How to Setup a Powerbuilding Plan

What exactly is it? Can it work? What’s a good way to go about it?

Lets go over this.

First, what is powerbuilding?

Taking this from Jeremiah Bairs blog on power building:

Powerbuilding: Blending elements of powerlifting and bodybuilding into a synergistic training program that improves both strength and aesthetics simultaneously.

You are trying to be as strong and jacked as you possibly can. Basically, you are trying to get the best of both worlds.

However, as with anything, there are some trade-offs.

When you first get started with training you can do both and you WILL get stronger and build muscle.

But at some point (usually within a year or two of consistent training) you will see this slow down.

While getting stronger and building muscle are very similar, they are also somewhat conflicting goals and violate the principle of specificity.

According to the RP Hypertrophy book, specificity can be described as “to improve at a specific sport or physical endeavor, training must either directly support or potentiate improved performance in that sport or endeavor.”

What this means is that if you want to build muscle or improve your body composition, then everything you do must be specific to that. Or if you want to get stronger, then everything you do must be specific to that.

Our body only has so many resources available, so if you have a goal, you must be specific with how you get to that goal, otherwise you could be shooting yourself in the foot.

In order to build muscle (for most) you must train with moderate to high volumes, sets of 5-30 reps that take you within 0-4 reps of failure. The amount of volume you need to do to build muscle causes a substantial amount of fatigue over time and this would mask your ability to lift heavy weights.

In order to improve your strength it’s better to train with lower volumes as this will keep your fatigue levels lower, since lifting heavy does cause a lot of stress/fatigue overall. But you must train in the 1-5 rep range if you want to get stronger in that rep range.

As you can see, if you want to optimize building muscle while increasing strength, you wouldn’t be able to express your true strength because you would be fatigued from all of the bodybuilding work.

If you want to optimize your strength while building muscle, you wouldn’t be able to do enough volume required to build any substantial amount of muscle because the heavy loads you need for strength would cause so much fatigue/stress. This leads to a much higher risk of getting injured as well.

What you commonly see is someone trying to get bigger and stronger so they only lift in the 1-5 rep range and unfortunately, this type of training adds a lot of stress/fatigue and it isn’t enough volume to build muscle.

There is some conflict. So how do you get strong and jacked? Read on.

Pros and cons of powerbuilding

Next I think its appropriate to go over what the pros and cons are of a power building goal.

Pros:

  • You get the best of both worlds. You are strong and muscular. Most guys want to be as jacked as they can, but they also want to be super strong. There are some tradeoffs though (will go over this in a bit).
  • You can do it, but after your initial years of training it does come down to being more strategic than just training for both all of the time.
  • You don’t have to stick with one style of training, you get to keep it fresh.
  • Overall I think this type of training can make you more athletic overall than just sticking to a bodybuilding routine or just a powerlifting routine.

There are some cons that come with this.

Cons:

  • Higher injury risk: Strength training has a higher injury risk with it, anytime you lift in the 1-5 rep range there is a lot of skill involved and if your technique is off it can increase injury risk.
  • By trying to be as jacked and strong as possible you are sacrificing some muscle and some strength. If you look at the top powerlifters, they aren’t doing much bodybuilding work. If you look at the top bodybuilders, they aren’t doing any powerlifting work. There is a reason for this. So you cant expect to be the strongest and most jacked. However you can still build a solid physique and be stronger than most, but just realize you are taking away a little of both with type of training.
  • Time doing the other is time you could be getting stronger or building more muscle (whichever is more important) it is also time you could be spending doing something else like eating, sleeping, recovering, spending time with friends/loved ones.

How to get the best of both worlds.

Now that you know the potential trade-offs of doing a powerbuilding program (mainly that you will be sacrificing some muscle and some strength) here is how you can set it up to minimize the interference effect.

Having a phasic approach is going to be key here.

Here is how I would set it up for a client:

(PS make sure you deload for a week after each mesocycle.)

Mesocycle 1:

Duration: 3-6 weeks long.

Training frequency: 3-6 sessions per week.

Training:

It would be a blend of both. 5-10 rep range for your main lifts (bench, deads, squat, overhead press).

8-15 rep range for your bodybuilding muscles like the triceps, biceps, delts, lats, calves, forearms.

Moderate volume for both.

The goal of training during this time would be to get a foundation of strength and hypertrophy.

Nutrition:

Your nutrition would be at maintenance during this time. If you haven’t been tracking, now is the time to figure out what your maintenance level calories are.

Here is an article going over how to figure out your macros.

Get your protein nailed down as well. Aim for 1g per pound of bodyweight.

Ideally you would keep your weight within a range of about 0-4lbs up or down.

If you haven’t training for a while or ever dieted before you may see some recomp during this time. Read here for what body recomposition is.

The goal here is to see where you maintenance level calories are. You are getting a foundation just like with your training.

Side note:

Depending on what you did recently you will either go strength first or hypertrophy first. If you have been training mostly for hypertrophy then doing strength would be more beneficial, if you have been doing more strength work then doing hypertrophy first would be a better idea. But it all comes down to what you want.

In this case, lets do strength first.

Mesocycle 2:

Duration: 3-5 weeks long.

Training frequency: 3-5 sessions per week.

Training:

4-6 rep range for main lifts. Less hypertrophy/bodybuilding work. Keep those in the 8-15 range still. However, you want to lower your overall training volume a bit. This could mean less exercises or less sets overall.

Nutrition:

You again would want to be at maintenance for your nutrition.

You wouldn’t want to be in a surplus because you aren’t doing enough volume to build muscle so it would be more fat gain than anything, AND if you put on more weight how do you know you aren’t just lifting heavier because you are larger?

You wouldn’t want to be in a deficit because strength is highly technical and if you are changing your bodyweight you may have to alter technique slightly which will hurt your strength progress. Also the training volume would be too low and you could risk muscle loss.

So during this strength phase, you stay at maintenance. Make sure you are eating enough but not too much. Protein also is important and should continue to stay at 1g per pound of body weight.

Mesocycle 3:

Duration: 3-5 weeks long.

Training frequency: 3-5 sessions per week.

Training:

1-5 rep range for big lifts. Most of the training is focused on the main lifts and going heavy. Some accessory work, but even less than the previous mesocycle and reps should probably be in the 6-12 rep range.

By lowering your hypertrophy work you are freeing up a lot of resources towards your strength training which will allow you to express your strength in these lower rep ranges.

The volume you are doing will be enough to maintain your current muscle mass if paired with solid nutrition.

Nutrition:

Same as mesocycle 2. Continue to maintain your weight for the same reasons as the previous mesocycle. Protein continues to be important so you can maintain your muscle. Keep around 1g per pound of bodyweight.

Your weight should still be around where it started. Give or take 2-4lbs up or down.

Mesocycle 4:

Duration: 2-6 weeks long.

Training frequency: 2-5 sessions per week.

Training:

This mesocycle would be a lot like mesocycle 1. It would be a blend of both. 5-10 reps for your main lifts. Then 8-15 reps for your hypertrophy with a bit more volume than meso 3.

The goal here would be to act as a buffer before going into more hypertrophy-style training. Going straight into higher volumes would be a big switch for your body so we will ease into it.

If you have been feeling a bit burnt out with training, then during this mesocycle you can drop your training frequency if need be.

Nutrition:

Again we would focus on maintenance of weight. At this point you are probably seeing some small fat loss/muscle gain since the beginning of this program. But its slow.

You would continue to keep protein around 1g per pound of bodyweight.

If you stopped tracking calories during the maintenance periods now is the time you would start tracking again so you can see where your maintenance calories are at.

If you tracked throughout, then great, just continue that.

Mesocycle 5:

Duration: 4-6 weeks long.

Training frequency: 4-6x per week.

Training:

You would have some training in the 5-10 rep range with your compounds but they would be with slightly higher volumes than your strength cycles. Maybe 4 sets instead of 3.

There would also be more focus on the 8-15 rep range, these would also have slightly higher volumes.

You could start to incorpate more machine, dumbbell, and cable work during this phase.

Here are some general guidelines on the best practices to build muscle for most:

  • Make sure each set is around the 5-30 rep range.
  • Each set is at least somewhat challenging.
  • Training each muscle group about 2-4x per week.
  • 10-25 sets per muscle group per week seems to be best.

Nutrition:

Now you can decide if you want to be in a calorie deficit or surplus.

If you are already lean, then choosing to be in a surplus is probably a good idea.

If you need to lose some body fat, then a SMALL deficit could be a good idea. Make sure you keep protein fairly high (1-1.2g per lb of bw).

Since you are training with higher training volumes you can be in a deficit or surplus. (see meso 2 for why you don’t want to be in a surplus or deficit during a strength phase.)

If you are in between then start with maintenance and then decide during this meso what you want moving forward.

What you don’t want to do is gain for a few weeks, then decide you are too fat and then cut.

If you decide to go with a surplus, start small.

Deficit: aim for .25 – .5% of bodyweight per week.
Surplus: aim for .15- .35% of bodyweight per week.

Mesocycle 6:

Duration: 4-6 weeks long.

Training frequency: 4-6x per week.

Training:

Fairly similar to meso 5. But you will have more emphasis on the 8-15 rep range. I would keep your main lifts in the 5-10 rep range, but maybe do a little less sets with them.

You should increase your emphasis in the 8-15 range.

You may also start to implement some 15-20plus rep ranges if you like that.

There should be more emphasis on your glamour muscles like your delts, arms, and calves.

You can also use this time to increase volume on a muscle group you want to grow.

Nutrition:

Whatever you decided last meso is what you will do again. If you choose maintenance then stick with it or choose a surplus or deficit.

But if you want to really change your body now is the time during these hypertrophy phases.

Mesocycle 7 (optional):

Duration: 3-6 weeks.

Training frequency: 4-6x per week.

Training:

Even less emphasis on the 5-10 rep range, but you still want to make sure you are going somewhat heavy (5-10 rep range) on your main lifts for at least 1-2 sets per week.

Even more emphasis on the 8-15 rep range and maybe a bit more on the 15-30 rep range but now you can start to add in some specialization techniques like:

  • Myo reps
  • Blood flow restriction
  • Drop sets
  • Super sets etc.

This is the highest your volume will be.

Nutrition:

You again will stick with what you have been doing either a surplus or a deficit.

Mesocycle 8:

This will be a repeat of the blended strength and hypertrophy.

Your nutrition will go back to maintenance.

Once this is done then you can choose between another hypertrophy focused cycle or a strength focused cycle.

Rinse and repeat.

Powerbuilding CAN work for your first few years of training but it does require some more strategic planning for it to work. The biggest thing is that you realize your progress in both will be slowed. If you are ok with the trade offs then by all means you should give it a shot, but commit some time to it.

You wont notice a change in 1-3 months.

If you need more structure and accountability around your training or nutrition fill out the coaching app here and lets get to work.

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