The Ugly, Painful, Arduous, Old School Art of Building Real, Rock Solid, Rippling Muscle

Dumbbells Are Smart for Building Muscle

Dumbbells Are Smart for Building Muscle

I talked to a client today. Had to give him some bad news.

It wasn’t easy news to share. But you know, a man deserves the truth and when it comes to sculpting your body, I’ve yet to find a way to give most people both what they want and what they want to hear.

What the man wanted was muscle.

He’s eagerly seeking to pack on 10, 15 or more pounds of pure rippling muscle. And he’s resolute about it.

What he’s been doing is training. Ferociously. He’s got a trainer who loves the sort of “hybrid” athletic style training—as I call it. Sort of a CrossFIT meets sledge hammer, with some sled, body weight and free weights mixed in.

Sounds like a fun challenge and variety. And if I were a trainer, hell, who wouldn’t love that.

This fast paced, keep ‘em moving and sweating and working has go to be a trainers dream. It keeps you from ever having to slow and fill time sharing those life stories that you run out of eventually. You never have to feel out of control or uncertain with the relatively slow pace of pure, old school iron training.

A CrossFIT hybrid training vs. classic strength training is like the most modern video game vs. Monopoly when it comes to stimulus. Yet, Monopoly will teach you securing a few low-rent homes will produce infinitely better long term gains than playing the lottery every day.

And let’s face it, while training your body to respond to every possible stimulus, hitting it from every angle is a terrific and you can feel great reward from the variety of strength feats and conditioning, muscle is a very specific adaptation best achieved through a very specific stimulus.

…muscle is a very specific adaptation best achieved through a very specific stimulus.

While it’s true that an untrained body, for the most part, will become more muscular in nature (if not in size) through regular athletic like strength challenges, building rock solid muscle is best done with what is rapidly becoming throw back training—iron.

Wildly Popular vs. Wildly Effectivecrossfit-female-beauty-strong

It’s not in vogue, it’s not sexy, it’s not all the rage… it just works. And while swinging this and throwing that are wildly popular, forcibly lifting barbells with heavy steel plates on the ends is simply wildly effective.

It feels odd to admit but I was almost embarrassed to say it today. I wanted to candy coat it and tell this client he could see some decent results just swinging a kettle bell, leaping and doing push ups, but I couldn’t do it. He’s to evolved, too smart and my read was he wanted the truth.

His challenge will be to find pace and presence in the space increasingly filled with frantic and frenzy; to connect his body and mind with the deep source of strength that must be called to propel the iron with focus and intensity.

He will come to know that while variety stimulates the mind, consistency stimulates the muscles. Changing it up will come through increasing the strength and putting up more pounds, weight and reps. And the sense of reward, the connection between mind and body will follow. Not one “better than” that of CrossFIT or functional training but one different and not found through other means.

The Xray of Iron


Iron Forged as Only Iron Can

For years, decades, the strength of men was revealed almost solely through iron—the confrontation with free weight and then machines. There was no other even remotely distracting path. Thus, your choice was either to grow or avoid the challenge. There was no energy spent in convincing anyone that weight training mattered, that it worked, that it was necessary.

Then, as the advent of TV made books look to be on the way out, so too has various modes of “strong man” training made weight training the outcast. And just as authors and publishers must convince those who either have forgotten or do not know the magic of the written word, so must we remind ourselves and others who seek it that there is no rational replacement for you against the gravity of iron when you seek to expand your muscle size and strength.

So while millions seek the way through the growing variety of fitness paths, as it has been said, the truth shall set you free… and it can give you some pretty hulking biceps and pecs if you stick to it.

The choice is yours: Be part of the pack—and they’re all some damned fine people—or stand out like a sore thumb with rippling muscles.


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  1. neal June 29, 2013 at 6:14 am #

    Great stuff as always. thanks Bro

  2. Nathan Grooms June 26, 2013 at 8:40 pm #

    I love this article. However I disagree with one piece of this read. Referencing athletic training and Crossfit in the same breath is giving them far too much credit. Training protocols like crossfit completely bastardize athletic movements and throw the science behind them out the window. I don’t think training like an athlete is the problem, it’s crossfiters and trainers taking what they do and calling it athletic training that’s the problem.

  3. Carl Mason-Liebenberg June 25, 2013 at 12:13 pm #

    excellent article…resonates through and through!

  4. Brandon Cook June 25, 2013 at 11:15 am #

    Excellent reminder with all of the distractions these days. Make your goal about getting stronger in the tried and true exercises. Lift with the long-term in mind. BTW… those are some AWESOME triceps my brotha.

  5. Matt June 25, 2013 at 10:36 am #

    I couldn’t agree more. I too fell into the training for athletics and variety but when I went back to basic hyper trophy workouts muscle just grew.

    The only thing is, I’ve been using body weight based exercise for my training. I’ve been using the same principals of building muscle with iron, just used a different vehicle along the same road.

  6. Christian Finn June 25, 2013 at 8:01 am #

    “Variety stimulates the mind, consistency stimulates the muscles.”

    Love it!

  7. Joe Weaver June 25, 2013 at 5:19 am #

    Loved this:
    “His challenge will be to find pace and presence in the space increasingly filled with frantic and frenzy; to connect his body and mind with the deep source of strength that must be called to propel the iron with focus and intensity.”

    Great clarity here, Shawn. And a good read, too.


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