Your Intro To Powerbuilding
Powerlifting focuses on moving the heaviest weight possible for compound lifts, but doesn’t necessarily emphasize isolation exercises. So, maybe you’re strong, but you don’t really “look it” — or if you train using mostly bodybuilding principles, you might have a solid base of muscle, but your overall power and compound strength are lagging. Want to have it all?
Joseph Lucero, owner of Harvesting Strength, is a powerlifter and strongman coach with years of practical S&C experience in high school, collegiate, and professional settings. In this blog, he outlines the basics of powerbuilding — combining powerlifting and bodybuilding into the ultimate strength and physique program. Check out his sample workout!
When Powerlifting & Bodybuilding Join Forces
When I was a kid, I loved professional wrestling. I mean, who didn’t! Big, strong and overwhelming athletes chiseled by the gods (for the most part) who could battle in the squared-circle using a variety of weaponry for a chance at the championship belt!
During one show, they highlighted a superstar’s workout regiment and I got to see first hand how that athlete lifted. During this segment, I noticed that one of my favorite superstars was bench pressing 315 pounds. To most people, a 315 pound bench press seems strong and a lift of merit. However, at the age of 15 and on the varsity offensive line, my friends and I were easily bench pressing 315 pounds or more. So at that time of the segment, I was puzzled and immediately thought to myself…
“How does he look stronger than me, but lifts just as much as I do?”
I’m well aware my introduction to “powerbuilding” has a narcissistic undertone to it, but that’s not totally the point! The relevance of this story to me is that at the age of 15, I was not an athlete who carried as much muscle tissue as a grown man, let alone a professional athlete. But how was it that this professional athlete looked the part, had a dominating physique, but didn’t have strength that matched the look? This confusion led me into the concept of “powerbuilding”.
Powerbuilding is a blend of the three main powerlifting lifts: squat, bench press and deadlift combined with bodybuilding accessories and volume to evoke more muscle growth and development.
With powerbuilding, the idea is, “Why not have the strength of an ox AND the physique of a Greek god?”
Big-time athletes and even mainstream bodybuilders like Branch Warren and Ronnie Colemen used these concepts that led to their fame in the S&C industry. Not only will this style of training get you stronger, but it will help you look the part.
Basic Powerbuilding Principles
Powerbuilding’s blend of powerlifting and bodybuilding works to build you some dense musculature along with brute strength to push around some heavy weight.
To start, you’re prioritizing the main movements of powerlifting which are the squat, bench press and deadlift. Programming these lifts regularly means you’re using multi-joint, compound movements that recruit a ton of your musculature for a greater overall fatiguing effect and power development.
Imagine going to the gym and doing either barbell squats or leg extensions. Both exercises work your quadricep muscles, but a 10-rep max squat and a 10-rep max leg extension feel totally different. You would be super sore after 10 mex-effort leg extensions, but after 10 max-effort squats, you might want to fall over and die. Veteran lifters who have EVER tried squatting 10 reps in a row know that you’ll be huffing and puffing so hard, it’s like you just ran your first 100 meter dash in a long time. (Hell, we are lifters, what the heck is a 100 meter dash?!)
The barbell squat’s effect on your anatomy goes far beyond your quads — you’re recruiting movement from the knee joint AND the hip joint, loading weight on your upper back which also engages your core in an isometric contraction. So, you’re working MANY more muscles than you would with an isolated movement like the leg extension.
Powerbuilding works by prioritizing those multi-joint strength movements that are very fatiguing for your entire system. They’re the foundational strength builders, as the name “powerlifting” suggests.
But isolation exercises have their place! Once you hit fatigue from your heavy compound lift, then you move onto the bodybuilding portion of the workout. Bodybuilding requires you to further gas your musculature through timed rest intervals, tempo based movement, and varying angular torque to target all your muscle fibers more closely.
You can’t just do regular old dumbbell curls and expect massive growth in your arms from twigs to meat mountains. You want to think about different movements from different angles and at varying tempos. You might start off with dumbbell bicep curls, leading into eccentric loading preacher curls with a different grip, then hanging curls on the incline with a neutral grip.
The change in grip, the change in tempo, all these things alter your intent with your biceps. The main priority of the bodybuilding portion of your workout is to grow, so adding these training principles alongside your meat-and-potatoes strength work is sure to supercharge your athletic development.
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How to Program Powerbuilding
So big picture — how do we embrace the idea of powerbuilding into our routine? Start by using the template below to help guide you on your efforts to iron paradise.
|Powerbuilding Concept||Conditions||Rest Intervals|
|Powerlifting Movement||2-3 sets of 3-6 reps||2-3 minutes|
|Powerlifting Modified Movement||2-3 sets of 3-6 reps||2-3 minutes|
|Bodybuilding Accessory||3-5 sets of 10-20 reps||60 seconds|
|Bodybuilding Accessory||3-5 sets of 10-20 reps||60 seconds|
|Bodybuilding Accessory||3-5 sets of 10-20 reps||30-60 seconds|
Sample Powerbuilding Program: Back Day
|Exercise||Sets and Reps||Rest|
|Deadlift||2×5 reps||2-3 minutes|
|2-3” Deficit Deadlifts||3×6 reps at 70% of 5RM||2-3 minutes|
|Wide Grip Cable Lat Pulldown||3×10 reps||60 seconds|
|Neutral Grip Seated Cable Row||5×8 reps||60 seconds|
|DB Standing Shrugs||2×20 reps||30 seconds|
Remember, the beginning of each workout should be your beef: the heavier powerlifting movement to pre-exhaust your anatomy first while you’re fresh. After your heavier lifts, you’ll aim to decrease the weight, but increase the volume and shorten the rest periods. Pay attention to your rest times!
You begin with strength, leading into fatigue which puts you into a great position for metabolic exhaustion and elevated spikes in natural growth hormone. Just don’t forget to eat, or your progress goes down the drain.
Next time you hit the gym with only a vague idea of what you want to do, give this workout a shot. By the end, you’ll feel drained of energy, but you should also have a massive pump going on.
Powerbuilding principles combine the best of both worlds: strength and physique. Give this style a try to boost your chances of gaining serious size along with raw, animal strength.
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