Intermediate Weightlifting Program

You’re looking for an intermediate weightlifting program, so I can probably fairly assume that you’ve been training for a while, and now want to find a program that properly matches your needs so that you can optimise your progress. That’s gonna be today’s focus.  Here’s exactly what we’re going to cover:

Weightlifting or Weight Lifting? (Terminology)

In this article, I’m going to be talking about both weightlifting the sport, and weight lifting in general.  For clarity…

  • Weightlifting, also commonly referred to as olympic weightlifting, is a sport in which competitors try to lift maximal weights in the snatch and the clean & jerk.
  • Weight lifting, or simply ‘weight training’, refers more broadly to lifting weights in order to get generally strong.

To be fair, both of these have a HUGE amount of crossover, but it’s still important to understand the distinction when planning your training.

How do I know if I am beginner or intermediate? (Or Advanced?)

Incorrect Approaches

This is a super common question and one that is answered incorrectly online all the time.

A lot of people make the mistake of saying that beginner, intermediate or advanced is about ‘total years spent training’ or ‘total amount lifted’.

  • Someone might say that if you’ve been training for less than 1 year you’re a beginner, or 1-3 years an intermediate.
  • Or, someone might say that if you lift 100kg on the bench press, or snatch bodyweight, that you’re an intermediate.

Both of these approaches are highly problematic, and the more you think about them the more you realise how dumb these approaches truly are.  Think about it for a moment..

  • What if someone has spent 3+ years training, but that training has been terrible.  Well then they might actually still be a beginner.
  • Or what if someone snatches bodyweight within a month of starting the sport of weightlifting, are they now automatically an intermediate?  Of course not.

*And maybe you’re thinking, “yeah but nobody does that.” To which I’ll say, after working within strength & conditioning and weightlifting coaching for 7+ years, you would be SHOCKED at just how freaky strong some people are.

I’ve coached guys who have squatted 200kg (440lb) in less than 6 months of organised training.  I’ve coached youth female gymnasts to perform sets of 20-30 strict pull-ups.  In short, genetic differences and training history make for some wild differences from person to person.

Correct Approach

Okay, so how do you actually know if you’re a beginner, intermediate or advanced lifter?  Let me share the approach the best coaches in the world use to quantify this.

  • Beginners are able to improve every session, or almost every session, with a basic level of effort applied to training, nutrition and sleep.
  • Intermediates are able to improve every week or fortnight, provided that a moderate level of effort is applied to training, nutrition and sleep.
  • Advanced lifters are able to improve every 1-3 months, provided that a very high level of effort is applied to training, nutrition and sleep.

That’s it.

It’s incredibly simple but beautiful in its simplicity.  These categories work for everyone regardless of sex, gender, age, training history or sport.

If you can improve every week or fortnight with moderate effort, you’re an intermediate.  It doesn’t matter how much you lift or how long you’ve been training.

What is intermediate weight training?

Alright, so with the above categories in mind, what does good intermediate weight training look like?

It looks like training that is built or planned around weekly or fortnightly increases in weight.  A great example of this is the texas method, which we’ll discuss shortly.

How do you program Intermediate lifters?

There are literally hundreds of different ways to programme for intermediate lifters, especially when you factor in specific goals, time availability, equipment etc.  Some good general rules of thumb are:

Frequency: 3-5 sessions per week

Session Length: 60-90 Minutes

Exercise Selection: More variety than used as a beginner, but predominantly close variations.  For example, squat 3×5 as a beginner could become 4×4 pause squat as an intermediate.

Intensity: Will vary hugely by goals, but can typically now push harder on any given set, and include higher percentages of 1 rep maxes more frequently.

Recovery Pattern: Lighter days may have to be implemented more frequently

An example intermediate weight lifting programme

Texas Method

The texas method, as it’s name would suggest, originated in texas, under olympic weightlifting coach Glenn Pendlay (Fun fact, I was lucky enough to be personally coached by Glenn from 2018-19)

He would typically have his athletes perform 5×5 squats on monday and friday.  One athlete was complaining about the volume on friday, so Glenn said that if he hit a new 5 rep max, he would only have to do one set!  And so the texas method was born.

Volume work at the start of the week, and an intensity based rep max at the end of the week.

  • Day 1: Volume Day
  • Day 2: Light Day
  • Day 3: Intensity Day

Which most commonly looks something like this when put into practice:

  • Monday: 5×5 Squat, 5×5 Bench, 3×5 Deadlift @ around 90% of 5rm
  • Wednesday: 3×5 Squat, 3×5 Bench, 3×5 Chin-Ups – @ 80% of Day 1
  • Friday: 5rm Squat, 5rm Bench, 5rm Deadlift

An example intermediate weightlifting programme (Olympic Weightlifting)

The Sport Science Insider Intermediate Texas OWL Method
The Sport Science Insider Intermediate Texas OWL Method

Each week you would aim to increase all lifts by a small amount, typically 1-3%, and do this for between 4 and 6 weeks, before then taking a one-week deload.

It’s also likely a good idea to add some core work after the Monday, Wednesday and Friday sessions. 2-3 exercises for 2-3 sets usually does the trick.  Things like planks, side planks, bird-dogs, deadbugs, paloff presses and that sort of thing work great.

Frequently Asked Intermediate Weightlifting Questions

Can I start with an intermediate weightlifting workout?

You should only start an intermediate workout or programme if you’ve got as much out of beginner workouts and programmes as possible. Intermediate programmes offer SLOWER progress than beginner weightlifting programmes.

In an ideal world, you would remain on a beginner programme forever, making infinite gains in size and strength.  In reality, these gains eventually slow down, and intermediate programmes become necessary.

Can you workout 7 days a week?

You’re free to live your life however you want, and if you want to train 7 days a week I can’t stop you.  What I can tell you however, is that it is highly unlikely to result in optimal progress.  In fact, it will more than likely just increase overuse injury risk and leave you feeling burnt out mentally.

There’s a reason why even the world’s highest level athletes still have at least 1 day off per week.

Is lifting 4 days a week good or too much?

4 days lifting per week is perfect for an intermediate and offers a great balance between training and recovery.

What is the 5 3 1 weightlifting method?

Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 is a strength training programme that follows a 4-week rolling pattern.  Week 1 uses 3×5, week 2 uses 3×3, week 3 uses a set of 5 and a set of 3 to build towards a heavy single rep, then week 4 is a deload.

Now, although 5/3/1 is commonly called an intermediate programme, I strongly disagree.  Intermediates can progress weekly or fortnightly, so why on earth would you choose to only progress once per month.  

Most intermediates will also find that the total weekly volume is a bit too low for optimal progress as well.

5/3/1 makes WAY more sense as an early-advanced programme.  Something that you would use when the texas method stops yielding results.

What is an intermediate deadlift?

If you read the beginner vs intermediate vs advanced section above, you’ll see why questions like this are impossible to answer.  An intermediate deadlift could very well be anything from 40-400kg depending on the lifter.

What is an intermediate squat?

If you read the beginner vs intermediate vs advanced section above, you’ll see why questions like this are impossible to answer.  An intermediate squat could very well be anything from 40-400kg depending on the lifter.

How long are you a beginner in weightlifting?

As long as possible.  In an ideal world, you progress as a beginner forever, become a world champion and lift truly insane weights.  

In reality, most of us will eventually hit a point at which progress every workout (or close to every workout) becomes impossible.  At that point, you’re no longer a beginner.

Summary

If you’ve just skipped to the end of the article, here’s the TLDR…

  • Intermediates are purely defined by their rate of progress and adaptation
  • Intermediate weightlifting programmes should be built around the idea of weekly or fortnightly progress
  • Programming for intermediate lifters should build on what they did as a beginner, with increases in variation, intensity, volume and frequency, as well as greater consideration given to recovery.

Next Steps

  • If you found the article useful, feel free to rate it, share it and ask any questions down in the comments.

‘Til Next Time

Alex

Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

Parry, A (2022). Intermediate Weightlifting ProgramAvailable from: https://sportscienceinsider.com/intermediate-weightlifting-program/ [Accessed dd/mm/yyyy].

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Alex Parry
British Weightlifting Tutor & Educator at Character Strength & Conditioning | Website | + posts

Alex is the Owner and Head Coach of Character Strength & Conditioning, and specialises in strength & power development for athletes.

He currently works as a Tutor & Educator for British Weightlifting, and has previously delivered S&C support to gymnastics and swimming talent pathways.