Almost three and a half years ago I set foot on a bodybuilding stage for the first time. After that first show I was hooked and moving forward building as much muscle mass as possible was the goal, like every other person.
In that quest I avoided traditional bench press because it didn’t build the chest and it would rip my pecs off the bone. Barbell Squats had to be replaced with hack squats and leg presses because I needed to isolate the quad or hamstring. Of course deadlifts were out of the question because that would blow my waist out. At least I was brought to believe those things listening to modern day bodybuilding “logic”. And I built a respectable amount of muscle mass doing that, but as I progressed I slowly started to incorporate bench press, barbell squats, and then eventually I defied all odds and did deadlifts, and my waist didn’t grow, shocker right? After a few months of slowly bringing the “big three consistently into my training I decided on a whim to enter my first powerlifting meet. On meet day apart from all the junk food everyone was eating the most noticeable thing was the biggest squatters had the biggest legs, the biggest benchers had the biggest chests, and yep you guessed it, the best deadlifters had enormous and developed backs.
Before that meet my focus in training was going semi heavy in the 8-12 rep range and getting a good pump. Because going below five reps doesn’t build muscle right?
After the meet I decided to venture into powerlifting on a more serious and focused approach to see how strong I could truly get. In my mind I had already accepted that the time I planned to spend powerlifting I wouldn’t be building much muscle considering the movements I would be doing were all based on getting maximally strong and I was okay with that. Since that decision my training has been strength focused, compound lifts in the 3-5 rep range, followed by an secondary compound lift (rack pulls for deadlifts, pause squats for squat, close grip for bench). Then 4-8 sets of true accessory work, let extensions, dumbbell rows, cable flys, lateral raises, etc. My diet hasn’t changed in structure although I’m eating more calories. Yet something interesting has happened, I’m growing muscle as fast as I ever have in my life. My back is the thickest it’s ever been. My chest the fullest and roundest it’s ever been. And my hamstrings and glutes are growing. More than growing and getting bigger, I’m the strongest I’ve ever been in life. I’m squatting in the 700’s, benching in the mid 500’s and deadlifting in the 700 range. More weight than I’ve ever moved in the lowest rep range I’ve ever trained with the least amount of volume I’ve ever done and growing the most muscle I ever have, I don’t call that coincidence. The difference in training in this rep range as opposed to the average gym bro who does 1-5 rep sets is my form and technique is perfected. There’s no bouncing the bar off my chest on bench, or dropping the bar on deadlifts or squatting high. Form is never compromised.
There are so many other things I’ve taken away from powerlifting these past months that every bodybuilder can benefit from but I’ll save those for another day as that’s a deep subject I want to really elaborate on. But the biggest takeaway I have is don’t be scared to get as strong as you possibly can. If your form is perfect and your technique is dialled in the risk of injury is minimal. If you push your body to be as maximally strong as possible while maintaining your accessory movements and dialling in your nutrition you will grow muscle. And at the end of the day who doesn’t like being crazy strong.
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