Powerlifter Tries Bodybuilding
By: Klean Team Member David Ross
I get asked this a lot. I was a competitive powerlifter for over ten years. All I focused on was getting stronger and staying healthy. I never wanted to be the guy who looked so big that you confused him for a parade balloon that escaped. I respected bodybuilders. They push themselves in ways that didn’t make sense to me, but I preferred being strong and eating ice cream without feeling guilty. Once I got older, despite the mobility work, I found the heavy weights becoming more and more taxing on my body. If I’m completely honest, there was an inkling of jealousy as well. While I had told myself I didn’t care about the aesthetics, I would find myself becoming discouraged when I saw bodybuilders in the gym that despite weighing 20lbs less than I did, and not being able to come close to the weight I lifted, looked far bigger and stronger than I did. Having people compare me became a little disheartening. So, when the weights started hurting a little more, I let my ego get the better of me and decided that maybe I’d try this bodybuilding thing out. How hard could it be?
Turns out, it’s much harder than I thought! Bodybuilding is not what my meathead powerlifting brain thought. I was out of my element. Fortunately, I had made bodybuilding friends in the gym and through my career with Klean Athlete, I had professional relationships to help me grow in this new venture.
For a year, I spent my time better understanding the intricacies of bodybuilding, worked through highly recommended programming, and in late 2022 I decided it was time for me to go all in and do a show. Even in my year of preparation, talking to those “in the game” and doing as much research as possible, I was still not fully prepared for the nuances of prepping for my first show.
Bodybuilding forced me to completely rethink how I approached my lifting and diet. As an advocate for lifting heavy and eating healthy while maintaining the ability to enjoy the food at social gatherings or the occasional sweet treat, I had to accept the fact that bodybuilding is NOT healthy. This is not to say that you can’t be healthy lifting like a bodybuilder and eating responsibly, but going into show prep you are doing your best to completely deplete yourself of body fat, including some essential body fat while maintaining as much muscle mass as you can. When a bodybuilder is on stage they are at their weakest and most vulnerable state. I had become accustomed to pushing my body harder and harder while I reduced calories throughout the 20-week process.
Currently, I am closing in on my eighth week of prep. While I am becoming more accustomed to the diet, transitioning to it was difficult because it is very limiting. Every meal is planned and accounted for. Every meal serves a specific purpose. While I miss the variety and ability to make changes to my diet as I see fit, I do have to admit the perks of eating this way have been noticeable. For example, 2 hours before every workout I eat 90-120g of cream of rice. If you’re anything like me you’re saying, 1) who eats just cream of rice and/or 2) why not just eat oatmeal or some other form of carbohydrates for energy? The easy answer is that I am getting more carbs in a smaller serving. It’s easier to get down and provides energy for hours. With the intensity of bodybuilding training, you are depleting your glycogen stores rapidly so getting in a high amount of carbohydrates that are easy on your stomach and sustain you is highly beneficial. I also I notice during my workouts that my muscles look fuller, and more “pumped” during training.
I’ve also come to love the small “treats” on my training days. I’ve come to love my 20 minutes before workout snack of a certain treat made of puffed rice cereal and marshmallows. Again, much like the cream of rice, you may ask, “why?” Well, it’s an easily digestible source of carbs that your body can make quick use of. These treats aren’t just delicious, they’re not only a staple of bodybuilders. Many pro and collegiate fueling stations have these snacks available as a quick source of energy!
It hasn’t been all treats though. My proteins are limited to three low-fat sources (Egg whites, chicken breast and lean ground beef). Other than the aforementioned carb sources, the only other carbohydrates I eat are white rice and potatoes. Eating such similar foods day in and day out, 6 meals a day can become tiresome. I’ve definitely had bouts of flavor fatigue, and there have been more than a few occasions I have had to eat a meal during a meeting. Thankfully, I have a team cheering me on during this whole process and humoring me, even if I need a meal during a meeting.
The training has also changed drastically for me. Powerlifting made sense to me. The goal was to move the weight from point A to point B. There was technique involved, varied training stimuli and recovery bases movements but mostly, it was about moving that weight. Bodybuilding doesn’t really care about the weight you move. In fact, a lot of bodybuilding is making lighter weights feel as heavy as possible.
Here’s an example. To get a good strong bench press when powerlifting you need to dig your traps into the bench. Keep your lats tight and locked in. Have a slight arch and then drive your legs while maintaining shoulder and glute contact with the bench. Then we aim for the area that gives us the least range of motion, so we don’t waste excess energy. This quick overview of the technique and execution for a bench press illustrates the goals for powerlifting but I quickly discovered that bodybuilding goals are entirely different.
The coach I’m working with looked at my normal bench press and explained that the goal was not to be as strong as possible. It was about trying to create the most mechanical tension that we could on the pecs. I’m now doing my best to increase my range of motion so that the muscle fibers get greater stimulus. I’ve taken away my leg drive and arch so that more stress is placed on my chest. My bench press is no longer a full-body movement, but focused on it as chest-centric as possible.
Another big change in my lifting is controlling the tempo of my lifts. Instead of just controlling the eccentric (the negative portion of the lift) I am now allowing the eccentric to take up to 5 seconds to create a greater stimulus. This coupled with certain intensification techniques like rest-pause sets, drop sets, isometric holds and so on, allow me to create more mechanical tension without increasing my volume too much.
12 More Weeks
It’s just 12 weeks out from my show. With tanning sessions and posing sessions are booked it becomes more real that I’m really doing this. My diet is getting more locked in as we look to shed another 10-15 pounds in the next 8 weeks. So much of this experience has been so different from my normal training, but I can honestly say I’m enjoying it and the changes I am seeing. This is just the beginning. I know it’s going to get tougher as we dial in, but I can’t wait to see how my first show goes and share even more about what I learn from this process.
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