For many of us 20-30 somethings, the term “powerbuilding” might seem new. In reality, it’s been around for a long time.
There was a time where Powerlifting and Bodybuilding were two very different worlds, and not many were crossing over into the other. One could speculate it was sort of a religion for two separate groups of people and it was one against the other. However, if we go back to the classic bodybuilding days of Ronnie Coleman and Arnold Schwarzenegger, you’ll find evidence these bodybuilders combined strength, hypertrophy AND power training into their regime. Athletes crossing over from powerlifting to bodybuilding (and vice versa) is not new, it’s just become popular and more conventional once again.
We’ve all been witness to many bro debates in the gym on whether training as a “powerlifter” will still get you that desired muscular physique. There are many of the opinion that it won’t. As I sit silently on the bench between sets and pretend my phone hasn’t died and I’m still listening to my music, I sneakily eavesdrop on these heated conversations. It’s interesting to me, since I myself am a self proclaimed cross-over competitor.
I’ll say this: some of the strongest “looking” individuals I know are the ones who are ACTUALLY strong. Competitive powerlifters have some of the nicest, most muscular physiques I have seen and the best part is; it’s not just for show.
Can you do both?
But there is a catch: it doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily be competitive in both.
At the end of the day, the key to growth in either muscle size or strength is volume. One might argue bodybuilders train in a higher volume threshold but that just isn’t the case. It all depends on your programming. If the muscle size increases, it will get stronger as long as you’re training for strength as well. If you have great programming combining compound lifts with accessory exercises, you can achieve gains in muscle size as well as strength. The biggest difference between individuals who train like powerlifters and walk around with a lean physique, and those who don’t, is diet. Let’s face it: bodybuilders are usually more concerned about diet than most powerlifters are. And this can be where the confusion lies.
The growing popularity of powerlifting
It seems like the cross over is more prominent with bodybuilders moving into powerlifting rather than the other way around. Although it isn’t true in every case, bodybuilders are getting bored with just looking great. They want to put that work to better use than being on stage with an orange tan for 30 seconds. Having an objective goal to work towards can be very liberating for someone who’s had to worry about someone’s opinion of them for so long. Taking a break from superficial goals can be very beneficial to any physique competitor.
Another factor in the growing popularity of powerlifting is the female athletes who have worked tirelessly to break the stereotype that women who lift will get “big and bulky”. Top female powerlifters have proven this just isn’t the case and women are starting to realize this. They want to be strong and they want to compete.
Can you be competitive if you’re focusing on two sports simultaneously?
Maybe… but unless you’re a genetic freak – and they do exist – one of the two will be lagging inevitably.
The best thing to do is choose ONE to focus on and stick to that for a while. The problem with training for a meet and a show at the same time is it is very difficult to have any sort of strength gains while in a caloric deficit. If you’re training for a show, you’re programming can be very similar, but most likely with more of a focus on higher rep ranges and added isolation exercises, while still working on the big three compound lifts (squat, bench, deadlift).
Many cross-over competitors will train for a few shows and then switch gears, take a year or two off and focus on performing on the powerlifting platform. This type of cycling has proven beneficial for many athletes. However, like most things in life, if you want to be the best at something you have to specialize in that ONE thing.
For most of you, choose what you love and do that.
About the author
Ashley Bird is the co-owner of The BarBelles. She is a certified personal trainer & nutrition coach, a powerlifting and show prep coach, and a natural bikini competitor & powerlifter herself. Ashley has a BBA in Sport and Leisure Management and is currently studying human sciences.