How to Get Big, olympic weightlifting, powerlifting

The Complete Guide to Powerbuilding

What is Powerbuilding?

When you start training it’s easy. Gaining and size and strength comes naturally as:

As your body is in an initial state of shock, the stresses placed upon it are eu-stressors (driving positive adaptations) and your body quickly adapts, gaining size and strength to prevent injury and optimise performance.

But after a year or so’s worth of training the beginner gains begin to die out. You then need to make a choice; am I going to focus on size or strength?

Or do you?

Powerbuilding is a beautifully efficient combination of powerlifting and bodybuilding. It combines the muscular asymmetry that defines bodybuilding with the blunt force that is powerlifting”

Powerlifting vs Powerbuilding

Powerlifting is defined by the ability to lift extreme weight in the squat, bench press and deadlift. Bodybuilding success is the ability to look exceptional on stage. Symmetry, fullness and vascularity all driven by higher-rep sarcoplasmic hypertophy training.

Powerlifting is almost purely neurological and requires different motor patterns than higher-rep bodybuilding training”

So by combining the two into one and employing efficient, accurate programming, you have the potential to gain size and strength. It’s a method I utilise regularly and have always found it to be immensely effective. There’s nothing that drives mass like progressive compound lifts.

Ronnie Coleman performing a lat pose in peak condition
Ronnie Coleman was one of the pioneers of powerbuilding

You’ll never feel as dense and musclebound if you neglect heavy compound movements.

Likewise if you neglect higher-rep training you wont be as defined or as balanced. The additional bodybuilding training is fantastic for injury prevention and recovery too because:

  • Higher rep training is less taxing on your CNS
  • It increases blood flow throughout your body which aides in the transport of nutrients

If you’ve tried powerlifting, you’ll know how stressful the compound movements are and how mentally taxing they can be. Although most of your workout should consist of them, you can’t just squat, deadlift and bench press.

Now Read: Powerlifting vs Bodybuilding

You absolutely should be supplementing your lifts with key assistance exercises to build on your weak points and develop:

  • A strong core
  • Injury free hamstrings and quads
  • Powerful shoulders and injury-proof rotator cuffs
  • Equally strong antagonist muscle groups
  • The required flexibility

We also know that low-rep, heavy weight training increases testosterone production and creates an environment that allows higher-rep training to thrive.

Your nervous and endocrine systems react to increased stress levels and increase hormone production. Perfect for intermediate and advanced lifters looking to gain size and strength simultaneously.

How do I gain Size and Strength?

By driving enough volume over time with higher rep range workouts, whilst also incorporating lower rep, higher intensity strength training into the mix.

The strength training portion of the workout must increase in intensity over time i.e the weight must increase whilst the volume decreases.

The higher volume, lower intensity muscle building training must drive sufficient volume, whilst allowing for peak strength training performance.

It’s a fine balance to optimise both and one that requires careful programming. But that’s why powerbuilding is so effective.

It stimulates both types of hypertrophy.

So how do I develop Myofibrillar Hypertrophy and why is it important?

There are two types of hypertrophy that you need to be aware of.

Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is stimulated by low weight, high rep sets (typically 12+ reps around 60% of your 1RM). That’s more bodybuilding specific.

Myofibrillar hypertrophy requires heavier weight (80% 1RM at a minimum) and much lower volume. The heavier weight recruits more muscle fibres and forces them to work harder, placing additional stress on your body and forcing it to grow.

Why is this important?

Well, powerbuilding stimulates both. As we discussed, the heavy compound movement increases your body’s size and density in a way isolation exercises cannot. That’s why powerbuilding is so effective at increasing size and strength.

This guide to Hypertrophy is ideal if you’re looking to learn more about muscle growth and how to stimulate it.

How to Program Powerbuilding?

So obviously you’ll need to be running a periodised program for this to be effective. As it’s primarily for intermediate to advanced athletes, some form of undulating or block periodisation would be most efficient.

Progression that forces positive adaptations is what causes muscle tissue to grow. As you progress and get stronger, it gets harder to drive these adaptations as your body becomes used to the stressors placed upon it.

This typically requires assistance work and accessory training, such as the conjugate method provides. 

Now Read: The Best Bench Press Accessory Exercises

As discussed in previous posts, muscle building and / or strength gains are driven by a mixture of:

Volume + Intensity + Frequency + Time Under Tension = Size / Strength Gains

Volume: Total amount of weight lifted. The primary determinant of muscle growth.

Intensity: How close the weights you’re using are to your 1RM. For example, if your 1RM is 200kg and you’re using 180kg, that would be 90% intensity

Frequency: The frequency of your training

Time Under Tension: The time your muscles spend under load

As overall volume is the key to muscular growth, assisting your core compound movements with lower stress bodybuilding movements not only helps prevent injury and improve blood flow. It also increases overall volume without creating dis-stressors that negatively impact progress.

Bodybuilder in a superman top performing hypertrophy work with cable flies
Assistance exercises can provide proper stimulus for muscle growth and enhance injury prevention

So in lieu of the above, here is how I set up my own powerbuilding training routine:

  1. Firstly we must establish what lifts we are going to utilise. As a powerlifter primarily, the bench press, squat and deadlift (plus their accessory lifts) will encompass a significant proportion of training.
    1. Usually between 50-80% depending on where we are in the program
  1. Then we need to define our hypertrophy exercises. These should be based on:
    1. Weak points
    2. Antagonist muscle groups – for example, when we bench press we want to make sure we also train our rear delts and upper back to maintain rounded strength
    3. Impact vs Effortwe aren’t trying to create additional, unwanted stress
  2. We then workout how many sessions to train per week
    1. Usually I will train 4 or 5 times a week. More isn’t always better
    2. And finally how long to run the program for

I usually run a 4 day a week program that has one primary compound movement and one accessory compound per day. This is supplemented by 2-3 hypertrophy exercises and 1 core or explosive movement.

Now Read: The Best Deadlift Accessory Exercises

Example Powerbuilding Program

Typically I run a 12-14 week program with a week’s deload in the middle and one before a test week if I am going to take one.

Each week the overall volume (reps) should decline by around 5% and the weight should increase by 1-2%.

This provides positive adaptations and a capability to begin handling more weight, as your neurological system can adapt to the slight changes.

Day 1 – Deadlift and Bench Press Accessory

Exercise Set(Rep) Scheme %1RM
Sumo Deadlift 5(6) 80%
Feet-Up Bench Press 4(8) 75%*
Lower back extensions 3(12-15) 60-70%
Dumbell Bench Press 3(12-15) 75%
Weighted Pull-Ups 3(8) + 15-20% Bodyweight

*Of traditional bench press 1RM

Day 2 – Back Squat and Bench Press

Exercise Set(Rep) Scheme %1RM
Back Squat 5(6) 90%
Incline Bench Press 5(5) 75%*
Chest Flies 3(12-15) Enough to feel the burn
Lunges 3(20) 70%
Hamstring Curls 3(20) 70%
Box Jumps 5(3) 70% of your height

*Of traditional bench press 1RM

Day 3 – Deadlift Accessory and Hypertrophy

Exercise Set(Rep) Scheme %1RM
Paused Deadlift Up to a 3 rep PR (+ 2 back off sets) N/A
Bent over Row 4(10-12) 70-75%
Weighted Pull-Ups 5(5) +20-25% Bodyweight
Dumbbell Shoulder Press 3(12-15) 70%
Weighted Plank 4(45 seconds) +20-25% Bodyweight

Day 4 – Squat Accessory and Bench Press

Exercise Set(Rep) Scheme %1RM
Paused Squat Up to a 3 rep PR (+ 2 back off sets)  N/A
Bench Press 6(4) 85%
Hang Clean 5(2) 80%*
Tricep Pull-Downs 3(10-12) Enough to feel the burn
Weighted Plank 4(45 seconds) +20-25% Bodyweight

*Of traditional clean 1RM

This is a personalised program. It’s designed to improve explosive power, helping me get comfortable with heavy loads whilst adding in enough additional to promote muscle growth.

It strays slightly from a traditional powerbuilding program as I have added in hang cleans and box jumps. This is specifically aimed at building explosive power and have tremendous carryover to the squat.

This explosive powerbuilding program is my absolute favourite.

I also believe that sticking religiously to sets and reps is a bit of a no-no with powerbuilding.

I am not saying that you should run 10 sets of 5 deadlifts, but I am saying as long as you employ progressive overload with your compound lifts, your supplementary work doesn’t require stringent set(rep) schemes.

Enjoy it. Pump the blood around your body and work on your weak points.

Now Read: The 5 / 3 / 1 Method

The most important part of all of this is knowing how much volume is enough to drive you to the next level.

You may be scheduled to do additional reps for a particular workout, but you can feel the CNS fatigue building up. You need to know yourself when it’s time to stop and live to fight another day. This really is a marathon, not a sprint.

Now Read: The Bulgarian Method

Finally the supplemental work is aimed at pumping blood around your body (the pump), which isn’t something that is typically associated with powerlifting.

If you feel great and you feel you could add in some additional assistance work, that’s fine. If the compound lifts feel harder than you think they should, it’s either:

So how Effective is Powerbuilding at building Size and Strength?

Powerbuilding is incredibly efficient at building size and strength together. It’s more of a concept than an actual programming style and frankly if your powerlifting program doesn’t have additional hypertrophy in there then something’s wrong.

The multiple rep ranges powerbuilding encompasses ensures there’s no stone left unturned when it comes to size and strength gains. You’re taxing your body in every possible way and as long as you drive enough volume and your program is periodised then you will succeed.

That’s the beauty of it!

I would suggest a 75/25 split for compound lifts and assistance movements for maximum effect in terms of strength.

If your primary goal is to build size (strength being an add-on) then your split should look something more like 60/40. 

In short, I think powerbuilding is the most effective way to build strength and size with long-term progression in mind. If you’re strong but looking to get big (and vice versa), this is definitely for you.

Now Read: Kizen Off-Season Training Review

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