From Bodybuilding to Weightlifting: How My First Year of Personal Training Changed Everything

I’ve spent half my life mindlessly attempting to get bigger and stronger. Knowing I would never look like Arnold, I still believed that if I copied his workouts I could achieve the bigger and better me I invisioned, even if it was less than half his size (after all, it was better than what I had going on at 6′ 1″ and 150lbs). Now, 6 months of personal training and continued education have completely transformed my approach to increasing strength and size. Never again will I follow a bodybuilding program. From now on, weightlifting will be my approach to full-body size, strength and skill.

 Weightlifting vs. Bodybuilding

Weightlifting is a sport, not a hobby. It is what you see during the Olympics and comprises two primary lifts in competition: the Snatch, and the Clean and Jerk. Lifting weights does not make you a weightlifter anymore than bowling makes you a bowler. To become a weightlifter, you have to dedicate yourself to effectively executing the Clean and Jerk and the Snatch (like you would dedicate yourself to bowling proficiently if you wanted to become a bowler).

Bodybuilding is also a sport. Like weightlifting, part of the skill development in bodybuilding is improving strength, size, conditioning and skill. What separates bodybuilding from weightlifting is one requires superior strength, power and control to perform at elite levels, while the other solely focuses on outward appearance. Bodybuilders use whatever means necessary to develop each superficial muscle group into what is deemed the ideal composition. What is ideal is dictated by the judges of the various physique competitions (typically categorized by weight class).

Just because one sport is aesthetics driven and the other performance, does not make either mutually exclusive. Dedicating yourself to the physically demanding rigors required to achieve competitive status in either sport will produce both performance and aesthetic benefits. What I have determined to be starkly contrasting are the benefit ratios of aesthetic improvement per hour of effort, and performance gained per hour of effort. In both cases, I find weightlifting (and its evil twin Powerlifting) to be exponentially more effective per unit of time spent on the activity.

Why I’m Switching

The reason I find weightlifting far and away a more efficient use of my time is because my entire body is challenged every single workout. Both the Clean and Jerk and the Snatch involve a pull from the floor (deadlift), an upward row (upper body pull), a squat movement to get under the bar (front or overhead squat) and an overhead press (upperbody press). That, ladies and gentleman, includes all four of the basic human movements: squat, hinge, push and pull. By performing these movements instead of bodybuilding style splits, I’m hitting 6-8 days worth of my previous workouts in just 2 days.

Bodybuilding workouts are usually composed of muscle splits, usually in the form of back and biceps (upperbody pull muscles), chest and triceps (upperbody push muscles), and legs (squat and/or hinge muscles). The intent is to isolate and overload every muscle within these groups, and it requires vastly more time and effort for minimal muscle development, with the exception of the initial upsurge of muscle anabolism when one begins tapping into their genetic potential for mass.

Switching my training from isolation exercises to strict compound movements will give me way more bang for my buck. I may lose some definition in various muscles that I’ve been able to develop over the years, but my body as a whole will get much stronger and gradually bigger. Considering I never plan to step on stage to be judged on my rear deltoid development, I’m OK with functional size instead of aesthetic enhancement.

Since Olympic lifts are highly technical, they need to be practiced regularly, so at least once if not twice a week I’ll be performing those exclusively, while the other 2 or so days of resistance training each week will be dedicated to lower and upper body strengthening. So long bi’s and tri’s, hello powerlifting!

Powerlifting includes three basic lifts: bench press, squat and deadlift. All three of these will be incorporated into my 2, possibly 3 days a week when I’m not practicing Olympic lifts, in addition to pullups, overhead press and chinups. These movements require full-body activation and build massive amounts of muscle with each repetition compared to isolation exercises.

I’m not saying there is no place for curls, flys, cables or even kettle bells, but I need to be more efficient with my time and bodybuilding workouts just aren’t working for me anymore. I wish it hadn’t taken 15 years to discover this other approach to size and strength, but better late than never. We’ll see how my first 6-months or so changes my body and I’ll be sure to update this blog if I ever feel compelled to incorporate any aesthetically intended movements into my new size and strength programs.

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