Train like a Powerlifter, Look like a Bodybuilder?

Something bugs me about the current state of weight training in relation to the visual objectives.  I’m seeing more people engage in crossfit, kettlebell, functional fitness or training with a powerlifting 5×5 routine in hopes of getting a nice V-tapper of that slim bodybuilder physique.
Are you with me so far?
I’m out the other day and I happen to come across a mainstream bodybuilding rag.  I pick it up and skim thru the photos and all I see are these bloated, huge abdominal monsters in there.  Nobody in these magazines looks natural and nobody looks like Steve Reeves, Vince Girona or Jack LaLanne.

Truth is, some of my friends who can bench, squat and deadlift way more than I do who claim to be classic physique bodybuilders, start to get this no waist, no neck and just a brick wall look to them.  It’s not what I envision a physique artist to be.
Then I got to thinking, in 1950 those bodybuilders trained much different.  You can still find that type of training today but it’s getting covered up with so much other hype.  Those classic bodybuilders I mentioned above trained the muscle.  They wanted a pump and they wanted a certain look.  They sure as heck didn’t hate on isolation exercises.
Be my guest and tell the current functional fitness followers you do some sets of tricep kickbacks.  Or that you still do that “useless” barbell curl.  I’m pretty sure you’ll get looks like you didn’t get the memo about not wasting your time with such trivial and useless exercises.
During my TRX instruction class, the instructor covered over 70 different exercises for your entire body except calves.  Politely I asked, “what exercises can I do on the TRX for my calves?”  The answer was, “they get trained with legs.”
I see more and more formulas, posts, blogs and routines about increasing your bench, squat and deadlift.  Somehow if you can’t squat 1.5 times your body weight, you are are real screw-up in the gym.   It wouldn’t matter if you had that Steve Reeves look only that you couldn’t do some magic number.  Are you really more concerned with a poundage than a look as a bodybuilder?  If so, I have to ask, are you a bodybuilder?

  • If you are a powerlifter, train like one
  • If you are a bodybuilder, train like one

Do some light research and take a look at those people who train 5×5 style or for strength.  They just don’t look like the definition of a classic bodybuilder.  If you think the only difference is in their diets, you are wrong.
There are Exceptions
Take a look at Ronnie Coleman who had a powerlifting background.  He won Mr. Olympia many times.  He seemed able to incorporate both styles of training.  Tom “Golden Eagle” Platz’s legs were enormous and he wasn’t truly a powerlifter but I bet he could have taken home 1st place a few times.  Sergio Oliva … genetic freak.  Layne Norton who seems to be more of a powerlifter devotee sure as heck is winning natural bodybuilding shows.  His outwork philosophy must be working.
It’s almost as if the development of a muscle for the visual aesthetically pleasing purpose is simply vain.
Ask yourself this question and then take a quick glance around your gym.  When’s the last time you saw a true powerlifter doing leg extensions or a dumbbell bench press on a swiss ball?  Do they use the Smith Machine for anything but a towel rack?  Maybe you’ve never really seem them do this and really, why would they?
When has a bodybuilder taken home the gold medal for a squat competition? (minus Layne Norton who I think did)
Let me cut to the chase…
It’s time to take a look at what your goals are, your training objectives and focus on that.
So how are you going to train for your goal?  I could be WAY off base here and if I am, I welcome your insight.  Otherwise, I’m going to take silence as affirmation.
Here’s a couple of related posts that offer some insight into this strange world of bodybuilding.
The Ultimate Decision: Bodybuilder or Weightlifter
By Ron Kosloff N/C of NSP Research Nutrition
Random Stuff I Learned (And Noticed) in About Fat Loss And Bodybuilding…
by Tom Venuto of the BurntheFatBlog
Marc David – CPT

2 Replies to “Train like a Powerlifter, Look like a Bodybuilder?”

  1. I don’t think the idea of the 5×5 lifting routine should be dismissed out of hand for bodybuilding purposes. After all, the 5×5 plan originally came from none other than classic bodybuilder REG PARK, a contemporary of the bodybuilders you mention in your article, and three-time winner of Mr. Universe. And his routine included plenty of powerlifting movements too. Or does Reg Park not belong with those other old-time bodybuilders you mention?

    1. Reg Park effeminately belongs. More so than many others. 5×5 is great for strength. I’ve not found it to be very effective for shed muscle building … that being said … you do want to be strong and incorporating some type of 5×5 style or 5x3x1 to get strong works wonders when you can lift heavier weights in the classic 8-12 range. I think skipping on a pure strength routine is like skipping cardio. They each have places in a well rounded routine. If I had to list an example, I’d say the time I did the 5x3x1 for 2 months and got my Deadlift to a 500 lb PR.. maybe didn’t build a lot of muscle directly.. but it did allow me to work in the 385-405 range for 8-10 reps that I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to do if it wasn’t for that 2 months of strength routine focus. So it should not be dismissed. It should be incorporated in segments.

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