How to Create a Powerbuilding Program for Strength and Size (Training Routine Included!)

by Elliot Reimers, M.S.(C), CNC | Reviewed by Advisory Board

How to Create a Powerbuilding Program for Strength and Size (Training Routine Included!)

Improve Your Strength and Build Muscle with this Powerbuilding Training Program

Powerbuilding programs can be exceptionally versatile with a little planning and flexibility on your part. This style of training is the ultimate coalescence of powerlifting and bodybuilding; it's where East meets West, so to speak. As you can see, the term "powerbuilding" is a portmanteau of "powerlifting" and "bodybuilding."

If you're after strength and size, powerbuilding is arguably the best way workout program to follow. So, what does powerbuilding entail, exactly? What are the best exercises and rep ranges to focus on with this type of workout program?

This guide will walk you through the basics of powerbuilding and show you how to create your own training routine, regardless of your experience level. A 5-day powerbuilding routine is also included if you want a template to follow.

Is Powerbuilding Training the Ideal Workout Program for Increasing Strength and Size?

Ask anybody that lifts weights regularly what their goal is and they will likely tell you something along the lines of being leaner and more muscular. Yet, few of these people seem to focus on lifting heavy, nor do they have a progression scheme in place for strength and hypertrophy (i.e. muscle growth). 

They are lifting with no real purpose other than it being a means to an end. Improving your body composition is one thing, but strength and hypertrophy go hand-in-hand. After all, you don't want to be all show and no go, do you?

Even for those who focus on bodybuilding as opposed to powerlifting, getting stronger is a prerequisite to long-term muscle growth. Thankfully, powerbuilding allows you to get the best of both powerlifting- and bodybuilding-style training.

Propelling your physique and athleticism necessitates building muscle and strength on the "big three" compound exercises: squat, bench press, and deadlift. A proper powerbuilding program modulates rep ranges, sets, and total volume on a semi-weekly basis so you can make the most of your training sessions.

If you want to optimize muscle growth and get stronger, lifting heavy and eating for mass is key. However, don't expect results overnight; increasing strength and size takes time and consistency. Remember, anything worth having is worth working hard for! Be prepared to give your workouts everything you’ve got! 

Powerbuilding program

Creating a Powerbuilding Program: The Basics

A powerbuilding training routine encompasses elements of both bodybuilding and powerlifting workouts. With this program, getting stronger and building muscle will come full circle through tried-and-true exercises like the squat, bench press, overhead press, and deadlift.

Powerbuilding programs have grown in popularity over the years, particularly after natural pro bodybuilder and elite powerlifter Layne Norton outlined a workout routine called "power-hypertrophy adaptive training," or "PHAT." 

The idea with powerbuilding is that instead of focusing on specific training goals such as hypertrophy or maximal strength individually for months at a time, you will perform exercises in both the lower rep ranges (e.g. 3-6 reps per set) and higher rep ranges (e.g. 10-15 reps per set) every week.

Each training session is categorized as either a “Power day" or “Hypertrophy day." Consequently, you train the major muscle groups at least twice per week.

How Many Days Should You Lift Per Week to Get Stronger and Build Muscle?

Powerbuilding may seem somewhat counterintuitive as it goes against the long-held notion that training a body part more than once per week will lead to overtraining. That presumption is understandable since traditional bodybuilding split-style programs only target each muscle once per week (with tons of volume).

But fear not – powerbuilding is actually the more prudent way to train for both size and strength. While total training volume (sets x reps x weight lifted) is important for building muscle, research shows that training frequency is also critical [1]. In fact, you're better off training a muscle more frequently (i.e. 2-3 times per week) with less volume per workout [2].

For example, as opposed to doing 20 sets of 10 reps back exercises once per week, you'll see faster results by hitting your back twice per week with 10 sets per training session; the total training volume remains the same, you just give your back more frequent opportunities to grow.

A powerbuilding workout split takes advantage of increased training frequency while keeping the total training volume low enough that you don't burn out.

How to Setup a Powerbuilding Training Routine

The beauty of powerbuilding programs is that you can tailor them to your specific needs. The rationale for combining powerlifting and bodybuilding training style is that you get the best of both worlds; the former allows you to build strength by lifting heavy weights for lower reps, while the latter provides the training volume and higher rep range necessary for optimizing muscle hypertrophy.

Maybe one of your goals is to bring up lagging muscle groups, such as your pectorals and triceps. If so, powerbuilding can accommodate that seamlessly; simply incorporate a hypertrophy training day each week where you focus on just your chest and tricep exercises.

Remember, training volume is a major dictator of muscle growth [3]. If you can set aside a day each week where you target weak points with high-rep, high-volume workouts, it will certainly help.

Of course, getting stronger in lower rep ranges on basic compound exercises like the squat, bench press, and deadlift is also imperative. In many ways, powerlifting sets the foundation for long-term hypertrophy. The stronger you are, the more reps and sets you'll be able to complete during bodybuilding-style/high-volume workouts.

Since you will be performing exercises in both lower and higher rep ranges every week, a proper powerbuilding program should allow enough rest between workouts that target the same muscle groups. Let's say you focus on powerlifting-style training for your upper body on Monday — you'll want at least 48 to 72 hours of rest before you do a bodybuilding-style (hypertrophy-focus) upper-body workout.

Listed below is the basic training split for a five-day-per-week powerbuilding program:

Day 1: Upper-Body Power Day

Day 2: Lower-Body Power Day

Day 3: Rest Day

Day 4: Chest, Shoulders, and Triceps Hypertrophy Day

Day 5: Lower-Body Hypertrophy Day

Day 6: Back and Biceps Hypertrophy Day

Day 7: Rest Day

In the powerbuilding template provided below, there are three working sets on compound movements during the first four weeks of the program. The following four weeks will increase total training volume by adding additional sets to both power days and hypertrophy training days.

Note: The listed number of sets does not include warm-up sets. Perform 3 or 4 sets with relatively light weight on the first exercise for each muscle group being trained on a given day. The designated number rep ranges mean you should use a weight that leaves you about one rep shy of failure within that range. 

Workout

Weeks 1 to 4

Weeks 5 to 8

Day 1: Upper-Body Power Day

Barbell Bench Press 3 sets of 6 reps 4 sets of 5 reps
Bent-over Barbell Row 3 sets of 6 reps 4 sets of 6 reps
Weighted Pull-Up 3 sets of 6-8 reps 4 sets of 5-6 reps
Standing Military Press 3 sets of 6 reps 4 sets of 4 reps
Decline Dumbbell Bench Press 3 sets of 6-8 reps 3 sets of 8-10 reps
Alternating Dumbbell Curls 3 sets of 10 reps 4 sets of 8-10 reps
Skullcrushers or Tricep Pressdown with V-Bar 3 sets of 10 reps 4 sets of 8-10 reps

Tuesday: Lower-Body Power Day

Barbell Back Squat 4 sets of 6 reps 5 sets of 4 reps
Barbell Deadlift 3 sets of 6 reps 4 sets of 3 reps
Hack Squat 3 sets of 6 reps 4 sets of 5 reps
Leg Press 3 sets of 8 reps 3 sets of 10 reps
Dumbbell Lunges 3 sets of 8 reps 3 sets of 10 reps
Standing Calf Raise 3 sets of 8 reps 4 sets of 10 reps
Weighted Decline Bench Crunch 3 sets of 10 reps 4 sets of 10 reps

Wednesday: Rest Day

Thursday: Chest, Shoulders, and Triceps Hypertrophy Training Day

Decline Barbell Bench Press 3 sets of 8-12 reps 4 sets of 8-12 reps
Incline Dumbbell Bench Press 3 sets of 8-12 reps 4 sets of 8-12 reps
Chest Cable Fly or Pec Deck Machine 3 sets of 10-12 reps 3 sets of 12-15 reps
Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press 3 sets of 8-10 reps 3 sets of 12-15 reps
Dumbbell Side Lateral Raise 3 sets of 10-12 reps 3 sets of 12-15 reps
Reverse Pec Deck or Rear Delt Lateral Raise 3 sets of 8-10 reps 3 sets of 12-15 reps
Cable Rope Pressdown 3 sets of 10-12 reps 3 sets of 12-15 reps
Overhead Dumbbell Tricep Extension 3 sets of 10-12 reps 3 sets of 12-15 reps

Friday: Lower-Body Hypertrophy Training Day

Barbell Front Squat 4 sets of 8 reps 4 sets of 10-12 reps
Dumbbell Stiff-Leg Deadlift 3 sets of 10-12 reps 3 sets of 12-15 reps
Barbell Good Morning 3 sets of 10 reps 4 sets of 8 reps
Leg Extension superset w/Leg Curl 3 sets of 15 reps 4 sets of 12 reps
Weighted Ab Exercise of Choice 3 sets of 15 reps 4 sets of 12 reps
Seated Calf Raise 3 sets of 12 reps 4 sets of 10 reps

Saturday: Back and Biceps Hypertrophy Training Day

Dumbbell Row 4 sets of 8-10 reps 3 sets of 12-15 reps
Seated Cable Row 3 sets of 8-12 reps 4 sets of 8-12 reps
Close-Grip Lat Pulldown 3 sets of 12 reps 3 sets of 15 reps
Dumbbell Shrugs 3 sets of 12 reps 4 sets of 10 reps
Cable Face Pull 3 sets of 12 reps 4 sets of 10 reps
EZ-Bar Bicep Curl 3 sets of 8-12 reps 4 sets of 8-12 reps
Cable Hammer Curl (Rope Attachment) 3 sets of 8-12 reps 4 sets of 8-12 reps

Sunday: Rest Day

 

Power Days (Days 1 & 2)

During your power-focus workouts, you need to have a strength-first mentality (not to be confused with "lifting the weight at all costs" — proper form always takes precedence over the amount of weight you lift). As such, these workouts occur before your hypertrophy days each week.

Exercise selection for power days should include basic compound movements for your upper and lower body, like bent-over rows, incline bench press, barbell back squat, and the leg press. The purpose of each power day is to lift heavy loads in a lower rep range, typically 4 to 6 reps per set.

Make sure you rest enough in between sets to completely recover and be ready for your next heavy set. If that means you need to take 3-5 minutes of rest between sets, so be it. Longer inter-set rest periods are well-known to improve strength [4]. Don't worry, your rest periods will be much shorter on hypertrophy days.

Hypertrophy Days (Days 4, 5 & 6)

On hypertrophy days, you will be doing exercises in a higher rep range, meaning more time under tension for the target muscles. Now, don't misconstrue the increase in time under tension as saying you should lift weights as slow as possible on hypertrophy days. Rather, the eccentric phase of the lift should be controlled, while the concentric phase of the lift should be explosive.

For most lifters, a 3-1-1 or 3-1-2 tempo is perfect for hypertrophy workouts; three seconds during the eccentric phase, one-second pause, then explode into the concentric phase (should be about one or two seconds).

You will rest no longer than 90 seconds in between each set on hypertrophy days.

Should You Train to Failure?

There's a notion in bodybuilding subculture that any set not taken to failure is a wasted set, but that’s complete nonsense perpetuated by people who clearly have no background in muscle physiology or how the body adapts to biomechanical fatigue. Research has shown that sets taken to near-failure, but not absolute failure, are almost, if not as effective as sets taken to failure for muscle hypertrophy. The added benefit of near-failure sets is they do not tax your nervous system as harshly as training to absolute failure does.

For beginner to intermediate lifters. we recommend stopping 1 to 2 reps shy of failure in any given set. Do not train to absolute failure every single set or you will burn out quickly. 

For advanced lifters, failure is a tool that can enhance muscle hypertrophy and strength when used correctly [5]. Once you get adjusted to the volume and frequency of your powerbuilding routine, you can start adding in sets to failure for your power movements and the latter exercises of hypertrophy workouts.

Bear in mind that training overload will accumulate over the course of several weeks, and eventually your neuromuscular system will simply need time to rest and recuperate or you'll start to lose strength and recover poorly between workouts [6]. Thus, you should be careful about training to failure consistently for weeks at a time. Most trainees will need a deload week every 8 to 12 weeks.

Powerbuilding Program Exercise Selection: Compound vs. Isolation Exercises

Powerbuilding exercises

Compound exercises are the bread and butter of a powerbuilding routine. These exercises involve multiple muscle groups, which means you can lift heavier loads. On both power and hypertrophy days, always perform the compound exercises first before moving onto isolation movements.

Isolation exercises, such as bicep curls and leg extensions, work a single muscle group at a time. In general, you'll be lifting lighter weights during these exercises, and it might take quite some time to see progress on them compared to compound lifts. However, since isolation lifts are less taxing, they work better as finishing or "assistance" exercises in the latter parts of a workout. h

Because the focus of compound exercises is to tax several muscle groups and lift heavier weights in lower rep ranges, you should not worry as much about "feeling the muscles work" during these movements. Rather, emphasize proper form and the movement pattern involved. Sloppy form and trying to lift too much weight can be a one-way ticket toward injury and lackluster results.

Isolation exercises are where you can really tap into the mind-muscle connection and get a great pump. Again, keep proper form at all times and take advantage of the increase in time under tension.

Take-Home Tips for Maximizing Results on Your Powerbuilding Routine

Here are some additional tips to help you get the most from your powerbuilding workouts:

1. Don’t be afraid to switch up exercises from time to time. However, you should always include some variation of squats, deadlifts, and bench presses on your power days. 

2. If you are unfamiliar with technical exercises like deadlifts and squats, hiring a personal trainer or lifting coach can help. When in doubt, stick to exercises you can perform with proper form.

3. On power days, you should ideally be adding weight to the bar as the weeks go on. If you can't, then increasing time under tension, total training volume, and incorporating intensity techniques (e.g. forced reps, partial reps, drop sets, etc.) are other ways to progress. 

4. Recovery is essential to building strength and size, so nourish yourself accordingly. You should be eating plenty of protein and consuming enough calories to facilitate muscle growth. See: How much protein should I eat to build muscle?

5. Taking a quality pre-workout supplement like Transparent Labs PreSeries BULK can help you perform at peak capacity when you're pumping iron. 

TL Bulk Pre-Workout

A powerbuilding program is ultimately suitable for any trainee, regardless of their strength-training experience. The main thing to keep in mind throughout the process is that consistency and progression are keys to achieving your fitness goals. Powerbuilding isn’t magic; no workout routine is. The not-so-secret to success is doing what works, consistently. 




Elliot Reimers, M.S.(C), CNC
Elliot Reimers, M.S.(C), CNC

Author

Elliot holds a B.S. in Biological Sciences from the University of Minnesota, as well as being a Certified Sports Nutritionist (CISSN) and Certified Nutrition Coach (CNC). He is currently pursuing a Master's of Science in Molecular Pharmacology and Toxicology at Michigan State University. Elliot began freelance writing circa 2012 and has since written 100s of articles and several eBooks pertaining to nutritional science, dietary supplements, exercise physiology, and health/wellness. Being a “science whiz,” he has a passion for helping people understand how nutrients (and other chemicals) and exercise work on a cellular and molecular level so they can make smarter choices about what they put in, and do with, their bodies. When Elliot is not busy writing or studying, you can find him pumping iron, hiking the mountains of beautiful Colorado, or perusing nutraceutical research.



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