Would you like to be big and strong? ME TOO. Why choose one or the other?
Power bodybuilding (or Powerbuilding) is a mix of these two common goals into a single, unified approach.
Power bodybuilding workouts blend maximum-strength powerlifting training with bodybuilding aesthetics.
They’re both rewarding ways of training with unique benefits, but they play together perfectly!
If you do it right, as we’re going to teach you today, it’s a well-rounded approach to fitness and strength. An effective power bodybuilding workout program supports many benefits:
- Strength in the powerlifts
- Opportunities for power development
- Joint strength/conditioning
- Good health
- Big biceps (very important)
If that sounds like what you’re looking for, then read on, because today we’re going to be taking you on a step-by-step guide to power bodybuilding. Stay with us for the internet’s ultimate guide to Powerbuilding.
What You Need to Start Power Bodybuilding
Before we get started, there are a few things you’re going to need to live out this big, strong lifestyle:
- A clean bill of health – no conditions that make weight training a medical risk! The point is to be big, strong, and healthy.
- A membership to a gym that allows you to use free weights. Bars, plates, dumbbells, and a few specific machines (like the cable machine) are essential. A good gym is an investment in yourself!
- 3-6 hours a week to work hard. It doesn’t take much more than this to get in great training.
- The willingness to commit to your goals in the long-term. These aren’t monthly goals, but you’ll make significant changes in a reasonable timeframe if you apply our lessons!
All you need is a gym membership and consistent hard work. We know you’ve already got the second one, and you just need to give it a go.
You might have trained before but moving to power bodybuilding requires a serious approach. Put some time into technique, good programming, and recovery. You’ll find guidance on these critical factors below.
We’ll give you all the tools you need to know what you’re doing and why. The rest is just a matter of time and sweat!
Why Do It? Advantages of Power Bodybuilding
Not convinced? There are a lot of reasons beyond just getting jacked and strong that you might want to pursue Powerbuilding.
We’re going to cover a few of these, just in case you needed even more reason to commit to some serious training!
#1 Beyond Strength
Strength is going to be a great place to start – it’s not just for looking good when you deadlift six plates.
Strength is a critical factor in life and healthy aging. It’s a factor in your ability to remain mobile and independent when you reach an advanced age.
You might not be thinking about it now, but it’s also going to determine how long you can lift for. Strength affects your mobility and health/stability as early as your 30s. If you want to continue to lift and progress, strength is an investment in yourself.
Strength: Mobility and Control
Finally, strength gains are crucial for mobility and overall joint-control.
You might not have spent much time dealing with the specifics of mobility, but they’ll affect you anyway. Building strength and control in new ranges of motion is crucial. This is why we “activate and integrate,” as well as stretching.
Strength and control help support improved joint range and make it sustainable. Studies show that flexibility without strength has no benefit on – or increased – injury risk. It’s about controlling range more effectively, not just having more range.
Strength and mobility aren’t opposites – they’re two sides of the same coin. Greater strength in the muscles allows you to move safely through new ranges.
Powerbuilding for Better Muscle Gains
Strength is instrumental in building bigger muscles. It’s not just beneficial for its own sake – it supports better muscle growth and maintenance.
When it comes to gaining muscle, time under tension only counts with the right weights. You need a significant enough weight to challenge more muscle fibers. This is why combining powerlifting with your bodybuilding is crucial to maximal gains in strength and size.
During a weight cut, this heavy lifting is also going to be essential to maintaining muscle mass. Increased intensities prevent muscle wastage and may even allow you to gain mass while burning fat.
Being stronger allows you to handle more weight for more reps – the fundamental mechanisms for gaining and keeping muscle mass.
#2 Muscle: Beyond Simple Stuff
Like strength, being muscular isn’t just about looking impressive (though it does that, too!). It’s a fundamental way to improve your musculoskeletal and metabolic health.
Muscle Improves Joint Health
The muscle mass around a joint is key to keeping it healthy.
The size, angle, and reactivity of a muscle affects how a joint absorbs shock. It also means greater stability and reduced risk of injury from things like strains. Strength is essential for health – if you have a balance on both sides of the joint.
This is even more important on common problem-areas like the shoulders and lower back. Adding in bodybuilding work benefits these joints, especially if you’re loading them or stay active for longer.
If you’re bothered about aging well, it’s time to get jacked.
High-Rep Training for Tendons
Your joint health is more than muscles: it includes tendons and ligaments.
These connective tissues respond well to the high-volume work associated with bodybuilding work. This is even better when compared with heavy powerlifting, which has significant benefits to bone strength and longevity.
Combining these two can support your joints against both hyperlaxity, weakness, and osteoporosis.
Once again, it’s clear that getting big and strong isn’t just for vanity – it’s a crucial investment in staying healthy. Take care of your body now, and it’ll be future-proof.
Sarcopenia is the medical term for getting weak and losing muscle as you age.
This comes to all of us. These changes are mostly due to reduced testosterone levels during aging and the inevitable death of cells.
Do you know what helps you prevent and slow down the onset of sarcopenia? Getting big, strong muscles now. Heavy powerlifting training keeps the nervous system ticking over, while big muscles reduce the effects of hormonal and muscular changes.
Muscle: A Key Metabolic investment
Muscle isn’t easy to build; your body must be forced. That’s because it is metabolically expensive – it takes up a lot of calories to maintain.
Obviously, this can be useful when you want to lose weight quickly. A more muscular body is likely to improve the ease of dieting, since you need more calories overall and can create an easy calorie deficit.
Alternatively, this means being able to eat lots of food without gaining fat. This is our favorite side-effect of being muscular, and it helps with managing your weight as you get older, too.
#3 Improving Powerlifting with Hybrid Power Bodybuilding Workouts
The benefits to powerlifting from all this bodybuilding work are significant. You’ll notice the difference if you’re moving from powerlifting to power bodybuilding.
Increased Joint Conditioning
We’ve mentioned this above, but it’s essential: your joints need the care.
Powerlifters are respected for being gritty athletes who deal with big weights. They’re also known for catastrophic injuries when they happen – torn pecs, dislocated knees, all that fun stuff.
The addition of bodybuilding work – especially in the upper back, rear delts, and core will all contribute to better health. This increases longevity and can reduce niggling injuries, keeping injury-prone joints healthy.
This probably isn’t the answer all by itself (do your mobility work!). However, there’s no doubt that better joint balance with some muscle-building exercises will help.
Variety for Muscle and Strength Gains
While most powerlifting training plans prioritize mixing up your rep schemes and intensity, variety is a greater way to improve muscle and strength.
You obviously want to remain specific at least some of the time – to keep the technique and “grease the groove” – but variety is lacking in most powerlifting programs.
Introducing more bodybuilding work is a great way to produce new adaptations through variety. Things like dumbbell variations, cables, and unilateral exercises can produce further gains and break plateaus.
While most people like to shout about specificity (which is very important), this isn’t a smart way to train. Variety allows for better strength gains when combined with specificity. You can use accessories to improve under-trained muscles or patterns.
#4 Improving Bodybuilding with Powerbuilding
Improvements aren’t one-directional. Powerbuilding lends bodybuilding some serious tools that can boost size and aesthetics.
Structure and Progress-Tracking
Initially, the power bodybuilding approach provides better metrics and structure. Bodybuilding training is great fun – with great results – but it lacks formal structure most of the time.
Power bodybuilding provides a better structure and a better metric for progress. If you go from a 60kg bench for five reps to 100kg (realistic mid-term power bodybuilding chest gains), you’re going to see serious growth.
This ‘indirect’ approach to muscle-building works perfectly and this is where power bodybuilding results shine through.
The training for powerlifting is also better-understood and provides a more objective approach. You can’t measure aesthetics very quickly, and the changes take a long time to show, while a PB is a numerical value. Easy to measure means easy motivation.
Power Bodybuilding for Athleticism
In many ways, powerlifting has a better carryover to general athleticism than bodybuilding.
Bodybuilding can help with several metabolic and structural problems. However, it doesn’t improve coordination, technique, or athleticism.
These don’t change your physique, but they’re worth developing for their own sake. You’ll notice more carryover to things like sports, non-gym activities, and overall wellbeing.
Developing a balanced athletic profile is an excellent choice for health and performance. While powerlifting isn’t as well-balanced as sprinting or freestyle wrestling, it’s more athletic than bodybuilding.
Explosive Strength: Putting the Power in Power Bodybuilding!
Building on the increased athleticism of power bodybuilding over regular physique training, power is vital for health.
The increased intensity that comes from powerlifting can be a serious benefit to your long-term health.
Studies have shown repeatedly that power – the ability to produce force rapidly – is a crucial factor in reducing falls and fractures. This is always important, but it only becomes more relevant as you age, and fractures become a life-threatening risk.
Powerlifting’s focus on maximum force training can be a great way to develop power. This is even more effective when combined with basic exercises like throws and jumps.
Simply put, it takes minimal effort to make a Powerbuilder into a well-rounded power athlete!
Powerbuilding: How they Overlap and New Challenges
The point of a Powerbuilding approach is finding a way to marry the goals of powerlifting and bodybuilding together.
On the one hand, powerlifting is about building raw strength. This is tested in three fundamental movements:
- The Back Squat
- The Bench Press
- The Deadlift
Both powerlifters and bodybuilders often perform these because they’re great muscle-building exercises. The focus that you see on them in the powerlifting world is going to be a new dynamic to most bodybuilding enthusiasts.
Competing for the performance – rather than the result – is a significant change to physique training. Most people find Powerbuilding from the physique side, meaning a total shift in perspective.
It’s also useful that most bodybuilding enthusiasts already have some exposure to these movements. There’s a pretty good chance that, if you’ve ever been to a gym, you’ve done a bench press – a central movement in any power bodybuilding chest routine.
Powerlifting isn’t about how you look, but Bodybuilding exercises also provide significant benefits to strength training. Their physique effects are not a bad thing, either!
Bigger muscles provide better leverage for power production, and the high-rep approach of bodybuilding can support joint health.
Stronger tendons and ligaments are a great way to prepare your body for future loading. The additional muscle mass also helps build an aesthetic physique, the critical appeal of bodybuilding!
If you already have some experience in appearance-based training, you’ll be well-prepared to handle the work associated with powerlifting.
You’re also likely to have a good knowledge of the general exercise associated with “accessory” training for powerlifting. This includes everything from flyes to rows to core work. These are secondary exercises that maintain structural health and prepare your body for big lifting.
Contrasts: Problems to Overcome
While they provide a plethora of benefits to one another, there are also some challenges you need to overcome. The best Power bodybuilding results come from smart, balanced training.
Technique and Movement Standards
Movements like the deadlift and back squat may be challenging initially if you’re coming from physique training. They have technical components that may require you to re-learn the whole movement.
The movement standards of powerlifting competitions are going to be a significant challenge. Bodybuilding and physique-training provide exposure to the powerlifting exercises but not the technique. There’s a big difference between exposure and mastery!
Power bodybuilding requires you to re-learn technique and reach new movement standards. Common gym mistakes – like squatting above parallel, round-backed deadlifting, or poor bench technique – won’t do.
This is one of the significant benefits of power bodybuilding. Getting better at these big compound movements is never a bad thing! It’ll just take a little time and attention to detail to make the switch to competitive movements.
The first of these is how much emphasis needs to be placed on each type of training. Strength and muscle size don’t occur with a 1-1 connection. The challenge is balancing these demands in your own power bodybuilding workouts.
Secondly, it’s going to be a competition for your time if you’re trying to make the most of your training on a tight schedule. An hour or two session means smart programming is essential.
This is a problem that we solve with clever programming. We’ll take you through how to resolve this below – and provide an example program that helps you get around it!
Volume and Intensity
If you know much about how bodybuilders and powerlifters train, you might think they compete.
When we look at the training for an average bodybuilder, the standard approach is ‘lighter weights for high reps.’ This is combined with a focus on the mind-muscle connection and ‘time under tension’.
Powerlifters, on the other hand, joke about anything over five reps being cardio. They love big, heavy barbells for a few reps and compete in one-rep competitions.
We’re going to need to train smart when it comes to balancing the two. There’s no reason to choose one or the other.
Managing the clear contrast between volume-based training and intensity-based training is key to a great Power bodybuilding program!
Principles for Effective Power Bodybuilding
So, now you know why you should do it, how do you get good at power bodybuilding? What can you do to maximize the power bodybuilding results?
This section is going to take you on a step-by-step of the fundamental principles of power bodybuilding effectively.
Volume vs. Intensity?
The first myth we need to bust through is the idea that the volume- and intensity-styles of training are separate.
Powerlifters don’t just do the heavy lifting for low reps. Powerlifting training works from higher-rep to low-rep training based on the ‘phase’ of the program or the training cycle. There’s a reason powerlifters tend to be jacked – they accumulate significant volume with big weights.
The science is starting to show us what we’ve always known: using heavy weights is the best for muscle mass with less damage. Using light weights alone won’t work. Time under tension doesn’t count if you’re not challenging the muscle enough!
This means that the training of a good power bodybuilder should focus on volume at heavy enough weight to stimulate growth. This means high volumes of work at relatively high intensity!
Prioritize: Exercise Selection and Order
This is the single easiest and most effective lesson for Powerbuilding. Do the important stuff first and then ease towards the “window dressing” that helps bring up lagging muscles.
This is going to mean putting your powerlifting movements – squat, bench, deadlift – ahead of your size work. These movements require the most effort and energy, so you want to give yourself a chance to succeed.
After you’ve trained these big movements, you can move on to other work. After all, are you more concerned the numbers on your back squat or your lateral raise?
The correct answer is the squat: the raises are about the result, not the exercise itself. This is one of the reasons why good exercise selection and order is critical – powerlifting requires specific numbers, whereas bodybuilding work just needs volume at a good weight.
This breaks down into a few very general principles for exercise order in power bodybuilding workouts:
- Go from most complex/technical to simplest – from ‘compound’ exercises to ‘isolation.’
- Go from most specific to most general
- Go from low reps to high reps
These don’t always apply – sometimes you want to start with a light warm-up exercise like jumps – but they’re good to know if you get lost with a session. The powerlifting comes first, then follow up with high-quality bodybuilding/physique-specific exercise.
Specificity Before Variety
We already mentioned that you should move from most specific to most general, but this is a valuable lesson.
Workouts begin with the powerlifts, but after that, where do you go? The answer is to introduce some variety – use different types of exercises to hit target muscles.
More variety can keep muscle and strength gains moving in the right direction, but it also provides a chance to work weaknesses.
The example program below is an excellent example of this: big compounds are more specific to competition lifts. Meanwhile, the rest of the work moves towards general strength, size, and balancing your body.
Always Get a Pump
The pump – the feeling of tight, swollen muscles you get after exercise – is a great way to assist muscle growth.
Despite what “broscience” says, you don’t need a pump to make gains. However, if you get a pump at the end of a training session, there is a reasonable chance it’s going to assist your overall muscle and strength.
This is one of the reasons why ending your sessions with higher-rep accessory work is a great way to improve your progress. Make sure to get a pump before you leave the gym – for science!
Part of the challenge of power bodybuilding workouts is picking the right accessory work – the bewildering amount of exercises can leave you a bit lost. If only you had a complete guide to Powerbuilding.
Overloading Bodybuilding and Powerlifting Simultaneously
When you’re doing all these exercises – with so many moving parts – when do you increase weight?
The answer is simple: consistently but without rushing yourself. It’s easy to get ahead of yourself when you’re on a good program and making significant progress.
Progressing the Powerlifts on a Powerbuilding Program
Your own experience level is crucial to how fast you can improve, but you’re likely to see rapid gains at the start of a new Powerbuilding program. The best approach is to stay behind the wave of adaptations.
This sounds fancy, but it’s simple: as you get better, you should be patient with adding weight. Think you can add another 5kg on your bench? Add 2.5kg and keep the rest in the tank for next week. Power bodybuilding chest gains are about sustainable progress – not rushing yourself.
Pushing yourself to absolute maximum is going to be important when you get to competition time. However, everyday strength building doesn’t come from maxing out. The smaller your jumps, the more you leave in the tank, the more consistently you’re going to improve.
2.5kg jumps might seem small, but ten weeks of these small jumps are far better than 5kg jumps 2-3 weeks in a row with a plateau!
Progressing Bodybuilding Exercises While Power Bodybuilding
This is going to be a bit more difficult since you don’t need to follow a specific pattern – exercises, reps, and weights will change often.
There are a few ways to go about this:
- Rep-Maxing: Focus on hitting new rep-maxes (such as a 10RM), followed by back-off sets with a lower % of that max. So, when we say to perform “6RM + 3 sets of 8 at 80%”, you lift as much as possible for six reps then take 80% of that number and perform eight reps with that weight. This allows us to combine heavy lifting with extra hypertrophy work.
- Rep-Goal: set yourself a goal number of reps and hit it in as few sets as possible. This is an excellent way to keep track of your progress on exercises like pull-ups but can also be used for specific weights.
- RPE: Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) is a measure of how many reps you have left in the tank, with 10 being maximum effort. The idea is to let the weight change depending on how strong you’re feeling with that exercise. This follows a simple table:
Figure 1 – RTS' RPE table gives you a good idea of how hard you're working!
Over time, the goal is to get more reps or more weight at the same effort level! We use RPE for a lot of exercises where fatigue sets in quickly, finisher exercises, or when it’s impossible to estimate your weights!
- To-Failure/AMRAP: Keep going until you just can’t. Best used on your last few exercises! The goal is more reps every time. We don’t use this often in power bodybuilding because your muscles need to be ready to lift big weights next session – too much “burnout” work can really hamper your strength gains!
- EMOM: every minute on the minute training. You perform a set every minute on the minute for the number of minutes/sets prescribed. We can add reps, sets, or weight to these types of exercises.
These are all valid methods and you and combine them to get the most from training. Some methods will make more sense for specific exercises (for example, you can’t rep-max a bodyweight pull up), so play around with them to see what fits best.
A Beginners Power Bodybuilding Workout Program
This is the bit you've been waiting for: a beginner's power bodybuilding program. This isn’t a Mike O’Hearn power bodybuilding program – because you’re not Mike O’Hearn! You need a foundation, and this is a beginner Powerbuilding program, designed to provide exactly that!
It's a simple approach that allows you to build strength and muscle simultaneously using full-body workouts.
This program is a 3-time per week routine. This is ideal for the beginner, offering enough volume to spur growth while also allowing for enough recovery. The point is to train heavier on days 1 and 3, using day-2 as an opportunity to rest and recover.
This gives you plenty of chance to fit it to your personal schedule. The routine is a relatively simple one. You repeat the weekly plan, starting at the existing numbers and %, adding weight week-on-week when you can.
If that doesn't work, try again next week. If it still doesn't work for you, there are two possibilities: you're too advanced for the program or your recovery sucks. Take an honest look at your habits outside of training and make sure you're eating/sleeping enough.
A Beginner’s Power Bodybuilding Program
When exercises are given without a % of 1RM, this is a sign you should be picking a challenging weight. This should leave you with 1-2 reps in the tank – something we call RPE (rate of perceived exertion) 9. This is, roughly, a 9/10 difficulty rating.
Week 1 (Day 1)
Week 1 (Day 2)
Week 1 (Day 3)
Week 2 (Day 1)
Week 2 (Day 2)
Week 2 (Day 3)
Week 3 (Day 1)
Week 3 (Day 2)
Week 3 (Day 3)
Week 4 (Day 1)
Week 4 (Day 2)
Week 4 (Day 3)
Week 5 (Day 1)
Week 5 (Day 2)
Week 5 (Day 3)
Week 6 (Day 1)
Week 6 (Day 2)
Week 6 (Day 3)
Week 7 (Day 1)
Week 7 (Day 2)
Week 7 (Day 3)
This program can also be repeated over time if you give yourself time to recover. This is perfect for someone with experience in strength or physique training. It allows you to build strength and familiarity with the movements at a sustainable pace.
Once you’ve completed this program, it may be possible to repeat it. However, you should be looking for something more specialized and tailored to you. Either way, you’ll be ready to train towards powerlifting while also experiencing greater muscle gains.
Making the Most: Recovery and Progression
So, you’re ready to kick ass in the gym.
Sadly, enthusiasm in the gym isn’t enough. 80% of getting strong and muscular is about how you eat and recover. During the time between sessions, your body does the real work of repairing itself and building muscle to prepare for the next session.
As mentioned above, you’re going to stall and plateau if you don’t recover properly. There are a few critical components to this:
- Eat enough
You need to eat plenty of calories and protein/carbs to support this type of training. We can’t all live on the Mike O’Hearn diet plan, but improving your diet is necessary for optimal results.
If you’re cutting weight too fast, you’ll struggle to progress.
A high-protein, calorie surplus diet is ideal for muscle and strength gains. The Power bodybuilding diet is about fuelling workouts and supporting muscle recovery/growth!
- Eat your veggies
Vitamins and minerals are crucial to keeping your body healthy, but they also support the recovery/growth processes.
A Power bodybuilding diet might pivot on carbs/proteins, but vitamins and minerals are essential. Health and performance both rely on these less-glamorous compounds.
Get lots of nutrient-dense foods in your diet, and you’ll look and feel better for it – now and in the future.
- Get your sleep
Eight hours a night is a minimum.
Getting sleep is key to regulating hormones and supporting the muscle-building process. Cut the evening screen-time and make sure you’re well-fed and hydrated.
- Drink your water
Hydration is useful for recovery and keeps your cells healthy. Don’t get dehydrated – drink plenty of water and get some electrolytes in before/during/after training.
- Stretch and move
Keeping joints and muscles healthy means moving them around and keeping them active between sessions.
Spend some time moving through full-range and doing some dynamic mobility. This keeps you limber and helps reduce muscle damage/soreness.
This program is a great example: the point is to learn how Powerbuilding works and then getting familiar with consistent training.
You’re reading this guide because you want to make significant gains in muscle and strength. The program is a mold that you have to pour your own hard work and recovery into!
Power bodybuilding is a hallmark of some of the most commanding physiques of all time. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Franco Columbu, and Ronnie Coleman all have experience in competitive powerlifting. These are great examples of strength building the foundation for amazing aesthetics.
If you need a new goal or you’re going through the motions in the gym – or just want to commit to real change – Powerbuilding might be just what you’ve been missing.
Power bodybuilding is a great way to balance out the most common goals in the gym – strength, and size.
If you want to improve your results and make the most of your time in the gym, this guide is step one. From here, it’s just about you turning up and putting the work in!
These different goals overlap in complementary ways, and all it takes to make the most of it is a smart approach to training. You can make significant gains in both areas with a few hours a week.
Did you enjoy this guide? Are you on your own Powerbuilding journey right now? Do you still have questions? Leave us a comment, send us a message, or share this article if you need to help your friends get their training together!