Why Training Like a Bodybuilder is Dumb (+ HOW TO DESIGN A BETTER BODYBUILDING PROGRAM) - Jack Hanrahan
Jack Hanrahan

Why Training Like a Bodybuilder is Dumb (+ HOW TO DESIGN A BETTER BODYBUILDING PROGRAM)

Why Training Like a Bodybuilder is Dumb (+ HOW TO DESIGN A BETTER BODYBUILDING PROGRAM)


Walk into any commercial gym and you’re bound to witness a lot of machine work and a few free weight staples – dumbbell presses, shoulder presses, pull ups, squats, deadlifts, bicep curls, and the like. 

You might see a token landmine press, goblet squat or inverted row but these less run-of-the-mill exercises are few and far between. And that’s because the vast majority of gym-goers are following a very similar weight training template – some variation of a bodybuilding program that they picked up on bodybuilding.com or a similar media outlet. They’re all following the same misguided approach to building muscle.

Now don’t get me wrong – bodybuilding methods are useful tools, but training like a bodybuilder is altogether different and that’s where problems arise for a lot of people who follow generic workout programs.

Let’s get personal and have a chat with Mike from Fitness First. 

A typical upper / lower body training split looks like the following:

Monday – Chest + Shoulders
Tuesday – Quads
Wednesday – Off
Thursday – Hamstrings
Friday – Back
Saturday – Arms
Sunday – Off

Mike was in his best shape at 32 and is fighting to regain the thick pecs, stacked shoulders and sweeping quads he once had.

It’s a real struggle.

In recent years, a nagging shoulder injury has wreaked havoc on his upper body training. Beloved exercises such as barbell bench press and overhead press had to go as they would cause a sharp pain at the front of his shoulder and exacerbate the problem.

Mike is also finding it increasingly difficult to get into the same positions he once could. Barbell back squats are uncomfortable and he must round his back slightly to deadlift off the floor.

Mike is determined to build his body back up, but feels as though he is fighting a losing battle. To add insult to injury – he feels stiff, achy and suffers intermittent pain of the neck, back and shoulders outside the weight room.

The story of Mike’s struggle can be replicated a million times over because, unfortunately, that’s the way things go for a lot of people when they adopt a pure bodybuilding workout style.

So If that’s the case, what motivates people to take it up in the first place? 

Why does it often cause problems in the long run? 

And what’s the solution!?

Let’s find out…

The Appeals of Bodybuilding


Most people train to look better. It’s a fact and there’s NOTHING wrong with that. From a purely aesthetic standpoint, bodybuilding methods are mighty effective. Just look at the greek god like physique competitors of today and it’s easy to see why many people gravitate toward the same style of muscle building workout.


Done right, bodybuilding programs will get you jacked. The research is very clear on that. The characterises of which include:

  • Moderate set/rep schemes (3-4 set of 6-12)
  • Moderate intensities (60-75% 1RM)
  • Relatively short rest periods (60-120 seconds)
  • High volume (lots of exercises for a particular muscle group)


Weight training is a powerful tool for losing fat. It jacks up fat burning hormones like growth hormone, burns a gazillion calories and most importantly, builds lean muscle tissue, which is very metabolically active. 

In non-geek speak, this means that gaining muscle ramps up the amount of calories you can burn at rest (resting metabolic rate) which helps in the effort to burn fat, ie. get lean and stay lean.

The Pitfalls of Bodybuilding

Now let’s look at why bodybuilding can F- people up in the long run.


Notice that I didn’t say ALL bodybuilding programs. The reality is, most workout plans you get for free on the interwebz are generic and cookie-cutter.

They DO NOT take into account YOUR physical status: how well you move, your strength, your posture, your experience (and competency), injury history etc.

They DO NOT include warm-up routines, mobility work, cardio – all the other important tenants of a well-rounded bodybuilding routine.

They DO NOT stray far from barbells, dumbbells and machines – lacking movement and exercise variety.

You get the idea. 

This might not seem like a big deal and you might even experience great results in the first few months, even years from this style of training.

But in the long run, the generic bodybuilder program tends to beat the joints down and lead to a host of orthopedic conditions like rotator cuff tears. A caveat to all the above is if you pay top dollar to an experienced bodybuilding coach who will work with you on a more personal level and give you authentic workout tips. 

I trained under world renowned bodybuilding coach John Meadows for one year. I did this because I was eager to learn the most effective methods for building muscle. John’s style attracted me, in part because his methods are known for being very effective (and brutal!) but also because he is a stickler for joint health and longevity – so he is damn smart about programming exercises with that in mind. I must have put on 8-10 kg in that year and was the most muscular I’ve ever been. Nowadays, I still use many of John’s techniques but don’t program in the same way as a bodybuilder would.

Training muscles over movements.

Casual and pro bodybuilders alike have one primary goal – to maximise muscle mass. Unsurprisingly then, training is structured around muscle groups and there is a heavy focus on isolation work.

Here’s the problem though: our body doesn’t function in isolation, so this approach often fails to develop the smaller joint stabilizers, which can lead to muscle imbalances. When muscles are unbalanced across any given joint, it screws up joint mechanics. And when you add loaded exercises onto poorly functioning joints, they wear down FAST. Injury is inevitable.

Lack of consideration for mobility / joint health.

When muscle building is the be all end all, mobility becomes an afterthought. 

“Ain’t got time for that.” We all want to build mass and increase strength, BUT:

Our body requires constant and varied movement to maintain optimal joint health. Failure to respect this and the body adapts in an unfavourable way: joints become stiff, muscles become tight and we gradually become more and more immobile.

As the saying goes “If you don’t use it, you lose it.”

A SMARTER way to build your body

If you’re planning to compete as a bodybuilder, then there is merit in training like one. Just make sure you enlist the help of an experienced coach. For everyone else, the remaining 99.9% of the lifting population, there are a few tweaks you can make to your weight training plan to avoid common pitfalls and ensure that you build a body that functions as good as it looks.

Train movements not muscles.

Rather than base weight training around muscle groups, base it around movement patterns instead. You’ll improve your physique, develop functional muscle and strength, all while improving mobility and joint health.

There are four main categories that need to be considered. Structure your training in a way that places equal emphasis across ALL of these categories:

(Side Notes: As for the isolated exercise ‘stuff’ – you don’t need to omit it from your plan, go ahead and sprinkle it in, just don’t base your training around it. Also, it’s a good idea to rotate exercises every 3-6 weeks as it mitigates the risk of repetitive strain injuries).

  • Push 

Examples: Bench Press, Dumbbell Press, Floor Press, Push Ups, Overhead Press.

  • Pull

Examples: Pull Ups, Lat Pulldown, Dumbbell Rows, Cable Rows, Chest Supported Rows, Face Pulls.

  • Hinge

Examples: RDL’s, Good Mornings, Hip Thrusts, Sumo Deadlifts, Back Extensions.

  • Squat

Examples: Barbell Squats, Goblet Squats, Landmine Squats, Split Squats, Lunges.


I would also consider Core as another important category. You can sprinkle in core / ab workout exercises across yourtraining week.

Examples: Palloff Presses, Body Saws, Cable Anti-Rotation, Leg Raises, Roll-outs.

Less machines. More free weights and bodyweight loaded exercises.

Free weights and bodyweight loaded exercises give you more bang for the buck. They build body weight strength, functional muscle and athleticism. They develop core stability, robust joints and have a strong carry over to life outside the gym. Consider swapping out your machine exercises for bodyweight loaded or free weight alternatives. Here are 3 exercise videos to illustrate what I’m talking about:


1. A pull up variation instead of pull-downs



2. TRX or Inverted rows instead of seated rows

3. Sled pulls instead of leg extensions


Adapt exercises to fit YOUR movement capacity.

Every single exercise that you do has movement prerequisites. If you can’t get into the overhead position, then guess what? You shouldn’t be overhead pressing. Sounds logical but this point is very often ignored. Our bodies are great compensators and will find a way to get from a – b. 

Take overhead pressing as an example. If you can’t get into an overhead the position with proper form, no worries. Without you even realising it, you will arch the back a little and move excessively through the shoulder joint to get the weight overhead.

This is NO BUENO. 

The resulting dysfunctional movement will be damaging to your joints and surrounding soft tissue structures.

Here’s the good news: Every exercise can be adapted to fit your movement capabilities. Choose exercises wisely you’ll get far better results when your form is on point and you avoid damaging your body.

A few examples:

Overhead press causing you pain? Landmine Press instead. It’s still working the same muscle groups, but doesn’t require that you press directly overhead – keeping your shoulders out of the danger zone.


Lack the hip and ankle mobility for a solid back squat? Correct exercise selection is important, so choose Goblet or Landmine Squats instead. The front loaded weight allows you to keep a more upright torso and achieve greater squat depth.



Can’t deadlift without rounding your back? Raise the platform OR choose a different style. This simple modification will allow you to deadlift with properly positioned joints, preventing any undue stress on the spine which can lead to low back pain.


Prioritise your mobility

Mobility is the foundation to EVERYTHING exercise related. The better you move, the better your training will be and the more you’ll get out of your efforts in the weight room. With solid mobility:

  • You will be able to perform a greater variety of exercises.
  • You will have more control over your body, better coordination, and therefore better technique across any given exercise.
  • You will Improve joint health and longevity,  which will allow you to train for years to come, without stiffness and orthopedic conditions creeping up on you.
  • The list goes on…

And while I encourage a thorough and specific warm-up as an integral part of quality training, warming up IS NOT going to improve mobility in the long run. 

For that, you must make a greater time investment. Here are some options – find what works best for you:

  • Dedicate a portion of your training time to working on your mobility limitations, such as the first or last 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Dedicate 1- 2 training days to mobility work. I personally like to schedule ‘mobility + metcon’ days as it kills 2 birds with 1 stone. I’ll kick things off with the metcon (fancy name for cardio) and then work on mobility when my body is properly warmed up. I’m having great success with this strategy.
  • Use the rest time between sets of exercises to work on your mobility limitations. For example: super-set squats with cat-camels to mobilise the spine.

Rebuilding Mike

I would be an insensitive asshole if I wrapped this up without helping to rebuild Mike with a sample workout plan that he can actually maintain!

Here’s a more sensible muscle building workout routine that focuses on both upper and lower body and draws upon much of what was just proposed:

Training Program Week Overview:

Monday – Legs (Squat dominant)
Tuesday – Upper Body (Push focus)
Wednesday – Mobility + Cardio
Thursday – Legs (Hinge dominant)
Friday – Upper Body (Pull focus)
Saturday – Mobility + Cardio
Sunday – Off


  • Stepped down the weight training to 4 times per week with this training day split. This allows more time to be dedicated to mobility work and is PLENTY of stimulus to still build muscle mass.
  • Strength training based on movement patterns not individual muscle groups. This ensures that the foundational human movement patterns are worked AND it guarantees that all muscles are targeted anyway, so it’s a double win!
  • Inserted two dedicated mobility days per week. This will help to combat all that desk-bound activity and will slowly rebuild Mike into a better functioning human,  so he moves like his younger self.
  • I would encourage Mike to pick shoulder friendly exercises, such as:


Push: Loaded push-ups, floor press, landmine press.

Pull: Ring pull-ups, face-pulls, dumbbell chest supported rows.

Squat: Safety bar or goblet squats.

Deadlift: Using a raised platform or trap bar – both are better options when hip mobility is limited.


This is a brief overview. But it should give you a solid idea of the changes from a pure bodybuilding program so that Mike can REBUILD his body, rather then continue to DESTROY it.

Wrapping up

Follow these guidelines to build your body in a SMARTER way. Don’t think you can stick to a single type of workout and see results. Don’t expect to rival the monsters on the Olympia stage, but DO EXPECT to look, move and function better than ever, and be able to enjoy an active lifestyle all the while. And, most importantly, be resilient and built to last.

Did you like this post? Follow me on Instagram for daily workout inspiration and tips and join my weekly Wednesday Wisdom newsletter where I dive deep into the latest topics to help you train smarter and live better. If you’re ready to train smart and want to train with me, you can choose from 3 programs: Download my app PRGRM here.

53 thoughts on “Why Training Like a Bodybuilder is Dumb (+ HOW TO DESIGN A BETTER BODYBUILDING PROGRAM)
  1. Dana Clarfield

    Now…. if I could only get my husband & 18 year old son to F’n READ THIS!!! Do you have a magic way I can do that!!??? This is EXCELLENT info Jack. Mad respect to you!!!! Permission to print & leave in every room in my house please? @dana_stays_fit

    May 31, 2018 Reply
    • Jack Hanrahan

      Hahah I love it! Thanks for the kind words – just get them to read my stuff maybe they will come around 😉

      June 2, 2018 Reply
  2. Joe

    This is the best information I’ve read for a long time!

    Thank you

    May 31, 2018 Reply
    • Jack Hanrahan

      Thanks Joe!!

      June 2, 2018 Reply
      • Kevin Fenstermacher

        Thank you for that Jack, and mAy I respond even further to say .Every “body” is different, and age is an defining prerequisite. Or is it? Listen to your body. It will no doubt keep you o
        In the know. Don’t over train or better yet undernutrition. In training, things are possible with guidelines and practice. I like the Article. Building a better you may be easier than we all believe. Been at this for 18 years and I’m not even close to stopping! At 41 yo with an easy 380 deadlift for reps keeps my whole body Strong. While hack squats is better on my knees and back. Ive placed 40 lbs of muscle on my frame over many years. So I guess what I’m saying is stay focused. Be positive and have realistic goals… You will be the best you!!! Listen to your body!!!

        June 18, 2019 Reply
  3. Jasper

    Thankyou so much Jack. I’m using your tips and tricks everyday when i work
    Out and when i do my mobility training. Keep going! Gr from the netherlands

    May 31, 2018 Reply
    • Jack Hanrahan

      Jasper thank you kindly!

      June 2, 2018 Reply
  4. Tom Johnston

    Superb Jack. I too have been experiencing shoulder pain recently so this was a brilliant read.
    I am keen to introduce this method of training. Looking forward to your mobility e-book.
    On the rebuilding Mike section I notice Friday says Lower Body (Pull focus). Is this really meant to say lower body or upper body? If so, I’m intrigued to know why you would use that terminology for the pull portion of the training?

    May 31, 2018 Reply
    • Jack Hanrahan

      Thanks Tom! Yeah I got that wrong supposed to be upper body 🙂

      June 2, 2018 Reply
  5. Louis Pap

    Love this approach & vision of training Jack ! For many years I’ve been struggling with aches and pain. I thought it was due to Rugby as I played for over 10 years, well it probably did not help. But some aches are still here despite the fact that I dont play anymore. I now train in an evidence based and smarter way. I fix them one after another but it is a long way to go, similar as building muscles or loosing weight.

    Thanks for the inspiration ✌🔝🔥

    Kind regards,


    May 31, 2018 Reply
    • Jack Hanrahan

      Yo Louis, thanks for the insight. Your’e on a solid path and have a great mindset. Keep it up! And my pleasure as always 🙂

      June 2, 2018 Reply
  6. Gustaf

    You’re so right!

    When muscle building is the be all end all – mobility becomes an after thought.

    I remember being a Mike. Always focusing on growth and my joints would definitely take the brunt.

    Now I’m doing crossfit and I’m seeing more exercises closer to what you were recommending.
    Soon I’ll have to stick to the gym again and this article will help.

    May 31, 2018 Reply
    • Jack Hanrahan

      Im a fan of crossfits ‘hybrid’ style of training and emphasis on functional movements – just be careful of which exercises you adopt – lot of olympic lifts in there which most people shouldn’t be doing (lack the movement capabilities). Keep killin it Gustaf!

      June 2, 2018 Reply
    • George

      Decent advice. Im a unicorn as is because i am a high intensity training enthusiast. It completely goes againts about 70 percent of what you wrote. I work out every 4th day. As in for example, workout on lets say monday. Next workout will be either Thursday or Friday…. Depending on if i have recovered from Monday’s workout. The body needs 48 to 96 hours for complete recovery from intense resistance training. Its science. To each is own though

      June 27, 2019 Reply
  7. Harrison Hughes

    Hey jack- wanted to send a note saying that I used to follow a dozen IG fitness accounts and over the year I’m down to just yours- it’s so informative and I don’t feel like I’m getting sold anything. While I should take better advice of your posts, I’ve really just done pushups, pull-ups, and front loaded squats for the last year and nearly to my goal of a one armed pull up for my 34th birthday in July. Best shape of my life. Thanks for the great account for us to learn from.

    May 31, 2018 Reply
    • Jack Hanrahan

      Thanks so much Harrison! A one arm pull up is pure #beaststatus be sure to tag me in your attempt on IG !

      June 2, 2018 Reply
      • Thomas

        Who do reccomend to get a personalized weight/Powerliting program from? I have trained mobility beside my powerlifting program for 2 years now and my strength and body is harmonized but havent had any progress for 6months now and im trying to get help from several people but my hopes are low. Please help if you still can read this.

        August 26, 2019 Reply
        • Jack Hanrahan

          Hi Thomas, I’ve just released by Rebuild program which would be perfect for you, you can see more here

          April 15, 2021 Reply
  8. Danie

    Thanks again for an informative, practical, and useful post Jack.

    I’ve been working on mobility, core, and functional exercises a lot more over the last 6 to 8 months. It’s amazing how much more aware and in control I am of my body, and how my overall strength has improved.

    I still have quite a way to go, but at 32 I’m hoping not to be in the same boat as Mike in a few years’ time. I’m definitely going to try out your recommendations for shoulder-friendly push and pull movements, and may even give the revised training schedule a go.

    Keep up the great work!

    May 31, 2018 Reply
    • Jack Hanrahan

      Hey Danie, sounds like you’re on the right path! Glad to hear there are some applicable tips in there – something else i failed to mention is the use of rings for pull ups – so much more comfortable that a straight bar.

      June 2, 2018 Reply
  9. Jan Karlo Manuel

    Yo, first, you’re writing style/personality is so easy to read. Most things that are longer than an info graphic will not hold my attention. Maybe it helps too that I totally agree with everything you said. I’m in constantly searching for practical things that I can apply to my clients’ programs and my own. I trained like a body builder for years and my joints are busted up and I’m not even 30! So I appreciate this brother!

    June 1, 2018 Reply
    • Jack Hanrahan

      Hey Jan, means a lot. Thank you – Im going to write a 3 month ‘rebuild yourself’ plan later this year, maybe that will interest you 🙂

      June 2, 2018 Reply
  10. Tom Exnowski

    Shouldn’t it be :Friday -upper Body (pull focus)?;)

    June 1, 2018 Reply
    • Jack Hanrahan

      Yes my bad!

      June 2, 2018 Reply
  11. Lee

    Put simply, thank you for the dedication to this work, for the time and obvious care you take to write these articles.

    June 1, 2018 Reply
  12. Flo

    So you recommend just one exercise und the Squat / Hinge day?

    June 1, 2018 Reply
    • Jack Hanrahan

      No not at all – that would be your primary move and then you would have your accessory work afterwards. For example:
      Legs (squat) Squat, split squat, RDL’s, reverse sled drag (still a hinge in there but its more squat pattern / quad dominant)

      June 2, 2018 Reply
  13. Nathan

    Amazing! Do you put together plans?

    June 1, 2018 Reply
    • Jack Hanrahan

      Im writting a 3 month ‘rebuild yourself’ plan to be released later this year 🙂

      June 2, 2018 Reply
    • Jack Hanrahan

      Hi Nathan, not yet. but i am creating a ‘rebuild yourself’ plan to be released later this year 🙂

      June 2, 2018 Reply
  14. Lee

    Also, for Mike’s new training week, is Friday supposed to be “UPPER Body (Pull Focus)” instead of “Lower Body (Pull Focus)”?

    June 1, 2018 Reply
    • Jack Hanrahan

      Yes thanks for noticing

      June 2, 2018 Reply
      • Andrew Zachary

        Interesting read. Thanks for the info! I have been trying to focus more on flexibility and mobility as I move into my 40s. Any advice for mobility/flexibility routines? Thanks!

        May 24, 2019 Reply
  15. Bart

    Jack, honestly the best article out there!! Keep on killing it with ur great content…can’t wait for your 3 month plan!! Also what sets and reps would you recommend on this kind of training style?

    June 9, 2018 Reply
    • Jack Hanrahan

      Hi Bart! PRGRM is out and the programs are continuous 🙂

      April 15, 2021 Reply
  16. Daniel Moura

    Best article I’ve read in years!
    Thank you for the excellent quality of your work.
    Best wishes from Brazil!

    August 18, 2018 Reply
  17. Nick

    Cheers Jack super helpful. Found you through John Rusin and your shoulder mobility article. You guys are both great

    September 11, 2018 Reply
  18. Nils

    Love it Jack. I just commented in your insta post about faceoulls/external rotations yesterday and used the analogy about only brushing your fron teeth. Maybe you remember this 😀.
    My question here is: when you say push dominant upper body, does this still mean including some kind of pull work this day to make it an upper body session, or do you mean a push Workout only? Thx in advance mate and keep up this valuable content i highly appreciate it. Cheers, Nils🤙

    October 13, 2018 Reply
  19. Anthony

    can you give a sample week with Mike’s new layout? curious in particular for exercises, sets, and reps on upper body days to see what you suggest for quality volume/intensity but not going too far to stress Mike’s joints. Thanks.

    November 1, 2018 Reply
    • Jack Hanrahan

      Hi Anthony, check out how I programmed my programs in my app (PRGRM) 😛

      April 15, 2021 Reply
  20. Josh

    hi Jack,

    Love your articles and your training styles, when are we going to see a programme by yourself?


    November 19, 2018 Reply
  21. Jason Steeley

    The saying bad things can be said about any training style the truth is you got to custom fit any style to what you’re trying to achieve and be careful when you do it you can get injured doing yoga the wrong way

    May 31, 2019 Reply
  22. Felipe

    I like your workout tips. Is there a bigger training manual from you that I can purchase other than what’s on YouTube

    June 19, 2019 Reply
  23. Element Sarms

    Really helpful article. I liked it has to work for you to be effective. Thanks for sharing.

    July 3, 2019 Reply
  24. John Stepan

    Hi man,

    what if i want to have 2 strenght/hypertrophy training in one week. And i want train all these 4 movements in 1 training and every this session i want add some acessories training (shoulder, bic+tric, calves..) it is good? Or its better to have upper/lower body session and in this these movements?

    September 28, 2019 Reply
    • Jack Hanrahan

      Hi John, my Thrive program sounds like something you will like. Check it out at http://www.prgrm.com!

      April 15, 2021 Reply
  25. jesus Zuniga

    Jack you described me completely. Where can i get workout plans to start using?

    December 7, 2019 Reply
    • Jack Hanrahan

      Hi Jesus, my training programs are available through my app PRGRM

      April 15, 2021 Reply
  26. Thomas Redditt

    Totally the exact information l needed to make a break through after 50 yrs of bodybuilding. Couldn’t come up with the best workout and Now your simple plan will do precisely what l wanted! Thank You.

    December 12, 2019 Reply
  27. Mary Ann

    Great read! 🙂

    April 24, 2020 Reply
  28. André-Louis

    Thanks for this amazing words. It will be very useful for my workouts. Thanks.

    July 7, 2020 Reply
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