Female powerlifters are dedicated to proving their physical strength and power, therefore powerlifting exercises are mainly focused on the three big lifts.  However; in order to build better overall strength; strength programs for powerlifting must include a range of exercises and training styles. 

If you’re confused about powerlifting exercises and are looking for strength programs for powerlifting; this article is here to help both beginner and advanced female powerlifters, so read on… 

What's the deal with female powerlifters?

The female powerlifters first and foremost objective is always the same – get as physically strong as possible.  That means performing the three primary powerlifting exercises as often as possible.  Be that professionally, or in their own little corner of the gym, it’s fair to say that a powerlifting workout is not for the light hearted. 

Professional or otherwise; female powerlifters are a force to be reckoned with.

Powerlifting exercises

The three primary powerlifting exercises boil down to the barbell back squat, deadlift and bench press.  However, beyond the basics there is a whole lot more to be said about working variations of these key moves, as well as other accessory work; all of which contribute to your overall strength.  

Anyone new to weightlifting who isn’t familiar with these moves, can check out this article on weight training for women >>>

The above linked article offers both beginner and advanced weightlifting tips, including detailed instructions on how to prepare for your barbell back squat, deadlift and bench press.

Beyond the basics; powerlifting exercises need to be well thought out and sufficiently fuelled with a diet that is calorie dense enough to power your lifts.  If you're not sure how many calories you need, try our calculator. 

There are a number of processes that female powerlifters go through in order to build their strength and confidence up to that all important one rep max, (this is a single repetition of the maximum load).

Yep, that’s right; female powerlifters are out here training hard, putting blood sweat and tears into their workouts; for the simple objective of moving the maximum weight through one single rep.

How female powerlifters get started

While the primary powerlifting exercises are becoming increasingly popular amongst women; getting into the sport can feel like a bit of a minefield. Online resources for women are lacking and dedicated coaching doesn’t come cheap. Therefore; strength programs for powerlifting can be difficult to come by.

The best thing that a powerlifting beginner can do is start to familiarise themselves with the basics.  The basis of the primary powerlifting exercises are simple, however; the fundamentals around building your physical strength, up to a female powerlifters standard, requires a far more complex plan of action.  With that in mind, you should expect to do some research. 

Look online (for reliable resources like this), better yet, speak to other female powerlifters and find out what they’re doing, how they got started and how they progress. 

Another beginner tip is to actually attend a powerlifters meet (just as a spectator for now), pay attention to the format and the process that each powerlifting exercise goes through on the platform.  

Without a doubt; the best way to learn and progress is to start doing, so don’t delay hitting the gym!  Start with the basics and progress from there.

Members Zone is for female powerlifters too

We have some programs that will help get you started, check out Members Zone.

Members Zone supports all women in weightlifting, therefore you will find a range of training styles in our portal, not all will be appropriate for female powerlifters.  If you’re unsure, we can help; all subscribers are offered dedicated 1:1 support and accountability.  It is no replacement for a dedicated coach, but if you’re on a tight budget, or you’re just getting started, it’s a giant leap in the right direction. 

Make no mistake; those who perform at the very top levels of this sport, have and need dedicated coaches.  A dedicated coach will ensure peak performance on all of your powerlifting exercises.  Although, as we have said; coaching can be expensive.  With that in mind, we suggest that you teach yourself the basics and move into dedicated coaching once you are sure that you want to level up in this sport.   

Strength programs for powerlifting


Obviously you can’t just rock up to the bar with no experience and expect to perform.  Powerlifting exercises take consistent and dedicated practice to master.  A lot goes into a strength program for powerlifting and despite what you might be thinking; it’s not all heavy lifting.

There are a number of training practices and other secondary powerlifting exercises that you need to work in order to build your overall strength.  It is important for female powerlifters to ensure that their bodies are well conditioned for their three primary powerlifting exercises.

Of course; the best way to get better at something is to keep doing it, over and over again, to repeated failure, until you finally lift the weight you never thought you could.  But there are other parts of the process, all of which will contribute toward your overall physical strength.  

In summary; there’s a lot to consider in powerlifting; lifts, loads, reps, sets, rest….  

Beginner strength programs for powerlifting


It is imperative that you take the time to condition your body and build a solid foundation, for you to continue to build upon.

Beginners should start with the basics.  You should have some lifting experience at least, if not you should start by working a general strength plan while you familiarise yourself with the primary powerlifting exercises.

If you missed it above, check out this article on weight training for women >>>

Always start with an unloaded bar, this weighs 20kgs (45lbs).  If you don’t yet feel confident with that weight, start with a standard fixed barbell at a lower weight and work your way up.

Take yourself through your barbell back squat, deadlift and bench press, paying close attention to your posture and form.  There is no room for sloppy reps in powerlifting and nobody has any business adding weight to poorly preformed reps.

Remember, it’s not all heavy lifting, in fact; you should be consistently lifting between 60-80% of your one rep max, so don’t go fully loading every single workout!

While your end goal may only be to perform the primary powerlifting exercises at peak volume, you should also include other secondary powerlifting exercises and accessory work.  That being said; these elements should be introduced during more advanced strength programs for powerlifting.

Don’t doubt yourself – you’re stronger than you think!

Whatever your starting point, understand that you are physically stronger than you think you are.  However, you will never be able to prove this until you start to push past your mental boundaries. 

Provided you add weight to your powerlifting exercises slowly, consistently and safely, you will continue to get stronger. 

Make sure you track your lifts; know what weight your lifting, what weight you lifted last time and how much weight you intend to lift next.  Having a dedicated record of your performance is imperative to overall success.  Female powerlifters who track their lifts progress more efficiently.

Advanced strength programs for powerlifting

Advanced female powerlifters should be paying even closer attention to their form and technique, throughout both their primary and secondary powerlifting exercises.  Be mindful of things like hand and foot position; as well as how you prepare and brace yourself for each lift.  Even the slightest of tweaks to your technique can result in a heavier lift.   

It is important to squat, deadlift and bench as often as possible, but not to exhaustion.  Advanced strength programs for powerlifting still require consistent training between 60-80% of the max load. 

Working different variations of the primary powerlifting exercises is what’s going to contribute towards your overall strength and power.  Now is the time to focus on secondary powerlifting exercises such as the Romanian Deadlift, sumo stance squat and deadlift, as well as bench variations, including, but not limited to; incline, decline and close grip.

The main focus for advanced female powerlifters is to increase their volume consistently over time.  Listen to your body and understand when it’s time to push through and when to stop – sufficient recovery between heavy lifting sessions will help you reach peak performance when it matters.


Deloading and assisted moves must be worked into all advanced strength training programs for powerlifting.  By reducing volume at certain intervals for a week or so at a time, you allow your body sufficient time to fully recover and come back stronger. 

Deload week isn’t a time to lounge around and do nothing (you can if you like, sometimes it pays to stop completely for a while, but that’s not what we mean when we talk about deloading).  While deloading, you should drop your performance to 50% or less of your max load. Now is also a time to work in assisted exercises like the leg press, cables etc…  

This is yet another reason why it is especially important for you to track your lifts, you need to know your numbers in order to deload appropriately.

General rules of powerlifting

If competitive powerlifting is what you’re aiming for; you should attend a powerlifting meet yourself so that you can start to understand what would be expected of you in this environment.  If you decide to go ahead competitively, you should seek the official rules of your competition and adhere to those. 

From a general perspective; lifters are given two attempts per lift.  From their start position, the lifter must wait until they are signaled by a judge to perform the lift.

Lifts are expected to be clean and controlled movements, no ‘bouncing’ or momentum is allowed.  Re-rack the bar only when instructed to do so by a judge.

On squat and deadlift, the lifter is expected to ‘lock out’, meaning knees locked in upright position.  On bench, the lifters arms must be fully extended at the top and the bar must not touch the chest at the bottom.

Other elements such as; hand position, head position, stance, posture and even attire, are carefully monitored, so if you’re going to compete, make sure you know all the rules of the competition you have entered.

Powerlifting competition rules are very stringent, even the slightest of mistakes can result in disqualification.  

The powerlifters arch


This gets a special mention, namely due to the misconceptions around performing a bench press in this way.  The powerlifters arch on bench gets a lot of unjustified and sometimes negative attention.

Let it be known that this is a legitimate and allowable technique in powerlifting.

The powerlifters arch is a position whereby the lifter arches their back during their bench press.  The reason for this is to reduce the range of motion in the lift, thus making it ‘easier’ to move more weight.

Some lifters consider this ‘cheating’ mostly because from a muscle building perspective, this method isn’t efficient.  However; the powerlifters objective is not efficient muscle growth, it’s to efficiently move as much weight as possible through one single rep, therefore; this technique is appropriate.

Powerlifting competition rules allow this, provided bum and shoulders remain flat on the bench throughout the lift.  So good flexibility is a must!

The female powerlifters essentials

If you’re just starting out, try to avoid rushing out to buy all the stuff.  Your main priority for now should be to experience the sport and prove your physical abilities to yourself.

As you start to progress, you’ll begin to need/want a few things:

  • Good footwear – For powerlifting the best type of shoe you can wear has a flat and firm sole, with a raised heel if your preference is that way inclined. Also; if you have issues with ankle pronation, invest in a good set of arch supports.
  • Chalk – Gloves have their limitations, chalk is better. As you progress you’ll start to notice that your grip gives up first; lifters chalk is an excellent solution to this.
  • Belt – Not necessarily essential, but great for additional support on the heavier lifts
  • Knee supports/wraps – These items aren’t necessarily ‘essentials’, their use is down to the individuals choice, useful if you have joint issues.
  • Straps– Another non-‘essential’ but personal choice for anyone who wants to lift more than their grip will allow.
  • Singlet – Technically only really necessary for a meet, also check spec requirements and make sure they feet your meets requirements.
  • Deadlifting socks – Will keep your shins safe from any unexpected scrapes.

Powerlifting is an empowering sport

Powerlifting is all about physical strength, and focusing your workouts on physical strength is one of the most liberating things you can do as a woman.

There is something beautifully amazing about moving an amount of weight you never thought you could.  When your objective is to get stronger, your mind-set shifts and in the moment of the lift, nothing else matters.

Powerlifting is an amazingly uplifting sport with some of the most humble and welcoming people I have ever encountered in the weightlifting world.  Having worked my way through most of the weightlifting sports over the years, it has to be said; powerlfiting is my personal favourite.   For that reason, I encourage all women to at least give it a try so that they can experience it for themselves.