10 Best Powerlifting Exercises To Build Strength Foundation

James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
Published by James Cunningham, BSc, CPT | Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Last updated: January 4, 2024
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Every serious powerlifter must master the bench press, squat, and deadlift— also known as “the big three” of powerlifting exercises.

These are crucial for building muscle mass and density, increasing strength and power, boosting performance, and providing the needed fat-burning support.

However, there are many more efficient and challenging raw or equipped powerlifting exercises you need to work on to gain strength and meet your lifting goals without getting bored.

I have summed them all up in this article and briefly explained how to do them right to reap all the benefits and avoid injuries.

Quick Summary

  • The powerlifting exercises worth trying out are barbell back squat, barbell bench press, military press, barbell deadlift, power clean, farmer's walk, and lunge.
  • Always start low on powerlifting workouts to lower the chances of getting injuries and progressively increase the sets.
  • A study by the National Institutes of Health recommends low-bar back squats for more advanced powerlifters due to their ability to handle greater loads.
  • In my personal opinion, incorporating these exercises into a regular training routine is essential for anyone serious about improving their powerlifting performance.

1. Barbell Back Squat

Man doing a back squat

Based on my experience, the barbell back squat effectively strengthens legs and hips, enhancing body mobility and stability.

I've personally seen improvements in our quads, glutes, hamstrings, calves, hip flexors, and abs.

With the barbell resting across your traps, stand with your feet a bit wider apart than your shoulders, heels directly under the shoulders (keeping all the weight), toes slightly pointed out, back straight, and core and lats engaged.

Keeping your posture upright, bend your knees, and drive your hips back to lower your body towards the ground at least until your thighs get parallel to the floor or lower if you can.

Pause, then stand up, contracting your glutes and quads.

According to a study published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), low-bar back squats are recommended for more advanced powerlifters who lift greater loads [1].

RELATED: Best Workouts for Vastus Medialis

2. Barbell Bench Press

Man doing a barbell bench pressThe barbell bench press is another fundamental classic powerlifting exercise fantastic for developing your strength and size (provided that your form is proper).

It targets your chest, triceps, front delts, and abs.

Lie on a flat bench with both feet flat on the ground, heels pressed into the ground and traps into the bench, shoulders squeezed together for better stability, core braced, lower back slightly arched, and elbows tucked at 45 degrees.

Grip the barbell slightly wider than your shoulders and push it straight up without locking out your elbows.

Then, lower the bar slowly and pause, ensuring it touches your chest before you press it back up.

Other types of exercises:

3. Military Press

Man doing barbell military press

Overhead or military press can be done using a barbell or dumbbells while sitting or standing.

If you’re standing, make sure to get someone to spot you, and always flex your abs and glutes to stabilize the whole body.

This movement mostly engages your shoulders and chest, and it’s excellent for increasing your muscle mass, power-based lifts, and promoting good posture.

Hold the weight at your shoulder level with the front-facing palms and core braced as you’re pushing the weight over your head.

Pause briefly at the top, and bring it back down slowly, without resting at the bottom. Do the next rep immediately.

If you don't hava a barbell, we have an article on the best Olympic barbells, make sure to check it out.

4. Barbell Deadlift

Woman doing a deadliftMy team discovered through using this exercise that the deadlift is a powerhouse for activating the traps, back, abs, hamstrings, quads, glutes, and calves.

Through our practical knowledge, we can attest to its effectiveness in increasing total-body strength, building muscle, and developing explosive power.

Based on insights from a study published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the deadlift isn’t easy to perform correctly and may cause injuries [2].

Keep your back straight, chest up, and core engaged. Bend with the hips above knees and shoulders over the bar. Grab the barbell with an overhand grip and straight arms at around double your shoulder-width.

Stand up and pull the barbell up your legs in a straight line, locking out your hips, engaging the glutes and lats. Don’t lean back, shrug your shoulders, or round your lower back.

Then, lower the barbell back to the ground, keeping it close to your body while pushing your hips back.

Also Read: Best Barbell Exercises


5. Power Clean

This hip-dominant lift activates almost every muscle, helping you develop speed, increase power, and gain strength if you excel at proper technique.

Stand in a deadlift stance, bent down with your back straight, chest out, shoulders squeezed, abs tight, hips pushed back, feet hip-width apart, and a bar across your shins.

Grab the bar with a thumb-locked grip, palms facing backward, arms just outside your legs, and deadlift it.

Fully extend your knees and hips to pull the bar straight up past your stomach explosively while quickly dropping your body under it in a partial squat.

Rotate your elbows forward to flip the grip and let the bar rest on your shoulders.

Then, release the bar from your shoulders, dropping it to the ground.

Make sure you are wearing your weightlifting shoes, to have a better grip and stability.

6. Bent-Over Barbell Row

Barbell Bent-Over RowsThis free-weight exercise in many variations is great for recruiting your biceps, traps, lats, rhomboids, rotator cuffs, back, glutes, and legs.

Focusing on these muscles increases your core and lumbar strength, balances out your upper body muscles, improves posture, and stabilizes the entire body.

Lean forward from the waist, standing with your back straight, neck in line with the spine, core braced, shoulder blades squeezed together, and feet shoulder-width apart.

Grab the barbell in an overhand grip with your palms down and arms straight, slightly wider than your shoulders.

Pull your elbows behind you, simultaneously pulling the bar up to your lower chest. Hold, then lower it back down in a slow controlled movement.

Also Read: 10 Best Powerlifting Barbell for Home Gym

7. Farmer’s Walk

Trap Bar Farmers Walk

This fantastic exercise can help powerlifters build great grip and overall strength and endurance is the farmer’s walk.

It’s stupid-simple to perform and engages your shoulders, arms, abs, and legs.

Just grab a pair of heavy dumbbells (40-100 pounds), tighten your core, straighten your back, and start walking forward until you’re unable to hold the weights anymore.

If you want to take this exercise to the next level, try carrying heavier weights every time, prolonging your time goals, or doing the single-arm version.

Just make sure to wear your wrist wraps, so you don't injure yourself using heavy weights.

“Powerlifters simply get under heavier and heavier weights, week after week, month after month, year after year. [...] Powerlifters typically don’t lift over five reps in a given set. You don’t want a pump when powerlifting—you want maximum recovery in order to produce a maximum effort on each rep of each set.”

- Stan Efferding, Pro Bodybuilder

8. Sledgehammer Hits

Sledgehammer-HitsAnother super easy yet highly beneficial exercise can give you a great cardio workout and intensively engage your upper body, core, and leg muscles.

Just take a sledgehammer and repeatedly hit the tire with it over your shoulder.

9. Weighted Pull-Up

This compound exercise great for your biceps and lats can help enhance your neuromuscular stability, athletic performance, connective tissue and bone strength.

Per a study published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), it prevents muscle imbalances, and shoulder injuries that are common in powerlifting [3].

The strength you build doing pull-ups may help better control the barbell and increase your strength for the deadlift, bench press, and squats.

Attach one end of a resistance band to your waist and the other end to a heavy dumbbell, kettlebell, or barbell on the floor beneath the pull-up bar.

Hanging with fully extended arms, pull yourself up explosively until your chin gets above the pull-up bar. Then, return to the starting position using controlled movements.

10. Lunge

Woman doing lungesLunges work your hamstrings, quads, glutes, calves, and hip flexors, not putting extra strain on your back. Different exercise variations (front, lateral, reverse lunges) emphasize different lower body parts.

Stand tall, holding a barbell across your traps or a dumbbell or kettlebell in each hand.

Step forward with one foot, bending your knees to lower the body till your front thigh gets parallel to the floor and your rear knee almost touches the floor.

Kick back up and repeat the same movement with the other leg.


  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28195975/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30057777/
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29785405/
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About The Author

James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
James Cunningham, BSc, CPT holds a BSc degree in Sport & Exercise Science from University of Hertfordshire. He's a Health & Performance Coach from London that brings a unique blend of academic knowledge of health supplements and practical exercise experience to the table for his readers.
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Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC is an ex-National Soccer player turned MMA and Kickboxing champion, with ACE CPT and PN1-NC certifications. His advice is rooted in education and experience, ensuring that readers receive scientific and battle-tested insights. His mission is to empower his clients and readers to realize their potential and become the best versions of themselves.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD is a published peer-reviewed author and renowned physician from India with over a decade of experience. With her MBBS from Bharati Vidyapeeth and an MD from Rajiv Gandhi University, she actively ensures the accuracy of online dietary supplement and medical information by reviewing and fact-checking health publications.
Learn more about our editorial policy

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