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February 20, 2020

Use This Method To Build Powerlifter Strength and A Bodybuilder's Physique

It won't be very hard for me to convince you that different weight training methods produce different results (and I don't simply mean good or bad).

Consider powerlifters and bodybuilders, for example.

Powerlifters, particularly at elite levels, demonstrate incredible relative and absolute strength, many of whom are capable of squatting, benching and deadlifting 3-4 times their body weight.

Yet notwithstanding these remarkable feats of athleticism, some of them can't tie their shoes because they're too out of shape.

Bodybuilders, on the other hand, are often admired for their awe-inspiring physiques that at competitive levels are virtually superhuman, and easily as inspirational (or more) at the non-competitive, more practical level.

Yet despite their appearing strong, many of them, on a pound-for-pound basis, would be convincingly defeated (if not humiliated) in a strength contest against a powerlifter, strongman competitor or Olympic weightlifter.

As mentioned, these disparities are a function of the training methods used to achieve their respective goals.  

Generally, powerlifters train the big, multi-joint movements at maximal weights and bodybuilders train with more isolation work at submaximal weights.  

These differences are rational based on their goals.

However, shouldn't it be possible to use both training styles to achieve maximum results with respect to both objectives (size AND strength)?

YES -- Here's how:

Perform The Big Lifts At The Beginning Of Each Workout

The big lifts are:

  • Squat
  • Bench press
  • Deadlift

I refer to these as the "A" lifts because (1) they should be performed first in the workout, and (2) they should always be the core of any weight training program.  These are the exercises that build maximal strength and "foundational" muscle mass.  

Even if your concern is mostly aesthetic, you need to have a big, strong foundation before you concern yourself with refinement, or you'll simply look like a Calvin Klein model (which you don't even need to weight train for).

Also -- intensity should generally be high (circa 80-90% of 1RM), and volume low (2-3 sets of 2-4 reps).

Build The Big Lifts With Assistance Exercises

Performed right after the big lifts, the assistance, or "B" lifts, are special exercises intended to (1) increase your strength in the A lifts, and (2) build muscle.  These lifts are typically multi-joint movements that training the muscles and movement patterns of the squat, bench and deadlift.  

Examples include (but are not limited to):

  • Squat/Deadlift Assistance Exercises:
  • Glute ham raises (GHR)
  • Leg press
  • Reverse hyperextensions
  • Good mornings
  • Bent-over rows
  • Safety squat bar squat
  • Cambered bar squat
  • Bench Press Assistance Exercises:
  • Standing overhead press
  • Dumbbell standing overhead press Dumbbell bench press
  • Board press
  • Swiss bar bench
  • Dips

To train the respective muscles and movement patterns, as well as to stimulate muscle growth, up the volume for these lifts.

I prefer a 5 x 10 (5 sets of 10 reps) scheme here, with weights sufficiently heavy that you're able to complete the prescribed number of reps with only 1 or 2 left in the tank (don't train to failure).

Finish With Accessory Exercises

Finally, at the end of the workout, finish with isolation (or "C") exercises that target specific muscles and hit them with a few sets at relatively high volume (10-12 reps).

Here are some examples of isolation lifts:

  • Curls
  • Triceps pushdown
  • Triecps extension (a.k.a. skull crushers)
  • Leg curls
  • Leg extension

You get the idea.  

These are the common bodybuilding exercises you might have learned in high school PE, and should be regarded as finishers intended to stimulate hypertrophy (muscle growth).  

Weights should be light enough for you to perform the prescribed number of reps with a couple left in the tank (with shorter rest intervals between sets).

Example 12-Week Periodization

Using the above framework, a typical 12-week progression would look like this:

Weeks 1-4

A (Main lift) – 2 (work) sets x 4 reps

B (Assistance) – 5 sets x 10 reps

C (Accessory) – 3 sets x 12 reps  

Weeks 5-8

A – 2 sets x 3 reps

B – 5 sets x 10 reps

C – 3 sets x 11 reps  

Weeks 9-12

A – 2 sets x 2 reps

B – 5 sets x 10 reps

C – 3 sets x 10 reps

(Want a complete training manual that puts this all together? Click below to learn more.)

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