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Do you Need to Lift Heavy Weights to Build Big Muscles?

Strength Oldschool

Bodybuilding Legend - Serge Nubret

Hi there folks, I'm Strength Oldschool and I have always been fascinated by whether a person needs to lift heavy weights in order to build big muscles. I'm not talking about lifting weights to get stronger, I'm referring to muscle size only. It seems most people believe that to get big, you need to lift big! But the downside for some of us, is that after years of lifting heavy weights, the wear and tear on the joints becomes bad and for some unfortunate individuals, they require knee replacements, hip replacements etc. At some stage I personally plan to experiment with much lighter training to see If I can still build and maintain a good physique. Here is some info certain lifters have shared with me...

This was a response given to me by Magnus…

“The answer to this one has to be, it depends on your own response to heavy or light training.

For examples of heavy training, I was fortunate enough to see Mike Mentzer in good shape when he was doing a UK seminar tour in the 1980s.

Mike Mentzer

Even better, I had a long one on one chat ith him after his seminar that took place in Swindon UK. Mike did les than 10 reps on everything, one set only per exercise with no warmups! He believed in heavy lifting even on isolation exercises, on his concentration curls he used a 65lbs dumbbell and struggled from the very first rep yet forced out 8 reps with his left arm and 7 with his right – every exercise he did was a heavy extreme effort. Afterwards he took some time deriding some of the big names in bodybuilding and I could pick up on a deep dissatisfaction in Mike’s feeling towards life- but maybe it would be indiscreet to repeat what he said? Admin, what do you think?

Another monster I saw was Tim Belknap, around 5feet 4inches tall but built like the proverbial brick outhouse!

Tim Belknap

Like Mike he trained very heavy with few sets, but used more sets on the bench press as he went well over 400lbs using a very wide grip. He did not do anything light in his routine.

The strongest guy I saw was Bertil Fox.

Bertil Fox

Whatever we think of him as a man, there’s no denying what an inspirational trainer he was. On bench press he went up and up in weight until he topped 500lbs, then did a lengthy stripping set where his partners took weight off the bar every couple of reps or so (got 500lbs for 2 with no assistance to start this set!).On most exercises he cheated like crazy, all that mattered to him was maximum poundages but, unlike Mike or Tim, he did lots of sets per body part, when I watched he never went below 5 sets per exercise. His joint strength must have been superhuman, I tried to train his way and was a mass of aches and pains within a week so went back to strict and lighter training.

Okay, so these guys proved heavy is where it’s at yes? Well, yes for them but I have seen other guys train very light and still be big. The best guy I saw that trained this way was Serge Nubret, definitely one of the most symmetrical and well shaped physiques of all time.

Serge Nubret

When I watched him training on 2 occasions it got boring to see. On his deltoids he did press behind neck with 70lbs, incredibly light for a guy his size. He pumped out 12 reps or so at high speed, rested around 30 to 40 seconds then hit it again – I lost count of the sets but he must have done between 20 or 30 sets on that exercise alone! Then a couple of dozen sets of upright rows with hands touching in the middle of the bar, THEN lots and lots of one arm laterals laying on the floor with a 15lb dumbbell. In total he took over an hour to work his deltoids and god only knows how many reps!

Another time I saw him squatting with heels on a block, feet about 6 inches apart and NO WEIGHT! He went all the way down but less than 3/4 of the way up like a machine and did hundreds of reps (my guess is around 700reps).Incredibly, after a short rest and shaking his legs out he did another multi-hundred set!That hurt I can tell you because I tried Nubret training for a while. BUT regardless of extreme pump and burn I gained nothing, blowing up like a balloon during training but always deflating back to square one. Maybe that’s why Nubret trained for hours every day, perhaps he had to in order to stay big.

Francis Benfatto trained the same way and possessed great shape also – once saw him alternate curl 20lb dumbbells for around 20 to 30 reps and more than 20 sets!

Francis Benfatto

Obviously you need great patience and stamina to train like this.

The main difference between the heavy guys and the light lifters was their shape and joint structures. The heavy lifters all had thicker wrists, elbows, knees etc. and had a more rugged dense look. The light lifters had much more aesthetic looking physiques and generally smaller joints (Nubret’s wrists looked as small as a womans wrists, and his waist and hips were very small, also his ribcage under all that muscle looked quite small).

I’ve done it again, rambling on and on, but the point is the naturally thicker guys seem to do best with heavy work and the more fragile types do best with light stuff but not necessarily as light as Nubret goes unless you have all day free to train.” ~ Magnus


* I would like to read other peoples opinions on this topic. Please comment below.


Strength Oldschool

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