Five Things Powerlifters Can Learn from Bodybuilders, Part 2

This is part two of a two- part series discussing lessons that bodybuilders and powerlifters can share with each other.

As a physique athlete myself, I'm comfortable saying that part two was tougher than part one. Because powerlifting is a performance-based sport, most performance enhancing techniques have already been uncovered. That said, here are a few traditional bodybuilding traits that could help even the most grizzled powerlifting veteran!

Higher reps for hypertrophy

As you know, powerlifters spend a majority of their working sets below five reps. Hell, when I switched from low reps to traditional bodybuilding rep ranges, sets of six to eight had me gasping for oxygen and writhing in agony. Getting stupid strong will inherently add mass to one’s frame, but targeted hypertrophy can also be acquired from carefully planned training. Big lats and upper backs make great platforms from which to bench. With that in mind, assistance work for the lats and “yoke” area should be trained with submaximal loads and higher volume. Specific set and rep schemes will vary with the total number of exercises performed, but the reps should be kept above eight per set.

Conditioning is cool

I may be preaching to the choir on this point, but I know there are still a few powerlifters who don't work on conditioning. Elitefts™ and others have done wonders to contribute to a recent push to increase GPP and conditioning work for powerlifters. I would be willing to bet that between sleds, Prowlers, farmer’s walks, and other popular fitness trends, more powerlifters are generally physically prepared than ever before. But for those hold outs who I see bragging about eating a supreme large pizza and losing weight, get your gut in check!

I’m not talking about using skin-fold calipers to hover at 12 percent body fat year round, but regular cardiovascular exercise has been shown to decrease resting heart rate, improve cholesterol and insulin sensitivity, and lower blood pressure (1). Those benefits alone translate to a leaner, more responsive, and more durable lifter. I don’t know about you, but I hope to continue this passion well into my nursing home days. Powerlifters as a group tend to eat more liberally than bodybuilders. With such dietary indiscretions, it would be wise to include regular GPP or cardio work to mitigate the risk of nachos and chicken wings.

The Prowler®

Workout nutrition

Speaking of dietary indiscretions, slamming the breakfast buffet at Shoney’s or hitting the drive-thru at McDonald’s on the way to a max effort session to increase the bloat might sound hardcore, but true long-term progress will come easier, faster, and steadier if one properly fuels his body for performance. Bodybuilders have long been a tad persnickety when it comes to BCAAs, glutamine, and workout nutrition, but that extra attention has helped many physique oriented athletes squeeze every bit of progress possible from the hand the genetic hand dealt to them. Those who have embraced the idea of pre-, during, and post-workout nutrition swear by it and refuse to train without it. You can keep it simple and basic with BCAAs and waxy maize or go as exotic as the Anaconda protocol complete with Finibars and Alpha-GPC to increase explosives and GH production. (On a side note regarding Alpha-GPC, I had my hormone levels tested while using Biotest’s Alpha-GPC, and my GH levels were six times the normal range. I know GH is released in pulses, but even the endocrinologist leading the study accused me of using exogenous sources. That stuff works!)

Exercise variety

As we noted in part one, bodybuilders are infamous for hitting every muscle from every conceivable angle. While this isn’t practical or necessary for powerlifters, it can be applied to the main lifts. Most successful powerlifters employ some sort of cycling with their main lifts. Whether it’s changing the bar used for back squats, working on good mornings, pulling from a deficit, or increasing your 2-board press, powerlifters who never cycle their main lifts are tempting the gods of stagnation.

This point can also extend beyond the main lifts and into the accessory lifts. Many guys keep the same assistance exercises year after year. If you only do Kroc rows because you’re good at them and you idolize their creator, you might be surprised at the gains you make if you switch to pull-ups for a period of time.

Look at the programming of any major powerlifter or even the strength programs at the college level and you'll find an organized and systematic rotation of main and supplemental lifts. Look closer and you’ll see lifters and athletes who make progress from season to season or meet to meet. Now look at the guys who never get better, stay banged up, and get frustrated no matter how passionately they train. I’m willing to bet those in the latter category aren’t programming the same way.

Constant tension

Constant tension is a bodybuilding technique that involves partial ranges of motion. In order to keep tension on the target muscle, lifters will essentially “crop” the last five to ten percent of the range of motion off both ends of a given movement. For the chest, this would involve lowering the bar to about one inch above the chest and then driving up to just short of lockout. This will dramatically reduce the amount of weight used, which is normally a deal breaker for powerlifters.  It also removes the triceps from the pressing movement and increases the workload of the pecs. When used properly, this technique increases intramuscular tension as well as total time under tension, both of which are common variables manipulated by physique athletes to help stimulate muscle growth. It will also make you very sore if you aren't used to it! For powerlifters, this technique can be applied to overload and strengthen a particular muscle that may be a limiting factor in a main lift. Say the lats are stubborn muscles for you and normal assistance lifts are paying dividends. Try pull-downs or rows using constant tension for a change of pace to kick start progress again!

Well, that’s all for my little campfire Kumbaya sing along with bodybuilders and powerlifters. You're now free to return to your corners and come out fighting!

Seriously, it's my hope that all strength athletes can relate on the common ground shared rather than focus on the details that make us each unique. If you’ve been stuck in a rut, hopefully you found something of use in this series. Until next time, pursue perfection!


  1. Myers J (2003) Exercise and Cardiovascular Health. American Heart Association Journal 107:e2-e5.