By Brandon Curry, IFBB Pro
[Q] In your offseason, how do you go about adding weight to the bar? Are heavy training days each week even important?
[A] I don’t necessarily think it’s important to be adding weight each week. It’s beneficial to be progressive and train with heavier loads over the course of a training cycle. Obviously, you don’t want to use the same weights you’ve been using throughout a cycle. You should be getting stronger over time, making progress in the movements. After a break, I take it slow and have to make sure I’m being smart. I basically use what I call an extended warm-up for a while, where I get in some light sets in the beginning — as many as I need to get an idea of the loads I should be working at to break down muscle.
[Q] As you build strength between contests, when do your weight loads start to level or taper off?
[A] Normally when my bodyfat is getting really low or if I’m doing contests back to back, my goal isn’t really to build mass — it’s to maintain and dig in more detail and separation. I’m not working on increasing the load from one contest to the next. The focus is to bring out bodyparts and refine my physique and maintain that mass. If I have a weak bodypart, I may increase the intensity on that bodypart and maintain the same volume on the other bodyparts. As long as I’m reaching failure, I know I’m getting enough breakdown for tissue growth, and that’s the same no matter what time of year it is. If I’m training heavy for strength, it’s going to be for maybe 1–2 exercises, then it’s off to different exercises with more volume to reach muscular failure.
[Q] Other than the bench press, what are the best moves for building upper-body strength?
[A] I’d say the dip. It’s a major strength builder for the upper body — it’s like the squat but for your torso. The other one would be the overhead press. It’s also great for increasing total pressing power. When it comes to back, pull-ups are great but a lot of people don’t like to do them. So the barbell row and the chest supported T-bar row are great for developing pulling strength. Those are the ones you should use for strength gains. And it’s important to work to failure in muscle-building rep ranges on isolation movements, but it’s more fun to see how strong you are on those big compound movements than on a cable pressdown.
[Q] What strength-building advice do you think bodybuilders need to avoid?
[A] Training heavy with very few reps. When you drop to rep ranges that are too low, it’s not going to help you maximize the amount of muscle you can build. Anything under five reps is probably not going to benefit your growth. Strength athletes can do that and get stronger but without adding very much muscle — it’s more connective tissue and neurological adaptation. When I ask how much you bench, you shouldn’t know. Because it’s not important for bodybuilders to know that — they should be focused on more reps.
Brandon's Top Strength Builders
1. Weighted Dip:
“The machine dip with the belt is good, too, but the weighted one should be your aim. Besides you can target chest better with the parallel-bar version.”
2. Weighted Pull-Up:
“You can do a lot of variations and it’s more challenging than the pulldown.”
3. Overhead Press:
“I prefer to use a barbell, and I do it standing because that’s more of a total-body move.”
“The best total-body strength builder, period.”
“Gains can come quickly if people would just squat regularly.”
6. Bent-Over Barbell Row:
“The T-Bar is a great option but the standard barbell row uses more stabilizers.”