Maximal Strength Training for Bodybuilders – Q&A

Question: It’s hard for one to get bigger when their strength is the limiting factor. Eric Cressey once used an analogy of a cup with water in it. The water inside is your size, speed, endurance etc. but eventually the cup gets full and the only thing you can do to really progress is to increase the size of the glass – maximal strength.

However, I don’t think it would be a good idea (would it?) for a bodybuilder to start doing a powerlifter’s routine which focuses on just moving a weight from point A to point B.

So, my question is, how do you recommend a bodybuilder get stronger?


Answer: Yes and no.  How’s that for a useless answer?  Ok, let me make it less useless.

First off, I want to make the point that the primary stimulus for muscle growth is progressive tension overload; that is, you must subject a muscle to progressive overload (primarily in the form) of lifting more weight over time.   This is discussed in more detail in Reps Per Set for Optimal Growth.

Other factors such as volume/fatigue/work (and frequency) are clearly important but, simply, if you’re not getting stronger (and here I’m assuming that you’re not changing your form to handle more weight) over time, along with providing sufficient calories and building blocks, you’re not growing.

Quick note: this doesn’t mean you have to add weight at every workout which is the HIT fallacy.  Depending on your level of development, you might add weight every workout, you might stay at a given weight for 2-3 workouts or it might be 2-3 weeks before you can add weight in good form.  But, if over some reasonable time frame, your training weights aren’t increasing, you won’t be growing.  We’ve all seen guys handling the same weight for 6-12 months in the gym; that doesn’t get it done.


Getting Strong While Getting Lean – Q&A

Question: I need your help. I am 37 year-old female about 128 lbs. with my last bodyfat at 18.7%. I lift 3 days a week, two with a trainer (who refers to me as a hard gainer). He continues my workouts @ 15 reps per set for all body parts with a decent amt of weight. I have not been able to budge my lean body mass/bodyfat for months. My diet is fairly clean but erratic (night shift physician) and typically i fall off the wagon and binge on a very large meal every several days, not bad food but lots of it…My goal is 17%. Should I use the rapid fat loss plan for 10 days (category 1)? My trainer says I dont eat enough carbs and will never get bigger/stronger without more carbs in my diet….Thoughts? I know how busy you are, it would really help me to get your expert opinion.

Answer: Ok, there are really two issues at stake here. The first is that your trainer seems to be slightly clueless to the fact that gaining lots of muscle and strength is generally antithetical to the goal of getting lean. Can it be done? Sometimes. But for most people, picking one goal and then optimizing training and diet towards that goal generally works better than trying to do all things at once. Most people will simply end up spinning their wheels trying to do that.

Put differently, if you want to get lean, you’re going to have to accept that you may not make any strength gains, or that they will be small. Aim to maintain your current strength while leaning out. If you want to get big and strong, then dieting is not the way to do it. You should optimize your diet and training towards that goal.

Which brings me to problem two. I do not think you are a hardgainer; I think your trainer doesn’t know what he’s doing. Sets of 15 aren’t good for getting much stronger in the first place. Working in the 5-8 repetition range on heavy compound stuff with some supplemental work in high rep ranges works better. High rep sets have their place to be sure, getting really strong usually isn’t one of them. So my advice is this:

  • Pick a single goal and work towards it.
  • Find a trainer who knows what he’s doing when it comes to training.