Bodybuilding for strength sports

If you are a Powerlifter, a Strongman, compete in Highland Games, or Olympic Lifting to a lesser extent this is something that you will want to read.

There exists a mentality among some in the strength sports that look down on bodybuilding as stupid, vain, show before go, etc.. There exists a certain level of vanity in the stage performers and a certain kind of training that values muscle size over muscular strength (evident by the higher rep stretch/contract training) but that type of training has its place in any strength athletes arsenal.

The obvious is cycling training. You cannot go heavy year round, period. Contrary to what some people say online about training heavy all the time, your body will say ENOUGH eventually and you’ll either get hurt, burn out or get tired of training. In every strength athlete’s training season there is an off-season, a contest prep season and a contest season. Each season/block has specific goals and those goals should be clearly defined so you can peak for the contest season effectively.

The contest prep season and the contest season is when you start to peak and maintain it for the duration of the season. That could be a meet or two or a season of Strongman contests. The offseason is when you build the base for the next competition season and that is where bodybuilding-type training plays a significant part of your planning.

Early in the offseason, post competition season you are tired, sore, possibly burnt out from competition, you don’t want to, nor is it smart to, go heavy and try to set new PR’s. PR’s are to be set on the platform, training sets you up for those PR’s.

If you take a look at Bill Kazmeier’s training protocol you will see something you may not expect to see about it…

Bench (heavy) warm up, then 4 sets x 10 reps
Wide Grip Bench 3 sets x 10 reps
Narrow Grip Bench 3 sets x 10 reps
Front Delt Raise 4 sets x 8 reps
Dumbell Seated Press 4 sets x 10 reps
Side Delt Raise 4 sets x 10 reps
Lying Tricep Push (after 2 warm up sets) 6 sets x 10 reps
Tricep Push Down 4 sets x 10 reps

Squat (heavy) warm up, then 4 sets x 10 reps
Deadlift (light) warm up, then 3 sets x 10 reps
Shrugs 2 sets x 15-40 reps, 1 set x 10-20 reps
Seated Hammer Curls 4 sets x 12 reps
Standing Curl 4 sets x 10 reps
Close Grip Chin Ups 3 sets x max on each set
Seated Row 4 sets x 10 reps
Leg Extensions 3 sets x 10 reps
Leg Curl 3 sets x 10 reps
Calf Raise 3 sets x 15-25 reps

Bench (light) warm up, then 3 sets x 10 reps
Wide Grip Bench 3 sets x 10 reps
Narrow Grip Bench 3 sets x 10 reps
Dumbell Seated Press (heavy) warm up, then 4 sets x 8 reps
Front Delt Raise 4 sets x 10 reps
Tennis Backhand Cable Extensions 4 sets x 10 reps
Prone Tricep Extension 4 sets x 10 reps

Deadlift (heavy) warm up, then 4 sets x 8 reps
Squat (light) warm up, then 4 sets x10 reps
Shrugs (heavy) 4 sets x 10-15 reps
Seated Hammer Curl 4 sets x 8 reps
Concentration Curl 4 sets x 12 reps
One Arm Row – 3 positions 3 sets x 10 reps
Wide Grip Pull (down to chest) 4 sets x 10 reps
Leg Extensions 3 sets x 10 reps
Leg Curl 3 sets x 10 reps
Calf Raise 3 sets x 15-25 reps
(Ab Work When Possible)

Courtesy of

If you didn’t know this was Kaz, you would think this was lifted from FLEX magazine. MILO magazine did a three part series about Kaz’s training in the early 2000’s and this program was listed in that series as well. If you ask Kaz in person (as I did years ago) he will tell you he trained this way.

This is a typical bodybuilding template… chances are he modified this to fit the needs to compete in Highland Games, Strongman and Powerlifting, but this can be looked at as a basic offseason template for strength sports.

The offseason is meant to increase mass, build a work capacity for training and prepare the muscular system for the competitive season by adding said mass to support a higher peak.

But you say “bodybuilders don’t train for strength”, I say you can’t get stronger without bigger muscles unless you are truly a genetic freak with superior nerve-muscle reaction. Those people exist, but they are not the norm, and of course you can drug yourself to a bigger lift while maintaining a certain weight, but as I have seen from many, you will just breakdown eventually because without the extra mass to support that load, shit just seems to break.

So, you add mass to support strength. Any lifter worth his weight in Anadrol will tell you that, but too many fresh lifters look at the 5×5 as the be all end all of lifting. That will take you so far and you can have a year or more of gradual progression on that, but when you hit the intermediate/advanced stage of lifting, that is when you need to start looking at periodizing your training to account for the needs of your body to support the increase in strength. Its just smart training and its something that needs to be hammered home.

Another way to look at bodybuilding training for a lifter is during the contest prep season. This is when you abandon the higher reps on the main lifts (unless its strongman in which you tailor your training to fit the contest events, whether its max weight, max reps, carry, load or max time) and start to focus on building strength for the meet. I am not going to tell you how many weeks out you start this, each person is different. There are enough resources available for you to look that up for yourself without me trying to put my two cents in. I have my own way of doing this for people and you may have your own way as well.

During the contest prep you still may want to maintain the accessory work in a bodybuilding style. This also helps to support the main lift and bring up weak areas. Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell strongly follows this with his methods, and judging by the amount of success WSB barbell has, its something that holds some credence.

The only difference between contest prep season and offseason is that now you want to focus on accessory work that will directly help your main lift and not just overall mass and muscularity. If your triceps need work on the bench press, program accessory work around those. Same for shoulders and other bodyparts as well. The idea is to attack weak areas harder to compensate for any weakness you have in a particular lift.

Again, there are a plethora of theories about lifting, but this is mine and what has worked for me with my clients and myself in my Strongman career.

People make the mistake of trying to lift heavy year round and wonder why they have minimal progress, get hurt or in some cases regress. Its simple, its not nuclear physics… you simply have to adjust your training based on your competitive season.

  1. Offseason – Rebuild what you may have lost in muscle mass by training for strength solely during the last competitive season and add new mass in order to become stronger
  2. Contest prep – Start to streamline training to meet the goals of your meet 
  3. Contest – Peak intelligently and hopefully set new PR’s


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