Powerlifting: a sport in which participants compete to lift the heaviest amount of weight in what’s known as the big three: squat, bench and deadlift

Bodybuilding: a sport in which participants compete to attain the perfect amount of symmetry and definition in their physiques

Powerbuilding: being strong and looking the part

A new wave of training methodology is gaining popularity as trainees are looking to gain the best of both worlds, hitting incredible levels of strength while also obtaining and maintaining a lean, conditioned physique. That wave is called Powerbuilding. How does this style of programming really work though? What is the methodology behind it and can it be the missing link for most athletes AND general fitness goers? This article will highlight what Powerbuilding is (and isn’t) and why most should adopt this style of programming at some point in their training careers.

Traditional Powerlifting-Style Training

Because Powerlifting is a sport of brute strength combined with the technical efficiency of three barbell lifts, traditional programming revolves heavily on the execution of these three lifts. Like any sport, one must “practice and perfect” their craft in order to excel at it. Although the styles of programming for Powerlifters is a whole article in itself, most programming revolves around the implementing of the “big 3” along with movement derivatives. For example, a trainee may perform 5 sets of 5 barbell back squats and then move onto 3 x 3 pause back squats. Often these movement derivatives are used to address various weaknesses within the lift itself. After these compound lifts have been performed, often the trainee will move onto a few accessory movements to address assisting muscle groups. For example, on a “bench day” one may do a few sets of pull ups to help develop the important muscles of the back and then round out the training with some triceps work such as rope pushdowns or dips.

With the exception of a few accessory moves, most typical powerlifting programs stay within the 1-5 rep range (depending on where the trainee is in their meet prep) as this has been shown to elicit the best environment for pure strength to development. The number of movements within traditional Powerlifting programs ranges anywhere from 5-7 movements, with the bulk of those coming from the movement (and their derivatives) themselves. Further, depending on the trainee and the philosophy of the program itself, training days are split by the exercises themselves (e.g. Bench day) with frequency ranging from 1 to 3x a week.

Traditional Bodybuilding-Style Training

Most bodybuilders and physique athletes approach training using a much different methodology than powerlifters. Programs are split according to body part or muscle group, with a typical split ranging from 5-6 days of something along the lines of Monday: Bench, Tuesday: Back and Biceps, Wednesday: Legs, etc. Because the goal of these athletes is to create and sculpt muscles, the development of strength is irrelevant. Bodybuilders may use the “big 3”, but often they will use derivatives or machines so that they can specifically target muscles (not movements).

Because strength is irrelevant, most of the training uses rep ranges within 8-30 per set. Volume is another key difference with this style of training, as athletes will usually perform anywhere from 7-15 various exercises per training session. These exercises will usually rotate every couple of weeks as progressing each is not a common practice by bodybuilders. The use of super sets, giant sets, drop sets, and other training methodologies is another way many bodybuilders promote muscle growth.

Combining the Best of Both Worlds

Powerbuilding is just as that statement reads; a method of training to develop both strength and aesthetics. No matter which camp you are in, the benefits of the other sport can be the missing link you need. Are you a powerlifter who needs a stronger squat? Maybe high rep, burn out sets focusing on quad growth could be the answer. Are you a physique athlete consistently being told by judges you need to grow? One of the most effective ways of developing dense, quality muscle is implementing strength-based practices.

Research has shown the use of compound movements is superior at muscle hypertrophy (growth) than isolation movements, but one can not perform a great deal of volume with these movements as CNS fatigue and general overtraining will ensue. Further, isolation movements are needed to address smaller, assistance muscle groups. So this is where we can marry the two concepts.

Powerbuilding programs can utilize numerous strategies in order build strength and enhance aesthetics however, the phase of programming should reflect the priority of the athlete at that time. For example, if a powerlifter is prepping for a meet, focus and consideration should be on that. However, during “off-season” or non-meet prep, this is where a “bodybuilding” focus can occur.

What does it look like?

Here is what an example week might look like.

Day 1

Back Squat 4 x 6
Pause Front Squat 4 x 5
Leg Press 3 x 15
Walking Lunge 3 x 20
Tempo Leg Ext. 3 x 15
Leg Extension 3 x 15
Sumo KB DL 3 x 20
Sled Push 4 x 60 yds

Day 2

Bench Press 4 x 6
Close Grip Bench 4 x 8
Shoulder Press 3 x 10
Cable Row 3 x 12
Lat Pulldown 3 x 15
Front Raise 3 x 12
Lateral Raise 3 x 12
Rear Delt Raise 3 x 20
Hammer Curl 3 x 20

Day 3

Deadlift 4 x 6
RDL 4 x 6
Snatch Grip Row 3 x 8
Seated Leg Curl 3 x 15
RESS 3 x 10 ea leg
Wide Cable Row 3 x 12
Face Pull 3 x 20
Chin Ups 5 x 5
Tricep Ext 3 x 20

Day 4

Overhead Press 4 x 5
Incline Bench 4 x 8
Wide Grip Bench 3 x 10
Goblet Squat 3 x 20
Lateral Step Up 3 x 10
Arnold Press 3 x 12
Rear Delt Raise 3 x 20
SL Glute Bridge 3 x 20
YTW Raises 3 x 10 ea

Like the old saying states, “there are many ways to skin a cat.” If you’re looking to balance out some areas of weakness or concern or just want to be as strong as you look, give Powerbuilding a try.