T Nation

An interesting observation

This is going to seem like old news, but just bear with me for a moment.

For the last few weeks I’ve been casually “observing” my fellow gym rats, their routines, and ultimately their physiques. Here’s what I noticed:

1. There seems to be little correlation with the amount of one's bench press and the size of their entire physique. Granted, all of these people do not have perfect form, but enough of them do to make this observation somewhat compelling.

2. At the other end of the spectrum, there is a definite correlation as to the amount of one's squat (again, those with good form) and the size of one's physique.

The bottom line is that I see plenty of "skinny bastards" throwing up large amounts of weight on the bench, with little or no size to show for it. However, I have yet to see someone squat 315+ for sets of 10 (or 5 sets of 5 or whatever) that aren't...well...BIG.

As for me, I’ve been stuck at the same body weight for a while now, and it’s interesting to note that my body mass plateaued at about the same time my squat plateaued (335 for 5 sets of 5). I have no doubt that I’ll work my squat up to 405, and I also have little doubt that when I do I’ll have another 10 to 15 pounds of muscle to show for it, regardless of the weights I may use on other exercises.

Anyhoo, just thought I’d share this information. Comments, anyone?

One possibility is that the people that are putting up large poundages in the squat are simply training better overall; afterall, you can cheat fairly easily on the bench, but you can’t really cheat as much on the squat and still put up a lot of weight. I’m not sure that I buy the idea that squats increase total body mass. They do hit all of my legs, though.

Simply, the squat has a certain “anabolic” effect on the body. Once I began performing squats, I noticed a overall increase in muscle size.

However, my bench, IMO, sucks. I was stuck at 155-160 lbs (5'4", 120lbs). I'm hoping that after the 5x5 and most recent program, those numbers will go up.

I also think that the average weight trainer will choose to do the bench over the squats ANY day. It's a "showier" exercise (in their opinion), and for some reason a good bench constitutes enormous machismo/machisma. Which is why in our gym in any given day, the benches are always busy with use, while the squat racks are empty.

Isn’t this just common sense? Your legs are bigger (have more muscle mass) than your chest. And squats incorporate more groups of muscle. Therefore, if you make gains in your squat, you’ll gain more weight than making gains in bench.

The great physiques of the gyms I’ve trained at trained:

Legs with perfect form. Didnt even have to be squats.

Between 60-90 miutes per session without wasting any time.

while rarely relying on forced reps, failure sets or other advanced techniques that fry your CNS.

used a wide variety of rep schemes.

Unfortunately my size and squat stats throw a big wrench into your theory but I do know exactly what you mean. I’ve yet to see anyone squat heavy and hard and make some improvements not just in body size but more importantly physical appearance and functionality.

Define “big”. I squat 315 8-12 reps for 4 sets and can easily do 355 5X5. I am definitely not a big guy, 5’10, 153 lbs. I think it has more to do with the fact that some people just don’t squat.

I agree with ko that enough people simply don’t squat, or at least not with good form. I am not huge either…YET…but have a 400lb+ full squat (to go along with a weak 250lb bench).

I’m not sure that I believe the hype about squats having an “anabolic effect” on the rest of the body. Yeah, there was that one study where arm size increased with no direct work… I should probably look it up, but were those people newbies?

Anyway, I’m not excluding the possibility, but I’d like a mechanism to be shown, rather than a principle.

You are a genetically strong freak if you can really squat that much at that bodyweight. Most people, no matter how hard they work at it, will never be able to squat 3x their bodyweight without drugs. I assume your max is near if not over 3x your bodyweight since you can squat 315 for 12 reps for 4 sets. Quite impressive.

In light of this post, Goldberg’s post from the other day, and my own personal experience, I strongly feel that your assertion that a good bench doesn’t translate into a good physique is an extremely accurate statement. I’m convinced that there is some physiological phenomenon that is yet to be discovered that will explain why some people can bench so much so easily. Then again, maybe I’m just bitter because my bench isn’t where I want it to be and I have a bum shoulder that limits me in improving it!

My expectation as to an important contributing reason is the location of tendon insertions. If it is near the joint, then the leverage is of a type that generates high speed but relatively lower force (large amount of movement for a given amount of contraction) but if the insertion is far from the joint, then the leverage gives more force.

For example, I expect that I have insertions
near the joint. I bench considerably less
than I “look like,” but with even a slight
amount of shadow boxing practice, I have
hand speed like most pro boxers, and back
when I worked a lot at it, only very few seemed to have clearly greater hand speed.
What are the chances after all that everyone will have insertions at exactly the same point? And the effect on leverage and on lifts follows rather clearly.

I don’t think it is squatting that is making them bigger per se. I think that tons of guys bench heavy because its “cool.” On the other hand only the truly dedicated squat heavy. Benching heavy is work, squatting heavy is LABOR! Just my O…

I agree with Nephorm’s first post. Be careful not to confuse correlation (i.e., people who squat big generally train smarter and harder overall) with causation (i.e., squatting makes people who squat large).

People in my opinion who squat with good form generally have an overall better idea on how to train because they actually train their legs unlike most the gym rats. Now this isn’t a blanket statement just what I have observed personally. Furthermore at my gym, both the bench press are always full along with the squat rack, but the latter are usually full of people doing BICEP CURLS, AHHHHHH!!! Sorry just had to vent a little frustration.

I think one of the reasons why there are a lot of guys benching more than what seems reasonable is simply that they do it ALL THE TIME! They spend so much time on it that they have high levels of neural adaptation. I do believe the bp is the most overrated and overused exercise around. I think it is seen as cool because its a big deal with football, our most popular sport. Also, its easy to do, and not as difficult as squatting.
Machine- I agree that his squat is excellent, but not unreasonable- especially if he’s been training it for a long time. Its easier for the small guys to do 2x and 3x bbodyweight. Just my 2 cents

I partly agree with the original poster but I think deadlifts have a greater affect on overall bodymass than squats.

Bigger guys can achieve a 3x bodyweight squat just as much as smaller guys. Of course, as you climb up in bodyweight (say over 250 lbs.) than yes there is probably less likely a chance to squat that much. I don’t think it’s any easier or more common for a 150 lb. man to squat 450 as it is for a 200 lb. man to squat 600. While Ko might have a number of training years with the squat, it is still very impressive.

i had to convert those numbers to metric to get my head around them, if a 70kg man at 5’11 can squat 160kg for 5x5…well, i havent seen anything that impressive at the gym yet i (unless its weighted curtsies)

My max is no where near 450, more like 405. My legs have great stamina, for the last 20 years, all my jobs have been spent on my feet for 40 -60 hrs per week. I also spent 15 years in the produce industry, pulling 1000lb pallets around. Its not that I am a genetic freak, but my legs have been getting more stimulation than most poeple my size (or any size).