From Bodybuilding Mistakes by Brian D. Johnston
Note: This is the first article we have posted from Brian’s outstanding book Bodybuilding Mistakes. It is an outstanding book, with a phenomenal amount of scientific and empirical evidence, all put together in a very under understandable format.
This sums up a few of the previous mistakes. A bodybuilder’s main goal is to build muscle
while considering overall balance and symmetry, although some bodybuilders care only to put on
as much mass regardless of overall appearance. A secondary goal is to build strength and for
two reasons. One, getting stronger means being able to use heavier loads to build more muscle,
and two, it’s good to have a lot of strength to improve quality of living outside the gym.
The problem comes when there is too much emphasis on how strong one becomes; in order
words, there is too much focus on how much weight is lifted rather than how it is lifted – too
much emphasis on the load as opposed to the effect it is having on the muscles being targeted.
As stated previously in this book, constant practice of the same exercises done in the same way
improves muscle skill ability, and this will reduce the impact on muscular development and
appearance. The exercises in question no longer hold the same degree of stimulus or shock since
it becomes routine. Moreover, other factors come into play when the emphasis is on how much
you can lift for a designated number of reps. The amount of rest between sets may increase, but
often the amount of rest between reps can increase, thus reducing overall tension and the quality
of tension. In that regard, if you are trying to target the chest, and you use too much weight or
focus on lifting the most weight relative to a desired rep count, then other muscles (and often
muscles not even part of the movement) contract, waste energy, and can take tension off the
The issue of how to train for bodybuilding is even more complex. Although bodybuilders are
strong, the style of training required produces physiques that are not as strong as they look. The
reason being is that in order to optimize muscle hypertrophy, trainees must execute a sufficient
number of repetitions, sets and exercises (with little or moderate rest between sets) to stimulate
hypertrophy in the muscle fibers but also sarcoplasmic hypertrophy – the fluid found within the
muscle. The aim is to achieve a maximum pump in very little time while using moderately
heavy loads – which is different than light pumping that bodybuilders do prior to going on stage
at a competition. By aiming for that maximum pump in a muscle with moderate weights, there is
enough tension to stimulate hypertrophy in the muscle fibers (by way of a heavy-enough load)
and at the same time stimulate sarcoplasmic hypertrophy.
This is why those who involve and focus on achieving a good pump in the muscles look different
than those who simply lift heavy for fewer repetitions, sets and exercises – bodybuilding training
will give fuller and rounder muscles. Now, to get back at the original point, sarcoplasmic
hypertrophy does not contribute very much, if at all, to force production; adding size by way of
intense pumping may increase overall bulk, but it does not make you stronger. It is the
contraction of the muscle fibers that generate force, and making those as large as possible by
way of sufficiently heavy lifting is what makes one stronger.
And so, how this relates to the bodybuilder is quite simple: lifting too heavy of weights with a
focus on how much you can lift rather than trying to target the intended muscles, shifts tension
off the targeted muscles. And when that happens it is more difficult to achieve a maximum
pump in minimal time. And when lifting too heavy of a weight, with a focus on lifting from
point A to point B with less emphasis on flexing and squeezing the muscles, the extreme exertion
necessitates fewer exercises, fewer sets and longer rests between sets. The end result is less
pump and strain (demands) overall and less sarcoplasmic hypertrophy.
With all this in mind we visit the SAID Principle, or Specific Adaptations to Imposed
Demands. In effect, you adapt specifically to the type of demands you impose on the muscles,
and if you want to optimize hypertrophy then you need to train specifically toward that end. Lift
heavy and hard and you will build some muscle, but lift with a focus on targeting and intense
pumping (with a sufficient load that does not call into play a lot of the outlying musculature) and
you will achieve a greater bodybuilding effect. The directive, then, needs to be how can I use a
weight best, regardless of how heavy it is, to work a muscle the hardest.
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