You all probably know that I’m taking a break from powerlifting to focus on getting my pro card in bodybuilding — an ambitious feat, to be sure, but one that I truly believe is possible based on my last three-month stint spent in bodybuilding.
That (admittedly half-hearted) effort resulted in this physique:
This time, I’m all in, and fully prepared to commit a whole year to the journey of improving my physique flaws.
But just shortly after getting into the bodybuilding lifestyle, I’m realizing how beneficial this endeavor will be to my powerlifting career as well. Now, I’ve written about some of the benefits of bodybuilding before, and how even just a little bit of hypertrophy work can benefit the average powerlifter.
This article is a little different: it’s about a pure bodybuilding approach, where you’re doing a typical “bro-split” and chasing the pump rather than sprinkling in some high-rep training along with your strength work.
Trust me: I know that might sound a bit misguided, but finish reading the following suggestions before you make a final judgement.
Bodybuilding Benefit 1: Give Yourself a Break!
If you’re anything like me, you love to train, and can’t imagine a life without the gym in it somewhere. But at the same time, powerlifting year-round takes a major toll on your body, particularly your joints. Bodybuilding training is a great way to stay in the gym, making progress, without beating yourself up in the same way. After even a few weeks of bodybuilding, you’ll probably notice that your minor aches and pains start to disappear, and you’ll also probably find the pain-free life pretty darn enjoyable for a change.
Yeah, there’s a masochistic pleasure to be had in the “hit by a truck” feeling after a heavy session, but live with that for long enough, and it gets more frustrating than rewarding. It’s a good mental break as well. There’s a saying that goes something like “change is as good as rest,” and that’s very true here.
Getting under heavy weights day-in and day-out requires a lot of psychological arousal, a very intense sort of focus, and maybe a certain amount of insanity (not that that’s a bad thing). Pumping out rep after rep still requires focus — arguably even more than the former — but it’s a different sort of focus, and a more sustainable kind as well. You can read more about that in this article!
Bodybuilding Benefit 2: Build Muscle or Lose Fat
This one is pretty simple. Some people argue that powerlifting is ideal for hypertrophy, because a stronger muscle is a bigger muscle, and that’s true — to an extent. But muscle is made up of much more than just contractile tissue. There’s a lot of “other stuff,” like intracellular fluid, for example, that makes up the majority of your muscular size.
Studies show that typical hypertrophy training is best for maximizing that size, and so getting bigger and looking good is the (very) obvious benefit of taking a bodybuilding break every once in a while. That’s hugely valuable if you’re trying to move up a weight class.
There’s another benefit, too. Unless you have truly stellar genetics, it’s likely that powerlifting won’t develop your physique evenly.Your shoulders, arms and legs might well be a good bit smaller than your back and chest, for example. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s possible that some overlooked muscle groups will, at some point, result in an injury or sticking point when you’re trying to move max weight.
Bodybuilding Benefit 3: Learn New Strategies
At first, I found bodybuilding training to be, well… boring.
Cranking out rep after rep with a light weight makes for a great pump, but it’s usually not actually hard — at least, not in comparison to powerlifting. But you can make it just as difficult, with some creative strategies! More importantly, if you really want to develop your physique to the fullest, you’ll have to find some new ways to challenge your lagging muscle groups. In most cases, those methods will benefit your powerlifting prowess as well.
Here are a couple methods I’m starting to use in my training:
- Shorter rest periods. I’m used to resting at least 5 or 6 minutes in between sets — if not 10, 15, or even more. When I’m training solely for strength, I want to make sure that I’m fully recovered before attempting another set. But those kinds of rest times are a great way to kill your pump quick, and that’s not good! I’ve found that by moving quickly between sets, not only do I have to push myself significantly harder, but I also can make even very light weights feel just as challenging as reps of 90% or more of my one-rep max.
Here’s the powerlifting-focused takeaway from that: If you move faster during your powerlifting training, then you may be able to progress using lighter weights than you’re used to. That’s a good thing, because it means you’ll be saving recovery resources and decreasing your risk of injury (at least a little bit).
- Training the powerlifts using different technique. That’s a mouthful, so let me give you an example. When I’m squatting to move maximal weight, I’m going to use a low-bar position, a very narrow stance, and keep my feet pointed straight ahead. This unconventional technique allows me to take advantage of my unique leverages.
Here’s the powerlifting-focused takeaway from that: Now that I’m focused more on quad hypertrophy than moving maximal weight, I’m keeping my narrow stance, but switching to a high bar position and turning my feet out quite a bit more. The result? The squat feels much more like a leg press, and I can comfortably crank out reps without strain on my shoulders or lower back.
I might not use this technique in powerlifting competition, but in the future, I strongly suspect that I will make use of it on my lighter training days, when I want to keep my lower back and shoulders fresh for heavier benching or deadlifting elsewhere in my training cycle, while still training my squat hard.
My Bodybuilding Journey
If you enjoyed this article, and would like to follow along with my bodybuilding journey (which I’m calling Project Big Ben) — make sure to check out my channel on YouTube. Also keep your eye out for more articles here on BarBend, where I’ll be sharing the best insights I gain, my successes and (inevitable) setbacks, and more!
And of course, if there are any specifics you’d like to read about, be sure to mention them in the comments below!
Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.
Feature image from @phdeadlift Instagram page.