Powerlfiting, Powerlifting, Powerlifting Technique, Programme, women

Programming Considerations for the female powerlifter – Will Brown

It’s that time of the month again!

For a sweet article, of course! Seriously though, we’re going to be examining the details that ladies who lift should take into consideration when building a programme. Including, but not limited to the one I jovially used for a title.

We’re going to go from the macro stage downwards, talking mainly in general terms until we get to the nitty gritty applications of week to week, session to session stuff.

Training Frequency:

Let’s get into it, first off overall macro planning considerations. Overall the fairer sex will be able to handle a lot more volume that their male counterparts, due most in part to lower overall weight lifted, speaking for the majority populus, elite level female lifters may not be able to train this way. Using the idea of SRA (Stimulus Recovery Adaptation.)

Credit to thelabto.com

Women will generally recover very quickly, so will benefit more from high-frequency training. In the context of powerlifting, you could be hitting bench workouts 4 or more a week! I’d certainly say you’d need to train it at least 3 times to be optimal. Training less frequently would also mean you need to accrue the same total volume, only in fewer days.  So your sessions would be brutal, and you may struggle to fit that length of the session into a daily schedule.


Alongside higher training frequency, we also need to take into account planning around the menstrual cycle. If you aren’t taking any form of contraceptive, you’re going to plan around your luteal phase individual extremes. Everyone’s is different, however it will affect training, so it’s worth planning as best you can. Make sure to either plan a deload, or at the very least, a reduction in both volume and intensity for that week.

If you’re using a progestogen-only sub dermal implant, you may have no need to change training at all. Although the chance of irregular bleeding is still there, however the symptoms associated with the luteal phase are normally reduced. If this isn’t the case for you, then using the training alterations I mentioned earlier would be prudent.

Lastly the combined oral contraceptive pill, I mention this one last since it has some advantage in the small dimension of training planning. It offers an amount of control over your cycle since you can offset or even induce it through your use of the pill.

The long and short of it, is to plan hard training around the elevated progesterone levels that are present roughly 15-25 days after the start of your cycle. While avoiding super intense training or comps around that luteal phase (roughly day 14) where estrogen tanks and the progesterone spikes simultaneously. You can better control variables and the likelihood of missed/poor training due to them.

Exercise Selections:

So, let’s dive a bit further into the nitty gritty. When selecting your exercises for training, you want to keep in mind that there is such a thing as too much specificity, variation is important too. Especially considering the higher frequency of sessions, having squat sessions that look like

Squat: 5×10

Paused Squat: 5×5

303 Squats: 3×15

Assuming you’re not just training squats once or twice a week, that is a tonne of basic squats. True enough, you need as much practice at the competition moves as possible, however, you also need a good amount of variation to avoid overuse injuries/ tendinopathies.

 One way I like to walk the line is to only use the specific competition movement once or twice per week, and have the other main squat moves be close accessory moves. So, a week’s squats may look like:

Session 1: Comp Squat 5×10

Session 2: 303 Squat 3×6

Session 3: Comp Squat 6×8

In this example, the 303 (meaning 3 seconds down, no pause, 3 seconds up) is also given the least total volume, since it will be lower in weight used due to the movement itself. There would also be other lifts mixed in, however for any session where you are competition squatting, I would make it the first lift of the session, and any accessory style movements can be mixed in behind competition bench or deadlift sessions.

For exercise selection during your luteal phase, I feel there are three main options to choose from.

  1. Stick to your regular programmed lifts, but as mentioned before take a good drop in volume and intensity for the worst of it.
  2. Use some combo of metabolite training or bodybuilding style intensity techniques to achieve not only a new stimulus but need less weight to do it.
  3. If things are bad, just try to hit your main lifts and call it a day. Just come in, do your competition lifts then jet.

To expand on the second point, using things like occluded/blood flow restricted training, lots of time under tension, or intra set stretching exercises, can really make your monthly programme next level. You’re not only getting a de-load due to the decreased loads needed to make these techniques effective. They will likely give you the worst DOMS you’ve had in a while. Even if you use them monthly you can rotate which ones you use, and only one week of training isn’t enough for significant adaptations. An example week may look like:

Session 1: 501 Comp Squat 4 sets @40-50% till you have 2 reps in the tank, rest 1 minute between sets and track reps.

Session 2: Intra set stretch Split squats to pick a weight you could normally do for 10+ rep it till you have 2 reps in the tank, THEN hold the bottom position for a 10-second hold, drop the dumbbells and rep out at bodyweight till you have 2 left and repeat the 10-second hold. Then contemplate your life choices up till this point and the fact you still have to do the other leg.

Session 3: Belt Squats 3 sets of 30% of your squat max, leave 1 rep in the tank.

It’s worth mentioning that these techniques are great for training around injuries or when equipment is limited.

Hopefully, these examples have given you some food for thought as to how you structure your training, and hopefully some solutions and ideas for how to plan around the variables that arise.

Author Profile – 

Will Brown has been working as a personal trainer for 7 years, after co-founding Athlete Training Systems. What started as a rack and some plates in a garage has now grown into a full powerlifting gym. Will has spent the past few years coaching a wide variety of clients ranging from amateur athletes in rugby and American football to successful business leaders in the Edinburgh area.

Will played hockey for The Edinburgh Academy for over a decade culminating in a three-year stint with their first XI squad. A love for American football then led him to several years at various positions on the Edinburgh Wolves American football team. After several more severe injuries, he left football and moved on to powerlifting where he strives to be anything better than average.

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