Powerlifting for Bodybuilders: From Chasing Pumps to Chasing Plates
Are you chasing the pump? Or are you piling on the plates?
In our quest to build better physiques, we often choose one or the other. Or we vary our selection haphazardly based on instinct. This instinctual training can work for some, but if it’s not working for you, consider looking to our powerlifting brethren for guidance.
The new generation of power‐lifters are taking their nutritional cues from the bodybuilding world, so why not incorporate some of their training principles into our routines. After all, they are the strongest guys on the planet.
I have always been a supporter of the philosophy “eat like a bodybuilder, and train like a powerlifter.” To explain this further I mean that we should follow a structured nutritional plan to meet our body composition goals, and also follow a structured training program to ensure sustained progress and efficient training.
Most bodybuilders understand how to follow a diet, but when they get in the gym it’s a crapshoot as to how the session will go. This is because we go in with the hope of “killing it” without any sort of logical plan for how this will happen. This can result in stagnation and even regression.
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Eat Like a Bodybuilder, Train Like a Powerlifter
Powerlifters use structured and controlled cyclical training pattern in order to ensure consistent progression. There are a multitude of training progressions available from Sheiko to Smolov that can be fitted to suit lifters of any experience level.
Many of these programs have been created and perfected over time by some of the smartest minds in the world on the topic of weight training. For my clients, I like to incorporate principles of many different training progressions along with some moderate and higher repetition work to maximize hypertrophy while emphasizing the importance of its primary limiting factor, GETTING STRONGER.
I have to take a break here to talk about what it means to get stronger, as it is applied to a bodybuilder. Sometimes we misunderstand getting stronger as purely a numbers game. This is true for powerlifters, where the goal is to move a weight from point A to point B within the guidelines established by the rules. However, as applied to bodybuilders there needs to be an additional caveat to the definition of getting stronger to say it is a function of moving more weight with equal targeted muscle usage or the same weight with greater targeted usage of the intended muscle group.
Dorian Yates once said in a seminar, that if you were curling 40lb DB now, and in a couple years you were still curling 40lb DB’s, then you will still have the same size biceps. Dorian is mostly right, but there is a constant that he is assuming; and that is that THE WAY you are curling the 40lb dumbbells has remained the same.
Think about it like elementary school. We all made it to fifth grade (I hope) but not everyone got the same knowledge out of 4th grade. In the same sense, you may go from squatting 135 to 225 in your first year of lifting, but if your mechanics are all wrong, fixing them may require you to drop all the way back down to 135. By the time you work your way back up to 225, you will absolutely see a change in your quadriceps muscles.
In the same sense, if you are curling 40lb dumbbells with low-targeted biceps usage and high front deltoid/lower back stimulation,to perfect your technique to place the stimulation maximally on the biceps, you may have to drop down to using 25lb dumbbells. By the time you work back up to the 40lb dumbbells while maintaining the amount of targeted muscle group (biceps) usage you WILL be rewarded with bigger biceps.
4 Day Strength-Focused Workout Split for Bodybuilders
Back to powerlifting for the vain…
Here is an example of a 4‐day per week workout split, with a 6-‐week progression that you can use as a roadmap for your training. We have utilized variations of this system for goals as diverse as 100+lb weight loss transformations to 500lb bench presses. Follow this, put your ego aside, nail your nutrition, and you will be rewarded with new growth and strength gains!
You just need an estimated (or earned – see below) 3 Rep Max for your big lifts:
- Barbell Squat
- Barbell/DB Deadlift
- DB/Barbell Bench Press
- DB/Barbell Shoulder Press
Finally, you will need an estimate (or earned – see below) of the max number of reps you can perform for the wide or neutral grip pull up.
You will have to earn your 3 rep max, and here is how you do it. Note: Earn your bench and squat 3 rep max on one day, and your deadlift/shoulder press 3 rep max as well as your pull up bodyweight rep max the next.
- Take a weight you know you can perform 10 reps with and perform 5 reps (rest 1 min).
- Increase the weight by 10% and perform 3 reps (rest 2 min).
- In all subsequent sets, increase the weight by 5% and perform 3 reps per set with 2-3 minutes of rest in between sets. When you reach a weight at which you cannot perform 3 reps, the highest weight you were able to complete 3 reps with is your current 3 REP MAX
All calculations for weeks 1 – 5 use the 3RM you earned, and week 6 uses the new 3RM value you earned in week 5.
Earning pull up max reps:
- Can be performed wide-‐grip overhand or neutral grip (just be consistent).
- Take however many pull ups you think you can do and do half as many.
- Rest 2 minutes and then do 1 all out set to failure to find out your true maximum number of reps.
Once you can meet or exceed 20 reps as your max reps with your bodyweight, you will need to add 5-10lbs with a dip belt, weight vest, or simply holding a DB between your feet. Then you will perform the above to find out your max reps with the new added weight. From this point you can add another 5lbs every time your max reps exceed 15 reps.
If you are just beginning and cannot perform an unassisted pull up, you should begin with an assisted pull up machine using the amount of resistance that allows your max reps to be around 5. Using this resistance level, use the method described above to find out your maximum reps with that amount of resistance.
You will use that estimate, with the same amount of assistance weight for your program. Your goal is to be able to do at least 10 reps at a certain assistance level before you increase the difficulty for the next cycle by removing as much of the assistance weight as you are comfortable with. Your goal is to work the assistance down to a minimum and to be able to perform unassisted pull ups.
Progression Chart for Weeks 1-6
Calculate your workouts before you even go into the gym to help yourself start to visualize the lifts. If your estimated one rep maxes are accurate, you WILL accomplish these lifts and it is more of a to do list than a question of if you can or can’t do it!
If any calculations give you a number that isn’t whole or not possible, round up or down to the nearest possible weight depending on how you feel, just make sure you note what you did. For example, 265lbs x .65 = 172.25lbs (not a possible weight), I am feeling strong so I will round to 175lbs.
- Week 1: Warmup, 3RM x .70 x 8 reps, 3 RM x .65 x 9 reps, 3RM x .60 x 10 reps
- Week 2: Warmup, 3 RM x .65 x 10 reps x 5 sets
- Week 3: Warmup, 3RM x. 75 x 7 reps, 3RM x .70 x 8 reps, 3 RM x .65 x 9 reps
- Week 4: Warmup, 3 RM x .85 x 5 reps, 3 RM x .8 x 7 reps, 3RM x .75 x 8 reps
- Week 5: Warmup, 3 RM x .50 x 6 reps, 3 RM x .75 x 5 reps, 3RM x 1.05 x 3 reps
* The final set of our main movement from week 5 is 5% greater than your initial 3RM, and provided you are able to complete 3 repetitions, it is your new 3RM to be used starting in week 6, and through the next cycle of your progression.
- Week 6: Warmup, NEW 3 RM x .65 x failure, NEW 3 RM x .65 x reps from first set/2, NEW 3 RM x .65 x reps from first set/4
After setting a new 3 rep max in week 5, week 6 is meant to serve as a functional deload, where repetitions are increased and weight is decreased. After week 6, start again with week 1.
*** In each week except 2 and 5, feel free to exceed the prescribed repetitions for the second and third working sets if you are able, to challenge yourself further! ***
- Day 1 – Bench Press and Biceps
- Day 2 – Off
- Day 3 – Squats, Legs and Calves
- Day 4 – Pull Ups, Back and Triceps
- Day 5 – Off
- Day 6 – Deadlift and Shoulders
- Day 7 – Off
|bench Press and Biceps|
|Machine Chest Press||2||20|
|Dumbbell Flye – Stretch Emphasized||3||12|
|Alternating Dumbbell Curl||3||8|
|Hammer Rope Cable Curl||3||12|
Bench Press – Can be free weight or Smith machine, barbell or dumbbell, incline, decline, or flat. Just be consistent for AT LEAST the entire 6 week phase.
|Squats, Legs and Calves|
|Barbell or DB Lunges||2||10|
|Leg Extension/Leg Curl Superset – No breaks in between sets||2||12|
Squats – Can be front or back squat, smith machine or free weight; just be consistent for AT LEAST the entire 6 week phase.
|Pull Ups, Back and Triceps|
|Close Grip Bench (Triceps focus)||3||10|
|Triceps Rope Extensions – Start with one weight and lower as necessary at failure until 30 reps are achieved||30|
Pull Ups – Can be Wide Grip Overhand or Neutral grip; just be consistent for AT LEAST the entire 6 week phase.
- Week 1: Max reps x .6 x 5 sets
- Week 2: Max reps x .7 x 4 sets
- Week 3: Max reps x .8 x 3 sets
- Week 4: Max reps x .9 x 3 sets
- Week 5: Max Reps x 1 x 2 sets
- Week 6: Max Reps x 1.2 x 1 set
|Deadlift and Shoulders|
|One Arm Side Dumbbell Laterals||3||20|
|Cable Rope Face Pulls||2||15|
Deadlift – Freeweight Barbell is strongly preferred, but Smith machine or dumbbell can be substituted. Just be consistent for AT LEAST the entire 6 week phase.
Shoulder Press – Can be barbell, dumbbell, or Smith machine. Just be consistent for AT LEAST the entire 6 week cycle.
As you’ve probably noticed…
There are no programmed weights for the auxiliary (secondary) exercises because they are better accomplished by feel. Think of them as electives in college. You have your major courses pre-determined by the curriculum, but the credits you need to fill beyond that can come from a variety of classes.
Form is paramount here because our goal is to provide maximal stimulation to the targeted muscle group. Pick a weight you are comfortable with for week one, and increase it only if you are able to achieve the targeted rep range easily with perfect form.
Also don’t be afraid to lower the weight if you were particularly drained by the main movement of the day. Correct form and targeted muscle recruitment is the key!
This is an outline that can be used continuously, as it has a built in deload period to give your body the step back it needs after setting a new personal record. Try this program; your results will speak for themselves.
Questions? Leave them below and I’d be glad to help.