When you first started lifting with barbells, you trained with the idea of becoming both big and strong, as if the two words were synonymous. And for those first few months, they were! You saw significant increases in both your size and strength, regardless of what rep range you worked in.
But eventually your progress stalled, and you responded by getting specific. You committed to training for either strength or size. It's understandable; today, most training advice online and in magazines is skewed toward either strength or size. Go meet with a trainer, and they'll ask you which one you want to focus on and work from there. You'll rarely see a strategy that aims to develop both. But here's one, which I call "powerbuilding."
That term has been used by other coaches before, but this particular version is my own. I created this plan to help develop collegiate and professional football linemen and linebackers throughout my coaching career. Powerbuilding training has given my front seven guys the armor they need to survive a season's worth of violent collisions, while also gaining the strength necessary for delivering punishing blows.
They also experienced a killer side effect: They got lean and huge. In short, they looked and performed like monsters. If you want to do the same, it's time to add some power to your building routine.
What Is Powerbuilding?
Powerbuilding is the simple but dramatically effective combination of the lifting styles specific to powerlifting and bodybuilding. Let's run through two quick definitions of each.
A simple definition of powerlifting is the use of high muscle tension to successfully transport a heavy load. More specifically, the focus is usually on measuring your bodily output during three compound lifts: the squat, bench press, and deadlift. Train to maximize one-rep performance in these three big lifts, and brutal strength is yours.
Let's also condense bodybuilding into a single, simple sentence: getting as big and lean as possible while maintaining bodily symmetry. That's fair. Aesthetics rule the roost here. Lifting rep ranges are in the moderate-to-high range—usually at least 8—but possibly up to 15 or more. Conditioning and diet strategies mitigate fat gain and carve out a statuesque physique.
Why Combine Them?
Traditional training periodization models imply that low-rep and high-rep training can't cohabitate a single training block. But in actuality, successfully squatting or deadlifting with a wheel-packed bar creates an internal environment that's advantageous for hypertrophy. The nervous and endocrine systems become electrochemical muscle-building catalysts, increasing the amount of stress the body accommodates during subsequent high-rep bodybuilding training.
Many lifters attempt to have it all by focusing on maximal strength development early in the year, while transitioning to hypertrophy training as the year progresses. This certainly works, but intermediate to advanced lifters benefit greatly from concurrent size and strength stimuli to optimize growth. Otherwise, strength gains fade as the training year progresses.
Nodding your head in agreement? Then you're ready for the program.
Powerbuilding The Program
In this 8-week program, you'll work through two progressive four-day training splits. Each has two upper-body days and two lower-body days. Throughout the first four-week phase, the first and second training sessions are strength days designed to elicit maximal muscle tension and force in the lower and upper body. The second and fourth sessions employ unique volume-building to maximize muscle building.
The second four weeks revolve around a four-day combined powerbuilding split. This progression prioritizes a solid strength base before continuing into the higher total volume of the combined powerbuilding split. You get strong, and then you get big.
- Work don't include warm-up sets. Do as many as you need, but never take warm-ups to muscle failure.
- The workouts require you to use a weight that corresponds to your 5RM and 15RM when using cluster and rest-pause techniques. Your 5RM is a weight that you can lift for five and only five reps. If you can do more reps, it's too light, and it's not your 5RM. Getting the right weight here is important.
- On Work 3 and 4 (high volume), feel free to mix and match the high-volume training as you like. For example, you could follow a descending-rep scheme (12, 10, 10, 8) in place of one or the other techniques such as cluster or rest-pause.
- In Phase 2, you can also substitute rest-pause for one of the other high-volume rep schemes. Don't feel like you need to follow this program to the letter.