I have never seen a great bodybuilder (Ronnie Coleman, Doug Miller, Stan Efferding, etc.) whom sports a dense looking physique and doesn’t lift heavier poundages. The thick, grainy slabs of muscles hanging off of someone’s frame, looking as if he’s flexing all day, has been accomplished by progressively training in heavier loads.

Recently, Cliff Wilson published an article on T-Nation titled, “Is Powerlifting Hurting Bodybuilding?” The basic premise of the article is that according to studies, lifting in lighter loads but higher volume has a similar effect of stimulating hypertrophy as does lifting heavier loads in lower volume, but with much greater benefits. These benefits include spending less time in the gym (due to decreased rest periods) and not feeling as run down from lifting in loads closer to the 1RM (one rep max).

Mr. Wilson also suggest that bodybuilders need a variety of exercises, other than focusing on just the main 3 lifts (bench, squats and deadlifts).

Agree to disagree

There seems to be a very black and white picture being drawn here for readers. It sounds like an all or nothing type of thinking. Either these aspiring bodybuilders, Mr. Wilson mentions, only focuses on the main 3 in the 1-5 rep range, thinking that will lead them to their bodybuilding endeavors. While I agree that bodybuilders shouldn’t focus solely on the 1-5 rep range of the main three, this needs to be said…

I have to say that bodybuilders SHOULD focus on getting stronger on ALL lifts and the main 3 lifts certainly help to build a solid foundation in doing so. For instance, by getting stronger in the deadlift, there will be carry over to improved grip strength, core strength, leg drive and hip flexion. These functions can all aid on other lifts and/or exercises for the bodybuilder.

A Bigger Muscle is a Stronger Muscle

If someone can increase their bench press, in the 1-5 rep range, to 500lbs, albeit that person will certainly be able to rep out 315 with ease and 225 will feel like child’s play, with the intention on putting the focus on the working muscles. What if that person were to be benching 185lbs for 10 reps. Exactly how will that person progressively overload their muscles and get stronger and bigger? It will take them years to get to 315lbs if he only sticks with 185 for reps. Doug Miller has been known to deadlift 405lbs for 30 reps. Tom Platz said some days he would squat 315 for 30 reps or 505 for 15 reps. But how does someone get there? Simple, by working on increasing his/her strength in the 1-5 rep range first.

If we have two athletes, and athlete A is strong as can be and has a 500lb bench, 600 deadlift and 500 squat. Then we have athlete B, who can rep out a 185lb bench, 225lb deadlift and 225lb squat all within 10-15 reps. Both athletes are similar in height and weight (5’9, 200lbs). Who do you think will be able to build a more solid foundation for the sport of bodybuilding? It should be no question that athlete A will have a kickstart, if you will, to having the necessary tools to be a successful bodybuilder by having a solid foundation to build off of, namely his strength, connective tissue, etc..

The Double Edged Sword

“So if lifting heavier loads will make me stronger, why don’t I look like a bodybuilder?”

There happens to be a few powerlifters who can lift Godly amounts of weight in comparison to their bodyweight (Richard Hawthrone and Marc Tejero to name a few) but aren’t built quite like Ronnie Coleman or Johnnie Jackson. There’s more to it than the black and white picture being drawn by the article.

Yes, lifting heavier loads will equate to being able to handle heavier loads for the higher volume work that needs to be done. For instance, if Marc has a 500lb bench press, he will probably be able to handle 315lbs for 10 reps. Compare that to athlete B, who can do the same amount of reps with only 185lbs, which athlete do you think will have a thicker, fuller chest development?

Refining What’s Not There

On the other hand, I’ve personally witnessed people, in the gym, who have absolutely no base or solid foundation to build off of, do isolation exercises because they saw it in a magazine, in a YouTube video, or because it’s the “in-thing” to do now. For instance, I’ve seen people with subpar chest development, sit sideways in a hammer chest press machine to target “the inner & upper pecs.” What EXACTLY does it accomplish if you have no pectoral muscles to refine?

Remember, bodybuilding is an art. Your body is the clay and you are the sculptor. You add slabs of muscle by way of nutrition, training stimulus and recovery, then when you’re ready to start to chiseling the fat away, go ahead and do some cardio and isolation exercises IF you need it. Not the other way around.

Train for Your Sport

I do agree with a few things that Cliff brought up. One of those is that the athlete has to train for his/her sport. If you’re training to be a bodybuilder/physique athlete, you should incorporate exercises that will help refine your physique as need be. If your delts aren’t capped, then incorporate more side lateral exercises. If you do lots of pressing, I’m sure your posterior delts will be lacking some development. So be sure that you balance everything out. If your biceps lack develop, do some bicep curls. But be aware, that excess volume (especially for smaller muscle groups) may actually be detrimental to your development. Your arms already get some stimulus in some back, chest and shoulder exercises. So be aware of how YOUR body responds to the training protocol.

Training the “Big 3” in the 1-5 rep range has it’s benefits for the physique athlete, and it will definitely help propel you to creating a solid foundation at a quicker rate. But is not the single answer that fits all bodybuilders. You should still incorporate high rep ranges and intensity techniques to target both your fast twitch and slow twitch muscle fibers. I would not suggest doing leg presses in the 1-5 rep range. Save your joints and hips from unnecessary trauma. Also, for those with joint issues, high rep ranges and/or lighter weight has its place for these purposes. You also have to remember that training in the gym is your stimulus but what you do outside of that with your nutrition, rest and recovery is where your body ACTUALLY grows and repairs itself.

Takeaway points for the body builder

  • Aim to progressively train HEAVIER in each of the exercises that you choose in your program
  • Get strong in the main lifts and your strength will carry over to other exercises
  • Pick and choose exercises that are hand picked to aid in developing a complete physique
  • Include various rep ranges to create a hypertrophic stimulus

and lastly…

  • whether you train in the 1-5 rep range or in the 15+ rep range for your bodybuilding goals, NUTRITION, REST & RECOVERY are very, very important to building your physique

A few products that will help you recover quicker from training session to session, and even set to set are Helix BCAA, Menace and Heliotropin. For more information, head over to
Nubreed Nutrition.