Powerbuilding: The Essential Guide

Back in the golden age of bodybuilding, athletes were considered monsters. Why monsters? Because they possessed an inhuman amount of both size and strength, pushing the human body to its absolute maximum natural limit.

Fast forward, and bodybuilding is now a sport riddled with who can tolerate the most anabolic steroids and performance-enhancing drugs to be the best, which usually coincides with size but with the major risk of lifelong adverse health effects occurring.

Why is it that the bodybuilders of yesteryear were so successful, even before the commercialization and widespread abuse of steroids? The answer may lie in a simple and straightforward training methodology known as power building.

What Exactly Is Powerbuilding?

Powerbuilding at its core is a romantic notion. You’re probably wondering how romance has come into play when we started out by discussing training, no? Just think about it. The mere name says it all; power-building.

Considered the love child of powerlifting and bodybuilding, powerbuilding is a hybrid style training program that can dramatically increase muscular size and strength.

You might recall many years ago when you had just started working out (or maybe just recently if this applies to you), how muscle gain and strength increases came in boatloads. You did not have to spend all your brain power calculating optimal rep ranges, calculating macronutrients and the like.

It seemed as if your body responded to whatever you threw at it. And that was very true to an extent. But arguably, the most important reason why it worked so well was because you were testing your body’s potential from the get-go, using weight that was considered near maximal, and not performing a shit load of working sets.

Fast forward to now – you’ve probably hit a plateau, or 10, feel stagnant, or just confused by all the noise generated by the latest trendy work out “guaranteed” to work this time. Where did you go wrong? One thing remains painfully clear to this day, and that is the fact that the simplest way is often the better choice.

Power building doesn’t require you to perform 50 different working sets per session, but rather very few of these and an effective working rep range.

Powerlifting and Bodybuilding

While you are likely to have a decent working knowledge of the two primary schools of training, a quick refresher never hurt anyone.

Powerlifting at its core is geared towards steadily increasing the force your muscles can generate to successively increase your one rep max. Powerlifters focus mainly on the big three lifts, namely the bench press, squat and deadlift. There is a bit of scattered isolation and accessory moves added to workouts for good measure, but the emphasis is on increasing the primary three.

Bodybuilding, on the other hand attempts to induce muscular hyper trophy to obtain size and symmetry. Many bodybuilders try to attain perfect balance between the two, which is achieved by using moderate rep ranges and with less regard for overall strength development.

Do you see where we’re getting with this? Powerbuilding fuses the best attributes of both of these methodologies in order to help you forge a body that is both strong and muscular.

Aren’t Strength and Size Synonymous With Each Other?

Aren’t Strength and Size Synonymous With Each Other?

When you now started working out, this was definitely the notion you had in your head. And for a while this was very true. As we previously mentioned at the beginning of this article, your body seemed to respond to whatever you gave it. You would get stronger and bigger regardless of if you did low reps, high reps, or medium reps.

Over time though, your progress stalled, forcing you to try and extract the best components for your particular goals. This should go without saying by now, but you should have some sort of specific goals in mind.

If you are primarily interested in building slabs of muscle, you likely gravitated towards the bodybuilding school of thought, while if your primary intention was to get the strongest possible, you may have developed a powerlifting mindset.

But what about the middle ground people? There was a very good chance that you were forced to go one of the two directions because of lack of training protocols that seemed to align with what you wanted. And this is a major travesty, simply because even many veteran coaches have never taken the time to extol its possible virtues.

To Fail or Not to Fail?

Failure is a hotly debated topic in the weightlifting world. No, we are not referring to your inability to become a great success, or far too many people would consider themselves failures and become demotivated.

Instead, were talking about muscular failure. Training to failure is both advantageous and disadvantageous depending on where your training loyalties lie. For instance, pure powerlifters hardly take sets to muscular failure, and this is simply because a single rep is unlikely to utterly fatigue a muscle group.

This is beneficial to their training, however, as a very large part of developing strength relates to neurological adaptation. Frequently hitting failure on every working set does not support strengthening of the neuromuscular connection as much as one rep max training does.

Conversely, in bodybuilding, training to failure is highly desirable. Muscular failure helps create biochemical and endocrinological changes that ultimately make muscles more pliable to change, and in turn, growth.

Muscles generally only gets larger if the specific stimulus is sufficient to trigger the change. Your muscles won’t necessarily get larger if the body senses they are capable of performing this movement one single time, or on the flipside, if you want to do in excess of 20 repetitions. If you frequently perform over 20 repetitions, adaptations may be made to simply reduce the time before you become fatigued.

And this might be exactly where power building excels.

The Heart and Soul of Powerbuilding

Let’s go back again to the time when you had just started working out. Regardless of if you are self-taught or put under the tutelage of a trainer, the major similarity had to be that you limited the number of working sets performed per body part.

For the large muscle groups, this may have been six working sets, while for the smaller ones three normally sufficed. This was not a bad methodology at all, since increasing the number of working sets to infinitum is never a sustainable plan. Rather, the only real way to continually make progression is by increasing the weight.

Just think of that for a minute. Increasing weight. Sounds like powerlifting right? That is actually the “power” part of power building.

The other half, actual building, revolves around yes, you guessed it, building muscle!

Wondering what’s the sweet spot for actually building mass? It’s true, a moderate rep range is still king.

Putting Together the Bits and Pieces

If you’ve been following so far, you’ve probably noticed that we haven’t come out and said what you should be doing, as yet. We are slowly building up to that by feeding you breadcrumbs in order to get your mental gears turning.

Now that’s accomplished, it’s time we just come out and say it – the ultimate power building work out involves two principles, performing moderately high rep ranges, with reasonably heavy weight for a low number of working sets.

Sounds impossible? We know. But there is one technique that can help you accomplish all of these things quite effectively; a little something called the rest pause.

What is Rest Pause Training?

Rest pause training is considered a high intensity technique. High intensity techniques should be performed in frequently, or combined with an overall low training volume. This is why it blends so nicely into a powerbuilding routine.

With rest pause training, you are effectively capable of moving much more weight by combining with brief rest periods interspersed throughout one working set.

So, one rest pause set can actually look like three low-rep heavy sets combined into one. It’s not uncommon to see rep ranges looking like 6+4+2 in one rest pause set. When you add up those numbers, you’ve actually performed 12 repetitions, and likely with significantly more weight than you would be able to if you had performed one straight set of 12 reps.

Powerbuilding Protocol

There isn’t one specific power building protocol per say, but one that I have used and experienced significant size and strength increases with is one known as Doggcrapp, popularized by trainer Dante Trudel. Now before you literally laugh your ass off until you crap your pants, understand this workout is no laughing matter.

In fact, unless you are 110% dedicated to it, don’t even attempt it. It requires meticulous training logging, down to the pound used, as your measure of success every single workout (or very near to it) is an increase in either the number of reps performed or weight used.

Otherwise known as DC training, the majority of training sets are performed in the rest pause fashion, with the exception of squats and deadlifts. Your goal for the most part is to ensure you hit a minimum rep count of between 12 and 20 reps in each rest pause set, before increasing the weight and doing it all again.

Another common principle of many powerbuilding workouts is to train each body part at least twice in an eight day period, which means alternating upper and lower body days. This is accomplished by training 3 days per week (each body part is trained twice in 8 days) or 4 days per week (each body part is trained twice in 7 days)

Popular Powerbuilding Programs

Apart from the aforementioned Doggcrapp method of training, there are other powerbuilding programs out there. I’ve personally never had to try the others, but since there are many overlapping aspects of these programs, you might have unconsciously done them to an extent at some time without even realizing it.

In many of these program names you will find the letters “PH”, which simply stands for power-hypertrophy, which is what these programs seek to achieve. Common variations include:

Greyskull Lifting Program

Popularized by John Schaefer, also known as “Johnny Pain”, the Greyskull linear progression program was developed to improve aspects of starting strength focusing on the big lifts with “plug-ins” for specific goals such as conditioning or lagging body parts.

PHUL Hypertrophy Training

Developed by Brandon Campbell, even though this is a powerbuilding program it emphasizes strength a bit more than hypertrophy. Because of this, it is preferred by powerlifters in the off-season as it supports strength preservation.

PHAT Workout Program

Developed by Layne Norton, the program; Powerbuilding hypertrophy adaptative training is a great option for beginner to intermediate athletes, emphasizing strength during phase one, and subsequently size afterwards.


Also by Layne Norton, this is an upgrade of the PHAT program that is geared at high level intermediate to advanced athletes. It adds more volume to help trainees squeeze out more size, and if possible-strength.

Barbend Powerbuilding Program

A 10 week program that includes blocks for strength and hypertrophy, as well as scheduled deloads for continuous progression.

The Showdown: Powerlifting Vs Bodybuilding Vs Crossfit Vs Powerbuilding

Is there a single best training methodology? To put it bluntly, no. there might be justification from all the various schools of thought, but they each have strengths and weaknesses. My personal opinion would be this;

Powerlifting is an excellent place to start in order to master technique and build a solid and stable base for continuous strength gain. You will definitely gain some mass, but don’t expect to be aesthetically pleasing to the eye.

Bodybuilding will be a natural draw for most naïve athletes. Looking good is never bad, but you need to tread carefully when delving deep into the sport laced with performance enhancers. Strength won’t be too shabby either, but the goal is about the look and less about actually being strong.

Powerbuilding is a hybrid of powerlifting and bodybuilding, and overall my favorite. You might not achieve the pinnacle of either of the two disciplines, but you do also experience the best of both worlds to a large extent. It is also a great way for bodybuilders to break a rut, especially where strength is concerned.

CrossFit, while laughed at by many, isn’t that bad. In fact, in terms of sheer fitness, you are unlikely to beat a crossfitter. Their conditioning is just out of this world, with real world performance benefits. The truth is, it is too tough for many people as it takes a ton out of your cardio-pulmonary system. You’re bound to feel like crap when you can’t keep up, and if you’re trying it out after being deep in another discipline for a long time, you’ll probably dismiss it just to save face.

The truth hurts- but CrossFit might just be best to leave you equipped for dealing with the real world.

The Essentials

So now you’re ready to powerbuild, off to the bench you go, right? Not so fast. One very important tool in a powerbuilders arsenal would have to be micro plates. These are effectively very small weight plates, or even magnets, that add a small amount of load to a bar.

Increments can start as small as one-quarter pound, to ensure that you continue adding weight to workouts. A bench, and barbell rack will also go a very far way if you work out at home.

In Summary

Powerbuilding programs are great for beginners and high level intermediates alike. It is not often employed by advanced level athletes who may have specialized in one style over another. It is, however, the best option for consolidating strength and size, particularly suited for busy professionals that otherwise can’t go to the gym several times weekly. You can progress extremely far on a powerbuilding program, and craft the body of your dreams- all it takes is consistency in training and solid nutritional choices.

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Michael Jessimy, BSc(Pharmacy)

Michael is a qualified Pharmacist with over 10 years experience dealing with a range of both prescription and alternative remedies. He is also an amateur heavyweight bodybuilder and loves spending his spare time hitting the gym. He strives to help others build the best body possible through fitness, health and nutrition consultation and has several published books under his name.

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