So you want to get strong and big simultaneously, or maybe you just enjoy both styles of training, or both! Powerbuilding is an excellent tool for powerlifters and people who just want to be big and strong as a hobby. Powerbuilding is influenced by both powerlifting and bodybuilding. As time goes on, we’re starting to learn that our bodybuilding friends may be a bit ahead of us when it comes to understanding how to apply volume efficiently.
First, some common issues with Powerbuilding.
Powerbuilding has suffered from overloading lifters with volume specific to the big three movements: squat, bench, and deadlift. I am absolutely guilty of this. The reasoning went: if we’re powerlifters, then we get more specific training by increasing volume on our main lifts which will give us sick gains AND make us stronger!
However, I was listening to the Iron Culture Podcast the other day and Eric Helms, a prominent researcher, natural bodybuilder, and natural powerlifter, made a rather keen remark: “Just how specific is a set of 8 on squats to a one rep max?” (Check out the podcast here). It’s a bit of a paraphrase, but the man makes a great point. The absolute loads on a squat, bench, and deadlift are far more taxing than their isolation variations. If your goal is to get bigger while also getting stronger, then you really only need to spend as much time as necessary on the big three. Meanwhile, you can be loading up movements like smith squats, leg extensions, hamstring curls, RDL’s, pec fly’s, tricep extensions, etc. for way less fatigue and tons of specific volume.
Size is an important component to strength, specifically because the size of a muscle determines the ceiling for how much force that muscle can possibly put out. Early on in your powerlifting career, your goal ought to be to put on as much muscle as possible at a given bodyweight. Once you achieve that muscle base, then you can start shifting your training priorities towards making that muscle move weight as efficiently as possible.
Powerbuilding can essentially be looked at as what a good powerlifting off-season (when the athlete is not near a competition) for gaining size should look like. You are maintaining some practice in the big three, but your primary focus essentially mirrors that of a bodybuilder – get as big as possible! Of course, you aren’t looking to get massive calves or middle delts, but you are looking to maximize muscle gains. Your muscle gain priorities should be focused on what’s weak and needs to be improved. If you’re new, your goal should just be to get bigger all around (which, as a beginner, is not very hard).
What does a Powerbuilding split look like?
This varies depending on your goals! But, I think we can make a decent, abstract example of what a program would look like. Let’s look at a four day split.
Day One – Bench + Accessories
Competition Bench – 3 x 6-8 @ 70-75% or RIR 3
Chest Flys – 3-5 sets x 10+ reps @ RIR 3
Rear Delt Flyes – 3-5 sets x 10+ reps @RIR 3
Push ups – 3-5 sets x 10+ reps @ RIR 3
Seated Cable Rows – 3 – 5 sets x 10+ reps @ RIR 3
Tricep Extensions – 3-5 sets x 10+ reps @ RIR 3
Bicep Curls – 3-5 sets x 10+ reps @ RIR 3
Day Two – Squat + Accessories
Comp Squat – 2 x 6-8 @ 70-75% or RIR 3
Goodmornings – 2-3 sets x 10+ reps @ RIR 3
Leg Press – 2-4 sets x 10+ reps @ RIR 3
Leg Curls – 3-5 sets x 10+ reps @ RIR 3
Leg Extensions – 2-4 sets x 10+ reps @ RIR 3
Day Three – Deadlift + Accessories
Comp Deadlift – 2 x 6-8 @ 70-75% or RIR 3
RDL – 2-4 sets x 10+ reps @ RIR 3
Lat Pulldown – 2-4 sets x 10+ reps @ RIR 3
Day Four – Bench + Full body accessories
Comp Bench – 3 x 6-8 @ 70-75% or RIR 3
Chest Flys – 3-5 sets x 10+ reps @ RIR 3
Rear Delt Flys – 3-5 sets x 10+ reps @ RIR 3
Leg Press – 3-5 sets x 10+ reps @ RIR 3
Hamstring Curls – 3-5 sets x 10+ @ RIR 3
Tricep Extensions – 3-5 sets x 10+ @ RIR 3
Bicep Curls – 3-5 sets x 10+ @ RIR 3
This is just a mock-up program, not actually something to be ran. The idea is, your training takes place with more targeted accessories and less with the big three movements. Once again, this is not a program to run, it is a template to give you an idea of how volume is distributed. What you do depends on your goals and the amount of time you have to do it. Personally, I aim to lift 6 days a week and prefer shorter days. This also allows me to hit certain body parts more frequently because I can get into the gym the second I’m recovered.
When choosing the accessories you want in your program, you should look for things that 1) you enjoy and 2) that effectively target the muscle you are trying to train.
When deciding on intensity, you should be considering what your plan for this block of training looks like. Your easier training (higher RIR) will be placed towards the beginning, with your heavier, more all-out training (lower RIR) geared towards the end of a block, next to a deload. Training effectively is both an art and a science. If you underdo your training, you will not see results. Conversely, if you overdo your training, you will beat yourself up to the point of not recovering, and also not seeing results.
If you are new to training, I would highly recommend your read my post on RIR/RPE. But most importantly, I would recommend just starting everything at a manageable weight and working your way up. Focus on adding weight and reps to the bar every session, and eventually every week. Learn the art of focusing on each lift and lifting the weight intentionally. Pay attention to the sensations and learn what it feels like to get closer to failure. Take isolation exercises like tricep extensions and bicep curls to absolute failure once or twice to get a feeling for the sensation, then resume normal training. While going to absolute failure really only has a place in very particular scenarios, I think educating yourself on your own body and its cues is a good place to utilize it.
I hope you enjoyed this short introduction and explanation of Powerbuilding! If you have any questions, please let me know here or reach out to me on Instagram @Kvidt_Personal_Training.