Bodybuilders are the low hanging fruit of the weightlifting world. So visible, so easily parodied…And the sport is so incredibly weird, at least in it’s current form. To win a bodybuilding competition you must look completely unnatural on the stage – roll-on tan, dangerously dehydrated, the works. Let’s acknowledge the elephant the room, i.e. the dangerous level of drug use some practioners engage in to achieve their ideal physique. Ironically, steroids are not the most dangerous of these drugs. Over the last 10 years, we’ve lost an increasing number of high profile bodybuilders and physique competitors at, it seems, ever younger ages. At it’s highest levels, training for bodybuilding is inherently unhealthy.
Powerlifters, on the other hand, are psychologically stable, physically strong paragons of virtue…or are we? Let’s face it, we’re relatively easy to parody as well. Your typical powerlifter does not give a shit about “physique”. There is an apparel brand called “Kinda fit, kinda fat” that markets to powerlifters because, hey, they know their market. If I were to asked draw a powerlifter right now, I’d draw a fuscular dude, wearing a bunch of gear (wrist wraps, knee sleeves, weightlifting belt, weightlifting shoes), sipping on a Monster while eating Gummi Bears as he looks at his phone for 5 minutes while waiting for his next set. Stereotype? Sorta, but mostly true. Powerlifting gyms are not where one goes to find shredded dudes and hot gym bunnies, not by a long shot. And, yeah, PEDs are not obviously unknown in Powerlifting. I can say, however, that I’ve seen far more obvious PED use in a many Globo gyms than I even have in powerlifting gyms.
But, hey, we powerlifters are athletes, right? We train technique, over and over again, to ingrain the most efficient movement and therefore lift the most weight. This is true, but does this make us the most athletic? I love powerlifting, I really do, but on average strongman and Crossfit competitors are fitter and more capable of all around athletic prowess. Olympic lifting is generally acknowledged to be the most technical of the weightlifting sports. A lot of powerlifters have 0 cardio ability because it doesn’t figure into a powerlifting competition. We train to become very good at our sport – that is true – I’m just saying that there is not a lot carryover into other sports. If you train powerlifting seriously, you become relatively stiff and are usually recovering from a litany of injuries.
Furthermore, the deeper you are in whatever powerlifting program you are running, the longer the actual training takes. The heavier your working set is, the longer it takes to work up to it, and you’ll have to wait 4 to 5 minutes between sets. Not too mention the time it takes to warm up before training. This represents a lot of time spent in the gym, time that many people with jobs and families do not have. So what typically happens when one is doing serious training? You can only train the 3 movements and their corresponding assistance exercises. Forget cardio and forget any GPP type exercises. Which explains why powerlifters, who eat a lot to gain muscle and strength, are “kinda fit, kind fat”.
Recently my kids have shown serious interest in going to the gym to keep fit for their various sports and interests. As such, I’m taking them to a commercial “globo” gym because there is a wider range of general gym equipment and they’re not looking to train powerlifting, per se. They didn’t ask to master a sport, they want to train cardio and, yes, get a bit buffer. The downside is the inherent ridiculousness of your modern Globo gym. It’s been years since I’ve set foot in one and it’s a form of culture shock. The only thing Globo gyms and powerlifting gyms have in common is that they both contain barbells and weights. In this case, I’m the insufferable dude walking around thinking his culture (powerlifting) is superior.
I decided to stop concentrating on powerlifting training while at the Globo gym primarily because it only a has a few benches, squat racks and 1 deadlift area and these were often taken. So I’ve also been hitting cables and other machines to train body parts. Also, I figured it was high time to re-incorporate some cardio for my fat arse. Lo and behold, I’m often getting DOMs after these workouts because my muscles are not used to these specific movements. I’m doing lower weight and higher reps. I’ve started working out with a few knowledgeable buddies who are deeper into physique training. I’m invariably able to lift more than them in powerlifting movements. However, I’m often weaker than them in other movements (ex. seated quad machine, cable pulls) and less able to do higher reps. My technique is not as good as theirs and I gas out earlier. It’s humbling.
Many of your are aware there is third way, called Powerbuilding, which is a combination of both practices as a way to achieve strength and buff-itude. You will not win any competitions if you train this way, but on average you’ll get reasonably strong and somewhat buffalicious. Which, at this point in my life, does not sound too shabby. I’ve decide to seriously train powerlifting for 1 more year. If I’ve not made any serious headway in competing by this time next year, I’ll hang up my spurs and train more for GPP than chasing that 1RM.