What is powerbuilding? And what is the best way to implement it?
Enter the ultimate powerbuilding guide.
By Coach Hunter Bennett
What is Powerbuilding?
Powerbuilding can be thought of as a style of training the integrates principles of both powerlifting (i.e., heavy strength training) and bodybuilding (i.e., moderate load hypertrophy training) into the same program.
With this in mind, it is often suggested to be one of the best ways to increase strength and size at the same time.
And I would tend to agree – although, it does depend on how you implement it.
The benefits of Powerbuilding
Before I dive into what powerbuilding involves, I first wanted to discuss its benefits – and there are a couple.
Firstly, implementing dedicated hypertrophy work (i.e., sets of 6-15 reps, performed using moderate loads) is a great way to increase muscle size. Now this has obvious implications for how you look, but also impacts how you perform.
All else being equal, a larger muscle is a stronger muscle. Which means that increasing your muscle size can contribute to long-term strength gains.
Secondly, including regular exposure to heavy loads in your program promotes neural adaptations, while also refining technique – both of which increase strength in a big way.
As a result, powerbuilding ensures that the muscle you build is put to good use immediately, maximising strength in the short and long-term.
Lastly, including higher rep hypertrophy work in your program year-round can help improve your work capacity. This means better recovery between sets, and better recovery between sessions.
Over time, this can have a significant impact on the quality of your training sessions, which can improve long term gains.
Old School Powerbuilding
In a more traditional sense, powerbuilding typically involved performing the three main power lifts (i.e., squats, bench press, and deadlifts) for low and high reps in the same program.
For example, you might squat 3 sets of 5 reps on Monday, 3 sets of 10 reps on Wednesday, and then 3 sets of 15 reps on Friday.
Both bench and deadlift would follow a similar pattern.
Most of these sets would be pushed close to failure, and although some accessory exercises would be performed in the program, they would be few and far between.
Now, from a pure powerbuilding perspective, this technically ticks the right boxes.
I mean, it includes both heavy strength work and higher rep hypertrophy work in the same program.
However, it is far from optimal.
While the powerlifts are great exercises, they do have some potential downfalls.
Firstly, because they allow you to use a lot of weight, they are very fatiguing. This can make them very hard to recovery from.
Secondly, they are not the best exercises for muscle growth because they don’t the joints involved through a full range of motion.
Lastly, performing them close to failure on a regular basis runs the risk of technical breakdown. This could conceivably increase your risk of training injury.
I should also note that the risk of overuse injury may also increase by performing the same exercise over and over again, for such high training volumes.
So, what’s the solution?
The most effective powerbuilding method
Taking the above factors into consideration, we can see some of the drawbacks associated with traditional powerbuilding methods.
But this also provides a solution.
The best powerbuilding programs keep the powerlifts in year-round. However, they predominantly perform them in lower rep ranges (1-6), and 2-3 reps shy of failure each set.
This maximises strength development without inducing excessive fatigue.
Then, once the strength work has been completed, it is time to perform some hypertrophy specific exercises to maximise muscle growth.
These exercises typically use larger ranges of motion, lend themselves to using lighter loads, are performed for moderate reps (6-15), and pushed a little closer to failure.
Importantly, these exercises also target the prime movers used in the powerlifts.
This combination ensures that strength is developed, hypertrophy is maximised, and injury risk is kept low – making it the best way to program powerbuilding.
The best powerbuilding program
The following provides an example of how you might implement this style of training over a four-day training split:
|Day 1||Day 2||Day 3||Day 4|
|1: Back Squat: 3 x 5||1: Bench press: 3 x 5||1: Deadlift: 3 x 5||1: Paused bench press: 3 x 5|
|2: RDL: 3 x 8||2: Chin Ups: 3 x 8||2: Hack Squat 3 x 8||2: Bent over row: 3 x 8|
|3: Leg Press: 3 x 10||3: Flat DB Press 3 x 8||3: Spilt Squat 3 x 10||3: Seated BB shoulder press 3 x 8|
|4: Hamstring Curl: 3 x 12||4: Seated Row: 3 x 10||4: Hip Thrust 3 x 12||4: Lat pulldown: 3 x 12|
|5: Leg Extension: 3 x 15||5: Seated Shoulder Press 3 x 10||5: Calf Raises: 3 x 20||5: DB Fly: 3 x 12|
|6: Face pulls 3 x 12||6: Bicep Curls: 3 x 15|
|7: Tricep Extension 3 x 15|
While this may not be perfect for everyone, it provides a good example of how to mix heavy strength work with hypertrophy training to maximise progress.
Additionally, it is clear that all the hypertrophy specific exercises directly train muscle groups involved in the squat, bench, and deadlift. This is important when it comes to increasing long term strength gains.
Powerbuilding is a great strategy if your goal is to increase strength and size at the same time.
However, it needs to be implemented correctly.
Using the information in this article you can design your own powerbuilding programs (or use the template provided) to maximise the result of your training.
And of course, keep in mind that we have a number of programs available that implement these principles if you want something designed by us, for this specific purpose.