You lift some monster weights, but are they necessary for bodybuilding?
Yes, but only as a consequence of other factors — not as a goal in themselves. Everyone else seems to know more than I do about the specific pounds I’m lifting; that’s because my mind is elsewhere. I’m aware of all the talk about my 200-pound curls and my 800-pound squats and deadlifts, but those are only temporary numbers. The weights increase as my muscle mass increases; they don’t precede it.
Egotistic lifters would like to believe that heavy weight is the most important aspect of bodybuilding. They’re wrong, but so are their opponents who think that heavy weight is the culprit behind injuries and delayed development. That’s not an indictment of heavy weight, but of the way it’s often handled. Perform an exercise properly with good form and there’s no such thing as too much weight. The point is that heavy weight, perfect form and optimal pump are all equal parts of the same equation. One is not more important than the other.
It usually takes me 12 reps to build an optimal pump, one that fills the muscle to its max with blood, while leaving it eager to vigorously repeat that sensation with two or three more sets.
Notice that I have not mentioned poundage. The amount I lift for any given exercise is not my concern. The weights increase only as a function of the pump I’m getting. I may find that after one good pump with 12 reps, I can get a better pump using more weight for the next set with 10 reps or less. I’ll change the set, but only if I can get a better pump. If I feel it more in my joints than in my muscles, I return to the lighter weight for 12 reps.
My prioritization of the pump is particularly evident in my back workout. With deadlifts, I may get an optimal pump with 12 reps for the first set, but the pump improves with weight increases for successive sets, all the way down to two reps. The deadlift is so compound that each weight increase activates a new level of muscles, which can only be fatigued by still heavier weight.
T-bar rows, however, are a more isolated movement for lats, and the optimal pump falls off below 10 reps. If I add heavier weight and do fewer reps, the stress shifts from my lats to my lower back, glutes and hamstrings, thereby compromising the exercise.
The trick is not to sacrifice weight or reps for each other. They both need to be considered to achieve an optimal pump. You need to test the limits of both to find the ideal combination of weight and reps for any given exercise and set. For the first set, use as much weight as possible for 12 reps, concentrating on building an optimal pump in the muscle. For the next set, add more weight and see if the higher weight/fewer reps strategy builds an even better pump. Continue adding weight and decreasing reps for each set for as long as your pump improves. The tighter the pump, the more your body will grow, so keep it going. Who knows where it will stop?