The Top 2 Bodybuilding Techniques Ronnie Coleman Used to Build Muscle

Like a church sermon or commercial jingle, Ronnie Coleman’s iconic “Yeah, buddy!” tagline periodically bounces around the heads of bodybuilding enthusiasts all over the world. Sure, it’s catchy, but that’s not why it’s Coleman’s calling card — the guy won eight Mr. Olympia competitions and absolutely loved lifting heavy. 

But Coleman didn’t lift heavy for its own sake; it’s one of two things “The King” did during his bodybuilding career to build more muscle than anyone in the world. On Jun. 24, 2024, pro bodybuilding coach Joe Bennett broke down what he sees as the two driving factors that contributed to Coleman’s exceptional muscular hypertrophy

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We’re going to unpack these two elements in detail, see if they have scientific support, and give you some actionable advice to help you level up your own bodybuilding workouts. Light weight, baby. 

2 Things Ronnie Coleman Did To Build Muscle

Make no mistake: Coleman may be regarded as perhaps the best bodybuilder in the sport’s modern history, but there’s more than one way to build muscle. These training techniques are broadly applicable, but they aren’t codified law. Let’s dive in.

1. Progressive Overload

Bennett highlights an element of beautiful simplicity to Coleman’s workouts — “he [used] a lot of the same bodybuilding exercises for long periods of time,” Bennett says of Coleman’s nearly decade-long career at the Olympia. 

Hammering away at the same movements for years on end allowed Coleman to perfect his technique, develop confidence in his capabilities, and employ progressive overload in the most straightforward way: By adding plates to his barbell.

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“Progressive overload is a necessity,” Bennett says. “The stronger Coleman became, the bigger he got.”

The Science: Research has observed a pretty consistent synergistic relationship between muscle strength and size. Larger muscles can produce more force, and stronger muscles can bear higher amounts of mechanical tension for longer periods, doubling down on growth. (1)(2)

Your Next Move: It’s fine to swap bodybuilding exercises if they don’t serve you, but consider keeping at least one “cornerstone” movement in each workout that you perform and push hard on a weekly basis. Compound exercises will get you the most bang for your buck here. 

2. Targeted Ranges of Motion

This one is a bit more heady. “Coleman made sure to train where the exercise was hardest,” Bennett remarks, specifically referring to the “physics” of the movement. He cites the incline bench press as an example: The upper chest (via the shoulder joint) experiences the most torque and tension when the arm is parallel to the ground or just below. 

Coleman wasn’t afraid to hammer away at repetitions in those challenging positions, which Bennett argues had a significant impact on his overall muscle growth

“Most people spend too much time in the ‘easy’ parts of the range of motion,” Bennett says. Think benching without touching the bar to your chest or performing half squats instead of going ass-to-grass. 

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The Science: Bennett is bang-on here. A growing body of research is showing that some muscles grow better when you apply load while they’re partially or fully lengthened. (3)(4

Your Next Move: You don’t need to perform long-length partial reps exclusively, but they’re a wise inclusion. If you aren’t a fan of high-intensity techniques, at least ensure that you’re always using a full range of motion, even if it means working with lighter weights.

Your Takeaways

Bennett closed his analysis by rebuking the keyboard warriors of social media. “Yes, Coleman’s anabolic steroid use and genetics created a drastically different training outcome than you might experience yourself.”

“But it doesn’t change the fact that tracking your lifts and training in the most difficult ranges of motion is good advice,” Bennett finished. 

Sidebar: If you’ve ever wondered about how strong Coleman was, rest assured he had more strength than you think. He’s estimated to have had the strength to squat and deadlift above 800 pounds.

In essence, Bennett wants you to embrace the suck. Lifting heavy is well and good but your workouts are made all the better by employing progressive overload, while only performing the easy parts of your squats, benches, or curls is a great way to go nowhere.

Do muscles only grow if you challenge them? The King would probably say yeah, buddy. 

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Jones, E. J., Bishop, P. A., Woods, A. K., & Green, J. M. (2008). Cross-sectional area and muscular strength: a brief review. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.)38(12), 987–994.

Akagi, R., Kanehisa, H., Kawakami, Y., & Fukunaga, T. (2008). Establishing a new index of muscle cross-sectional area and its relationship with isometric muscle strength. Journal of strength and conditioning research22(1), 82–87.

Kassiano, W., Costa, B., Kunevaliki, G., Soares, D., Zacarias, G., Manske, I., Takaki, Y., Ruggiero, M. F., Stavinski, N., Francsuel, J., Tricoli, I., Carneiro, M. A. S., & Cyrino, E. S. (2023). Greater Gastrocnemius Muscle Hypertrophy After Partial Range of Motion Training Performed at Long Muscle Lengths. Journal of strength and conditioning research37(9), 1746–1753.

Maeo, S., Huang, M., Wu, Y., Sakurai, H., Kusagawa, Y., Sugiyama, T., Kanehisa, H., & Isaka, T. (2021). Greater Hamstrings Muscle Hypertrophy but Similar Damage Protection after Training at Long versus Short Muscle Lengths. Medicine and science in sports and exercise53(4), 825–837.

Featured Image: @ronniecoleman8 / Instagram

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