Select Page

Defending Bodybuilding Bodypart Training Methodology – Part TWO


1Last week I discussed part 1 of this two-part article.

From strength training experts to powerlifters to functional training advocates I’m sick and tired of reading and hearing, “Looks like Tarzan, trains like Jane.

It's misguided for so many reasons.

The first time I saw this line, it was originally for discussing training for athletic improvement. It’s now devolved into a line several writers just want to throw into an article or book with no relevant point to make, except to insult and attack bodybuilders.

I know a few people who have used this line and they couldn’t carry my gym bag for a week. And what if “training” is your only job? And what if you aren’t training for a sport or for athletic performance, but you are training solely for balanced physique development. News flash: that too can be an athletic endeavor, and it sure doesn't mean the training is “easy.” Ronnie Coleman, Dorian Yates, oh, and Tom Platz squatting 500 lbs. for 24 reps. Can any strength expert claim these “bodybuilders” look like Tarzan but train like Jane?

Enough already.

AND in the modern era of Rhonda Rousey and so many other female super-athletes out there, it's not just chauvinist but outright dumb to still say something like, “Look like Tarzan, train like Jane!” Many Janes out there that KICK MALE ASS!

The insinuation that if someone is not doing pure limit-strength training for their sport then they are not as good an athlete as someone that does. This is a leap in logic that just isn’t true. There are plenty of athletes/trainees out there who dominate at their sports' combines who don't train for limit strength. Limit-strength training doesn’t ensure athletic ability or even enhance it; and conversely, bodybuilding bodypart training doesn’t automatically negate athletic ability. These arguments are simply incomplete. In the NFL there have been many prolific players with bodybuilder-like physiques, who did… you guessed it, bodybuilder-like training. You can’t just turn a blind eye to that and pretend it isn’t true.

Experts abandoning the “specificity principle” just to take pot shots at bodybuilders and bodybuilding training seems like jealousy to me. Listen, the example is often made that jogging a marathon and running a 100m sprint are both forms of running, but each requires very specific training, and being good at one of them does not mean that a person will be good, or even adequate, at the other. The same is true in weight-training circles. It is perfectly reasonable that a powerlifter need never perform an Olympic snatch to become proficient at powerlifting. To develop a great physique doesn’t ever have to mean having an impressive answer for, “Whaddaya Bench?”

Each sport and training modality has its own requirements and specifications of how to train in order to make real progress, and a trainee can be good at one of these activities without excelling at the other. This is THE most general truth of training science.

I sucked at max weight powerlifts in my day but I still built a balanced world-class physique that earned me a number of endorsement contracts. And several “powerlifters” who tried to train with me during those days seldom could use the same loads as me because of my training pace and training volume. I left many of them on floor or seeking, shall we say, “porcelain relief.” But I didn’t go out and then proclaim the superiority of bodybuilding training, and say “Strength like Tarzan, intensity like Jane.”I still couldn't bench or powerlift the what they could when you were talking about one to three reps. When they trained with me, I knew that training for limit strength meant these guys were doing way less volume than I was in terms of sets, and seldom were they going over 5 reps. So when trying to keep up with me at more than double the number of sets, and double the pace, and double and triple the reps – then of course they would crash and burn. It’s all relative.

If during those days I decided to go out and run 10K, I could probably have done it, but it would have incapacitated me for days afterward. Specificity of training folks! You can be strong and NOT be athletic, and you can have a great physique AND STILL BE athletic!

And some people can even be all three. My buddy Kevin “The Machine” Weiss comes to mind as one of the rare types who are all three. He has off-the-charts athletic ability. He was also a two-time NATURAL National bodybuilding champion and two-time NATURAL World Raw Powerlifting Champion.

This constant insinuation in strength-training circles that bodybuilding training produces “useless muscles” is just flat out biased, insulting, and wrong-headed. The ones who say this the most and the loudest seem like the ones with sour grapes over their own lack of physique development and leanness. They're taking out of context some very “contextual” truths just to attack bodybuilder and bodybuilding training.

In strength training protocol, the argument is always made that continued use of the initial, already-adapted-to load will not induce any disruption of homeostasis, since adaptation to that load has already occurred, and therefore repeated use of the same training load cannot lead to further progress. This makes sense of course. HOWEVER – this is NOT true when it comes to building a physique. Angle of contraction and exercise sequencing have a lot to do with muscle recruitment and adaptive response.

As Bob Paris once said, “If I can make 300 lbs. feel like 500 lbs. to my muscles, then that is my goal.”

This is something most ego-trainees will never understand.

It's something many strength trainers and coaches simply don’t get. It reflects the research of “functional differentiation” and “segmented utilization” highlighted in my book The Abel Approach.

Bob Paris had one of the most aesthetically balanced physiques of all time. That doesn’t just “happen” by lifting things up and putting them down.

Most “athletes” have a very limited off-season to train to gain more load strength. In such a compressed time period to focus on “lifting more weight” as the only sign of “improvement” could lead to many chronic issues down the road, not to mention in my opinion making the athlete more susceptible to muscle and ligament tears and joint issues. To hammer away year after year majoring only in Squat, Bench, Deadlift, and Military Press, and especially the power clean, all with heavy weight, repeatedly and in the same range and plane of motion without much variance and with the barbell the only main implement… well this is more of an assault on joint health, much moreso than the varied nature of dumbbell training, cable and machine training and bodypart training with various angles and planes of motion would ever be. (Yes there always exceptions. I’m talking about the general person with average genetics seeking the best plan to follow.)

Furthermore, strength experts have also correctly noted that “overreaching” has been described as the cumulative effects of a series of workouts, characterized by a short-term decrease in performance, feelings of fatigue, depressed mood, pain, sleep disturbances, and other effects that require up to two weeks to recover from.

“Rapid descent into overtraining can occur if loading is too severe or recovery is inadequate.” Most people nod in agreement with that statement, but then go out and ignore it when working out, assuming it applies to everyone else! “If loading is too severe” is what you need to pay attention to here. Bodybuilding training is training that is not as “load-focused” and because it emphasizes a wider rep range and varied angles it has less potential joint trauma as well.

Because it emphasizes “training the muscle not the movement” bodybuilding training builds effective strength around a joint by training a muscle from different angles of contraction and various levels of force application. The exact thing bodybuilding methodology training is criticized for, “training the muscle not the movement” could be the saving grace for athletic training and prolonging professional athletic careers. It’s easy to focus on athletes in their prime as the basis for conclusions of what sort of training to do. But the “consequences” of training should be considered as well as outlined by strength experts themselves in the above point regarding overreaching. These risks are much higher in the athlete who has been training at max work capacity for years. Why isn’t anyone talking about this?

In short, bodybuilding training teaches the trainee to be better able to gauge biofeedback at both the systemic level and at the local bodypart level as well.

That is of course if program design is sound. It also makes it easier to ‘train around’ stiff joints before they become problematic. Strength experts themselves, when arguing their case have said that, “bigger muscles also mean more efficient leverage around important joints. Knees, elbows, hips, and shoulders work better when the muscles that operate them are larger, since the angle at which the muscles cross the joint is more mechanically efficient for the joint’s lever system.

Statements like this been made in “several” strength training texts, yet it is ignored when “attacking” bodybuilding training. Isn’t bodybuilding training about bigger muscles and the more efficient leverage around important joints because of the bigger muscles, and more importantly because of the way that is accomplished via various ranges and planes of motion utilizing various rep ranges as well?

Make no mistake here: I agree that strength is best acquired through the use of the exercises which are best at building strength: basic compound exercises that use lots of muscle mass over a long range of motion while standing on the ground in a balanced position, thereby allowing the use of heavy weights that develop the ability to generate high amounts of force, while having to balance the load and controlling the position of both the load and the body in space. It's just that bodybuilding training “includes” this as well. It just doesn’t limit itself to the barbell in terms of kinetic chain expression.

We also need to address the kind of strength the trainee is trying to acquire. There is more than one kind of strength. Strength-density training — what I often use to explain bodybuilding training methodology — is a much different thing than limit strength training. And strength expression in terms of athletic performance is a whole other thing altogether – correlation is not causality.

I can equally argue the “correlation” between the trickle-down effects of CrossFit in the athletic community is what has led to sky-rocketing non-contact related injuries in all sports. Athletes are forgetting to train to get better at their sport and now the workout itself is something you “have to win.” This is just as nonsensical.

And what about overall all around lifting strength outside of the 3-4 lifts of barbell deadlifts, squat, power clean and bench? It is arbitrary to mark these lifts as the only ones that train strength in a way that will translate to athletic performance. I know that focusing only on these lifts for low reps with barbells has far more likelihood of joint trauma down the road than does traditional bodypart training. (I’ll focus on this in a future article.)

Let’s discuss another argument used by strength training experts to advocate these big barbell lifts for athletic training: a number of studies have shown an increase in flexibility as a result of complete-range-of-motion weight training. This is true. Improvements in hip and knee flexibility on the order of 40% or better are commonly experienced. Since traditional bodybuilding training most often works a complete range of motion for a muscle in action – in several ranges and planes of motion as well – this should be a “plus” in considering traditional bodybuilding bodypart training as “inclusive” in an athlete’s training regimen. Add in the removal of certain ROM limitations when using dumbbells instead of barbells as well, and you have another “plus” on the side of endorsing traditional bodybuilding bodypart training!

But back to my original point: if the goal of training to begin with is physique development, then the athletic performance element is a moot point. The training IS the goal and the goal IS the training. The goal is not limit strength, but physique development, preferably “balanced” physique development. So assuming the guy with incredible muscle development doesn’t train as hard as you do is just a silly assumption. Bodybuilding training isn’t about how much you “can” lift, it’s about how much you “should” lift considering the goal of the current workout or set.

Strength training experts have also made this argument as well when it comes to “cardio.” Although a degree of cardiorespiratory capacity is needed to more efficiently recover from sets and workouts, and also to supply oxygen and nutrients to the working muscle, and to carry away waste products and fatigue toxins fast enough for adequate recovery, strength training itself – as in STRENGTH and STRENGTH DENSITY TRAINING (bodybuilding bodypart training) provides the stress which provides the mechanism for this adaptation, without the need for any help from a treadmill or elliptical or slogging around the block. This is one thing pure limit-strength training, and traditional bodybuilding bodypart training share in common. But even here, I would give the edge to traditional bodybuilding training in terms of this beneficial element of resistance training.


All the Dead Bodybuilders

People looking to knock bodybuilding training will also always reference dead bodybuilders.

Why this is considered a rational argument for endorsing or not endorsing a training methodology is beyond me. But I’ve seen the argument made more than once online. so I’ll address it here.

When you actually look at how and why they died, how is their training actually “connected?” Listen, I’ve mentioned my concerns with the growing dead bodybuilders list myself. But it speaks more to the hardcore competitor drug sub-culture. And I agree. It's a huge, huge problem. It’s the major reason I left that world of training and Coaching hardcore competitors.

But again let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water here. Slamming the dead-bodybuilders list is about drug-subculture. It does NOT negate the specific training methodology employed to build physiques. Plenty of “strong-man” competitors have also died young and likely for the very same reasons. That doesn’t negate strongman-training methodology either. Ranting about the early deaths of trainees has some merit to be sure, but this is more about drug abuse and lack of respect for one’s own body than it is about the training methodology of traditional bodypart training. Let’s not confuse the two things as being the same.


My Prediction

I predict that within the next decade there will be a move BACK TO traditional bodypart/bodybuilding training as the foundational approach in the world of athletics – moving to a more “hybrid” approach of strength, power, and function that is INCLUSIVE rather than DISMISSIVE of bodypart/bodybuilding training!

Even my MET (Metabolic Enhancement Training) protocols that employ Hybrid forms of training,the program design is more often than not bodypart based.

Finally, I offer this picture of me: 260 lbs, less than 10% bodyfat at age 44. “Look like Tarzan, train like Jane????” Can anyone really be that stupid to believe that? Oh, I forgot, I was a bodybuilder, so my stupidity is already “implied.”