More Mass-Building Mistakes

Charles Poliquin

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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:

  1. Not striving to be strong at all angles.
  2. 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

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 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.


Marvelous Marvin

Stuart McRobert

Marvelous Marvin

Marvin is a marvel because, at 64 years old, he’s in fantastic condition. He’s not a genetic freak or stoked up on drugs. He’s been training naturally since he was 17, but he’s never competed in bodybuilding—he never had the requisite genetics or the drug support. Now, after 47 years of solid training, his physique is something to behold for a solid natural bodybuilder in his 40s, let alone someone in his 60s.

The Wisdom of Mike Mentzer

John Little

The Wisdom of Mike Mentzer


Q: I’ve read Mike’s books High Intensity Training: The Mike Mentzer Way and The Wisdom of Mike Mentzer, and I understand why high-intensity training is the best way to build muscular mass and strength. I’ve gained quite a bit of muscle already, but now I want to build my abdominals and shed some bodyfat. I don’t see much in the way of abdominal exercise in Mike’s writings. What do you suggest?

Category 5 Workout Intensity

Peter C. Siegel

Category 5 Workout Intensity

Have you ever had a workout where you were so feverishly driven that you felt you could, metaphorically speaking, burn a hole through steel? Where the weights you used felt light in your hands—as if the force flowing through you totally outmatched the iron’s attempt to overcome and exhaust you? Remember? It was as if your muscles were an extension of your will; they performed and contracted at a level seemingly beyond where they ever had before—you could actually f-e-e-l the deepest underlying fibers firing in a way you never had before.

From Heart Attack to Seriously Jacked

Sean Katterle

From Heart Attack to
Seriously Jacked

Ienjoyed watching the Summer Olympics. Thanks to NBC’s additional coverage via Internet streaming video, for the first time ever I was able to watch hours and hours of Olympic lifting and the other sports I prefer over what airs in prime time. I’m 35, and I noticed that a lot of the competitors were a decade or more younger than I was and that most of the athletes who are about my age were described by the commentators as being in the twilight of their peak-performance years. That made me think about how rare it is to find a sports practitioner beyond the age of 40 who’s impressive not only in the masters division but in the open class as well. And when you come across one who’s still swinging for the fences in his 60s, it’s truly an inspiration. Jay Papish is such an athlete.

Arm Size and Big Lies

Ron Harris

Arm Size and Big Lies

I’m painfully aware of how it feels to “not measure up” compared to other men. I’m speaking, of course, about my arms (what the heck did you think I was talking about?). The biggest my arms have ever been, pumped—when I was 240 pounds off-season in 2003, on the juice and with a generous amount of bodyfat and water retention padding the measurement—was exactly 19 inches. If I were to be totally honest, the tape probably wasn’t pulled too taut—and it may have been at a slight slant. You get the picture. Pretty sad, when everyone else seems to have guns that are at least over the magic 20-inch mark.