Get Big and Shredded with the Ultimate Powerlifting and Hypertrophy Combo
Think powerlifters are strong but fat, while bodybuilders are ripped, aesthetic, and weak? Think again! Despite the prevalence of these stereotypes, the vast majority of bodybuilders are big, lean AND strong. What’s more, just about any good powerlifter who’s not a super heavyweight is going to be pretty ripped – especially the guys that compete at 220 and under. Just like you can’t get lean without a proper diet, there’s no way you’re ever going to build muscle without getting stronger!
That said, focusing solely on the powerlifts may not produce the exact physique you desire. It’ll get you big and strong, sure, and most of your muscles will develop incredibly well – but you may be left with a few weak spots. Our bodies don’t know that we want to develop certain areas, they only know they’ve got to activate the strongest muscles to get out from under a heavy weight!
Ultimately, the most efficient way to reach your bodybuilding goals will be a combination of heavy lifting and “detail” work to address weak points and areas the big lifts don’t really hit. Here’s a primer on how you can combine these in your program to make maximum gains in the shortest amount of time!
The back squat, the flat bench press, and the deadlift are the three competition powerlifts, and in my opinion, these EXACT lifts should be the cornerstones of your mass-building progarm. Some guys think that front squats are better than back squats for quads, that the bench press won’t adequately stimulate your chest, and that deadlifts will leave you with a big but incomplete back. In some cases, for some people, they’re right – but that doesn’t matter!
Remember, you’re going to fill in these “gaps” with other exercises to make sure every muscle gets worked. When your goal is to put on as much size as possible, you need to choose the exercises that allow you to lift as much as possible. The deadlift and back squat will allow you to hoist the heaviest poundages you’re capable of, and the bench press is bound to be your strongest upper body movement. You might stimulate this or that muscle a little better with lighter variations, but you’d be seriously missing out on overall size gains.
Oh, and don’t worry about becoming “blocky” from heavy squats and deads. Some gurus claim that deadlifts will give you a thick, unappealing waist, and that heavy backs squats will overdevelop your glutes. The truth is, 99 percent of people will never need to worry about this. If you really think your waist is too wide, or that your ass is too big, you’re probably just too fat! There are a few bodybuilders with genetically blocky structures, but you truly do not to worry about creating “too much” hypertrophy in any given area. Once you’re lean enough, you’ll see that all that heavy lifting creates a thickly-muscled, V-tapered physique.
As useful as the powerlifts are, you will probably need to add in some additional work to hit certain muscle groups. Needs will vary from person to person, but in general, these are the areas that require direct attention:
Biceps: There are always a few skinny “experts” claiming that you don’t need direct arm work, but you’ll never fully develop your biceps without it. You don’t need a day dedicated to arms – at least not until you’re advanced – but you will need to consistently curl.
Upper Pecs: Even if you do get a lot of pec stimulation out of the bench press, your lower chest will be doing most of the work. If you want that wide, shelf-life look to your shoulder girdle, you’ll need to add in some incline work and flyes.
Lats: The deadlift will create incredible mass gains in your lower back, mid back, and traps, but you’ll probably need additional work to widen and thicken your lats – nothing some pull-ups and rows can’t handle!
Delts: Some guys can grow their shoulders with nothing but the bench press, but they’re few and far between. To fully develop both strength and size, you’ll need to add some kind of overhead press, as well as raises for the side and rear delts.
Calves: This is the one body part that actually looks straight-up skinny on some big powerlifters! The lower leg size you start with is largely genetic, but you won’t build any new mass down there without busting your ass on some calf raises.
Quads: While you may develop all the quad size in the world from squats alone, quite a few lifters need to add more movements for full development. The quadriceps are a big, 4-headed muscle group, and some areas may lag without extra attention.
Abs: You’ll need to do some ab work, but not for the reasons you think! You’ve already got a six-pack, and it’s up to you to reveal it by getting lean. Skip the high-rep crunches, and strengthen your core with some heavy sit-ups. Your squat and deadlift will be better for it, and your lower back will stay healthier as you lift heavy.
Your New Split
Here’s how you tie all these exercises together! You’ll be lifting four days per week, but you’ll be focusing on movements, not body parts. Hit the main exercises hard, and then finish up with hypertrophy work for the lagging areas. And of course, add weight, reps, or both every week! If you’re a beginner or intermediate lifter, and you’re not able to tangibly progress from one training session to the next, you’re just not eating or sleeping enough.
Day 1: Squat
-Squats: 5 sets of 5 with the heaviest weight you can handle.
-Leg Press: 3 sets of 15, using as full a range of motion as possible – no ego lifting!
-Dumbbell Stiff Leg Deadlifts: 3 sets of 20, keeping your back perfectly arched. Switch to a barbell if your gym’s dumbbells are too light.
-Weight Decline Sit-ups: 3 sets of 10, as heavy as you can handle. Hold the weight behind your head, not in front!
-Seated Calf Raises: 3 sets of 15, squeezing and holding every rep at the top. This should hurt!
Day 2: Bench Press
-Barbell Bench Press: 5 sets of 5 with the heaviest weight you can handle.
-Incline Fly-to-Press: Using dumbbells on an incline bench, descend into fly position but press the weight back up while squeezing your pecs. 4 sets of 15, and don’t be afraid to go heavy if your form is good.
-Wide-grip Pull-ups: 4 sets of 10, adding additional weight as needed. Each set should be to near failure!
-Incline Dumbbell Curl: Lie back on an incline bench, and strictly curl from top to bottom. 5 sets of 15 here, and don’t go so heavy you have to cheat!
-Incline Skull Crusher: Superset these with the incline curls, 5 sets of 15.
Day 3: Deadlift
-Conventional Deadlifts: Work up to one top set of 4 with as much weight as you can handle. Rest, decrease the weight by 40-50 pounds, and do as many reps as you can. Rest, and once more decrease the weight by 40-50 pounds and do as many reps as you can.
-Front Squats: 4 sets of 6 with as much weight as you can handle. This exercise is hard, but don’t puss out! The low reps will keep you from seeing stars as the bar is pressed close to your neck.
-Barbell Rows: 4 sets of 10. Go heavy, and cheat a little bit if you need to, but make sure your lats and traps are doing the work.
-Ab Wheel: These are cheap and incredibly useful, so buy one if your gym doesn’t have one. Do 3 sets of 15-20 rolls, and have someone add a plate to your back if that gets too easy.
-Standing Calf Raises: 3 sets of 20, again squeezing and holding every rep at the top. When it comes to calves, it’s no pain, no gain!
Day 4: Military Press
-Standing Military Press: 5 sets of 5 with the heaviest weight you can handle. It’s okay to cheat the first rep from a dead stop, but stay strict on every rep after.
-Machine Incline Bench: Pick your favorite upper chest-focused pressing machine, and pump out 4 sets of 15 reps. Stretch your pecs between every set for maximum blood volume and growth.
-Parallel-grip Pull-ups: 4 sets of 12, adding weight as necessary.
-Side dumbbell raises: 5 sets of 20, and don’t go light! It’s okay to start the set with a decent range of motion, but to finish it with some partial reps and cheat reps. Side delts grow best from a combo of heavy weights AND high reps!
-Reverse Pec-dec: 5 sets of 25. This time, be as strict as possible, and make every set burn! The rear delts grow well from a lot of volume and pain.
Lifting Heavy while Leaning Out
So, you’ve got your mass-building program, but you’ll need to switch things up once you start leaning out, right? Absolutely wrong! If they heavy lifting is what built the muscle, that’s what’s going to keep it there. If anything, you should strive to keep getting stronger as you lose weight. The gains won’t come as quickly, but maintaining your strength is a surefire way to maintain your muscle. If you buy into all that high-reps-for-cuts nonsense, you’ll end up flat, stringy, and weak by the end of your diet, having taken three steps forward and two steps back.