Patrick C asks…
The guide is great, but your explanation of high rep and isolation has me confused.
Powerlifters are some of the strongest men in the world, but when at low body fats like a bodybuilder, they generally don’t compare to bodybuilders who lift less in terms of mass.
Are you really denying the possibility of emphasizing sarcoplasmic hypertrophy over myofibrillar, do you really think steroids is the only reason programs that focus on high rep with lots of exercises work? Are you sure that your experience with high rep and isolation wasn’t negative because of overtraining? It certainly sounds that way.
I’m not denying the benefit of heavy lifting, I think it can allow bodybuilders to get past a plateau with their high rep sets and other exercises, allowing them to lift more in those sets (as well as offering it’s own hypertrophy benefits), therefore indirectly increasing the hypertrophy benefit of those sets and exercises.
I also think the 5 compound lifts you introduce in stronglifts 5×5 should be the starting point for any strength athlete or bodybuilder, but I don’t think high rep sets and isolation are evil or worthless.
It’s a matter of context. The large majority of guys in mainstream gyms cannot Squat 300lb or Deadlift 400lb. Heck, they can’t even Squat 225lb/Deadlift 300lb. So for them – unless they’re one of the bozo’s shooting up the juice, or just genetic freaks – high reps and isolation exercises are completely worthless.
Here’s why: it’s scientifically-proven that strength is size. Anecdotally, the best-built guys are always the ones with a strength background. In fact, one of the best bodybuilders ever, Arnold Schwarzenegger, started as an Olympic lifter and Powerlifter BEFORE turning to bodybuilding. These two pics prove it…
Like Ronnie Coleman, 8x Mr Olympia and 800lb Deadlifter, once said “Everybody wanna be a bodybuilder but nobody wanna lift no heavy weight!” Even Arnold’s life-long mentor, 3x Mr Universe Reg Park (who was born before steroids even existed) could Deadlift 700lb, Squat 605lb and Bench Press 500lb.
Today, there’s obviously Layne Norton, life-time drug-free lifter like myself, pro bodybuilder and yet also a national powerlifting record holder in the Squat and Deadlift (Layne’s best lifts: 584lb Squat, 364lb Bench Press, 700lb Deadlift).
As far as my first 5 years of high reps, isolation exercises and machines goes: I GOT results because, unlike most guys in the gym, I did heavy Squats and Bench Press from the start. My mentor also taught me to constantly try to add more weight than last time. The only negative about it was:
- I hit a brick wall – because I trained to failure every single workout, every week, 52 weeks a year. Never heard of deload.
- I trained 5 times per week for up to 3 hours a day – hard to have a life outside the gym when you’re training one muscle a day.
- I got bored – I wasn’t getting any stronger (yet I was full of injuries) and grew old and tired of training for the 6 pack.
Listen, I started going to the gym because I was skinny-fat. But once my man boobs and belly fat were gone, and I had gained several pounds of muscle, that motivation was gone. I needed something else to keep me motivated. And since I was no longer STUDENT but had a Coporate IT job working shifts & weekends, I simply didn’t have the time anymore to train 5x/week for up to 3h/day.
Seven years ago I started focusing on strength instead of aesthetics. Ironically, I look better now even though I no longer care, routinely have people ask me if I lift weights and still have a 6 pack even though I don’t do frigging situps ever. All those results in half the time spent in the gym, and without the frustration of looking strong but not actually being strong. I’m not going back, ever.
Look, I’m not going to BS you: if you prefer to be a bodybuilder, you’ll also have to do high reps and isolation. Just remember that the best bodybuilders almost always have a strength background because strength equals size. You’ll never be able to lift heavy weights when doing 3 sets of 10 reps with a single joint exercise like dumbbell flies. You need heavy Benching, Squatting and Deadlifts.
Just get strong, eat mostly whole foods and repeat. Unless you’re one of those insecure, narcissistic gym rats, you’ll be more than happy with how you look and never have to worry about that hypertrophy nonsense. I certainly don’t.