A: Actually, I didn’t start as a competitive powerlifter. I joined a gym in 1982 to stay in shape. My main goal was to add muscle. I was mostly concerned about looking good, and then I got talked into entering a bodybuilding contest. I got hooked on bodybuilding competition right away and trained exclusively for bodybuilding for a couple of years before I got into powerlifting.
In 1985 I was training at a gym in Austin where there was a group of very good powerlifters. They were watching me train one day, and one of them, Derry Gardner, came over and asked if I’d ever thought about powerlifting. He said they were impressed with my training intensity and that they would help me prepare for a meet if I was interested. Jan and Terry Todd were hosting the first annual Longhorn powerlifting meet (ADFPA at that time), and I decided to enter. John Lamb lent me his lifting gear—squat suit, knee wraps, powerlifting belt and squat shoes. Derry coached me, and Billy Martin came to help me at the meet. I really enjoyed the superheavy training and the competition. At the Longhorn I finished in the middle of the pack, eighth out of 15 in the 181-pound weight class. But the exciting thing was that I set personal bests in all of my lifts, and that was just a blast for me.
The heavy training added a great deal of size to my traps and gave me more muscle density overall. Also, focusing on the meet provided a major boost to my off-season training enthusiasm. In fact, I enjoyed the whole experience so much that I lifted in at least one powerlifting meet every year during my bodybuilding off-season for 15 consecutive years. My strength climbed slowly but steadily, and I ended up winning four Texas state titles and a drug-free national championship.
Due to chronic shoulder and knee problems I didn’t lift in any meets from 2001 through 2007. Fortunately, those issues have cleared up, thanks to regular use of Omega Stak and Universal’s Flex joint support formula. In 2008 I lifted very successfully in a bench press and deadlift meet at Hyde Park Gym, and I plan to compete in a full meet in early 2009.
So, to answer your question (finally), yes, I would highly recommend powerlifting for competitive bodybuilders. It will help add muscle all over your body and, as I said earlier, give a denser look to your musculature. You’ll be able to handle more weight in your bodybuilding training, which will lead to faster gains when you go back to doing moderate to high reps. If you’re a competitive person like me, it will also spur your off-season training to new heights of focus and intensity. There’s nothing like the adrenaline rush you get when you unrack a weight that’s more than you’ve ever squatted, descend below parallel and then blast it back to the top. You’ll learn to reach a new level of concentration when approaching a lift, and that too will have a tremendous impact on your bodybuilding training.
Will powerlifting make your waist and butt bigger? No. Eating too many pizzas and cheeseburgers and drinking too much beer are what give you a big waist and a big butt. Many of my old powerlifting buddies followed that “nutrition” plan, and it worked for gaining weight, but they weren’t the least bit worried about having abs showing. All they cared about was lifting more weight. As a bodybuilder you should continue to eat relatively clean in the off-season, and as long as you use a good powerlifting belt during your heavy lifts, you won’t have a problem with getting a bigger waist. If you want examples of successful powerlifters who have maintained small waists and didn’t get the big butts, just look at—well, my photos. Or better yet, check out Amanda Harris, a.k.a. “Barbie Barbell.” Amanda holds countless records in women’s powerlifting—her bests are 405 squat, 225 bench and 335 deadlift at 114 pounds bodyweight—and ventured very successfully into NPC figure competition in 2008. Check out the photo above. Powerlifting certainly didn’t hurt Amanda’s physique. Bottom line: Don’t worry about the myths.
I’m going to lay out a plan for you that I would call a modified powerlifting program. It probably includes more assistance work than traditional meet preparation programs, but you’re a bodybuilder, and you’re doing powerlifting for fun and as a means of enhancing your physique. The modified program also makes it easier to transition back into your regular bodybuilding routine after you’re done with your meet. It’s the routine I used in 1997, when I had my best meet ever, set all my personal bests and won a national championship.
Squats: warmup sets as needed, 3 work sets with the prescribed weight for that week, 1 set with 12RM weight
or hack squats 3 x 12
Leg curls 3 x 12
Standing calf raises 4 x 12-15
Crunches 3 x max
Bench press: warmup sets as needed, 3 work sets with the prescribed weight, 1 set with 12RM weight
Incline presses 3 x 12
Overhead dumbbell presses
or barbell presses 3 x 10-12
Lateral raises 3 x 10-12
EZ-curl-bar curls 3 x 10-12
Hammer curls 3 x 10-12
Deadlifts: warmup sets as needed, 3 work sets with the prescribed weight
Partial deadlifts (in the power
rack from the knees up)
3 x 10-12
Pullups (bodyweight) 3 x max
Cable rows or one-arm
dumbbell rows 3 x 10-12
Machine rear-delt flyes 3 x 10-12
Dips (bodyweight) 3 x max
Skull crushers 3 x 10-12
Hanging leg raises 3 x max
Here’s how I figure my weekly weights for the powerlifts. I start week 1 with my 10-rep max (10 reps per minute); for my squats that’s 315 pounds. I know that my realistic goal for the meet is 500 pounds. I divide the difference—185—by 9, which equals 20.5. I start week 1 using 315 pounds and add 20 pounds per week, which puts my work sets at 495 by week 10. On meet day I may attempt more than 500 if everything is feeling good. This year my squat and deadlift starting weights and goal weights will be approximately the same—315 and 500, respectively. My bench starting weight will be 225, and my goal is 320. Below is my weekly weight schedule
Squat/Deadlift Bench Press
Week 1 315 225
Week 2 335 235
Week 3 355 245
Week 4 375 255
Week 5 395 265
Week 6 415 275
Week 7 435 285
Week 8 455 295
Week 9 475 305
Week 10 495 315
Meet day 500 320
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