What is powerbuilding?
As the name suggests, it’s a combination or a hybrid of two styles of training. It is when powerlifting meets bodybuilding.
Powerlifting is purely focused on strength with the aim to lift as much as possible for 1 repetition, usually in the compound lifts (deadlift, squat and bench), with endurance, hypertrophy and functionality taking a back seat. Their training tends to work up to heavy singles, doubles and triples and works of percentages of their previous 1 rep max weights.
Bodybuilding focuses more on aesthetics, looking as muscular and big as possible whilst being lean. Their training is much more hypertrophy biassed with the main focus being higher reps, form and tempo. Most usually go through “bulking” and “cutting” phases to gain muscle size then to eliminate as much fat as possible without losing muscle.
Powerbuilding is a hybrid of the two, which is becoming more common. In fact, a lot of people tend to train like a “powerbuilder” without knowing it.
The majority of gym goers use the rule of thumb to focus on the compounds first then accessory exercises. Probably from PTs teaching them the “basics” which is the compounds.
Equally a lot of bodybuilders, after years in the sport who are tired of the culture/training transition to power building for a new way to push themselves and to shift some heavy tin. Equally, some powerlifters make the transition because they want to improve their aesthetics as well as being able to lift heavy weights.
Compound movements (squat, bench, deadlift) require multiple muscles to be used, so focusing on these first before the more isolated muscles become fatigue will allow you to lift heavier/perform better. Then working accessory exercises to isolate particular muscle groups e.g. deltoids with lateral raises.
Powerbuilding is still a relatively new concept. With that being said, people have probably been training like a powerbuilder longer than it was actually a thing. As a result, there are quite a few online articles to read around the topic, however only a handful of research papers have investigated this new hybridisation.
(Photo by Ben Lumley)
Powerbuilding aims to fuse the best of both training styles together to achieve the perfect blend of both strength and size.
Whilst the powerlifting aspect focuses on getting the individual stronger, the bodybuilding aspect focuses on adding size and shape.
Becoming stronger will also help increase the weights/resistance used when doing more bodybuilding style accessory work. Plus the control and form from bodybuilding will also help improve heavy lifts and also prevent injuries. Making it the perfect recipe for gaining both strength AND size (Cusano and Di Palma., 2019).
Obviously, nutrition will also play a part and have a big effect on aesthetics and performance, but that’s a blog for another time.
How to train like a powerbuilder
As mentioned previously, the primary exercise should be the compound lifts. Lower reps, with the focus on lifting heavier.
Let’s take a quad focused leg day session for example:
The first exercise being a quad focused compound – the back squat.
Once warmed up, aim to work up to 3 sets of 3 heavy reps with maybe 1-2 left in the tank. Take time to warm up with the bar and steadily increase the weight until you hit that sweet spot which will be your working weight.
Remember you should go heavy enough to have 1-2 reps left in the tank! This in total can take around 15-30minutes (depending on how long is needed to build up to working sets).
Then comes the body building focused exercises with a mixture of free weights and machines such as:
- Leg press 6-8 x 2 (heavy and slow tempo) with 2 drop sets 10-12 (lighter weight performed faster)
- Weighted Bulgarian split squats (chest up) 8-10 reps per leg 3-4 sets
- Heel elevated Goblet squats 10-12 x3
- Leg extension machine 8-10 x 3, possibly a triple drop set for the last set (keep lowering the weight with 10 sec rest between)
(Photo by Ben Lumley)
So, to summarise the workout; heavy squats to start to focus on strength in the quads, glutes, core/trunk and a little hamstring work, then finished with more quadricep focused exercises performed at different tempos and for much higher reps ranges.
Remember there is no specific training split that is the golden one. Creating a split that works for you is essential for consistency. This will depend on a few things such as; how many times you can get to the gym, what your current goals are, do you do other sports/hobbies/cardio?
If you can only make it to the gym 3 times a week, a good split would be each compound followed by their isolated muscles e.g. deadlift then hamstring and glute accessory lifts.
If you can only make 2 sessions per week, maybe split it to push and pull or upper and lower.
If you need help creating a programme that fits around you and is specific to your current ability and goals, I highly recommend talking to a qualified personal trainer/coach.
Or for further questions, advice or discussion points, please feel free to drop me an email at email@example.com.
Cusano, P. and Di Palma, D., 2019. TRAINING METHODOLOGY IN POWERBUILDING. SPORT SCIENCE, 12(1), pp.31-34.