Some Unpopular Opinions: Train Like a Bodybuilder and Stop Being a Ponce

By on March 15, 2015

Recently I wrote an article on how to train ‘the movement rather than the muscle’ and I talked about the crucial ‘seven primal movements’. The point I was getting at is that many amateur gym goers focus too much on training just the few ‘mirror muscles’ they want to get big, at the expense of being able to do things like bend over and touch their toes. Not good.

But what I don’t want you to think is that this means I don’t recommend good, old-fashioned bodybuilding for getting muscle and also just having a blast in the gym.

Problem is, there’s been so much talk lately about ‘functional training’ – squatting, deadlifting and crawling around on the floor like a lizard – that it’s starting to sap the joy out of training.

Let’s be honest… the gym these days is becoming overrun with hipsters.

How often do you hear someone on a podcast say:

‘Sure, you can bench 200kg, but show me a deadlift with perfect form.’

What a dick!

If they don’t want to deadlift with perfect form then so what?

Worse are people who tell you that tricep push downs are a waste of time. Normally those people have weedy triceps and it’s no coincidence.

There’s a fine-line to be walked here and I think it’s only right that somebody stand up for the old school of weight lifting too. Weightlifting the way Arnie used to do it.

Look at this guy curling... he'll never get big like that!

Look at this guy with his ‘non functional’ curling… he’ll never get anywhere in the gym like that!

Want to Get Big? Isolate Your Muscles

This new crowd of hippies will tell you that the only way to workout effectively is to use big compound ‘functional’ movements that mimic the movements we’ll do in the wild. They pretty much disregard things like bicep curls (you rarely see a crossfitter do curls for instance) because they aren’t functional and because they think that squatting is the only way to pack on big muscle.

Sorry to break it to you but if it’s maximum hypertrophy you’re interested in, then you need to curl. Ideally you need to be doing preacher curls, isolation curls, concentration curls… the whole shebang.

If this is sounding like it goes against everything you’ve learned lately, that’s because the current agenda is all about ‘pure movement’ and stuff like that.

But while squatting and deadlifting put your body in an anabolic state – releasing testosterone and growth hormone by the bucket load – they don’t provide you with the necessary microtears you need in the muscles to trigger localized growth. The generally accepted view is that muscles grow when you stimulate them by creating tiny tears in the muscle fibre and then put your body in an anabolic state. If you just squat and bench press then you’ll grow all over but you won’t see that localized HUGENESS in specific muscle groups.

The best situation is to do both. Create microtears in your biceps and then do some squats to get those hormones going and to make sure you have full range of motion. You know, just like bodybuilders have been doing since forever…

This is backed up by the science by the way. Recent studies show that isolation exercises are superior for creating hypertrophy. Oh and a good way to isolate your muscles? That would be to do a split.

The Bros were right all along!

Perhaps my favorite split is the ‘push/pull’ split which I think is awesome for beginners and pros alike (it means training all pushing movements one day and all pulling movements the next).

Functional Schmunctional

Meanwhile, the whole idea that you should only train movements that are ‘functional’ is so misguided. This is the reason so many people give you for doing deadlifts… but hang on a minute, how often in life do you find yourself lifting something incredibly heavy off the floor by squatting? How often would you be doing that in the wild? Only like… never.

And how often would you be holding a weight plate and doing sit-ups without letting your head or feet touch the ground?

I’m not sure I always buy all this ‘bad movement patterns’ stuff either. There should be more than one way you can get into any position, sometimes training yourself to move into awkward positions is better. Mixing up your training and ‘keeping the muscle guessing’ (a phrase that these new breed of gym goers seem to hate) might just be the best way to prevent developing bad habits.

If anything, a bicep curl is a little more functional because it mimics things like carrying shopping. Really though, the only type of resistance training that is truly functional and natural is bodyweight training.

Breaking down movements there’s nothing wrong with either. A tennis player will often be encouraged to practice just small parts of their serve so they can later put it all together. Doing single joint exercises just means you’re increasing the performance of each ‘element’ in your multi-joint exercises.

Sure you can be a snob about tricep push downs because they ‘aren’t functional’ but your triceps won’t be all they could be. And it will be your own fault. And actually, neither will your dips. Maybe you’re cool with that, but I like doing them okay? And if they’re good enough for Arnie, they’re good enough for you!

And hipsters: you did not invent the squat and deadlift. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Franco Columbu and Frank Zane – they were all deadlifting just like you. This is nothing new. Every bodybuilder knows that you need to do both too and they’re all doing CV as well.

Look at these guys squatting! They must be crossfitters...?

Look at these guys squatting! They must be crossfitters…?

Don’t get me wrong, I love stuff that trains movement. I work out mostly because I want to be Batman-mixed-with-Bruce-Lee. I do bodyweight stuff all the time as well as training with gymnastic rings and kettlebells. That’s all fine. But also, sometimes I curl a barbell until I’m crying in pain.

Most people don’t need to train like a bodybuilders but they do huge splits anyway, which is mistaken. But likewise, a lot of people don’t need to spend years perfecting their deadlift before they start seeing muscle gains. They don’t need to train like athletes either.

Some people just want to look awesome, quickly which is fine.

Lifting Weights Shouldn’t be Easy – And You Shouldn’t Want it to Be!

I also get kind of sick and tired hearing that lifting weights doesn’t need to hurt. If you subscribe to the ‘microtear’ theory of hypertrophy (which the good money is on) then you kind of do need to hurt. You need to feel the pump and the DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) because for decades professional bodybuilders have noticed that those are the workouts that cause growth. Maybe there are ways to encourage growth without doing huge drop sets or increasing volume in other ways but I bet they don’t work as quickly or as efficiently!

Drop sets, super sets, pyramid sets and my favorites: mechanical drop sets all allow you to push past failure and to increase the volume and intensity and even occlude the muscles to some extent. Whatever mechanism of hypertrophy you go with, that’s going to work.

Oh what’s that? It hurts? Diddums. Start training with light weights stopping way before failure and all you’ve accomplished is a workout that’s boring and takes ages and is half as effective. Wicked.

Bench pressing a really heavy weight is cool. And it feels great. So is doing some insane dropset that you wonder if you’ll come out of alive. And laughing with your training partner nervously before embarking on that challenge together. True friendships are forged under the iron.

Light weight with large volume (volume being the operative word) meanwhile is one of the best ways to encourage hypertrophy. And it hurts. (I’ll be talking more about this soon)

If you want to avoid going past failure that’s fine. You can still see gains and you will avoid discomfort. But don’t demonize brutal workouts which actually are pretty fun and a great way to test yourself and blow off steam. Because actually, they result in more rapid muscle gains. No really, try it.

Your Modern Lifestyle? Not All That Bad

One of the reasons that everyone is currently telling you to squat and stretch is that your ‘modern lifestyle is ruining your body’. After all, we spend all day sitting and watching TV and doing the same routine and not getting any fresh air and eating processed food… yada yada.

But you know what? It’s not all bad. Sure, the sitting thing is bad and most of us could use our brains a little more. But some aspects of modern living are great.

Some supplements for instance are excellent and I looked far and wide to find a better way to get amino acids and minerals from my diet and couldn’t find one. Likewise, shopping actually results in you taking a huge number of steps – a day out shopping will rack up 10-15,000 steps while holding heavy bags. That’s an awesome workout. Playing computer games is amazing brain training, while the amount of knowledge we all have now thanks to the web has gone up considerably. Driving is also awesome brain training by the way and sports are fantastic for everything from proprioception to reactions and cardiovascular fitness.

‘Oh you should do this weird type of yoga because it’s amazing for balance.’

Yeah maybe. Weird types of yoga are cool and I will definitely be writing about ‘acro-yoga’ soon. But stop acting like weird types of yoga are the answer to all our problems: tennis is probably just as amazing for balance and everything else and has been around since forever. Classic bodybuilders would regularly play sports.

Sometimes the answer is right under your nose.

And looking at every study and seeing that ‘eating grapefruit will give you 1% more muscle over 2 years’ (that is made up by the way) is also missing the point. Look: bodybuilders like Arnold and Sergio looked epic decades ago. Training to failure with supersets and isolation and adding compound moves is a method we know works. You can get that big training that way. So really why are you spending your time trying to find that 1% ab activation you can get from bending in this slightly awkward angle…? When you still don’t have visible abs yet even? We know how to get epic physiques and super human performance.

Oh and Franco Columbu was super strong too, he could blow up a hot water bottle to the point where it would explode!

Want biceps? Do curls. It’s not rocket science!

How I Will be Training

So how I will be training is to continue with my splits and my compound movements and bodyweight training. I’ll still be making my muscles ache in the gym with drop sets because I love a challenge and day-to-day life is just a little too mundane for me. I’ll also be stretching and climbing and doing parkour because I want to optimize my performance but I won’t be tutting at anyone who does moves that aren’t ‘functional’ and I won’t be spending more time on the exercise mat than actually working out. I’ll still be doing curls and tricep extensions too because on top of everything else, that will result in more definition and power.

I love looking at cutting edge science and new techniques in order to try and achieve the best physical performance yet. I incorporate new things into my training all the time. But I don’t let it replace good old fashioned pumping iron or techniques that have been working just fine for decades.



The point is that there is merit to training the movement and going all functional and new-agey but there’s also tons of merit to bodybuilding. People are getting a little ‘carried away’ with the miniscule details instead of just going to the gym and making bodyparts hurt in order to get growth. The problem is, that it’s sometimes negatively affecting progress in their chosen goals.

And bodybuilding is fun. Going in there and hitting the iron with a friend then consuming tons of protein makes you feel like a Viking. Being sore the next day is a badge of honour and it’s not going to kill you if you ache for a while. Man up!

Do deadlifts because you want to do them. Stop doing just deadlifts to try and be cool… You are not cool.

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About Adam Sinicki

Hi there! My name is Adam Sinicki, I'm an entrepreneur, psychology graduate and amateur bodybuilder interested in fitness, self improvement, technology and transhumanism. I run an online business (NQR Productions) which allows me to live the lifestyle I want: getting time to hit the gym and to work on my projects and apps. Stick around and I'll be sharing my experiments and adventures in brain training, bodybuilding, productivity, business and technology.
  • Dimitar Tonev Sarutonev

    So, In other words, what they think of as functional is actually about as physically useless as a spoon poking a load of beef.

  • John Alexander Butler Temple-C

    I found some of this interesting and some of it BS (IMO)… horses for courses I guess 🙂