Illustration of a man with disproportionately small arms relative to his chest and back muscles

Should You Double Down on Strengths Or Bring Up Weaknesses?

In this article, let’s talk about the philosophy you should adopt while choosing your lift variations and accessories. Should you run lift with your strengths and focus on what you’re best at? Or should you address your weaknesses so that you can build a more balanced and versatile physique?

What’s interesting is that the answer changes depending on your goals. Doubling down on strengths will make you stronger, bringing up weaknesses will make you look better, and a mix of both approaches tends to be best for general health.

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Barbell Biceps Curl Illustration (with EZ-Bar)

The Unfaithful Bulker Is Bigger

Being a loyal, honest, and faithful person is incredibly important. In fact, I think it might even be the most important thing in life. If you doubt that, I highly recommend the book Lying by the neuroscientist Sam Harris, PhD. In it, he outlines the many ways that lying is morally wrong and will ruin your life.

However, being unfaithful to your bulking routine has no moral implications, and it will probably help you build more muscle. There are a few ways to be unfaithful, too, each with their own unique benefits.

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Illustration of a man doing the barbell front squat

The Squat Guide (for Size)

The squat is the strength training lift. Like the deadlift, it’s a great lift for strengthening your body from your neck down to your toes. In fact, its claim to fame is that squatting stimulates over 200 muscles.

However, powerlifters squat with the goal of improving their max-effort strength. That means choosing the variation with the best leverage, trying to emphasize their very strongest muscles, and minimizing their range of motion.

If our goal is to gain overall size and strength, we’re going to approach the squat much differently. Less like a powerlifter, more like a weightlifter. We’re going to use a large range of motion, we’re going to use it to bring up weak links, and we’re going to choose a variation that develops our quads and hips, sure, but also our core and upper back.

In this article, we’ll cover:

  • How to build a stronger lower body with the squat.
  • Whether you should low-bar, high-bar, or front squat.
  • Squat assistance lifts, such as the goblet squats and squatting to boxes.
  • Squat accessories. Do you need them?

This article is bulking: It will grow and change over time. Occasionally we’ll trim off some fat. This isn’t meant to be the final word.

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How to deadlift if your goal is to gain muscle size and bulk up

The Deadlift Guide (for Size)

The deadlift is the high king of all exercises. It strengthens your body from your fingers down to your toes, bulking you up from your forearms down to your calves. Most of all, though, it will help you build a thick back, a sturdy spine, and tall traps.

The deadlift is one of the only lifts that’s a staple of both powerlifting and strongman training. It’s also one of the best lifts for improving your overall aesthetics.

However, most powerlifters and strongmen deadlift with the goal of developing their max-effort strength. If your goal is to build a bigger, stronger, and more generally badass body, we can modify the deadlift a bit to be better for building muscle, improving your appearance, and giving you better longevity.

In this article, we’ll cover:

  • How to bulk up your entire posterior chain with the deadlift.
  • Whether you should deadlift with a sumo or conventional stance.
  • Deadlift accessories, such as the power row, RDL, and squat?
  • Deadlift assistance lifts, such as hip thrusts and good mornings.

This article is bulking: It will grow and change over time. Occasionally we’ll trim off some fat. This isn’t meant to be the final word.

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How to do the bench press to build bigger chest muscles

The Bench Press Guide (for Size)

The bench press is the best lift for building a powerful chest. It’s also great for bulking up your triceps and the fronts of your shoulders, making it a great overall lift for improving your aesthetics.

However, the bench press isn’t the only way to get those benefits. In fact, there’s another lift—the push-up—that stimulates those muscles to the same degree while allowing for a greater range of motion, bringing in your serratus muscles. It also tends to be better for improving the health of your shoulders. The push-up comes with its own limitations, though.

In this article, we’ll cover:

  • How to bulk up your chest with the bench press.
  • Whether you should bench with a wide or narrow grip.
  • How big should your back arch be while benching?
  • Bench press accessories, such as the push-up and feet-up.
  • Bench press assistance lifts, such as flys, skull-crushers, and dips.

This article is bulking: It will grow and change over time. Occasionally we’ll trim off some fat. This isn’t meant to be the final word.

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How to use the overhead press and push press to build broader, wider shoulders

The Push Press Guide (for Size)

The overhead press is the best lift for building bigger, broader shoulders. It’s also fantastic for your triceps, for your posture, and for your core, making it one of the best all-around bulking lifts.

There are a couple different ways to do an overhead press, though. There’s the classic “strict” press, where you start the barbell of on your chest and muscle it up with your shoulders. Then there’s the push press, where you drive into the barbell with both your legs and shoulders. This allows you to lift heavier weights, improve the strength curve, and ultimately build more muscle.

In this article, we’ll cover:

  • How to bulk up your shoulders and triceps with the push press.
  • Push press accessories, such as the strict press and dumbbell press.
  • Push press assistance lifts, such as lateral raises and upright rows.

This article is bulking: It will grow and change over time. Occasionally we’ll trim off some fat. This isn’t meant to be the final word.

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How to do the chin-up to best gain upper back and biceps muscle size

The Chin-Up Guide (for Size)

Chin-ups are a great lift for your upper back, abs, and grip strength. It’s even great for improving your cardiovascular fitness. What it’s most famous for, though, is building killer biceps.

In fact, the only other exercise that comes close are biceps curls. But given that curls are a smaller single-joint movement, they’re better thought of as an assistance lift to the chin-up anyway.

In this article, we’ll cover:

  • How to bulk up your arms, back and abs with the chin-up.
  • Chin-up accessories, such as neutral-grip chin-ups and pull-ups.
  • Chin-up assistance lifts, such as biceps curls and rows.

This article is bulking: It will grow and change over time. Occasionally we’ll trim off some fat. This isn’t meant to be the final word.

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What are the best lifts for bulking? For gaining Muscle size?

The “Big 5” Approach to Bulking

A powerlifter’s strength is calculated by adding up how much they can squat, bench, and deadlift—their total. If their total goes up, they’re improving. If it doesn’t, they aren’t. As a result, all of their training is centred around improving their total, either directly or indirectly.

This gives every exercise a specific purpose. Powerlifters have their main lifts, which is how their strength is measured. This is where they invest most of their energy, and rightly so. But they also have assistance lifts and accessory lifts that help them emphasize their strengths and/or bring up weak links.

It’s a good system. Or, at least, it’s good system if you’re a powerlifter. But let’s imagine that instead of trying to become a powerlifter, we’re trying to become bigger, stronger, healthier, and better looking. How would those lifts change to help us accomplish those goals? How would we measure our progress?

If we can figure that out, then we can bring that same specificity and clarity to our training that powerlifters have.

This article is bulking: It will grow and change over time. Occasionally we’ll trim off some fat.

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Illustration of Milo of Croton

You can’t outrun skinniness

Most people play to their strengths. If you’re thin and fit, you focus on cardio. If you’re squat and strong, you gravitate towards strength sports. That’s good if you want to excel at a sport, but what if you’re trying to improve your versatility, general health, and appearance?

That requires turning your weaknesses into strengths. And when it comes to naturally skinny guys, weakness is our weakness. No matter how far you run—and ectomorphs can run quite far—you won’t be able to outrun skinniness.

There’s only one way to defeat skinniness: outlift it.

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Barbell Illustration

The Complete Barbell Guide

We’ve got a full guide on building a barbell home gym, but I got way too deep into researching barbells, so I decided to make a whole separate post about it. This is that separate post.

The reason I fell so far into barbell research is because barbells are totally rad. They’re our connection to all of the weight we’ll be lifting. And if we didn’t have so many calluses and deadened nerves, we might even be able to enjoy how they feel in your hands.

Each barbell is designed for a particular purpose. One barbell might be flexible so that it bends when you pull a deadlift. Another barbell might be springy so that you can launch it into the air and then catch it on your shoulders without all of the force crashing into your joints. Yet another barbell might be designed to be sturdy so that you can bench press without the weight bouncing around.

By the end of this article you’ll understand every feature of every barbell, you’ll be able to lift more weight more comfortably, and you’ll know how to buy a barbell that’s perfect for you.

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