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Is Heavy Shoulder Work Necessary for Size?

Do you need to do heavy shoulder work to maximize growth? Do you need to do heavy overhead presses or db overhead presses or is metabolic stress enough to maximize shoulder growth?

If your main goal is size and that you don’t care about strength, “heavy” is never “necessary”. Meaning that it is quite possible to increase muscle mass without heavy lifting.

And that is coming from someone who loves heavy lifting.

In fact both Paul and I used to be heavy lifters first and foremost and then we started using more metabolic stress work.

I feel that a general program of progressive overload is useful when building a strong foundation. And most very muscular guys have at least some experience lifting decent weights on big compound lifts before they switch to more “pump” work.

Both approaches work, they have their own pros and cons and the one you are more motivated by should be your main approach but you should use the other one from time to time too.


In short, no. Heavy is not necessary to stimulate growth.

The main benefit of lifting heavy is ‘strength gains’, gym goers hoping to increase strength will lean towards lifting heavy to increase overall strength, not to say that it doesn’t increase mass.

Really to increase size, It depends on a number of factors, yes lifting heavy will help increase mass, but It really comes down to you. For example, overhead press, lets say your 1 - 3rep max is 25kg each hand, this for strength gains is very affective but to tear the muscle fibers, not so much. Instead of a 1 - 3 rep range of 25kg, you could do 22.5kg and do 8 reps, thus giving the muscle ample time and enough motion to actually tear the muscle fibers. Making sure that the 22.5kgs still puts strain on your lifting capabilities, meaning that it is still heavy enough for you to feel the burn and struggle some what on the last rep or two.

By the way, this here is my personal opinion and preference, this method could work differently for certain people, but I assume, generally, this is the main idea of most bodybuilders. Phil Heath is an advocate for this method as well.

This method will also not fully deplete ATP stores as opposed to full blown 1 - 3 rep max, thus having energy left over to do more exercises.

Does this apply to every body part, such as Chest, Back, Arms, legs? Is it not necessary to go below 6 reps for any exercise? Thanks!

heavy work = myofibrillar hypertrophy* (the results are more time consuming. But by ceasing training for long periods, months, and years, I believe that muscle is harder to lose.)

light work, pump = sarcoplasmic hypertrophy* (the results appear faster, but are lost equally fast. stay a few days without exercise, the muscle becomes “smaller”)

That has been debunked in recent years. There is no difference in the “type” of hypertrophy with the various types of training. The belief in two types of hypertrophy came from the fact that one (heavier weights) came with a significant strength gain and the other (pump) didn’t. So people started to hypothesize that it was due to different types of hypertrophy (sarcomere vs. sarcoplams then fast twitch fibers vs. slow twitch). But several studies using muscle biopsies founds that the type of hypertrophy was the same with 30% or 80%.

The difference in strength gains came from neurological adaptations.

BY THE WAY… don’t feel bad about talking about sarcoplasmic vs. sarcomere hypertrophy. For many years it was believed to be accurate. I even wrote about it in my earliest book (but that was more than 17 years ago) and so did Pr. Zatsiorsky in his great book… but recent data showed that it wasn’t true.

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This is from Dr. Stuart Phillips who is a leading reseacher on hypertrophy. I correspond frequently with him and he is a great source of objective info.

Sarcoplasmic vs. Myofibrillar hypertrophy… perhaps you’ve heard those terms and even read information from some guru who says there are different types of ‘hypertrophy’. This is unadulterated garbage and basically anyone who has ever taken a course in muscle physiology, exercise physiology, and knows a little biochemistry would tell you so. The amount of myofibrillar protein in skeletal muscle fibre remains remarkably constant! There are no examples of where a muscle fibre hypertrophies with resistance training and the myofibrillar pool doesn’t grow but the sarcoplasm does! The occasional example of a discordance between hypertrophy and strength gain (for example http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22518835) is not, no matter what the pundits think, due to a ‘sarcoplasmic’ hypertrophy in the low-load condition. The obvious explanation is a neuromuscular training-zone specific strength response in the low vs. the high load groups - muscle/exercise physiology 101.

Similarly, I’ve heard some say that blood flow restriction (BFR) training leads only to ‘sarcoplasmic’ hypertrophy… it’s a myth! Hypertrophy, when it happens is due to expansion of the myofibrillar protein pool. For people who think that your fibres can grow (not transiently due to fibre swelling - a short-lived phenomenon) by expanding their sarcoplasm are incorrect. If this happened the energetics of the fibre would be a complete mess due to greatly, on a relative scale, increases in intracellular distances for chemical reactions… like propagation of the electrical impulse from a t-tubule to the SR to cause contraction!

So the next time you hear someone spouting off about sarcoplasmic hypertrophy you can tell them, with confidence, that no such thing exists! It’s a construct of bodybuilding forums… hypertrophy is hypertrophy and strength is strength. There’s no difference between the hypertrophy you get with one routine versus the next!


and what motivates a person to keep muscles longer by stopping training for a long period? taking into consideration that he trained heavy ?!

it is common to see comments that people who train “pump” need to be always training, otherwise the muscle is lost quickly.

I remember seeing a scientific study done on birds proving the veracity of myofibrillar vs. sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. “Okay, we’re not birds or rats.”

I’ll find it if I find it here.

so we were born with X amounts of fibers and died with the same amount, regardless of training? hypertrophy happens only in sarcoplasm?

No… hypertrophy happens in sarcomeres. Sarcoplasm is the “fluid/non contractile” part of the muscle.

We growth by making the sarcomere bigger.

We can increase the number of fibers (hyperplasia) by dividingour existing fibers. But this happens only in extreme cases.

if everything is a question of sarcomero increase, as it is the history that it is necessary to break the fibers, microlesions and after the repairs, for overcompensation for a bigger fiber, bigger muscle.

and what is the reason for a muscle that has become bigger, to spend more energy, calories …?! although the calorie expenditure is little increased, I do not see much sense in just increasing the sarcomero cause a greater consumption.

I’m sure you’ve already witnessed with your field experience, people who train with heavy weights, after being absent from training for long periods, hold more muscle than a pump workout.

even at super low levels of body fat, “heavyweights” have the appearance of higher density, rock.

I take everything into consideration here only for natural individuals. For we know that with drugs there are certain “miracles” that are not part of human nature.

would the “culprit” be hyperplasia? in which being possible to occur only with heavy training ??

(No need to download)

I leave here an interesting “conclusion” of several scientific studies related to hypertrophy and hyperplasia.

It’s in Portuguese. (use a google translator)

The sources, bibliographical references of the studies are at the bottom of the page.

Most of the studies done on hyperplasia find loaded stretching or longer duration work (the studies done on swimmers for example) to be the main factor in hyperplasia.

As for pump or heavy work, I’ve honestly seen it both ways. Guys who lift heavy who maintain more muscle but also the other way around. Those who lift heavier maintain strength more, but mostly because of neurological adaptations.

Another thing to consider is that many of those naturally attracted by heavy lifting are genetically built for that type of work: they are naturally bigger, stronger and have more fast twitch fibers. As such, these guys maintain muscle mass more easily. But is it because of their training style OR because they would have been bigger and more muscular anyway due to their genetics?


Does this apply for arms and back as well? My initial question was about heavy lifting for shoulders, but do you need to do heavy lifting to get big arms (chin ups, heavy bench) and to get a big back? Or is pump work and some sets in the 8-10 rep range sufficent for mamimum size?

I do not know anything else! haha

if any muscular increase is only a sarcomere and in a smaller scale hyperplasia.

and if any increase of force happens only by neurological adaptations …

why the divisions of categories exist by weight ??? example: boxing, ufc, Powerlifting …

Now, if this force is only connected with neurological adaptations, what is the reason a lightweight person never competes with a heavyweight person ???

Neurological adaptation does not involve size. But I’ve never seen a lightweight that has more strength than a heavyweight.

it is normal for a person to achieve a certain level of strength. And for years to be stagnant. And by increasing your body weight, (bigger muscles) your strength also increases.

When a person wants to climb category in a sport, it increases the weight, hypertrophy and together comes the increase in strength.

Because, physics. Force=mass x acceleration

I think you are oversimplifying what CT was saying earlier here.

A person with 100 pounds of muscle stimulated at 70% neurological efficiency is still weaker than if they add 10 pounds of muscle but dont get any more efficient at stimulating that muscle.

That precisely WHY they have weight classes. At the upper echelons of strength sports the neurological efficiency is mostly maxed out (can only get to 100%, right)? so if you have 2 people within 3-5% of each other efficiency wise, you dont want one of them to have a 30 pound advantage

CT has an article on the 4 ways to increase strength here: https://www.t-nation.com/training/the-4-paths-to-strength