Peaking for Powerlifting Part 2: An Intermediate's Approach


So you have been lifting for a couple years now, competed in a couple meets, and could maybe take the title of strongest lifter in your local gym. You feel pretty good about yourself at least until you compete in your most recent meet. You don't understand what happened you ran the same Peaking Program that worked for your last couple meets but alas the last couple weeks leading to the meet you felt like you had been hit by a semi truck. Meet day wasn't any better with everything feeling heavy and openers dang near impossible. What you failed to realize is that you aren't a beginner any more, PRs aren't coming weekly and a workout with above 90% on squats and deadlifts is not going to be easy to recover from. You are now an intermediate lifter and need to start Peaking accordingly. If you haven't already be sure to check out my previous blog A Beginner's Approach to Peaking For a Powerlifting Meet  this discusses why we peak and goes into details on the basics.

       As an intermediate lifter there are a couple key differences between a beginner peaking program and an intermediates, these are fatigue management, training percentages and the taper. Fatigue management while important for a beginner is paramount for an intermediate lifter. No matter how good the program is if the lifter is exhausted come meet day then everything else is irrelevant. The biggest two keys to fatigue management is of course sleep and nutrition. In the period of the peaking program all the way up to the meet the lifter should focus on at bare minimum of getting 8 hours of sleep if not more as well as consuming calories at maintenance if not in a surplus.  Without these two aspects fatigue management can be very difficult. After sleep and nutrition, programming is very important towards managing fatigue. In a peaking program volume should decrease as you get closer to a meet, both in terms of reps on the main lifts and accessories. This is shown in the following sample program.

Monday Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4
Deadlift 3x3@90% 3x1@93% Deadlift Opener Bench Opener
Squat 5x3@79% 3x3@82% 3x3@85% 3x3@75%
Tuesday Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4
Comp Bench Press 5x3@87% 3x3@90% 3x1@93% Recovery
Close Grip Bench Press 5x5 4x5 3x4
Thursday Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 On Wednesday
Week 4
Squat 3x3@90% 3x1@93% Squat Opener Squat 3x5@50%
Bench Press 3x5@50%
Deadlift 3x5@50%
Pause Deadlifts 6x1@65% 6x1@70% 3x1@75% N/A
Saturday Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4
Comp Bench Press 4x3@70% 4x3@75% 4x3@75% Meet Day!
Spoto Press 3x8 3x6 2x6


     This decrease in  volume is especially important for intermediate lifters as they will be handling heavier weights than beginners.  With this in mind training percentages for an intermediate lifter differ from a beginner in that they will typically be a little lower and stay lower for longer as handling above 90% will accumulate more fatigue for the intermediate lifter.  For example a beginner lifter might handle 90% in week 1, 95% in week 2, 100% in week 3 and set a new pr (105%) at the meet.  An intermediate lifter would burnout following similar percentages and would be better peaked following percentages that don’t start as high and finish lower.


      As an Intermediate lifter the taper is essential to success. Tapering too early and the lifter will be peaked too soon and not comfortable handling heavy weights. Tapering too late and the lifter will not be adequately recovered and performance will suffer during the  meet.  Determining the taper length for an intermediate lifter is more of an individual process than for beginners.  Typically a taper for an intermediate lifter will last anywhere from 1 to 3 weeks.  To determine the length of the taper, factors such as weight, sex, age, stress, goals and maximum weights being used, need to be considered. The taper of a 20 year old 150lb woman of 5 years experience is going to be drastically different from a 40 year old 300lb man with 10 years experience who is going for world records.  The best piece of advice to determine taper length is to experiment in the offseason or hire a coach to help you.  A couple things to experiment with are the length of the taper and whether you test all openers on the same day in a mock meet setting or test your openers on different weeks to promote recovery.  Testing all openers in a mock meet setting is recommended for early-intermediate lifters who might not have as much experience performing all three lifts on the same day or meet experience.  More experienced Intermediate lifters might choose to test openers on separate weeks to promote more recovery before  the meet.  Typically if a lifter tests openers on different weeks they will test their heaviest lift between squat and deadlift 10-14 days out, then the weaker of the two 7-10 days out and lastly bench 5-7 days out. The week of the meet should be very low in volume and decrease in stress and loads leading right up to the meet. Lifters should have complete their last workout with light weights anywhere from 2 to 4 days before meet depending on preference.


       As an intermediate lifter you are going to have to work harder and more intelligently then when you first started.  Now that you have a good understanding of why and how to peak and taper, you should be able to set yourself up for success on the platform.  Make your plan, put in the work and smash prs.  See you on the platform!


In Strength,

Ethan McElroy

The Iron Guru


Ethan McElroy is a North Carolina based powerlifter, strength coach, highland athlete and strongman. He is the owner of Iron Guru Fitness and Performance. When he is not training others or competing in competitions of strength he can be found spending time with his wife, two dogs and cat.

Follow Ethan McElroy on Instagram or Facebook

For questions or inquiries for online coaching please email


Ethan McElroyComment