Sometimes the ‘middle ground’ is the better option.
It’s probably strange. Second ever blog article and here I am, talking about powerlifting and bodybuilding. Seems kind of boring and well, not really revolutionary to talk about. After all, most people probably have an idea of what powerlifting and bodybuilding are. Don’t worry; I am not going to give you an entire lecture over the history of bodybuilding, powerlifting, or the intricate details of each. But, I do find that the whole powerlifting versus bodybuilding discussion offers interesting insights into how natural recreational weightlifters might optimally train and how they perhaps can program their training programs to accomplish their long-term size and/or strength goals.
A different approach to weight-training
Nowadays, I think many people are too much into the whole black and white thinking of ‘I have to train like a powerlifter to get strong’ or ‘like a bodybuilder to get big’. However, whether your goal is size, strength, or both, this way of thinking about and planning your weight training can sometimes hinder rather than optimize your progress. The answer for natural recreational lifters could very well lie between the two. In other words, are we overlooking what the ‘center’ has to offer? Very rarely, you might hear someone whisper the word ‘powerbuilding’ (a fancier term for ‘the center’). Sadly, it usually stops at just a whisper. Whispers help no one. We need details! And yet, no one ever really talks about powerbuilding in its true glory. Which is a shame, because powerbuilding offers some very interesting discussion for us natural recreational lifters in weight training theory. Well, it’s not the end of the world, all the information is there, you just need to know how to piece it together and use it.
“Powerbuilding offers some very interesting discussion for us natural recreational lifters in weight training theory”.
An important question to ask ourselves then, why do we keep thinking in black and white terms? Why is it, that when we begin our weightlifting journey, we are inclined to follow one or the other? Is it because we are constantly surrounded by the terms: ‘bodybuilding’ and ‘powerlifting’? It’s definitely true that as a weightlifter (professional or recreational) you are constantly surrounded by these terms. In the gym, online, books, magazines, you name it! Sometimes you hear these words so often that you begin to ask yourself, does weightlifting mean I have to train like a powerlifter, or as a bodybuilder? Another thing to think about, is when it comes to the iron, you will come across lots of advice. This advice (as seen on forums, magazines, books and from your idols etc.) usually comes from the professional powerlifters and bodybuilders. But is it logical to assume that if such advice worked for this athlete, it’s going to work for you? Conventional wisdom tells us, that to be the best, we should learn from the best. In terms of powerlifting and bodybuilding, the idea would then be that if you follow what these people are doing, you will reach your size and/or strength goals in no time. In many cases, studying under the best can certainly be an advantage to us. We are human after all, we strive to be the best, and sometimes, we think, well these guys (our idols) obviously know something I don’t. I will take every opportunity! Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying these people are wrong, or their advice is terrible (they do give us a starting point and act as a source of motivation). But from my experience, a lot of this weightlifting advice is just not optimal for everyday, natural recreational lifters.
Shifting the focus to Powerbuilding
So, what do I see happening on a daily basis? Well, I tend to see many everyday lifters try to replicate the methods of professional bodybuilders and powerlifters (e.g. the latest workouts, strategies, programs, diets)– short term, some results are seen, but in the long-term, their progress usually reaches a jamming point. Really, the terms ‘natural’ and ‘recreational’ should give us clues as to why we can’t always follow religiously the advice of the pros to guide our own training, and expect the same results. We as natural, recreational weightlifters perhaps need to be looking at weightlifting in slightly different ways (regardless if such theory is followed or not by the pros). Maybe then, the entire ball game is different for us, and need to start directing a little more attention towards this whole powerbuilding concept. By all means, follow your idols for inspiration and motivation, (I still do!). But, when it comes to assessing the theory behind their methods, we need to honestly ask ourselves, does it still work and hold the same effectiveness (for size and strength gains) if I am natural and do this for recreational purposes? Honestly, for most of us, in the long run, it won’t. Don’t worry; there is light at the end of the tunnel! It just means we need to think outside the box a little.
“I tend to see many everyday lifters try to replicate the methods of professional bodybuilders and powerlifters”.
For most of us natural, recreational weightlifters our goals are centered on long-term gains in size and/or strength. After all, we do this frequently and at every opportunity we get. We want those size and strength gains! So then, in order to establish the importance of this powerbuilding to natural recreational lifters, let’s take a look first in the simplest sense, at what bodybuilding and powerlifting entails (although for any weightlifting pros that come and read this article, the details will sometimes vary, so bear with me). Powerlifting is the pursuit of maximal strength (mainly in the squat, bench and deadlift exercises). Bodybuilding however, is the pursuit of size and symmetry. In order to achieve these goals, people usually structure their weight training a particular way. Typically in a powerlifting regime, people will follow a high–intensity, low–volume driven program (that is, keep the repetitions and exercise sets low, and focus on increasing weight on the bar). Conversely, those following a bodybuilding regime will follow a high–volume, low–intensity driven approach (that is, utilizing high repetition and set schemes, but keeping the weight on the bar lower).
“The bodybuilding or powerlifting approach might be less than optimal for natural, recreational weightlifters”.
This all looks pretty simple and easy to follow. Well, it is! However, it is because of these general training principles, that following the bodybuilding or powerlifting approach might be less than optimal for natural, recreational weightlifters. Whether your goal is size, strength or both, one or the other might prove a suboptimal way of training over the long-term. In the short-term, these weight training program structures will work. After all, if you are an absolute beginner, then you will typically respond to anything (you might have come across the fitness slang term – ‘Nooby gainz’). During this stage, the size and strength gains come quick, regardless of your weight training programming. I can tell you, I wish it were always like that. Those first few months where it feels like anything is achievable and every gym session you feel on top of the world. It’s also logical, that at this stage, you would be confident in the advice that the pros have given you. You have your high-volume, or high-intensity driven program specially designed for you (or maybe you found one online or in a magazine). The results are flying in and you are all set! You have decided ‘I am going to stick with this, it’s a safe bet’. I hate to be the bringer of bad news, but these ‘nooby gain’ effects are only short-term. Eventually, that constant stream of progression and feeling on top of the world slows down. Sometimes, it can stop completely. As we train for longer and become more advanced, our bodies become more resilient to change. As a result, we are forced to start thinking more carefully about switching up our training programming.
“Powerbuilding actually provides us with a way into a more optimal, longer-term route to size and strength gains”.
For many natural, recreational weightlifters, they fall in love with either high-volume or high-intensity weight-training routines and become stuck and fixated on one or the other training methodologies. Once they find that one high-volume or high-intensity driven approach no longer works, they search for another one. Only to encounter more roadblocks and sub-optimal size and strength results. Luckily, it is not all bad news! Powerbuilding actually provides us natural, recreational lifters with a way in to a more optimal, longer-term route to size and strength gains. We just need to expose and talk about it more and inform people that it can play a tremendous role in the long-term goals of natural, recreational lifters.
Exposing the un-tapped potential of powerbuilding
So, we are now coming to the end of our nooby gainz. The traditional way of thinking about weightlifting is no longer optimal and we want to continue those size and strength gains into the longer-term. Well, don’t put high-volume and high-intensity in the closet yet, because we actually still need them. O? Yes! In powerbuilding, we are now going to program our training to alternate between high-volume and high-intensity. As you will learn a lot more in later articles, it is more optimal in the long-term, as a natural recreational weightlifter, to work with both. It is very possible, and once I guide you through the theory and programming of it all, you will quickly realize that there is a lot of un-tapped potential waiting to be brought into the light. It seems silly, this whole blog article only to say ‘combine the two’. But trust me, once you know everything about the theory and programming behind ‘powerbuilding’, you will already be ahead of every other natural, recreational weightlifter. So the closing question then. Ready to re-experience that rush, the on-top of the world feeling and those nooby gainz? Then continue reading, because I wish I knew this stuff when I first began my journey!
If you have any questions about the article or would like to discuss further some of the topics mentioned, then please feel free to leave comments down below. Have you ever heard of powerbuilding?