Bodybuilding vs. Powerlifting: Best for increasing muscle size v. Best for an increase overall

Research analysis by: Rachel Hartman

In a research study conducted by Schoenfeld, BJ, Ratamess, NA, Peterson, MD, Contreras, B, Sonmez, GT, and Alvar, BA, effects of “different volume-equated resistance training loading strategies on muscular adaptation in well-trained men” were compared. In simpler terms, researchers studied how bodybuilding type training compared to powerlifting type training for overall strength and increases in muscle size. In the study, researchers took seventeen young men and randomly assigned them to either a hypertrophy-type resistance group training that performed 3 sets of 10 repetition maximum (RM) with 90 second rests (bodybuilding), or a strength-type resistance training group that performed 7 sets of 3RM with a 3-minute rest period between (powerlifting).

The goal of this study was to determine whether the widely believed opinion among strength and conditioning professionals that using heavy weights and long rest periods were best for maximum gains in overall strength while using moderate weight and short rest periods were best for increases in overall muscle size. Until this research, no study was designed to compare muscle growth in powerlifting type workouts vs. bodybuilding type workouts when the number of repetitions and weight lifted is equated properly.

The research set out to answer this question: “Are there differences in muscular adaptations between powerlifting- and bodybuilding-type resistance training programs in well-trained men when the volume is equated?” (Schoenfeld et al.,)

The seventeen male subjects were recruited from a university population and were between the ages of 18-35, did not have any allergies to whey or soy protein, any muscular dysfunctions or any history of anabolic steroid use. Each subject was considered an experienced lifter having weight trained at least 3 times per week for a minimum of 1 year. (Schoenfeld et al.,) Participants were separated into the two groups (bodybuilding or powerlifting) according to a baseline strength test.

The training procedure consisted of 3 exercises per session for a total of 9 total exercises they’d be performing throughout the 8-week training session. 3 exercises targeting the anterior torso muscles, 3 targeting the posterior muscles of the torso and 3 targeting the thigh musculature. (Schoenfeld et al.) The 9 exercises were determined based on their frequent use in bodybuilding and powerlifting training. Both training groups implemented these sets of exercises throughout their training sessions and were instructed to avoid doing any additional resistance movements throughout the study, so as to not interfere with results.

Training for both types of lifting consisted of 3 weekly sessions performed on nonconsecutive days for 8 weeks. (Schoenfeld et al.) Total volume load was calculated to control the outcome and influence on muscle thickness. The volume load was calculated by taking the number of repetitions performed multiplied by the amount of weight lifted. Both training groups completed the lifts until they reached the point of muscular failure, a common practice used in both the research and real-world settings. (Schoenfeld et al.) Although bodybuilding based programs use training to failure more often, it was necessary to have the powerlifting group perform their sets to the point of failure to avoid skewing the criteria for the study. Throughout the 8-week training session, the weight load of the exercises was progressively increased within a zone that the lifters could still hit their target number of repetitions with proper form.

Each bodybuilding workout was designed around one muscle group, this is known as a split routine. Multiple exercises were used in each training session and were focused on that one specific muscle group. Split routines like this are typical in this type of training and serve to increase muscular metabolic stress leading to an increase in volume load. (Schoenfeld et al.) Their goal was 10 repetitions per set with a short rest period of 90 seconds between each. Using this rep scheme with short rest intervals has been shown to increase metabolic stress in training.

The powerlifting routine was a total body workout where multiple muscle groups are trained during the session, but only 1 exercise is used for each. In an effort to minimize metabolic buildup in a given muscle, their sessions began with upper body followed by the lower body and finished with the upper body. This group used a low repetition range, between 2-4 per movement, with a 3 minute rest period between each set. Programs using this rep scheme with longer rest is shown to produce minimal metabolic stress in the body. (Schoenfeld et al.)

Subjects were instructed to maintain their normal diet and avoid taking any supplements other than those provided in the study. Participants submitted food records twice during the study, 1 week before the first training session and during the final week of the training sessions. A 3-day dietary recall log was provided to subjects to assess differences in total energy and macronutrient intakes between groups.

Results of the study showed that while both bodybuilding and powerlifting type training showed similar increases in muscle size, powerlifting type training was ultimately superior for enhancing overall maximum strength. To conclude, both types of training will provide you significant muscle growth, but lifting heavy weight with low repetition sets and longer rest periods provided the participants with more strength gains overall.

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See the entire research study here: https://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/fulltext/2014/10000/Effects_of_Different_Volume_Equated_Resistance.27.aspx

Citation:

Schoenfeld, B. J., Ratamess, N. A., Peterson, M. D., Contreras, B., Sonmez, G. T., & Alvar, B. A. (2014). Effects of Different Volume-Equated Resistance Training Loading Strategies on Muscular Adaptations in Well-Trained Men. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 28(10), 2909-2918. doi:10.1519/jsc.0000000000000480

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