Crushing the Myth About Heavy Weight Training

One of the most commonly heard myths about lifting heavy weights is that you will get big.

You will NOT get big, bulky muscles from heavy weight training.

Okay, now that we have that out of the way, lets get deeper into dispelling this myth.  It’s got to go.  Lifting heavy weight does build muscle.  But lifting, alone, will not make you into the next Mr. Olympia.  Lifting heavy will create power, and power is extremely important for climbers.  We want as much power as we can get, without becoming excessively heavy and bulky.

I once believed this myth.  When I first worked with a trainer, I told him I was a climber and wanted to stay very lean.  He agreed, but wanted me to build power by lifting heavy weight.  I argued that lifting heavy weight would make me too bulky.  He told me this was totally backwards.  Lifting heavy would build muscle and burn fat.  Muscle is more dense than fat, therefore if I remained the same weight, I would actually be smaller.  For the same weight, fat will take more space.

I agreed to try his method, but very reluctantly.  After all, the climbing fitness books say to use light weight when training to avoid getting bulky muscles.  This advice turned out to be untrue and the trainer was 100% correct.

One year ago:  weight = 195 lbs;  body fat % = 13%;  max pull ups = 7

Present day:  weight = 179 lbs;  body fat % = 8%;  max pull ups = 22

In one year I decreased my body fat and increased muscle, but I’m not bulky at all!  I have actually decreased my waist size.  This is not any drastic improvement, but it is given for example.  Need more proof?  See Ross Enamait dead lift 495 lbs. weighing in at ~ 170 lbs.  He is not a huge body builder, instead he is lean and mean with power to spare.

Pretty impressive huh?

So, what will make bulky muscles if lifting heavy weight does not?

Answer:  Nutrition.  Nutrition and diet is the key to monitoring your weight gain or loss and how much fat makes up that weight.  The trainer I spoke about told me to eat clean.  Eat 5-6 smaller meals a day that had lots of lean protein and quality carbohydrates.  This combined with exercise increased my metabolism.  When your metabolism is high, you burn more calories at rest.  Additionally, muscle burns more calories than fat while resting!  I never starve myself or partake in any sort of crash diet.  Consistency is key to steady muscle increase and fat loss.  I assure you, if you lift heavy you will not wake up one morning, look in the mirror, and say “Holy shit!  I’m huge!”

How do bodybuilders get big?  They eat a lot!  Several thousand calories a day.  You would have to eat to the point of discomfort to obtain those results.  Combine that with heavy supplementation and you will get big.

And a word to all you female climbers, you have even less to worry about than men when it comes to “getting big”.  The female body’s lower testosterone level simply prevents women from getting overly big and muscular.  Those bodybuilding women you see on magazine covers have supplemented heavy.  So get out there and hit the weight hard!

Fellow climbers, start lifting with heavy weight.  I promise you will not regret having extra strength and power when you hit the crux.

  • grigore

    Nice post Gif! I’m looking forward to applying your winter training tips. Can I do all my power training on a hangboard/pullup bar/pushups with a weight vest? Can you post up a sample daily meal plan of what you eat for breakfast, brunch, lunch, snack, and dinner?
    Keep up the quality blogging!

    • Gif

      Grigore, thanks for stopping by and for the comment! You can absolutely use a weight vest for all your push ups and pull ups. It should provide plenty of added resistance over your body weight for these two exercises. Hopefully it’s adjustable so you can add weight when you get ripped haha!

      However, you may want to look into a set of weights or gym membership (psu or ymca). The antagonist movement for pull ups is shoulder presses, not push ups. Push ups are the antagonist of rows. Rows and shoulder presses will require weights. Although, if you are extra stoked, you can do hand stand push ups (which is a shoulder press movement).

      Additionally, don’t ignore your legs and core. I think too many climbers ignore them in fear of gaining weight, which won’t happen. Dead lifts and barbell squats are not only superb for the thighs, but also glutes, and your entire core. Personally, I think dead lifts are important for climbers because it’s the exact move you would do to bring your hips closer to the wall on an overhanging route.

      I will make a post about what I eat and some diet tips. Crush it this winter bro!

  • Nice, Gif!

    This is something I’ve been wondering about, too. I’ve heard from multiple sources that heavy lifting is bad for you. But you can’t argue with solid data and first hand personal experience like yours! Great job!

    • Gif

      Thanks for the comment Tristan! I think the reason this myth has become so popular is that climbers are SO afraid of gaining unwanted weight. This myth has got to go! Spread the truth!

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  • GovernmentMule

    Good post. This is counterintuitive to so many because of the distorted impressions we get from all the media images of the juiced and “superheavy” types of athletes and associating that look and that effect with heavy strength training. Folks interested could look on YouTube at videos of lighter and middle weight class Olympic and powerlifters – incredibly strong people, but the bodies look much more like track, gymnastics, or MMA type athletes than what we see in the muscle mags. Steve Bechtel has good stuff on Climb Strong laying out specifics of which, why, and how climbers can benefit from a basic heavy general strength component to their training.

    • Gif

      Sorry for the late reply, the notification went to my spam folder… But yes everything you say is quite true. However, this post is from 2010 and I think climbers have come around to the idea that lifting heavy won’t bulk you up. As you mentioned, Bechtel is a big proponent of heavy compound lifts as is many other trainers. The “deadlift” is pretty much the buzz word of climbing in 2016! Thanks for the comment!

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