I hear it all the time…”I WANT TO GET BIGGER.”
I want bigger arms…I want a bigger chest…I want my shoulders to pop out of my shirt…the list goes on.
What do most people do?
They start bodybuilding.
Newbies start by doing as many curls as they can, and make the bench press their passion. It’s arm and chest day everyday of the week, and getting enough protein becomes an obsession. Results quickly come about because of “newbie” gains.
This is encouraging and soon after their interest elevates and they start to explore methods to maximize their gains. They start to understand the importance of squeezing the muscle through the “Mind Muscle Connection” in order to focus on the contraction of their muscles. This helps them learn movement patterns more effectively and optimize the range of motion to get more gains.
Once they start putting heavier weight on the bar they’re hooked, and the obsession to “GET BIG” ensues.
Typically this is a common theme of progression for most in lifting, especially for those starting out, whether young or old.
Bodybuilding, or hypertrophy training, is how this process of lifting to get BIG starts.
The only thing is that it starts and ends at bodybuilding. They only progress within bodybuilding for far too long, and most do not pursue other training styles or modalities that will maximize their potential.
The gym to them is squarely for bodybuilding.
Is there anything wrong with that?
And does it work to get BIG?
BUUUTTT, there is a better way and long-term vision for you to ensure you get BIG, stay BIG, and also perform BIG.
What is it?
You have to value strength, over aesthetics.
Why Strength is Superior for Mass than Bodybuilding Alone
Look at anybody you see who you consider strong and aspire to in the realm of physique. Disregarding genetics, for the moment, what do they have in common?
To start, they have a hard work ethic, drive, discipline, and passion to be the best. All ingredients for success in any endeavor, especially your fitness and physique. HOWEVER, in terms of training, there is also a common ingredient. It’s their pursuit of strength that sets them apart from others in building lean, dense muscle on their bodies.
Look at someone in the NFL, like former All-Pro safety for the Philadelphia Eagles Brian Dawkins. You see him in uniform and you know he’s jacked.
What about the NBA, NHL, an Olympic wrestler, or even a PGA golfer like Rory McIlroy?
Rory does not need to squat heavy. He can John Daly it up and have a beer belly. But, to perform like he wants he squats heavy. Result: strong swing and not a bad looking body.
Why are athletes like these so much bigger now more than ever?
Because they value STRENGTH as their top priority.
Strength requires emphasis on PERFORMANCE. This may be lifting a certain amount of weight, or being able to have a certain level of strength endurance over the course of a game.
If you are not strong you cannot perform like you want. Training for STRENGTH allows your body to become shaped in a way that leads to massive amounts of muscle being added to your frame to deal with the stress of training and the game to be played leading to good aesthetics and/or massive size.
Don’t get me wrong. I know I am taking the extreme of athletes at the highest level. BUT, if you want to look like someone in the NFL, or an athlete in general, why wouldn’t you practice the same sort of training they do?
It makes no sense.
Why do endless bicep curls, skull crushers, and cable flyes to get big when you can try bench pressing 350lbs and do weighted push-ups with a plate on your back for 50 reps? Which pursuit would you think would give you a massive chest and upper body like you want not to mention performance boosts?
I’d say the latter.
Bodybuilding is great and it’s something a lot of people enjoy, including myself. It often introduces us to lifting and pumping iron. But you don’t get a big chest from doing endless cable flyes alone. You get BIG because you start pressing heavy and do training that prioritizes strength performance first, and aesthetics come secondary.
Even Arnold himself benched above 3 plates and squatted 4+ plates during his day for reps along with Franco Columbo. They were bodybuilders but they were also STRONG.
They knew that to get BIG you had to put some emphasis on strength and performance.
Ronnie Coleman did bent over rows with 600-700lbs on the bar. Bodybuilder, but strong as FUARK.
He said it best…
Bodybuilders (besides Ronnie) will disagree with me, and that’s okay. I’m not here to bash bodybuilding and not say you can’t build a massive body with lighter weights.
Yes, you can do that.
What I am here to say is that prioritizing strength first will lead to more gains in lean muscle mass than hypertrophy training alone.
It’s great to be someone like Phil Health, but if you asked him to do what he did in his collegiate basketball playing days he couldn’t now because he does not train for strength. His muscles don’t know how to perform like they used to, in a sense.
Again, nothing wrong with that.
I’d just rather be able to move while being “BIG” at the same time.
That’s what focusing on strength does — it allows you to perform better.
Strength Unlocks Your Potential
Focusing on strength over aesthetics keeps your performance high in things other than the gym. And, what is muscle good for if you can’t do something with it?
Why heavy squat or deadlift?
Because it helps you run faster and jump higher.
Don’t believe me?
Then ask Ryan Flatherty. He is the Senior Performance Directory at Nike and trainer/coach for top pro and Olympic athletes.
His whole mission is to get them to run faster. He recommends many things, but at the focus is getting strong. His central piece of that is the trap, or hex, bar deadlift. This helps people sprint faster. Period.
Listen to him speak on Tim Ferriss’ podcast and you will understand.
Sprinting is needed for sport and STRENGTH is at the center piece of that.
Side-effect: massive muscle GAINS.
But, don’t squats ruin your knees and don’t deadlifts wreck your back?
They can that’s for sure, but typically only when you haven’t dedicated time to really learn the movement and understand proper technique. From there your ego gets in the way and you have a recipe for bad knees and snap city.
Trust me. I’ve been there.
If you check out my article on “Why I stopped powerlifting” you will come to understand that I injured myself. As a result, I blamed powerlifting and didn’t take an personal accountability.
To be honest, that is probably the worst article I’ve written on this website, at least in my opinion. It’s garbage because it’s not true.
For one, I wasn’t really training for powerlifting I only thought I was. I did that type of training style, but was too naive in my pursuit believing that I didn’t need any coaching or guidance.
Two, if you learn the right form for the squat and deadlift for your body type, there is no shearing or undue stresses on your knees or back that will cause significant problems.
Lastly, like anything, powerlifting can be taken to extremes, just like bodybuilding or any other sport and cause problems.
With bodybuilding it’s body dysmorphia. With powerlifting or strongman, it’s your joints. In the NFL, it’s your joints, concussions and CTE. With MMA, it’s everything.
I can go on and on, but I think you get my point. With anything you do to an extreme you’ll get negative side-effects.
BUT, in regards to the average gym-goer who wants to get BIG and STRONG learning how to squat and deadlift will take them far.
You look at any high school football strength and conditioning program, for instance, and they are learning how to squat, deadlift, and press heavy. On my bad high school football team, there were kids who squatted 500+ pounds when they were 18…heck 16 years old! Across the country that’s the norm. Those kids are not only STRONG but JACKED too! It’s because they lift heavy ass weight.
That’s why I don’t understand why it is such a mystery?
STRENGTH UNLOCKS YOUR FULL POTENTIAL FOR MUSCLE GAINS.
That’s why focus FIRST on STRENGTH and the AESTHETICS will come.
Bodybuilding is great and it has it’s place just like powerlfiting or strength training does.
Should you do any to an extreme? Not necessarily, but, prioritizing your training for performance and having that performance be STRENGTH will get you far.
In this regard, lifting heavy weights is one form of strength.
In contrast, watch any gymnast and tell me they are not strong as hell. They may not lift heavy weights, but because their strength is relative and not absolute, unlike powerlifting, they get freaking strong because they need to be strong.
The common ground between the two is STRENGTH. This is true in any other sports, especially stop-and-go, like basketball, baseball, and football.
The best is perk, is that you’ll get BIG and make the most gains you can.
Unlock your potential and make STRENGTH a focus of your training and see where it goes.
If you need some help I’ve got a beginner LEAN MUSCLE BUILDING PROGRAM for you.
As always, thanks for stopping by and reading.
Until next time, be strong and be you.