What is Powerbuilding? The Love-child of Powerlifting & Bodybuilding

Pretty much everyone goes through the same phases when it comes through their fitness and weight training journeys.

For one group, it involved ripping through some issues of Muscle & Fitness or FLEX magazines, carefully studying the (ridiculous) workouts covered, loading up on a bunch of supplements (on a high school, part-time job income at that!) and trying to look like the overly tanned and overly juiced guys in the pictures.

what is powerbuilding
A little bit ahead of my time, but you get the point

For another group, it involved watching Rudy about 500 times and deciding that they needed to get strong to play football (or whatever other sport they’re into). From there, their lives incorporated the motto “all bench, all the time”…with some bicep curls and (poorly performed) power cleans thrown in for good measure.

At some point, just about everyone through these groups thought “this ain’t really working for me” or, at the slightest, got bored with what they’re doing and wanted to try something different. If this is you, I assume this is why you Googled “what is powerbuilding”.

Today, we’re going to discuss how powerbuilding might just be the alternative you’re looking for, but with at least some of the familiarity you’ve come to love in your current training regime. You can still bench every Monday and/or you don’t even have to cancel your subscription to Muscular Development!

What Is Powerbuilding? The Best Training Method for Size AND Strength? 

Powerbuilding is an innovative fitness strategy that combines the benefits of powerlifting and bodybuilding. It’s designed for individuals who are looking to gain both strength and muscle mass simultaneously. I know I’ve attempted to achieve both of these objectives at the same time before…with…”mixed” results…

…but, then again, I wasn’t following a legit powerbuilding program.

At its core, powerbuilding incorporates the heavy lifting and progressive overload (classic elements of many lifting programs) with the goal of increasing one’s capabilities and, ultimately, PRs in compound lifts such as the deadlift, squat, and bench press. This training focus is fundamental for individuals keen on boosting their overall power. However, instead of solely chasing lifting PRs, powerbuilding also prioritizes hypertrophy…making it dip into the realm usually reserved for bodybuilding.

This hybrid approach results in powerbuilding workouts that are structured for efficiency.  A snapshot of a typical powerbuilding program might look something like this:

  • Strength Focus:
    • Compound movement (ex. Deadlift) – Aim for heavy weight and low reps.
    • Secondary compound movement (ex. Squat) – Slightly lighter weight, moderate reps.
  • Hypertrophy Focus:
    • Accessory exercises targeting specific muscle groups – Low-to-moderate weight and higher reps.

Powerbuilding programs hinge on the concept of smart workload distribution. Essentially, you have to be smart and deliberate about your recovery in order to maximize program gainz. It requires walking a fine line with training that supports consistent progression without causing burnout. 

@nathanjohn.strengthcoach

Why Should a Lifter Consider Training Powerbuilding?

Training that enables you to “be” strong and look strong? Yeah…that was a pretty easy question to answer, but let’s look at some fo the technical components that make powerbuilding attractive.

Benefits of Adopting a Powerbuilding Routine

  • Holistic Development: Individuals who engage in powerbuilding programs can experience a synergistic development of both muscle mass and strength. This approach taps into the best of both worlds: the progressive overload and high-intensity training style of powerlifting to maximize strength gainz, and the high-volume, multi-rep schemes of bodybuilding for hypertrophy and body sculpting.
  • Maintained Interest and Motivation: Due to its inherent variety and range of stimulus, a powerbuilding routine keeps workouts fresh and engaging. I mean, you won’t confuse them for really interesting CrossFit workouts, but they’re more fun than any 5×5 program. This format helps to promote motivation for/in regular training and, ultimately, consistent progression.

Downsides of Powerbuilding

While powerbuilding boasts numerous perks, like any fitness routine or discipline, there is stuff that is and/or gets annoying.

@powerbuilding.gr

  • Balancing Act: The dual focus on strength and hypertrophy requires a careful balance to avoid overtraining. Powerbuilding programming must account for adequate recovery to support the high demands placed on joints and muscles. Having to account for the possibility of overtraining can make training planning tedious in order to avoid burnout.
  • Complex Programming: Crafting an effective powerbuilding plan is more sophisticated than your “off-the-shelf” training program or random CrossFit metcon.  In many cases they require expert guidance or structured plans to appropriately manage intensity, volume, and recovery needs.

How Does Powerbuilding Compare to Other Training Styles?

Powerbuilding sounds pretty cool…but is it actually cooler than other popular disciplines or training approaches?

Powerbuilding vs. Powerlifting

So you’ve thought about becoming a powerlifter, eh? Well, I hope you really like the bench, squat, and deadlift!  Generally speaking, powerlifting athletes train with high intensity but lower training volume, typically allowing for longer recovery periods to optimize performance for these specific movements (Rip advocates for anywhere between, like, 5 and 10 minutes of rest between sets!)

Meanwhile, powerbuilding merges this strength emphasis with an increased training volume found in hypertrophy training. As a result, you’re more likely to blow your muscles up (in a good way) than you would be by training as a “traditional” bodybuilder.

Powerbuilding vs. Bodybuilding

Conversely, bodybuilding prioritizes muscle size and symmetry over pure strength, with workouts designed almost solely around hypertrophy training. Bodybuilders often engage in a higher frequency of isolation exercises (ex. bicep curls, leg extensions), aiming to sculpt individual muscle groups and achieve a desired body composition. 

Powerbuilding incorporates these bodybuilding elements while also incorporating compound movements for pure strength gains in a manner that is oftentimes neglected in bodybuilding.

Powerbuilding vs. CrossFit

CrossFit takes a broader approach to fitness/training, mixing elements of strength, agility, and endurance. This methodology emphasizes a high-intensity and “constantly varied” workout routine. Power, skill, and cardio capabilities are enhanced by this multi-faceted approach.

@powerbuilding.official

To be honest, powerbuilding doesn’t really have much in common with CrossFit. Powerbuilding doesn’t generally include the cardio or gymnastics/skills elements of CrossFit, nor does it incorporate Olympic lifting. Meanwhile, although CrossFit workouts often include a lot of reps, it wouldn’t generally be referred to as “hypertrophy“.

What Kind of Lifter Is Powerbuilding Best For?

Still not sure whether powerbuilding is suitable for your goals (and for your lifting experience level)? Let’s take a look at who the discipline might be the best for.

  • Beginners in Strength Training: New to lifting? Powerbuilding programs offer a structured way to progress in both muscle size and strength, helping you to create a solid foundation for your strength and fitness development.
    • You’ll touch on the essential compound lifts: squat, bench press, and deadlift.
    • Enjoy measurable progress as you get stronger and build muscle.
  • Bodybuilders with a Strength Goal: Are you a bodybuilder who is tired of simply “looking strong” and want to actually get strong?
    • Find harmony between gaining muscle and demonstrating strength in key movements.
    • Empty the tank with heavy sets and follow up with muscle-specific exercises.
@teampowerbuilding

  • Powerlifters Craving Muscle Development: Are you a powerlifter who doesn’t think its fair that you can be that strong without the physique or overall aesthetics to match?
    • Maintain your strength with continued inclusion of the “Big 3”.
    • Give your tired body a break while doing less fatiguing isolation exercises…while developing nice-looking muscles at the same time!

What Does a Sample Week of Powerbuilding Look Like?

So “What does an actual week of this training style actually entail?” Let’s take a bird’s eye view of typical training week (emphasis on low volume):

Monday – Lower Body Strength Focus

  • Back Squat: 5 sets x 5 reps (heavy)
  • Romanian Deadlifts: 5 sets x 5 reps
  • Accessory exercises like high-rep leg presses and/or hack squats

Tuesday – Upper Body Hypertrophy Focus

  • Bench Press: 4 sets x 8 reps (moderate weight)
  • Barbell Row: 4 sets x 8 reps
  • Accessory exercises like medium-rep Skull Crushers and Dumbbell Shoulder Press 

Thursday – Upper Body Strength Focus

  • Overhead Press: 5 sets x 5 reps (heavy)
  • Weighted Pull-ups or Dips: 5 sets x max reps
  • Accessory exercises like high-rep lat pull-downs

Friday – Lower Body Hypertrophy Focus

  • Front Squat: 4 sets x 8 reps (moderate weight)
  • Bulgarian Split Squat: 3 sets x 12 reps
  • Accessory exercises like medium-rep leg extensions or leg curls

Training volume and intensity are manipulated throughout the week to promote muscle growth and enhance strength. The rep range is kept within the typical strength (1-5 reps) and hypertrophy (6-12 reps) standards. Rest days are mixed in (in this case, on Wednesday and on the weekend) to allow for recovery (which is vital to making progress in powerbuilding). 

@bukas.powerbuilding

Frequently Asked Questions

Powerbuilding just sounds…sorta weird when you first hear the word. Let’s take a look at some follow-up questions to help…”un-weird” the term.

Powerbuilding program support progression by following a structured periodization model. This might involve phases of heavier lifts with lower repetitions coupled with periods of lighter weights and higher repetitions to promote muscle growth.

Beginners interested in powerbuilding should first focus on learning the correct form for compound movements fundamental to powerlifting. Once they're comfortable with these lifts (as well as main/common supplementary lifts), they can gradually introduce bodybuilding techniques, such as isolation exercises and varied rep ranges.

Starting with powerbuilding programmed aimed at beginners is important for ensuring that proper technique and training methodology are engrained as early on as possible.

“I’m a Powerbuilder

Nah, not me (although I have gone through a few powerbuilding cycles in my time!); it will be you who is making this statement if you decide to bite the bullet and take the plunge into dedicated powerbuilding training.

I’ll be honest; to me, it doesn’t have quite the ring to “I’m a powerlifter” or even “I’m a bodybuilder (babe)”.

@jt.powerbuilding

However…it does sound unique…and…the strength and physique developments…pretty much speak for themselves.

Overall, if you’re looking for something new with your training and the benefits discussed sound appealing to you, give powerbuilding a shot. If you really want to get “weird” with your training, check out our article discussing strongman training (specifically as it relates to powerlifting). Now that is a conversation starter!

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AUTHOR

Tom, CrossFit Level 1 Trainer, ISSA-CPT, PN1-NC, DPA, CAPM has been CrossFitting for over 10 years. He has participated in a number of team and individual CrossFit competitions across Europe and the United States. He was the 2012 Chick-fil-A Race Series champion (North Georgia Circuit) and has put together a few gnarly garage and basement gyms in his time!

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