How powerlifting can help build serious muscle

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Chad Wesley Smith holds the American record for squatting – 905lb (410kg) in the 308lb (140kg) class, both ‘raw’ and with wraps – and has won US national titles as a shot putter and strongman. He is the founder of Juggernaut Training Systems and has trained numerous NFL players and Olympic athletes. 

Have you ever seen someone who could deadlift, squat and bench huge weights who wasn’t muscular? Of course not! Adding weight to the bar is a simple way to provide your body with more stimuli to adapt and grow muscle. 

Prepare to fail

Powerlifters often get caught in the trap of just doing sets of one to three reps, and miss out on muscle and strength gains brought on by mixing up rep ranges. Working to failure with a certain weight in each of the three moves is a simple and effective way to increase your training volume because you’ll bash out a high number of reps and keep your muscles under tension for longer as you start to grind out the last few. This forces your body to adapt by growing bigger, stronger muscles.  

Most people still seem to think that if you want big biceps you should do endless curls with light weights. But all that’s good for is tendinitis. To build the maximum amounts of dense, functional muscle, you should squat, bench and deadlift the maximum weight you can shift without compromising form in the six-to-ten rep range. This is the golden ticket as far as packing on muscle across your entire frame is concerned. 

Less is more

Training primarily with sub-maximal loads [weights lower than your one- or three-rep maxes] is also great for increasing your longevity as a lifter. If you’re constantly pushing for a new one-rep max – even if you’re varying the exercises – you’re placing huge stresses on your central nervous system and joints, which can cause injury. Instead of working up to a three-rep max, which is probably about 92% of your one-rep max, try doing three sets or more of three reps at 85%. This lets you practise the lift more, complete more successful reps – building confidence – and stress your system less.

These are the main reasons why my training manual, The Juggernaut Method 2.0, features lots of max-rep sets and high volume. Going up to and beyond 50 reps during a single session in the squat, bench and deadlift is going to challenge your body to reach new levels of size and strength. Not only will this training volume help you pack on muscle, it will also build your technique and strength, allowing you to use more weight and provide your body with even more stimulus to grow and improve.

Give yourself a lift

Add these assistance moves after the big three for size gains

Front squat

Sets 4 Reps 5

‘Because you have to balance the bar on the front of your shoulders, you have to have perfect technique,’ says Smith. ‘That will have a knock-on effect on how well you perform when you come to do simpler back squats.’

Paused Bench

Sets 3 Reps 6

‘Lower the bar to roughly 2cm off your chest, pause and focus on creating tension in your lats. This generates more power from the bottom position when you bench.’

Bent-over row

Sets 4 Reps 8

‘Bent-over rows improve your grip, lat and lower back strength, all of which are critical for heavy deadlifting.’