What is power building?

‘Powerbuilding’ is a combination of both powerlifting and bodybuilding, two similar sports each with a very different focus. The focus with powerlifting is to develop explosive strength, whilst in bodybuilding, the focus is to develop muscle mass. Both use resistance training to reach these ends but in very different ways. Some of the titans of the fitness industry swear by some form of power building, including Layne Norton, Bradley Martyn, and Mike O’Hearn.


Many training plans are, in theory, powerbuilding plans; as most powerlifting routines will contain a ‘hypertrophy’ phase, where, in the first few higher reps, lighter weights are used to build up the muscle mass, before this muscle is then worked explosively with move heavy weights. Additionally, many bodybuilding routines contain the 3 powerlifts, and some bodybuilders might advise low rep, high weight work on these lifts to build strength and power. The two sports greatly complement each other, and an understanding of the differences between the two could greatly accelerate your training whether your goal is to build strength, size, or both.


About me

I am an economics student at the University of Reading where I am president of the MASS society. I started training with basic bodyweight movements in my back garden just before turning 13, after watching a Bruce Lee film. I quickly realised I enjoyed training and that my body responded really well to it. By the time I was 15 I was already fairly strong and joined a gym for the first time and I started to progress even faster.


At age 17, I began incorporating heavy compound barbell movements into my training and became obsessed with building strength. Since then, I have trained with a hybrid of powerlifting and bodybuilding to build the athletic, aesthetic and powerful physique that I aspire towards. In 2016, I competed in my first competiton, a MASS powerlifting event, and managed to win my category. It was a great buzz so I entered the next MASS event which was the Student Physique Competition where I placed 1st in the Tall men’s physique category. Since then, I went on to compete in British Powerlifting and managed to place 5th in the country in the ‘under 105kg’ class. I am competing again this year, in the ever competitive ‘under 93kg’ class and am aiming to place top 3.


About this training routine

There are a number of ways to combine powerlifting and bodybuilding, and at different times I have tried very different approaches. Below is one of my favourite methods because it is simple and makes for some very brutal but epic training sessions.


The basic premise is that each day starts with a ‘power’ section, where the focus is to lift heavy weight for low reps to develop strength, followed up by a ‘hypertrophy’ section where lighter weights for higher reps will stimulate the muscles to grow. More details regarding on how to optimise lifting for both strength and size will follow as other factors like lifting tempo, rest time and training intensity are all very important to differentiate training for power and size.


I approach the ‘power’ and ‘hypertrophy’ sections very differently. The power section of my workouts might contain only 4 or 5 sets but it can take up half of the whole workout as I like to take my time warming up and often do as many warm up sets on the power exercise as I do working sets. I rest as long as I need to between these working sets, focusing on moving the weight and not pumping the muscle. By contrast, in the hypertrophy section my focus is to move fast, keep the heart rate up and hit sets with as little rest as possible. Often, I will incorporate drop sets or supersets into my training to reduce the rest time to 0 and really push my muscles.


Workout routine


Mixed power and hypertrophy work.


A template for the split would be:

Day 1: Push power + Chest + Triceps

Day 2: Pull power + Back + Biceps

Day 3: Legs power + Calves

Day 4: Rest

Day 5: Push power + Shoulders

Day 6: Legs power / Pull / Biceps + Triceps

Day 7: Rest


The basic power movements that I like are:

  • Push movements: barbell bench, overhead press, weighted dip
  • Pull movements: barbell row, weighted pull up
  • Lower body movements: squat, deadlift (also a pull movement)


These moves are all compound lifts, which means they work multiple muscle groups at the same time. Weighted dips, pull ups and barbell rows are not typically considered power movements but they have been instrumental to my training and I attribute a lot of my development to this focus on simple and effective lifts.


An example from my recent training


Day 1: Push power + Chest + Triceps


Push power

Barbell Bench

– 4 sets of 2-7 reps



Dumbbell Press (varied inclines)

– 4 sets of 8-16 reps

Dumbbell Fly (varied inclines)

– 4 sets of 8-16 reps



EZ bar Skull Crushers

– 4 sets of 12-16 reps

Triceps overhead dumbbell

– 4 sets of 12-16 reps

Tricep Cable Extension

– 3 sets of 12-16 reps


Day 2: Pull power + Back + Biceps


Pull power

Weighted Pull Ups

– 4 sets of 2-7 reps



Pull Ups

– 2 sets of 8-16 reps

Barbell Row

– 4 sets of 8-16 reps

Seated row

– 4 sets of 8-16 reps



Preacher curls

– 4 sets of 12-16 reps

Dumbbell hammer curls

– 4 sets of 12-16 reps

Dumbbell concentration curl

– 3 sets of 12-16 reps


Day 3: Legs Power + Calves


Legs Power


– 6 sets of 2-7 reps



Calf press

– 4 sets of 12-16 reps

Seated calf extension

– 3 sets of 12-16 reps

Calf raises

– 3 sets of 12-16 reps


Day 4: Rest


Day 5: Push power + Shoulders


Push power

Overhead Press

– 4 sets of 2-7 reps



Dumbell Shoulder Press

– 3 sets of 10-16 reps

Dumbell lateral raise

– 3 sets of 12-16 reps

Dumbell front raise

– 3 sets of 12-16 reps

Behind Neck Press (light)

– 3 sets of 12-16 reps

Upright Row

– 3 sets of 12-16 reps


Day 6: Wildcard.

Selection from:

Legs Power / Pull Power / Biceps + Triceps / Weak point day


Depending on what I did the previous week, how my body is feeling or what my current goals might be, this day could be the second squat session of the week, some heavy deadlifts and front squats, or a day to train some arm muscles. I find deadlifting every week alongside squatting and rowing a bit much on my lower back, so I typically deadlift once a fortnight. More recently, I have been treating wildcard day as a weak point day to work on my calves, traps or triceps.


Day 6: Pull power + Legs Power


Pull power


– 4 sets of 2-7 reps

Deficit Deadlifts

– 4 sets of 3-7 reps

Legs power

Front Squats

– 4 sets of 3-7 reps


Day 7: Rest


How to train with this program


As I mentioned, it’s not simply the number of reps that determines whether you are optimising your training to build strength or size, lifting tempo, form, rest time and training intensity are also very important in differentiating between the two. I will briefly go through each factor and explain how I change each one depending on whether I am training for strength or size. This is by no means an exhaustive list of all the differences between powerlifting and bodybuilding training, but simply a few things that I feel are very important to focus on.


Rep Range


One of the most important distinctions in building either strength or size is the rep range used. The time that your muscles spend under strain dictates what kind of muscle fibre your body will utilise.

Mike chart 1

Generally there are two types of muscle fibre:

White muscle fibres

 These are used for low rep, higher intensity work over short period of time. They are the sprinting muscles and can be trained to work with great explosive power and speed.


Red muscle fibres

These are used for higher rep work and can operate for longer periods of time. They cannot, however, move as explosively, or with as much force as white muscle fibres, but have far better endurance and also have a greater capacity to increase in mass under training.


If you have ever met someone who looks really big but wasn’t that strong when it comes to heavy weights, the differences between white and red fibres could help you understand why. That individual might only train their red muscle cells giving them great muscular size, definition and endurance, but lack the training in the white muscle cells and CNS to unify their explosive power and move a heavy 1 rep max.


By contrast, you might know someone who can shift huge amounts of metal explosively without much muscle to show for it. This is because white muscle fibre doesn’t grow with training as much as red muscle fibre does.


Lifting Tempo


The speed of lifting ties in very closely with the rep range, and powerlifters and bodybuilders will focus on the speed at which they lift for different reasons.


For powerlifting lifting, fast is much more likely to lead to a successful lift and the best lifters will move extremely explosively. Powerlifters might choose to lift slowly controlling their tempo in training to iron out weak points, however, in general, lifting quickly, efficiently and explosively is the goal, as this will further develop the explosive muscle fibres and enable you to overcome increasingly more weight.


For bodybuilding to gain pure mass there is little reason to lift quickly. It increases your chances of injury, reduces the effectiveness of each rep and serves only your ego as you are able to get more reps than if you lifted slowly and carefully. Your muscle responds to the time under tension it receives (and not actually the number of reps) so lifting with a slow controlled tempo and pausing at the hardest part of the movement is an ideal way to maximise your muscle gains and get a better pump.





Form is extremely important to both powerlifting and bodybuilding. To differentiate how form might be different in these two sports, let’s compare a powerlifter’s squat to a bodybuilder’s squat.


A bodybuilder’s focus when squatting is muscle breakdown in the legs, so for example, they might position themselves to make the movement more intense on their quads by standing with a narrow stance, resting the bar high on their back and keeping their spine fairly upright.


In contrast, a powerlifter will want to position themselves to maximise how easy it is for them to move the bar. For many people taking a wider stance with their feet will increase this as it puts more strain in the glutes. They might also hold the bar lower on their shoulders and involve their lower back in the movement to utilise as much muscle as possible.


Whilst this is a small distinction, it does make a difference in the muscles hit by this movement. Combined with the other aspects, like rep range and tempo, over a period of time squatting in these two different positions will have very different results on your legs. Therefore, it’s important to research the methods that both powerlifters and bodybuilders will use in their form to work specifically for their goals.



Rest Time


Rest time means two very different things in the power and hypertrophy sections of my workout.


For the ‘power’ sets it’s extremely important to get enough rest time between sets in order to allow the muscles to recover ready for another explosive set. I like to rest from anywhere between 3 to 5 minutes between sets of the power section of my workouts, although advice from some powerlifters is to rest as long as you need to until you feel ready.


In contrast, for hypertrophy work, it’s extremely important to not get too much rest. The ideal rest time for bodybuilding is from 60-90 seconds. This way your muscles can maintain the pump and each set will further break down your muscles as they have still not recovered from the last. Put your ego aside and don’t be afraid to rep out light weights with short rest periods, your muscles will grow faster than if you go a bit heavier but rest for too long.


Training Intensity


I left the most important factor until last, as training intensity is a vital component of powerlifting routines and also crucial for any progress in gaining mass.

Mike chart 2

Most powerlifting routines are underpinned by the RPE scale or something similar to ensure the right amount of intensity is used during training. RPE stands for ‘rate of perceived exertion’ and it is a scale for how difficult any lift was. The scale is from 1-10, awith RPE 10 meaning a maximum effort lift that took absolutely everything to complete. RPE 8 might be a set of 5 that was difficult, however another rep could have been achieved with some extra effort.


This scale underpins many powerlifting training routines because, if you went for straight RPE 10 for every set, you would not be optimising your strength gains. It’s very likely you would get exhausted early in a session and be unable to commit to the entire session or training plan. Powerlifters aim to stimulate their muscles through training enough to lead to recovery but not too much as to sabotage the next training session. The goal is slow and steady steps towards handling heavier weights and not leaps and bounds. For this, the RPE scale is useful in measuring how much you should, or did, push in any given set. In my power training, I keep the RPE at around 7.5 – 9, and will occasionally go for 1 set of RPE 10 if I am feeling like it. However, I am always conscious that after this RPE 10 set my lifting performance will dip and I will be unlikely to get as much volume into my power training that day as I would like. To better understand the RPE scale I would advise looking at a training plan.


Unless you are a beginner, have an injury or are not confident in the safety of your form I believe that in bodybuilding you should always push yourself all the way. Every working set from the first to the last should see you pushing it to the absolute limit. There is no point in ‘saving energy’ for the next set, or counting your reps out to 12 and stopping even though you had more. Although others might disagree I believe, when bodybuilding, every set should be to failure, or beyond it. I like to use methods like pause sets, drop sets and compound sets to push past failure. By this I mean that I will complete a set to failure and immediately drop the weight down and continue. You will be surprised at how many more reps you can get with a lighter weight after a set, and how excruciating the pain is! You should leave the gym with your muscles in bits, as that is the best way to grow.


Rest between workouts

The main obstacle with this program will be recovering enough from the hypertrophy sections of the workout to not impede progress in the power section for the next workout on that muscle group. Its important to listen to your body and to judge for yourself how much rest you need, and otherwise to just train as often as possible.


If strength really is your focus then you might want to let recovery for the power sections of the workout dictate how much hypertrophy work you do. For example, in the lead up to powerlifting competitions I have completely removed the chest hypertrophy sections from my plan, as training for mass does harm my strength progress.


Good nutrition is essential and this plan will require high amounts of complex carbs for energy, quality protein for recovery and healthy fats for functionality.

Final Points


Personally, I have never followed a specific training plan in my life. Instead I have read a ton of plans, internalised them, and applied the principles in my own way. Some people are different and like a plan, but I would strongly urge anyone to mix it up and experiment with different exercises and styles. Likewise, with this plan my intention is not for people to take it and follow it set for set. Instead, understand the underlying principles and try to apply those to your training in line with your individual goals.







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