Cliff Wilson began weight training his freshman year of college while playing basketball for Valparaiso University. At 6’1 weighing only 156 lbs. and 14% body fat, he was far from the ideal playing weight so he began weight training to gain muscle. During this time Cliff found a passion for weight training, nutrition, and bodybuilding.
Cliff Wilson is now a competitive natural bodybuilder, top bodybuilding author, and one of the leading contest prep coaches in the country. Cliff's methods of training and nutrition which are based on scientific research and proven with experience have allowed him to train top professional bodybuilders around the world. In recent years Cliff's clients have amassed hundreds of class wins, dozens of pro cards, and several professional titles worldwide.
I often field questions from people wondering why they can't seem to add strength to certain movements. It's usually involving exercises for biceps, triceps, or delts, such as curls, skull crushers, or DB laterals. Pretty much any lift for smaller muscle groups.
This ends up being a huge source of frustration for people because while they are piling the pounds onto their squats and deadlifts, nothing is happening on these other moves. It's also devastating for those that are primarily "results motivated". This often leads a lot of people to fall out of training completely or just putting forth lackluster effort for a while.
A lot of this stems from the mentality of viewing every training session as either a success or a failure. People fall into the trap of only viewing a training session as effective if they add strength, and if they don't add strength, then they have failed. This is setting yourself up for trouble because by these standards you will fail WAY more than you succeed.
There are 3 main things to consider when looking at why you'll add strength more slowly to lifts such as curls and laterals than you will to lifts like squats and deadlifts.
1. STRENGTH POTENTIAL- Exercises involving smaller and fewer muscle groups are going to have less strength potential. For example, if I want to add 5 lbs to my squat, I only need to get a tiny bit stronger in several areas such as my quads, hamstrings, glutes, abs, and back. They will work by committee to execute the lift. However, if I want to add 5lbs to my curls, I must get massively stronger in my biceps because this will be the primary muscle group performing the lift. A bigger muscle will be a stronger muscle and the growth potential in your biceps can't match the growth potential of your quads, glutes, and hamstrings combined.
2. IMPROVED TECHNIQUE AND NEURAL COORDINATION - Compound movements involving movement at multiple joints will have greater potential for form improvement and increases in neural coordination. In other words you'll become more efficient at performing the squat as it takes time to learn, whereas most people know how to perform a curl because bending at the elbow is not a complex movement. The more complex the movement, the more potential there is for enhancing the efficiency of the movement.
3. % OF INCREASE - If someone can curl 50lbs and they add 10lbs to that number it is HUGE. This constitutes a 20% increase in strength. How huge is this? If you can deadlift 400lbs, you would have to increase your lift by 80lbs to equal the same percentage increase in your curls.
REPS PERFORMED/VOLUME INCREASE - My previous point of % of increase becomes compounded when you consider that people will regularly perform a 1-rep max for deadlifts but very few people are going to perform a 1-rep max for curls. When we can add 5lbs to the bar on our squat and eek out a single rep we rejoice! Yet for some reason we add 5lbs to the curl bar and rather than expecting to get a single rep, we expect 6-10 reps. So you will have to lift that extra 5lbs on each of those reps. That's not really being fair to our biceps.
Taking all of this into consideration, the reason I say you shouldn't view every training session as a success or failure is because you are going to fail WAY more often than you succeed. Most people make huge strength gains their first few years and then things slow down dramatically. If you think you will be able to add 5lbs to the bar every training session, you are sorely mistaken. How about every month? Also not going to happen. So how much can you expect?
Well, let's say that from the time you pick up a weight that you increase a particular lift by 150lbs. over the course of your career. For some lifts you will increase more (like squats and deadlifts), but some lifts you will increase less (like DB laterals and DB kickbacks), this is particularly true for the female lifters.
Now let's say that you train for 17 years to add that 150lbs to the bar. How many pounds will you be able to add to the bar each month on average? 0.73 lbs.
That's less that 9lbs for the entire year! Also, keep in mind that most of this progress will likely come in the first few years of training. So while you'll far exceed this pace in the first few years of training, after 3-4 years your pace will even be significantly slower than 9lbs per year.
So with this knowledge, there are a few takeaways. First is that you should manage training variables appropriately with the knowledge that progressive overload isn't the only mechanism by which you can build muscle.
Secondly, and most importantly, you need to enjoy the actual act of training. If you only enjoy training sessions where you get stronger, you will never last.
Every day I receive messages from people that read something like this:
"I'm willing to do whatever it takes to succeed! I want this more than you can possibly know and I'm going to make it happen. Failure is unacceptable and losing is not an option."
Beware of those offering "the one trick" to fitness success.
As you scroll through FB these days, you're sure to come across more than a few ads claiming to have "one weird trick" for muscle growth. Or maybe you'll find some self-proclaimed expert offering "the one key" to extreme fat loss. It's everywhere you look.
Weekly Ramblings #1
As I look around on my Facebook and Instagram lately, I notice the same women competing year after year after year, both spring and fall. They are always competing which means they are always in contest prep. If they are always in prep it means they are pretty much always dieting.
BODY WEIGHT AND CURRENT CONDITION
Well…. it certainly has been a while since my last prep log entry. I have been getting a lot of people asking why I had not been making any new entries into my log. The short answer is that there wasn’t a whole lot worth reporting that would make for an interesting read. Haha! In fact, the lack of anything to report is in and of itself pretty strange as I will cover here.
In today’s fitness industry social media allows us to have a look inside the process and journey of everyone. We can check out Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and any number of other apps to follow along with our favorite bodybuilders and find out exactly what supplements they are taking.
I’m doing a bodybuilding show and wonder how much I should practice posing?
One of the biggest complaints I get from my clients when getting ready for a show is that they HATE posing practice. Most bodybuilders dislike cardio because they claim it is boring. Yet posing practice has the unique ability to be both boring AND painful.
How is it possible that someone can add calories to their diet and lose weight?
These days in the bodybuilding world it is all the rage to claim that you can eat more and lose weight. Every program and every coach will tell people that someone is eating too little and that they need to eat more in order to lose weight. Is this some sort of voodoo magic, is it bullshit? Well, yes and no.
What's the craziest/funniest thing you've ever seen a competitor do on stage?
This is a good one and I can safely say that the funniest thing I've seen actually came from one of my own clients. A few years back I attended a professional bodybuilding show that I happened to have 3 clients competing in.