Often touted as two entirely separate schools of training, Powerlifting (PL) style training and Bodybuilding (BB) actually have a fantastic synergy that is often overlooked.
When implemented correctly, the combination of elements of both PL and BB styles of training will leave you strong as an ox but also packing some serious beef!
To this end, let us explore the intimate details of both schools of training, the similarities, the differences and how we can apply these principles to optimising your current hypertrophy program!
Part 1: A Closer Look at the Mechanics of Hypertrophy:
Hypertrophy, in layman’s terms, is the growth of new muscle tissue as a stress response to an increase in the mechanical load being placed on the muscle fibres.
There are two mechanisms of hypertrophy:
- Sarcoplasmic-An increase in sarcoplasmic fluid within the muscle with no additional gain in strength and minimal size increase of muscle fibres.
- Myofibrillar-An increase in the actual size of Myofibrils (muscle fibres) and contractile tissue.
The traditional school of thought is that each is associated with a particular exercise intensity modality. That is, the rep range you train within will dictate which mode of growth you are predisposed towards. Whilst the data to support this is inconclusive and largely anecdotal in nature, for the purpose of exploring hypertrophy’s mechanisms, we will delve a little deeper!
Sarcoplasmic is commonly associated with more traditional BB style training, with 3 sets of 8-12 reps per exercise being the norm, and results in an increase in the perceived size of the muscle group via increased fluid + 'other stuff' (like carbohydrates) retained within the muscle cells.
Myofibrillar is often thought of in the context of heavier weights for lower rep ranges, and thus more Powerlifting style programs.
5x5, 5/3/1, 7x2.
All of these classic strength-training programs are geared more towards the Myofibrillar model of growing strength and tissue. This is the true model of tissue growth, with the actual size of contractile tissue increasing per cross-sectional area (CSA).
Now, whilst this is a gross oversimplification of the forms of hypertrophy that occur, it does serve the purpose of highlighting that to maximise hypertrophy, you cannot just limit yourself to one modality of training.
And in fact, Powerlifting and Bodybuilding may well have a happy synergy that, when utilised complimentarily, may actually result in more hypertrophy than either model trained separately.
If one modality of training is theoretically more inclined towards increasing Sacroplasmic, intramuscular fluid and the other more geared towards increasing motor recruitment, strength and fibre size, then together, they complete the mass building picture nicely!
Part 2: The Final Piece of the Puzzle:
Not only will combining the two schools of training result in a fantastic synergy of hypertrophic mechanisms, but it will also teach you how to adopt the most important rule of building mass into your training programs.
Now, it is all well and good chasing a pump, training to failure on every set and thoroughly fatiguing a muscle group into the dust. But if you want to grow maximal tissue, you MUST get stronger over time. It is the only proven principle of muscle growth agreed upon by every piece of data on Hypertrophy ever penned.
Now, this is not to say a pump is not an essential element of growing lean mass. The stretching of the Fascia combined with an accumulation of metabolic waste signals the body that the micro tears and inflammation from your training session is actually an injury that must be healed! This kickstarts the recovery process, with enzymes, nutrients, growth factors and the optimal hormonal profile being created to allow for growth of new tissue.
There is also the benefit of delivery of nutrients to the working muscle as well as transport of toxic waste away from the site to be excreted later.
However, the whole purpose of this article is not to favour one style or the other.
But rather to illustrate that the bodybuilding school that chases pumps in high volume and fatiguing workouts combines perfectly with Powerlifters who are experts with getting progressively stronger over time!
It’s a winning formula for Muscle building success!
(Powerlifting + Bodybuilding) = Progressive Overload + Sarcoplasmic + Myofibrillar Hypertrophy.
So to put this into a real-world example, a blend of the two schools in a back workout may look something like:
BEGINNER-INTERMEDIATE BACK POWER-BUILDING WORKOUT:
|Exercise||No. of Sets||Reps||Rest Period||Goal|
|Deadlifts||5||3||2 minutes||Increase weight by 5kg per week|
|Barbell Rows||4||6||90 Seconds||Increase weight by 5kg per week|
|Lat Pull Downs||3||10||45 - 60 Seconds||Focus on contraction and pump|
|Pull Ups||3||8||45 - 60 Seconds||Focus on muscle contraction|
|Dumbell Rows||4||10||45 - 60 Seconds||Slow negatives, burn out Lats!|
|Dumbell Lat Pull Overs||3||20||60 Seconds||Really burn out Lats / Strong pump|
This style of training allows huge mechanical load through the musculature, extreme pumps and significant progression in working weights used. Whilst this is a very basic example of a program, the principle of a heavy compound lift at a low rep range will be the staple of any hybrid session. This comes from the Powerlifting school of course.
The compound lift will be the basis of the workout and the model used to progressively overload. The high rep sets will be more isolationist, focusing on a strong muscle contraction and increased blood flow to the working musculature. This attacks hypertrophy from all angles. Progressive increase of mechanical loading of the muscle fibres, muscle pumps to induce Sarcoplasmic style hypertrophic growth and inflammatory responses locally, and of course Myofibrillar hypertrophy through the heavy compound work. Try adopting this blueprint in your next workout program and see if you don’t notice the difference in muscle gained! At the very least, you get to pull some heavy ass weight off the floor and a big ass pump!