T Nation

For Those Who Switched From Mainly Heavy Lifting


It seems a common trend among bodybuilders is that they say they used to just lift to lift more weight but then they started working more on "focusing on the muscle", squeezing, sculpting etc. but having said that it seems like most big guys got almost all of their size from getting very strong while gaining weight. Of course we all know thats one of the most important factors but I would probably say in my experience its been on of the only factors.

I've been reading a lot more competition threads lately and for all but a few it seems like these guys look pretty much the same year after year and at least 90% of their muscular size came from before they started competing and just got big from the heavy lifting (and unfortunately has given me sort of a reality check on whats possible for the average natural). I know countless non muscular guys using all the squeezing/feeling the muscle/intensity techniques but I've never seen a really big lifter who wasn't strong as hell and almost always put most of that size on just lifting heavy. I've mentioned this in a couple threads but personally I have only gotten bigger when getting stronger (I'm talking about for reps here) and when I have spent time with no net muscle gains it was a period with no net strength gains.

I'm also talking about naturals for the most part here, obviously anabolics can allow a lot of growth without much increase in strength.

Thoughts on all the talk about feeling/squeezing/etc.? Or on the potential of naturals to gain much muscle size after they've gotten near their peak strength levels and switch over to more of these so called bodybuilding techniques?


Train the muscle, not the movement. That's the common phrase isn't it? I know I disagree with several other posters on here because from a 'strength' perspective muscle does indeed know how it is being trained. This is the specificity of strength training, meaning leg extension strength won't transfer to squat strength.

However, growth involves different physiological mechanisms, so then it seems to come down to how load is applied throughout the range of motion. Exercises where load is continually applied throughout the range of motion tend to be better overall for growth, hence why leg extensions aren't typically accepted as being good for quad growth (variable tension throughout ROM compared to other exercises where rec fem dominates through parts, then quads through other parts) as compared to squats.

For a bodybuilding perspective, simply focussing on 'strength' is kindof missing the point. Growth involves many other variables within exercise choice (not including the issues of nutrition etc).

I think the assumption in your second question is that reaching peak strength (for a natural lifter) is correlated with peak muscle size. I don't think this is the case at all (in the context of more experienced lifters).


Excellent question and one ive considered for while. Do you think the potential of naturals who have reached maximum strength switch to muscle feeling/connection exercises before attempting to reach maximum strength in a wide range of exercise variations? Or have they reached maximum strength in say the big 3?Maybe muscle gains could be continued to be made by experienced lifters while still training to reach maximum strength if the range of exercises and varitions of base exercises (bench,deadlifts,squats,chins) was expanded and therefore created new stimulus?


this si something i've wondered about a lot. waiting for stu, paragon, modok to chime in...


(^^^to name a few)


I am DEFINITELY not one of the top guys on this site but I will say that you NEED to build a good level of strength before you start to focus on the "squeezing/sculpting/whatever"

do you think holding a 3 second pause/squeeze with the 15lb DB's is going to build 18" arms?

do you think repping out DB Incline presses, using slow controlled eccentric's, with 45lb DB's is going to build a chest worth a second glance?

You HAVE to build a good strength level before you can do anything else, in my opinion

Also... what the hell do you look like OP. I've seen you post a lot of questions threads and I've never seen a pic of you that I can recall. Just curious to see what you look like after these years


Stop it, in my head, the avvie is the OP.

Hey now, I'm doing 45s on the incline. I'm gettin' there dammit

Getting back to the topic, I looked at a lot of training videos the past week and concluded that for some exercises I'm going to have to cut down on the weight and do exactly what I see the people who look better than me doing. For example, I was doing 90# on the hamstring curls for 12 reps, I think I'm going to change that to 60# for 15-20 reps. During the sets, imagining the video of the chick who had some awesome hamstrings in my mind.

Clay spoke about this a little in this article, point 6:

What I gather is you just keep doing your thing with the BB until you see that one of your lifts is weaker, train to get it stronger.


I spent many MANY years in the 'I gotta get stronger before I'll be bigger' mode. In that time, while I did put on some size, the majority of my gains were what you would expect,... in strength. What happened when I made the choice to focus more on 'working the muscle', was that my already built up strength levels allowed me to work with a heavier weight than someone who had only been training a short while would have been able to use.

Now, I do not believe that you must train exclusively for strength gains in order to induce hypertrophy, but at certain levels of development (beginner, and intermediate trainers), this is the simplest method of gauging progress. Sadly, as this is the only measurement tool most people use, it is what leads to 'chasing numbers' and simply 'moving weights' without actually producing any muscle gains along the way.

It was my realization that chasing numbers was not creating the physique I wanted, and more than likely, was contributing to my constantly aching joints, that allowed me to not just move from gym rat to competitive bodybuilder, but to actually LOOK the part.

The best advice I can give, and I know this is echoed in every magazine, book, article, and yet people still ignore it, is to lift as heavy as you can, while keeping good form, and keeping stress on the muscle. In my book, 'Benching' 4 plates by bouncing it up and locking your arms to rest between reps ain't going to create the same effect as benching 3 plates a side, with a non-lockout, explosive concentric/resisting eccentric approach. You will get stronger over time regardless, so choosing to ignore muscle stress from the get go is sort of shooting yourself in the foot in terms of holding back hypertrophy.



I would say that you don't make muscular gains without progressive overload. In that sense, getting stronger is the driving force behind getting bigger, but it needs to be said that simply lifting more weight from point A to point B is not the same as lifting more weight while fully stretching and contracting the target muscle group.

Now with the advent of anti-bodybuilding strength training forums and youtube, there is no shortage of examples of guys that made their way to a 315-405 bench press for reps, or a 405-495 squat while never gaining enough muscular size to look big, because their only goal in training was to use more poundage.

And then of course you will find guys that want to be bodybuilders, who understand that weight is secondary (not necessarily to "form", but to using the muscle), benching 275-315 with far bigger chests and better bodies than those mentioned above.


This, if you want a body part to grow you're going to need to get stronger. I think a lot of times people bunch themselves into two different groups "strength or hypertrophy" training, they're not exclusive.

Continue to add weight to the bar, use different rep ranges, use as much volume as you can handle and eat like a mofo and you'll grow, don't over complicate it.


It's all important, but it's ridiculous to think that heavy lifting isn't what builds muscle.

I personally feel you can get the best of both worlds by ramping. On the lighter sets you can hit that 8 - 12 rep range and squeeze the hell out of the target muscle, but when you get to your top set with brutal weight you may only get 3 or 4 reps, and feeling the muscle may go out the window just to get the weight up.

Really, it's important for people to find out what works FOR THEM. In my case, I do incorporate drop sets, lighter weight & higher rep sets as well as some other techniques.

However, getting brutally strong on the basics will add size to your ass as long as you eat to support it. Don't minimize the importance of that....


I've heard other people say the same thing. But the thing is, why would "squeezing/stretching the muscles" with 40lb dumbbells for flyes provide any better growth for a very developed muscle than doing the same with 15lb dumbbells for a new trainer. It seems like its more accepted that its OK when one is stronger, but I can't really see it contributing more growth relative to his overall growth than the same for a new trainer ya know?

Stu am I correct in thinking that the below pics are before your switch to more bodybuilding type training?


This brings up an important distinction I may not have made clear. I do not mean that one should get "stronger" by any means possible through making their form worse. I do see benching 315 with a controlled eccentric, explosive eccentric, squeeze, etc. being better than unracking 405, letting it fall to your chest with a huge bounce lifting your ass off the bench and getting it up with assistance. I believe that control should be used since momentum and the like are not the muscles working. BUT my point is I believe with the first method the goal is to get stronger with that form. 30lb increase on bench using that form vs. 30lb increase using a drop and bounce will in my opinion result in more growth for sure. What I'm talking about is guys who were benching 350 for reps, then dropped it and now just do lighter weight, machines, flyes, etc. just focusing on intensity techniques and the like....how much additional muscle are these guys putting on really? Stu even mentioned in his thread that when he switched out heavy incline benching for incline DB flyes or bench (I don't remember which) he not only didn't gain size there but actually lost some upper chest mass. This does, however, seem to contradict his overall training methodology as mentioned above.

Good thoughts on it, that could probably turn "1 top set" into 2-3 top/working sets if those 2nd and 3rd to last sets are using a form that makes it significantly harder.


Although I am young and still figuring this out/in the heavy lifting gaining phase you described above, I think I can give some ideas.

In my experience, it's very important to keep compound movements in your routine for each bodypart and constantly strive to progress whether it be more sets, weight, etc. Since there are ways to improve other than just adding more weight, I think this can be done effectively at many ages/experience levels.

I also think that it's important to include lifts/exercises in your training that focus on 'feeling' the muscle working, holding at the contraction and really squeezing to get a strong mind muscle connection. I have really put a lot more effort into including these movements in my training, and I really think that focusing on the mind muscle connection on these smaller exercises has not only helped me bring them up, but also helped me learn how to activate the target muscles better on big compound movements.

I think it's important to keep lifting heavy so you don't lose that edge in the gym also. We can sometimes get so caught up in the mind muscle connection, that we forget to add weight and consequently get weaker or lose some of that density that comes with heavy lifting. Overall, as we get older and more experienced, I think finding a good balance between the two is most beneficial, and making sure to do both in your routines is key to making progress.


PUMPED: The white tank top shot is after I had stopped chasing numbers and actually thought specifically if what I was doing was going to help me each my goal,.. namely stimulating muscle growth (and yes, I obviously had put on a decent amount of 'bulk' since starting out at 150 lbs). An old friend of mine (who was a huge mofo at about 280 lbs) used to say that He'd much rather LOOK like he could bench 500 lbs than to actually BE able to do it. That about sums up bodybuilding training for me.



For me it boils down pretty simply. I can use more weight and have my form looser or I can lower the weight and make sure I have a strong MMC the entire time I am performing the exercise. For BBing purposes the latter is always more effective IMO but that doesn't mean you should stop focusing on progressing the weight.


That's exactly where I have landed. Made the best size gains of my life when I stopped focusing on how much weight was on the bar and just aimed for 10 reps, lots of sets, multiple exercise per bodypart and each bodypart twice per week (Serge Nubret style training).


You can always lie about how much weight you can lift, but you can't lie about how good you look.



I think when it comes to ADVANCED body building where you have already laid the foundation and gained 50+ pounds over your starting weight and realistically you arent going to making HUGE muscular gains anymore, and to create a body building look instead of the look of someone who is just bull strong, you start to think in terms of things like:

1 - My shoulders are good, but I need more rear deltoid development. Instead of more and heavier presses maybe some rear flies would work better for that specific area.

2 - My Arms are good, but the long head of my tricep needs to come out more. I'll switch in some rope push downs instead of doing more close grip bench work.

etc, etc, etc... Until you have a program that has swapped out a number of "money" exercises and has more and more of these "refinement" exercises.

Many body builders still keep the big exercises in (Think Coleman squating/deadlifting/inclining huge numbers) but on top of them use the smaller exercises to really create "the look" where everything is developed to the max.


Bingo.. I think when you have added most of the mass that you can add on to your body, and you have reached the point of diminishing returns, one may decide that that mass is better put to use on your rear delts or your calves.. therefore, the compounds lifts may start to fade to the background in favor of pre-exhaust or the pump or whatever advanced technique helps you feel specific muscles better that may be lagging or not to your full potential..

This is also why I think people on 5x5 and 3x5 programs have undesirable techniques.. or at least unshapely.. no homo lol