Upper / Lower Splits For Powerlifting!


The upper body / lower body split is the most popular powerlifting split in the world.

Many of the strongest powerlifters in the world including Eric Lilliebridge and Larry Wheels train this way to break all-time powerlifting world records!

Introduction

  • Part 1: How To Organize Your Squat / Deadlift Workouts
  • Part 2: How To Organize Your Bench Press Workouts
  • Part 3: How To Organize Your Upper Back Training

In this comprehensive guide I will teach you how to organize your own upper / lower split to hit massive PRs in the squat, bench press and deadlift.

The upper / lower split is a way of organizing your training where you train your entire upper body on one workout and your entire lower body on another workout. The upper / lower split is so effective for powerlifting because it optimizes your recovery from your workouts.

The most common way to set up an upper / lower split is to train 4 times per week. For example:

The 4 Day Upper / Lower Split

  • Day 1: Upper Body
  • Day 2: Lower Body
  • Day 3: Upper Body
  • Day 4: Lower Body

You can train any 4 days of the week as long as you do not train more than 2 days in a row. For example the Westside Barbell powerlifting team trains on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

You can also train 3 days per week or even 2 days per week using an upper / lower split. It all depends on your recovery ability and what you respond best to.

There are three big questions you have to ask yourself when designing an upper body / lower body program for powerlifting:

  • How do you organize your squat / deadlift workouts?
  • How do you organize your bench press workouts?
  • How do you organize your upper back training?

For example, do you want to train the squat and the deadlift on the same day, or do you want to train them in separate workouts? There are similar questions that you have to answer for your bench press and upper back training.

Don’t worry – by the end of this article you will know exactly how to structure your program for optimal results. Now let’s get down to business…

Part 1: How To Organize Your Squat / Deadlift Workouts

The squat and deadlift are the two most important exercises for the raw powerlifter. These are the exercises where you can lift the most weight and really separate yourself from your competitors.

There are 2 main ways to organize your squat and deadlift training using an upper / lower split. Check it out:

How To Organize Your Squat / Deadlift Workouts

  • Option #1: Train the squat and the deadlift on different days
  • Option #2: Train the squat and deadlift on the same day

World champion powerlifters have gotten great results using both of these strategies. One is not better than the other – it all comes down to what you as an individual respond best to.

Now let’s take a closer look at both of these options…

Option #1: Train The Squat And The Deadlift On Different Days

This strategy is one of the most common ways to train the squat and deadlift for powerlifting. You have one day where you train the squat and one day where you train the deadlift.

For example here is one of Josh Bryant’s favorite ways to structure a 4-day powerlifting program:

The Josh Bryant Powerlifting Split

  • Day 1: Squat
  • Day 2: Bench Press
  • Day 3: Deadlift
  • Day 4: Bench Press Assistance

Training the squat and the deadlift on separate days has many advantages. The biggest advantage is you get to train both the squat and the deadlift early in your workout when you are fresh.

When you train the squat and deadlift together on the same day you have to train the deadlift after the squat when you are fatigued. That is never an issue when you train these lifts on separate days.

The other advantage is you can perform more total sets for both of these exercises when you train them on separate days. Josh Bryant often performs 10+ sets of squats and deadlifts in his workouts!

For example here is Josh’s client Rob Hall performing a 10+ set squat workout. Check it out:

The Rob Hall Squat Workout

  • Exercise #1: Back squat, 1 set of 4 reps
  • Exercise #2: Speed back squat, 3 sets of 3 reps
  • Exercise #3: Dead squat, 6 sets of 1 rep
  • Exercise #4: Lying leg curl, 3 sets of 6 reps
  • Exercise #5: Split stance Romanian deadlift, 3 sets of 3 reps
  • Exercise #6: Side planks, 3 sets x 60 seconds

Here is the training video for this workout:

For this workout Rob Hall performs 1 heavy set on the squat, 3 sets of speed squats, 6 sets of a squat supplementary exercise and then a few accessory exercises. It would be impossible to perform this kind of volume if you were training the squat and deadlift together on the same day.

For the sake of completeness let’s look at a Josh Bryant style deadlift workout. Check it out:

The Rob Hall Deadlift Workout

  • Exercise #1: Deadlift, 1 set of 1 rep
  • Exercise #2: Speed deadlift with chains, 3 sets of 1 rep
  • Exercise #3: Deadlift static hold, 2 sets x 60 seconds
  • Exercise #4: Machine chest supported row, 3 sets of 8-12 reps
  • Exercise #5: Rope cable hammer curls, 3 sets of 8-12 reps

Here is the training video for this workout:

This workout follows a very similar pattern to the workout above. One of the big downsides to training the squat and the deadlift on separate training days is it is very easy to overtrain.

For example if you are using the 4 day upper / lower split then you have 2 heavy lower body workouts per week. Many people find they have a hard time recovering if they train that way for many weeks in a row.

One simple solution is to perform a deload week every 3-5 weeks. This is something that Josh Bryant does with almost all of his world-class powerlifters. Here is how Josh likes to set up his 12-week training cycles:

The Josh Bryant Powerlifting Cycle

Month #1

  • Week 1: Triples
  • Week 2: Triples
  • Week 3: Triples
  • Week 4: (Deload Week)

Month #2

  • Week 5: Doubles
  • Week 6: Doubles
  • Week 7: Doubles
  • Week 8: (Deload Week)

Month #3

  • Week 9: Singles
  • Week 10: Singles
  • Week 11: Singles
  • Week 12: (Deload Week)
  • Week 13: Competition Day!

Many of Josh Bryant’s clients have broken powerlifting world records training this way. It is just an incredibly effective way to train.

Another way to perform a deload is to alternate “heavy” workouts and “light” squat / deadlift workouts. Matt Kroc (also known as Janea Kroc) used this strategy when he broke the powerlifting world-record total in the men’s 220 pound weight class.

Here is how Matt organized his squat / deadlift workouts:

The Matt Kroc Squat / Deadlift Training Program

Week #1

  • Monday: Heavy deadlift workout
  • Friday: Light squat workout

Week #2

  • Monday: Light deadlift workout
  • Friday: Heavy squat workout

He would go heavy on the squat OR deadlift each week. The other exercise was trained with a lighter workout. Matt found that alternating back and forth between “heavy” and “light” workouts was the best way for him to make consistent progress without overtraining. Let’s take a closer look at Matt’s squat workouts.

Here is what Matt’s heavy squat workout looked like when he was peaking for competition. Check it out:

Matt Kroc’s Heavy Squat Workout

  • Exercise #1: Back squat, 1-3 sets of 1-3 reps
  • Exercise #2: Walking log lunges, 1 set of 15-30 reps
  • Exercise #3: Band leg curls, 1-3 sets of 8-12 reps

Here is a great video of Matt Kroc performing his walking lunges:

Matt kept his heavy squat workouts nice and simple. He would work up to a heavy set of 1-3 reps in the squat (with or without his powerlifting squat suit) and then perform a couple of accessory exercises.

Here was Matt’s go-to light squat workout:

Matt Kroc’s Light Squat Workout

  • Exercise #1: Olympic squats, 1 set of 8-12 reps
  • Exercise #2: Band leg curls, 1-3 sets of 8-12 reps
  • Exercise #3: Roman chair sit ups, 1-3 sets of 8-12 reps

Here is a great video of Matt Kroc’s Olympic squats:

For his light workout Matt performed one set of high-rep Olympic squats. Matt used a similar strategy for his deadlift workouts.

On his heavy deadlift day he would work up to a heavy set of 1-5 reps on the deadlift. Then on his light day he would skip deadlifts and just perform a few sets of back extensions.

Some powerlifters like Eric Lilliebridge and Stan Efferding get past this overtraining problem by using a 2-day upper / lower split. This strategy is sometimes called The Lilliebridge Method. Check it out:

The Lilliebridge Method

Week 1

  • Wednesday: Heavy Bench Press
  • Saturday: Heavy Deadlift

Week 2

  • Wednesday: Light Bench Press
  • Saturday: Heavy Squat

Eric Lilliebridge trains the squat OR the deadlift each week. He never performs any “light” or “deload” workouts. Instead he trains hard for about 10-12 weeks leading up to his competitions. He is only training 2 days per week so he never needs to deload to recover from his workouts.

Here is what a typical Eric Lilliebridge deadlift workout looks like. Check it out:

The Eric Lilliebridge Deadlift Workout

  • Exercise #1: Deadlift, 3 sets of 1-3 reps
  • Exercise #2: Lat pulldown, 3 sets of 8-12 reps
  • Exercise #3: 45 degree leg press, 3 sets of 8-12 reps
  • Exercise #4: Band leg curls, 3 sets of 8-12 reps

Here is a great video of Eric Lilliebridge deadlifting:

Eric likes to keep his powerlifting deadlift workouts nice and simple. He works up to a heavy set of 1-3 reps on the deadlift and then performs a few simple accessory exercises.

Stan Efferding is another famous powerlifter who uses the 2-day upper / lower split. Stan also trains the squat and the deadlift on alternating weeks.

Here is what Stan’s typical squat workout looks like. Check it out:

The Stan Efferding Squat Workout

  • Exercise #1: Back squat, 1 set of 6 reps
  • Exercise #2: Leg extension, 3 sets of 8-12 reps
  • Exercise #3: 45 degree leg press, 3 sets of 8-12 reps
  • Exercise #4: Seated calf raise, 3 sets of 8-12 reps

Here is the training video for this workout:

Normally Stan trains in the 1-3 rep range for his heavy squats. This workout was filmed after Stan retired from powerlifting so he kept the reps higher to play it safe.

Training the squat and the deadlift on separate training days is an awesome way to train. However, it is not the only way! Another great option is to train the squat and the deadlift together in the same workout.

Option #2: Train The Squat And Deadlift On The Same Day

Training the squat and the deadlift together on the same day is another very popular option when using an upper body / lower split. Many world-class powerlifting teams including the Westside Barbell powerlifting team train this way.

One of the keys with this strategy is to perform 1 heavy workout and 1 light workout per week. Very few powerlifters can train the squat AND the deadlift heavy twice per week and make good long-term progress.

For example here is how the Westside team organizes their squat and deadlift training:

The Westside Barbell Training Split

  • Monday: Heavy squat / deadlift
  • Friday: Speed squat / deadlift

The Westside team trains their squat and deadlift using the max effort method on Monday and the dynamic effort method on Friday.

On their max effort day they work up to a 1-rep max for some type of special exercise for the squat and deadlift. This can be a box squat, a deadlift variation or even a good morning.

Here is one of their favorite ways to cycle these exercises:

Max Effort Squat / Deadlift Schedule

  • Week 1: Max Effort Deadlift
  • Week 2: Max Effort Squat
  • Week 3: Max Effort Deadlift
  • Week 4: Max Effort Good Morning

After their heavy max effort exercise they will perform 2-4 accessory exercises for their hamstrings, glutes and lower back.

Here is a sample Westside max effort squat / deadlift workout. Check it out:

Westside Barbell Max Effort Squat / Deadlift Workout

  • Exercise #1: Rack deadlift with bands, 2-3 sets of 1 rep
  • Exercise #2: Belt squat, 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps
  • Exercise #3: Glute ham raise, 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps
  • Exercise #4: Reverse hyperextension, 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps

Here’s the training video for this workout:

This is a very normal looking Westside max effort squat / deadlift workout. Later in the week the Westside team does their dynamic effort squat / deadlift workout. This workout features lighter weights and more training volume.

The Westside team trains BOTH the squat and the deadlift on this day to build strength and reinforce proper exercise technique.

Here is a sample Westside dynamic effort squat / deadlift workout. Check it out:

Westside Barbell Dynamic Effort Squat / Deadlift Workout

  • Exercise #1: Speed box squat with bands and chains, 5 sets of 5 reps
  • Exercise #2: Speed foam deadlift against bands, 5 sets of 1 rep
  • Exercise #3: Reverse hyperextension, 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps
  • Exercise #4: Glute ham raise, 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps

Here is the training video for this workout:

The Westside strategy works well for many powerlifters. However, some powerlifters find they cannot recover from one max effort workout and one dynamic effort workout per week.

Even though they are training with lighter weights on the dynamic effort day this workout can still be difficult to recover from.

Some powerlifters like Chuck Vogelpohl like to train the squat and the deadlift heavy on one day and then perform assistance work only on their other day. For example:

The Chuck Vogelpohl Training Split

  • Tuesday: Squat / Deadlift Assistance Workout
  • Saturday: Heavy Squat / Deadlift Day

Chuck Vogelpohl prefers this strategy because the extra assistance day is much easier to recover from than a dynamic effort squat / deadlift workout. Here is one of Chuck Vogelpohl’s training logs taken from the old EliteFTS website. Check it out:

Chuck Vogelpohl’s Primary Squat / Deadlift Day

  • Exercise #1: Back squat (wide stance / feet flat), 3 sets of 1 rep
  • Exercise #2: Rack deadlift bands (from mid-shin), 3 sets of 5 reps
  • Exercise #3: 45 degree back extension, 3 sets of 10 reps
  • Exercise #4: Reverse hyperextension, 3 sets of 10 reps
  • Exercise #5: Kneeling hamstring curl, 3 sets of 10 reps

Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise B1, exercise C1, exercise D1, exercise E1.

Chuck Vogelpohl kept things nice and simple for his heavy squat / deadlift workouts. He worked up to a few heavy sets on the squat and then did the exact same thing on the deadlift.

Chuck’s accessory workouts had more training volume and focused on building up the muscles of the posterior chain: the hamstrings, glutes and lower back.

Here is one of Chuck’s old accessory day workouts. Check it out:

Lexen Xtreme Accessory Squat / Deadlift Day

  • Exercise #1: Good Mornings w/ Safety Squat Bar and chains, 3 sets of 5 reps
  • Exercise #2: Belt squat (close stance), 3 sets of 8 reps
  • Exercise #3: Belt squat (wide stance), 3 sets of 8 reps
  • Exercise #4: Bilateral lying hamstring curls (feet dorsiflexed / pointing straight), 3 sets of 10 reps
  • Exercise #5: 45 degree back raise (holding sandbag to chest), 3 sets of 10 reps
  • Exercise #6: Static barbell holds with double overhand grip, 3 sets to failure
  • Exercise #7: Sled drag forwards, 4 sets of 150 feet

Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise B1, exercise C1, exercise D1, exercise E1.

Before moving on I want to look at one last way to organize your heavy squat / deadlift day. The world-famous powerlifter Andy Bolton would perform 1 heavy set and several speed sets on the squat, and then perform 1 heavy set and several speed sets on the deadlift.

The powerlifting coach Josh Bryant also sometimes uses this approach with his clients.

The advantage of this approach is you get a full week before you have to train the squat and deadlift again. The disadvantage is some people have a hard time giving a 100% effort on their deadlift sets because they are too tired from the squat sets.

Here is what Andy Bolton’s typical heavy squat / deadlift workout looked like. Check it out:

The Andy Bolton Squat / Deadlift Workout

  • Exercise #1: Back squat, 1 set of 2 reps @ 80% of your 1-rep max
  • Exercise #2: Speed back squat, 5 sets of 2 reps @ 55-70% of your 1-rep max
  • Exercise #3: Deadlift, 1 set of 2 reps @ 80% of your 1-rep max
  • Exercise #4: Speed deadlift, 5 sets of 2 reps @ 55-70% of your 1-rep max

Here is one of Andy Bolton’s squat / deadlift training videos:

Organizing your squat and deadlift training using the classic upper / lower split can be tricky. In my experience your 2 best options are to train the squat and deadlift on separate days or together on their own dedicated training day.

Both of these approaches have their own advantages and disadvantages. My advice to you is to experiment with both approaches and stick with the one that works best for you.

Part 2: How To Organize Your Bench Press Workouts

There is nothing worse than a plateau on the bench press. It seems like no matter what you do you just can’t get stronger on this exercise. When this happens you may want to take a step back and look at your overall training strategy.

One of the most popular ways to train the bench press is using an upper / lower split where you cycle through 2 bench press days. For example:

The Josh Bryant Powerlifting Split

  • Day 1: Squat
  • Day 2: Bench Press
  • Day 3: Deadlift
  • Day 4: Bench Press Assistance

This is by far one of the most common ways to train the bench press. You have one day “heavy” day and one “assistance” day each week.

You could also use a 3-day or even a 2-day upper / lower split where you rotate through a heavy bench press workout and an assistance bench press workout. This strategy works well regardless of what kind of upper / lower split you use.

When you rotate between a heavy bench day and a light bench day there is one big question that you have to ask yourself: how heavy do you train on your assistance day?

In my experience there are three main choices you can choose from:

How To Structure Your Bench Press Assistance Day

  • Option #1: No Pressing Exercises
  • Option #2: Light Pressing Exercises
  • Option #3: Heavy Pressing Exercises

Let’s take a closer look at each of these options. 

Option #1: No Pressing Exercises

This option works great for anyone using a 4-day upper / lower split.

You have one upper body day early in the week where you perform all of your heavy bench press sets along plus assistance exercises for the rest of your upper body. Then later in the week you have an assistance day where you perform different assistance exercises for your upper back, shoulders and arms.

You avoid any heavy pressing exercises on this day in order to give your chest and shoulders more time to recover. Many world-class bench pressers like James Strickland do very well with this strategy.

Here is what James’ bench press assistance day usually looks like. Check it out:

James Strickland Bench Press Accessory Day

  • Exercise #1: Machine rear delt pec dec, 3 sets of 15 reps
  • Exercise #2: Lat raise machine, 3 sets of 15 reps
  • Exercise #3: DB bench, 3 sets of 15 reps
  • Exercise #4: Lying DB pullover, 3 sets of 15 reps
  • Exercise #5: DB rolling extension, 3 sets of 15 reps
  • Exercise #6: 30 degree prone “Y-T-L” raises, 3 sets of 15 reps

**Performed with 50-65% of max weight

Here is the training video for this workout:

James performs various assistance exercises focusing on his shoulders and upper back. He does perform some flat dumbbell presses but he only uses very light weights for this movement.

James can easily press the 200 pound dumbbells for 10-20 reps but he sticks with the 100 pound dumbbells for this workout!

James is so strong that he needs that extra rest between heavy pressing workouts in order to recover and make progress on the bench press. If you are a very strong bench presser then this can be a great strategy to try.

Option #2: Light Pressing Exercises

The second option is to perform some lighter pressing exercises on your bench press assistance day. This is the strategy that Louis Simmons, Julius Maddox and many others use in their training.

Lets start by looking at the Westside approach.

Louie Simmons likes to use one max effort bench press workout and one dynamic effort bench press workout each week. The max effort workout is where Louis maxes out on different special exercise for the bench press.

Later in the week Louis has a dynamic effort workout where he performs multiple speed sets on the bench press. The speed sets are only performed with 50-60% of his 1-rep max but Louie performs these sets as explosively as possible to maximize his force production.

Here is a sample Westside dynamic effort bench press workout. Check it out:

A Typical Dynamic Effort Bench Press Workout

  • Exercise #1: Speed bench with chains, 8-10 sets of 3 reps
  • Exercise #2: Standing military press, 3-4 sets of 8-15 reps
  • Exercise #3: Rolling DB extensions, 3-4 sets of 8-15 reps
  • Exercise #4: Band pushdowns, 3-4 sets of 8-15 reps

Here is the training video:

Louie Simmons likes this kind of dynamic effort bench press workout because his athletes cannot recover from 2 heavy bench press workouts per week.

Using the speed day is a smart way to sneak in more bench press training without overtraining your central nervous system.

The world’s strongest bench presser Julius Maddox also uses a moderately heavy bench press assistance day in his training. Julius doesn’t use a speed day like the Westside Barbell powerlifting team. Instead he performs lots of high-rep pressing exercises including lots and lots of pushups.

Here is one of Julius’ bench press assistance workouts. Check it out:

Julius Maddox Bench Press Accessory Workout

  • Exercise #1: JM push ups, 8 sets of 35 reps
  • Exercise #2: Flat DB press, 2 sets of 20 reps
  • Exercise #3: Standing “ITY” raises, 3 sets of 5 reps (each way)
  • Exercise #4: Earthquake bar overhead press, 6 sets of 15 reps

Here is the training video for this workout:

This is a very interesting bench press assistance workout by Julius Maddox. This workout was designed by his coach Josh Bryant so if it looks confusing then blame him, not me!

Option #3: Heavy Pressing Exercises

The third option is to rotate between a heavy bench press workout and a heavy bench press assistance workout. Most powerlifters who use this option are training with a 3-day or 2-day upper / lower split.

It is much harder to recover from 2 extremely heavy bench press workouts per week. Stan Efferding is one powerlifter who was very successful using this strategy.

He organized his training using the Lilliebridge Method. For example: 

The Lilliebridge Method

Week 1

  • Wednesday: Heavy Bench Press
  • Saturday: Heavy Deadlift

Week 2

  • Wednesday: Bench Press Assistance
  • Saturday: Heavy Squat

Stan Efferding believed that performing a light assistance day was a waste of time. Instead he trained as heavy as he could on different compound pressing exercises like the incline bench press, incline dumbbell press and so on.

Stan was only training his upper body once per week so it wasn’t too hard for him to recover from this kind of training schedule.

Here is what Stan’s typical bench press assistance workout looked like. Check it out:

Stan Efferding Bench Press Accessory Workout

  • Exercise #1: 30 degree incline bench press, 1 set of 2 reps
  • Exercise #2: 30 degree incline bench press, 1 set of 7 reps
  • Exercise #3: Dips, 1 set of 10 reps

Here is the training video:

Stan Efferding keeps nice and simple: he works up to a top set on three different compound pressing exercises and calls it a day. Stan used this training strategy to bench press over 600 pounds in competition – not bad!

Chad Wesley Smith is another person who likes to perform a heavy bench press assistance day. At the peak of his powerlifting career Chad trained the bench press 2 times every 9 days. This is very similar to the frequency used with the 3-day upper / lower split.

Here is what Chad’s assistance day looked like at the beginning of his bench press training cycle:

Chad Wesley Smith Bench Press Accessory Day

  • Exercise #1: Bench press (close grip), 2 sets of 8 reps
  • Exercise #2: Seated military press (shoulder-width grip, to top of head), 2 sets of 8 reps
  • Exercise #3: Decline bench press (shoulder-width grip), 3 sets of 12 reps
  • Exercise #4: Seated DB external rotations, 3 sets of 10-12 reps
  • Exercise #5: DB front raises, 3 sets of 10-12 reps
  • Exercise #6: DB lateral raises, 3 sets of 10-12 reps
  • Exercise #7: Flat DB extension, 3 sets of 10-12 reps

All of these sets were performed with 1-3 reps left in the tank. As he got closer to his competition Chad slowly lowered the rep ranges and increased the weights.

The bottom line is there are many different ways to organize your bench press assistance day when you use a upper / lower training split.

I recommend you experiment with light assistance days, moderate assistance days and heavy assistance days and see what works best for you.

Part 3: How To Organize Your Upper Back Training

When should you train your upper back? Do you train it on your bench press days, on your deadlift days or somewhere else? This is one of the most common questions people have when they design their own upper / lower splits for powerlifting.

In my opinion there are at least 3 great options that you can choose from. Check it out:

How To Organize Your Upper Back Training

  • Option #1: Train your back on your bench press days
  • Option #2: Train your back on your deadlift day
  • Option #3: Train your back every single workout

Let’s take a closer look at each of these options.

Option #1: Train Your Back On Your Bench Press Days

The first option is to train your upper back on your upper body days. For example if you are using a 4-day upper / lower split then you would train your upper back twice per week towards the end of your upper body workouts.

This is the exact strategy that the Westside Barbell powerlifting team and many other organizations use.

Training your upper back on your upper body days makes sense because upper back work helps you balance out all the heavy bench press work that you do.

Here is one example of how the Westside team organizes their upper body workouts. Check it out:

Westside Barbell Max Effort Upper Body Workout

  • Exercise #1: Floor press with chains, 2-3 sets of 1 rep**
  • Exercise #2: 30 degree incline DB press, 3sets of 8-12 reps
  • Exercise #3: Machine tricep pushdown, 3sets of 8-12 reps
  • Exercise #4: Machine chest supported row, 3sets of 8-12 reps
  • Exercise #5: Ez-bar upright row, 3sets of 8-12 reps

**Work up to a 1-rep max. Perform 2-3 sets at 90-100% of your 1-rep max for that day.

Here is the training video:

This is a very normal looking Westside Barbell bench press workout.

The Westside team performs 1 or sometimes 2 upper back exercises towards the end of the workout. They use lat pulldowns and many different types of rows to train their upper back.

They tend to prefer chest supported rows, machine rows and other upper back exercises that do not tax their lower back. They do a ton of lower back training on their lower body days so they don’t want to overtrain this muscle.

Option #2: Train Your Back On Your Deadlift Day

Another great option is to perform all of your upper back work on your deadlift day. This is the exact strategy that the many of the strongest men in the world like Eddie Hall and Brian Shaw use in their training.

Most powerlifters who use this strategy will perform 3-4 different exercises for their upper back on their deadlift day. You are only training the upper back once per week so you have to use a lot of volume to make up for the lower training frequency!

Here is a sample upper back workout using this strategy. Check it out:

Josh Bryant Deadlift Workout

  • A1: Deadlift, 1 set of 2 reps, rest 2 minutes
  • B1: Isometric deadlift (below knees), 3 sets of 1 rep**, rest 2 minutes
  • B2: Speed deadlift, 3 sets of 1 rep, rest 2 minutes
  • C1: Snatch grip rack deadlift, 2 sets of 4-6 reps, rest 2 minutes
  • D1: One-arm eccentric cable row, 3 sets of 3 reps, 2 minutes rest
  • E1: Pull up (wide / overhand grip), 3 sets to failure**, 2 minutes rest
  • F1: Supine band row, 3 sets of 8-12 reps

Here is the training video for this workout:

Talk about a high-volume upper back workout! The powerlifter performs 4 different deadlift variations and 3 heavy upper back exercises including eccentric cable rows, pull ups and supine band rows. 

Option #3: Train Your Back 3-4 Times Per Week

The third option is really a combination of options 1 and 2. You are going to perform 3-4 upper back exercises on your deadlift day but you are also going to perform 1 upper back exercise on all of your other workouts.

The powerlifting coach Josh Bryant says that the upper back is one of those muscle groups that responds well to a higher training frequency. Many of his powerlifters have broken through a plateau on the bench press once they started training their upper back 3-4 times per week.

Here is a sample training plan you could use. Check it out:

Sample Training Split

  • Day 1: Bench = 1 upper back exercise
  • Day 2: Squat = 0-1 upper back exercise
  • Day 3: Bench Assistance = 1 upper back exercise
  • Day 4: Deadlift = 3 upper back exercises

If you respond well to a higher-frequency approach then I highly recommend you give this strategy a shot!

Conclusion

Most of the world’s top powerlifters train using an upper / lower split. However, each powerlifter has his own way of tweaking this split to get better results.

There are three questions that you must ask yourself when designing a powerlifting upper / lower split: 

  • How do you organize your squat / deadlift workouts?
  • How do you organize your bench press workouts?
  • How do you organize your upper back training?

In this guide I gave you several different answers to each of these questions. Now it is up to YOU to put all of the pieces together and design your own upper / lower split to get ready for your next competition.

If you absorb the information presented in this article then you will be well on your way to new PRs in the squat, bench press and deadlift! 

“There is nothing outside of yourself that can ever enable you to get better, stronger, richer, quicker or smarter. Everything is within. Everything exists. Seek nothing outside of yourself.”

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck on your strength training journey!

Dr. Mike Jansen, PT, DPT

Thanks for checking out my site! My name is Dr. Mike Jansen and I'm the founder of Revolutionary Program Design. If you want to reach your size and strength goals faster then you've come to the right place. My goal is to make RPD the #1 strength training resource available anywhere in the world. So grab a seat, kick back and relax. There's never been a better time to lift weights or to learn the art and science of strength training program design.

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