When you’ve been in the iron game a while, you begin to ask yourself some tough questions: How do I maximize size without sacrificing strength? How do I get stronger without getting injured? In short, how can a lifter have it all—muscle, power, and pain-free joints to enjoy the benefits? The answer is a combination of powerlifting and bodybuilding programming, colloquially known as “powerbuilding,” blended in the formula we offer here. See results in six weeks! Seriously.
The Dynamic Duo
Our program is a mix of the Westside Barbell powerlifting template and old-school, high-volume bodybuilding. The “Westside Conjugate Method,” as it’s known, is a system that alternates heavy workouts and lighter ones. The heavy days are called “max effort” sessions because you work up to a max, the heaviest weight you can use for reps in the one to five range. The lighter days can be done in two different ways.
Most lifters who powerbuild along the lines of a Westside program do the lighter workouts exclusively with higher reps and go for the pump, and that works fine to build muscle. Our routine includes plenty of pump work, but we’re also making use of the “dynamic effort" (DE) method—a technique whereby you lift light weights explosively. Even though the weight may not feel challenging, moving it as quickly (and violently) as you can trains your nervous system to recruit the biggest, strongest muscle fibers, and it helps you overcome sticking points. If your bench press usually stalls midway through a rep with a heavy weight, DE can help you develop the speed off your chest to blast through.
Lifting for Life
Of course, building muscle and setting PRs isn’t much fun if it wrecks your body in the process. Heavy training is hard on the joints, but by rotating your main lifts and generally changing up the workouts on a weekly basis, you can avoid the overuse and overtraining injuries that plague so many lifters. The main lift in each max-effort workout should be switched every week. In fact, you can switch out practically every exercise in the program week to week if you like—just follow the basic template we set up here. (It includes two weeks of sample workouts.)
On the first max-effort day, for instance, when you’ll train your chest and biceps, stick to three to four chest exercises and three biceps lifts per session, but the exact exercises you pick are up to you. The main lift can be a bench press one week, then an incline press the next, and a floor press after that if you’d like. Feel free to experiment and find exercises that work best for you and keep the workouts fun.
You’ll perform two max-effort and two dynamic-effort workouts per week, rotating through a body-part split of chest and biceps, back, legs, and shoulders and triceps. Note that it will take two weeks to work each body part with both the max- and dynamic-effort methods—follow the template for how they fit together.
Day 3 in each training week is for cardio and recovery. It will help improve your performance in the workouts as well as protect against injury.
Max Effort Training Notes
Max-effort workouts focus on improving one main lift. To do that, you need to train heavy. Warm up thoroughly and then choose a variant of whatever the main exercise is (some type of squat, bench press, deadlift, or overhead press), and begin working up in weight slowly. Add weight in small increments and keep your reps to five or fewer until you reach a load that allows you only three to five reps. When you’ve maxed out those reps, move on to the next exercise.
Dynamic Effort Training Notes
The goal of dynamic-effort work is to move a weight as fast as possible. (Note that when doing DE pullups on back day, you’ll be lifting your body weight.) Aim for 60–70% of your 1RM on these exercises. If that feels too heavy, or your latter few sets get sluggish, reduce the weight. The point is to be as explosive as possible—while maintaining perfect form—so don’t get anxious to add weight. Rest 60 seconds between all dynamic-effort sets.