosively push to the top of the movement.
5. Close-grip pushup – 1x max reps until failure, little to no rest between reps
6. Mix-grip pullup – 4×6-8 reps, rest 60-75 sec between sets

Grab a pullup bar, shoulder-width apart, with your left palm facing your body and the right palm facing away. Alternate so your right palm is facing your body and the left palm is facing away on the second and fourth sets.
7. 1-1/2 rep inverted row (bar or rings) – 3×10 reps, rest 60-75 sec between sets
Using a bar or rings, complete an inverted row with 1-1/2 rep method. Start the row from the bottom, with extended arms. Pull halfway up, return to start, then pull all the way for the full row
8. Towel hang – 3x10sec, rest 60-75 sec rest between sets

Hang two towels over a pullup bar. Grab one in each hand and deadhang. 
9. Hollow hold – 30 sec on/30 sec off for 5 min
Lie down on your back with your legs outstretched and held together. Completely straighten your legs and point your toes. Simultaneously reach your arms overhead, completely straightening your elbows and looking up toward the ceiling. Engage your entire core by lifting your arms and legs off the floor. Press your lower back into the ground, and take care to keep your shoulders slightly lifted off the ground. Your body should resemble the shape of a banana.

Lower body
1. Figure-4 glute stretch on wall – 30 sec each leg
Lie on the floor with your butt close to a wall and your left foot resting against it, creating a 90° angle. Cross your right leg over your left so your ankle is resting against your knee. Hold this position; if you can’t feel the stretch in your glute, inch closer to the wall.
2. Internal rotation hip stretch – 1 min 
Lie on you back with your knees bent at 90° and feet flat. Your heels should be at least shoulder-width apart, if not slightly more, toes pointing slightly in. Pull your knees together so they meet in the center, making sure to keep your feet flat on the floor throughout the exercise. You should feel a stretch on the outside of you thighs and hips.
3. Lateral lunge – 2×12 reps each side, rest 45 sec between sets
4. Single leg RDL – 3 x 8-10 reps each side, rest 45 sec between sets
Complete an extra set on the nondominant side.
5. Single leg squat – 3×3-5 reps, rest 60s between sets
Complete an extra set on the nondominant side.
6. Pause squats – 2×5 reps, rest 60s between sets
Squat down and pause for three sec at the bottom of the movement. Complete a fast concentric movement on the motion up, taking care not to jump.

Week 2

Upper body
1. Shoulder extension stretch – 1 min
2. Internal rotation stretch – 1 min
3. Floor angel – 1 min
4. Eccentric pushup – 3×12 reps, 60-75 sec rest between sets
Take five counts to lower into the bottom phase of the pushup, pause for five seconds, then explosively push to the top of the movement.
5. Close-grip pushup – 2x max reps until failure, 75-90 sec between sets
6. Mix-grip pullup – 4×8-10 reps (2 sets per grip, alternating sets),  60-75 sec rest between sets
7. Inverted row – 4×10 reps or 1-1/2 rep rows, 60-75 sec rest between sets
8. Towel hang – 3×15 sec, 15 sec rest between sets
9. Hollow hold – 35 sec on/25 sec off for 5min

Lower body
1. Figure-4 glute stretch on wall – 30 sec each leg
2. Internal rotation hip stretch – 1 min
3. Lateral Lunge – 2×12 reps each side, 45 sec rest between sets
4. Single leg RDL – 3×8-10 reps each side, 45 sec rest between sets
Complete an extra set on the nondominant side.
5. Single-leg squat – 4×3-5 reps, 60 sec rest between sets
Complete an extra set on the nondominant side.
6. Pause squat – 2×5 reps (3-sec pause, fast concentric rise), 45 sec rest between sets
7. Broad jump – 5 reps, 10 sec rest between jumps
From a stand-still, bend your knees and bring your arms back. Use momentum to swing your arms forward and jump as far as you can.

Week 3

Upper body
1. Shoulder extension stretch
– 1 min
2. Internal rotation stretch – 1 min 
3. Floor angel – 1 min 
4. Plyo pushup – 10 reps; take 1 sec rest between each rep if necessary
Lower down into the bottom phase of a pushup, pause for 2 seconds, then perform a plyo pushup by exploding up until your hands leave the ground.
5. Towel pullup – 3×3-5 reps, 65-75 sec rest between sets
Loop one large towel or two small hand towels around a pullup bar. Grab onto the towel(s) with both hands and pull up.
5. Increased range of motion pushup – 1x max reps until failure
Complete pushups with your hands on dumbbells, kettlebells, or blocks. 
6. Supinated inverted row – 3×12 reps, 60-75 sec rest between sets
Hold the bar with a supinated grip so your palms are facing upward or outward. Pause 1 sec at the top of the motion with your chest on the bar.
7. Hollow hold – 40 sec on/20 sec off for 5min

Lower body 
1. Figure-4 glute stretch on wall – 30 sec each leg
2. Internal rotation hip stretch – 1 min 
3. Lateral lunge – 2×12 each side, 45 sec rest between sets
4. Broad jump – 2 sets or 5×1, 10 sec rest between jumps, 60 sec rest between sets
5. Pause jump squat – 3×5 reps, rest 60 sec between sets
Drop into a squat, pause for two seconds, then jump up as high as you can. Recover for a moment, then repeat.
6. Single leg RDL – 2×8 each side, 45 sec rest between sets
Complete an extra set on the nondominant side.
7. Single leg squat – 2×3-5 reps, 60 sec rest between sets
Complete an extra set on the nondominant side.

Week 4

Upper body
1. Shoulder extension stretch – 1 min
2. Internal rotation stretch – 1 min
3. Floor angel – 1 min
4. Plyo pushup – 2×10 reps (two-sec pause at the bottom of the pushup) take 1 sec rest between each rep if necessary; rest 90 seconds between sets
5. Towel pullup – 3×5-8 reps, 60-75 sec rest
5. Increase ROM pushup – 2x max reps until failure, 90 sec rest between sets
6. Supinated inverted row – 4×12 (1 sec pause with chest on bar), 60-75 sec rest between sets
7. Hollow hold – 5min
Hold in as few sets as possible.

Lower body
1. Figure-4 glute stretch on wall – 30 sec each side
2. Internal rotation hip stretch – 1 min
3. Lateral lunge – 2×12 reps each side, 45 sec rest between sets
4. Broad jump – 3 sets or 5×1 rep, 10 sec rest between jumps, 60 sec rest between sets
5. Pause jump squats – 3×5 reps, 60 sec rest between sets
Drop into a squat, pause for three sec, then jump up as high as you can. Recover for a moment, then repeat.
6. Single leg RDL – 2×8 reps each side, 45 sec rest between sets
Complete an extra set on the nondominant side.
7. Single leg squat – 2×3-5 reps, 5 sec rest between sets
Complete an extra set on the nondominant side.