It’s no secret to those who pay attention to the world of raw powerlifting that it is a sport dominated by lifters who are or who look like bodybuilders. And I’m referring to the “absolutely jacked” quality of these lifters, not the propensity for wearing shimmery thongs and fake tanning (had to take at least one shot). The point being that carrying around a ton of muscle and then doing so without a lot of body fat is part of the formula for high caliber lifting.
Gaining this muscle mass can be very beneficial, and is by no means a new concept. As lifters we must train for strength first and foremost, but there are times when it is helpful to train some extra lifts “like a bodybuilder.” Packing on muscle in the right places to compliment what is left lacking by the main lifts will ensure that you give yourself a chance to later strengthen some of your weak areas—which likely negatively affect your technique on the main exercise or limit your ability to execute it under progressively heavier weights. Additionally some bodybuilding training can be used to build up the stabilizing musculature or antagonist musculature in a region of the body to keep the body in balance.
Check out these tips from Dan on how bodybuilding can make you a better lifter…
Generally each lift has a few body parts that can be effectively built up to help out the lift directly or lay the foundation for future strength gains. What follows will be my take on assistance lifting and which lifts I find beneficial to the three big lifts.
- Hack Squats – Hack squats are a classic bodybuilding exercise and are my preferred exercise for building up larger quad size. I prefer the hack squats because they place very little stress on the back and isolate the quads I feel better than leg pressing. They also allow you to practice driving your hips forward as you would if you are a quad dominant squatter who also engages the hips well. Like any exercise I will try to push these so the rep and weight combinations are difficult to complete, but shooting for 1-2 very hard sets of 20 is ideal here.
- Weighted Straight-Leg Situps – I perform these on a GHR and hold a dumbbell behind my head for added resistance. The keys for execution on these are extending all the way OUT (not back) so that your body is as horizontal as possible. I also lock the hips at full extension by squeezing the glutes as you would during a deadlift lockout. I try to do these for 2 sets of 15-20 reps. These will be felt heavily in the lower abs and hip flexors but will absolutely benefit the torso strength.
- Dumbell Bench or Incline – Pressing a high volume with dumbells is a tried and true winner for chest, delt, triceps and even forearm development. Bodybuilders love them because the effect the dumbells have on the stabilizing musculature builds mass AND carries over to the barbell bench. For these… The more the better! The more weight, sets and reps performed the better. I’d recommend starting with a target number of 50 and accumulate 50 total reps. That could be 5 sets of 10 or 4×12. Again the more the better because these pack on mass. These can be done also as the lifter nears a competition for the strength they build by lowering the volume lifted and focusing more on the weight lifted.
- Military Press – Raw lifters need big delts! If not show me a 600 bencher with mini delts…The delts help to drive the weights from over the sternum into the lifters groove or sweet spot. Military Pressing is a great way to build both usable strength in the bench and huge traps and delts. A very simple program to follow is my method of building up to a 1-5 rep max first and then lowering the weight and following a simple rep scheme of 3-4 sets of 7-10 reps. This is a high enough volume of pressing to build mass and the heavy sets build strength and make progression attainable. My preference in technique is to keep the back arched and the chest up. I flare the elbows out when I press and lock the weight out directly overhead, not behind as is common in Olympic lifting training. This technique utilizes the delts and clavicular segment of the pecs along with all the musculature encasing the shoulder blades which is needed for stabilization and shoulder health. These are a must!
- Rowing – For the deadlift I like all varieties of rows, but my favorites are chest supported rows and one arm dumbbell rows. For rows I like high reps: 15-20 per set. This allows the lifter to use a full range of motion to allow the shoulder blades to fully protract and abduct when the weight is lowered in front as well as achieving a full contraction at the top of the row. Moving the shoulder blades through a full range of motion AND your thoracic spine will not only load up the lats, but the traps and upper spinal erectors as well. Doing 3-4 sets of 15-20 reps will pack on tons of mass to the upper body’s biggest muscle group. If your lat strength is lagging you will struggle to pull big weights through to lockout.
- Stiff Leg Deads – Stiff Leg Deads put mass on all the pulling muscles as well. But they really teach how to control the lower back, hips and abs. They slow down the lift so the lifter can feel the lats kicking in to help pull the weight to lockout. These will absolutely fry the lower back, glutes and hamstrings. I like to stand on a 3-4” box to increase the range of motion. Reps fall in the 5-10 range here.