Sunday, April 4, 2010

Powerlifting, Part Five - Bradley Steiner

David Willoughby, bottom

Norbert Schemansky, John Grimek

Steve Reeves, Jack Delinger

Powerlifting, Part Five
by Bradley Steiner

Perhaps your own years of training have provided you already with a firm base upon which to build strength, power and a well-developed physique. Or, possibly, you’re ready for the more advanced type of training necessary, having completed the beginner’s course set down previously. In any case, the following provides one of the finest advanced power-bodybuilding programs you can do.

Don’t try to follow the routine herein presented if you’re a beginner. It’s just too severe. The only person who can gain on this schedule is the individual who has already achieved some degree of success in his attempts.

The objective of this program is to serve the lifter who aspires to increase his size and power development. Size is NOT thought to be of greater importance than power, and this is why no attempt is made to encourage pumping type exercise or any excessive quantity of “shaping” movements.

This program is intended as a SKETCH, rather than a definite, specific dogma presentation of the “only right way” an intermediate or advanced man should train for power and muscularity. If the trainee regards it in this light, and comes to think of this course as the thinking man’s program, then his progress is sure to continue.


As stated previously, no definite rules can be said to apply to all trainees at all times, since every case is uniquely different – and the final trainer is the individual himself. However, there are helpful guidelines that can be followed, and I present the following as such, to be considered in light of your present stage of development and current goals . . .

1.) It pays to include jogging, running, some form of conditioning work in your schedule at least twice a week. This adds that final edge to an intermediate lifter’s development, and helps in developing your ability to recover quickly from lifting. Consider the health benefits of getting out and doing some conditioning work two or three times a week. Now do it.

2.) Overtraining is the bane of many lifters’ existence! Avoid this by training sensibly for periods of time that are not excessive. Take periodic layoffs and back-cycle regularly. A two-hour workout employing rugged barbell exercises is plenty for anyone who gives fully of himself, no matter how advanced – and many will benefit more by a workload reduced to less than this. If the RIGHT method of training is used there is not a great need for a great quantity of time. 2 sets of 3 can often be more effective than 6 sets, especially if the 2 sets are worked HARD.

3.) Heavy weight is the main key to strength gains. 20 minutes of heavy lifting will build more strength than 3 hours of light pumping.

4.) Strong concentration is vital for your success. Problems should be left outside the training area.

5.) That LAST REP, the one that feels impossible to make, is of much greater importance than the next set.

6.) If you neglect your nutrition you cut your own engine.

7.) Good form PLUS heavy weights is what gets benefit from your endeavors.

8.) On days when you just cannot “get up and go” even after fifteen minutes of training, take it easy. Just do some stretching and light leg work, then call it quits for the day.

9.) High energy days call for harder work. Not longer workouts, HARDER work.

10.) Sometimes the best way to overcome a sticking point or staleness is to layoff entirely or lighten up on your training for a week. If you’ve been training hard without a break for two months (or more) there is no question that you need a break. Learn to deload. It’s not complicated. It works.

11.) Don’t be too quick to give up on a new program that starts out feeling difficult or awkward. Give your body at least two weeks to break into a routine, a new movement or an exercise variation. Take a tip from Reid Fleming. Try to milk a routine as long as you can. Learn to deload. It’s not complicated. It works.

12.) As you become more experienced try to discover what your own unique style of training is.

Finally, remember the importance of persistence. Keep at your training. If you start and stop, hem and haw, you’ll never actualize your potential, no matter how great it may be. Do not expect quick results. Do not resent the effort required of you for the attainment of your goals. Once you accomplish them they may appear unimportant when compared to your next goals. In the doing lies fulfillment. The itsy bitsy spider climbed up the waterspout. Down came the rain and washed the spider out. So the itsy bitsy spider climbed up the waterspout. Face it. Life is Sisyphean.


1.) Warmup

Use flip snatches as your basic warmup. I suggest a set/rep scheme of 1x6, 1x5, and 1x4, while adding weight for each of the three sets. Try to work up to bodyweight, eventually, for that final set of four reps!

2.) Press Movements

Here you must do both presses and presses behind the neck whenever energy permits. Do sets of 6 reps, even the warmup sets. If you do work sets of 3x6 military and 3x6 behind the neck presses, you’ll achieve a very good workout for the entire shoulder assembly.

3.) Squats

Do squats with all the weight you can properly handle. They are one of the keys to all-round body power. I suggest you use 4 or 5 sets of about 6-8 reps. Use 8 reps in the starting warmup sets and 6 or 5 in the really heavy sets. You will know by now how many work sets you can handle without going stale too quickly.

Do calf raises either between each set of squats while you rest or following completion of the entire series of sets. Omit calf work if energy or time is short. 2 or 3 sets of 20-30 reps is plenty.

4.) Bench Work

When energy permits, superset your heavy bench presses with either flat bench or incline bench lying laterals. This will produce extremely fine upper body development. BUT THIS IS ONLY FOR YOUR OCCASIONAL HIGH-ENERGY TRAINING DAYS, and, if you’re a relatively easy gainer. Do 4x8 bench presses and 4x8 lying flyes. For the last set or two of bench presses you might want to drop down to 6 or 5 rep sets.

If you prefer to do your bench presses first, then your flyes, that’s fine. Also, if the two-exercise combo is just too severe do EITHER flat bench presses OR incline bench presses. You can alternate these two exercises over the weeks so that some form of variety and balance are included in your training. Do 4-5 sets of 6 heavy reps with either variation.

5.) Deadlifting OR Power Cleans

You may work either on regular or stiff-legged deadlifts, OR you may work on power cleans. Don’t train on two or these exercises in one workout, however, for that would be too much.

I think the best plan is to find your favorite variation of the deadlift (i.e. stiff-legged or regular) and use this for a week’s training, then switch for a week to heavy power cleans. The power cleans are very good as an alternate to deadlifting, since they benefit the back but do not cause quite as much stress in the lumbar area as deadlifting can. These set/rep schemes are suggested . . .

Deadlifts: 5x5
Stiff-legged Deadlifts: 3x8 or 2x12
Power Cleans: 4x6 or 5x5

6.) Heavy Rowing

Either the bentover barbell row or the heavy dumbell one-arm version are suitable. Rowing with the loaded end of a seven-foot bar is also used in some quarters to good effect. The variation you pick is not as important as the hard work you apply to the movement. 3 sets of 6-8 reps are good for all forms of heavy rowing.

When you feel a little tired of the standard rowing, try a few high pulls in their place. You’ll find this deals with the back muscles differently, and when worked heavily will produce great results. Heavy repetition high pulls can make returning to bentover rows a pleasure! Use the set-rep scheme discussed earlier, for high pulls. If you have a workout where your rows are feeling weak and abnormally awkward, and it will happen, switch to the high pulls for that workout. A change like this can often save the workout. Be flexible. A successful hard workout should be the goal.

7.) Arm Work:

This is optional, to be done when energy is high, time is abundant and you have the inclination to pump up those popular little biceps. Heavy barbell or two-dumbell curls. You can stand, sit or even lie back on a bench . . . get the workout you want! The weight should be heavy enough to make you work, but never so heavy that you cheat. Do 2 sets of 8 reps. Then, if you feel like it, do a little tricep work. One arm triceps extensions with a dumbell, lying, seated or standing. Again, 2 sets of 8 – per arm – are plenty.

8.) Abdominal Work

This is always important. There are two basic ab exercises, situps and leg raises. They are simple, effective, and have many variations that will get the job done. I suggest relatively high reps in all abdominal work. 12 or more reps are sufficient. Hold a weight plate behind your head, use plate loading health shoes, but add resistance when you can. With no weights to make the abs struggle you should be able to do 50 or more reps easily. That is boring. Very boring.

Again I suggest ending the workout by hanging for a while from a chinning bar. Topping off a workout with a short jog, walk or period of easy rope skipping isn’t a bad idea either.

You can see that the schedule I have outlined for you is broadly adaptable to all types of trainees, and it lends itself to accommodating many types of special interests within the bounds of a basic power-bodybuilding goal. This is, I am convinced, of far more use to the trainee than a rigid, “do it this way” approach to training.

The course suggestions above will produce strength and muscularity until it comes out your bleedin’ ears – but it is not, I remind you, a pure powerlifter’s course. It will develop great strength when used three times a week, and I certainly can endorse it fully as a schedule used to build you up for eventual powerlifting. What happens if and when you decide to devote your energy to the powerlifts? How can you combine powerlifting with power-bodybuilding for the best results? These are the questions, and others, that I will begin to answer next. So let’s start out to examine the powerlifts themselves more closely. The bench press, deadlift and squat. For some ardent barbell men these three basic lifts constitute an obsession. An obsession that challenges their very fiber and spirit in the wonderful sport of POWERLIFTING.


The basic power lifts, those used in competition, are: squat, bench and deadlift. Practically everyone who has ever trained even briefly with weights is familiar with these lifts, since they are all fundamental weight-training exercises. Why then use them as competition lifts?

Those three cornerstone exercises actually do serve as a remarkably accurate gauge of one’s overall physical power, when applied in weightlifting competition. And people are interested in power! What is more, because the power lifts are actually common bodybuilding exercises, they also serve to develop the physique of the lifter quite well, and to blend in comfortably with any additional bodybuilding movements the trainee wishes to do. Many powerlifters are physique-oriented trainees, as well as lifters. Bill Seno, well known a few years ago as a top man in powerlifting circles was a fantastic lifter AND a superbly built athlete. He found it easy to combine his powerlifting with physique cultivation. So will you!

When using the power lifts as LIFTS, instead of exercises, you are naturally concerned with attaining great single attempts – limit lifts. Otherwise, you aren’t training as a lifter. Since it is never desirable for almost all of us to push for limit singles at every workout, the training you do in sets and reps on the powerlifts (as exercises) helps materially to boost your maximums when you do try for them.

Generally, as a powerlifter – or even as a bodybuilder concerned with power – you will train for more sets than usual, with relatively few reps. I regard 6-rep sets as generally quite effective for lifter-bodybuilders. There are enough reps there to BUILD muscle as well as INCREASE strength. Too often, one finds that training exclusively on 2. 3, or single-rep sets builds strength but not a great deal of muscle. There are plenty of rather slender but extremely strong men participating in power and weightlifting meets.

There are those who desire ONLY strength, or who are concerned exclusively with the kind of power that lets them win contests, and they could care less about how they appear so long as they stay in their weight class. But it is the assumption of this book that that the trainee seeks not only power and strength, but a muscular and impressive physique to go with it. This is what the instruction is aimed at achieving.

When you are training for you limit lift in the bench press, squat or deadlift, you won’t be doing sets of as many as six reps, except to warm up. It is necessary, above all else, to drop reps fast if a limit single is to be tried, since reps more than anything else depletes energy. You cannot sap your strength on reps when the goal is a new squat single. Okay. You normally use the following set/rep scheme in squatting on your general training days . . .

1x8, 2x5, 1x3, increasing the weight after each set as the muscles warm up. That schedule is fine for a general power-oriented workout, but it cannot serve you well as a buildup to a limit attempt. Instead, something like this would be much more suitable . . .

1x6 (warmup), 1x3 (increased weight), 1x2 (approaching heaviest weight), 1x2 (near maximum), 1x1 (limit try) and, if the limit failed or if it succeeded and energy is high that day, 1x1 (second limit attempt).

Can you see the logic there? No excessive buildup with too many reps, so no energy and psychological depletion. Not too much work – but enough to build up to a new trial limit attempt without neglecting to warm up to it.

The foregoing illustrates the essential difference, come workout day, that using the lifts as LIFTS makes, over using them as them as EXERCISES.

Should you be a powerlifter?

Only one person can really answer the question of whether or not to actively compete in power meets, and become a powerlifting devotee. It is certainly a great sport. It is worthwhile too, since anyone who participates in any way achieves a great outlet for his love of the iron game. There is challenge aplenty in powerlifting, and there are good friends to made, as well as, if you become good enough – records to be broken. But don’t go into powerlifting thinking that the only reward is to be victorious over others. This would rob you of the greatest genuine reward, namely. your own self-improvement.

Powerlifting records today are incredibly high, and the top men are incredibly strong people. Therefore the power champions of the future will have to be even stronger – and this can limit the top spots in the game to those fortunate few hard workers who were blessed with a high degree of inherent strength. Training, diet and attitude can do tremendous things for a man, but given two men with the same effort in training, similar attitudes and similar dietary habits, and you can bet your money on the one who was born with better natural strength potential.

I point these things out because I don’t like to delude people. It is wrong and very unfair to mislead students into believing that they possess potential that they do not in fact possess. Great gains, I repeat, can be made by anyone, and anyone will receive nothing but hearty encouragement from me to work hard at developing himself. But the objective fact remains, and it is pointless to deny it, that only a relatively few individuals can ever hope to become champions.

Don’t let poor potential deter you in the slightest from actively participating in lifting – either privately, purely for your own self-development, or publicly in lifting meets. But do let extremely poor potential serve as a guide to accurately determining your place in the sport and the way you will achieve it. If two years of regular, hard work, a good diet coupled with adequate rest and a positive outlook sees your best bench press all of 250 pounds at 185 bodyweight, then you probably aren’t a natural strength athlete. You ought to continue to try and improve, develop and enjoy the activity, but you shouldn’t lose any sleep worrying about the competition you’ll be fighting on your way to the top.

On the other hand, if you were born as a human Hercules, and almost every day sees your strength growing by leaps and bounds during your formative years, and if at a bodyweight of 160 pounds you’re correctly benching 300 pounds within a year’s time and squatting with close to 400 on the bar, then seriously consider trying for an upper spot in powerlifting.

The idea is to be realistic and to be honest with yourself. I have always had very little respect for the ego-centered person who must be the best or he won’t participate at all. What nonsense! And what a shame to impose such limitations on the possibility of one’s enjoying so much in life – simply because you can’t be number one. Enjoyment and self-satisfaction are two of the most significant things you can ever hope to derive from participating in anything, and if these two very sane goals are important to you, then you can participate happily in, and continue to enjoy throughout your lifetime, almost anything that happens to appeal to you. Just be realistic if your thoughts turn to competition. Enjoy competing, strive with all your might, just don’t demand of yourself that which is too close to impossible. Never let your ego rob the thing of its pleasure. Remember, getting there might be the goal itself. Think of it this simple way. If you own a house and that house needs painting, gnawing away like a rat at the walls will not bring you what you desire. As your teeth wear down to tiny nubs, the gums start in with all that bleeding, your vital fluids gradually drain out over the years and the neighbors begin to consider wondering just what in hell is going on over there, you will have accomplished nothing and your dentist will most certainly agree. It’s that simple. Dentistry is an old and much-respected profession, its study considered by some to be the most important step a young man can take in his early years. For God’s sake, think before you make a long-term sacrifice to any endeavor, and that includes setting yourself on fire and seeing how long you can survive. Consider these things before committing. And buy a paint brush.

If you wish to improve as a powerlifter you must be willing to work intensively, foregoing some other physical activities and even a few social outlets. At least two savagely hard workouts a week are necessary, with a lighter training day included. In addition, conditioning work is indicated, and you may be surprised when you learn how little time this can take. By the way, if you keep making excuses to yourself that “you don’t have the time” it is more likely a matter of your refusal to make the time and your own ignorance of how to train effectively when pressed for that time.

So, decide what you want to do in and with powerlifting. Whatever your decision, stick to it and give it your best.

Training on the powerlifts as exercises has been thoroughly covered in previous chapters. You must make those heavy exercises the core of your training, since they are quite demanding, and only by total concentration can you ever hope to achieve the success you desire.

The Olympic lifts, which are also marvelous, produce fine physiques just as powerlifting can, but the two disciplines do not produce or require the same musculature. As said previously, a perfectly harmonious blend of powerlifting and bodybuilding is possible, and the same can certainly be said for Olympic lifting.

You will find it quite easy to set up your own schedule of actual training once you know more about it. You’ll see in the remainder of this book how to do the powerlifts as LIFTS, and how to increase your own limit lifts – whatever they may be.


The bench press is the single most popular power lift. One can go all-out on heavy benching and not be left depleted for five days, as is the case when one goes ahead full steam with the squat or deadlift. Also, the bench press works the currently “popular” muscles and thus demonstrates their efficacy when it is used as a lift.

“Easy” as the bench press may seem to some, relative to the other lifts, attaining your top performance in it is no small job. It takes great effort to bring your bench press up to an impressive high poundage. However, there is probably little need to convince you that the effort is worthwhile, or you wouldn’t be reading this, would you.

Let’s take a loo at what parts of the body require maximum power and strength in order for you to achieve a top bench, and then let’s discuss possible supplementary ways of building these bodyparts, in conjunction of course with heavy training on the bench press itself. I will detail suggested power programs for training the bench as a lift, and I’m sure you’ll feel well able to take your training effectively into hand after you have studied more and built up more lifting experience.

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