If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know that I have been documenting my training over the last next 10 weeks, during which time I ran the Powerbuilding II Template, which is one of the new waves of templates recently released by the good folks over at Barbell Medicine. It’s a hybrid program combining hypertrophy and powerlifting. This is the final review of the template and will cover my thoughts about the program.
To catch up on the previous weeks’ training overviews, see below for the series:
What is powerbuilding?
Essentially, powerbuilding is a hypertrophy oriented program that emphasizes the big three lifts for the basis of the program. This style of training has gained some popularity in recent months, as people recognize the importance of strength in the big three movements, compounded by the increased social media popularity of powerlifting. A lot of people enjoy powerlifting style training, but don’t necessarily want to compete and also want to look muscular.
Powerbuilding is significantly different than the standard bodybuilding style workouts, as compound movements and variations on the big three movements are utilized more than isolation style movements. There also isn’t the concept of a body part split, rather using a movement split. Powerbuilding fills a void in training, where it attempts to bring the best of the powerlifting and bodybuilding worlds together. I go further in depth into the pros and cons of powerbuilding here. I recommend reading that to decide if powerbuilding is the right training style that will fit your needs.
This new template from Barbell medicine is a really a Powerlifting program focused on hypertrophy. It is a 10 week program, that is split into two phases. The first phase is hypertrophy focused, with higher volume and less of a focus on heavy weights. The final phase introduces heavy single training and drops the volume slightly.
The MSRP is currently $54.99. I purchased the template during a sale, which brought the price down to $43.99.
I think the best place to start is the results I had whilst using the template.
- Increased bench press PR from 315lbs to 320lbs @RPE9
- Increased deadlift PR from 485lbs to 495lbs @RPE9.5
- Matched overhead press PR 195lbs @RPE8
- Within 5lbs of squat PR of 460lbs, 455lbs @ RPE8
- Body weight increased slightly. *I wasn’t targeting a certain bodyweight or paid too much attention to my nutritional choices during the 10 weeks*
I think the results were great for what the program set out to do. I didn’t have to push too hard to get the new PRs. If I had to push out a couple of extra pounds to test myself I think I could have set new PRs, however the program only listed RPE8 as the maximum intensity for the heavy singles. I did let some ego enter the equation and probably lifted a little more than was necessary, which resulted in new PRs as well as higher than prescribed RPEs. However, I don’t think they were true one rep maxes at RPE10, so the new PR’s could be considered sub-maximal weights and are definitely a win for the strength gains from the program.
Hindsight, I should have taken some before and after photos to take into account the hypertrophy part of the template, but unfortunately, I forgot to do this. I do have body weight measurements, that may be helpful to some.
|Bodyweight||208.8 lbs||209 lbs|
|Body fat %||19.6 %||19.6 %|
|Skeletal Muscle||51.9 lbs||51.9 lbs|
I am using a cheap electrical impedence scale from Amazon to perform these measurements, so they shouldn’t be taken that seriously. I like to use the scale as a device to measure changes in metrics rather than the actual numbers, i.e., I’m more concerned with a 5lb weight difference, rather than what the weight actually is. Even if we look just at the weight, over the course of 10 weeks, there was no significant change in body weight. The same can be said for the BF% & skeletal muscle measurement.
One conclusion to be drawn from this data point, could be to say that the program was unsuccessful in regards to changing body composition. With a huge caveat, since diet & nutrition plays a far bigger role in determining body composition and I wasn’t paying any attention to my nutrition during this time frame. Without me changing dietary habits, I really doubt that the program would be responsible for the lack of changes with regards to my body composition.
Because I was able to display some increases in weights lifted in certain exercises, three conclusions could be drawn:
- I became more technically proficient in said lift
- My muscle recruitment increased, so I was able to exert more force with the same amount of muscle mass
- I increased my muscle mass, which was in turn able to exert more force
Without any other metric or sophisticated body measurement device, we can’t really make a solid conclusion as to whether or not I experienced actual hypertrophy.
The template spreadsheet is a lot more than a list of exercises and sets/reps. It is a useful tool that tracks information for all the exercises in a weekly sheet that is broken up into daily logs. This allows for the inputs of weights, reps, sets, RPE as well as session length and RPE. It totals up the exercises by group and gives you weekly tonnage and fatigue numbers so you can stay on top of progress that way.
It includes graphs which show estimated one rep max to help track progres, with one of the goals being to increase the estimated one rep max by at least one pound.
Another helpful tool that is included is a weight calculator. This allows you to enter in the weight, reps & RPE in order to calculate what weight you should use for a given rep & RPE range. I found this calculator quite helpful once I reached my top single set, and based my back off/volume sets from this weight.
The program isn’t a static 10 week prescription of exercises. Where as some programs, simply list out different exercises for the day and variability is simply based on weights used, mainly a concept of linear progression – add more weight each session/week. This program relies on a phasic structure that is well thought out, with weekly increases in work load occurring. Each week builds towards the next. It’s not a static program that relies simply on weight increases. It plays with both intensity and volume to drive changes.
The use of RPE is a good in built auto regulation tool as it allows for the variability of every day life to make sure the workouts are not too intensive. Some programs that are purely based on one rep max percentages, present the opportunity to either cause too much stress or not enough stress if you are not completely on point with sleep, nutrition and recovery in other aspects of your life. If you are not in complete control of these aspects then your personal ability to recover from workouts isn’t necessarily 100%, which could lead to problems with being able to perform at 100% in the next workout. RPE is able to account for this to a degree, as it is able to adjust the weights used on a daily basis, which means if you’re not always keeping up to date with recovery then the ability to adjust intensity for personal circumstances.
Another positive of the program is that it is fairly accommodating for people who have limited equipment with suggested substitutions available for those who don’t have the necessary equipment/preferences. This is a huge factor for me, since I don’t have access to a lot of equipment, some programs have required a fair amount of specialized equipment, which lead to me having to make so many substitutions that my modified version of the program was significantly different from the original.
The minimum equipment requirements are: a barbell, weights, squat rack/stands & flat bench. There are options available for those that have access to SS Yoke Barbells, dumbbells. None of these equipments are utilized:
- adjustable bench
- trap barbell
- plyo boxes
- strongman specific equipment (yoke, farmer handles, stones, sandbags)
- dip station
One thing that I didn’t touch on with the weekly training posts, is the inclusion of General Physical Preparedness days. These can either be performed at the end of the workout or on a rest day. If my schedule was tight for the week, these would be the first workouts to get dropped. The GPP was also set up to build your capacity over the course of the program. Initially, the sessions are once per week, with sessions being focused on steady state at a low intensity. As the weeks progress, there is HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) sessions subbed in and then added to make it a total of twice a week ‘cardio’ sessions.
Being a hypertrophy focused program, arms and abs are included in the GPP days, which makes them performed one to two times per week. There are no real exercises prescribed for arms and abs, which makes it very flexible to the equipment needed. The one thing I would suggest is purchasing an ab wheel from a discount store (I picked mine up from Ross for $9, it has a 250lb stated capacity and hasn’t broken in the one year that I’ve owned it) just to give slightly more variety for abs and they have become one of my favorite ab exercises. Arm workouts can be as simple as barbell curls and skullcrushers, nothing fancy, just a lot of volume.
Lack of a deload
This might not necessarily be the fault of the program, but it’s worth a mention that my performance and mental attitude to training deteriorated towards weeks nine & ten. This was evident by the lower weights used in the last two weeks across different exercises, as well as higher RPEs used for similar weights. My PR’s were mainly hit before week nine.
In hindsight, this could have been my own error, by not sticking strictly to the RPE scale. It could also be personal preferences and some nocebo effect coming into play. As I generally like to have a rest/deload week at around the fourth or fifth week of heavy lifting. My personal preference of training may have come into play and skewed my attitude towards training in the latter half of the program.
Another thing to remember, is that this is just a template and not tailored to your own individual needs/requirements/preferences. With this in mind, in the future with any program I run, I will definitely add in a rest week every four or five weeks. I think this will help both mentally and physically refresh. But YMMV, so keep that in mind with any template you use for training.
The exercise selection a double edged sword, since the simple nature of the three daily movements make it easy to fit any gym setup, it could also lead to some boredom with the program. I’m not usually a big fan of large exercise variability, I can generally complete a program that uses a handful of exercises for a long period of time. However, a little part of me was getting bored with the exercise choices towards the ninth week of the program.
One of the inherent problems with any powerbuilding program is that instead of getting the best of both powerlifting and bodybuilding worlds, you get a watered down result from both. But not a program dependent problem. I’ve used the other Barbell Medicine Strength Template, which lead to good gains in one rep max strength, so I don’t think its a flaw of the programming philosophy that they use, rather a flaw of Powerbuilding training itself.
I thought one of the lack of inclusions in the program is the conditioning effect that could be elicited from supersetting movements. Due to time constraints I started supersetting deadlift and bench press variants (as equipment allowed) and found these two movements complimentary, since they taxed different muscle groups and by performing them with minimal rest periods would work on my conditioning.
The program is setup with three exercises on any given workout day. They would take me anywhere from 70-120 minutes to complete. This could be too long for some, and the only answer to this would be to take shorter rest periods (which I didn’t really do). Decrease the rest period and decrease the weights used, which would allow for shorter workout sessions and also illicit a mild conditioning effect.
Should you get it?
I am a big fan of the Barbell Medicine crew and what they produce, so I believe there is definitely some groupthink/in group biases entering the conclusion. So take my review with a grain of salt, since I have a positive opinion of the creators of the program. Although, I don’t think I would make a purchase from a person/company that I have a negative opinion of… So there’s that.
My favorable opinion of the program is supported by their reliance on evidence and researched backed findings to create their program. This template is also part of their ‘new wave’ of programming templates, which used data points and user feedback from their past templates to help create these new templates. The people behind Barbell Medicine are also strong and competitive lifters themselves, they are headed by medical doctors that are constantly questioning their own opinions and teachings.
As far as customer service is concerned, the BBM staff is easily reached by a forum on their website, which makes asking questions regarding the template or any other issues you may have quite easy. From my own experience with the program, questions are answered quite quickly and are quite helpful.
From a value standpoint, it is marginally above average, but still comparable with other templates available online, when they run a sale on the programs, I would definitely recommend a purchase. Templates are one of the cheaper ways to get guidance from a professional. The next level up would be group coaching, then followed by personal coaching. With that in mind, I think the versatility and power of the spreadsheet make the BBM line of templates quite good value.
As a blanket statement, I would recommend against a powerbuilding style for long term planning. This is due to the aforementioned weaknesses inherent with this style of training. Since you aren’t focusing purely on driving up numbers or hypertrophy, you aren’t necessarily getting the best of both worlds. A better option would be to utilize a phasic approach to training, where you split up the year into distinct phases that focus on one particular aspect of development, i.e., hypertrophy phase, strength phase, competition/peaking phase.
I think powerbuilding would be great for either a bodybuilder who is off season/in between shows and is looking for a change in their routine and move towards gaining strength without sacrificing too much muscle mass or a powerlifter who is off season and is looking to gain some muscle mass without sacrificing too much of their one rep strength.
I would suggest picking either a dedicated strength or hypertrophy goal for each season of training, for a more optimal way of thinking about your annual training plan. I’m not saying one over the other, rather pick one and then the other. I would recommend reading about training plan creation from a group like Juggernaut Training Systems, or any other resource discusses training cycles.
About Barbell Medicine
I highly recommend checking out the folks over at Barbell Medicine, for a wealth of free information, all backed by doctors and other subject matter experts! They have a very informative podcast & YouTube channel.
About the Powerbuilding II Template
Trainees who want to focus on increasing muscular size while improving strength in the powerlifts, e.g. the squat, bench press, and deadlift. While we expect most to see improved muscle size and strength, this is not a template focused explicitly on powerlifting or bodybuilding. Rather, this serves as a blend of strength-training and body-building wrapped up into one template. Similar to the Hypertrophy templates, this is one of our preferred off-season templates for strength athletes for those who want to gain muscle mass- though we continue to focus training resources on the powerlifts in this template. Finally, the Powerbuilding II template is a more advanced template for those who are interested in losing body fat or who are looking to increase muscle size and strength in the powerlifts.Barbell Medicine