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Fitness & Health

07th Aug 2019

Why training like a powerlifter (not a bodybuilder) builds maximum muscle mass

Although bodybuilders are held as the pinnacle of muscle growth, there's a lot to be said for the mass-building benefits of training like a powerlifter

Alex Roberts

Powerlifter Bodybuilding Muscle Mass

If your primary goal is muscle gain, do you actually need to train like a bodybuilder?

Those who step on stage are rightfully held as the pinnacle of muscle growth. But there’s a lot to be said for the mass-building benefits of training like a powerlifter.

Personal trainer Tom Hamilton recently spoke to IronLife about the pros of training like a powerlifter – and he makes a compelling case.

Hamilton says: “Another point that bodybuilders can learn from powerlifters is understanding training intensity in terms of one rep max (1RM) – not ‘how hard am I working?'”

In other words, training to test your 1RM is better for muscle growth than aimlessly chasing a bicep pump.

For a powerlifter, the goal of a session is more structured – and this is what delivers results.

According to Hamilton, this involves “going in the gym with more structure and a plan of what loads they’re going to use – and going through phases of training that are a little bit higher intensity.

“Using 80-85% of their max for sets of five, rather than just going in and lifting whatever.”

You only have to look at the structure of the best mass-building programmes for beginners. Whether it’s Stronglifts 5×5 or Joe DeFranco’s Westside for Skinny Bastards, these routines resemble powerlifting programmes more than they do a bodybuilding plan.

Why a powerlifter uses progressive overload

Muscle growth is generally determined by progressive overload. This is achieved by gradually increasing the demands you place upon your body, in order to keep your muscles adapting. It can be done any number of ways.

Increasing the number of reps and sets you lift with is one way of achieving progressive overload. Increasing the total load you lift is also key. A powerlifting programme that tracks these variables is more likely to help you gain muscle and strength than a bodybuilding routine that merely chases a post-workout pump.

Training and tracking your workouts like a powerlifter is also going to protect your body, Hamilton says.

“This is important also for injury prevention and training longevity. You should cycle your loads anyway, and this is something powerlifters do well.”

“Powerlifters do still get injured because of the repetitive nature of the sport, but anyone who’s smart with programming knows you can’t constantly train to one intensity – and I think that’s something that bodybuilders could take from powerlifters.”

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