The old cliché goes that bodybuilders are too busy rubbing their bodies in baby oil and squeezing themselves into a thong to build any real, functional strength while powerlifters are fat, lazy morons who are to dunderheaded to understand how to eat properly.
Of course, the real idiots are those stupid enough to buy into any of this sort of “bodybuilding vs powerlifting” trash talk. Any accusations of bodybuilders being weak are summarily blown out of the window by Ronnie Coleman’s monster squats. Equally, anyone who thinks that powerlifters are fat and badly conditioned obviously never laid eyes on Matt Kroczaleski’s ab-tacular physique.
The reality is, as the two scenes have become increasingly fractured, both sports have been robbed of the many benefits they can offer each other. As this article shows, there is so much bodybuilders can learn from powerlifters, so incorporate some of these 6 tactics into your training regime and see for yourself how you can benefit from powerlifting know-how.
#1 Develop a Balanced, Functional Musculature
One of the main focuses of bodybuilding is creating a perfectly balanced, symmetrical physique. Symmetry and aesthetic balance are still the central pillars of the sport, even in our era of mass monsters.
Muscular balance is also incredibly important in powerlifting, but instead of the focus being on looks, powerlifters train for balance in terms of functional musculature which will support and strengthen joints and lifts. This approach to balance is something which bodybuilders would benefit from taking on board, in addition to training for aesthetic symmetry.
By developing balanced, functional strength and supporting muscles (which may not even be visible) bodybuilders will become markedly stronger and their joints will be better supported, meaning that they are much less likely to injure themselves.
Injury can derail any bodybuilder’s training, and is responsible for ruining many careers, but this sort of functional balance will dramatically reduce the incidence of injury.
As an added bonus, developing this sort of balanced strength will be reflected with a more balanced, symmetrical physique! So it’s truly win-win.
Some ideas for good exercises to build supporting strength include:
Seated Band Abductions
#2 Incorporate GPP into Your Workouts
GPP (General Physical Preparedness) was a mainstay in many of the strength training regimes that came out of the Eastern Bloc during the cold war. In recent years it has been enthusiastically adopted by legendary powerlifting trainer Louie Simmons.
In a nutshell, GPP combines various exercises to develop athletic ability, agility and real world, functional strength in powerlifters. GPP includes exercises like:
- Sled running
- Strong man techniques like farmers’ walks and stone lifts
- Rope work
- Gymnastic drills
- Hitting stuff with sledge hammers (a personal favourite)
Crucially, GPP diversifies training sessions, meaning that overworked areas of the body are given a much-needed chance to recuperate and repair.
For bodybuilders, however, the benefits are even greater. As well as building overall, functional strength which will translate into less injuries, heavier lifts and better form in the gym, GPP training also gives bodybuilders an opportunity to condition themselves and get lean without arduous, boring cardio sessions.
All of the exercises listed above build explosive power and strength, and are massively hypertrophic as well as cardio-intensive. In a way it’s sort of like a hyper-macho (and much more fun) version of HIIT. The best part is, the sheer variety of GPP workouts you can do will mean that you’ll never get bored.
#3 Static Holds
Static holds are used by powerlifters to break through plateaus and gain massive amounts of strength. These strength gains are possible because static holds get rid of the hardest part of a full ROM rep, meaning that you can lift much higher weights, therefore overloading your muscles.
Powerlifters usually use the exercises on compound lifts, but bodybuilders can put it to best use on isolation exercises which will encourage hypertrophy.
Although bodybuilders lift enormous volumes of weight, the sheer individual loads powerlifters shift means that they need to take rest and recovery extremely seriously if they want to continue to progress.
However, bodybuilders tend to take a cavalier attitude towards their recovery. Overtraining is one of the biggest mistakes many amateur bodybuilders make, and as well as short-term negative effects on muscle gains, in the long-term it can cause injuries and damage the central nervous system.
However, by taking on board some of the active recovery tactics powerlifters employ, bodybuilders can continue to push themselves as hard as they need to, without risking overtraining.
Acupuncture, sports massages and cryotherapy can all be used to expedite recovery, and although massages and acupuncture can be costly, saving up to afford just a couple of sessions a year can make a big difference at key times.
The aforementioned Louie Simmons is a big advocate of using foam rollers for myofascial massages, which increase blood and nutrient flow to the muscles and connective tissues, thereby stimulating growth and accelerated repair. I have found foam rollers help me recover from DOMS much quicker and eliminate a lot of stiffness and soreness in bigger muscles like the glutes and quads.
You can easily buy foam rollers in any sports shop, as well as through online retailers, but you can pick them up at a discount here.
#5 Feed Your Joints
Supplementation and nailing micronutrient intake is also an important part of recovery. Bodybuilders will always have their macro-nutrient intake nailed, but many neglect their intake of essential vitamins and micronutrients.
Glucosamine and chondroitin have been medically shown to help tendons and connective tissues repair, and when combined with MSM, magnesium and vitamin C, will give your joints the boost they need to keep up with your training.
The most effective dosages reported in the medical research studies is 1,500 mg Glucosamine and 1,200 mg Chondroitin sulfate per day. Make sure that whichever product you buy gives you these dosages, spread out over 2 to 3 pills daily. Personally, I recommend the 3-in-1 glucosamine, chondroitin and MSM pill from Myprotein.
#6 The Power of Partials
Powerlifters have long been using partial movement exercises to bust through plateaus and strengthen joints and tendons. By only performing around ¼ of the full ROM on power lifts, lifters are able to use much heavier weights than usual – somewhere in the 120-130% one rep max range.
This is primarily used to strengthen tendons and other connective tissues, but it also puts huge loads on the muscles, resulting in significant strength and mass gains.
It is also worth mentioning the elephant in the room of strength sports, too: steroid use. Because muscles grow much, much faster than tendons when on steroids, many steroid users frequently bust their joints whilst on cycles. Partial training is essential for steroid users to strengthen and thicken their tendons.
The extra load you’ll be lifting with partials can also “shock” your muscles into hypertrophy and add kgs to your normal lifts, which in turn will result in lean mass gains.
By incorporating these 6 lifts into your normal bodybuilding training, you can diversify your training, reduce the risk of injury and become much, much stronger – resulting in a more symmetrical, thicker physique. Best of all, learning from other iron sports, be that strongman, Olympic lifting or powerlifting can give bodybuilders a whole new perspective on training and strength.
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