Body "types" suited for bodybuilding, weight lifting, and powerlifting are much more distinct than people realize. However each can use a viable Hybrid form of training, borrowing from each other to enhance any of the goals relevant to each pursuit. So of course bodybuilders still squat etc, as do weightlifters and powerlifters. But the mode of training would be better determined by the body type of the trainee and the specific goals. The one dimensional “strength first” approach tends to negate the individuality which also requires evaluation. The bone structure of the weight lifter is easy to separate from that of the powerlifter, and both are distinct again from that of the bodybuilder. By example, a wide hip structure denotes a better base of power for weightlifters and powerlifters, usually allowing for greater strength expression for them in say, the squat. But the narrow waist and hips of the bodybuilder would not give him the same power base from which to develop raw max low rep strength.
When I dropped the weight and increased the reps and sets for more time under tension, my legs exploded in growth. This led to the above conclusion as well. Not only are some rep ranges better for specific effect, but I was never going to be “low rep strong(by powerlifting standards)” in the squat, because I had a very small waist and narrow hips. And this led to another conclusion. The training methods of low rep strength for someone who already has the wide hips for that power base only further enhances that effect. In other words, show me someone who regularly squats more than twice their bodyweight in training for very low reps, and I’ll show you a lack of results in terms of development and big hips and a wide waist (except genetic freaks and steroid abusers of course).
So while strength athletes and athletes of all kinds may indeed implement the same types of moves or exercises, doing so with the same mentality in terms of max strength, while having different goals, and different body types, is an obvious mistake. We see in the real world of training for development that the “max strength” approach is not appropriate and may indeed be applicable only to those people born with a certain genetic profile. However, the research also bears out the fact that while training for max strength may not yield much development for us regular folk; training for development does indeed lead eventually to increased max strength improvement.
It seems, in fact, that how much you lift is not nearly as important as how hard you lift. The “heavier is better” argument is actually a myth that prevents many of us from getting results in terms of physique enhancements. Researcher Atha, in 1981 concluded from a review of research, “from these studies, one begins to believe that the importance of load magnitude may have been exaggerated.”
And in 1995, David Behm’s research was more direct. His research article “Neuromuscular Implications and Applications of Resistance Training” came to the following sound conclusion so important to those of you interested in developing a better physique: “Maximum strength training methods with their high intensity resistance but low volume of work do NOT elicit substantial muscle hypertrophy.” His research some 10 years later served to reinforce this conclusion as well.
Now if you think you are doing something right because you do more sets with low reps, and lots of weight, this is still a mistake. Your 10 sets of 3, is still only 30 reps, just like 3 sets of 10. As Behm further concludes, “Therefore a higher volume of work, (greater than 6 reps, with multiple sets) [emphasis and references are his] is needed to ensure a critical concentration of intracellular amino acids to stimulate protein synthesis” (Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 1995: p271) (see also Tesch and Larson, “Muscle Hypertrophy in Bodybuilders” 1982; and Tesch, in Komi 1992).
I like to use the example of Tom Platz and "Dr. Squat" Fred Hatfield. Tom Platz had the first set of truly freaky legs at the Olympia level. Fred Hatfield was the first man to ever squat 1,000 lbs. Fred Hatfield’s legs development couldn’t win a local bodybuilding contest at the time. And Tom Platz was never, ever going to be able to squat 1,000 lbs. Clearly a contradiction of prevailing theory. See Tom used squats for leg training, Fred trained for squat limit strength of 1RM. (Tom’s focus was to train the muscles, not the movement; Fred trained for the execution of the movement solely.) And the funny thing here is that Fred Hatfield himself, at the time said, “there is never a reason to do single rep 1RM lifts in training.” He also said, “the legs are relatively inactive in the Powerlifting squat.” Now coming from the first man to squat 1,000 lbs, Fred truly understood the principles at work. If anyone would ever have a paradigm blindness toward limit strength training expression, it should have been Fred. But he understood the principles on a deeper level. And these statements are correct for 90% of trainees, 90% of the time. And as a coach, that 90 percentile is my wheelhouse for application.
So how is this confusion possible when so many of you are told to train to get “strong” with low reps, and development will come? Well the answer lies in a misapplication of what is known as “the size principle” of muscle recruitment.
By Scott Abel