Illustration of a skinny and a muscular man doing dumbbell biceps curls

Many popular bodybuilding and hypertrophy workout routines aren’t built on a foundation of big compound lifts. This gives powerlifting routines an edge over bodybuilding routines. See, 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 lift in their workout routine 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. These extra lifts are used to improve their main lifts. Again, there’s a solid structure in place.

It’s a good system. Or, at least, it’s a good system if you’re a powerlifter. But what if we aren’t powerlifters, we’re bodybuilders? What if we’re trying to gain muscle size and strength, become healthier, and improve our appearance? Would our big compound lifts change? How would we choose assistance and accessory lifts? And how should we measure our progress? If we can figure that out, then we can bring that same specificity and clarity to our hypertrophy training that powerlifters have in their strength training.

So, in this article let’s talk about which big compound lifts we should be doing to gain muscle size, how we should add assistance and accessory lifts to them, and how should we measure our progress.

The Power of Specificity

There’s a great powerlifting textbook called the Scientific Principles of Strength Training. It’s written by Mike Israetel, PhD, James Hoffmann, PhD, CSCS, and the legendary powerlifter Chad Wesley Smith. According to them, the most important principle of strength training is something called specificity.

Powerlifters have their three big lifts: the squat, the deadlift, and the bench press. Their goal is simply to put up more weight on those three lifts. Their training, then, should be hyper-focused on specifically gaining 1-rep max strength on those three specific lifts.

Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean that a powerlifter should only do those three lifts or only practice lifting heavy singles. That’s not what the authors are suggesting, either. They recommend a number of different variations, assistance lifts, and accessory lifts done in a variety of rep ranges. However, all of these lifts are specifically chosen to help them improve their performance at the Big 3 powerlifting lifts.

This same principle of specificity is paramount no matter what you’re training for. You want your goal front and centre, and then everything else should be specifically chosen to help you accomplish that goal.

Here’s the thing, though, my throwers don’t run. My throwers don’t do agility drills or jumping or, really, just about anything other than throw and lift. Why? Because I want them to be fit to throw.

– Dan John, author of Easy Strength

It’s not even limited to sports. Regardless of what it is you’re training for, specificity is still a foundational principle:

The more specific you are about what you want to become good at doing, the easier it is for you to train for success.

– James Clear, author of Atomic Habits

Going back to powerlifting, though, specificity means that powerlifters can boil down their training to just:

  1. Gaining size in the relevant muscles. The bigger a muscle grows, the stronger it will become. One study found that four years of weight training resulted in a 60% increase in muscle strength and a 56% increase in muscle size, meaning that increased muscle size explained 93% of the gains in strength. Therefore, if we’re trying to increase our strength on the back squat, our very first priority is bulking up the relevant muscles: our quads, adductors, and glutes. The irrelevant muscles, of course, don’t matter. Biceps aren’t a limiting factor in the squat, bench press, or deadlift, so there’s no need to build bigger biceps.
  2. Training to improve 1-rep max strength. A powerlifter is judged by how much they can lift for a single repetition. This means that they need to learn how to contract all of their muscle fibres at once for a single all-out repetition. This is why strength training is done in low rep ranges (1–5 repetitions per set).
  3. Improving technical prowess on the squat, bench, and deadlift. A powerlifter ought to know how to do the competition lifts in a way that gives them the most leverage and allows them to lift the most weight.
An illustration of a powerlifter doing a low-bar barbell back squat

Mind you, to a non-powerlifter, different muscles are relevant. For example, our biceps might be highly relevant to us because we want to carry heavy things around in our arms. (And perhaps we want our arms to look more badass as we carry those things around.)

Similarly, as non-powerlifters, we don’t need to focus purely on improving our 1-rep max strength. We might, say, want an endurance component to our strength. Maybe it makes more sense to focus more of our efforts on gaining strength in the 4–10 rep range.

Finally, technical prowess means something different to powerlifters. Technical prowess on the squat doesn’t mean squatting deep and gracefully, it means squatting to legal powerlifting depth with optimal leverage. Prowess on the bench doesn’t mean benching with a large range of motion to improve chest size and strength, it means benching with a large arch to improve leverage.

The implications of specificity run deep. A powerlifter might want a rounded upper back (kyphosis) because it helps them gain better leverage on the deadlift. A non-powerlifter, however, might prefer to be able to stand taller and straighter.

For another example, a powerlifter benefits from repetitively performing the big 3 lifts over and over again. This helps them improve their technical prowess, and it also ensures that they’re bulking up not just the specific muscles, but also the specific muscle fibres that they need for those lifts. They aren’t trying to build big, strong, and versatile muscles. Rather, they’re trying to build highly specialized muscles that are good at accomplishing a very specific task.

A non-powerlifter might want to take the opposite approach. They might want to train their muscles in more diverse movement patterns so that all of their muscle fibres grow, making their strength more versatile and giving their muscles a fuller appearance.

I’m scared to keep beating a horse that’s so much stronger than I am, but if you want to read more about why powerlifting-style strength training isn’t ideal for building muscle or even gaining general strength, we’ve got an article on strength training here.

But we don’t want to throw the barbell out with the bathwater either. There’s a lot we can learn from how powerlifters approach strength training. In fact, of all the lifting programs out there, the powerlifting routines are some of the cleverest.

First, we need to laser in on what our goals are so that we can train them with the same specificity that powerlifters do.

Specificity for the Non-Powerlifter

Illustration of a man doing a front squat

What do you want out of your body? Your goals might be different from ours, but we like the idea of training for:

  • Overall muscle size. I’m a naturally skinny guy. I want to be bigger and stronger. I suspect you do, too. This might mean spending more time in the hypertrophy rep ranges and using a wider variety of lifts.
  • Overall strength. I care about how much I can squat, bench, and deadlift, but I also care about how strong I am in a general sense. This might mean bringing in movement patterns like chin-ups, rows, loaded carries, and overhead presses.
  • Overall health. To be honest, I find it hard to get excited about lifting for my general health and longevity. But even if those goals aren’t as juicy as building muscle, I still care deeply about them, and so I absolutely want my bulking program to improve my health. And there are certainly ways that we can adjust our training to improve both our muscle growth and our general health. This might mean doing squats in moderate rep ranges (8–12 reps, say) to improve our cardiovascular fitness along with our muscle size.
  • Aesthetics. I figure if we’re going through all the trouble of becoming big and strong, we may as well look like total badasses, too. A squat isn’t going to do much to improve our appearance, but chin-ups and overhead presses sure will.

Now, “overall size, strength, health, and aesthetics” might not sound very specific. And yeah, okay, it isn’t. But these goals still fit together well enough that a single umbrella can keep them dry. We can work with this.

The second question is: if those are our goals, what’s our lifting going to look like?

  1. Gaining size in the relevant muscles. Powerlifters need to figure out which muscles are relevant to the lifts that they care about. We don’t have main lifts (yet), so we can sneak up on this one from behind: if we can figure out which muscles we care about the most, we can figure out which lifts best develop those muscles.
  2. Training to improve strength. Outside of the very low (under 4) and very high (over 40) rep ranges, size is strength and vice versa. So there’s actually no problem developing both size and strength at once. In fact, the best way to kill these two birds is with a single stone.
  3. Improving technical prowess on our main lifts. But again, what are our main lifts? Are there lifts where mastering the technique gives us benefits beyond muscle and strength?

Can we kill three birds with one swing of a barbell? I think so. To stand any hope of that, though, we need to get much more organized than the average bodybuilder. To do this, we can simply rob the powerlifters again. They’ve got a great way of sorting their lifts into a hierarchy.

The Hierarchy of Bulking Lifts

Illustration of a man flexing his biceps

If we’re training with the goal of becoming strong at certain lifts, as a powerlifter would, then this allows us to categorize all of our lifts into a hierarchy.

  1. Main lifts: For a powerlifter, the main lifts are the squat, bench press, and deadlift. This includes all the variations that can be used in competition, such as sumo and conventional deadlifts. These are the most specific, and so they have #1 priority.
  2. Assistance lifts: These are compound movements that are similar to the main lifts but that shift the emphasis to different muscle groups. For example, a Romanian deadlift is the same movement as a deadlift, but it shifts the emphasis to the hamstrings. The movement is still specific to the deadlift, just not quite as specific as the deadlift itself. This ranks them at #2 priority.
  3. Accessory lifts: These are exercises that are used to bulk up specific muscles. For example, if someone’s back strength is limiting them on the deadlift, they might use barbell rows to bulk their backs up. This movement pattern isn’t that specific to the deadlift, but the muscle group is still relevant. This takes #3 priority.

Bulking programs are too often just a bunch of lifts thrown together for each muscle group in an attempt to give them enough volume to grow. That won’t even scratch it, let alone cut it.

If we pilfer this structure from powerlifters, though, we can give our bulking workouts quite a lot of structure. For example, let’s say that we want to bulk up our biceps:

  1. Main lift: The heaviest lift that places the most mechanical tension on our biceps through the largest range of motion is the chin-up. We’ll use this as our main lift. Just like powerlifters can choose to deadlift either sumo or conventional, we could do our chins with either an underhand or neutral grip. Both are great.
  2. Assistance lifts: These are the similar movements, such as overhand pull-ups, assisted chin-ups, lowered chin-ups, and if you want to push it, perhaps even lat pulldowns. If you’re a beginner, for example, you might want to use lowered chin-ups to place even more mechanical tension on your biceps. Or you might want to use assisted chin-ups to allow you to train in higher rep ranges.
  3. Accessory lifts: These are the exercises that are simply used to bulk up the relevant muscles. In this case, this is where the biceps curls come in. The stronger we can build our biceps with curls, the better they’ll be able to assist us with the chin-ups.

This hierarchy tells us that it’s probably wisest to invest most of our energy into chin-ups. Then, depending on what’s limiting our performance, we might want to bring in an assistance lift to help strengthen our weak link. And then we might add in some biceps curls near the end of our workouts to give our biceps some extra growth stimulus.

Of course, you could also put extra emphasis on your biceps by simply doing more chin-ups. However, the reason that assistance and accessory lifts come in handy is that they’re much less fatiguing, allowing us to sneak them in at the end of a tiring workout.

Accessory lifts also train our muscles in slightly different ways from the main lifts, which is great for our overall muscle development, and which helps to keep our joints and connective tissues strong.

What Are the Best Bulking Lifts?

Illustration of a man doing chin-ups

That finally brings us to the point of this article. What lifts should we care about becoming strong at? And which variations of those lifts are the best for becoming big and strong?

We’re not the first people to think of this idea. There are a few different programs that are designed for general strength training that chose their own main lifts. Of these, two are incredibly popular.

The Starting Strength Approach

Mark Rippetoe recommends the following lifts in Starting Strength:

  • Low-Bar Squat (Main Lift)
  • Bench Press
  • Overhead Press
  • Power Clean
  • Deadlift (lesser priority)

I think this lift selection is wise, especially given who it’s designed for: college athletes who are new to lifting weights. However, I don’t think it’s ideal for our specific goals.

First, the power clean is good for turning strength into explosiveness, but it isn’t very good for developing size or strength in the first place.

Second, there’s no lift for the upper back or biceps, so this isn’t going to be an ideal routine for developing all-around practical strength or aesthetics.

Third, the low-bar squat is given a massive emphasis. I mean, I get it. Our quads and glutes are by far our biggest muscle groups, meaning that squats are the lift that stimulates the most overall muscle growth. Squats are also profoundly healthy.

Illustration of a woman doing a barbell back squat.

However, putting such incredible emphasis on squatting will mean that our upper-body strength would become a limiting factor outside of the gym, that our bench press would lag behind, and that our proportions would become more pear-like. Now, don’t me wrong, it’s don’t have any prejudice against pears. In fact, some of my best friends are pears. It’s just that most men would rather look like tortilla chips, and most women would rather look like calabashes.

The StrongLifts 5×5 Approach

Mehdi from StrongLifts suggests a similar set of 5 lifts:

  • Low-Bar Squat (Main Lift)
  • Bench Press
  • Overhead Press
  • Barbell Row
  • Deadlift (lesser priority)

Mehdi borrowed from pioneers like Rippetoe but swapped out the power cleans for barbell rows. This certainly shifts the emphasis to the upper back and arms, but it might shift a bit too much emphasis to the spinal erectors and forearms, which are already being trained quite well by the deadlift.

The problem remains with the low-bar squat, too. It’s not the best squat variation and it’s given a disproportionate emphasis.

And there’s still nothing there for the biceps. I mean, the rows kind of work the biceps, but even the humble biceps curl stimulates twice as much biceps growth as the barbell row (study).

Oh! And I should mention that these are true minimalist programs. They recommend only doing these main lifts. That’s not what we’re suggesting. There’s such a thing as too much specificity.

Our First Attempt: The Big 6

Marco and I tried to develop an improved set of lifts. We came up with the following:

  • High-Bar Squat
  • Close-Grip Bench Press
  • Deadlift
  • Overhead Press
  • Barbell Row
  • Chin-up

There are a couple of improvements we were trying for.

  1. High-bar squats: switching to a high-bar squat solves some of the problems of the low-bar squat. It allows for a larger range of motion and puts the shoulders in a better position.
  2. Chin-ups: like the row, chin-ups do a great job of building the upper back. Unlike the row, though, chin-ups produce just as much biceps growth as biceps curls (study). This is also adding to our overall upper-body volume, which is going to be great for our proportions.
  3. Narrower bench press grip: the close-grip bench press is going to do a better job of bulking up the triceps, shoulders, and upper chest than a wider-grip bench press. (Mind you, Starting Strength recommends a fairly narrow bench press grip, so that wasn’t necessarily a problem to begin with.)

I talked with Greg Nuckols, founder of Stronger by Science, about this idea of finding the best lifts for overall strength and size. He’s a world-class powerlifter, an authority on strength training, a physics whizz, and also a force of good. Sort of a young Gandalf of powerlifting.

Marco and I are pretty damn good at helping people bulk up, but Marco cut his teeth helping athletes get bigger, not powerlifters. The way I figure it, if we’re going to be stealing the ideas of powerlifters, it makes sense to consult with the very wisest powerlifters to ensure that we’re doing it properly.

Greg had some totally rad ideas.

First, he suggested switching from the high-bar squat all the way to a front squat (or safety-bar squat). Switching to the front squat shifts more emphasis to our upper backs, it reduces the risk of injury, and it’s better for improving posture. It also gives us a far great range of motion, making it better for building overall muscle mass.

Second, he suggested switching from an overhead press to a push press. His reasoning was that a push press has a better strength curve. We load the barbell a bit heavier and then clear the sticking point by driving the barbell up with our lower bodies. Being able to use that heavier weight is going to give our shoulders and triceps a better overall growth stimulus. And it gives us a power lift that’s also good for developing muscle size and strength.

Now, to be clear, Greg wasn’t suggesting that we use the traditional push press technique where most of the drive comes from our lower bodies, he was merely suggesting that we add a bit of momentum to our overhead pressing. We should do a “cheaty” overhead press.

Third, he recommended switching from a conventional deadlift to a trap-bar deadlift. I think that’s a great idea in theory. In fact, the first version of our Bony to Beastly Bulking Program featured trap-bar deadlifts. However, we quickly learned that most people don’t have access to a trap bar (or safety-squat bar). So we’ll offer specialty lifts as options, but we’ll default to more classic barbell lifts.

The Big 5 Bulking Lifts

We tested our “Big 6” for a few months on ourselves and our members (both male and female). It worked well. However, perhaps predictably, we ran into issues with the barbell row. It’s just too similar to the deadlift. If we trained both lifts with similar fervour, we wound up massacring our spinal erectors and forearms.

Starting Strength and StrongLifts evade this problem by only doing one set of deadlifts and only deadlifting once or twice a week. However, the deadlift is a much better lift than the barbell row for bulking up. That’s like trading a gold coin for an arcade token.

So we banished the barbell row. Now, we’re not total monsters. We still do our rows. It’s just that we program them as an accessory for the deadlift. We’re getting plenty of upper back emphasis from our chin-ups anyway.

Illustration of a man doing the barbell overhead press

That’s how we arrived at our Big 5:

  1. The Deadlift: a hip-dominant lift that develops the posterior chain—the glutes, hamstrings, spinal erectors, and traps. And again, hundreds of other muscles.
  2. The Overhead Press: to develop the shoulders, upper chest, and triceps.
  3. The Chin-Up: an upper-body pull to develop the upper back, biceps, and forearms. It’s also a great ab exercise.
  4. The Front Squat: a knee-dominant lift that develops the quads and adductors, as well as hundreds of other muscles.
  5. The Bench Press: to develop the chest, shoulders, and triceps.

These aren’t in order of importance. I put the deadlift first simply as a form of restitution, given the discrimination it’s faced in these other programs.

With these main lifts, we’ve still got all the benefits of the big powerlifting lifts, but we’ve also added in two extra upper-body lifts. We’re still squatting enough to build strong legs, but those squats are balanced with a greater number of upper-body lifts, and each movement is given equal priority. Every workout no longer starts with squats.

That will shift the program from 2/3 lower body to 3/5 upper body, and these two extra upper body lifts will help us bulk up our chests, upper backs, shoulders, and arms.

Like a powerlifter, we can keep a running tally of our “Big Five” total to quantify our strength and progress. We can compare our results from using various different programs. We can identify and overcome plateaus. We can give our lifts a proper hierarchy.

Now, again, since we aren’t powerlifters, we don’t need to test our one-rep max unless we want to. Instead, we can estimate our one-rep maxes based on our rep maxes. As long as that number is improving, it shows that we’re becoming bigger and stronger overall. After all, going from an eight-rep max of 185 up to 225 shows just as much improvement as going from a 1-rep max of 230 up to 280.

Notes and Caveats

Illustration of a man doing a conventional deadlift.

Where’s the loaded carry? In our Bony to Beastly Bulking Program, which is designed for guys who are still fairly thin, we feature a ton of loaded carries, and so we’ve always counted them as one of the foundational lifts. Moving forward from that, though, I think it makes more sense to count them as another deadlift accessory. Otherwise, once again, we’re going to have too much heavy spinal loading in the program. (It’s also hard to perform heavy loaded carries once you get too strong to use dumbbells.)

This list is incomplete. We could also add in throws, planks, twists, and all manner of other movements that help build a formidable physique. However, these can often be folded into the above movement patterns. For example, a one-handed overhead press will develop your obliques as a throw would.

However, some lifts still won’t fit in this system. For example, neck curls won’t fit into any of those movement patterns. That’s okay. It’s an important lift for developing overall aesthetics, and it’s essential for building a thicker neck, but it’s still a fairly minor lift. We’ll simply call it an extra.

The same is true with forearm training. Yes, our forearms will be trained to some extend with deadlifts and chin-ups, but those grip muscles won’t necessarily add much to our forearm circumference, given that it’s the wrist flexors and extensors that contribute most to our forearm size. Better to add in some wrist curls and extensions if we want forearms that look strong.

Are these lifts for men or women? We tested this system on both men and women and it worked great in both cases.

However, there needs to be some flexibility to allow for varying goals. If someone wants to use the deadlift to develop their upper back, they might choose a conventional deadlift and add in plenty of barbell rows as an accessory. On the other hand, if someone wants more hip growth, they can choose a sumo deadlift and then add in plenty of hip thrusts as an accessory.

Men and women are often going to choose different programs, but this system tends to work equally well for both.

The lifts are going to vary based on experience level. A beginner is going to get more benefit out of a goblet squat than a front squat. Similarly, they’ll get more out of a push-up than they will from a bench press. The same is true with the other lifts, too.

Here’s a better list for beginners:

  • Romanian Deadlift: an easier and safer variation of the deadlift that’s just as good for helping a beginner bulk up.
  • Goblet Squat: a dumbbell version of the front squat that’s simpler to learn and that helps to develop strength in the front rack position.
  • Lowered Chin-Up: the best way to work towards your first chin-up is to jump up to the bar and then lower yourself down. Sort of a push press but in reverse.
  • The Push-Up: until you can do 20 push-ups, you’ll get more out of doing push-ups than the bench press. It’s easier on the shoulders, better for the core, and you’ll train your serratus muscles as a bonus.
  • One-Armed Dumbbell Press: It’s easier to keep proper core positioning if you’re only pressing half as much weight at a time. Dumbbell presses are just as good for bulking up your shoulders, too.

How to Use the Big 5

This Big 5 approach to bulking isn’t a specific program, it’s a way of measuring overall strength and progress. It’s a way of sorting our lifts into a hierarchy. It’s a way of tying our size, strength, health, and aesthetics goals into one system—one total that we can tally and track.

First of all, make it your own. We don’t all need to pick the same lifts. We don’t all need to lift with the same range of motion. This isn’t a powerlifting competition. The idea is to choose the lift variations that will best help you become big and strong (and with minimal risk of injury).

For example, if you have a long spindly spine, then conventional deadlifts will be harder for you. If you were a powerlifter, that would mean choosing a sumo stance. But if your goal is to build a thicker and stronger torso, then sticking with a conventional deadlift might be a better option for you.

So what we want to do is teach you how to choose your main lifts based on your goals, going over the advantages and disadvantages of each. You can then pick the variation that suits you best, and then keep track of how your strength progresses on those variations over time.

We can also talk about choosing assistance and accessory lifts for those main lifts, allowing us to build a bigger Big-5 total.

We’ve made a separate article for each:

  1. Deadlift Guide (for Bulking)
  2. Front Squat Guide (for Bulking)
  3. Chin-Up Guide (for Bulking)
  4. Bench Press Guide (for Bulking)
  5. Overhead Press Guide (for Bulking)

In these articles, we’ll help you choose your main lift based on your experience level, goals, and anatomy. Then we’ll talk about which accessory and assistance lifts are best for helping you solve various problems and emphasize different muscle groups.

Cover illustration of the Outlift intermediate bulking program for naturally skinny guys.

Or if you want a customizable workout program (and full guide) that builds these principles in, then check out our Outlift Intermediate Bulking Program. If you liked this article, you’ll love the full program.

Shane Duquette is the co-founder and creative lead of Outlift, Bony to Beastly, and Bony to Bombshell, and has a degree in design from York University in Toronto, Canada. He's personally gained sixty pounds at 11% body fat and has nine years of experience helping nearly ten thousand skinny people bulk up.

Marco Walker-Ng is the co-founder and strength coach of Outlift, Bony to Beastly, and Bony to Bombshell, and is a certified trainer (PTS) with a Bachelor's degree in Health Sciences (BHSc) from the University of Ottawa. His specialty is helping people build muscle to improve their strength and general health, with clients including college, professional, and Olympic athletes.

How to build 20 to 30 pounds of muscle in 30 days. Even if you have failed before


  1. Kevin on September 16, 2019 at 2:58 pm

    Hey Shane,

    Thanks for another awesome article – I love all the content you put out and the new site is looking very aesthetic.

    Are you and Marco planning on releasing a program for more intermediate / advanced lifters through Outlift?



    • Shane Duquette on September 16, 2019 at 4:01 pm

      Thanks, Kevin! What we want to do with Outlift is to create bulking/strength/aesthetics content for more advanced lifters, yeah. We wanted a site without the “Bony” in it because, I mean, spend a few months with Bony to Beastly and you won’t ever be bony again. We needed a brand with some room to grow.

      We’ve already finished beta testing and refining our intermediate program. I’ve also been doing it all year and absolutely loving it. We’re stoked.

      We’re just trying to put up some content here that will go along with it. Our intermediate program is designed to be flexible and tailored. It’s all about options. So we need an article teaching you how to pick which squat variation you want to focus on, and what accessory exercises will go best with it. We also need an article about how to approach accessory exercises in general. And an article like this one that goes over the purpose of all of it.

      That way we can release a simple program with some great default recommendations, but if people want to know the rationale behind it, if they want to further tailor the program, or if they have more nuanced questions, we can address them here in these articles, and in the comment threads that go along with them.

      That’s our thinking, anyway.

      • Kevin on September 17, 2019 at 12:03 pm

        Thanks for the detailed response Shane!

        Awesome, I’m pumped to get my hands on the simple program whenever you guys release it.

        I’ve been doing my own version of the Big 5 and I love it as well. I’ve already read through all the articles on here and switched from DB Military Press over to the Push Press based off your recommendation – so far so good.

        Thanks for all you do man.

        • Shane Duquette on September 18, 2019 at 9:54 am

          My pleasure, man! The dumbbell overhead press is great, too. I’m going to finish up that dedicated push press article soon, going over all the variations and what they’re best for. I think if you’ve been doing the dumbbell overhead press and you switch to a push press, it should spur on some new growth.

          The other thing with the dumbbell press is that it helps to do it with a huge range of motion, bringing the dumbbell all the way down to your chest and then pressing it as high as you can overhead. That way you’re increasing the range of motion for your shoulders, and you’re also getting your upper chest and traps. But you might already be doing that. (And you can add in some lower-body drive to that variation as well, when it helps.)

          Thank you for the comments. It’s nice to get some feedback before even going public about this new site. I really appreciate it 🙂

      • Damien S. on February 18, 2020 at 6:33 pm

        Love the articles, one of the most informative muscle building sites I’ve seen. I really like the bony2beastly site as well. Are you guys going to add more articles to the Outlift site? Doing 3 full body workouts a week with a proper bulking diet brought me from 155lbs to 225lbs at 6’1 in the course of a couple of years. I would love to see more articles pertaining to the more mechanical aspects of the big 5, breaking through plateaus, and diets for the intermediate/advanced lifter. Thanks and keep lifting!

        • Shane Duquette on February 19, 2020 at 10:26 am

          Thank you, Damien! And congrats for gaining seventy pounds—that’s amazing!

          Yeah, we’re going to keep writing articles here. Bony to Beastly is for skinny guys, Bony to Bombshell for skinny women, and then Outlift is at a more intermediate level, for people who already lift weights and who are no longer skinny anymore. I’m not sure if we’ll be writing many diet articles here, though. Maybe, but we might keep the content confined to lifting. I’m working on two more articles about the biomechanics and physics of lifting right now: strength curves and moment arms. I think you might like them 🙂

  2. Jean Dade on January 31, 2020 at 11:16 am

    Hi Shane and Marco

    Great article, it is tough to sift through thousands of practical muscle hypertrophy tips and methods which make no relevance for many hardgainers! What is your take on high rep, lactic acid buildup-focused training (i.e. very low volume (number of sets), per session, sets lasting 40-70 seconds, and hit every muscle with a high frequency (3 times a week) to stimulate follistatin production for brawny guys who can’t seem to add size with the typical 6-12 reps range, 3-5 sets per muscle group twice a week?

    There is a credible notion that focusing on lifting weights in the 80%-plus zone and with a progressive overload is likely not the best way for hardgainers (with slow twitch muscle fibre dominance and genetics that produce excess myostatin after high volume, strength-oriented workouts) to build size.

    • Shane Duquette on January 31, 2020 at 2:10 pm

      You can build muscle brilliantly with sets ranging from 4–40 reps, and the higher end of that definitely has merit. You might not need to go quite that high, but certainly spending some time doing sets of 15–20 can be useful. Some lifts are better for that than others, mind you. Doing squats for that many reps might tax your cardiovascular system more than your strength, and so it might not be the best way to bulk up your quads. With something like curls, though, yeah, absolutely. You can be even more extreme with it, too, using techniques like blood-flow restriction (BFR).

      I’m not sure why you’d combine higher rep ranges with lower volume. If you’re a slow-twitch kind of guy, in theory, you’d benefit from doing both higher reps and more overall volume. You might want a higher training frequency, too. Less of a powerlifter training style, more of a workhorse training style.

      As for whether hardgainers with slow-twitch muscle fibres benefit from training in higher rep ranges, that’s debatable. Some experts, such as Menno Henselmans, say yes, and test their clients to see what rep ranges they’re best at. Other experts, such as Greg Nuckols, say that it doesn’t matter, and just encourage their clients to experiment with different approaches to see what works best for them (which may change over time). I think the idea of different styles of training suiting people with different muscle fibre compositions is super interesting, but I’m not certain there’s enough evidence to say for sure whether it helps. (As opposed to having everyone—regardless of their fibre composition—experiment with both approaches.)

      If your goal is to gain size, I think your best bet will be to do a mix of different rep ranges and training styles, either doing a routine that includes a mix of rep ranges or alternating between different styles of training. That’s the approach we tend to take. We combine a mix of different proven training styles (the shotgun approach), and we have a mix of different proven training routines (the trial and error approach), allowing people to gradually hone in on what suits them best.

      And then for the mechanisms behind why the different styles of training work… I don’t know. I’m not sure anyone really knows with any real degree of certainty. It’s highly debatable, and I don’t want to put my foot in my mouth, there. I’ll leave that to the experts to debate for now, and then when a clear winner emerges, we’ll write about it then 🙂

      I hope that helps.

  3. Derek on February 9, 2020 at 2:53 pm

    You say, “until you can do 20 push-ups, you’ll get more out of doing push-ups than the bench press.”

    Does that mean in a single set? Or just in a workout?

    I’m trying to decide between your two programs–I’m not bony anymore and can knock out 80+ push-ups in a workout, but won’t get more than a set of 15 in.

    What do you recommend?

    • Shane Duquette on February 11, 2020 at 2:21 pm

      Hey Derek,

      Push-ups tend to be better than the bench press for bulking up until you can do about twenty of them in a row—in a single set. Once you can do around twenty push-ups, you might find that your cardiovascular system or pain threshold limits you more than your muscle strength does, and when that happens, your sets will start drifting further away from muscle failure, and will start stimulating less muscle growth. It can also get pretty unpleasant. So that’s when we recommend switching to the bench press.

      Mind you, it’s not a hard-and-fast rule, and you could certainly switch to the bench press earlier. But until your sets of push-ups start to drift into the twenties, there’s no real reason to. If anything, push-ups are a mechanically better lift. The only problem is loading them ever heavier.

      Right now, doing up to 15 reps per set, and up to 80 reps per workout, I think push-ups are going to be perfect for helping you build muscle. The bench press wouldn’t be an improvement over push-ups, but it might add in some welcome variety or stimulate your muscle fibres in slightly different ways. You may want to do both.

      If you’re in doubt, I’d recommend the Bony to Beastly Program. We have an optional Phase 0 for beginners, and then Phase 1–5 are great for both novice and intermediate lifters. It will help you build a sturdy foundation that you can keep bulking from. It also includes everything you need to know about the bulking diet and lifestyle, as well as some great bulking recipes. And I think you’ll get up to twenty reps of push-ups per set by the end of it. (We’ll have you doing the bench press alongside push-ups, too.)

      Plus, if you get Bony to Beastly and realize that you’d rather have Outlift, you can always email us and we’ll make the switch for ya. We have a full guarantee and unconditional refund policy on everything we sell 🙂

  4. Fleischman on July 6, 2020 at 4:54 pm

    Help me understand:
    As far as lower body is concerned:
    Is the lowest 1/2 (or lowest 1/3) of the Deadlift essentially a Squat?
    Thank you.

    • Shane Duquette on July 7, 2020 at 9:51 am

      Hey Fleischman, I guess that depends on how you define a squat. The lower part of a deadlift has a deep hip angle and a shallow knee angle, making it more of a hip-dominant movement. The lower part of a squat has a shallower hip angle and a deeper knee angle, making it more of a quad-dominant movement. With that said, the quads do engage at the beginning of a deadlift, especially if you start with lower hips or use a sumo stance, and the hamstrings do engage during a squat, especially if you sit back into your squat. And our glutes and lower backs are worked quite hard by both lifts.

      Perhaps more relevantly, though, it’s rare for someone to be limited by quad strength when deadlifting, meaning that the quads rarely get much growth stimulus from the deadlift. Similarly, with the squat, even though the hamstrings put in some work, they aren’t usually worked hard enough to stimulate growth. That means that even though we may rely on our quads to get the barbell moving at the bottom of a deadlift, that’s not our limiting factor, and so it’s not going to stimulate muscle growth like a squat would.

      So there are definitely some similarities between squats and deadlifts, but they aren’t the same, either.

      • Fleischman on July 9, 2020 at 10:01 pm

        Thank you very much. This reply has helped me understand the differences between the lower part of Deadlifts and Squats.

        One other on-topic question: have you discussed anywhere if training only Outlift’s Big Lifts 5 will result in a significantly different physique versus training Big 5 Lifts plus Accessory/Assistance Lifts? Thanks!

        • Shane Duquette on July 10, 2020 at 10:26 am

          My pleasure, Fleischman 🙂

          Yeah, check out our article on isolation lifts. Long story short, you can build a tremendous amount of overall muscle mass just by focusing on the big compound lifts, and it’s a very efficient way to train, but you’ll gain muscle faster and in a more balanced way if you also include some smart accessory/isolation lifts.

          • Fleischman on July 12, 2020 at 3:17 pm

            Thank you very much!

          • Shane Duquette on July 13, 2020 at 8:21 am

            My pleasure, man. Good luck!

  5. Mike on July 15, 2020 at 1:03 pm

    If I am doing a full-body workout 3x per week, how often should I do the Big 5? Should I be doing each of those on all 3 days along with assistance and accessory lifts?

    • Shane Duquette on July 15, 2020 at 1:42 pm

      Hey Mike, great question.

      It really all depends. For someone newer to lifting, or newer to learning the big compound lifts, repetition can help. It might make sense to do the five big lifts 2–3 times per week to learn and improve your technique. But once you’ve mastered them, it’s often wise to think of variety instead. Instead of doing front squats 3x per week, it might be better to choose a main lift (e.g. the front squat), another compound “assistance” lift (e.g. the leg press), and a smaller isolation “accessory” lift (e.g. a leg extension). Not only will that make your training easier, but you’ll also build more balanced musculature (such as more growth in your rectus femoris) and ward off overuse injuries (such as developing sore knees). If you take that same approach with all five of the big lifts, you can be training each muscle group 2–3x per week with 10+ sets per week in a way that’s fairly manageable.

      On the other hand, if you want to specialize in a certain lift or to accelerate growth in a certain muscle group, you might want to do even more. If you want bigger arms, say, then maybe remove the accessory lifts for your deadlifts and squats to free up time and energy for some extra biceps curls and triceps extensions at the end of every workout.

      • Mike on July 16, 2020 at 10:56 am

        Perfect. Thanks Shane!

  6. Fleischman on August 2, 2020 at 8:31 am

    Couldn’t/shouldn’t Overhead Press be considered an accessory (and not a main) lift to Bench Press (just like Barbell Row is accessory to Chin Up)?
    Thank you.

    • Shane Duquette on August 3, 2020 at 9:50 am

      Could you do the bench press as a main lift, the overhead press as an assistance lift, and then some skullcrushers and lateral raises as accessory lifts? Absolutely. A lot of programs take that approach, and that’s perfectly fine. There would just be less emphasis on the chest, shoulders, and triceps that way.

      We like having it as its own separate lift to give more priority to both the chest and shoulders, which a lot of guys are eager to develop—and rightfully so. Plus, the overhead press works a number of upper back muscles, it does a decent job of stimulating our side delts, and since our shoulder blades aren’t pinned down and back, it helps to keep them mobile and healthy.

      If we look at our back muscles, we’re taking a similar approach. We have the deadlift to focus on the spinal erectors and traps, and we have the chin-up to focus on the upper back and biceps. Both work a number of the same muscles, but we still count them as separate main lifts. That way we’re giving our backs some extra attention.

      We take the same approach with our legs, too. You could choose low-bar squats (which have a lot in common with hip hinges) or trap-bar deadlifts (which have a lot in common with squats) as your main lower-body lift and then add in some assistance and accessory lifts to balance it out. But we prefer having a dedicated squat and hip hinge as main lifts.

      So a minimalist program might have the trap-bar deadlift, bench press, and chin-up as the main lifts. That’s fine. But we prefer to have the squat, bench press, deadlift, overhead press, and chin-up. We feel it makes for a more well-rounded program.

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