Bodybuilding Training, Can We Make This Clear?

I have lately read repeatedly about people trying to transition from strength-focused training. For some reason people cannot simply shake their attachment to strength-focused training (for whatever athletic or fitness endeavor, although one will gain strength on bodybuilding programs as well) and finally divorce their attachment to low reps (below 6), periodization schemes to function as an athlete or powerlifter, “the big three”, and the notion that bodybuilding training is simply pumping and refining (it isn’t!).

Here is bodybuilding training, from what I’ve learned and experienced, and it doesn’t go much past this (copied verbatim from my personal progress thread):

  1. Four or five way split that allows each muscle to be trained once every five to seven days with two or three non-lifting days per week.
  2. Compound, isolation, and machine exercises.
  3. Reps: Mostly 8 to 12, sometimes 6 to 8, or higher than 12.
  4. Sets: 2 to 4 work sets, sometimes more
  5. Three or four exercises for large muscle groups, with up to 5 for back.
  6. Proper pre-exhaust and exercise sequencing (sorry, if you have a muscle lagging in size, than just “adding weight to the bar” will not do the trick after the first two or three years of trying to do that!)
  7. Proper exercise selection to target a segment of a muscle and body type (eg, arm or torso dominant). I do not give a shit about any “science” showing you can’t target a portion of a muscle. I really don’t!
  8. Rest periods: as little as needed.

Authors to read for BB training are listed below. And we’re talking BB training in its purest form–not general fitness, not athletic training, not powerlifting training, not weekend warrior training, not busy-dad-career-man training, and so on.

Tom Venuto
Clay Hyght
John Meadows
Ron Harris
Scott Abel
Christian Thibaudeau (his BB stuff specifically)
Greg Zulak

I don’t know why people continue to challenge such simple advice when they exclaim how much they want to look like a bodybuilder or eventually compete as a bodybuilder, or even challenge the practices they need to use to get there (eg, “Do you really think a split is the way to go?” "Isn’t using isolation exercises and pre-exhaust for way down the road, til ya gained a 80 pounds of muscle? lol)


and stop saying you don’t need to train certain muscles. You do. You need to train everything.


I admit it, I don’t train my toe extensors :blush:


well don’t come crying to me when you have to start a thread about how to bring up your toe extensors!


More seriously, folks are generally pretty bad at determining what they want.

I don’t know how many people who are talking aboit moving away from strength training are actually all that interested in maximising the size of all their muscles while maintaining symmetry (and finally carrying as little fat as possible) or at least making that their entire focus.

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I think most folks are generally pretty damn good at determining what they want…they’re just horrible at determining a plan for how to achieve what they want. To reiterate @BrickHead and the MasMacros Podcast, I believe that social media has had a negative impact in this way.

For example, I think a lot of kids or newbies have a hard time giving up the number-chasing mentality. They want to be big, jacked, and symmetrical (like a bodybuilder), but they also want to be strong. When you see somebody like, say, Bradley Martyn on YouTube or IG, you see a bodybuilder-looking physique that benches or squats a crap-ton of weight for a couple reps. He looks great, you only SEE the strength/power-lifting moments, and decide that that’s what he does to look that way. Bodybuilding is such a big-picture, long-term game that seeing these tiny snippets on social media sets many people on a bad track.

I also think getting away from the Number-Chasing Game is difficult from an ego-stance and from a self-worth stance. Many gym-goers seem to get their self-worth (in the gym) from the way people perceive them. Thus, lifting heavier weights (albeit, for low reps) seems more impressive to others, and also feels more impressive intrinsically. And that’s a shame. I feel I can only say these things because I was once stuck in that place.

Maybe I’m way off base there, and generalizing and projecting personal experience.


Unless you are a natural:

Frequency: 2-3 x a week, each muscle group/movement/take overlap into consideration

Volume: 40-70 reps per body part per session

Hypertrophy: 75% 6*12 reps, 25% 1-6 reps & above 15

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Christian Thibaudeau wrote:

I have received some comments how low reps are not optimal to build muscle and how guys who are relying on low reps and heavy weights and who got big probably were using steroids. Nonsense!

If anything, it’s the opposite!

From my experience working with a myriad of athletes and bodybuilders, natural and enhanced, individuals who are using steroids might respond better to higher reps and lower loads while naturals will grow more from high-force (heavy weight or explosive lifts) training with low reps.

This is a viewpoint shared by Micheal Gundhil, one of the foremost bodybuilding authority in Europe.

First of all steroids tend to increase muscle mass a lot more than tendon strength, in fact many steroids make the tendons more brittle and fragile. So you have a muscle that is much larger and stronger, but with a weaker attachment.

This both increases the risk of injury and eventually decreases the potential for strength gains because of an inhibitory mechanism due to the weaker tendons (the body will want to protect itself for a tendon tear and will reduce force production).

So ‘‘enhanced’’ athletes might progress fast at first from a program based on heavy, low reps lifting, but the risk of injuries will be drastically higher than for a natural trainee.

Not to mention that ‘‘enhanced’’ athletes can tolerate and recover from more training volume: they have a much greater rate of protein synthesis and also replenish muscle glycogen to a greater and faster extent. For that reason, they will thrive on doing a lot more work in the gym.

Finally, the increased rate of protein synthesis and constant anabolic state they are in reduces the need for a super powerful growth stimulus. I’m not saying that steroids are an ‘‘easy way out’’… to get the most out of it you must still train hard; but a lot of big bodies have been built with ‘‘easy’’ workouts when using steroids.

So basically in an “enhanced” athlete you have:

  • increased protein synthesis and glycogen storage + lowered cortisol = better tolerance for volume
  • constant anabolic state = less need for a powerful growth stimulus
  • muscles that get stronger much faster than tendons = greater potential for injury

So this means that an enhanced lifter will respond better to high volume/moderate load training than their natural counterparts.

I’m not saying that low-reps/high force training is not effective for drug-using lifters, it is VERY effective. What I’m saying is that this type of training might be more hazardous for the enhanced and not as necessary to stimulate growth. As such, a steroid-using bodybuilder would be best to use high-force/low reps lifting in short cycles followed by bouts of higher volume training.

A natural lifter doesn’t have these “problems”. While his muscles will still grow stronger faster than the tendons, the difference is not as pronounced (especially considering that some steroids will make the tendons weaker). So the risk of low reps lifting is much lower for a natural trainee, so he can stay on this type of training for longer.

Actually I believe that high volume training will cause more injuries than high-force training in the natural lifter.

Since the natural lifter’s anabolic to catabolic (testosterone, igf-1, GH / cortisol) ratio is not constantly in the positive range, the regulation of training volume is much more important if maximum progress is desired. So a natural lifter who does too much volume can really short-circuit his gains.

And because it is harder for a natural lifter to stimulate growth, he needs a more powerful stimulus… high-force lifting.

This is why I believe that low-reps/high force training, contrary to what some believe, is actually better suited to natural lifters than enhanced ones.


I discussed the training volume, number of reps and training load that is ideal for natural and enhanced lifters in an earlier post. This post will attack the same subject from the angle of training frequency.

When it comes to frequency for enhanced lifters, here is what I believe:

TECHNICALLY enhanced lifters are able to train each muscle group more often because of the increased protein synthesis and glycogen storage. In other words the muscles recover faster from training.

Still IN THEORY enhanced lifters are able to train more often (as in more days per week) for the same reason as above AND because they artificially blunt the action of cortisol at the receptor level.

HOWEVER in reality they should actually train each muscle group LESS OFTEN.

Why? Because…

although their muscles recover faster their tendons do not. This, once again, increase the risk of injuries because as time goes by the muscles will get stronger while the tendons get progressively (and proportionally) weaker.

while the increased protein synthesis and glycogen storage will allow the muscle to do more work and recover faster, the nervous system will not recover any faster (in fact some steroids are psychostimulants that might even drain the nervous system even more during a training session). For that reason an enhanced lifter might miss the signs that it’s time to give the body a break: the muscles can still do the job, the lifter is still gaining strength and size… so he assumes that everything is fine. But the risk of chronic fatigue is quite real, he just doesn’t see it.

Basically… an enhanced lifter CAN train more often. But by doing so he is likely to do more harm than good, especially in the long run.

Not to mention that since AAS basically makes the lifter anabolic 24-7, he requires a lesser frequency of stimulation to gain size and strength, so training at a higher frequency is unecessary.

That’s why most pro bodybuilders train most muscle groups once a week. There are obviously exceptions, but most do. This doesn’t mean that because those guys are training like that that it is necessarily the best way for everybody to train. But for them it is: it’s the safest way for them to train and the one that allows them to take advantage of their capacity to tolerate more volume.

A natural lifter will be better off training each muscle group twice per week, sometimes 3 times per week (during specialization phases).

People think in extremes. That’s the problem. You tell them to get stronger and they start doing max singles and doubles every workout or do programs with limited movements in some arbitrary “strength rep range” and execute these movements by maximising leverages and drastically reducing ROM. “Hypertrophy training” is perceived as only doing 100 reps or triple dropsets for the pump without concern for progression.

Personally, I would say you need to “chase numbers”, but in a proper way like increasing your high bar squat in a moderate rep range or gradually increasing the weight used for an isolation exercise while maintaining the same quality of contraction. Obviously there are also various other ways to quantify progression but not doing this is probably one of the main reasons people who train with splits fail to get results.


@xXSeraphimXx CT has also written training advice right in line with what I wrote here, even in an article this past month or two.

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What I meant was chasing a number for a single or double or triple. When somebody does that, they (as you said):

I think we agree, and I simply didn’t make myself clear enough in my initial response.

Yeah I’m not really disagreeing with you haha.

I think in terms of social media and its influence, Layne Norton’s presence as a competitive bodybuilder AND powerlifter (he’s actually set records, very different from the local fat ass-clowns who claim being a PLer to explain their continual levels of pudge!) has seeped into the minds of aspiring bodybuilders in terms of striving for strength gains.

I’ve always stressed that the smartest thing I did as a bodybuilder was to stop chasing numbers, and not even worry about what I had done the week before in terms of # of reps because there were too many other variables at work. Of course having guys like Cordova let me know that they stopped doing certain “big movements” such as full deadlifts when they truly began “sculpting a physique”, only supported what I was already seeing on my own.

As to who to listen to,… maybe I’m becoming an angry old(er) man, but I don’t know if I’d even have that many names on who I would listen to. You know what I always say: It ain’t rocket science, but damn if you don’t need to complicate things to sell articles and training programs.


Good thread. It’s largely an offshoot of liking to do what you are good at. Even within a style of training most people fall into doing the reps/exercises/intensity/angles that they are good at. If you have worked hard and gotten good at the big 3, it’s hard to give that up even when you know it’s best for long term advancement. Every so often I will go to a much more ridged program that makes me do what I suck at and adjust absolutely nothing. If I let myself adjust things, I’ll fall into the same traps again. It’s why I’ve considered hiring a coach occasionally, so it’s all out of my hands. I’ll probably finally do it when I decide to really get lean.

this gets a big greasy thumbs up from me


Currently I’m at Skip Hill, Dante, Clay Hyght, Meadows and Starnes (honourable mention - Paul Carter).

I’m a fan of loads of others but those are my core for what my goals are. A lot of other trainers I listen to are focussed on other things, but I do still take something from their writings.

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I’m not a bodybuilder by any means, but am a big Skip Hill fan and read his articles as they come out (there was a new one today).

he used to be on an absolutely amazing podcast which I loved. It’s all new presenters now though and I’ve kind of lost interest.

I am a big 3dmj fan.

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