For years a debate has raged within muscle-building communities: is an emphasis on building strength really needed to promote muscular size increases? With isolation exercises strictly performed so as to maximize muscle shape and separation, combined with set/rep schemes, targeted inter-set rest period duration, repetition speed, and exercise selection often taking precedence over the building of pure muscle strength, many fitness devotees are not so concerned with the weight they have on the bar, but how this resistance is used.
Are Perfect Form and Volume Enough?
While it is true that how we use our training weights and the way in which we stretch and contract our muscles with each rep will ultimately produce our most significant size increases, the amount of weight we lift also has a massive bearing on how large we eventually become. Bottom line: we might perform lunges for 50 reps, employing stellar technique with each step we take, complete Swiss Ball dumbbell presses with great balance and dexterity, polish off extensions and rows until we have a massive pump – but nothing will replace compound movements performed for 8-12 reps with increasingly heavier loads for packing on massive amounts of beef.
THE PROGRESSIVE NATURE OF RESISTANCE TRAINING MEANS THAT TO BECOME MORE MUSCULAR WE MUST FIRST BECOME STRONGER.
We might confuse our muscles through training eclecticism and repeatedly tear our muscle fibers down with high intensity volume work, but steady strength increases on the core mass building movements with plenty of rest between sets will, as has been shown time and again, procure for you more permanent mass gains. Although all #bodybuilding training approaches have some merit, some are superior. And to build more muscle we must, as a first rule, continue to get stronger.
Lift Big To Get Big
Like IFBB pro bodybuilding legend Ronnie Coleman said, “Everybody wants to be a bodybuilder but nobody wants to lift no heavy ass weight.” As large as he was at his most impressive, Ronnie, famous for lifting mammoth poundages, was also prodigiously strong; likewise, the legendary Arnold Schwarzenegger, a legit powerlifter in his younger years, would constantly work to get stronger on all the major lifts. Johnny Jackson, Branch Warren…the list goes on: all extremely powerful men. You will find the biggest bodybuilders in your gym are generally the strongest and vice versa. Though you may find the occasional fully fledged tank lifting light and a rare obese, poorly muscled lifter hoisting some impressive weights, these people are true exceptions.
IF YOU ARE NOT GETTING STRONGER, YOU ARE NOT GETTING BIGGER – PERIOD.
For us natural trainers going heavy is mandatory. There are of course those genetic freaks out there who will respond well to just about any training protocol (PEDs or not), but for the most part, simply training for the pump, limiting training volume and going lighter with perfect form is not the best way forward – contrary to many articles (and advices) which you may find in your favorite bodybuilding magazine. The often repeated adage that, “the amount of weight we lift is secondary to the way we lift it and the amount of intensity we generate under tension” may be true, to a degree, but we must continue to get stronger.
THE CORRELATION BETWEEN STRENGTH AND SIZE IS TO BE RESPECTED ABOVE ALL ELSE.
Simply put, the more we can lift, while optimally stimulating muscle hypertrophy through 8-12 reps completed in perfectly controlled fashion, the greater the anabolic response, and the more muscle we will build.
NOTE: Don’t Get Confused
In our quest for massive muscles via vast poundages, also remember that pure strength training (power lifting) and hypertrophy training (bodybuilding) are two separate entities: the former, which employs reps in the 1-5 range, and the latter, where 8-12 are required, are designed for very different training outcomes. As bodybuilders, we are more interested in hypertrophy training, focused on developing muscular size and shape.
So, how might we have the best of both worlds? How can we improve our strength and use it to gain more size than ever?
Tip 1: Employ Compound Movements
In building size and strength through many muscle groupings, compound movements such as squats, deadlifts and bench presses are the fastest route to sure-fire bodybuilding progress. Forcing a muscle to grow to its fullest potential requires both direct and indirect training. It is no coincidence that the largest lifters in your gym are not only the strongest, they are more likely to emphasize the big multi-joint exercises, and less likely to exclusively employ isolation movements. You will never meet a person with tiny arms who can bench over 400lbs.
Compound movements also allow us to use more weight. Due to their recruitment of assisting muscles and their biomechanical advantages, mass builders (so labeled for obvious reasons) can be performed with maximum weight.
Tip 2: Incorporate Low Rep Sets
While an exclusive emphasis on low rep sets would constitute strength training (with its inherent focus on explosiveness, longer rest periods, and low training volume, this is not entirely conducive to building muscle), 1-2 such sets per workout will allow us to get a feel for weights we would previously never have contemplated lifting.
SUCH A PROTOCOL BESTOWS A PSYCHOLOGICAL ADVANTAGE THAT PROMOTES CONFIDENCE IN OUR ABILITY TO INCREASINGLY WORK OUR WAY UP TO THE TRULY HEAVY IRON.
Lifting ultra heavy for lower reps also stimulates muscle size increases via myofibrillar hypertrophy (an increase in the size and number of actin and myosin filaments contained inside muscle tissues). Myofibrillar hypertrophy is thought to result in more permanent size gains, which remain longer once training has ceased. Finally, periodic low reps may also prompt continued training adaptation through workout variability. So long as we continue to get stronger, a fresh muscle stimulus is always a good thing.
Tip 2: Modify Rest Time
While a review of strength training research suggests that three or more minutes of rest between sets is best for developing strength due to the greater overall training volume that can be achieved under such conditions, concrete recommendations for those interested in building more muscle appear to be lacking. One thing is for certain: the shorter our rest periods, the less strength we can apply after the first set of an exercise.
To become stronger while building muscle in the 8-12 rep range, try modifying your rest between sets to at least 90-120 seconds – or slightly longer (rather than the usual one minute). Indeed, the extra minute of rest will ensure our sets are sufficiently hard so we can generate maximum intensity and achieve enough training volume to build dense muscle size. That extra rest will allow also us to lift more weight, which, as we have read, can only boost our lean muscle gains.
The Strength To Build
From the bodybuilding luminaries of old, to the greats of today, the stronger the lifter, the more muscle they have the potential to build. Our muscles are extremely adaptive; subject them to increasingly lighter weights and they will shrink; give them the same load each time and they will remain the same size; increase the resistance placed upon them and they will grow. To sufficiently and safely handle heavier weights our muscles must grow. It is biologically imperative that they continue to do this so as to meet increased training demand. So, follow the tips outlined above and remember, if you want to be a bodybuilder you must get under the bar and lift some heavy ass weight.