What Is Power Building? Training for Strength AND Size

Many people who spend a lot of time in the gym will find that they can have a hard time deciding on their goals. At once, most of us want to be stronger but we also want to be slimmer. We want to be more aesthetic but we also want to bench press large amounts.

As they say, ‘you can’t chase two rabbits’ though. And unfortunately, in many ways these two goals are antithetical. Often pursuing one, actually makes it more difficult to accomplish the latter.

This is even true when it comes to size versus strength. The strongest guy in the room is not necessarily the biggest guy in the room, the reason being that the two require different and often contrary training modalities.

But the ‘power building’ method seeks to change all that. Power building is a type of training for those who want to have their cake and eat it too; for those who want to be super strong but aesthetic also.

The Challenge

So why is it that powerlifting and bodybuilding are so different to begin with?

The answer is to do with the way that our muscles work. In order to get stronger, we need to be able to recruit muscle fiber. On the other hand, to get bigger muscles, we need to create microtears and flood the muscles with blood.

The precise mechanism through which hypertrophy (muscle growth of any kind) occurs is something that is not fully understood. However, many bodybuilders take the stance that there are two kinds of hypertrophy – myofibrillar and sarcoplasmic. The first involves the tearing and thickening of muscle fiber, while the latter involves the stretching of the fascia that surrounds the muscle.

What we do know is that the best way to build stronger muscle is to lift very heavy weights for just one or two reps. Or even to push or pull against an immovable force (called ‘overcoming isometrics’). This works because you are training your muscles to go heavy for short bursts and because you’re strengthening the ability of the central nervous system to command the muscle fibers when they’re needed. On the other hand, building large muscle seems more to do with maintaining ‘time under tension’ – spending as much time as possible lifting at about 70% capacity. That means using sets of 8, 12 or even 15 and it means going past failure with techniques like drop sets. Slower repetitions also seem to help with building size, again because they lead to a greater overall time under tension.

The Power Building Technique

So if you need to lift heavy with few reps to build strength and you need to lift lighter with lots of reps to build size… how can you do both at the same time?

Well the good news is that it’s actually perfectly feasible to do both in a single workout. This involves simply starting your arms workout for example with a very heavy weight and few reps. Then, when you’ve done a few powerlifting exercises like this you can move on to the lighter and longer bodybuilding technique to encourage growth.

These are two different skills with a little overlap, so one does not negatively affect the other. Your brain won’t know that you’re also training for size as long as you do what’s required for strength.

What’s more, to get flatter abs and more definition, there’s no reason you can’t also throw in some cardio. This is more likely to negatively affect your size gains than your strength gains – but this is a dichotomy that bodybuilders have been living with since time immemorial.

Taking it Further

Want to take the concept further? You can even combine your strength and size exercises into a single movement.

To do this, all you need to do is create a drop set. Normally, a drop set involves lifting about 70% of your max strength for a set of 10-12 and then dropping the weight down to 60% of 50% for another set of 10-12 with no rest and so on.

But if you’re combining power with size, then you can use this slightly differently – by doing 1-3 reps of 95% and then dropping down to 60% and performing 10-12. This way, you are spending the time under tension and you’re recruiting the major muscle fibers all in one set.

Of course when you come to the second set, you may struggle with your usual 95% and might have to start at 90% or 80%. As long as you’re using maximum effort though, you’ll still be strengthening that neural connection with your muscle fibers and you’ll still get the same strength and size benefits.

So there you go – when it comes to working out, you can chase two rabbits. And in fact, if you’re doing CV as well, you’re actually catching three at a time!



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Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki is a full time writer who spends most of his time in the coffee shops of London. Adam has a BSc in psychology and is an amateur bodybuilder with a couple of competition wins to his name. His other interests are self improvement, general health, transhumanism and brain training. As well as writing for websites and magazines, he also runs his own sites and has published several books and apps on these topics.

Follow Adam on Linkedin: adam-sinicki, twitter: thebioneer, facebook: adam.sinicki and youtube: treehousefrog

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