Specificity has its benefits, but sometimes learning from another sport can teach you more to optimize your progress in your own. Even though muscle magazines and "fitness experts" on Reddit love to tell you what you "need" to do, sometimes certain information is enlightened in one community more than another. Building muscle and bodybuilding is the perfect example. Bodybuilding is a "sport" focused around muscle mass, conditioning, and aesthetic proportion. With those physical traits being the goal, sometimes recreational lifters that decide to pursue bodybuilding fall into the trap of following just bodybuilding promoted training. What they tend to overlook is the benefits another sport has to offer their ability to progress with their goals. In this article I will be discussing what those who want to pursue (and do pursue) bodybuilding could learn from powerlifters when it comes to building muscle mass.
The Strength Progression
It's not secret that in order to become bigger, you must get stronger. Ronnie Coleman, Jay Cutler, and even Arnold Schwarzenegger himself were not training with only 135 pounds on the bar bench pressing for a big chest. Sure, they could do light accessory work after their main movements, but these massive physiques were not attained through lifting "average" weights. In order to get bigger, these famous bodybuilders got stronger and created a strength foundation (with 2 of the 3 mentioned being successful powerlifters before becoming famous bodybuilders). One of my favorite quotes that got me into strength training for muscle mass was "Who do you think would be bigger, the guy that can bench press 135 pounds for 12 repetitions, or the guy that can bench press 315 pounds for 12 repetitions?" Common sense can answer that for you. The guy pressing more weight for the same repetitions will most likely have the greater amount of muscle mass. Before you can get big, you have you lift big. Sure, you may not have to go for a one-repetition max, but maximizing your strength through lower repetition work at the beginning of your work outs (or even in phases of your training), can help you optimize your training towards building more mass. Now that we know how to start in our pursuit for muscle mass, how should we go about our training day by day? The answer lies within the progression.
Progressive Overload Not Just "The Pump"
"The pump" is promoted in magazines, talked about in articles, and discussed everywhere online....but is this really where progress occurs? Sure getting blood to the muscle is important, but you can achieve the same blood flow without any weights. Drink some Gatorade (glucose for energy/sodium for water retention) and use the shake-weight for 5 minutes, and you can achieve that same "pump" that's said to be what effective training results in. Wait, that sounds silly? You just got a "pump" from using the laughable shake-weight? Exactly, blood flow may be a secondary RESULT from exercise, but it should not be your MAIN OBJECTIVE to achieve. Instead, something powerlifters like to emphasize that makes the most sense in building muscle is progressive overload (FIND OUT ALL ABOUT PROGRESSIVE OVERLOAD HERE). The main objective for powerlifting is to lift the most weight possible in certain exercises with execution guidelines. In order to become successful at their sport, lifters must get stronger. In order to do so, lifters must provide a stronger stimulus over time in order for their body to grow bigger and stronger than before. Sure, some lighter accessory work is done, but it is still done in a progressive fashion. By forgetting about just achieving "the pump" and focusing primarily on the progression work out to work out, lifters are able to make improvements with their strength and their amount of muscle mass. With all this progression, the body can become fatigued and requires time for recovery. In order to allow recovery, we must program our work out routine accordingly.
Recovery Days For Max Intensity
Something promoted heavily in the powerlifting community that is overlooked in bodybuilding circles is the idea of something very unique, advanced, and top-secret....it is REST! Bodybuilding is promoted to be a sport about training every day, waking up early for fasted cardio, and dieting to get shredded. What is missed is that those training sessions every day, lack of sleep, and low amount of calories is reducing your ability to make progress in the gym. Something I see commonly used in powerlifting circles is the use of "light days" and sessions that are primarily for recovering and actually allowing your body to get bigger, faster, and stronger. Instead of beating up a body that is in the middle of recovering, why not help it grow better?
Bodybuilding is a great reflection of what the body can achieve in terms of muscle mass and how low body fat percentages can go. Unfortunately, bodybuilding is not a set style of training. This can open opportunity for marketers to spread false information for profit (sales) and lead to plenty of confusion to go around. Sometimes knowledge for one sport (or endeavor) can be gathered from another. For example, there is plenty mass-building enthusiasts can learn from powerlifters. In order to get bigger, you must lift heavier weights to give your body enough stimulus for it to grow. To make this achievable, you must progressively overload your training over time and allow your body to recover by adding training sessions focused around recovery when your body is fatigued. By adding these tools to your arsenal of mass building destruction, you give yourself an ensured way to building the muscle mass you desire.