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Power Up!

Using the Three Powerlifts for Unreal Size and Strength.

Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman does it. So did Lee Haney, Franco Columbu, Sergio Oliva and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Bodybuilders from Chuck Sipes, Marvin Eder and Reg Park to Eddie Robinson, Mike Francois, Mike O’Hearn and Greg Kovacs know the benefits of combining powerlifting and bodybuilding into a single training style.

Take Coleman, for example. Ronnie handles 405 on the bench press, 585 on the squat and 675 on the deadlift’all for 10 strict repetitions’while Haney used to do 550 on the bench press. Columbu, who rarely weighed more than 200 pounds, once benched an amazing 535, and in 1953 Eder bench-pressed 510 at a bodyweight of only 197. Those guys not only looked strong, they undeniably were strong. Many bodybuilders, although they look impressive, can’t move weights that are as impressive as their physiques.

The reason is that they concentrate solely on getting a good pump and shaping their muscles by using lighter-weight, high-rep isolation movements. They often favor a slow training tempo, one that doesn’t develop the ability to explode a heavy weight off of the chest or ‘out of the hole.’ Powerlifters, on the other hand, often have a great deal of strength on the key exercises’squat, deadlift and bench press’but not a good deal of musculature. They often train exclusively with extremely heavy weights, using only a handful of exercises for each muscle group, and as a result they don’t get enough blood into their muscles to facilitate a hypertrophied response.

Now, there are powerlifters who have a lot of muscle mass as well as enormous strength. Men such as Ted Arcidi, Chris Confessore and Jimmy Pellechia all have plenty of dense muscle to go along with their strength. By the way, they all use multiangular exercises and higher reps to complement their low-rep power training.

How do you develop a massive frame and at the same time build strength that’s even more impressive than your size? By combining heavy training on the three powerlifts with a multiangular program and some sets you do strictly to induce a pump. Here’s a routine that has all of those elements, plus a few extras. It’s a four-days-per-week regimen that’s guaranteed to increase your strength on all the powerlifts. An effective schedule would be to train on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.


Your first workout of the week focuses on increasing your bench press power and chest mass as well as working the biceps. You start off with regular flat-bench presses. Shoot for three work sets of three reps each. Let’s say you can bench 275 pounds for three all-out reps. In that case you start off with a warmup set of 20 reps using just the empty Olympic bar. Follow that with 135 pounds for eight reps, 185 for five and 225 for three. Rest three to five minutes and then begin your assault on the work sets.

It should be a battle to complete the three sets. At your first workout you may only be able to get three repetitions on your first set and two on the following sets. That’s fine. Just stick with the weight until you can complete the three sets of three reps without any help from your partner. Once you’ve finished your work sets, rest at least five minutes and then strip off some weight from the bar and do one down set of 12 reps. Don’t take it easy on this set either’work it hard.

After you’re well rested from your down set, move over to the flat bench for dumbbell presses. Once again, you shoot for three sets of three reps and then the down set of 12. Work them just as hard as you worked the barbell benches. If you prefer, substitute incline dumbbell presses.

Now it’s time for some wide-grip half bench presses, which are great for working on exploding off your chest and keeping constant tension on the muscle. Using a wide grip that’s illegal in powerlifting competitions, lower the bar to your chest and pause for two seconds. Press upward, stopping the concentric portion of the lift halfway up. Shoot for three sets of six to eight repetitions.

You finish your chest with incline dumbbell flyes. Pick a weight that you’d use for about 10 to 12 reps and concentrate on getting a really good stretch at the bottom of the movement. Three sets of 10 reps will do the trick.

After the chest work it’s time for some serious biceps training. Your bi’s should feel fresh, yet slightly warmed up from all the benching.

Begin the assault with good, old-fashioned barbell curls. Warm up over several progressively heavier sets of three reps to two all-out sets of three. Rest about five minutes after the first work set before beginning the second.

A lot of bodybuilders don’t do enough really heavy biceps training, preferring to go for a pump. I believe that’s a mistake. My biceps grew the biggest when I routinely incorporated heavy triples, doubles and singles into my training. So take your barbell curls seriously.

Two sets is all it takes, and then it’s time to move on to hammer curls. Once again, warm up over progressively heavier triples until you hit two all-out sets of three reps.

Rest about two to three minutes after the hammers and move over to the cable curl station. There you shoot for two sets of 20 repetitions. That’s right, 20 reps. And make sure it’s damned hard to complete the last 10 of them. In fact, load the cable apparatus with the amount of weight you usually use for 10 reps and crank out two intense, sure-to-pump-you-up sets.


The second workout of the week is leg training and, in case you haven’t already guessed it, your first exercise will be the granddaddy of them all’the squat.

Start with a light aerobic warmup; say, five minutes on a stationary bike or treadmill. After that head over to the squatting station and do a set with just the empty Olympic bar for about 20 reps.

Your goal on squats is to work up to at least one all-out double. Let’s say that you plan on squatting 455 pounds for two reps on your last work set. Your sets would look something like this:
135 x 15
225 x 10
315 x 5

Work sets
405 x 6
425 x 5
445 x 3
455 x 2
455 x 2

Make sure you take plenty of rest between work sets. You’ll need a minimum of five minutes. If you have the time, you may want to take eight to 10 minutes’ rest after each set. On your warmups, however, rest only about one minute.

After your last heavy double, strip off some weight from the bar and shoot for one balls-to-the-wall set of 15 reps. This set should not be easy. If you squatted 455 for two, you should be using at least 275 on this set, and 315 would be more like it. If you think you could possibly use more weight, go for it. Just make sure you get that 15th repetition.

After your last set of squats’you may need to lie on the floor and try to forget about the pain for at least five minutes’move over to the leg extension machine. Warm up over several progressively heavier sets of six to eight reps and then do three work sets of six to eight. Rest for two to three minutes between sets. Don’t wuss out on these just because the squats were so hard. Make your legs burn.

That’s it for quadriceps, so it’s time for hamstrings. Seated leg curls are the ticket. Your hamstrings should be fairly warmed up from all the squatting, so after two warmup sets of 15 reps with a light weight, shoot for five sets of five reps, working each and every set to the point of exhaustion.

A lot of powerlifters don’t include calf exercises in their routines, but we’re going to. Standing calf raises are your exercise. Warm up with two sets of 15 light reps and then perform three work sets of 25 reps. The last 10 reps should be agony to finish. After you’re through with the 25-rep sets, strip off some weight and shoot for one set of 50 reps. It should be sheer torture.


After one day of rest and good nutrition, it’s back to the gym for another assault on your muscles, this time an explosive bench press session plus shoulders and triceps.

If you’ve been keeping up with the strength scene over the past year or so, you know that one popular technique for increasing power on an exercise is explosive reps. My discussion of that subject, ‘The Power and Mass Explosion,’ appeared in the January ’99 IRONMAN and included a complete workout, which I modeled after the ideas of famed strength coach Louie Simmons. IM Editor in Chief Steve Holman and strength coach Lorne Goldenberg are also proponents of explosive reps.

The first exercise of Thursday’s session is explosive-rep benches. After a couple of warmup sets pick a weight that’s approximately 55 to 60 percent of your one-rep maximum. If your max bench is 315, you’d use between 173 and 189 pounds. Perform six sets of three reps, taking only about one minute’s rest between sets.

After the explosive bench presses move to standing behind-the-neck presses. Your goal here is the same as it was for the bench presses in Monday’s workout: three sets of three. Make sure you warm up thoroughly or you could find yourself with a shoulder injury that hangs around for a long time. If you’re shooting for 205 pounds on your work sets, your warmups should look something like this: 45-pound Olympic bar for 20 reps, 95 pounds for 10 reps, 135 for five, 185 for three. After that it’s all out on your three sets with 205. Work them as hard as you would any other exercise, and the results will surprise you.

After the presses it’s over to the dumbbell rack for some lateral raises. Shoot for four sets of six to eight reps once you complete a couple of warmup sets.

Rest three minutes after you finish the laterals and pick up a 45-pound Olympic plate. Perform two sets to failure of front raises while holding the plate. If you train with a partner, have him or her help you with a couple of forced reps to keep the intensity up. Doing a lot of front-deltoid work will really help jack up your bench press on your heavy day, so work your plate raises hard.

Begin your triceps work with reverse-grip pushdowns, performing three sets of 15 reps after two warmup sets. You do them first to prefatigue your arms for the compound movements that follow. That way your triceps get the brunt of the work on the next two exercises.

After the pushdowns it’s time for some close-grip benches. Take a grip that’s only slightly narrower than shoulder width, and work up over several warmup sets to three sets of six.

Finish off your triceps with bench dips. Shoot for three sets of 12, controlling the negative portion of the movement. You’ll need some additional weight on these, so have your partner place an extra 45-pound plate in your lap.


This is deadlift and back day. Your goal is to build all the muscles of the back, not just your lats, as most bodybuilders do.

Not surprisingly, the workout begins with deadlifts. You want to work up to two sets of two reps. If your goal is to perform those work sets with 450 pounds, then the warmups will be 135 pounds for 10 reps, 225 for six reps 315 for three and 405 for two.

After that last warmup rest about five minutes before you do the first work set. Try to explode off the floor as you begin your first rep and make sure you lock the rep out completely at the top. Hold your lockout for a second or two and then repeat for another repetition.

When you finish the deadlifts, rest five minutes before beginning the next exercise, seated narrow-grip rows. Aim for three sets of six reps, not including warmups. They won’t be easy after the deadlifts, but work them intensely.

Your next exercise is strictly for the lats’wide-grip chins. Do one or two warmups with your bodyweight for about five reps, then it’s three sets of six reps with as much weight strapped around your waist as it takes to make the six reps complete torture.

With your lat and lower-back work complete, head over to the dumbbell rack for some trap work. After a warmup do three sets of eight to 10 reps of dumbbell shrugs.

A lot of lifters take their shrugs lightly, and it’s a mistake. Heavy shrugs help to work your grips and forearms, in addition to bombing your trapezius muscles. Strong grips, forearms and upper back are all essential for a powerful deadlift.

Final Thoughts

There you have it: an entire week of training to increase your three powerlifts and add inches to your muscles. The complete routine appears on page 174. Work this routine hard for about two months and you should notice some big gains.

After the two-month period is over, switch to another routine’just make sure it’s a sound one. As Vince Gironda used to say, ‘Are you on a training program, or are you just working out?’ IM

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