T Nation

How to Gain Strength on Typical Bodybuilding Routines?


This probably sounds like a dumb question, but how do you guys go about gaining strength on a typical bodybuilding split routines? For example, I consider a typical chest workout to look something like:

Incline Barbell Bench: 4 x 6-12
Flat DB Bench: 4 x 8-12
Incline DB Flyes: 4 x 10-15 or whatever

When you first start lifting you could probably add weight and/or reps every workout, but I don't see how once you reach an intermediate level of strength you could expect to make linear strength gains like this. Most strength oriented routines usually have you working at a different percentage of your 1RM each week so you can continue to make strength gains without trying to add weight or reps every single time you do that exercise.

How do you guys go about continuing to get stronger once you've reached an intermediate or advanced level or strength when doing bodybuilding routines? Do you just keep hammering away at the same exercises and hoping that you'll eventually get stronger, or do you rotate different exercises (for example flat barbell bench to flat dumbbell bench) or do you change rep ranges?


Get a goal. Your answer will depend on that.

And I never use the word "Hoping".

Progress is not linear, so I don't stress on that.

If I wanted to get stronger, I would stop the BB routine and switch to a 5/3/1 type of work out. Once intermediate, you have knowledge (at least you should) to do a program that would suit your goal.


It's called hard work. See how your first exercise there says "incline bench 4x6-12"? That means we choose a weight at the beginning of the month or whatever that we can only get 6 repetitions with... then next time we do that exercise, we burst a blood vessel in our eyeball trying as hard as we can to get another rep or two. And we repeat that until we get the weight for 12 reps... then we add 10lbs or whatever it takes to come back down to 6.

Results in strength and size come because you push your body so hard that it's forced to increase it's limit a little every time you reach it. You don't get stronger because you did some magical percentage for a magical number of magic twinkle fairy reps.

My muscles: "Oh shit guys, we did exactly 3 sets of 5 repetitions at 87.5973% of our projected 1 rep maximum! That's the secret code for us to Grow!"

Yeah, no, I think not. If I lift as hard as I possibly can, and I've given my body the nutrients it needs to do so, it will be FORCED to adapt... otherwise, it knows the next time we do this it will literally break.


By far the best way I've found to increase strength is to keep a journal. Every time you step foot in the gym try to beat your previous records, even if its just by one rep. And gaining weight also helps a lot...


The other 2 posters above me pretty much nailed it, but I'll add a little more information which is what I think you are really asking:

It may not be realistic to expect and achieve strength gains EVERY workout. Dave Tate took 5 years to break a bench PR, and he knows a thing or two about adding some weight to the bar.

The key is the increase the weight, the reps, the intensity, the density, etc... OVER TIME, which is where the progress happens. It might take your body a few weeks, a few months, or even a few years if you get REALLY strong to lay down the new muscle and neural adaptations in order to lift more than the last time.

So for a standard BBing workout it might look like this over the coarse of a few months for the incline press

210x5 (had a bad day, missed meals, over trained, whatever it is)
210x9 (stuck with it for a month, got weaker for a small period of time, but over all became stronger)

Its like the stock market, there are going to be periods of amazing progress, some periods of decline, but the goal overall is to go up over years and years.


Ya I agree with this. I find if I don't keep track of an exercise with a log book it pretty much gaurantees I won't make progress on that lift. Since I've started doing more of a bodybuilding style split I've been keeping track of the first two exercises of the workout in my log book and then after that I just do whatever else exercises I feel like doing and don't keep track of them. Its worked good on some lifts,(in the last 8 weeks my trap bar deadlifts went from 455 x 10 to 500 x 12, lat pull downs 200 x 8 to 220 x 9, dips BW + 70 x 8 to BW + 100 x 6) but other exercises not so much.

Do you guys ever deload on an exercise thats stuck? Say for example over the course of 3 months you've brought your incline bench from 225 x 8 to 276 x 6 and the last couple of workouts you've been stuck at the same weight and reps, so you bring the weight back to say 250 and slowly work your way back up in weight with the idea that you should blast past your last sticking point of 275 x 6 before you get stuck again?


I am certainly not advanced by any means but you can increase your workout density, do the same amount of work (intensity and reps) in less time.


Thats one option. Consider things like form and speed as well. Are you able to lift the weight without struggling as much? Are you able to lift it faster? These are both signs of improvement without actually lifting more weight. If other indicators of strength are going up I would stick there and try to get more reps out of it.

Also, consider what other muscles are being used in the lift and target those to bring them up. Or maybe you are tiring your assisting muscles out before you get to the main lift (not saying you are since you mentioned being a first lift, but things to consider for others and in your overall program design)

Thirdly, Consider doing something like what CT advocates and ramp up in sets of 3, then 2, then 1. This should put you well beyond your current load of 275 which has many benefits, psychological and physical, and is a nice change of pace every once in a while.


I agree with this, I recently just started doing it and wish I had started earlier.




Sometimes with compound lifts, it can get a bit "stale" (for want of a better word) using the same reps each week. So if you've stagnated with a certain rep range (e.g. 3-6 reps for deadlifts), switching to a high[er] rep range or vice versa often helps. IMO, this is almost like a deload; it's just a way of progressing without having to lesson total workload.

Doing that ^, and periodically mixing lower volume training when needed (either less sets and/or workouts per week) for a week or whatever often helps you bounce back and make decent progress again.

Most importantly though (something MANY forget), muscles won't get much stronger/bigger past a certain point if you aren't gaining weight. Have you set your goals firmly in mind? Or are you undecided and subconsciously swaying between dieting and bulking (ie just maintaining going back and forth)?


When you stall change exercise.


To add a bit, straight from the man himself, Dorian Yates:

"Training Journal

That leads us to what I feel is one of the most valuable tools in creating perfect workouts, the training log. I used my journal to write down goals and workouts every day from when I began bodybuilding in 1984 to the day I retired after the 1997 Mr. Olympia. Every month in the off-season, I would choose about 10 key exercises like the incline barbell press, barbell row, leg press and so on and set a goal for how much stronger I wanted to be in a monthâ??s time.

In addition to writing down all my workouts, I entered my meals and even my energy levels and moods. Every so often I would go back and study these pages, looking for trends. If I noticed that something was producing results, I kept it. If something else didnâ??t seem to be effective, I discarded it. This allowed me to gain a much better understanding of the various foods, exercises, techniques and so on that my particular body responded best to, so I could fine-tune my entire program."

what I do:

1) monthly weight and strength goals
2) yearly weight and strength goals
3) meticulous log book
4) visualization
5) some other stuff, but i think 1 through 3 are most important.