Look Strong and Actually BE Strong. A Hybrid Approach.
Building a great physique and a maximally strong body are not always easy to reconcile because so many of the training principles for the two goals differ, but there are some that are synergistic and can help you pack on dense, strong muscle that looks great. If you’re looking for a hybrid body of a powerlifter and bodybuilder, then there are a few modulations you can do to your training that will help you achieve both.
Now, what are the fundamentals of training for maximal strength versus training for muscular hypertrophy? The main drivers of hypertrophy are mechanical tension, time under tension, and the resulting muscle damage and metabolic stress. The main drivers of force production are efficiency of contractile tissue, optimized movement patterns, and increased mechanical tension.
So, to get the best of both worlds, we’re going to carefully Frankenstein these training principles together so that our main lifts get the strength training, hypertrophy training, and recovery they need, while we allocate extra attention on training for aesthetics for the “show” muscles. Whether you’re a man or a woman, you can implement these modulations to get the best of both training styles. Here’s 3 ways to do it.
1. Work on max load and speed of contraction on main lifts
If you read about the most famous training methodology in powerlifting, the conjugate method, you’ll learn that the key to getting inhumanly strong is both exposing your muscle to high levels of mechanical tension as well as working with light loads to perfect movement patterns and improving the speed at which you can contract a muscle. These two training types are referred to as max effort day and dynamic effort day. For bodybuilding, there is really only one type of training style and that is repeated effort. Find a way to work all three of these training styles into your training split, even if you have to elongate your microcycles.
2. RIR vs. Sets to failure
In many powerlifting circles, they say you should never fail on a planned work set. In powerlifting, the goal is to make the lift, not go beyond failure. Ultimately, taking sets past failure creates a lot of metabolic stress and fatigue, which is difficult to manage. So, the structure of your strength program should be incrementally progressive but not to the extent that you can’t perform the prescribed work. For hypertrophy work, exposing the muscle to the sort of time under tension that would cause you to fail will contribute to your gains as long as it doesn’t impact your overall training volume. So, train heavy with reps in the tank for strength, and go much closer or past failure on a regular basis for hypertrophy, within reason.
3. Accessory movements for Hypertrophy
The general reason a body looks “good” to use is that is has lots of convex and concave shapes. So, apart from keeping your diet in check to maintain a low body fat percentage, use accessories to improve the size of key muscle groups. Shoulders, glutes, arms, calves, can all be trained in a “bodybuilding” style to give you an aesthetically pleasing look, without interfering with your strength gains.