Muscle Building Workouts

Powerbuilding, the Muscle and Brawn Way

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What is powerbuilding?

Powerbuilding. Powerbuilding is a combination of bodybuilding and powerlifting, in which the goal is to get as big and strong as possible. Powerbuilding meshes hypertrophy and strength training, by focusing on heavy compound movements and weight progression.

Many lifters have no intention of competing in a bodybuilding or powerlifting contest. Powerbuilding allows you to train for size and strength goals, weeding out unnecessary training theories and practices from these niche sports.

Differences. What are some of the key differences that separate a powerbuilding routine from a bodybuilding or powerlifting workout?

  • Ripped. It is not necessarily a goal of powerbuilding to get ripped. Rather, the goal of powerbuilding is to look like a mountain of muscle, and to have the strength to match. Powerbuilding does pack on mass, so it’s there if you chose to shave off all your body hair, oil up your physique, and parade around in skimpy tights.
  • Max Singles. Despite a focus on training for strength, powerbuilding does not focus on lower rep sets and max singles. The rep range tends to stay on the lower end of the spectrum, rarely calling for more than 8 reps per set.
  • Isolation. Muscle and Brawn’s powerbuilding routine avoids all isolation exercises like pec deck flyes, lateral delt raises, and cable work. The emphasis in powerbuilding is on using compound movements and heavy weight to stimulate the body to grow bigger and stronger. Smaller muscle groups grow larger by the overall work load placed upon them.
  • Squats. Powerbuilding focuses on squats, and has you perform them every 4 days. By squatting often, you will put your body in an anabolic state, forcing it to adapt and grow bigger and stronger. Squats are the king of all mass building exercises.
  • The Big 3. Powerbuilding helps you achieve big numbers for squats, deadlifting and bench press. These lifts are known as the big 3. With powerbuilding, you will be able to lift big at the gym, or lift big on the powerlifting platform.
  • Diet. Powerbuilding does not push a super-strict bodybuilding diet. A powerbuilding diet is healthy, but by no means revolves around chicken breasts and broccoli. A powerbuilding diet is a healthy diet that you can live with.
  • Workouts. Powerbuilding diets are short and sweet. You hit the gym, lift big, and get out. Generally, a powerbuilding workout has no more than 10-12 sets, and you are out of the gym in 45 minutes to an hour. Powerbuilding workouts are efficient and effective.

Workouts. Powerbuilding workouts are simple, quick and straightforward. Here are the principles you need to remember and utilize…

  1. Heavy Compound Movements. You need to stick with heavy compound movements. Check out the article 7 (Plus 7) Core Bodybuilding Exercises.
  2. Progression. You must always try to do more than you’re previous workout. If you bench pressed 205 pound for 3 sets of 6 reps, try to do at least 1 more rep during the next workout. And when your reps for a particular exercise all hit 8-10 reps, add more weight.
  3. 1 Hour. Keep your workouts under one hour. Anything over 1 hour tends to be catabolic, which means counter-productive and muscle destroying.
  4. No Failure. Do not train to failure. There is no need. Powerbuilding relies upon increased volume (more weight over time) to spur you to greater muscle and strength. Learn to stop about one rep shy of positive failure.
  5. Rep Range. Try to keep your rep range between 6-10. It is up to you to determine what rep ceiling is best for a given lift. I recommend sticking with 6 reps for heavy lifts, and 8-10 reps for other compound lifts.

Diet. A powerbuilding diet is healthy, but not overly restrictive. The goal is to get strong, and to gain muscle. There is no need to eat chicken breasts and broccoli every meal.

  1. Meals. Try to eat at least 5 times a day, spread apart every 2.5 to 3 hours. A constant stream of protein, carbs and nutrients will help your body run at maximum efficiency.
  2. Protein. You want to eat at least 25 grams of protein during each meal. There is no need to eat over 300 grams of protein, as recommended by some bodybuilding diet programs. Muscle will grow, and strength will increase with an above average protein intake.
  3. Milk. Try to drink at least 3 glasses of milk each day. If you have problems gaining weight, drink one gallon of whole milk each day. And do not drink reduced fat milk, if possible. The body needs healthy fat sources to function.
  4. Eggs. Eggs are an amazing source of nutrients and protein. Try to eat at least 4 eggs each day, in one form or another.
  5. Junk Carbs. Junk carbs are chips, cookies, white bread, candy, etc. Try to limit your intake of junk carbs. It’s a good idea to splurge a couple of times a week. Doing so helps you keep your sanity. But try nor to overdo it by eating an entire bag of chips.
  6. Veggies. Get at least 4-5 servings of veggies a day. If you eat on the run, V-8’s vegetable juice has 2 servings of veggies per can.
  7. Fruit. Try to eat a couple of servings of fruit each day. I like to eat a banana and a protein drink one hour before working out, and to munch on apples if I get hungry after dinner.

Sample Routine. Now that we know what to eat, which exercises to use, and what the goals of powerbuilding are, let’s look at a sample routine.

  • Muscle and Brawn Full Body Workout 1. This is a great full body workout for beginner and intermediate lifters. It is simple, growth-inducing, and allows you to push around a lot of weight.
  • Muscle and Brawn Split Program. If you like to hit the gym more frequently, then this routine is for you. The workouts are quick, but heavy.
  • Muscle and Brawn Powerbuilding Routine. This routine is detailed below. It should only be performed by those who have at least 6 months experience with squats and deadlift. The intensity of this program can lead to overtraining. Overtraining is not to be feared. More on this subject is detailed below.

Muscle and Brawn Powerlifting Routine. The routine is a 12 day arc, with a 4 day squat/deadlift cycle and a 6 day back/chest/shoulder cycle running concurrent.

  • Squat/Deadlift 4 Day Cycle. Basically, every 4 days you will be training with a variety of heavy compound lifts that will catapult you into huge weight increases for your deadlift and squat. By maximizing these lift totals, your body will have no choice but to get as big as possible, as fast as possible to compensate.
  • Back/Chest/Shoulder 6 Day Cycle. Every 6 days, you will train heavy compound exercises for these bodyparts. This aspect of the routine looks very similar to a bodybuilding routine – but there are notable difference. Workouts are quick, focused on progression, are not trained to failure, and generally have rep ranges of 6-8 for most exercises.

Rep Ceilings. Keep in mind, the rep ranges given for the routine are rep ceilings. A rep ceiling is the maximum amount of reps performed per set. Here is how a rep ceiling (of 6 reps) works for the bench press…today you lifted 4 sets @ 205 pounds for the following reps…6, 6, 4, 4. During the first two sets, you may have felt like you could have performed an additional rep or two. Don’t. Our goal in powerbuilding is to increase overall volume, so keep it simple. On your next workout, try 205 pounds for 6, 6, 6 and 6 reps. If you hit that goal, bump up the weight by 5 pounds during your next workout.

Never go above the rep ceiling. A rep ceiling provides a mini-intensity cycle. This allows you to prolong your training as long as possible before requiring a de-load period.

Volume. Muscle and Brawn’s powerbuilding relies upon increased training volume to spur you to greater strength and mass. Here’s how volume works…Let’s use the bench press example above. During the first workout, we lifted 205 pounds for a total of 20 reps (over 4 sets). 205 pounds multiplied by 20 reps equals a total volume of 4,100 pounds.

On the next training day, 205 pounds was lifted for a total of 24 reps (over 4 sets). This gives us a total volume of 205 pounds multiplied by 24 reps, which equals 4,920 pounds. This is a 820 pound volume increase from your previous workout.

Please do not feel compelled to add more sets to your workouts, so that your overall volume is increased. This routine has you in the gym 3 out of every 4 days performing very heavy movements. You want to keep your workouts to about 45 minutes. Stick with the given sets, and focus on increasing weight. The squat/deadlift days alone are butt-kicking. Save your strength for the long haul, trying to delay the need for a de-load as long as possible.

De-load Periods. While performing this routine, you probably will wake up one day and feel blah, tired, un-motivated, and with some minor joint aches and pains. This state is called over-reaching. Over-reaching is not overtraining. But, if you continue to train hard at this point, you will be overtrained.

When you know for certain that your body needs a rest, it is time for a week or two of de-loading. During a de-loading period, you still go to the gym. But instead of training with the same volume, you can do one of two things…

  1. Train the same number of sets, but with 30-40% less weight.
  2. Train with the same weight, but perform 40% fewer reps.

Because this routine is a twelve day cycle, a de-loading phase should be at minimum a 12 day period. During this time you continue to follow the same workout structure, but adjust your weight reps as mentioned above.

The 12 Day Cycle. Please do not tinker with this layout. Frequent squatting is the key to fast gains in mass and strength. When a rep range is give, you are allowed to choose what your rep ceiling will be.

Day 1. (Squat/Deadlift Day)

  • Deadlifts. 5 sets of 3 reps. Higher rep sets with heavy deadlifts are not recommended. The more reps you do, the worse your form becomes. Stick with 3 reps per set.
  • Front Squats. 3 sets of 6-8 reps.
  • Heavy ABs or Side Bends. 3 sets. Alternate between Ab work and side bends every 4 days. Rep range for Abs can be between 10-20, and rep range for side bends is 8-10.

Day 2. (Shoulders/Biceps)

  • Seated DB or Barbell Press. 4 sets x 6-8 reps. You can stick with one of these movements, or alternate between them. Make sure you are pressing with solid back support.
  • Upright Rows. 3 sets x 8 reps.
  • DB Curls, Barbell Curls, or Preacher Curls. 3 sets x 8-10. Stick with one exercise, or alternate between workouts.

Day 3. Rest Day

Day 4. (Back/Traps)

  • DB or BB Rows. 4 sets x 8 reps. Stick with one exercise, or alternate every workout.
  • Pullups, T-bars Rows, or Heavy Low Pulley Rows. 4 sets x 8 reps. Stick with one exercise, or alternate every workout.
  • Power Shrugs. 2 sets x 6-8 reps

Day 5. (Squat/Deadlift Day)

  • Squats. 4 sets x 6-8 reps
  • Romanian Deadlifts. 3 sets x 6-8 reps.
  • Heavy ABs or Side Bends. 3 sets. Alternate between Ab work and side bends every 4 days. Rep range for Abs can be between 10-20, and rep range for side bends is 8-10.

Day 6. (Chest/Triceps)

  • Bench Press. 4 sets x 6 reps
  • DB Bench or Slight Incline Barbell Bench. 3 sets x 8 reps. Stick with one exercise, or alternate every workout.
  • Dips, Seated Overhead Tricep Extensions (DB or BB), Skullcrushers, or Closegrip Bench Presses. 3 sets x 8 reps. Stick with one exercise, or alternate every workout.

Day 7. Rest Day

Day 8. (Shoulders/Biceps)

  • Seated DB or Barbell Press. 4 sets x 6-8 reps. You can stick with one of these movements, or alternate between them. Make sure you are pressing with solid back support.
  • Upright Rows. 3 sets x 8 reps.
  • DB Curls, Barbell Curls, or Preacher Curls. 3 sets x 8-10. Stick with one exercise, or alternate between workouts.

Day 9. (Squat/Deadlift Day)

  • Box Squats. 4 sets x 6-8 reps
  • Good Mornings. 3 sets x 6-8 reps
  • Heavy ABs or Side Bends. 3 sets. Alternate between Ab work and side bends every 4 days. Rep range for Abs can be between 10-20, and rep range for side bends is 8-10.

Day 10. (Back/Traps)

  • DB or BB Rows. 4 sets x 8 reps. Stick with one exercise, or alternate every workout.
  • Pullups, T-bars Rows, or Heavy Low Pulley Rows. 4 sets x 8 reps. Stick with one exercise, or alternate every workout.
  • Power Shrugs. 2 sets x 6-8 reps

Day 11. Rest Day

Day 12. (Chest/Triceps)

  • Bench Press. 4 sets x 6 reps
  • DB Bench or Slight Incline Barbell Bench. 3 sets x 8 reps. Stick with one exercise, or alternate every workout.
  • Dips, Seated Overhead Tricep Extensions (DB or BB), Skullcrushers, or Closegrip Bench Presses. 3 sets x 8 reps. Stick with one exercise, or alternate every workout.

Heavier Volume Addendum. If after several 12 day cycles you feel that your body is handling the routine, you can up the volume slightly by a couple of sets. Under no circumstances do I recommend training for more than 1 hour. A maximum of 12 sets per workout is enough. If you want to add more sets, on chest, shoulder and back day, add another heavy compound movement. Do not add more shrug sets on back day, as your traps get hammered enough during this routine. A good additional shoulder exercises is DB Arnold presses.

On squat day, add a couple more sets of squats or Romanian deadlifts. Glute/ham raises are also recommended if you have access to that piece of equipment.

Conclusion. It is easy to get confused in the vast sea of powerlifting and bodybuilding routines. A powerbuilding simplifies your training, allowing you to train more efficiently, more effectively, and with a quicker pace. Powerbuilding also helps you achieve your goals of looking muscular and strong without having to weigh chicken breasts every evening.

Steve Shaw

Steve Shaw is the primary content manager for Muscle and Brawn.

Latest posts by Steve Shaw (see all)

  • Jeremy May 23,2014 at 5:10 pm

    Any thought on how long to rest in between sets? I’ve been doing 2 – 3 minutes.

  • Mister Tee Oct 16,2013 at 11:05 am

    This is what I do, a variation of it, 3x3x3 – have been cycling this training 8-12 weeks on, 1 week off again…all natural and breaking plateaus and best of all look great, cleaner looking than the gear heads

  • Nick Dec 22,2012 at 7:02 pm

    Im dieting right now, trying to get in better condition. What kind of cardio do you suggest?

    Also, should I try to just work on keeping my strength where it is during the diet or should I always be trying to push more weight?

  • Nick Dec 22,2012 at 6:58 pm

    I have been doing this routine for a while now. I really like the simplicity of the workouts so far. But I have a couple of questions..

    Can I switch out BB bench press with DB’s or switching Upright rows with seated DB press once in a while for a change?I just don’t see another exercise written down on the article in place of those two.

    Also, how far apart should I have my hands on the BB for upright rows for shoulder mass?

  • Jordan Nov 7,2012 at 2:39 am

    Where can I add olympic lifts into this such as cleans, pulls, snatches?

  • kevin Nov 1,2012 at 7:40 pm

    anyone followed this routine for a while ?
    if you did how were the results ??

  • kevin Sep 20,2012 at 8:08 am

    what happens after day 12 ? You start over at saterday or take 2days off and start over at monday ??

    The first thing that draws my attention is the very few excercises, you would think working the muscles you would need more to do… Just wondering

  • josh Aug 7,2012 at 5:37 pm

    Like the looks of this workout. If I am to start this, what to you think the approximate percentage of my 1RM should be used for the sets? Or should I be doing pyramids for weights, for example 1-2-3-2-1?

    • Mick Madden Aug 7,2012 at 9:28 pm

      For the 4×6 sets start somewhere around 60-65%, test things out and build up from there. It might take several weeks to zero in on the right weight.

      • josh Aug 8,2012 at 3:20 am

        Okay cool, thanks. What about the deadlifts and squats that are 5×3? I imagine I would have to start at a similar percentage of my 1RM max in order to grind out 5 sets of 3 deadlifts. Thanks again

      • Derek Aug 24,2012 at 3:11 am

        Power Shrugs…which version of them..full deadlift to shrug or just half a squat and shrug?

        • snake2yoface Jan 28,2014 at 10:28 am

          Power shrug is a shrug done with a bar loaded Heavy, to the point where you thrust your hips forward while pulling your shoulders to your ears, hold contraction for a sec and slowly lower weight. (u won’t be able to go to slow cause of the heavy weight, just don’t totally cut the negative and drop it

  • John Jul 30,2012 at 1:06 am

    Hey Mick, If I do this all the way through, you’re saying that I’ll have the body of a bodybuilder as well as the strength of the football player i am already, right? Bc I was just about to start bodybuilding but ran across this.

    Also, if I do this workout in the morning, can I do TapouT XT in the afternoon?

    • Mick Madden Aug 1,2012 at 10:08 pm

      That’s the goal – to get big and strong.

      Regarding Tapout, sure.

  • kevin Jul 4,2012 at 6:53 pm

    Nice setup, only problem for me is that I only can train on monday, tuesday, wendsday, friday en saterday, how would you set this up ?

  • Cruz Fondriest Jun 19,2012 at 10:28 pm

    For cardio would it be alright to do like crossfit wods or some hiit?

    • Mick Madden Jun 21,2012 at 11:38 pm


      • Cruz Fondriest Jun 22,2012 at 1:41 pm

        Wat days do u suggest to do the crossfit on? Rest days? Or after lifting days?

  • Youri Mar 20,2012 at 4:06 pm

    Hey Mick I like the routine just wanted to know if the squats can be substituted with leg press
    on days that the deadlift comes before it.

    • snake2yoface Jan 28,2014 at 10:31 am

      NO! Don’t be a b@#$%. Do the damn deads!

      • snake2yoface Jan 28,2014 at 10:32 am

        And Squats

  • Michael Oct 23,2011 at 4:15 pm

    Hey, Mick,

    I have been doing the routine for a bit now and absolutely love it and am already starting to see results. I want to throw in power cleans though because I feel like I’m missing them as an explosive movement.

    Where do you think would be a good place to throw those in and how often? Also, would the set-rep parameters be like the deadlift in that it would be 5×3?

    Thanks in advance.

  • Michael Aug 28,2011 at 7:20 pm

    I’m in the Marine Corps, and we do cardio Mon., Wed., and Fri. Should I do anything to adjust the volume for that, or do you think I’ll be fine? I currently lift while doing the cardio but not a powerbuilding-type of routine.


    • Mick Madden Aug 29,2011 at 7:19 pm

      Hi Michael,

      You’ll be fine as long as you are getting rest (as much as possible) and eating as good as possible. It might take 3-4 weeks for your body to adapt to the demands of this workout, but after that you should make consistent gains.

  • mark D Jul 30,2011 at 4:27 am

    so after the 12th day. on the 13th day do u start back over on day one or do u take 2 days off and start back on day one on the 15th day?

  • dave Jun 6,2011 at 2:01 am

    Awesome workout plan! Gonna try this out tomorrow for the full course of this program, as I have ventured through powerlifting, olympic lifting, plyometrics, and bodybuilding before, but was looking for something to combine strength and size. Is there any nutrition plans you have and additional powerbuilding plans?

  • Chad May 4,2011 at 2:08 am


    This Routine looks amazing. I have been searching for a hybrid powerlifting/bodybuilding workout and this seems like my cup of tea. I have a few small questions:

    – I do like to see my 1 rep max every now and then, How often could I test it?

    – I would like to try and make my arms and shoulders bigger, could I add an extra set/exercise to curl and shoulder days? Or will doing this routine help enough?


    • Mick Madden May 4,2011 at 1:50 pm

      Hi Chad,

      I wouldn’t test your 1RM more than once a month. You could test every 3 weeks if you are in the 200’s with squat and deadlift, but I would stay same and go for no more than once a month. If you are squatting and pulling more than 400 I wouldn’t test it more than once every 2 months.

      Arm size will come around nicely from the compound lifts in this workout, as well as the direct bicep and tricep work. I wouldn’t add anything. The compounds will do more for your arms than extra isolation exercises will. get big and strong on the lifts int eh program, eat correctly, and your arms will gain in size at a nice pace.

  • FMStruggle Feb 23,2011 at 11:49 pm

    Hey quick question about this routine. I know this is a late reply, but is this linear or ramping weights?


    • Mick Madden Feb 24,2011 at 2:43 pm

      You can really use either approach – linear or ramping. I personally like to stick with the same weight for 4 sets, but it doesn’t have to be performed in this manner.

  • Mick Madden Dec 9,2010 at 4:52 pm

    Hi David,

    I would be glad to help. You can either post your questions here or leave them on the forum and I will help the best I can.

  • David Dec 9,2010 at 3:30 am


    Great article. I am looking to create a solid powerbuilding workout for myself. After reading several of Doug Hepburn’s routine articles, I’m convinced that this is the avenue I want to take. I will definitely apply the knowledge I’ve obtained in this article.

    I was wondering if you could give me a hand in sorting out some of the questions I have?

  • Mick Madden Oct 23,2010 at 11:06 pm

    @ James…Thanks for the feedback. It’s always good to hear from guys using the workout. Keep hard at it!

  • James Faulkner Oct 23,2010 at 8:39 pm

    This routine is an absolute God send. Before I found this, I had always focused on Bodybuilding because I loved the routine. However, I never really saw any strength gains(a little here and there). I also didn’t want to enter into the Powerlifting world because it was too limited(the big 3) for me. Powerbuilding is my new love…it’s absolutely perfect for me. I’m only on my 2nd, 12 day cycle and I’m already seeing results. Thanks for bringing this to the internet!

    Milwaukee, WI

  • Fueled by Ketones Apr 16,2010 at 12:47 pm

    […] Powerbuilding, the Muscle and Brawn Way that is the link for the work idea of what i am doing. I dont have the luxary of being able to […]

  • Fueled by Ketones Plus+ - Page 3 Apr 9,2010 at 4:32 pm

    […] bis, might not do it on delts and not sure about back, see tomorrow. My layout is based on loosely Powerbuilding, the Muscle and Brawn Way but with some extra volume. 4-5 for the big groups and 2-3 for the smaller. and traps with the […]

  • Mick Madden Mar 14,2010 at 12:33 pm

    Nick…send me an email via the forum and I’ll help you with a training split. My forum name is “BendtheBar”.

  • nick Mar 12,2010 at 11:19 pm

    Great article! I have been looking for a routine that had the best of both styles. But I do have a question. Due to work and school I can get in the gym about 4 days a week.Currently what woks for me is Mon,Tues,Thur,Fri schedule. There might be a week that I can get into the gym on a saturday or sunday but its rare.I dont want to start something that I cant stick to. Is there any way to make this routine fit my schedule? Thanks!

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