Perhaps a controversial opinion, bodybuilding style training is INCREDIBLY UNDER-UTILIZED in most Western weightlifting programmes, and because of this, we’re leaving tonnes of potential progress on the table.
This article explores the potential benefits of bodybuilding training for weightlifters, the reasons why it hasn’t been used very much, as well as providing some practical suggestions for bringing bodybuilding style training into your own weightlifting programmes.
Let’s get started, shall we…
The Potential Benefits of Bodybuilding Style Training for Weightlifters
1) A bigger muscle is a stronger muscle
The Cross-Sectional Area of your muscles determines around 50% of their strength potential. If you have two weightlifters each with similar technical ability and neural drive, then the weightlifter with bigger legs and a bigger back is going to be stronger.
2) Filling out your correct weight class
One of the biggest issues I see amongst beginner and intermediate level weightlifters is that they’re in the wrong weight class. Specifically, they’re too light for their height and should be competing in a heavier weight class.
For example, if you’re a 6ft + male competing as an 81kg or 89kg lifter, you’re competing WAY TOO LIGHT. You’ll find yourself up against shorter people, more muscular people, and they will lift more than you (see point 1)
3) Preventing (And Rehabbing) Injuries
Targeted bodybuilding work can be great for reducing injury risk through a couple of mechanisms..
> Building muscle around joints – i.e. the elbow and shoulder joint – helps them to absorb loading.
> Off-season periods focusing more bodybuilding style training provide a much-needed break for your body’s joints and connective tissues.
Plus specific bodybuilding work can be great for rehabbing after injuries (Lorenz and Reiman 2011) For example, slow eccentrics can be used in the treatment of tendinopathies, ACL damage and hamstring strains.
4) Aesthetics – A.k.a ‘Looking like You Lift’
Realistically, 95% of weightlifters in the western world are recreational, i.e. they do so for fun, and won’t be going to the Olympics or World championships any time soon. With this in mind, there is more room is most people’s training to have some fun and get some sweet, sweet gainz, especially if this provides benefits to self-image, confident and overall training enjoyment.
You probably won’t lift like the Shi Zhiyong, but you probably can get arms like him.
Weightlifting and Bodybuilding Programme
If you want to bring more bodybuilding style work into your training but putting it all together sounds like a hassle, then I’ve got you covered.
I’ve put together a 12 Week Weightlifting & Bodybuilding Programme to get you jacked whilst also increasing your numbers in the snatch and clean and jerk.
I’ll also throw in personal Q&A access, so if you’ve got any questions whilst running the programme, you can get them personally answered.
Why Hasn’t Bodybuilding Often Been Used in Weightlifting Training?
Realistically there’s a combination of factors that impact this, some are evidence-led, and some are tradition-driven (and probably need to be challenged) We’ll start with the legitimate drawbacks of bodybuilding training.
1) Whilst adding muscle is generally a good thing for strength, it isn’t necessarily that simple. Muscle architecture factors such as pennation angle and fascicle length are also related to strength output, and the degree to which these interact with training is still fairly undecided in the literature. (Ema et al 2016, Sopher et al. 2017)
2) Whilst bodybuilding programmes can achieve hypertrophy at at anything from 5 to 30 repetitions, these higher rep ranges will likely cause very non-specific adaptation in the muscles. For example, developing slower twitch fibres and reducing the overall rate of force development in favour of endurance qualities.
Knowing these two things, you can see why coaches might steer clear of bodybuilding training altogether.
Now onto the tradition-driven reasons…
3) A significant amount of western programming influence comes from soviet texts, and to a lesser extent from ‘Bulgarian’ principles. The problem with this is that we’re trying to mimic the training of performance-enhancing drug-using countries. One of the major benefits of drug usage is the ability to add muscle mass more easily, which means that these countries do not have to worry about using much (if any) bodybuilding style work. So if we follow these programmes as natural lifters it’s very unlikely that we’ll build much muscle.
4) ‘Purism’/’Elitism.’ A lot of western weightlifting coaches have historically had quite a closed-off attitude towards other forms of training. With the advent of crossfit I think this has changed a lot, but the old attitudes do still exist.
Practical Suggestions for Bodybuilding and Weightlifting Programmes
Alright, so you know the benefits and you’re convinced, but how do you actually implement bodybuilding style training into a weightlifting programme.
1) Do most of your bodybuilding work far out from competition. It makes absolutely no sense to be wasting energy and recovery resources performing curls and dips the week before a comp.
2) Pick bodybuilding exercises that develop relevant muscles. We’re talking quads, hamstrings, glutes, shoulders, lower back, upper back. Make these your focus, and then sprinkle in some non-specific ‘beach-work’ (chest, arms) to a lesser extent.
3) Keep your reps to 10 or less. Sets of 30 reps just won’t have any significant carryover to weightlifting. I say this both from a literature standpoint and as someone that has experimented personally.
4) Place bodybuilding exercises towards the second half of your workouts. So you might do something like snatches, squats, lunges, pull-ups, dips. Generally speaking, place your most important exercises at the start.
That’s pretty it much for today. Hopefully, you’ve got enough incentive, plus some decent principles to work from.
And if you want more regular advice on training, plus programmes and workouts, consider signing up to my mailing list.
‘Til Next Time
MSc Strength & Conditioning
British Weightlifting Tutor/Educator
- Ema, R. et al. (2016) Training-induced changes in architecture of human skeletal muscles: Current evidence and unresolved issues. J Phys Fitness Sports Med, 5 (1): 37-46 (2016)
- Lorenz, D., & Reiman, M. (2011). The role and implementation of eccentric training in athletic rehabilitation: tendinopathy, hamstring strains, and acl reconstruction. International journal of sports physical therapy, 6(1), 27–44.
- Sopher, R. S., Amis, A. A., Davies, D. C., & Jeffers, J. R. (2017). The influence of muscle pennation angle and cross-sectional area on contact forces in the ankle joint. The Journal of strain analysis for engineering design, 52(1), 12–23.