Absolutes In Bodybuilding!

I'm not saying there's anything wrong with the basic principle of lifting heavy to trigger growth, nor am I leading up to yet another article about common mistakes, bodybuilding myths or whatnot...
If you want get big, you have to lift big. You've heard it many times before - an absolute, undisputable truth. Right? Most of the time this is true, but not always. In some cases, technique is more important than weight.

For example, when you do lateral dumbbell raises, too much weight will shift the focus off medial delts - the intended target - and move the load onto traps and other secondary muscles. Result: mediocre medial delt development and potentially overtrained traps. The same applies to lat and serratus training.

I'm not saying there's anything wrong with the basic principle of lifting heavy to trigger growth, nor am I leading up to yet another article about common mistakes, bodybuilding myths or whatnot. My point is that there are very few absolute truths in bodybuilding, and that it is foolishness to pretend otherwise.


Universal "Truths"

Let's look at different "truths" in the gym. I'm sure you have your fair share of "old school" lifters who rely on free weights for 90% of their workouts and grudgingly accept 10% very basic cable work as a necessary evil. These guys have bought into the idea of building a foundation the old fashioned way, and sure enough - it works! They get stronger and bigger while scoffing at the newfangled "sissy-machines".

The other camp relies mostly on the latest and greatest plate-loaded and cable-based machines while rolling their eyes at the hopelessly backwards free-weighters. These guys can hit muscle groups with laser-like precision and can easily bring out details the free-weight camp cannot. On the other hand, they rarely develop the kind of core strength that weekly deadlifts and squats bring.

The obvious solution is to mix it up, take the best from both worlds and stick with what works best for your goals. This can be easier said than done when proponents for each camp argue that "their" way is the only path to growth. But claiming to have the "only" way to do this or that should always be a red flag to the critical thinker, whether it's bodybuilding, religion, politics or anything else.

When someone claims you "must" do classic barbell squats to get big legs, take a look at the evidence. Tall guys, who usually avoid squats because it targets back more than legs, should all be doomed to have skinny legs by that rationale. Yet there are plenty of tall guys who haven't done squats in years but built great legs with leg presses and hack squats. Ergo: classic squats are good, but not an absolute requirement.

Depending on who you listen to, you "must" do flat bench presses, incline bench presses, snatch and cleans, dips, chins, military presses, deadlifts, donkey calf raises and practically every other exercise ever conceived - or you won't grow. Baloney! Some exercises may work better than others - for some people - but there are no universal rules. Learn more about these exercises here.

Let's take deadlifts as an example. I am a firm believer in deadlifts and I do them almost every week. They work, so of course I will recommend them to anyone looking to pack on size and strength. But it would be foolish of me to claim it's the ONLY way to achieve those goals.

I personally think it's the quickest and most efficient route to go, but there is no doubt in my mind that a determined trainer can reach the same back strength and size by using plate-loaded machines. Genetics, previous injuries and other factors can make your "super exercise" inefficient or downright dangerous to someone else.


Common Sense

Avoiding injuries that hurt your joints may seem like common sense, but surprisingly many out there stick to these exercises because they are "the thing to do" for this or that goal. I made that mistake myself and tore a shoulder. It was several years ago, but I still suffer occasional joint ache and still can't do flat barbell bench pressing.

The recipe for injury-free progress seems to be: use common sense and stick with what works for you. If it hurts, stop. If you don't feel the muscle work and it isn't sore the next day, the exercise probably isn't for you. It doesn't matter if your buddy swears by it - if it's not effective, why waste your time?

On the same token, specific rep-ranges, dabbling in potentially disastrous 1 rep max attempts, workout frequencies and various other factors tend to conform to what others do whether it works or not. Even if you do everything else right, you may be holding yourself back by training too often - or not often enough. You may use too many reps, or too few.

    Remember: Everything you do in the gym should be done for a purpose - and when asked, you should be able to explain why you do what you're doing.

If someone claims you MUST do this or that, hear them out. Discard whatever doesn't make sense and try what seemed reasonable. If it worked, you gained precious knowledge. If not, you've lost nothing. It is only when you stubbornly stick to something that doesn't work that you lose. Lastly, "foolproof" diets for this or that purpose hardly fits everyone.A high-protein/high-fat diet may work wonders for one guy but give the next guy a case of raging acne.

Carb loading works great for some but make others bloated and unable to train properly. Wonder Supplement X may have great scientific reports and a bulging IFBB pro in their advertising, but if it doesn't do squat for you, why waste your money?

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My Way Or The Highway

To wrap it up, keeping an open mind is as important as eating right. Listen to theories and pick out the good stuff. Some advice is more sensible than others, but you can usually spot the difference pretty easily. A diet of boiled cucumbers is an obvious loser, while a strategic 4-week plan of alternating protein/carb ratios depending on your workouts may be worth a try.

There are no magical exercises, workout schedules, supplements or diets that will guarantee success - or be the only way to progress. Just like there is no ONE road to Los Angeles, there is no ONE road to bodybuilding progress. Some roads are quick, some are always congested, but in the end you can make your way to your destination. Unless you go through Inglewood, in which case you will get shot.

Be sure to also check out:
Beginner's Bodybuilding Program!

Good Luck,