Give these power-building techniques 11 weeks and become the strongest person you’ve ever been.
Dim the lights. Cue the projector.
The rapid, rhythmic tick of the reels is followed by crude, flickering pictures onscreen of turn-of-the-century strongman Eugen Sandow hoisting barbells overhead with one hand and snapping out of chains with a flex of his pecs.
Only after each dramatic display of strength would he take the time to rifle through a few perfunctory poses.
For the father of modern bodybuilding, the ability of his accumulated muscle was on par with its appearance.
It’s clean from this iconic, black-and-white footage from the annals of bodybuilding history that the sport was once about what muscle could do–not just what it could look like.
“In previous eras, bodybuilders were required to perform feats of strength in addition to their posing routines,” says Josh Bryant, MFS, CSCS, PES, owner of Joshstrength.com and co-author of the ebook Metroflex Gym Powerbuilding Basics.
“This means guys with great physiques possessed great strength and power, and guys who possessed great strength and power didn’t look like total slobs. I constantly have people tell me they want to get stronger but not be known as “the fat guy at the gym that lifts a lot of weight.”
The flip side is that people don’t–or should’t – want to have heavily muscular physiques with no strength to back it up.”
The middle ground is a system called powerbuilding, which takes proven methods of hypertrophy (muscle growth) and blends them with can’t-miss strength-gaining techniques.
The result is a physique that can move a ton of weight though just about any plane while still managing to look the part.
It’s no coincidence that some of the sport’s biggest names such as eight-time Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman, 2011 Arnold Classic champ Branch Warren, and the world’s strongest bodybuilder Johnnie Jackson are wholly devoted to this type of training.
“Bodybuilders must realize that limit strength, or how much force you can exert in one all-out effort, is your foundation for both athletics and a great physique,” says Bryant. “For strength and physique athletics, it’s important to include the small exercises that assist in the ultimate performance of core lifts.”
“Successful powerlifters are part bodybuilder and successful bodybuilders are part powerlifters.”
But powerbuilding goes well beyond the “lift heavy, eat more” mantra of your father’s offseason routine. This is a system rooted in science and is only for the dedicated few willing to endure its rigors.
By following the program Bryant outlines here, you can take a heavy, if figurative step onto the iconic, chaotic Metroflex gym floor to start constructing a physique worthy of its own high-light reel.
Powerbuilding isn’t just about mindlessly lifting things up and putting them down.
It’s more cerebral in that it caters to making athletes strong while still enhancing their overall aesthetic. By combining the foundational lifts with a greater cumulative hormonal response while also refining the supporting muscles that define eye-pleasing physiques.
You won’t just be a mountain of amorphic sinew – by the time you’re ready to start etching in your fine details with a get-lean program, you’ll have less work to put in. Still, some are instantly wary of a mass-building plan that doesn’t advocate mass for the sake of mass.
But the method and make of said mass is what separates powerbuilding from other less-specific programming. here are the main points to consider.
“By working big lifts, you get big,” says Bryant. “Not only is your limit strength your foundation but working core lifts heavy causes a much more favorable anabolic hormonal response to weight training.” Studies show those who trained to failure at six reps enhanced their metabolisms higher and for longer than those who trained in the 12-rep range.
“Training primarily with free weights also forces the athlete work stablizer muscles, which will increase muscular coordination. If you want to get that dense, grainy, shredded physique, heavy core lifts will have to play a primary role in your program.”
You want to get big everywhere, so you train using every move you can think of. The problem with this approach, then, is its lack of simplicity, says Bryant. Powerbuilding uses a wide variety of movements but everything revolves around the most foundational lifts in existence – the bench press, squat and deadlift.
Single-joint moves are added secondarily to enhance overall muscularity as well as local joint strength. “Isolation exercises do play a big role in powerbuilding. the core lifts are the foundation, but the isolation movements offer some necessary refining and support strength.” To the “big three,” Bryant also recommends adding the weighted dip, weight pull-up and overhead press, all multijoint moves.
For some guys, the mirror and scale are main measuring sticks for success on a mass-gain plan. In powerbuilding, the proof is in the performance. “One of the problems in many aspects of life is a lack of quantitative data and going completely off feel,” says Bryant.
“Many bodybuildings use the same weights over and over, never getting stronger, yet they wonder why they don’t grow. Many bodybuilders also operate under the dangerous assumption that the only way to increase weight incrementally is by adding a 45 or 24 pound plate to the bar.”
Remember folks, there are smaller plates. These can be added to the bar incrementally to increase weight. Jumps of 40-50 pounds are huge, unrealistic and can lead to terrible frustration. Make small incremental jumps and keep quantitative data to know you’re improving.
Feel is important, but your personal opinion and feel of a workout is just one aspect. Keeping hard, quantitative data will show you your success or lack of. Powerbuilding takes into accout actual improvements, not just “bro science.” This, of course, requires the use of a journal; your scale stay in the closet.
To the nitty gritty: Exactly how much work is required during a powerbuilding cycle? A lot. But no more than you’d be doing on any other mass-gain plan. Rep ranges and loads will, by necessity be a bit different but that’s where the biggest gainst come in.
One a typical 11-week cycle, like the one featured here, you’ll perform as few as 1-3 reps on sets of your major lifts but you’ll stay in the cozy 12-plus range for less demanding exercises.
The higher-rep range exercises, referred to as “accessory” lifts, represent the traditional bodybuilding component of powerbuilding. Because of the wide spectrum of rep ranges, rest periods will also vary.
“On the realy heavy sets on core lifts, you’ll take 2-5 minutes rest,” says Bryant. “This is to build maximum strength. On the smaller lifts, it can range from 45-90 seconds. these rest periods allow for maximum gains and ideal hormonal response to exercise.
All the talk about more muscle may evoke a fear of increased workout frequency. But remember – muscles need time to rest and repair. “You can make great gains in size and strength on four-day-a-week routine, much like a traditional powerlfiting cycle,” says Bryant. For most weekday gym visitors, this will mean a Monday-Tuesday-Thursday-Friday kind of lift week.
Powerbuilding requires a stubborn dedication to progress and an acceptance of the hard work that precedes it. Simply hitting your target number of reps isn’t enough – you have to be willing to challenge your body to adapt from week to week, despite what your instincts may tell you.
“Anybody can gut out a workout where the only goal is to get tired or get a pump, but when you have to hit certain numbers, you have to gear your lifestyle toward it,” says Bryant.
“Bodybuilding sometimes requires more physical toughness than powerlifting because the workouts are longer and more grueling. Powerlifting on the other hand, requires more mental toughness because you have to hit certain weights. Powerbuilding, the hybrid combo, requires these qualities from both.”
So how do you know when you’ve been successful on a powerbuilding program?
If you’ve done it right, you won’t need to ask. A great many bodybuilding programs don’t require you to reach hard numbers each workout.
MuscleMag athlete Craig Richardson says he’ll cut a workout short if he feels like his muscles are adequately taxed. But that’s subjective. Powerbuilding doesn’t leave room for feel, fatigue or feat. It’s about a brutal and bullish insistence on progress from workout to workout.
If you’ve consistently added weight to the bar each week, your body – ever adaptable and insanely durable – will be a spectacle worthy of celluloid, a la Sandow.