There are numerous powerbuilding splits out there, but they all boil down to the same fundamentals. In most cases, these programs aren't necessarily better or worse than one another. Much of it comes down to preference, and many are flexible (as in you can customize your workouts as needed). You might be familiar with Jeff Nippard's powerbuilding program or Russwole's powerbuilding program. Both creators are great strength athletes and well-known in the industry, so their material gets a lot of attention. What I present here is simply what I do, and I certainly don't claim to offer the best powerbuilding program. All I can say is it has worked very well for me over the past decade. Before we get into it, let's back up a bit . . .
What is Powerbuilding?
As the name implies, "powerbuilding" combines the two primary lifting categories that most strength athletes identify with: bodybuilding and powerlifting. Bodybuilding involves gaining muscle mass while retaining a lean physique, whereas powerlifting is all about peaking your squat, bench press, and deadlift. A powerbuilding routine revolves around the three powerlifting movements, but incorporates bodybuilding elements to better develop various muscle groups. The primary purpose of powerbuilding is to gain overall size and strength.
Should I Train as a Powerbuilder?
Powerbuilding is considered one of the best beginner weightlifting programs because it builds a solid foundation. Too often, aspiring powerlifters jump right into that world, but don't have the baseline strength to truly benefit from those types of programs. Sure, you'll gain strength, but it pays to get your feet wet in lifting before specializing. The same is true of aspiring bodybuilders who immediately cut down to a low bodyfat percentage without having developed much muscle mass.
It's also a great way to train if you're a recreational lifter. This is the category I consider myself in because my goal is not to compete in bodybuilding, powerlifting, strongman competitions, Olympic lifting, crossfit, etc. I lift because I enjoy it, want to get strong, and want to look good. It's the best of both worlds for me.
My Weightlifting Routine
The first thing to note is that I operate off of a 6-day training program with an active recovery (off) day. That said, this weightlifting program can just as easily be converted into a 3-day or 4-day weightlifting split. This is because I keep it simple, stupid! And use a customized push, pull, legs routine. If you're serious about lifting, it's important to train each muscle group 1.5 to 2 times per week. If you're a casual lifter, then once per week with a cardio day is more appropriate.
Push Day #1
This is your classic chest day or bench press day. I focus on a heavy flat bench day for this first push day, meaning I'll go heavy in weight with working sets of 1 to 5 reps. The rep range depends on the day, and some like to use a 5, 3, 1 weightlifting program. If that's your style, go for it. I like to do a pyramid some days where I start with, let's say, 315lb for 5, then 335lb for 3, 355lb for 1, 335lb for 3, and 315lb for 5. Regardless, the focus should be to get good volume on bench at a high level of effort. I aim for weight that I'll almost fail at, but know I can get. After my top sets, I'll usually go down to a lower weight and do sets of 8 to 12, or full burnout sets.
After flat bench, I'll hit a number of chest, tricep, and shoulder accessories. This can include dumbbells, machines, or whatever else you have access to. This is where personal preference comes into play. I'm not a huge fan of overhead press or dumbbell bench press, but others might be. I love skull crushers and single-arm cable pushdowns, but others might not. The focus at this phase of the workout is to get a lot of sets and reps in to increase muscle hypertrophy.
Leg Day #1
For my first leg day, I focus on squats. Just like with bench press, I like to stay at a higher weight and lower rep ranges. However, because the next leg day focuses on deadlifts, I'll mix in more light days than I do on the first push day. For light days, I'll either do tempo squats or high reps at a lighter weight and increased frequency (less rest time). This gives your body an opportunity to recover.
As you might have guessed, the accessory work on this day is quad-focused. I personally like walking lunges with a barbell, but any kind of split squats, such as Bulgarian split squats, are good. I've found that incorporating a single-leg exercise strengthens my knees. Leg extensions are good, but they tend to hurt my knees. You might also try various machines like leg press, hack squat, etc.
Pull Day #1
Similar to the first push day, the first pull day is designed to be the heavier pull day. The staples of this day are a heavy row and heavy pulldown. T-Bar row is a very popular row, but I tend to avoid it because of a past back injury. Instead, I gravitate toward single-arm rows on a machine. For pulldowns, I like to use the two-handed seated row grip on the lat-pulldown cable. That's just my preference, though. I'd recommend using whatever grip makes you feel your lats the most during the exercise.
Just remember, "a wide grip gives you a wide back" is a stupid saying. Stay consistent and focus on getting volume in. Pull days are easy to skip because they don't focus on one of the primary lifts. Some like to do their pull day on deadlift day, but I consider that a hamstring day, as will be discussed. To wrap up this pull day, I make sure to get at least one trap exercise in (such as face pulls or shrugs) and some bicep work.
Push Day #2
This is the first light-ish day of my week. I start with incline bench press because I want to give my body a break from flat bench. The angle also forces you to use a lower amount of weight. Some experience shoulder issues from incline bench, so focus on something else if this is you. Basically, I do higher reps at a lighter weight for this push day. I don't kill my shoulders twice a week because they're a vulnerable area, and I like to mix in some variety with the exercises I perform to keep things interesting. There's no need to "confuse the muscles." Again, find something you enjoy that will keep you engaged.
Leg Day #2
The second leg day is all about deadlifts and the posterior chain. Whether you pull sumo or conventional deadlift, this will be the primary exercise. Just like with bench press and squats, I focus on higher weight and lower reps. I treat them like I treat squats, though, where I'll purposely incorporate lighter days to give my body a break. Every once in a while, if I'm really burnt out, I'll replace deadlifts with good mornings or lighter Romanian deadlifts.
After deadlifts, I focus on hammering the hamstrings. This means RDLs or straight-leg deadlifts. Like many of the other exercises, I consider RDL vs SLDL a preference decision. Single-leg RDLs and hip thrusts are other movements one might incorporate on this leg day. I prefer using a leg curl machine at the end to take pressure off of my lower back.
Pull Day #2
At this point during the week, you'll likely be pretty tired and sore. That means it was a good week. This pull day is important because it allows you to loosen up after deadlifts. I do many of the same exercises I did during the first pull day, but at a lower weight and higher rep ranges. I'll also throw in some light hyperextensions of some kind to stretch out the core deadlift muscle groups.
Active Recovery Day
I prefer to call my off days recovery days because you should always have a goal in mind. A recovery day for me includes getting outside, doing some cardio, maybe core work. I usually do abs and whatnot on my back days, but I'm putting them here for those who might only do a 3-or-4-day workout routine. Get a good stretch in, move your body, and address any potential injuries (as you should be doing every day).
Don't Forget the Fundamentals of Fitness!
Nutrition, proper sleep, and consistent hydration are all critically important components of any workout program, whether you're a high-performance athlete or weekend-warrior type. For proper nutrition, I recommend reading my article on if it fits your macros (IIFYM). The two other areas are common knowledge. Aim for 7 to 8 hours of sleep, and drink water throughout the day. You can have the best training program in the world, but neglecting these basics will greatly undermine your efforts. Now get after it!