In part one, I said that good coaches are not afraid to change their minds when enough evidence is presented and thus, I went over some of the nutrition things I have changed my mind on in the time I have been in the fitness industry. Let’s continue with the training stuff.
You have to train to failure to build muscle
I used to train to muscular failure all the time because I thought it was necessary to build muscle. I still do it, but I incorporate failure training sparingly. Why? Because it can hurt the amount of volume (sets/muscle group) I can do.
Even in the literature, there isn’t much difference in muscle growth when we compare 0 reps in reserve (failure) to a few reps in reserve. So feel free to train to failure but do it intelligently and for a purpose rather than because “Jack the mountain” in your gym told you, “you need to die in the gym!”
A warning: Knowing that you don’t have to go to failure to see gains can be counterproductive because you might leave too many reps in the tank. Be aware of that.
Massing and cutting phases are a waste of time, and body recomposition is the way to go
Body recomposition aka gaining muscle and losing fat simultaneously is something I was after for a long, long time. Lean gaining—packing on pounds of lean muscle mass with no fat—sounded sexy too. Truth is, body recomp happens in a few specific populations. In many cases, it’s a waste of time.
I get it. No one likes gaining body fat. But if you want to maximize muscle growth, an energy surplus is necessary. Which, unfortunately, entails some fat gain. But if you decide to go all oh no I don’t want to lose my beloved abs, you can be damn sure you will not make great gains.
Going through dedicated massing and cutting phases is the best way to maximize muscle growth.
Further reading: The Biggest Reason You’re Not Gaining Muscle
Muscle and strength loss during a layoff
My balls shriveled every time I had to take a few weeks off training. I thought I would lose muscle and strength. Even if it was just one week of not training.
But here is the deal: It takes somewhere between 1 and 3 weeks of inactivity for muscle loss to occur. And even then, the losses are negligible. So if fitting training into your week-long vacation schedule doesn’t sound enticing, rest assured that you will not lose your gains.
Cardio ruins gains
The interference effect—a reduction in strength, power, or muscle growth when cardio is added to your training—was another thing that would shrivel my balls and make me sweat oil. But my fear was based on Men’s Health magazine mumbo-jumbo.
A recent meta-analysis of 15 studies found no interference effect on muscle growth when combining cardio and resistance training.
So if you are one of those weirdos who actually enjoy cardio, some cardio alongside resistance training is not likely to be an issue.
As Eric Helms, PhD and CSCS, once said,
“I’m not worried about truly low-intensity cardio interfering with their (Eric’s clients) resistance training any more than I am worried about them climbing a flight of stairs or walking their dog.”
There is the best repetition range for muscle growth
I thought that all of my training should be within the 8-12 rep range. Cuz the Men’s Health magazine, remember?
Truth is, the vast majority of the low-load training research shows that anything above 30% of one rep max will stimulate muscle growth similarly as long as you train to or close to failure (0-5 reps in reserve).
However, I still like my clients to perform around 60-70% of their sets within the 6-12 rep range. It’s because when you train with a very high rep range, say 20 to 30, it’s a lot more difficult to get to true muscular failure as other factors—cardiovascular system, metabolite accumulation, etc.—become a limiting factor.
So while muscle growth does not occur only in the 8-12 rep range, you should still perform most of your sets around that rep range because it will minimize the factors that interfere with the ability to take your sets to or close to failure.
Further reading: How To Create A Training Plan: 9 Key Variables
There is the best training split for muscle growth
I’m afraid I spent way too much time googling the best training split. The worst part is that… I still ended up with a crappy split as I opted for the “bro split” where every major muscle group is trained once per week.
Choose any training split that allows you to train each major muscle at least 2x/week. A higher frequency than this will probably not be more beneficial. But 2x/week is definitely better than 1x/week.
Further reading: 6 Things I Wish I Knew Earlier About Resistance Training
Muscle confusion is an important principle of training
How many times did you hear that you have to change exercises or a training program altogether every few weeks to keep your muscles from adapting? This is what gymgoers call “muscle confusion.” It, I’m afraid, is nonsense. Menno Henselmans, exercise and nutrition scientist, has put it nicely:
“Implementing muscle confusion? You can’t confuse contractile tissue. You’re the only one confused.”
In other words, choose 1–2 compound exercises for each muscle group and keep them in your program in some capacity at all times because you need to learn the exercise so that you become neurologically efficient to overload it and then reap the benefits.
When it comes to isolation exercises, choose 1–3 isolation exercises for each muscle group and rotate them in and out more frequently because they are easier to master.
Ab routines give you a visible six pack
You know all these x-minute ab circuit bodyweight routines? I used to do them at the end of almost every workout. History has shown me those routines to be mostly garbage. You can’t spot reduce fat so these ab routines will do nothing to lean out your midsection.
Your ab muscles are no different than any other muscle in your body so you should train them for muscle growth the same way:
- Choose exercises that you can take to or close to failure (a cable, decline reverse crunch, etc.)
- Take a proper rest period between sets
- Progressively overload exercises over time.
You would never train your chest by doing 4 different bodyweight exercises in a circuit style for 7 minutes so why would you train your abs this way?
Further reading: Is Spot Reduction aka Targeted Fat Loss Real?
Combo exercises are more effective than regular ones
I’m talking about all these goofy exercises you see on social media where two exercises, say a reverse lunge and a bicep curl, are combined into one. Have you ever done something like that? I know I did. They looked novel and creative to me. Thus, effective.
The problem with combo exercises is that the load you use for combo exercises is going to be limited by the weakest link in that combination. You can reverse lunge a lot heavier load than bicep curl because strength varies between different movement patterns. It means your glutes and quads would be understimulated.
So if your primary goal is to build muscle, combo exercises are a waste of your time and effort. Basic exercises should make up most, if not all, of your training.
Don’t use lifting straps and hooks
A long, long time ago, I can’t remember shit because the whole gym stuff was new to me, I thought that (Men’s Health magazine, again?) if my grip gives out before the targeted muscles have gotten close to failure, I needed to first strengthen my grip instead of using lifting straps or hooks.
Let’s take a Romanian deadlift as an example. The strength of your grip will never be equal to the strength of your glutes so you should not expect your grip to be able to handle the same amount of weight that your glutes can. The same applies to back exercises.
And once again, just like after part one, I’m tired and ready for a good sit-down. Thus, I will wrap it up by saying that…
If you don’t want to deal with programming your workouts, jump on board for the Train With Me program. It’s a 3, 6, or 12-month progressive strength training 1:1 online coaching in which I’ll teach you how to train with a proper technique, volume, and proximity to failure so that you can enjoy your time in the gym without the need to figure it out all for yourself. Cheers, Egis.
Originally published by me on Medium on January 31, 2023