Improving your muscle mass and overall physique best will require specialization. If your main goal for lifting is bodybuilding, you should learn about and focus on this sort of training, just as you would for any sport or competition. This is also a good life principle: we should define, pursue, and achieve our goals as specifically as possible.
Many fitness trends have emerged. These include powerlifting and olympic lifting for the mainstream, corrective exercise, CrossFit, kettlebell routines, obstacle course racing, functional training, yoga, movement culture, and many others.
These are all viable ways to enjoy a fitness lifestyle, and some of these can be pursued while bodybuilding. Many trainees though get caught up in all these possibilities, failing to define what they really want from exercise, which is the best physique possible. They end up disappointed by acting too generally.
They may even convince themselves that the popular programs address all their goals fairly well. For example, many hold that basic barbell programs will optimize their muscle mass throughout their body, taking them very close to their bodybuilding potential. This is simply incorrect.
Bodybuilding demands specific training. This means isolating muscle groups, including more variety, and other features that differentiate it. Many ignore this, perhaps focusing on developing strength or other forms of progress in some basic movements. Even worse, they follow advice from those unsuited to give it, whether or not this is best taking them toward their real goal.
Learn the reasons why specific work is required for successful bodybuilding.
Why Specific Bodybuilding Training Is Required
I believe in the discipline of mastering the best that other people have ever figured out. I don’t believe in just sitting down and trying to dream it all up yourself. Nobody’s that smart.
– Charlie Munger
- Compound exercises fail to develop key muscles.
Many trainees get into lifting by following a general program like Starting Strength. These programs have been inspired by powerlifting, emphasizing big compound exercises, efficiency, and minimalism in exercise selection. These all focus on basic pushing, pulling, and squatting, with lots of muscles working together.
While this can somewhat develop the largest muscles, it will never be enough for the smaller ones that complete a physique, and will be suboptimal for even the largest.
Compound exercises fail to adequately develop the multi-joint muscles, which include the biceps, calves, long head of the triceps, rectus femoris of the quads, short head of the hamstrings, lats, and other muscles that all develop an impressive frame. This occurs since multiarticular muscles cannot contract intensely on most compound exercises. They shorten at one joint and lengthen at the other. This prevents them from changing length, instead facilitating movement instead of contracting intensely and grow larger.
- Building muscle involves factors beyond strength.
Bodybuilding involves more factors beyond just getting stronger. Loaded stretching exercises involve additional factors beyond strength that develop muscle quickly. Striving for the pump and soreness involve the factors of metabolic stress and muscle damage, which have been proven to influence muscle growth.
Improving strength often means making an exercise easier. Reaching a heavy bench press means practicing with lower rep ranges, minimizing the range of motion, and other factors that diminish growth. Moderate rep ranges, which are mostly involved in strength training, may emphasize hormonal changes, muscle fiber recruitment, and other growth factors not present in lower rep strength training, which seems to emphasize neural factors to a greater degree. Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy may be possible as well, developed through training with more volume and shorter rest periods that bodybuilder have historically gravitated toward.
Bodybuilding also involves unusual positions that are non-functional but develop muscle best. For example, the pull-up is a decent compound exercise that fails to develop the lats as well as many think. It fails because the lats do not just attach to the shoulder but also to the lower back. This means the lats contract in a more shortened state on the pull-up, whereas the posture required leads to an arched back, which is a weak position for these muscles.
A row performed with a rounded back will elongate the lats to better stimulate growth.
- Bodybuilding is physique development, nothing else.
Bodybuilders will certainly be stronger than average, but this is simply a side effect of pursuing their main goal: to build muscle, distribute it properly, and lose fat.
Many strive for a big bench press or squat, assuming this will take care of their physique without considering the end result. Over-developed upper traps, wide obliques, and larger inner thighs that detract from a graceful physique are often the result of such training.
Everybody is different. We all naturally have certain strong or weak body parts. Training on compound exercises only gives you no recourse to correct these features that take away from a balanced physique. Isolation allows us to better develop and avoid training certain muscles, to better control our development.
Bodybuilding itself also may distort athletic motions since it is non-functional, deviating from normal movement. A sissy squat may best develop the whole quadriceps but makes little sense functionally. The hip muscles normally work alongside the quadriceps and calves to move quickly and smoothly, but this fails to develop to rectus femoris, hamstrings, and other muscles that look more impressive through bodybuilding-specific exercises.
Bodybuilding Requires Specific Training… What Do You Want?
Most of us dabble in life. We follow our whims, never delving into any pursuit enough to uncover and mine the precious gems beneath the surface.
What do you want? This is the most important question for the whole of your life really. It should be something you truly desire and not shaped to please others.
There is no right and wrong here, only what fulfills you. You likely gravitated toward natural bodybuilding, perhaps recognizing some potential in yourself, enjoying the process, and finding satisfaction through improving your body.
Define what you want from training and life as specifically as possible. You will achieve far better results. Natural bodybuilding requires specific work, just like anything else worthwhile.