Does Strength Matter For Physique Athletes by IFBB Pro Brad Rowe

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The age old question….what’s your bench bro? I know every single person who has spent more than a month in the gym has fielded this question at one time or another. But how does strength relate to building a physique that wows over judges?

In my younger days as an athlete it was important to have a strong bench, squat, and deadlift. I needed to be able to explode off the line, stiff arm defenders, or drop my shoulders and run over a 250lb linebacker heading full speed into the hole to tackle me. A combination of strength and explosiveness were what kept me on two feet and eventually in the end zone.

But as I began to shift into my physique career, I quickly found out that just moving weight didn’t mean my muscles were going to grow. I was much stronger 10 years ago and 30lbs lighter. But that does not mean that strength didn’t play a part into me getting to the level I am at now. It laid a solid foundation and strengthened tendons to be able to hold heavier loads.

The difference is the approach to the lift and what we consider strong. There are plenty of bodybuilders who were crazy strong (Ronnie Coleman for example) but when you watch a bodybuilder lift heavy it’s a much different type of movement than say a powerlifter or athlete trying to increase performance. Bodybuilders are lifting heavy but with far superior control and focus on connecting with particular muscle groups to elicit hypertrophy and gain some more strength. Where a powerlifter sole purpose is to move the weight from point A to point B and doesn’t care what muscles are being used to achieve this.

By having to focus on muscle contraction its typically harder for physique athletes to move as much weight as their counterparts. But more often than not, they are much more muscularly developed. You also see some very large bodybuilders that use very light weight and high reps to achieve superhuman results. So it begs the question, do you need to train heavy?

I believe that a person just getting into the sport of bodybuilding should first focus on form and connection with muscle groups, then once that connection is made, transition into training heavier and heavier each week. Progressive overload is a great way to help build dense tissue and more importantly strong connective tissue that will be able to support the amount of muscle mass one desires. But form and muscle connection must always be emphasized.

Once a great foundation of dense muscle is built, than other methods of training like higher rep work can be implemented to increase volume and shape of the muscle and more importantly give the joints and tendons a little break as well.

Going back and forth every few months between phases of progressive overload and higher rep training as we get older I believe helps to continuously build and maintain a strong but developed physique. So next time someone asks “What’s your bench” just say “Enough to continually progress and not get burnt out!

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