You know what you’re doing.
No “just get a pump” workouts for you. You’re too smart for that.
Instead you’re following a popular “strength routine.” Your numbers are based off a “training max” and the weekly progression is conveniently plotted in an iPhone app.
Like I said, smart.
Now you just need to hit your numbers every workout and presto, it’s off to NYC to shoot for Men’s Health.
Not so fast.
If your goal is to look great naked, your approach is not ideal. Fact is, I don’t know a single physique athlete, be it bodybuilder or cover model, who trains that way. At least, not exclusively.
A good friend is an editor for a mainstream men’s health and fitness magazine. When I feel like busting his chops, or when he isn’t sending me enough work, I take shots at all the strength content he’s running.
“Great issue. More derivative powerlifting fare I’ve read a thousand times before. I’m sure knowing when to deload an assistance lift really matters to some accountant trying to look better in his khakis.”
Never one to take shots lying down, he has his favourite comeback:
“Sounds great, I’ll call you when I need stuff from beat up old guys who lack functional strength.”
A good zinger is always based on truth – I’m rolling my glutes on a lacrosse ball as I type this. And he’s right, for a guy my size, I am not strong.
By my point stands: To really transform your body fast, you need volume.
I moved recently and took a bunch of time off.
Another buddy – aren’t I popular? — was kind enough to help me unload into our new digs, which is Canadian for bringing over beer and drinking it in front of me.
During the course of the day I unpacked the bathroom scale and naturally had to hop on it. It said I was 198 pounds. The next day I started training again.
Three weeks later, I ran into said move-in buddy at the gym. Upon seeing me, the first thing he said was that I’ve seemingly “exploded” (which is the highest praise one bro can pay another). When I got home I got back on the scale. I was 208 pounds.
So 10 pounds in 3 weeks. Considering my diet still is far from “perfect,” that’s not too shabby.
Now, is it muscle memory? Absolutely. I’ve been far heavier than this before.
But the other key factor is volume – I’ve been training 5 days a week, upwards of 30 sets per workout and all sorts of Schoenfeld-type shit.
Because to change your body fast, that’s what you need to do.
Sometimes I think we’re all stuck in the Matrix.
Guys who can’t fill out an extra medium t-shirt are scoffing at what bodybuilders do, saying their training “doesn’t work.”
The joke has always been that bodybuilders, as a result of their training, are weak for their size. So for every Johnnie Jackson deadlifting a Escalade there are 10 behemoths in string tank tops that couldn’t keep up with the Chinese girls weightlifting team.
The thing is, these dudes don’t care. If they get strong, great – but only if it helps them get big and thereby take up more square footage.
So bodybuilding protocols aren’t ideal for getting strong. You’ll get no arguments from me. But now, for whatever reason, the internet Yodas are suggesting that bodybuilding protocols won’t get you big either.
Which is odd. Cause love it or hate it, the most muscular men on the planet are still doing something (shockingly) similar to high volume training, not that 5 x 5 routine you’ve been steadfastly milking since Christ was a carpenter.
Look I get it.
In the 80 and 90s we were inundated by shitty bodybuilding routines that wouldn’t work for anyone, lest you were on a boatload of drugs or your family tree had names like Ronnie Coleman or Vernon Davis.
The problem was these routines were often written by bored (or sedentary) ghost writers thousands of miles away, then tucked away until the Next Big Bodybuilding Star, his hour come round at last, shuffled towards the Mecca to have his toothy grin attached to it.
Then something happened. Maybe it was the birth of the internet, and the mainstream public finally cluing into what 25-thousand dollar-a-year college strength coaches had been doing for decades.
Sets of 5. Then sets of 3. Big lifts short of failure. Consistent progression. Small gains, week after week, translating into big gains in a year.
And the mainstream lifter got results. “I gained more strength in a month following XYZ strength routine than I did using the programs in the magazines for 10 years!”
Well considering the magazine had you bouncing from “10 Things you can do on a Smith Machine” to “21 Days to a Ripped Tibialis Anterior” that’s really not a huge accomplishment.
Getting stronger is the core of weight training. And if you compete in a strength sport – most any sport, period — it’s everything and anything.
But to transform your body – at a certain point — you need more. More volume for your weaker bodyparts, less volume for others, and varying intensity techniques to stay a few steps ahead on the adaptation curve.
And you need a degree of dietary precision that goes beyond the age-old “gallon of milk a day” advice of the chubby barbell training troglodyte.
The last thing anyone who lifts should do is “abandon” strength training.
Lifting progressively heavier weights is the cornerstone of any weight-training related goal. And if you’re mired in a plateau or stuck in a rut, dropping all aesthetic stuff in favor of pure, simple loading is one of the smartest things you can do.
And the fact is, I can’t remember the last time I wrote or followed a program that didn’t progressively load a variation of the squat, bench press, or deadlift. Because it works.
But there’s a limit. And if your goals are to look very special, not just perform well, you’ll eventually need to up the ante.
Cause if I were challenged to put 20 pounds of muscle onto one of the Jonas brothers in 90 days (hey, you never know) I would do two things: hire a very good personal chef to cook for him, and bust his ass in the gym 5 days a week, often twice a day.
It may not be for everyone but bodybuilding shit does work. I can help you figure it out too.
And if you don’t believe me, just ask any “dumb” bodybuilder.