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Building Muscle Beyond Bodybuilding

sandbag exercise equipment

When I was kid I wanted to be a bodybuilder so badly. I had all the muscle magazines and thought being as big as the guys that I saw in the magazines was something I could do with hard work. Even at just 14 I was already realizing that being a professional basketball player wan’t in my future (that was my original dream;). I knew I was limited in my speed and jumping ability, two things that are pretty important in being a professional basketball player. 

Funny, what I thought was impossible with basketball was possible in bodybuilding. I was absolutely naive to the amount of drug use that occurred in bodybuilding, I loved the idea because I thought building muscle was simply a factor of hard work. That was something I was always willing to do so I trained 5-6 days a week, followed all the “nutritional guidelines” that I read, and of course the supplements. Who can forget about the supplements that were definitely horrible like Weight Gainers. 

Until I was in my early 20’s I trained with this goal in mind. Did I put on some muscle? Absolutely. Did I get stronger? Even on a bodybuilding type of program I was stronger than anyone on the college basketball team as well as most of my friends. Was I close to being a bodybuilder? Not even the least! 

My point in telling you this story is that many people when they think of building muscle they think of the giants that are in the muscle magazines. If a guy in his 20’s with a good period of training underneath him has to work on putting the muscle on that I did, you know building muscles doesn’t come fast and few of us have to worry about outgrowing our clothes. 


Building muscle should be a part of any fitness program. Even in simplest terms having more muscle improves our metabolism, health, and injury resiliency. While the internet is packed with muscle building programs I want to give a bit of a different perspective. 

One of the reasons that I lost favor with the bodybuilding type of training wasn’t due to never reaching my bodybuilding aspirations. Rather, as my low back became worse I searched out more diverse training methods because pain was becoming increasingly a limiting factor. Not just in the gym, but out of it as well. 

As I became fascinated with learning how to improve how I move and feel WHILE still training to be strong and gain muscle, I felt more excited to train. While there are few “secrets”, having strength trained for almost 30 years and being around some of the best strength coaches in the world I learned some great strategies and yes, DVRT can be a big part of the solution. Let me lay forth one of the major ways you can build smarter muscle.

Tension Is Key

We live in a age where reading is dying and the average American reads at an 8th grade level (this is a very sad fact). I am increasingly becoming doubtful that people are going to turn to textbooks over Instagram posts to learn the science of training. As I wipe the cob webs off such an ancient way of learning we learn that we know a great deal about the science of building muscle. 

Two key factors are time under tension and the amount of work we perform. I have to credit the late, Charles Poliquin, for opening my eyes to time under tension in the late 90’s. Charles had learned the idea from HIT guru, Arthur Jones. As much as I am not a fan of one set to failure training that Jones was famous for, I do think he was quite smart about building muscle in other regards. 


The late Arthur Jones

Arthur Jones realized that going to one set to failure with specific tempos that placed the muscle under long time under tension and by doing many exercises in a workout, accumulated work, you would get more muscle. I won’t go into my issues with one set to failure right now, but you can see why one would even find some muscle building benefits with such time of training. 

In today’s fitness landscape, quick lifts are all the rage. While I believe explosive lifts have their place, they aren’t the best way to build muscle. Sure, someone might point to the impressive physiques of Olympic lifters, but they often forget that such lifters do heavy lifts for a lot of work too. Most people in the gym couldn’t handle the intensity and volume that Olympic lifters use, not to mention the elite ones that you typically see have decades of experience as they mostly start as kids. 

What about Crossfitters? They look pretty muscular and do lots of explosive lifts, what gives Josh?! Well, for one, knowing many Crossfitters I can say they don’t all adhere to the same training methodology. In fact, as I have watched the community grow since our Ultimate Sandbags were in the original Crossfit Games, I have watched as almost every box has there own philosophy of training. What you DO tend to notice is they too will accumulate rather large amounts of volume and do combine slower lifts with their explosive work. 

The larger point is that in the famous textbook, Science and Practice of Strength Training, Dr. Vladamir Zatsiorsky describes the most important principles for building muscle:

Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy

  • increase of sarcoplasm (gel like component) within muscle cells
  • does not contribute to muscle force
  • achieved by higher reps (lower-intensity weights)

Myofibrillar hypertrophy

  • increase in the basic unit of a muscle, the myofibril
  • does contribute to muscle force
  • achieved by lower reps (higher-intensity weights)

In DVRT, that means not getting caught up in JUST the explosive lifts but slowing things down. While many people may not realize it DVRT can be such a great functional muscle building tool because of the Ultimate Sandbag itself. While most people may point to just the fact the Ultimate Sandbag is unstable so we incorporate more muscles into any movement, there is something else that gives the Ultimate Sandbag such power in developing functional muscle…..compression! 

What am I talking about? Anyone who has down DVRT drills like Front Loaded Squats, Up Downs, even Overhead Pressing with the Ultimate Sandbag makes us create huge amounts of tension throughout the entire body. In fact, renowned strength coach, Robert Dos Remedios has often told me how his LEAST favorite drill to perform DVRT exercise is Fist Loaded Squats. He ONLY does them because of how he can feel his entire body being worked by the tension. 

ultimate sandbag squats

Why have people gotten away from this type of training? I believe it is because it sucks, no really, high compression exercises make you question many of your choices in life, far more than most of the quick lifts. So, how could use these ideas and do you have to worry about turning into The Rock any time soon? 

The downside to high tension lifts is they can knock you out fast! That is why we can have our cake and eat it too if we combine quick lifts with the more compression based movements. Here is an example of using DVRT drills into a functional muscle building workout.

Day 1: 

-Front Loaded Up Downs

-Push Presses

-Rear Slide Deadlifts


-Bear Hug Carry

Day 2:

-Front Loaded Good Mornings

-Archer Rows

-Bear Hug Squats

-Military Press

-Side Plank Rows

Day 3: 

-Shoulder Lunges

-Lateral Drags

-Clean and Press

-Body Rows Palms Up

-Fist Loaded March

You can quickly see that we can train better movement WITH building functional muscle. The industry saw a movement against building muscle that I haven’t really understood. Even guys thought they would get HUUUUUGE by lifting weights and revolted against the idea. This type of training isn’t going to make you the next action hero, but it WILL make you feel, look, and perform your best. I hope you will give smart muscle building like this a try and see what can be accomplished with understanding the science of training!

Want to get more great training ideas like these? Check out great DVRT Workout programs  HERE and great functional muscle programs like these HERE and check out Coach Dos in action below!