1) Powerlifting vs Bodybuilding | Training for Strength vs Training For Hypertrophy
There is a difference between a powerlifter and a bodybuilder.
A powerlifter’s primary goal is to move weight from point A to point B by any means necessary. A bodybuilder focuses on “feeling” the weight, squeezing each repetition.
For a powerlifter the muscles are the tool and the weight is the goal;
For a bodybuilder the weight is the tool and the muscle is the goal.
Or to put it another way, in strength training/powerlifting the weight is the focus and the muscle is secondary; In bodybuilding muscle development is the primary focus with strength being a byproduct of muscle gained.
2) Time Under Tension (TUT) & Tempo
Time under tension is the length of time that muscle is placed under stress.
Tempo is the rhythm or cadence with which one performs a lift. Varying tempo is a great tool available to both beginning & advanced lifters.
For the novice, learning to control the tempo of the lift helps to develop neuromuscular pathways, allowing for efficient & proper movement. By learning to properly control weight through the entire range of motion, lifters develop greater proprioception (balance & awareness of body position). Over the long term, this will result in greater mind-muscle connection and decreased risk of injury.
For the advanced lifter, slowing the tempo & even pausing at sticking points (weaker positions in the range of motion) will result in greater muscle hypertrophy (growth) and increased strength.
The ability to stabilize & control weight through the entire range of motion and for greater periods of time is what enables gymnasts and bodybuilders to develop such aesthetically pleasing muscle shape & proportion.
3) Moving Weight vs Flexing With Weight
Giving the weight a good squeeze at the top and stretch the bottom of a lift will recruit more muscle fibers, increasing the potential for growth in muscle size & strength. Additionally, by squeezing the muscle you make the work more challenging & engorge the muscle with more blood which gives you a greater pump.
4) Feel The Muscle Contract Better By Closing Your Eyes
Sometimes it may be difficult to “feel” an exercise in the intended muscle. Maybe years of improper technique have caused you to recruit secondary muscle groups to do the primary lifting. Sometimes looking in the mirror can be counterproductive; especially if you are following a path of motion that appears to be correct but in reality is unnatural & awkward. By closing your eyes, you can correct a faulty movement pattern and can usually feel the intended muscle begin to bear the brunt of the lift.
5) When Less IS More
This goes with the tip above. When your weight is loaded too heavy you will break good form, cheat and recruit other muscle groups to assist in the lift. Sometimes decreasing the weight just 5 or 10 lbs. can make a world of difference in how the exercise feels. I find this to be especially true for much of my back and shoulder work.
When in doubt, you should be moving the weight instead of the weight moving you. If the primary area of fatigue is not the muscle shown in the instruction on the machine, you are either using the equipment improperly or going too heavy.
6) Recovery Is Crucial
Working a muscle when it is still fatigued or sore is to flirt with injury. I know you probably like to work your chest on Monday, but if it feels sore or tight on that first warmup, don’t be afraid to rack the weight and train something else, coming back to chest a day or two later. The more you progress and heavier you lift you will be amazed at how much difference an extra day or two of recovery can make.
The heavier you lift, the more important recovery becomes. Training again before a muscle is recovered is like taking one step forward and two steps back.
7) Muscle Imbalances Will Be Your Downfall
Muscle imbalances are diabolical, time-traveling gain killers! You might not suffer any ill effects for a couple of years, but they always catch up to you in the long run. Your muscular system is like a bunch of pulleys and the key to longevity is properly balancing the tension on each side (agonist & antagonist muscles). Balance your front & back, your push and pull.
If say the front of your body is overdeveloped from too much bench pressing and you rarely do any pulling for your back, you may come to look like the hunchback of Notre Dame with injuries popping up like wild-fire.
You’ve seen the guy who only does bench pressing. His chest may be big, but his posture sucks with his shoulders pulled up and rounded in. This shoulder imbalance effects how the joint sits in the socket which in turn increases injury potential.
8) Take Care of Your Joints For Longevity
Stiff, achy joints that feel like they are on fire rarely develop overnight. They are usually the result of piss-poor technique compounded over time. Other times they can occur immediately from a single mistake or ego-lifting session.
Trust me on this; that 400 lb. bench press that you accomplished in your 20s will be of little consolation when you are wearing more compression wraps than a mummy by your 40s.
Leave the record breaking lifts to the competitive lifters. Don’t sacrifice your long-term health for the quick ego boost.
9) Are You A Good Exercise Or A Bad Exercise?
Some “experts” will argue that there is no bad exercise, only bad form. Anatomical structure & biomechanics tend to disagree.
Though some joints are more mobile than others, even the most versatile of joints can be placed into compromising and injurious positions. In fact, the greater the mobility of a joint the greater the probability of injury. A simple hinge joint can only move one way whereas a ball and socket can move in many directions.
Sometimes an exercise can be bad for everyone and other times this is determined on an individual basis.
Your experience, height, gender, bone structure, mobility/flexibility and past injuries are just some of the factors that may effect the safety of an exercise. An exercise that your buddy swears by may be your kryptonite.
If you find that you experience lingering pain after working a certain body part, I would suggest isolating each exercise by performing them in separate workouts until you determine which exercise(s) is the cause of irritation.
Any exercise that causes pain is not worth the potential benefits. Continuing to perform risky exercises like a behind the neck press is fine until it isn’t. Just as Russian roulette is harmless until it isn’t. There is more than one way to skin a cat. Don’t feel obligated to do an exercise because you think that it is the only way to develop a muscle group; it isn’t.
10) Form > Weight
We’ve all seen a video of some old man or teenager with stick legs moving 2000ish lbs. for 1-inch reps on the leg press or squat rack. Nobody is impressed with the poundage or the lack of muscle gained from such circus stunts.
Bad form at best will shift focus away from intended muscle; at worse, crippling injury & lifelong pain will result.
11) More Is Not Better; Better is Better
Don’t get caught up with doing X amount of sets and reps for a body part. Train until you stimulate the intended muscle.
More isn’t always the answer, (whether it be more weight, more volume, more time in the gym, more protein, more exercises, more steroids, more supplements, etc…)
Weightlifting is a stress to the body. The key is to put the right amount of stress to stimulate growth. There is no need to go “scorched earth” with your training.
12) Sleep is King
If you’re not sleeping, you’re not repairing. If you’re not repairing, you’re not progressing. If you don’t progress, you don’t grow. Every process in the body is strictly regulated by hormones. Nothing happens by chance. You don’t grow in the gym; you grow based on how sound your recovery is out of the gym.
13) The Best Results Take Time
Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will your final superhero form. Consistency is the key; good ole’ fashioned stick-to-it-iveness. If you are a teenage lifter, hormones will dictate strength gains, but you can’t rush nature.
My brother who is 1-1/2 years my younger could grow a beard in high school while I didn’t have to shave until my 20s. He was literally a man-child who was pumping iron while I was pumping sorry-looking sand-filled plastic weights. Kids would come up to me in the lunch line at school and ask if my little brother could beat me up.
It took a couple of years to catch up to him. To this day he is still the stronger on pressing movements, but I have the advantage in pulling. Despite the age difference, we are often mistaken for twin iron ogres. So, while it took me a little longer to get there, in the end my determination and consistency allowed me to reach the same destination that my brother was able to sprint to.
14) Don’t Underestimate The Importance Of Nutrition
You can’t outlift or outrun a bad diet if you’re trying to lose weight. On the flip side, you must provide adequate building materials if you want to complete a construction project. Or put another way, you can’t build a house with a handful of bricks (unless it’s like Derek Zoolander’s school for ants!) Eat for your goal. Food can not only be used to manipulate weight loss & gain, but can reduce soreness & inflammation, speeding up recovery.
15) Time of Day Matters
Workout when you feel the most alert & dialed in. Don’t stumble trough your training sessions because somebody convinced you that it was better to train at a certain time of day.
Train during the time of day when you have the most energy. If you’ve not a morning person, train at night. If work leaves you too exhausted and drained, adjust your bedtime accordingly and try working out in the morning.
16) Volume vs Intensity
We’re talking lower risk, lower rewards vs high risk, high rewards.
When you’re younger, you can bounce back quicker and easier from injury.
When you start developing tendinitis and arthritis, you’ll think twice before getting under 300 lbs.
You’ll find that as you age & your susceptibility to injury increases that volume will start to appeal more than intensity.
Both are viable options, but higher intensity makes more sense when you are young and building a foundation. Scaling back on intensity in favor of frequency is a nice way of maintaining the work of your youth without aggravating old injuries.
17) Low Impact Cardio
Setting the treadmill to a full sprint isn’t going to make you knees and back feel too good. You can raise your heartrate without the joint destruction that comes from high impact cardio. Simply pretend you are pushing a sled uphill to raise your heartrate. Take slow, long strides and really push off hard with each step being mindful to drive with your glutes and engage your ankles with each stride…this will get you breathing heavy and won’t cause you to limp through life with shin splints & knee pain.
18) Fasting for Fat Loss
This is just easier than cutting back on calories with smaller meals. Diets make you miserable and irritable. Fasting drops fat faster than dieting and is muscle sparing when combined with exercise. Not only that, but you will find that you are not ravenously hungry throughout the day.
One of the biggest benefits of fasting is autophagy. Autophagy literally means, “self eating” and is the body’s way of scavenging & recycling old, damaged cells to make room for healthy, brand-new cells.
With flu bugs spreading around the gym like wild-fire every winter, fasting-induced autophagy can provide a much-needed boost to your immune system. Your body will resist infection more effectively & efficiently by incorporating the occasional fast.
Less sick time out of the gym = more gains.
19) Muscle Origin & Insertions Determine Potential for Size & Shape
Muscle size and proportion all comes down to genetics. Where a muscle originates and attaches on the bone determines the length and growth potential.
You can do calf raises 3 days a week and may never measure up to someone with low-attaching calves. Likewise, you may have muscle groups that naturally respond very quickly to training. Maybe you have big forearms or traps but tiny calves. Just do what you can, change what you can and don’t worry about changing things out of your control.
Even your top Mr. Olympia competitors have flaws in their physique that they try to hide.
20) Be More Negative
“The single biggest mistake that most beginners make is putting 100% of their effort into the positive (concentric) part of the rep, while paying no attention to the negative (eccentric) segment.” -Dorian Yates
The reality is that the lowering (negative) portion of a lift such as bicep curls stimulates most of the muscle growth.
You should be moving the weight; don’t let the weight move you. It’s called “resistance training” for a reason…don’t just mindlessly drop the weight after reaching the top of a rep…resist it…fight back. Let’s see more negativity in the gym!
21) Resistance Training vs Weightlifting
Resistance training just seems to imply control in name alone. You don’t just lift weight, but you resist the weight…you fight gravity. Weightlifting is more along the lines of picking weight up and setting it down. Resistance training is like lifting with purpose.
22) The Pump Is Fantastic
Arnold wasn’t lying when he described how wonderful the pump feels. Not only that, but the pump can be the difference between looking like an average joe or resembling a superhero!
The pump results from drawing more blood & nutrients into the muscle which provides more fuel for growth and facilitates a quicker repair and recovery.
The pump is evidence that your workout is working as intended.
23) You Got To Have The H2O
Our bodies are mostly water, so staying adequately hydrated is vitally important for overall health. Unsurprisingly, being dehydrated just 1-2% can result in a 10% decrease in 1RM strength.
24) Don’t Pass On Salt
Salt is necessary for nerve & muscle function in addition to regulation of fluids in the body.
Salt is so vital to human health that the Romans used it as currency to pay its soldiers. Settlements were strategically placed near salt mines. We tend to lose a lot of salt in our sweat and through urination, so replacing what is lost is important to strength and general health.
Not having enough salt in the body is about as dangerous than having 6 times too much.
Since the body is fully capable of excreting excess sodium, it is better to have too much salt rather than too little.
The fact is, if you are an athlete or are active in the gym you should be getting more salt.
25) Take Care of Your Shoulders
Shoulder impingement is a common cause of shoulder pain caused when tendons or bursa repeatedly catch or rub against the acromion.
This is often the result of repetitive overhead pressing movements. Side lateral raises and shoulder presses tend to be common causes of shoulder impingement.
If lateral raises cause discomfort, try performing them on a bench while laying on your side. This will make the lift heavier at the bottom of the movement and will effectively work the lateral deltoid without having to risk impingement.
Creatine absolutely works for strength & pre-workouts provide a good kick in the butt to get motivated. Anything other than that can really be hit & miss. Best to rely on food whenever possible. Rather than get in depth about supplements I’ll just leave that as a topic for other posts.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with different grips and angles on your lifts. Applying force at different angles can recruit different motor units & engage more muscle fibers. Changing the angle can make the difference between getting a good pump or not feeling it.
28) Listening to your body
Don’t be so regimented in your training plan that you become unwilling to call an audible from time to time. Your body will give you warning signs such as weakness, fatigue, aches and pains or tightness. Don’t be stubborn; listen to your body to avoid injury. After all, you don’t grow in the gym, you grow outside the gym. Lifting merely provides the stimulus. Scheduling a full week away from the gym once or twice a year can dispel apathy and renew your strength and enthusiasm.
29) All Reps Matter
Its not all about the numbers. Adhering to a specific rep range doesn’t mean much if you’re not concentrating on feeling every rep. Your muscle doesn’t know the difference between 10 reps and 25 reps…it only knows stimulated or not stimulated. There is no magic number that yields optimal results. Quality > Quantity. Make every single rep count; all reps matter.
30) Don’t Be A Cheater
A strategic bodybuilder tries to make weight feel heavier by isolating the targeted muscle as much as possible. Using mechanical advantage, momentum, leverage & special techniques to move more weight means you’re not as strong as you think you are. If you are a competitive lifter, this is all part of the game, but if muscle hypertrophy is the goal, make the muscle do all the work. Don’t cheat yourself with bad technique.
31) Go Slow To Grow
Sometimes I like to pause the weight at random phases of a lift. Why? Because I can. I like knowing that I’m always in control throughout the entire range of motion. There is no part of the lift that I am using momentum as a substitute for strength.
32) Cardio? You Mean Lift Weights Faster?!
You don’t have to run on a treadmill to get your heartrate up.
When I say lift faster, I don’t mean you should move your arms or legs faster during the repetition. I mean you should take shorter rest periods or incorporate supersets or circuit training.
If your biceps just finished a set of curls, follow up with some triceps pushdowns before going back to your next set of curls. You’ll get more done in less time and will improve your cardio in the process.
Or you could just deadlift…that will get you more out of breath than 15 minutes of running.
Swimming and boxing are great total body workouts that will test your cardio to the max if you’re looking for that kind of challenge.
33) Bring Balance To The Force
Or rather, balance your pushing and pulling exercises lest an overly active muscle group contorts your body into an unnatural shape, leaving you wallowing in freakish misery forever. (How did I go from Star Wars to The Princess Bride in a single bullet?!)
agonist and antagonist muscles (balance your pulleys)
34) Muscles Don’t Get Confused
There is no such thing as muscle confusion. There is only conditioned & unconditioned. Trained & untrained. Nurtured & neglected.
Muscles are dumb. You don’t have to try to confuse them. Variety isn’t necessarily better. Better movements are best.
35) “No Pain, No Gain”: Famous Last Words of The Chronically Injured
Don’t train through the pain. “No pain, no gain” is a moronic slogan that is an evergreen source of injury. Pain is your body’s way of trying to get your attention. Don’t confuse pain with soreness. Pain is indicative of impending injury. Don’t throw painkillers at it either…you’re just making things worse down the road. Its better to know what is causing the pain so you can make intelligent adjustments to your technique and avoid such unpleasantness in the future.
36) Injury Can Be Opportunity
You could get bummed out and have a pity party for a couple months following a strained tendon or torn muscle, or you could just use it as an opportunity to give extra love to those lacking body parts.
You don’t train 25 years without the occasional injury sneaking up on you. However, if you learn from the ordeal you can come back with a more balanced physique and a greater appreciation for lifts that you used to sleepwalk through.
37) Progressive Overload Is Kind Of A Big Deal
You must challenge yourself to progress. Strength isn’t your primary objective as a bodybuilder, but it is still important to continually challenge your body to keep it growing. Many people believe this means you have to keep on lifting heavier and heavier weight. However, strength gains are not linear. The closer you get to reaching your genetic potential, the more stubborn strength gains become.
Here are a few other ways you can incorporate progressive overload besides lifting heavier:
Improved form/more control
Change tempo/ Rest|Pause
Increase range of motion
Decrease rest time between sets
Training more often.
38) Happy Feet
Bare Feet, wrestling shoes, or flat sole shoes are great for leg day as it allows for better balance and proprioception on lifts requiring firm contact with the ground.
…not saying that watching someone trying to perform walking dumbbell lunges with 80 lb. dumbbells in high heels wouldn’t be entertaining though…
39) You’re Not Overtraining, You’re Under-Recovering
When you’re living on fast food, Mountain Dew & ice cream while getting by on 4-5 hours of sleep a night because you couldn’t get off social media you’re not overtraining; you’re under-recovering.
If you are an Olympic athlete, you might be able to argue me on this but everyone else that lays claim to overtraining is like Vizzini; they keep using this word, but I do not think it means what they think it means.
40) Learn To Crawl Before You Walk / Early Injuries Can Haunt You For Decades
Not much to elaborate on here. It’s just a reality that most people chose to ignore because they feel invincible in their 20s. Take heed, lest your day of reckoning come upon you swiftly!
41) The Only Dumb Question Is the One You Didn’t Ask
This is true in the classroom and it is true in the gym.
Despite their intimidating appearance, most bodybuilders are more than happy to help an enthusiastic beginner.
It actually causes me physical pain to watch someone butcher an exercise & hurt themselves because they are too proud to ask or fear inconveniencing someone.
Unless our heads are covered with a hoodie or headphones (which is like a “Do Not Disturb” sign) it’s likely a good time to ask if you’re doing your lift correctly.
Even after 25 years I still find myself asking other lifters why they perform a lift if I have never seen it. I also ask how it feels or where it targets. You’re never too old to learn some new tricks.
42) Don’t Skip Leg Day
Growing up I remember seeing a quote in a muscle magazine that went something to the effect of “You don’t get big arms from doing curls” “you get big arms from getting big all over”. This implies that your body grows as a unit. Muscles will only grow in isolation to a certain degree. At a certain point you will need to play catch-up with lagging body parts to continue to grow elsewhere.
Plus, showing up on a Google images search for “leg day meme” would probably ruin your life...so don't do it, ok.?!