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Are Bodybuilders Training Too Heavy?

  • 7 min read

by Christian Duque

There is growing concern that bodybuilders are training far too heavy, getting injured, and cutting their amateur and professional careers considerably short. What’s the point for physique-based athletes to lift as heavy as many folks are doing today? Does lifting heavier help you grow bigger muscles? Do high poundages help improve weak or lagging body parts?

Some have said, including Dorian Yates, that lifting heavy weights over a long period of time is a key factor in creating the grainy look that was his calling card in the 1990’s. Others have said that lifting heavy tends to make muscles have a denser look. Some old wives tales even suggest that the heavier a person lifts the more swole they’ll look on an average basis.

The fact is people talk and talk and talk. Very little of the assertions made in countless fitness magazine articles and gym jargon is ever backed up by science. Most of the talking-heads don’t cite journals or studies, either. Their only basis for understanding is how they may have reacted to a certain approach to training. What they’re not doing is factoring their genetics, their diets, and/or their supplement protocols. They simply attribute everything to lifting heavy and that doesn’t do the viewer any favors. Just because training heavy with minimal rest worked for one guy does not mean it’s going to work for another. And what’s worse is that we’re in a sport where quitting is highly frowned upon so even if something’s not working, the mentality is to make it work. That’s exactly how injuries happen!

Sometimes no matter how hard and heavy you lift you don’t get the desired effect. Let’s look at Dorian’s broscience for starters. The mere notion that lifting heavy over any period of time could result in a grainy look is patently absurd. Achieving a look has more to do with each person’s skin and how much condition they can get. Some people can get pretty peeled naturally. They don’t even need any diuretics, much less a stack of them. They may also be able to achieve a certain look based on what they eat, how much water they drink, and if their skin may have a reaction to dieting, dehydration, and/or even to contact with tanning ingredients or posing oil.

A certain look is sometimes not the product of any concerted effort. Sometimes a look is as much out of the person’s hands as one could imagine. It would be interesting if Dorian didn’t have grainy skin before he started bodybuilding. It would also be interesting to see if he still has it. While I don’t hang out with Yates routinely, I can tell that he’s downsized considerably in size, and I’d be truly shocked if he was rowing 400lbs some twenty-five years after his retirement from the stage. If he lifts anything, it’s super light weight and he probably trains once or twice a week. If Yates still has grainy skin after 20+ years of lifting and looking like a muscular runner, then you can throw water on his theory on grainy skin.

Well what about muscle density? Surely lifting more means you’ll get bigger muscles, right? It couldn’t have anything to do with protein intake could it? Surely healthy fats won’t make a difference? And clearly PED’s don’t factor in, right? Well the truth is any bodybuilder who eats massive amounts of clean protein, good fats, and takes gear is going to put on tremendous size.

What’s pretty mind boggling is that a lot of national level amateur bodybuilders actually don’t eat that well. A lot of guys will eat fast food or might eat what they think is clean from nicer restaurants yet is still loaded with bad fats, simple sugars, and very little protein. There’s even guys who are sponsored by meal prep companies who have meals delivered on frozen ice but they honestly just give them away. They eat nonstop and they eat for taste. That’s not to say these packaged meals don’t taste really good but they’re usually between 400 and 600 calories. These meals are perfect with macros in place but most guys see them as little more than an appetizer. They’ll put away two or three fast food meals just on the way home from a busy day of personal training and their own workouts.

Imagine how big a guy could get if his meals were perfect, his protocols were taken according to plan, and he lifted consistently. He’d be huge! How much he lifted wouldn’t really make a difference.

There is little evidence that there’s any correlation between the amount lifted vs the size of the bodybuilder. We see this in the pro ranks often. There are guys who can grow into pretty big physiques but often they haven’t actually grown per se.

The use of site enhancing oils (“SEO’s”) is largely on the rise. The most common SEO is synthol and many guys, including the reigning Mr. Olympia – and his predecessor – have been accused of using oils to fill out lagging body parts. Other guys will rely on more expensive routes such as PMMA or actual implants. Many of these guys, ironically, are known to lift very heavy and very hard yet here they are flexing highly enhanced muscles. The people in the audience or the gungho fan reading an interview online or in a magazine are clueless as to the backstory. They just see these guys fighting for the top titles and then getting top honors and titles but don’t know it’s all bullshit. They take them at their word and pay the consequences down the road for their naivety.

The fact is physique-based athletes also like heavy because the vast majority have to come to grips with the 10,000 lb elephant in the room and it’s that they’re not strong. People see a jacked bodybuilder and will immediately ask them what their numbers are. What can you bench? What can you squat? What can you pull? And the answers from most physique-based athletes aren’t what you’d call impressive by powerlifter standards. When those answers start coming, the faces of those asking aren’t too impressed. And that’s because they’ve made the assumption that this article is inspired by and that is people who associate lifting heavy with looking huge. It’s just not the case.

A physique-based athlete that aspires to lift like a powerlifter is either stupid or simply suffering from poor self-esteem. And I apologize if I offend anyone, but I mean there’s a pretty high chance of it since I’m calling people stupid. That said, I’d rather you be offended and react than wind up in a wheelchair because you followed bunk advice from guys who should think twice before saying and/or writing half the nonsense that they do.

It’s irresponsible and it’s dangerous, but it is what it is. The bunk advice won’t stop. If anything it’s going to get sillier, whether that means pushing placebo supplements, advocating stupid training methodologies, and/or taking stupid amounts of gear. In reality, all this will do is wreak havoc on the lifter and cut their career short. How many guys have had to call it quits because they’ve blown out their shoulders or they can’t walk or they’ve substantially torn muscles right off the bone? And for what?

Bodybuilders need to sculpt their physique, lift for shape and ensure that symmetry is always their top priority. Warming up first and lifting sensibly will preserve the body and ensure a longer run. Bodybuilders shouldn’t concern themselves with strength, breaking PR’s, or much less training like a powerlifter. A powerlifter can get away with 1 Rep Sets. No bodybuilder could maintain, much less grow muscle, training like that. It’s apples and oranges. Bodybuilders should focus on bodybuilding; they’re not powerlifters and they need to quit acting as such.

What’s your take on bodybuilders lifting too heavy? Are they asking for trouble?