If You Want to get Heavy, You Have to Lift Heavy

If You Want to get Heavy, You Have to Lift Heavy

We all know, at least I hope anyways, that to progress our physiques musculature we must continue to lift heavier and heavier.  Just as we would with food, gradual increases are what are going to push us to that next level, then the next, and so on.

Progressive overload is the gradual increase of stress placed upon the body during training. The principal behind this is continuously increasing the demands on the musculoskeletal system so that you can make gains in muscle size, strength, and endurance.  In other words, each time you walk into the gym, the goal is to progress your lifts. Progressive overload is great, but it’s extremely hard on joints and connective tissue. Stronger muscles typically mean larger muscles, but at what cost?   

A New Training Approach

Let me introduce a new concept to you: powerbuilding (okay so it’s not really new).  Powerbuilding is a hybrid type training program that incorporates both power lifting and bodybuilding. Strength is emphasized, but so is hypertrophy. Not one being more important than other. In theory, the ultimate goal is muscle tissue gain.

As any newbie starts in the gym, they almost instantly gravitate towards lifting heavy weights; a novel concept for someone who has never trained.  But, somewhere along the way as we progress most of us shy away from this idea.  The more muscle we attain, the more we couldn’t care less about how strong we are to a certain degree. Vast exaggeration and absolute aside, many of us stray away from trying to get truly stronger.

This type of training approach typically uses a combination of heavy and moderately heavy weights. Early on in the training session, you train heavy with a compound movement. As the session progresses, you back off slightly from the extreme heavy sets and move to a more traditional hypertrophy approach. The goal is to aim for the heaviest weights in compound movements while backing off for accessory or isolation movements. The principles of progressive overload are still somewhat intact here, however weight on the bar is not the only goal. You must progress your lifts to get stronger, and as such you must to progress your physique as well. Overall weight on the bar is not the only end goal. Just because you have not gone from 275 to 315 on bench does not mean that you are not progressing lifts. Progression could mean more reps, more sets, or just overall better form on those same reps: truly maximizing muscle contraction.

The Difference in Lifts

Heavy lifting tends to elicit myofibrillar hypertrophy, the type of muscle mass powerlifters tend to gain. This type of hypertrophy leads to an increase in size and number of muscle fibers. In turn, this makes for a very strong muscle fiber. This type of hypertrophy leads to the greatest amount of mass, though not always as aesthetic. Not everyone desires to look like a powerlifter, but if you want to pack on the greatest amount of muscle mass, this is one of the better ways to approach it.

Moderate lifting produces sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, the kind typically seen in bodybuilders and physique athletes. Sarcoplasmic fluid around the muscle increases making the muscle appear larger, causing volume inducing effects within the muscle tissue. This type of hypertrophy does not lead to an increase in muscular strength, but increases size alone. Think of this as the pump when training.

How to Implement a Powerbuilding Program

The best way to implement a powerbuilding approach is to structure the program with the heavy loading done early in the beginning of the session. This is when the body is freshest, but it also leads to post activation potentiation. Think of a baseball player using a batting donut in the batter’s box. Once they remove the donut the bat feels lighter and they are able to swing quicker and more efficiently. The same thing happens when you go from heavy weights to lighter weights. The lighter weights will feel even lighter, causing an increase in muscular efficiency. You will get even more out of the moderate weights than if you went straight to these sets when you walked in the gym. Essentially you get the best of both worlds: heavy lifting with a solid pump as well.

A powerbuilding program cannot nearly have the same amount of volume that a traditional training split would. When we lift with very heavy weights, it is much harder on our central nervous system (CNS). This can be good and bad as CNS fatigue can wreak havoc on our bodies over time. A great way to decrease CNS fatigue is to revamp your powerbuilding program to increase the frequency. It is critical to remember that While frequency can be increased in this system, overall volume must be decreased.

Not only is a higher frequency approach easier on your CNS, but it could also induce the greatest amount of muscular growth.  Adaptations from training typically stops 48 hours after training, so with an increase in training frequency the body is forced into a greater adaptive state more often.

There used to be the story going around of identical twins bodybuilding for a set amount of time.  One used a typical split with training everything once a week with high volume, while the other increased frequency to twice a week with decreased volume.  Over time the second twin would actually have a heavier workload and more training time of that muscle than the first twin using a once a week, high volume approach.

An example of a typical training week with this type of program would look something like this:

Day 1:

Push (chest, shoulders, triceps)


Pull (Back, rear delts, traps, biceps)

Day 3:


Day 4:


After this first cycle take a rest day and then restart the cycle.  It’s important to not do the same exercises the second or third time you complete this rotation.  If doing a push workout, it may look something like this:


One very heavy set, one back off set.

High Incline Smith Press

One Heavy set, one back off set.

Pec Deck

3 sets of 15.

Lateral Raise

5 sets of 12.


5 sets to fail.


3 sets of 12.

Jordan Peters is one of the largest humans on this earth. Jordan follows a very similar approach to powerbuilding, progressing lifts with hypertrophy being the main goal in his training program.  Form is everything, so be careful as to not just throw the weight up to say you progressed.

If you want to get big, strong, and put on slabs of muscle then give a powerbuilding training program a try!

-Daniel Henigsmith


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