How Much Does a Bodybuilder Lift?

Listen, I'm not claiming to be Arnold Schwarzenegger here, I'm just writing this so some of you get an idea of the difference between a bodybuilder and a weightlifter. For years I pounded away at heavy weights, personal bests, and a bar that was bending because I ain't pretending.

It's a stupid fucking way to lift, it really is.

How many guys in your gym have arms over 18″ that are cut up? How many even have a set of guns that are over 16″ cut up? Very few I'm guessing. Do you think they have small arms because they don't curl enough? Absolutely not. They don't grow because their egos won't allow them to!

Curls – I have been there and done it, I have done alternate DB curls with 80's before for a set of 8-10. I got nothing out of that! I frequently use 35's, sometimes 20's, sometimes 15's! The heaviest I really go on those is 45's and that is if I'm feeling super strong that day. My form never suffers and every one of those reps is done extremely slow and squeezed like hell.

Bench pressing? I've maxed out at 430 lbs raw before, a long time ago. Now its usually no more than 275 lbs for sets of 12-15, and if I'm eating excessively I can push 315 for sets of 15, slow. But rarely is that done.

On leg presses I've been using 5 plates a side lately, good and slow for sets of 20. I've been as heavy as 17 plates a side before for sets of 15. You know what happened when I tried a set of 8 plates/side on hack squats? I woke up the next morning and couldn't bend my knees and had to go to the orthopedic doc to figure out WTF I did to myself.

Shoulder presses used to be done frequently with 130 lb dumbbells for solid sets of 8, right now I'm using 40's. My physique blows away the old me, because I finally started training smarter!

When you have a car that you want to make fast, you don't just push the gas pedal to the floor and race against a Ferrari. You'll never win. You have to take that car into the shop and tear it down and modify it. Drop in a bigger engine, a stronger transmission and clutch, upgraded suspension, you name it.

Backing off on those weights and training for form and squeeze is like tearing down your car and rebuilding it. My car will run with exotics any day of the week, but I rarely push it like that because I could possibly blow my engine if I do it too much. This is the difference between a weightlifter and a bodybuilder. Just know that if you're challenging yourself and you're squeezing your muscles under PROPER LOADS that you will grow.

The muscles grow through volumization and pushing nutrients to them through a pump and contractions. Do you think that 95% of bodybuilders are telling you they go for the pump because it doesn't work? Absolutely not! They know what works and it ain't your ego! These videos you see of these guys pushing crazy amounts of weight, if you were on camera and all of your competition was going to watch you, wouldn't you want to look strong too? They are no different. But I guarantee you when that camera isn't in the gym they are rarely training that way. I'd say there are a select few who may, but not most. It's just not necessary and only leads to an injury.

Get this stupid shit out of your head that you HAVE TO DO SQUATS, if the bar ain't bending you're pretending, and whatever other glutton phrases these guys come up with nowadays. If you're pushing those muscles and challenging yourself then you will get results, plain and simple!

Just because one day you do a hammer strength press instead of a bench press does not mean you cannot grow the same. Yes, there is something to be said for compound lifts, but it's not the end all-be all. You will find yourself training heavier in the beginning because you don't have the same muscle control as a seasoned guy to use those lighter weights and get the same benefit from it. But just be smart enough to recognize when you're doing enough to get the job done and when you're just being stupid.

Leave that ego at the gym door when you walk in. Of course you're going to have a bunch of idiots saying to themselves “You see, he's not that strong, it must be all steroids!” But do you think it takes more of a man to let that be his driving force in the weight room, or is it the guy who doesn't give 2 shits and does what works for him?

I'd never steer you guys wrong, train hard as hell but be smart.

Over and out!



17 thoughts on “How Much Does a Bodybuilder Lift?”

  1. Thanks for this, this is a kick ass article! I always felt that doing controlled lifts and the squeezing and contractions would help my muscles. I have even experienced the proof! It really does work! Good point you made about training smarter more than harder!

  2. Hey John, you recently recommended to me that 1 month prior to taking an after pic for a transformation to stop taking protein powder because it will give me a more dry ripped look.. I forget what you said about why it gives you more of a dry look and I can’t find where you told me that. So why does eliminating protein powder give you a more dry ripped look?

    • For starters, most of your whey protein powders are some form of a milk derivative, it still has lactose in it. If it has any sort of “whey concentrate” it has lactose. Not all of that whey protein is digested in the stomach, and the undigested portion passes to the intestines where it’s fermented and this causes bloating. It’s very difficult to determine specifics or lactose intolerance due to it being a smaller amount than something like a glass of milk, but why take a chance?

      Sometimes it’s also the protein itself that causes the intolerance. With myself I have noticed some brands I do better with than others, but when your trying to look that lean and hard why take a chance? I immediately notice a change in my look when I eliminate protein powder and take it all in from food. If I’m not going for an ultra shredded look that I only obtain near photos or a contest the. I don’t worry about it, but I’m not gambling with it when I’m going for that last little bit of bodyfat loss/ muscle hardness

      • Makes sense. Thanks.

        Does drinking milk have the same effect? I don’t drink much milk but if it acts the same way then I will cut that out as well..

        My competition pics are due in the next 3 weeks and I’ve never takin an after pic for a competition before so I’m trying to have every advantage I can.

        • yes, milk as we buy it off the shelves today is absolute garbage!!! It’s liquid sugar, period. Milk is horrible for you, there is nothing in milk that will do anything for you other than make you fat

  3. john at what point should one stop training for PRs a.k.a strength?

    I have currently reached 8 x bodyweight bench weighted. 6 pullups with 15kg hanging on waist.

    but now I am more intetestedxin aesthetics

    • This is going to depend on 2 factors, #1- how long you’ve been in the gym, and #2- your rate of gains

      If you’ve been in the gym for only 2 or 3 years then I’d say to keep challenging yourself with personal bests every so often, as they are a good reference point to gains. Obviously a guy who bench presses 400 lbs is usually larger than a guy who only does 315 lbs….usually. You can still work on aesthetics while occasionally challenging yourself to certain lifts. However, if you’ve been in the gym a long time or are a little older and more prone to injury, I’d personally ditch 1 rep maxes and keep my personal bests through other lifts and rep ranges. For example, to me a personal best would be bench pressing 315 lbs x 1 reps, as 15 reps is my max. The first rep of the set is the most dangerous rep with the last rep being the safest. Therefore I challenge myself other ways.

      The second factor here is your rate of gains. For example, in 1 year time frame I put on 2 lbs of muscle. In an entire year I put on 2 lbs of actual muscle, thats it!! That was with consistent eating, supplements, lifting heavy, you name it. This is after many, many years in the gym. My first year I gained 36 lbs of muscle. I’ve gained about everything I’m going to get, therefore focusing on definition and developing balance and a lean look became more rewarding to me. There is no reason to walk around all year with the shit kicked out of you for 2 lbs!! So just ask yourself what your rate of gains are, and this should be a key indicator. If your still packing on lbs of muscle each year then I’d say yes, continue to try your personal bests on occasion. But just know that the strongest you will be is when your eating the most and probably have the highest level of bodyfat. If aesthetics is your goal now, then you have to let that go just a little bit. Most guys cannot do this, which is why they remain the same. Once you crush the mental part of it all, then your body will start looking very impressive

  4. Thanks man

    For the swift reply.

    ps— sorry to bother you but I have an injury in my left elbow–at the point part.

    I always got that pain when I did skullcrushers/ french presses even with 6 lb dbs.

    I stayed away from all direct tricep work except tricep dips on the bench.

    But in April I stupidly did a set of skullcrushers and screwed my elbow.

    it pains whenever the point touches something?

    any ideas would be appreciated

    • What your experiencing is tendon pain, possibly tendonitis. Stay away from skullcruchers, I’d stick with some lightweight rope pressdowns for your triceps, and let your chest work hit the rest of the tricep. You work triceps pretty good when chest pressing anyways. If you have insurance then I’d suggest going to a family Doc and getting a script for physical therapy. They can do things at a physical therapist you cannot do on your own, trust me. I’ve injured both bicep tendons and finally got smart and went to one, I felt so stupid for not having gone sooner. The guy would put a hot pad on my arm and I’d sit there for 10 minutes w/ that, then he’d work his fingers into my arm while bending my arm to stretch the tendon as he dug into my arm to try to work out the scar tissue. And this guy was sweating bullets from working on me, I almost felt bad for him!! Then he’d hit my arm with an ultrasound wand and some cool gel. I did this twice a week for about 6 weeks.

      This would be my first plan of action, physical therapy and rest with very little direct tricep work. If this is not an option then the next best method is ordering a “tens unit” online. This is the little machine that has the electrodes that shock you, usually runs off a 9 volt battery. They work very well. What you want to do is place at least one of those pads just above the point in your elbow, and one just below it. The one below it is going to be sort of on the forearm, because directly below the elbow is really just your arm bone. You just need to get the lower one somewhat close to the arm tendon, thats all. Turn up the power on your tens unit as much as you can stand, the more you can take then the faster it’s gonna heal. Do this daily for about 4-6 wks with very little direct tricep work besides light rope pressdowns. See if it doesn’t fix the issue. , the “LG-3000” is fine, thats what I use, it’s $35

  5. so you’re saying that something like curls you should go progressively heavier and heavier like you would on a bench press what about exercises like triceps extensions or skull crushers?

    What do you think about cheat curls are they worth doing?

    When you are doing normal bench pressing im not talking about time under tension how many seconds does it take for you to complete one rep? A lot of guys I see on youtube a lot of weight does it as fast as possible is that the wrong way to do it?

    what do you think about incline bench presses?

    so too much weight on hack squats is bad for the knees how much should beginners use weight in kg and number of reps to gain as much muscle mass to be safe?

    • The videos that you watch with guys using fast reps and what looks like bad form are usually guys who are on so many steroids that ANYTHING gets results, or guys who are simply trying to get blood in the muscle by what I term as “pump training”, but when you see a guy using shitty form and fast rep speed with actual heavy weight, nah that is just his ego talking.

      Cheat curls are good for beginners who do not yet have the same mental connection with the muscle, but there is absolutely nothing about swinging weight that promotes more bicep work, it simply helps the biceps continue on after they get fatigued. Cheat curls is only something I would do with the last few reps of a set, not the entire set

      To answer you on your bench press question; it normally takes me at least 4-5 seconds per rep, even at a faster rep speed…but that is me, not most people. It took me years and years to get that type of muscle control, you may find that you benefit more from a slightly quicker pace

  6. I’m curious.. What do you think about training periodization? I mean, changing every defined amount of weeks our training style/regimen so we change the stimulus sent to the muscles in order to grow. Is it really beneficial? Or does it not matter, and High volume or TUT/HIT is always the good way to go in order to achieve the maximum growth (most bang for our bucks, As the saying goes I think)

    It’s been a while since I started following your blog, but never saw your take on this.

    • I’m always changing it up, and my lifting is primarily all time under tension. I believe for newer lifters it’s more about adding gains and pounds or kilos to their lifts, but once seasoned it’s all about avoiding injury and muscle control


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