Powerlifters Bench, Bodybuilders Back
Want to get strong? Talk to a powerlifter. Want to get bigger? Talk to a bodybuilder. Want to get stronger, bigger and more athletic? Talk to both.
The concept of “powerlifter’s bench, bodybuilder’s back” was initially brought forward to me by Joe DeFranco who uses this method to bring his athletes to an elite level of performance in a wide variety of sports. Oh god damn does it work. I found it not only significantly increased the performance of my athletes but also increased their shoulder health, posture and aesthetics. I’m not afraid to say that I love this method of training.
It has not only been preached and applied by Joe DeFranco but the best powerlifters in the world apply the same concept, they train their back with tonnes of volume, like a bodybuilder, while keeping the majority of their pushing movements heavy and short. They don’t do this just to look good, having a big back adds stability to the shoulders, corrects the typical kyphotic posture and also increases pushing strength.
Many coaches just tell athletes to focus on pushing movements with some occasional back work thrown in. On the surface, this makes sense because the dominant movement in the majority of sports is pushing. However, they use far too much volume on the pushing muscles while neglecting the pulling muscles. This leads to shoulder issues, poor posture, poor movement patterns and consequently poor performance.
Pushing strength is so important in the majority of sports, so we must increase strength efficiently like a powerlifter, without the wasting our time on high repetitions. To support pushing training we must train the back like a bodybuilder – high repetitions while really focusing on the contraction. I like to use a 2:1 ratio between the pulling muscles and pushing muscles.
As said earlier, it makes a lot of sense to increase pushing strength as pushing is a major movement in almost all sports. This is not state of the art information, everyone knows this. However, many people seem to get confuse this with high repetition, bodybuilding type training, this is not an efficient way to increase pushing strength. The aim is to increase strength not size, train like it.
You’ve got to train the bench press and other pushing movements like you’re trying to get strong, and if there’s one set of people who know how to get strong its powerlifters. Here are the basic rules for increasing your pushing strength:
- Repetitions: Rarely go over 6, the majority of your bench pressing should be done between 1-6repetitions.
- Exercises: Barbell Bench Press, Dumbbell Bench Press, Incline Variations, Close-grip Bench Press, Floor Press, Board Pressing and Dips.
- Rest: You should have a rest of at least 3minutes between sets.
- Intensity: Heavy and intense.
To train the back like a bodybuilder we must focus on squeezing the muscles of the back, really trying to exhaust the muscles in a high repetition range. Here are the basics of training your back like a bodybuilder:
- Repetitions: The majority of your sets should be between 6-15repetitions.
- Exercises: Row variations (one-arm rows, T-bar rows, barbell rows, seated cable rows), Chin-up variations (pull-ups, wide-grip pull ups, chin-ups), Band Pull-aparts and Pulldowns.
- Rest: I personally recommend around 60-90seconds of rest between sets.
- Intensity: Slow and controlled, focusing on the contraction rather than the weight.
Tips on How to Implement This into Your Program
- Begin each upper body session with a heavy pushing exercise such as the bench press. Use low repetitions and go heavy, I like Jim Wendler’s program – 5/3/1.
- Between sets of heavy pushing exercises, do pulling exercises, I like to use pull ups. This is a great way to add more volume to your upper back, while saving time. I’d recommend leaving a few repetitions in the tank while doing this as you don’t want to exhaust yourself for the heavy pushing.
- Use timed sets for the upper-back. Once again I like doing these with pull ups, it’s a great way to get more repetitions in, as many people struggle with the standard 8-12reps of 3-4sets. I set the timer for 5minutes and tell my athlete to get as many pull ups done in that set time, we record the reps and make sure he gets more next week. This is pretty excruciating and normally ends up looking a little like this: 8,6,6,6,5,5,4,4,4,4,2,1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1…
- Keep the heavy pushing towards the start of the program, with the high volume back exercises towards the end of the session.
- Use methods such as Jim Wendler’s 100 repetition challenge. Where you pick and exercise and do it for 100repetitions in the quickest time possible. This works very well with band pull-aparts.
What It Looks Like (Program)
To give you an idea of what this may look like in a program format, I have written down the structure of my last bench press session. You can use this program if you like, or simply look at it to give you an idea what all those tips look like when they’ve been put into a session.
Bench Press (5/3/1) ss with Dumbbell Rows (6-15reps)
Bench Press 3×1 (Joker Sets)
Wide-grip Pull ups x10
Pull ups + Chin ups (5minute timed set)
Band Pull-aparts: 100 repetition challenge
Triceps Extensions, curls etc…
Thank you for reading. I hope you can take a few bits of useful information away with you. Please like, share, comment, and check out my Facebook page.