So many people will probably skip right over this article because it is suggesting that something besides a “powerlifting routine” will make them a better powerlifter. Welcome to why you suck. Powerlifters have dug themselves into this one-size fits all “trench” of training methods, and they refuse to back off from their beliefs. How do I know? Try getting a geared lifter to go raw for 20 weeks, even if the result could be 100 lbs. on their gear total they won’t do it. Try getting some raw lifters into gear, won’t happen. So, lets start with an idea we all began with most likely anyway.
Bodybuilding was my first love in the iron game. Mainly, because I trained at a great little hardcore gym, with tons of blue collar guys that trained super hard, and were jacked. Really jacked. So in an attempt to look like them I bought “Musclemag”, “Flex”, and “Muscular Development”, and read every article learning as much as I could. My training partner, and best friend, Brad Webb, used to go to the gym and do an all-out assault on our bodies. Every day. We pushed ourselves hard. And, as a result we both put on a load of muscle, but the best part, without even focusing directly on strength we became very strong. I remember clearly Brad, being 5’5 or 5’6 weighing a little over 200 lbs. doing 405 on the bench with his feet resting on the pad. I happened to enter a powerlifting meet in which I squatted 660 lbs. with a belt, and knee wraps, benched 440 lbs., and pulled 670 lbs. I was 219 lbs., at 19 years old. Those numbers stack up pretty well with some competitive 220’s even today.
But there is some relief. I am not encouraging you to drop your powerlifting routine all together. But rather, blend ideas. At Berea Barbell our philosophy on training is this “train like a strongman, eat like a bodybuilder, and you’ll be a kickass powerlifter.” Well, to us that means we go into the gym, we attack our first exercise (either squat, bench, or deadlift depending on the day), and we train it for the competition platform. After we get done with that we move directly into accessory mode and that’s where the fun begins. Guys too often think the only lift that matters is the main lift, how do you really improve weakpoints in a lift, if you don’t do various other lifts to support it? We each have different weaknesses, but many are the same, so we attack our mutual weaknesses together, then splinter off and hit our own weak point training. Now what do I mean train like a bodybuilder?
Things we do to Train Like a Bodybuilder
We usually pick 4-5 exercises per day (one of those is always for the lats/back), and if it is a heavy day on our main movement on accessories our weights are lighter with reps in the 10-15 range. On rep days where weight is moderate our accessory weights are moderate with reps in the 8-10 range. On our explosive days when the main movement weight is the lightest our accessory weight is the heaviest in the rep range of 5-8.
1.Use Progressive Overload
This is the most basic and one of the most important principles. Muscles grow bigger and stronger as they adapt to stress. Therefore, you need to progressively overload your muscles each week either by lifting moderately more weight, exerting more force, or performing more repetitions with the same weight. This is why it is so important to record your progress and write down your training goals.
2. Use Compound, Multi-Joint, Free Weight Exercises
Squats, power cleans, dumbbell press, deadlifts, etc.
3. Use Ground-Based Exercises
Movements that will get you doing full body movement, and you can free stand vs. sitting. Think seated military vs. standing military. The more movements you do on your feet, the more the entire body will be worked.
A High Volume Day, like this one with Brandon Lilly and the crew at Berea Barbell, will help pack on muscle and improve your total…
4. Train Your Core
I’m not telling you to train to look like a bodybuilder, but what do you think keeps you upright in a heavy squat? What pushes out on your belt to get “pop” off the floor in the deadlift. I recommend training without a belt as much as possible, but we do lots of ab work as well.
5. Train With Balance
Don’t spend all your time on things you love, or are good at. I make a rule, for every exercise I do that I’m good at I need to do two that I am bad at.
6. Incorporate Strongman Implement Training
You don’t have to have a lot of equipment, but get moving with weight. Walk with a squat bar, drag a sled, walk long distances with heavy dumbbells. Keep the training fun, varied, and hard, and you will see success.
7. Incorporate Speed & Explosiveness Training
On the Cube we have an explosive day every week for one of our lifts, on the Westside Method developed by Louie Simmons you have a different kind of speed work. The point is, powerlifters need to be powerful, and explosive, so incorporate some of that style into your accessory work.
8. Use A Method Of Periodization
The body will never just improve without needing some variation. We like to blast for 3 weeks on accessory work, then take a week where we up the volume, and reduce the weight. We have a defined purpose in our training, and it is never random.
9. Get Enough Rest
Simple enough. You don’t grow in the gym, you grow when you are sleeping. Dedicate to it, and you will be surprised what happens.
10. Follow A Healthy, Intelligent Nutrition Plan
This should be common sense, but so many guys will train their asses off, take every supplement under the sun, combined with every drug under the sun, but fail to eat properly. Makes no sense to me. Start with whole foods, build a strong plan around meats, vegetables, and healthy fats. Once you do that, then start adding in supplements to fill in any gaps you may have. Nutrition is everything.
If your body can’t move what good is it? Take an extra 15 minutes to stretch. Believe me, the time you take to prevent an injury is so much less that the time it will take to repair one. Don’t skimp, do it.
Following these steps, will not “possibly” show you improvement, I guarantee you will see improvement, Not only in your lifts, but in how you feel, and how you look. And after all isn’t looking good, and feeling better why we all started in the first place?
Brandon Lilly is very well traveled, Elite powerlifter. He has trained at Guerrilla Squad Barbell, Westside Barbell, Lexen Xtreme, and is now home at Berea Barbell. In his strength journey he has competed in bodybuilding, strongman, and powerlifting. Brandon is one of only 19 men to ever total over 2200 raw, having 2204 which ties him for 16th all time (826.5 squat, 573 bench, 804.5 Deadlift). He also amassed a 2612 total in Multi-Ply, and has best lifts of 1008 squat, 832 bench press, and 771 Deadlift. Brandon is the author of The Cube Method and is aiming to create a paradigm shift in the Powerlifting world.Facebook, YouTube, Twitter
I do a three day spilt and focus on the three big lifts but would like to change but keep doing them what should I do in the other exercises I've been lighting f for three years and I am good at it but would like to tone but still be able to lift big my bench is my weakest lift any thought
I have had the recent pleasure of working with more and more CrossFit folks as of late. Man, they great clients! They are hardworking, dedicated, and meticulously follow their programs. Unfortunately, what I have found is that they tend to sabotage themselves a bit, either knowingly or unknowingly (I’m guessing the latter). These mistakes usually […]
I can’t think of too many conferences I have been to where I had the chance to learn from highly respected Ph.Ds, gain the latest practical knowledge from respected professionals, and have my lifts coached by elite Olympic and Powerlifters in the same weekend. For any aspiring professional, attending seminars in one’s field are a […]
The following article originally appeared in Volume 3 of the Strong360 Magazine. The classical lifts are important to becoming a master of the platform, but even the most elite lifters use supplemental accessory exercises to save their bodies. Nothing tears down your body like the full classical lifts. In a basic twelve-week training cycle, the […]