Powerlifters and bodybuilders are like quarreling brothers. Some differences they can never fully bridge and yet, for better or worse, they remain closely related. They do many of the same exercises. Bodybuilders squat, deadlift, and bench press, just as powerlifters may crank out sets of triceps extensions, barbell rows, and dumbbell yes. A few bodybuilders—most especially Johnnie Jackson, Stan Efferding, and, in his early years, Ronnie Coleman—have combined powerlifting and bodybuilding to great effect. They’ve ended the tiff and used a lower-rep, power-intense approach to bodybuilding to become both stronger and larger.
RAISING THE DEAD
The powerlifting and bodybuilding connection has been long and strong. Two-time Mr. Olympia Franco Columbu started as a European champion powerlifter in the ’60s. His best reported lifts of a 750-pound deadlift, 665-pound squat, and 525-pound bench press are remarkable when you consider the 5'5" Sardinian strongman competed at around 185 pounds. Though not quite as strong, his best friend Arnold Schwarzenegger also powerlifted competitively, deadlifting 710 in his last meet in 1968 when he was already Mr. Universe.
Let’s zero in on the deadlift, because unlike the squat and the bench press, deads have had an uneasy relationship with bodybuilding. In fact, if you look at the routines of most champion bodybuilders before the mid-1990s, deadlifts are rarely there. To dead or not to dead was one of the chief things that separated powerlifters from their bodybuilding brethren, and it was mostly the rare hybrid powerlifter-bodybuilder who pulled weights from the floor yet also worked to widen his back. But with the 14-Olympia-win string (1992–2005) of Dorian Yates followed by Ronnie Coleman, both of whom included deads in their workouts and had arguably the two greatest backs ever to unfurl, deadlifts became very much a bodybuilder thing.
And so they have been ever since. Following Yates’ lead, some bodybuilders do deads last in their back routines, so they don’t need to go so heavy. But a power-bodybuilding routine places a premium on increasing strength in the three power lifts, and thus schedules each of them—squats for legs, bench press for chest, and deadlifts for back—first in their respective workouts.
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