More Mass-Building Mistakes
Q: I was intrigued by your take on common mistakes made by bodybuilders. It’s surprising how common those mistakes are in this day and age, considering the wealth of information available in print and on the Internet. Can you discuss other common mistakes?
A: Two more common mistakes that bodybuilders make:
- Not striving to be strong at all angles.
- Not performing enough dumbbell work.
I often see people do only the exercises on which they can use the highest loads. For example, they do back squats but not front squats; they do close parallel chinups but not subscapularis pullups; and so on.
They’re the same individuals who do incline barbell presses only if the bench angle is set at 45 degree or less, for fear of not appearing strong to their fellow lifters. So what if your bench is set at 62 degrees? It’s the recruitment of new motor units that counts. If you understand the concept of structural balance, you won’t be afraid to train lifts that you don’t do well.
When powerlifting star Ed Coan had made an impressive jump in his bench press performance, he attributed it to increasing his behind-the-neck press. That’s the basis of the concept of structural balance that we teach in the Poliquin International Certification Program. (For more info, contact Kelly at Kelly@CharlesPoliquin.com.)
Besides gaining muscle mass faster while using the structural-balance principle, you’ll also remain injury free as your strength levels will be balanced. Overuse of certain exercises leads to pathologies similar to repetitive-stress conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome.
Dumbbell work is the foundation of strength. Staying away from dumbbell work is another training mistake. One man who knew how critical dumbbell work is was the legendary Pat Casey, who’s officially credited with accomplishing the first bench press of 600 pounds. He did plenty of heavy dumbbell incline presses before he reached that landmark lift.
Besides exercising the muscles over a greater range of motion, dumbbell work requires joint stabilization, which makes barbell work much easier. Given the same number of reps and sets, dumbbells win over barbells in terms of generating growth in size and strength.
To elicit even more motor units, I strongly suggest that you get into thick-handled dumbbells like the ones sold on www.GraceFitness.com. One of the best compliments I ever received on my Arizona training facility came from strength legend Bill Kazmaier, who came in for a shoulder treatment. He arrived early and asked if he could get in a quick workout. Once he saw my thick-handled dumbbells, his eyes lit up like a four-year-old kid’s on Christmas morning. After his workout we had quite a chat on the role thick handles have in developing strength and mass.
Q: I was reading a bodybuilding magazine and saw that one of your colleagues mentioned your name when he was talking about mesomorphs—which leads me to believe that you have very good genetics for weight training. My question is this: How relevant are your training ideologies and workouts for trainees with less-than-elite genetics? My concern is that you might personally find gaining muscle and strength easy and not really have empathy for the plight of hardgainers who have slight bone structures, low recovery ability, low testosterone levels and so on. And as most of your workouts have been designed for Olympic athletes, they might not be advantageous for genetically average trainees—even those who have significant muscle mass.
A: Nothing could be further from the truth. The training methods I advocate would most certainly be useful for the less-than-genetically gifted trainee. In fact, I get letters and e-mail messages every day from readers who are finally making gains by following my advice. They used to see themselves as hardgainers but are now putting on strength and mass.
Keep in mind that not all Olympic athletes I coached were genetically gifted; most of them got there through hard work. One of the strongest guys I ever coached was Ian Danney, a member of Canada’s Olympic bobsled team for the Nagano Games. He competed at 212, yet three years before that he was at 174 pounds—and three years before that at 148. But through intelligent workouts and close attention to postworkout nutrition, he was able to pack on pounds of lean muscle mass.