Incredibly Common Powerlifting Questions… Answered!

Incredibly Common Powerlifting Questions… Answered!

When most of us entered the gym for the first time, it was almost instant confusion. There are DOZENS of confusing machines, different kinds of bars scattered throughout the gym, new people who may or may not be nice and who knows what else.

Thankfully, this article is designed as a quick primer for you on your first day. This way you don't need to come in concerned, worried or lacking knowledge... At least for the basics!

Table of Contents

  • Should my workout start with strength training or cardio?
  • Should I be using the "free weights" or machines?
  • How long should I rest between sets?
  • How often should I increase the weight on the bar or machines?
  • Do I need a spotter?
  • I'm sore, how long is that going to last after a training session?
  • I need that six pack, so should I train my abs every day?
  • Should I do compound exercises like pull-ups or isolation exercises like curls?
  • Can I avoid calluses when it comes to strength training?
  • What is the best way to recover from a workout?

Should my workout start with strength training or cardio?

This is probably one of the MOST common fitness questions that has ever entered the internet, and honestly, there is good reason for it to be asked!
What you start with all comes down to your overall goal. The reason for that is one depletes the other and detracts from overall training of the persons goal.

If you are wanting to be an absolute strength athlete powerhouse, we recommend that you start with some active stretching and light weight to get the blood flowing. After your training session is done or on a different day, then you can put in the dastardly cardio. This isn't to say you SHOULDN'T do cardio, because to be perfectly clear, a healthy cardiovascular system means a great lifting session.

If your goal is to run a half marathon, then by all means start with active stretching and hit the pavement to get the most out of it that you can. Strength training in this aspect is the secondary goal and will also help improve potential imbalances created from cardio training.

Should I be using the "free weights" or machines?

With Crossfit and kettlebells becoming something all the rage in the past decade, people tend to think that machines are a product of the past.

This is incredibly far from the truth, however. While pieces of free motion equipment (dumbbells, kettlebells, TRX, ect.) do require more stabilizer muscles and create an amazing bang for their buck, they aren't the end all be all.

Machines can be helpful in isolation exercises if you are focusing on a specific muscle group or want to have that extra sense of stability doing unilateral movements like split squats.

Machines can also serve the purpose of introducing people to more complicated movements in an easier to grasp way. Or they allow those who are injured or impaired to get a safe session in without putting their body at more of a risk.

Here is a link to our FREE PROGRAMS that give a good blend between free weights and machines!

How long should I rest between sets?

When structuring a training program, rest between sets is a huge factor in making gains for the future. How you structure your sessions will greatly impact how the day, week and cycle goes. So here are the quick rest tips.

Keeping it simple. As long or as short as you need to feel slightly rested between sets.

Making it more complicated, it depends on rep range and overall intensity. 
If you want to build strength, take 3-5 minutes between sets to allow your muscles to get their energy back.

  • 1-4 reps (heavy weight) - 3-5 minutes
  • 5-8 reps (moderate weight) - 2-3 mintues
  • 9-12 reps (maintaining weight) - 1-2 minutes
  • 12+ reps (accessory/hypertrophy) - 45 seconds to a minute

Don't ignore rest periods. They are just as important for progress as the weight you are moving.

How often should I increase the weight on the bar or machines?

This may actually be the easiest one to tackle!

If you're able to finish your sets and reps at a certain weight with decent
What is the best time of day to lift weights?

We lied; this is actually the easiest one that we can answer.

Go to the gym in the best time that fits your schedule. That's it, it's that simple.
However, if you want a bit of science behind your choice, lets add a bit of flavor on this.

There have been multiple studies that find lifting and exercise in the late afternoon or evening may help you get stronger since cortisol lowers through the day, meaning you gonna get yoked. However testosterone in everyone generally dips through the day.

Do I need a spotter?

If you are going heavy on the free weights and aren't in a rack or piece of equipment that will catch you... YES GRAB A SWOLEMATE AND STAY SAFE.

A spotter also helps give you a small boost in confidence when you are there and mentally lets you go a bit heavier.

If a spotter isn't available, get yourself set up and a rack and rock it out knowing that you are safe.

Remember, practice safe sets.

I'm sore, how long is that going to last after a training session?

When you feel sore a day or two after you start a new training cycle or after an especially intense workout, don't worry! That is just the DOMS checking in on you.

DOMS, or delayed onset muscle soreness, is basically the microtrauma in your muscles letting you know it exists. When the muscle recovers from this, it's coming back stronger, faster and denser than it was before.

Basically, soreness = gains. But acute, isolated pain may not.

I need that six pack, so should I train my abs every day?

The cliche, "Abs are made in the kitchen" is a half truth. They are forged in the gym but revealed by what you eat (ie your nutrition).

If you are doing core work seven days a week, hold-up and rethink your approach. While the abs CAN recover decently quick, they still need time to rest and recover.

Keep your ab training to roughly 3 days a week, that way when you hammer them, you can go a decent difficulty level.

Just remember, there is no such thing as spot reduction, that all comes from your diet.

Should I do compound exercises like pull-ups or isolation exercises like curls?

They both have benefits for different purposes.

If you want to get strong as an ox, compounds are going to be your friend.

If you are wanting to pump the muscle to exhaustion safely and get some good bodybuilding style training in, isolation exercises are a GREAT bang for your buck.

The best mix of what you can do is compound movements to get the blood flowin' and isolation exercises to really focus on imbalance and aesthetics 

Can I avoid calluses when it comes to strength training?

Calluses aren't sexy to everyone, even if we think they should be.

BUT you may not want to your hands to be rougher than the Sahara Desert during a draught. Here are a few tips to keep them mits soft and supple.

First, if you absolutely believe it needed, you can wear gloves for protection. This won't hurt your grip and will also prevent calluses from forming... to much. Even legendary bodybuilder Ronnie Coleman used gloves when he trained!

However, if gloves ain't your style here is a quick routine for you. Soak your hands in warm water with Epsom salts to soften. Then grab a pumice stone and gently rub the areas. After, use your favorite moisturizer to klet it glow.

You can also find an electric callus grater to shave it down for you!

What is the best way to recover from a workout?

You've just gotten done training, are cooling down and wondering what's next to get JACKED?!

That's easy, its time for you to rest, recover and most importantly fuel your body.
When you exercise, your body undergoes depletion of nutrients, microtrauma (don't worry, that's a good thing) and much more. After that, your cells need to refuel and repair. This can only TRULY happen when you are at rest.

Pairing the proper nutrition with a healthy low-intensity (active rest) exercise helps get the most out of the day you put yourself through. They help increase circulation of micronutrients to your body, get your muscles loose and make you feel overall great.

If you are looking for a bit more information on recover, here is an INCREDIBLE article by Max for you to take a look at.

Common Cause

We all love powerlifting in our own way, but that doesn't mean it should be hard to understand. Hopefully the answers to these quick little questions help prime you on your adventure into powerliftin!


If you are looking to follow and learn from some amazing people and powerlifters follow the links below or read thisarticle for some great stories. Or if you are looking for programming, you can find one of our free programs here or you can reach out to one of our team members to see how to take your training to the next level.

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