|The Ultimate Decision: Bodybuilder or Weightlifter
By Ron Kosloff N/C of NSP Research Nutrition
are going to come to a crossroad in our game where you are going to have to decide whether
you want to be a bodybuilder or a weightlifter. A bodybuilder sculpts the body to make
each and every muscle stand out. If Vince Girondas method is used, all four heads
are worked to really make the muscle take shape, have definition, and aesthetics. A
weightlifter (tugger, swinger, puller
you know what I mean) endeavours to have a
large ego as well as large muscles. To my way of thinking, weightlifting exercises are a
conglomeration of cheating movements.
For instance, a bench press is a cheating exercise where
you use about six (6) muscles. Plant you feet on the floor, arch your back, and
immediately you are using the terrous major muscle. You also put your thumbs around the
bar (this should never be done -- you should always use a palm grip) and immediately you
use the forearms. Now youre using your back and your forearms as well. Once you arch
your back and get your feet in a planted position, primarily the exercise is inner
deltoid. When you do this, you are using your biceps and triceps. So youre using
roughly six muscles including the pectorals to so-called lift the weight, never really
developing any muscle, never shaping or sculpting it.
As I said earlier, you should never put your thumbs around
the bar. When you do, in any exercise, you will bring your forearms into play. As an
example when working your biceps, half of the exercise will be forearms and the other half
is biceps. Thats why people say to me, "Every time I do curls, I feel it in my
forearms." Thats right, because you are wrapping your thumbs under the bar,
which is called a palm grip, or a false grip.
Of course, if you do want to be a weightlifter, tugger, and
what not, you will have to realize that sooner or later you are going to injure every
joint, muscle, ligament, and tendon in your body. All for sake of saying, "Im a
power lifter and I can lift 400 pounds." Its not going to get you any muscle
shape. It will, however, cause you lots of pain, and it will only get worse as you age.
With most power lifters, diet is thrown to the wind because
they eat anything and everything. Technically, the more you weigh the more you can lift.
You will have to ask yourself if thats how you want to look, or do you want to look
like a bodybuilder? This is the ultimate decision that youre going to have to make.
When I first got into the game, I was a member of a YMCA. I
would go there to swim and shoot pool once in a while. Occasionally, I would see these
really big fellows come in. They were huge. I soon found out that they were weightlifters.
I went to the weightlifting room to observe and was just standing around and one of them
said to me, "Come on in, well show you how to lift." I thought, "Oh
boy!!! This looks good to me."
Most people who lift weights have some sort of an
inadequacy complex. I wont say inferiority complex, but they feel inadequate and
their self-esteem is low. I knew mine was. I had always been extremely slender. They
showed me all of these exercises and I was thrilled. Naturally, I couldnt lift the
amount that they were lifting because they were much older than I, but I made an attempt.
I thought this was how you attained a decent body because I had seen pictures of Steve
Reeves. I never knew how he worked out. I had seen some pictures of the old-time
bodybuilders and I thought bodybuilders and weightlifters were one in the same. I had no
idea they were that different. I recalled seeing bodybuilding magazines with the type of
physique I liked.
After I worked out my first night, everyone hit the
showers. I was looking around at these guys and said to myself, "Holy smokes, I
dont want to look like that!" They all had big guts and large rear-ends. These
guys were big and strong, but they were not impressive at all. They didnt have the
look of a bodybuilder. That is when I found out that there was a huge difference, but
since I was a kid, I just didnt know. At the YMCA at that time if you were a
bodybuilder you were considered a little funny. They would hold a bodybuilding contest,
but it would be in the basement. A man posing, shaving his body -- this was unheard of.
So, the weightlifters got all the attention.
I used to go to some of the weightlifting meets. When I
first walked in, I saw all of these guys with bandaged shoulders, wrist, and knees. I
could smell the liniment. It was horrible. I could hear them saying, "I ruined my
knee, sprained my ankle, hurt my back, etc." I thought to myself, "This sure as
hell isnt something that I want to get into." After observing that, I knew
right away that I didnt want to be a weightlifter. As an older guy today, I
dont have many injuries except for some scar tissue in my left shoulder and left
knee when I tried to prove I could lift a weight that I couldnt. When scar tissue
forms, it never goes away. If you try and lift weight that Mother Nature never intended
for you to lift in the first place, you are going to injure yourself. Most of my life
being a bodybuilder, I never taxed the scar tissue in my shoulder or knee, so I have never
had any injuries. I never tore anything. I have never injured ligaments or tendons. Most
power lifters, weightlifters and bodybuilders today take steroids. The simple fact is, and
most people dont understand, that steroids will certainly make you bigger,
absolutely. They will make you tremendously stronger. They will anesthetize you. You will
feel great when you take them. One thing that steroids cant do is make your
ligaments, tendons, and joints stronger. Thats one reason theyre so many
injuries in sports in general. Some professional athletes are on steroids, either to get
bigger and stronger or to recuperate from the strenuous, almost-yearlong endeavour of
preparing for their jobs. My teacher, Vince Gironda, hated them, and he accused them of
destroying the game that we partake in. When steroids first came into prominence in 1963,
all meaningful advancement in natural bodybuilding ceased, which was tragic. Of course, it
broke Vinces heart. He hated steroids and he made it known and he stood alone.
At the YMCA, someone had posted a sign down in the dungeon,
where the bodybuilders used to train, that the western YMCA was holding a bodybuilding
contest. There were going to be ten (10) contestants. So, I got on the bus and went to the
contest. The minute I saw those guys I knew it was exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted
to look good. I wanted to have shape, definition and aesthetics.
Most power lifters look down on bodybuilders as not strong
people. This is simply not true. I try to explain (if people listen) there are two types
of strength. There is individual muscle strength and there is group strength. Lets
say you lift 200 pounds in a standard bench press. I bet that you couldnt do 200
pounds in a Vince Gironda neck press. Whats the difference? A neck press is where
you lie on the bench with feet crossed and knees as close to your chest as you can. Your
back is flat now. Take the weight off the rack and use a 90-degree grip between your
forearm and your bicep. Thats your set position. Your back is flat and your chin is
up. You start out with the weight elevated as high as you can get it and then slowly bring
the bar down to the sternoclavicle, or your Adams apple, and then draw your elbows
In a standard bench press, you bring the bar down to the
lower pectoral line, which now becomes an inner-deltoid exercise. When you bring the bar
down to the sternoclavicle and pull your elbows back, you are getting a tremendous stretch
between the top of the pectorals and the bottom. It is a tremendous exercise, but I bet
you will cut your weight almost in half. Now youre lifting 100 pounds with one
muscle instead of 200 with six (6) muscles. Thats the difference between a
weightlifter and a bodybuilder. You have to decide whether you want to impress people with
how much weight you can cheat up or how you look.
When Larry Scott entered a bodybuilding contest, do you
think the judges cared if he could do a 300-pound bench press? They didnt care how
much he could lift. They were concerned about how he looked. Did he have shape,
definition, and aesthetics? People who do individual exercises have individual strength.
Those who do group exercise have group strength. I cannot workout the way a weightlifter
can but in turn he cant workout the way I do.
I had a Canadian weightlifter come into my office (Detroit
is just across the border from Canada) and he wanted to get liver and protein. We talked
about Vince Girondas methods and he kind of scoffed at them. I said, "Marcel,
what do you do in a curl. Do you ever do dumbbell curls?" He said that he used 60-75
pounds for dumbbell curls. I said, "I have two (2) 25 dumbbells here. Do you think
you could do 8 sets of 8 repetitions?" He laughed at me. He thought it was funny. But
I told him we were going to do it my way, not his way. "Put your heels together and
toes apart. Bend your knees and hunch forward and put your chin to your chest. Grab the
dumbbell with a palm grip and straighten your arm out. Start with the dumbbell on your
fingertips. As you curl both weights you lock your elbows into your side. Hunch over so
the weight at the bottom will have the same resistance when you contract at the top.
Youre not leaning back and cheating the weight from a half movement to a full
movement. Close your eyes and feel the weight. Feel the positives. Touch your deltoids and
squeeze them as hard as you can for six (6) seconds, then feel the weight on the way down.
Do a full set. Dont drop the weight. Let it go down on your fingertips. Put the
weight on the floor and hyperventilate for 15 seconds. Grab the weight again and do
another set." It was a joke. On the second set, sixth rep, he couldnt even lift
the weight. Then I took the 25-pound dumbbells and I cranked out 6 sets of 8 reps and
said, "See, technically I am stronger than you when I do an isolation exercise. But
when you do a weightlifting exercise, youre stronger than I am. Thats not to
say I cant be as strong as you. If I had the capabilities, I could not do as much
weight, but I could increase my weight a lot."
The reason that Vince Gironda called the squat a sissy
squat is because he would make sissies out of weightlifters when they would come in and do
squats. Weightlifting squats are not basically a leg exercise. Certainly, you get big
thighs but you ruin the proportion between your thighs, hips, abdomen, and lower back. As
Vince had said, weightlifting squats do many things that you dont want your body to
be accustomed to like increase the size of your stomach because you push it out, widen
your lower back, and get a big rear-end. Vince said he could tell an eastern bodybuilder
when he came into his gym by the size of his rear-end. Vince would always warn people, and
I have advocated this and told people at the Powerhouse Gym people, when I owned it, once
you develop your glutes, you can never reduce them. They are the densest muscles in your
body. People used to laugh at me, but many years later they now say they wish they would
Look at all the modern-day squatters who call themselves
bodybuilders. They have rear-ends that proportionately are bigger than their legs. They
look horrible. They walk like ducks. Thats the first thing I noticed at the YMCA. I
want to warn all you bodybuilders. If you start to do squats, you will get a large
rear-end that will never, never go away. Id like a weightlifter to duplicate this. I
saw Vince Gironda on a hack-slide/hack-squat machine that he invented. He went up on his
toes with heels together, both knees would be pointed towards opposite walls (like a
frog). I saw the man crank out 8 sets of 8 reps with 15 seconds of rest in between. I
think the bar was around 225 pounds. Now that is strong! Most people do weightlifting
squats because its easy to do. Its much easier to bend over and use a group of
muscles. When you isolate the thigh in hack slide versus a squat, you have one muscle
lifting 225 pounds versus five (5) muscles lifting 400, which is a cheating exercise to
Now you ask the question, is it possible to be a
bodybuilder and weightlifter? Well, unless you are a genetic superior like Vince Gironda
always talked about, the answer is no. I have only seen two people in my life that were
capable of doing both. One was an old-time bodybuilder/weightlifter who was on the U.S.
Olympic team. His name was Tommy Kono and he represented York Barbell. He had a terrific
physique. There are some people who can do squats because they have small hips and small
glutes to begin with, but 95% of people cant. He entered weightlifting and physique
contests. Sergio Oliva, who defected from Cuba in the late 50s to early 60s, was a member
of the Cuban weightlifting team. He didnt look like a weightlifter, he looked like a
bodybuilder, but he was blessed. When I watched him work out at the YMCA in Chicago, he
had such a small waist and small hips and no rear-end to speak of so weightlifting squats
didnt affect him that much, if at all. When he started in bodybuilding, he was very
successful, but he didnt pay very much attention to his diet. When I watched him
work out, he was eating some kind of pie and drinking a Coke. He didnt look like he
knew that much about nutrition, and thats why when he competed against Larry Scott
in 1966, Larry just blew him away. Vince once said, "If I ever trained Oliva nobody
could touch him." He was such a genetic superior. He rivalled Don Howorth in
bodybuilding proportions. I always thought Don had more potential, but Sergio just never
practiced good nutrition. I guess he felt that he didnt have to. When Scott beat him
in the 1966 Olympia (I was there), Sergio was just dripping with oil. He put so much oil
on his body to try to bring his definition out, and it really made him look worse. Because
of his genetic superiority and the fact he was blessed, he went on to win many, many
titles. One time I was at a seminar in Minneapolis, he was bragging that he beat
everybody. I cleared my throat and said, "Sergio you never beat Larry Scott." He
was quite embarrassed about that.
So, as I first stated, you will sooner or later have to
choose -- good luck!