This article is the result of a conversation I and a few of my training partners had the other day, during the middle of a squatting routine. I and a bodybuilder were doing our squats and one of the powerlifters asked if he could join in. My bodybuilder friend and I were using around 300 lbs for sets of 4 to 8 repetitions. We were doing these squats without any wraps, using a medium stance with our heels raised, and a completely erect torso during the movement. In essence, we were trying to ISOLATE the stress on the thigh muscles without trying to bring the larger hip muscles into play. Right away the powerlifter began his wrapping up routine. After heavily wrapping his knees he began his squats. With the bar placed very low and his legs spread so far apart that he appeared the he would split in half should he make even the smallest of mistakes while doing his repetitions, he began to do the ugliest, most distorted squats imaginable. The bodybuilder and I finished up with 5 sets of around 6 repetitions with around 315. The powerlifter finished with one double with 425. The bodybuilder and I performed a total of around 10 sets in about 20 minutes. The powerlifter performed around 8 sets in about 45 minutes. It was after this routine that we began to discuss training with each other. I mentioned that it was remarkable that the three of us were around the same height and bodyweight and yet we appeared so different physically. The bodybuilder was the most impressive looking throughout the entire body, while I appeared to have the thickest shoulders and trapezius muscles. The powerlifter had the biggest BUTT. He defended his lack of development with the statement, "That's the difference between a bodybuilder and a powerlifter. One looks good and the other lifts heavy weights."
Not wishing to hurt his feelings, I allowed this remark to go past with no further comment. But in my mind I knew he was wrong. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Where this lifter is making his mistake is in his reasoning and lack thereof. The champion powerlifters today look TREMENDOUS! They actually resemble bodybuilders but without the excessive definition competitive bodybuilding requires. You see, this lifter was a mediocre lifter and it was obvious to me that he has not been keeping up with the latest trends in powerlifting or else he would have known some obvious facts which would have helped him tremendously in his search for muscle and power. No powerlifter today of any consequence depends upon the three competitive lifts for his physical development. While the squat, bench press, and deadlift are great exercises with a tremendous amount of value in any training routine, a powerlifter regards these movements as LIFTS and not particularly as exercises for promoting growth. Powerlifters today CYCLE their training programs in such a way that during the initial weeks or working out most of their training is done on ASSISTANCE movements with the competitive lifts being done with medium intensity and ultra strictness in form to promote muscle GROWTH. Then, as the athlete comes closer to his competitive event, he will slowly do away with the assistance work and tend to intensify his working of the COMPETITIVE LIFTS. It is during this period of his cycle that he will be squatting with competitive style and the super wraps and suit and it is NOW that all the hard, strict work he had done in the building up period of his cycle will make itself evident. I might add that this same powerlifter has been totaling the same number for the past several years. Need more be said?
You cannot build large, shapely muscle without putting stress on the muscle you want to develop. You can't build thick, dense pectorals by bench pressing using every muscle in your body and NOT using the pectorals, yet that is what some of you are trying to do. My bodybuilder friend who was doing these deep, erect squats with 300 lbs for repetitions has more than his share of muscle size to show for his efforts. And let us see just how supposedly weak he was. Five sets of five reps with 315 would equal at least 385 for a single. This would be done in the same strict style previously described. Now suppose we did away with the raised heels, and we added the super wraps and super suit and had our man lower the bar to the point where the powerlifter had his bar placed. How much do you think this fellow would squat with then?
Conversely, do you think this powerlifter could have used the same weight the two of US were using, if he had to use our style and take off all his supporting material? I doubt it. So his statement about the bodybuilder looking good and he being the one with the strength was nothing but an egoistic outburst with no apparent moment of forethought on his part. You don't get to be a good powerlifter without building a good set of strong and shapely muscles. Look at any photo of David Shaw, Roger Estep, or Jim Cash and you will see mute testimony to the truth of this statement.
So one of the reasons why my friend will always be an average powerlifter is that he solely performs the three powerlifts, using all allowable technique and extreme performance style and literally no supportive work to fully and adequately work his muscles. He can't continue to increase his total because he is already using all the 'cheating' he can and still get away with his lifts. He can't gain bodyweight since this would move him out of his weight class. He does no supplementary work so the muscles are not growing nor is he able to lower his bodyfat percentage since his workouts are so short. In short, he will total around the same from year to year and finally he will go BACKWARDS.
For you fellows who are seeking to gain massive muscle size, perform your movements similar to a bodybuilder. Do the repetitions strict and slow with intensity and concentration. Never sacrifice exercise performance for the addition of a few pounds on the bar for this will NOT increase your functional strength nor will it increase your muscle size. All it will do is inflate your ego and possibly increase your chances of injury. These facts are so important to you underweight fellows, because most of you equate heavy weights and power with large, shapely muscles and to a certain extent you are right, but to make the amount of weight you are lifting take predominance in your training regime will not necessarily guarantee you the best results in the building of these large, shapely muscles.
And it makes no sense for you to fatten yourself up just to lift a few extra pounds and hope somehow that this extra weight lifted will somehow transform you into a massive athlete. I know. I've been there. I'll never go back there again.
The top lifters today DO NOT force feed themselves. They don't want to get fat. Being fat will not help them become better lifters. Also, they know that in order for those muscles of theirs to continue to grow and become dense, strong and useful, they will have to somehow place the most stress possible on the muscles they will need to use during the performance of the power lifts. This means that, as Dr. Fred Hatfield has said time and time again, most of the pre-competition period will be spent on building useful muscle and strict, functional strength. If you would-be weight-gainers see a picture of David Shaw deadlifting a tremendous weight you should realize that those muscles of his come from strict movements done for medium repetitions and a medium to high number of sets.
Doubles and singles done in cheating fashion will not give you the body of a David Shaw. I know.
He's my good friend and we have talked about this.
He does not lie!
I would suggest that you choose your exercise movements, which you have found to be the most difficult to do and the most demanding on your muscles. Experiment and decide which movements worked your muscles the hardest and try to center your energy on these exercises so as to get the most out of your training time. Also bear in mind that in order to gain muscular bodyweight you will have to see to it that your diet is more than adequate and that you have sufficient time for rest and recuperation. The more advanced you are as a trainee the more frequently you can work out without harming the organism. It would also seem to me that the more frequent the workouts, the shorter and more intense they would necessarily have to be. Remember that we are talking about gaining body weight, not merely training for lifting competition.
Growth requires both stimulation and rest.
Strength alone requires adaptability and persistence.
Let us assume that you have found you make the best gains while training but four times per week.
what you would be doing is working each muscle group twice weekly. Each muscle group should be broken down into as many movements as you feel are necessary for adequate growth and development. I would do it this way:
I would pick one basic movement per bodypart and include one to three assistant movements for the various muscle groups brought into play during the performance of the basic lift. For the bench press I would NOT do doubles and singles on the movement but would work for a thorough warmup and finish up with 4-5 sets of 6-8 repetitions. I would use a medium grip on the bar, a flat-back body position on the bench and I would perform the repetitions with a slight 'tap' on the chest. I personally have found parallel dips to be helpful and also good for muscle building, so I would use added weight for resistance and go for 5 or so sets of between 6 and 10 repetitions. That would be the chest work and it would be done twice per week.
For the shoulders I would either use the press behind neck and side laterals, or the seated front press and forward dumbbell laterals. Whichever I chose the sets would once again be between 4-6 and the repetitions between 6 and 8-10. Warmup sets are not included in these set numbers.
For the upper arms I would probably use the alternate dumbbell curl and tricep pressdowns on the lat machine. Sets and repetitions would remain the same and once again I would do all repetitions slowly and strictly. The chest, shoulders, and arms would be worked this way on Monday and Thursday. On Tuesday and Friday I would work the legs and back:
I would begin these lower body workouts with High Bar Squats. The bar is placed high on the trapezius (see photo above) and the heels are raised either with a lifting-style shoe or on a block. The stance is medium to close with no wraps on the knees. Upon lowering into the bottom position you must attempt to have the upper leg fold over on the lower leg with your buttocks tucked in and pushing FORWARD. For these squats I would adequately warm up and work up to 5-7 sets of 6-10 repetitions. I do not feel any additional leg work is required since these squats are severely intense and will adequately work the muscles of the upper thighs.
My next movement would be the stiff legged deadlift on a block. This movement will work your you from your heels to the back of your neck. I would warm up and work up to 3-5 sets of 6-10 repetitions using good style and no bouncing.
Next would be the bentover row with barbell. Using a medium grip and pulling the bar into the lower stomach I would do sets of 5-7 repetitions for a total of 5 all-out, hard and intense sets.
I would finish the back work with medium grip shrugs using high repetitions of between 6-10 and working up to 5 all-out heavy sets. When poker becomes much more popular than it ever should in the near future, lifters will call these sets 'all-in." Fascinating. Ah-bing, ah-bang, pow.
Once again, warmup sets are not included in these set numbers.
Abdominal work could be included wherever desired during the training week. I prefer weighted side bends and crunches with legs raised. I go for maximum burn in the area and maximum weight for 8-10 repetitions. I feel strong and thick obliques will help a lifter to squat and deadlift more. I also prefer to have a thick, strong waist as opposed to a tiny, weak one.
The high bar squats, the strict bench presses and the stiff legged deadlifts are some of the more popular off season movements that the best powerlifters in the world use for building strong, shapely muscles and to further strengthen the competitively performed three powerlifts. The various lateral raises and the arm work are also included in the pre-competitive cycles of many powerlifters the world over for they DO work and they DO aid your three lift total, should competition be your ultimate goal.
For the trainee who is not going to compete in lifting, these very same movements will GREATLY add to your physical size, power and impressiveness due to the full range of movement they incorporate and to the strictness of performance style.
Don't bounce the bar off the traps in the press behind neck.
Don't swing up he dumbbells for your deltoid raises.
Stop arching and lifting your butt up off the bench.
Who are you really kidding but yourself?
Finally, we come to diet. If you want to gain weight you must eat more. Simple, isn't it! But remember that you must have a balance of nutrients so as to insure proper growth, metabolic rate and recuperation. I advise a high carbohydrate, medium protein and low fat diet for best all around results. Get your carbohydrate from fresh fruits and vegetables and your protein from milk and egg products as well as low fat meats including fowl and fish. Keep your fats to a minimum. You need an abundance of carbohydrates for training energy and because of their protein sparing effect on the metabolism. Without sufficient carbohydrates you will begin to use protein as a poor energy source. To gain muscle size stay away from refined sugars but DO NOT STAY AWAY from carbohydrates. Red meats are high in fat and take a large amount of energy to process. Avoid them. Ingest low fat milk products and eggs instead. Turkey and chicken are high in protein and low in calories and fat. So is fish. Include both.
If my pre-mentioned friend who is trying to increase his powerlifting total would heed some of the points mentioned here, with a year or two he would be a lot stronger, a lot more muscular at the SAME bodyweight. He would have a lower bodyfat percentile and a larger amount of usable muscle. He would also look like an ATHLETE even when fully dressed. And if you underweight fellows begin to incorporate these principles into your training you will be rewarded with a larger, more muscular and stronger body.
And that's the simple truth of it all.