Bodybuilder Or Weightlifter (You Can't Be Both)

A bodybuilder sculpts to have every muscle stand out and a weightlifter endeavours to have a large ego as well as large muscles. Which category do you want to fit into? Also: Are you doing the Bench Press wrong?

EDITOR'S NOTE: Many of the exercise ideas presented in this article are considered dangerous by other experts. We always want to show both sides of the argument on all issues.

You are going to come to a crossroad in our game where you are going to have to decide whether you want to be a bodybuilder or a weightlifter.

What's The Difference?

A bodybuilder sculpts the body to make each and every muscle standout. If Vince Gironda's method is used, all four heads are worked to really make the muscles take shape, have definition, and aesthetics.

A weightlifter (Tugger, swinger, puller or jerker) endeavours to have a large ego as well as large muscles. To my way of thinking, weightlifting exercises are a conglomeration of cheating movements.

Example Cheating Movement:

For instance, a bench press is a cheating exercise where you use about six muscles. Plant your feet on the floor; arch your back and immediately you are using the terrous major. You also put your thumbs around the bar (which should never be done, you should always use a palm grip) and immediately you use the forearms.

Now you're using your back and your forearms. Once you arch your back and get your feet in a planted position, primarily the exercise is inner deltoid. When you do this, you are using your biceps and triceps. So you're using roughly six muscles to so-call lift the weight, never really developing any muscle, never shaping or sculpting it.

You should never put your thumb around the bar. When you do, in any exercise, you will bring your forearm into play. For instance, if you're working your biceps, half of the exercise will be forearm and the other half biceps. That's why people say to me, "Every time I do curls, I feel it in my forearm."

That's right because you are wrapping your thumb around the bar. You should be wrapping your thumb under the bar which is called a palm grip or a false grip.

Of course, if you do want to be a weightlifter, you have to realize that sooner or later you are going to injure every joint, muscle, ligament, and tendon in your body. All for the sake of saying, "I'm a power lifter and I can lift 400 pounds." It's not going to get you anything except a lot of pain and it will only get worse as you age.

With most power lifters, diet is thrown to the wind because they eat anything and everything. Technically, the more you weigh the more you can lift. You will have to ask yourself if that's how you want to look or do you want to look like a bodybuilder. This is the ultimate decision that you're going to have to make.

My Decision

At The YMCA:

When I first got into the game, I was a member of Hannan YMCA on East Jefferson in Detroit. I would go there to swim and to shoot pool once in a while. Occasionally, I would see these really big fellows come in. My God, they were huge; and I found out that they were weightlifters.

I went up to the weightlifting room to observe and was just standing around. One of them said to me, "Come on in, we'll show you how to lift." I thought, 'Oh boy! This looks good to me.'

Most people who lift weights have some sort of an inadequacy complex. I won't say inferiority complex but they feel inadequate and their self-esteem is low. I knew mine was. I had always been extremely slender. Well, they showed me all of these exercises and I was thrilled.

Naturally, I couldn't lift the amount that they were lifting because they were much older than I, but I made an attempt. I thought this was how you attained a decent body because I had seen pictures of Steve Reeves, but I never knew how he worked out.

I had seen some pictures of the old-time bodybuilders and I thought bodybuilders and weightlifters were one in the same. I had no idea they were different. I recalled seeing bodybuilding magazines with the type of physique I liked.

After I worked out my first night, everyone hit the showers. I was looking around at these guys and said to myself, 'Holy smoke, I don't want to look like that!' They all had big guts and large rear-ends. These guys were big but there were not impressive at all.

They didn't have the look of a bodybuilder or a sculptured body. That is when I found out there was a huge difference but since I was a kid, I just didn't know.

Funny But Safe:

At the YMCA at that time if you were a bodybuilder you were considered a little funny. They would hold a bodybuilding contest but it would be in the basement.

A man posing, shaving his body, this was unheard of. So, the weightlifters got all the attention. I used to go to some of the weightlifting meets. When I first walked in, I saw all of these guys with bandaged shoulders, wrists and knees. I could smell the liniment. It was horrible.

I could hear them saying, "I ruined my knee, sprained my knee, and hurt my back." I thought to myself, 'This sure as h*ll isn't something that I want to get into.' After observing that, I knew right away that I didn't want to be a weightlifter. As an older guy today, I don't have many injuries except for some scar tissue in my left shoulder and left knee when I tried to prove I could lift a weight that I couldn't.

When scar tissue forms, it never goes away. If you try and lift weights that Mother Nature never intended for you to lift in the first place, you are going to injure yourself. Most of my life being a bodybuilder, I never taxed the scar tissue in my shoulder or knee, so I have never had any injuries. I have never torn anything. I have never injured ligaments or tendons.


Most power lifters, weightlifters and bodybuilders today take steroids. The simple fact is and most people don't understand that steroids will certainly make you bigger, absolutely. They will make you tremendously stronger. They will anesthetize you.

You will feel great when you are taking them. One thing that steroids can't do is make your ligaments, tendons and joints stronger. That's why there are so many injuries in football and basketball. Most professional athletes are on steroids, either to get big and strong or to recuperate from the strenuous almost yearlong endeavor of preparing for their jobs.

My teacher, Vince Gironda, hated them and he accused them of destroying the game that we partake in. When steroids first can came into prominence in 1963, all meaningful advancement in natural bodybuilding ceased, which was tragic. Of course, it broke Vince's heart.

He hated steroids and he made it known, and he stood alone. Steroids have literally ruined most amateur and professional sports. Look at Mark McGuire and Barry Bonds. A few years ago they were just average, now they look like Hercules. I bet they weren't drinking milkshakes.

Vince Neck Press:

At the YMCA, someone had posted a sign down in the dungeon, where the bodybuilders used to train, that the western YMCA was holding a bodybuilding contest. There were going to be ten contestants. So, I got on the bus and went to the contest. The minute I saw those guys I knew it was exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to look good. I wanted to have shape, definition and aesthetics.

Most power lifters look down on bodybuilders as not strong people. This is simply not true. I try to explain (if people will listen) there are two types of strength. There is individual muscle strength and there is group strength. Let's say you can lift 150-200 pounds in a standard bench press that I explained earlier in the article.

I bet you couldn't do 200 pounds in a Vince neck press. What's the difference? A neck press is where you lie on the bench with your feet crossed and knees as close to your chest as you can. Your back is flat now. Take the weight off the rack and use a 90-degree grip between your forearm and your bicep. That's your set position.

Your back is flat and your chin is up. You start out with the weight elevated as high as you can get it then slowly bring the bar down to the sternum clavicle or your Adam's apple, then draw your elbows back.

In a standard bench press, you bring the bar down to the lower pectoral line, which now becomes an inner deltoid exercise. When you bring the bar down to the Adam's apple or sternoclavicle and pull your elbows back, you are getting a tremendous stretch between the top of the pectorals and the bottom.

It is a tremendous exercise, but I bet you will cut your weight almost in half. Now you're lifting 100 pounds with one muscle instead of 200 pounds with six muscles. That's the difference between being a weightlifter (tugger, jerker, swinger) and a bodybuilder. You have to decide whether you want to impress people with how much weight you can cheat up or how you look.

When Larry Scott entered a bodybuilding contest, do you think the judges cared if he could do a 300-pound bench press or squat with 400 pounds? They didn't care how much he could lift. They were concerned about how Larry Scott looked. Did he have shape, definition, and aesthetics? People who do individual exercises have individual strength. Those who do group exercise have group strength. I cannot workout the way a weightlifter can but in turn he can't workout the way I do.

Dumbbell Curls:

I had a Canadian weightlifter come into the office (Detroit is just across the border from Canada) and he wanted to get some liver and some protein. We talked about Vince Gironda's methods and he scoffed at them. I said, "Marcel, what do you do in curl. Do you ever do dumbbell curls?"

I asked how much weight he lifts (tongue-in-cheek). He said, "60-75 pounds." I said, "I have a couple of 25-pound dumbbells here. Do you think you could do 8 sets of 8 repetitions with 25-pound dumbbells?" He laughed at me. He thought it was funny. But I told him we were going to do it my way, not his way.

"Put your heels together and your toes apart. Bend your knees and hunch forward and put your chin to your chest. Grab the dumbbell with a palm grip and straighten your arm out. Start with dumbbell on your fingertips. As you curl both weights you lock your elbows into your side.

Hunch over so the weight at the bottom will have the same resistance when you contract at the top. You're not leaning back and cheating the weight from a half movement to a full movement. Close your eyes and feel the weight. Feel the positives.

Touch your deltoids and squeeze them as hard as you can for 6 seconds, then feel the weight on the way down. Do a full set. Don't drop the weight. Let it go down on your fingertips.

Put the weight on the floor and hyperventilate for 15 seconds. Grab the weight again and do another set." It was a joke. On the second set, the sixth rep, he couldn't even lift the weight.

Then I took the 25-pound dumbbells and I cranked out 6 sets of 8 reps and said, "See, technically I am stronger than you when I do an isolation exercise. But when you do a weightlifting exercise, you're stronger than I am. That's not to say I can't be as strong as you. If I had the capabilities, I could not do as much weight but I could increase my weight a lot."

Sissy Squats:

The reason that Vince Gironda called the squat a sissy squat is because he would make sissies out of weightlifters when they would come in and do squats. Weightlifting squats are not basically a leg exercise. Certainly, you get big thighs but you ruin the proportion between your thighs, your hips, abdomen and lower back.

As Vince had said, weightlifting squats do many things that you don't want your body to be accustomed to like increase the size of your stomach because you push it out, widen your lower back and get a big rear-end. Vince said he could tell an eastern bodybuilder when he came into his gym by the size of his rear-end.

Vince would always warn people, and I have advocated this and told people at the Powerhouse Gym when I owned it, once you develop your glutes, you can never reduce them. They are the densest muscles in your body. People used to laugh at me but many years later they now say they wish they would have listened.

Look at all the modern day squatters who call themselves bodybuilders. They have rear-ends that proportionately are bigger than their legs. They look horrible. They walk like ducks. That's the first thing I noticed at the YMCA. I want to warn all you bodybuilders.

If you start to do squats, you will get a large rear-end that will never, never go away. I'd like a weightlifter to duplicate this. I saw Vince Gironda do a hack slide, hack squat that he invented. He went up on his toes with heels together both knees would be pointed towards opposite walls (like a frog).

I saw the man crank out 8 sets of 8 reps with 15 seconds of rest in between. I think the bar was around 225-230 pounds. Now that is strong! Most people do weightlifting squats because it's easy to do. It's much easier to bend over and use a group of muscles. When you isolate the thigh in hack slide versus a sissy squat, you have one muscle lifting 225 pounds versus five muscles lifting 400 pounds, which is a cheating exercise to begin with.

Can You Do Both?

Now you ask the question, is it possible to be a bodybuilder and weightlifter? Well unless you are a genetic superior like Vince Gironda always talked about, the answer is no. I have only seen two people in my life that were capable of doing both. One was an old-time bodybuilder/weightlifter who was on the U.S. Olympic team.

His name was Tommy Kono and he represented York Barbell. He had a terrific physique. There are some people that can do squats because they have small hips and small gluts to begin with, but 95% of people can't.

He entered weightlifting and physique contests. Sergio Oliva who defected from Cuba in the late 50s to early 60s was a member of the Cuban weightlifting team.

He didn't look like a weightlifter, he looked like a bodybuilder but he was blessed. When I watched him work out at the Duncan YMCA in Chicago, he had such a small waist and small hips, and no rear-end to speak of so weightlifting squats didn't affect him that much.

When he started in bodybuilding, he was very successful but he didn't pay very much attention to his diet. When I watched him work out, he was eating some kind of pie and drinking a Coke or sweetened tea. He didn't look like he knew that much about nutrition and that's why when he competed against Larry Scott in 1966, Larry just blew him away.

Vince once said, "If I ever trained Oliva, nobody could touch him." He was such a genetic superior. He rivalled Don Howorth in bodybuilding proportions. I always thought Don had more potential, but Sergio just never practiced good nutrition. I guess he felt that he didn't have to.

When Scott beat him in the 1966 Olympia (I was there), Sergio was just dripping with oil. He put so much oil on his body to try to bring some definition out and it really made him look worse. Because of his genetic superiority and the fact he was blessed, he went on to win many, many titles.

One time I was at a seminar in Minneapolis, he was bragging that he beat everybody. I cleared my throat and said, "Sergio you never beat Larry Scott." He was quite embarrassed about that.

So, as I first stated, you will sooner or later have to choose! Good luck!