Tom Wright is a personal trainer who has competed in both physique powerlifting contests and is a sponsored Reflex Nutrition athlete. He lives in London.
When it comes to weightlifting two of the main trains of thought are powerlifting and bodybuilding. For aesthetics and building muscle there is no doubt that bodybuilders have found the best ways to do it, but to achieve record breaking strength you look to the powerlifters. Both rely on lifting weights to build muscle and strength with each discipline focussing more on one than the other. So surely there must be crossover between the two sports that can be beneficial to both types of trainer? Here’s what physique competitors can learn from strength training athletes.
1 Strength training sessions are based around movements and big compound lifts
A powerlifter will look at which lift they want to perform maximally and then train the muscle groups that complete these movements. By performing a compound lift followed by multiple assistance exercises they have greater increases in strength than if they simply focussed on one body part. Increases in strength will allow a physique athlete to lift more and increase their muscle mass by allowing them to increase overall load and training volume. Strength training also aids in developing smaller stabilising muscles which will help avoid injury and also add to an athletes physique.
2 Periodisation is key to getting the most out of your training
Powerlifters know the benefits of working through specific training blocks to get the most out of their training. Periodisation is how we organise training, and generally refers to the amount of time certain stressors are put on the body. It also dictates how much stress and when to apply this to create the desired result (usually strength on a given lift). If we look at an overview of our training for around 3-4 months – known as a macrocycle – we know the overall goal and training outcome.
By then breaking it down further into months and weeks (mesocycles and microcycles) we can see from session to session what is required in order to increase strength and add muscle. Not every session should be about maximal loads so knowing when to push and when to back off will help to improve from block to block. If physique athletes apply the same principles to their hypertrophy work and incorporate some strength training they would see larger increases in strength and in turn, musculature.
3 Increased training frequency can lead to greater hypertrophy and faster recovery
If we compare a powerlifting weekly training routine of working body parts multiple times per week with the traditional bodybuilding split of training one body part per week a few things stand out; powerlifters seem to have a faster recovery time with regards to muscle soreness, and are able to train again sooner due to less volume per session. It’s also no secret that squatting three times per week instead of one is a great way to increase your lower body strength.
In recent studies it was found that trainees who trained body parts up to 3x per week saw significantly greater increases in strength and hypertrophy than those who worked them once per week over a three day training split. If you are looking to maximise hypertrophy then finding a balance between training frequency and training volume is certainly going to be beneficial. To increase lean muscle mass train muscle groups twice per week with sufficient volume for growth.