Talking about taking powerlifting a little more seriously? It’s not just about the 3 big ones, deadlift, squat and bench, but about all the muscles associated with them. As you might guess, we’re talking about… pretty much every muscles in your body! So how can you use other lifts to compliment the 3 big ones? It’s not just about the selection of exercises, but the way in which you use various training principles. I decided to break it down into my top 6 drills for improving powerlifting. So get off your butt and see how you can make these work for you!


Getting all those presses with dumbbells

When it comes to bench, you need incredible shoulders to make it work. Try out some military press and bench press with dumbbells for reps between 10-15. Focus on performing the movement correctly, and never failing in form. You’ll train the right muscles to work at the right time. When it comes to military press, you can choose to stand up or remain seated. Both are fine, but don’t forget that you have to use that core when standing, squeezing the glutes and abs to make sure there is enough support under all that weight!

Using varying degrees of specificity in your cycles

You know how in training cycles we usually start with general and work our way up to specific? Well if you want to improve beyond that plateau, you’ll need to consider how ineffective it is to always do the same lifts in the same rep/ set range.

Start off with general training for a few weeks and diversity the exercises you do for each lift. For example, lay off the same old low-bar squat and move onto deep, high-bar squats to work on functional movements first. You’ll be working a difference set of supplementary muscle ranges that can only improve the lift. Next, move to a lower bar deep squat for a few weeks, then transition into the usual lift and see how different it feels.

Using variable grips and placements 

This drill for improving powerlifting goes along with the one above. We know that narrow grip bench should be a part of your routine, so also consider changing squat and deadlift feet and grip positions. Sumo deadlifts, straight/stiff leg, and wide stance hack squats are just a few example. In these cases, the range of motion is comparable. However, the primary agonist muscles are changing. For example, we rely more on triceps-usually the secondary worker, than pec major – usually the primary worker, with a narrow grip bench.

Maximise on eccentric movements 

In the spirit of following the progressive overload principle, this drill is great for those who have hit an annoying plateau, especially in their 1 to 3RM area. This was suggested to me by my coach while I was in a 1 year long squat plateau. Super frustrating… but I grabbed a fantastic training buddy to help with eccentric squats at around 103-105% of my 2RM and 3RM. You basically perform a perfect eccentric movement (descend the bar), then your partner picks you up by spotting about 5-10% of the load. Use this for both bench and squats. Sets of 5 will do just the trick.

Be warned: a few sets of these will CRUSH your legs or chest for several days!

Using pause training in all lifts

I don’t think pause movements are given enough credit, so here, I’m giving them a shoutout. Pausing at the bottom of your range is great strength drill. It cuts out all that elastic energy potential we use to get out of the bottom, specifically for squats.

Change up the style with Farmer Carry

So most of the drills for improving powerlifting have been styles of training the lifts themselves or the assistance movements. But another great drill I just rarely see is Farmer Carry. Grab a couple of super heavy dumbbells or kettlebells and walk around, as far as you possibly can. It’s an incredible workout for stamina, cardio, and your core, shoulders and grip. This is a fantastic way to close out your training session, or to superset in with another grip training and lat training, like pull ups or bent-over rows.