By now it’s a cliché: everybody wants to be a bodybuilder, but nobody wants to lift heavy weights! That’s not exactly true, of course – powerlifting and other strength sports are quickly growing in popularity – but as gyms reopen, you’ll start to see plenty of people rolling into Gold’s and the like.
They’ll profess a desire to “get huge,” but then you’ll see them endlessly cranking out et after set of isolation movements with no more than a plate on the bar.
I imagine that few readers of BarBend fall into that category. Nevertheless, even if you are knowledgeable about training, you’ve probably struggled to figure out how to combine both in one training cycle. Instead, you probably alternate between training for strength and for hypertrophy.
That’s smart: to a large extent, it’s more beneficial to focus on one at a time, even if you do want to be both big and strong. But there’s also the emotional connection to training we discussed earlier this month, and that’s important. You’re always going to devote more effort and intensity to the program you’re excited about than the one that you’re following because it’s the “right way to do things.”
So, for all you powerbuilders, I thought it would be helpful to share my own training split so that you can see how I balance pursuing two goals at once during the offseason.
The Workout Split
Without further ado, here’s the training split:
- Size: Front Delts & Triceps
- Strength: Bench Press (midrange/lockout emphasis)
- Size: Hamstrings, Adductors, & Glutes
- Strength: Squat (posterior chain emphasis)
- Size: Chest & Side Delts
- Strength: Bench Press (chest/midrange emphasis)
- Size: Lats, Rear Delts, & Biceps
- Strength: Deadlift (midrange/lockout emphasis)
- Repeat Day 1
- Size: Quads & Calves
- Strength: Squat (anterior chain emphasis)
- Repeat Day 3
- Size: Mid/Low Back & Traps
- Strength: Deadlift (floor emphasis)
- Repeat entire split, starting with day 1, taking 1-2 off days per week as needed
Why It Works
First, I’ll admit that yes, this is a complicated design. Let’s break it down to really understand why that complexity is necessary.
Recall from my UYP YouTube series the three fundamental variables behind programming: volume, intensity, and frequency. Any form of training for size will necessarily involve high volume to be successful, so we can’t really manipulate that one. And if volume is high, intensity must remain fairly low (according to the theory of periodization, and assuming the lifter in question is past the beginner phase), so that’s out, too.
That leaves frequency, and several good pieces of research show that a higher frequency of training will produce better gains in terms of both size and strength. So, know we want to keep frequency high for bodybuilding, too.
To summarize, our ideal setup for bodybuilding looks something like this:
- V: moderate/high
- I: low
- F: moderate/high
Again, we can’t increase intensity much, because if we’re maxing out on all three variables for more than a week or two, we’re almost sure to burn out.
And that’s the problem: intensity – defined as weight on the bar – is a crucial driver of strength. If we keep intensity low all the time, we’re very unlikely to add much weight to the bar over time. That’s why you see so many bodybuilders who look much stronger than they are!
The solution is simple. We separate our goals for hypertrophy and our goals for strength within each session, and arrange our training split (or microcycle) in order to minimize overlap. Here’s a more in-depth video explanation.
There are two takeaways from that video:
- You can conceptualize training in terms of a push/pull/legs grouping for both bodybuilding and powerlifting. In bodybuilding, “push” would consist of chest, shoulder, and triceps training; and in powerlifting, it would involve a bench press variation. The same goes for the other two groups.
- Those groupings can be further divided based on experience level so that intra-session workload remains tolerable.
Ultimately, if you can balance these two things correctly, you’ll have a viable split. One of the biggest mistakes I see made by new lifters, though, is the tendency to overestimate their abilities. That’s why I suggest if you want to try out something like this, you start with a standard push/pull/legs split, training three days per week (you can throw in an arm day for kicks if you like) and benching, squatting, and deadlifting accordingly. Once you’ve exhausted progress on that routine, you can move on to something like what’s below.
Intermediate PowerBuilding Split
Day 1 (Upper, Push Emphasis)
- Bench Press
- DB Flye
- DB Shoulder Press
- Upright Row
- Elbows-Out Extension
- Chin or Lat Pulldown
- Barbell Curl
Day 2 (Lower, Push Emphasis)
- Leg Press
- Split Squat
- Hamstring Curl
- Calf Raise
Day 3 (Upper, Pull Emphasis)
- Close-Grip Bench Press
- DB Bench Press
- Lateral Raise
- T-Bar Row
- DB Pullover
- Chin or Lat Pulldown
- Hammer Curl
- Machine Curl
Day 4 (Upper, Pull Emphasis)
- Front Squat
- Leg Press with feet high and wide
- DB Leg Curl
- Calf Raise
You’ll notice this is somewhat of a traditional powerlifting split. It uses two upper days, focusing on the bench and the (lighter) close-grip bench; and two lower, focusing on the squat and deadlift. Then we add in enough volume through accessory work to provide an adequate growth stimulus without overreaching.
In hindsight, this method of program design is incredibly simple – but it works incredibly well. Give it a shot and let me know what you think!