T Nation

Strength Training to Bodybuilding?

I’ve been strength training for about 6-7 years now. Low reps, all compound lifts(isolation very rarely), lots of advanced periodization, yada-yada. Now that I’m 30 years old, looking at my physique, I feel a little disappointed considering how much work I’ve done.
My question is, have I been steered wrong with the whole “get stronger and you’ll get bigger” concept? I like getting strong and all but I look pretty scrubby compared to these bro-split “pump” bros.
Will moving moving onto a high volume, high rep, routine with added isolation like DoggCrapp or PHAT actually pack some muscle on or am I dreaming(considering I’m hitting my macros)? Thanks, dudes.

Couple of questions.

Why didn’t you include isolation work?

What are your lifts?

How much weight have you gained over the seven years and how much of this is fat? How often do you run hypertrophy blocks? What are your current numbers concerning your lifts? Macro intake and are you in a kcal surplus? What programs have you been running also? Another question to ask would be are you using steroids also? This would make a big difference in how you should be training to gain mass.

What do you consider Low rep work? Most guys do get bigger if they get stronger …Its normally the case if your getting stronger in a medium rep range. My favorite example if a guy goes from Benching 225 x10 to 315 X 10 its going to be a given hes gotten bigger in those muscle groups. Normally low rep below a certain level doesn’t due a whole lot for Hypertrophy gains in my opinion.

I guess the big question is what is your current strength level and your height and weight? Pretty much all you have told doesn’t supplies enough info for shit.

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Depends on 1) nutrition levels and 2) strength levels.

If you’re not eating enough it doesn’t matter how you train. That’s why weight class athletes control their diets.

If your consideration of “strong” is say a 350-400 lb deadlift max, then you really aren’t that strong.

If on the other hand you are TRULY strong, then gaining muscle will be a relative breeze given enough food and time to adapt to the training regimens. Guys like Amit Sapir and others that come from strength based weight class sports (his case olympic lifting) can add asinine amounts of muscle by focusing on pure bodybuilding and volume. They can do this–natural or enhanced–specifically because their very high levels of max strength relative to their body weight mean that their nervous system is extremely efficient at lifting heavy loads…and therefore they can lift “bodybuilding weight” for more reps. For example, if a guy can clean and jerk 450, then he will be able to do more weight in strict presses or push presses or even lateral raises for sets of 10-12 than a guy who always did bodybuilding style work. If a guy can squat or deadlift 600 x 2, then he has no problem repping out 400 and will have a large growth potential

So, it depends.

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About two years ago I made a similar transition for the same reason, from mostly focusing on compound movements with little isolation to a more bodybuilding style to improve my physique. Now, I start each workout with a compound movement in a lower rep range (low for bodybuilding style, 5-8), but then transition to more into isolation movements and focus on using a weight that allows me to maximize tension in the working muscle, and less focus on how much weight I’m using. this article “Why Bodybuilders Are More Jacked Than Powerlifters”, peaked my interest and got me more into bodybuilding, ultimately to the point of competing.

Every four weeks or so I will have a week focused more on strength, including lower rep compound movements, sets of 3-4, and not much isolation work. It is extremely important to keep these lifts in the program and keep improving strength.

I think it’s very important to recognize that this is not an “either-or” situation. You don’t need to pick between “bro-splits” as you say and lifting heavy. The vast majority of successful bodybuilders all have heavy compound movements in their program, improving strength is an important part of training.

@Aragorn hit a very good point here. Since you have a foundation in strength training, you should be able to make visible progress sooner than later with more bodybuilding style training. I was able to see results pretty quickly, my training buddies could too.

It’s also important to note that bodybuilding style doesn’t mean “high rep, high volume”. The best programs are well rounded, include heavy compound movements and a variety of rep ranges. Some of my sets are 5-8 reps, some 8-10, some 15-20 and then you have drop sets or extended sets sometimes which can total a couple of minutes of TUT.

To answer your question, YES, training in this manner will absolutely add muscle mass and develop your physique. But it will take time and consistency, a well balanced program and very consistent nutrition. You’re certainly not wrong that getting stronger will make you bigger, but if you’re not doing some higher rep, isolation type movements geared towards hypertrophy, you won’t have the physique that your “bro split” buddies do. The best thing I think, if physique improvement is your goal, is to incorporate your strength training into a hypertrophy focused training program.

I VERY highly recommend CT’s Indigo Training Programs, the “hypertrophy” program. It’s an incredible combination of strength and hypertrophy, and every workout starts out with compound lifts. Here are the programs.


Very very good post by @robstein. I totally agree and that’s one thing I was trying to get across. Very few pure strength athletes use ONLY strength movements with zero hypertrophy or conditioning work. Even the majority of powerlifters do hypertrophy assistance work–the primary difference being that their hypertrophy training is geared directly at muscle groups that will help their total the most rather that visual proportion, symmetry, or aesthetics. About the only people I can think of that don’t do “assistance work” are olympic lifters, because the lifts are so specific. And even then, a lot of them do it. Not all, and not in the same way as physique oriented people, but a lot of them do some.

Definitely. I really like the way he laid those programs out. I was one of the lab rats for the indigo trials and I loved the program and my results. The design of those things actually influenced a lot of my program designs in years afterwards in overall philosophy as well as those I give my clients. The other one that comes to mind is Mountain Dog style training or CT’s layer approach. Both of them are layered approaches actually just with a different context.

@Aragorn and @robstein, great comments guys, very information, even for people other than the OP!

I was wondering if either of you had any experience with the Reactive Pump Program by John Meadows?

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@Aragorn great post, great info! That’s amazing man that you trialed the program! Can you give us some insight as to what I was like training and trialing the Indigo plans?

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@littlesleeper, glad to help!

I don’t have experience with the Reactive Pump program itself, but John Meadows is a large influence on me and I have used his training philosophy and methods a significant amount. I personally love the style and his emphasis on getting a pump and then doing explosive or high intensity on top of it. Very good for mass, also in general friendly for joints compared to alternatives. In this sub-forum I have no real reservations about saying ‘go for it’ except just to make sure you can handle the volume and intensity. I wouldn’t say it’s a great beginner program, due mostly to a bunch of stuff people won’t need for a couple years when starting out. Most beginners lack coordination and balance with weights, and haven’t learned out to properly generate tons of tension with their body (actually I know a lot of intermediates that can’t do that either).

Since the ability to really lock into a feeling and lock down on high tension techniques is integral, it doesn’t fit a beginner’s needs.

As an aside, you can see the powerlifting influence on the program because the emphasis on tension during execution–though playing out in a bodybuilding program with BB style reps and drop sets and such–is definitely influenced from Meadows powerlifting experience and time trading ideas with the guys at Westside.

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Frankly…awesome haha. It was a significant shift from my normal training due to the volume–I was training very powerlifting and WSB oriented at the time. So, there was volume but it wasn’t really anywhere close to what you see in the Indigo programs there. And it was more geared around P-chain assistance and main lifts rather than a bodybuilding style spread of volume. So looking at the program my first thought was “holy fuck! I hope I can do these lifts” because I was seeing the high frequency strength lifts through the eyes of a powerlifter going “5 sets of 4 BEFORE my workout?! Get the fuck outta here, I’ll be dead!” lol.

It wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought. CT said numerous places on here–though it has probably been swallowed by the internet and mass of new information since–that those high frequency lifts aren’t true percentages (i.e. you’re not really lifting your 3 rep max training percentage). They’re meant to be challenging but not all out–he wants them to be non-grinders.

I did a specific program geared around increasing my bench press, which has always sucked for me compared to my lower body lifts and back exercises like dumbbell rows. So mine was a hybrid and took a Sheiko style frequency program for my bench press…but with bodybuilding volume and variety! It was brutal and awesome, and I ended up benching 450 for the first time ever (I was below 400 when I began the program).

The Indigo helped a lot. I was unprepared for the volume because and although I was using peri-workout nutrition (this was before Plazma) my body still hated me some lol. Indigo is one of the few supplements I can say really work fantastically…IF you’re willing to put in the hard intense work and not mail shit in or cheat on your nutrition. Don’t take that to mean I am anti-supplement, I’m not. I loooove supplements, and there are tons that work. But there aren’t a whole lot of “holy shit” experiences with them. It was an eye-opener and Indigo remains one of my favorites (I also recommend it to my athletes). Indigo + MicroPA is fantastic if you’re willing to spend the money. Obviously we’re not all rolling in dough–I’m certainly not–so budget decisions take priority, but as long as I have the money I make room to grab it.

A true wealth of knowledge! I am currently finishing week 2 of the Reactive Pump program. I would like to consider myself an intermediate lifter, although that is a common self-diagnosis it seems. I too, have been greatly influenced by John Meadows which is what led me to attempt this program. So far I am really enjoying his training methods in this program, and I have never torched my rear delts like I have in these past two weeks!

I’m going to continue this program for awhile and see what kind of progress I’m able to make. Definitely easier on my CNS and my shoulder/elbow/knee pain/discomfort has basically disappeared.

I appreciate the thorough response!

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That’s a very common outcome haha.

His rear delt destroyer sets are some of my absolute favorites. Swings for shoulders have been a tool in my roolbox for a very long time now

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Aragorn, I’m having a hard time keeping up with the great info you are posting everywhere lately.


Hah! Well thank you. I go in spurts. For a long time now I have essentially confined my posting to PWI–not out of any particular goal or anything, mostly just out of boredom and the fact that between my two career paths (research and strength coaching) I find less of a desire to post on topics I am working with daily. I am trying to get better with it, because I do love helping people and I do love talking training–I think similar to the phenomenon of “decision fatigue” where you reach a point of apathy after constantly having to be on high alert and problem solving, I have been experiencing a comparable phenomenon with posting about training for the past year and some.

I’ve been on these forums so long now that I don’t post as often (I remember this site before there was a forum…)

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When I first got here, I hardly ever saw you post. Everybody else knew you had O.G. status, but I thought you were just some dude who like hobbits.

But anyway, from how your weak glutes make your belly stick out to learning cleans, how high to step up on step ups, or generating full body tension for your curls, and on and on. I’ve been nodding my head in agreement a lot.

Its cool to see years of experience with different stuff, coming together.

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Probably true…

“Is it secret? Is it safe??”

Anyway, appreciate it man. I had nobody to help me in learning all this stuff where I lived, so I had to dig deep in about every way I could and the one thing about doing that is that you end up learning a lot of random shit. If I only knew then what I know now… lol.

I just like this stuff. If I’m not in the lab I’m thinking about training or nutrition in some regard

I remember thinking the same thing. This was the first program I ever did stepping foot in the gym for the first time, so although I thought it was a lot, I kind of didn’t know any better and just rolled with it. But, this also got me used to high volume workouts, mentally and physically, right from the start.

These programs are brilliantly designed and give a great foundation of strength with the compound movements. They’re also extremely educational and a great learning experience, if one can check their ego at the door and concentrate on meeting the numbers. There’s a huge variety of rep ranges and sets within the progression of each 4 week phase, and the total 12 week program in general. You learn about your own strength curve, what it feels like to work in different rep ranges, how to pace yourself through a long workout, etc.

It really shows the efficacy of the program considering how it can be applied by an experienced lifter like yourself and how is increased your strength and performance, or a newbie as I was, it really taught me the basics of how to train.

Agreed totally! It’s hard to pick my “favorite” supplements from Biotest as I feel they really are the best of the best, but when forced to choose, Indigo and Micro-PA are the top for me, and of course Plazma, though at the time when the Indigo projects came out, I don’t think Plazma was out yet, so I followed the Surge during and Mag-10 post protocol.

Definitely, I think there’s a general misconception about supplements that just take them and watch the magic happen. Supplements are meant to be, for lack of a better word, supplementary to an already established, consistent, training and nutrition plan. No doubt Indigo shines when all of that is in order. Similarly, Micro-PA does the same when applied correctly, really adjusting the training style to more of a bodybuilding method, lots of slow negatives, TUT, strip sets and the like, allowing it to function as it’s meant to. I noticed significant results even just within a month of starting it.

Awesome info man thanks for enlightening us!

Great info mate. Loved the post but wanted to pick this out in particular:

Rant: I am a huge, huge believer that newbies get thrown the wrong information about volume training and over training. I see it all the time on this forum’s Beginners area and other forums. People in general get really paranoid about over training because they’ve been sold a bill of goods. And, in addition, their nutrition sucks the whole week, and it sucks even harder around training time.

Over-training is a real thing. You really have to manage your recovery. And yeah, it’s very true that there are people who haven’t been conditioned to handle higher volume training. But that’s all not the same thing as being a pussy about volume. Most experienced lifters think this way because their nutrition sucks and their recovery work sucks and their peri-workout nutrition doesn’t even fucking exist except to take a preWO stim and think they’re covered.

Thing is, most NEW people make this mistake unintentionally because they’ve been told they’ll over train. Of course, when you’re new you don’t know who or what to listen to, and you don’t know how to determine things easily on your own, so you are really vulnerable to this sort of advice. I hate the Starting Strength program. Hate it. It’s a strength program not a hypertrophy program, first. Second it leaves gaping holes in development. Third and most importantly it ingrains the idea that you can’t do a lot of work in a training session or it will be counterproductive. The first two items are forgivable because depending on one’s goals and experience these don’t have to be problems–there are situations where both are fine.

The last one though is awful. It starts like that and if not checked it culminates in a belief that everybody who does volume training or trains more often than you must be on drugs or genetically gifted. Newbies don’t have the ability to damage themselves through overtraining as easily as more advanced lifters…they suck at coordination and their bodies don’t have access to all the muscle fiber recruitment higher level guys do. If anything they should be able to handle moderate volume training easier than very strong individuals.