What bodybuilders and powerlifters can learn from each other

Andrew Jansen

What bodybuilders and powerlifters can learn from each other – 10 minute read

We’re on other sides of the gym, but we can learn a lot from each other.

The awkward truth is, powerlifters always want to look better, and bodybuilders always want to be stronger. The gap may seem far at times, but we can get along. Where do we meet? Hypertrophy – our common bond.

What bodybuilders and powerlifters can learn from each other


What is Hypertrophy – the basic science

It’s getting bigger, bro. Also, getting stronger.

Increased muscular cross-sectional area (ie, how big a muscle is) is caused by a larger muscle fibre diameter. The larger the fibres, the more force they can exert.

This is the primary function of bodybuilding is taxing muscular fibres enough to cause an increased size of fibre (adaption).

Muscular growth tends to be the second priority in powerlifting, as there is a constant concern for muscle fibre recruitment (Voluntary Activation).


Follow along to see how this all works

Imagine battleground scenario. Hypertrophy is making each soldier bigger. Voluntary action is making more soldiers head to the battleground.

Bodybuilding workouts use repeated sets of work to exhaust muscle fibres from multiple angles. There is less concern with absolute weight used, more on the breakdown of fibres.

Powerlifters tend to use as much fibre recruitment as possible, ie - send every single soldier to the battleground.

On both sides of the fence, we use volume, intensity and frequency to achieve our goals.

 What bodybuilders and powerlifters can learn from each other

What can bodybuilders learn from strength athletes?

More than anything, a plan that delivers an increased weight lifted. In general, a bodybuilder will have two main improvements when focussed on pure strength

  1. Better form
  2. Better muscular recruitment

Perfect practice makes perfect form, imperfect practice makes imperfect form. When you are doing 8-10 sets of higher reps, the perfection of form falls off.

Every bodybuilder can make huge gain from including a block with

  1. Lower volume
  2. Higher intensity
  3. Perfect form

You can’t have it both ways though. You don’t get higher intensity and higher volume. A practical way to achieve this is match tonnage while lowering sets. For example, if you did 5 x 8reps at 100kg. Your tonnage for work sets was 4,000kg.

You could break that back to 6 sets of 5 at 130kg (tonnage 3900kg). That would be a goal over 5-8 weeks. Clearly, you would need to really focus on form and take your time between sets to move an extra 30kg per set.

Week 1 might be 6 sets of 2, adding one rep to each set each week. Take your time, focus on form, get stronger. Rebuild volume of multiple weeks at a higher strength.

 What bodybuilders and powerlifters can learn from each other

What can strength athletes learn from bodybuilders?

Capacity, volume and weight selection. If you have ever been programmed 10x10, you know how hard it is for a strength athlete. We’re just not conditioned for that kind of work.

For pure hypertrophy, strength athletes can gain from pure work at multiple angles. You know your pecs, delts and triceps are driving your bench, but when was the last time you hit those muscles from multiple directions, for multiple sets?

The easiest way for strength athletes to get more muscular is to add volume work post workout, based on hypertrophy. Pick a body part, and aim for 10x10 across a few different machines. Rest less than two minutes between sets, get a sweat on, and feel weird you have a pump. If you have to lower weights on each set, its no big deal at all. Just get work done.


Summing Up

Its all lifting weights, its all volume, frequency and intensity. Its just slightly different focus. Often, just doing something different will change your mindset at gym, make you more motivated and cause different adaptions – this all leads you to getting better.


Written by James Cant

Australia's First Ever Men's Physique IFBB Pro, IFBB 2014 Pro Qualifier 1st Place, IFBB Arnold Classic 3rd Place, IFBB 2013 Australasian 1st Place

James mixed both strength and hypertrophy. This year his goal is to move his 175 bench upward to the 4 plate club, and edge his 260 dead toward the magic 300.

James can be found on https://www.facebook.com/jcfcoaching/


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