Let me make this clear. I'm not trying to butcher any of the programs I reference in this article. But also know that this was the most fun I’ve had in years. It completely changed my physique and led me to take the BPU British powerlifting record in the 100-kg raw with wraps class.
Here it is...
Perform a classic bodybuilding split using variations of the lifts you would use in your regular powerlifting routine.
For example, if you normally use a low bar position with a belt on when you squat, your transition would be to that of a high bar squat, sans belt. An incline bench press replaces the classic flat bench press, and a sumo deadlift takes the place of a conventional pull and vice versa.
Everyday max testing plus 5x5 at 60 percent following each tested lift using the competition lifts.
Perform a linear powerlifting progression as laid out below. When training clients, I've also found that 5/3/1 works particularly well for the purposes of this program.
Perform EDM testing plus 5x5 at 60 percent using the lifts you intend to replicate in the upcoming bodybuilding cycle.
I stumbled upon this method of training completely by chance when I found and became interested in John Meadows' methods. I had been riding a linear powerlifting progression for quite some time and had reached a stage where I yearned to try something a little different to that which I had become accustomed.
My goal, like many, has always been to be bigger and stronger, and I have an equal love for bodybuilding and powerlifting. The issue was that combining both styles in a single session left either the hypertrophy work or the strength aspect not receiving the full attention required to reap the results I had been chasing. If I put my heart and soul into lifting heavy first in the workout, the assistance work, especially the final exercise or two, lacked the enthusiasm placed upon them had they been priority number one or indeed been trained completely separately.
The other issue is that following any set program for too long and with little variation left me burned out, and my physique and strength started to stall or even deteriorate. Honestly, switching from a linear progression to higher rep, higher volume workouts was a breath of fresh air. I loved that I didn’t have to record my weights or add pounds to the bar at every session.
Anyone who has spent a considerable amount of time following a linear progression will have borne witness to the fact that the ever-increasing load can be a physical and psychological cross to bear without sufficient rest. This bodybuilding template allows you to only work as hard as you are able at any particular time (although even on a day when you feel less than stellar, a typical leg workout of this variety is akin to a secular baptism by fire). Not to mention that spending an entire session on just arm work is, to quote Winston Churchill, "Fucking awesome."
I followed this Mountain Dog-inspired protocol by default for six weeks. I was due to take my wife away for her birthday and decided to test my 1-RMs before we left, partly due to joining a new gym and wanting to show everyone there that there was a new alpha male in town. Also, I had hopes that my strength hadn’t plummeted from all the fun I’d been having.
As it turned out, the only other person in the entire gym to film my max on that particular day was ‘Geraldine.’ Short-sighted, hard of hearing, and no dab hand with an iPhone—she had clearly seen it all before and was unimpressed by the presence of a 102-kg ‘alfalfa male’ in her dojo. Nevertheless, I proceeded to dominate a 15-kg PR squat, triumphantly extending a metaphorical middle finger in the direction of Geraldine’s complete lack of interest. "Take that, Grandma!"
On returning from holiday, I transitioned back into powerlifting because I had a meet approaching. I couldn't believe how much strength I had gained from my bodybuilding endeavors. Suffice it to say that the meet went pretty damn well. When I arrived home, I transitioned back to the bodybuilding phase to see if I could replicate my prior success in my training and that of my clients.
So who can benefit from this bastard child of some of the most proficient methods ever created? First and foremost, I wouldn't recommend this way of lifting to a beginner. It is much better suited to an individual who already has a few years of hard labor under his belt. Understand that this doesn't mean someone who has milled around, chopping and changing programs, not really progressing in strength or size for the past couple of years. To get any form of return from this method of training, you have to:
- Have a good, solid strength base. I like to use something close to Rippetoe’s guide for the everyman, saying that you should at least squat 180 kg, benching 140 kg, and deadlifting 220 kg.
- Know how to apply intensity to your lifts but simultaneously be able to autoregulate your training. The bodybuilding portion of this routine isn't a time to screw around and let intensity take a backseat. Performed correctly, it can be brutal.
- Rotate the three big lifts. Six weeks of beltless high bar squatting improved my overall squat strength (where I usually use a low bar position and a belt). On my second six-week cycle, I switched back to my regular low bar style, and presto! I had gained strength! The same applies to the bench press. On my bodybuilding cycle, I kept to a shallow incline, and when it came time to deadlift, I pulled conventional in contrast to the sumo stance that I used during my powerlifting phase.
The two-week transitional phase between cycles is used as a one-week recovery period where only light, low-intensity conditioning is performed, followed by a three-day split the next week, where you perform a new everyday max (EDM) using your competition lifts. These are then followed by 5x5 at 60 percent of your new EDM. The goal for the 5x5 portion is to be as explosive as possible throughout the entire range of motion and to practice the lifts you will be using in the upcoming six-week cycle.
The everyday max is taken from Paul Carter's Base Building. The idea is to perform a single rep that you could take any day of the week. It should be heavy enough that you must psyche yourself up to hit it. You can work up to this same number after every six weeks without the need to add more weight.
The way to tell that you have become stronger will be observed by how fast you move that bar. If your first attempt at that particular weight was somewhat of a grinder, but six weeks later, you stand up so fast that the bar practically leaps off your back, you have gained strength. If you really must test your true 1RMs, the prior week’s rest should accommodate you potentially hitting some decent PRs. However, as Mr. Carter says, "One-rep maxes should be saved for meet day." I would agree unless you don't plan to compete.
If following 5/3/1 for the six-week strength cycle, don't take a deload. Instead, follow two straight cycles back to back. Use your judgment with the assistance work, but I would aim to use exercises that you didn't use during the bodybuilding phase. Pick two or three and stick with them for the entire block.
Too often, we never really know which supplementary movements work for us because we never give them enough time to produce tangible results. I hate dumbbell rows and would perform them once in a blue moon. However, I stuck with them for the entire six-week run, and now I love them because they brought some apparent symmetry to my back and thickened up my lower lats noticeably. If following a three-day total body routine, forget any assistance work aside from chins or rows.
The beauty of this routine is quite simply that neither strength nor aesthetics need play second fiddle to one another. They do make great playmates if they are, in turn, given their chance to shine.
This is the split that I used for the two phases:
- Pre-exhaust cable chest fly, 4 X 12
- Incline barbell bench press, 4 X 8
- Decline dumbbell bench press, 4 X 15
- Side raises, 3 X 25
- Machine overhead press, 25-20-15-10
- Dumbbell rows, 4 X 12
- Conventional deadlifts, 4 X 8
- Lat pull-down, 4 X 15
- Rev cable fly, 3 X 25
- Shrugs, 25-20-15-10
- Leg curls, 4 X 12
- High bar beltless squats, 4 X 8
- Leg extensions, 4 X 15
- Calf raise, 3 X 25
- Leg press, 25-20-15-10
- Cross body curls, 4 X 12
- Superset with close grip bench, 4 X 8
- Hammer curls, 4 X 15
- Superset with skull crushers, 4 X 15
- EZ bar curls, 25-20-15-10
- Superset rope push-downs, 25-20-15-10
You don't have to increase the weights each week or record your sessions if you don't want to. You're following the program as long as you're working all out and achieving an insane pump. Due to the high intensity and overall volume achieved, recovery is a crucial factor. As John Meadows recommends, it would be wise to have an intra-workout nutrition protocol in place before starting this program.
Max testing using the lift variation you intend to incorporate in phase two. Follow each lift with 5x5 at 60 percent of your tested max. Perform each lift on a separate day.
- Flat barbell bench press, 6 X 4 (choose a load that you can accomplish six sets across with)
- Incline barbell or dumbbell bench press, 4 X 6
- Seated behind the neck press or dumbbell press, 2 X 8–10
- Deadlift, 3 X 3
- Weighted chins, 6 X 4
- Barbell rows, 4 X 6
- Seated cable rows, 2 x 8–10
- Low bar belted squat, 6 X 4
- Front squat or leg press, 4 X 6
- Barbell lunges, 2 X 8–10
For these six weeks, you should aim to increase the load from 2.5 kg to 5 kg weekly. If the increase causes you to break up the sets, stick with that load until you can perform all the sets unbroken.
Max testing followed by 5x5 at 60 percent using the lift variations you intend to use in the bodybuilding phase.
Originally published on April 2nd, 2015
Pete Stables works as a strength coach, nutritional consultant, and fitness writer. He's the author of the eBook The Skinny Guys Guide to Building More Muscle and currently holds the BPU British record in powerlifting in the 100kg raw with wraps class.