How to get swole
What does the evidence say?
Why should you trust all these recommendations? Surely they must be right because they are on the internet (yeah right). This routine must be the best because Mr Olympia says so..... or because everyone at the gym trains like this (yet they still haven't improved for months). These are not good reasons. We will not get into epistemology, but lets take a different tack. What does the evidence say?
It is not fashionable....but when you look at the evidence (in terms of scientific studies) you get:
- intensity matters - recruiting as many fibres as possible
- one set per exercise
- any sort of resistance seems OK (free weights, machines or bodyweight)
- concentric, eccentric or isometric contractions all work
- repetition speed is important in that you need to maintain tension on the muscles
- rest between sets and exercises doesn't matter much
- full range of motion isn't that important
- doing endurance exercise at the same time doesn't hold things back
- muscles and parts of muscles grow at different rates
- a few weeks off wont make your gains disappear and might help when you train again.
That is not my conclusion....this is what Fisher, Steele and Smith found when they reviewed the scientific studies on muscle growth in response to training.
Their paper is at
Objective: There is considerable interest in attaining muscular hypertrophy in recreational gym-goers, bodybuilders, older adults, and persons suffering from immunodeficiency conditions. Multiple review articles have suggested guidelines for the most efficacious training methods to obtain muscular hypertrophy. Unfortunately these included articles that inferred hypertrophy markers such as hormonal measurements, used older techniques that might not be valid (e.g. circumference) and failed to appropriately consider the complexity of training variables.
Methods: The present commentary provides a narrative review of literature, summarising main areas of interest and providing evidence-based guidelines towards training for muscular hypertrophy.
Conclusions: Evidence supports that persons should train to the highest intensity of effort, thus recruiting as many motor units and muscle fibres as possible, self-selecting a load and repetition range, and performing single sets for each exercise. No specific resistance type appears more advantageous than another, and persons should consider the inclusion of concentric, eccentric and isometric actions within their training regime, at a repetition duration that maintains muscular tension. Between set/exercise rest intervals appear not to affect hypertrophy, and in addition the evidence suggests that training through a limited range of motion might stimulate similar results to full range of motion exercise. The performance of concurrent endurance training appears not to negatively affect hypertrophy, and persons should be advised not to expect uniform muscle growth both along the belly of a muscle or for individual muscles within a group. Finally evidence suggests that short (~3 weeks) periods of detraining in trained persons does not incur significant muscular atrophy and might stimulate greater hypertrophy upon return to training.
My conclusion - train hard
It does not need to be as complicated as people try to make it. Lots of things will work. The different approaches that are recommended are good for marketing, but they are not essential. There is no justification to getting so committed to any one approach. It is interesting to read the conclusion of the paper too that there is a need for more research on things like frequency of training and whether split or whole body training is best.
If you want something that is supported by the research: train hard. The rest is hard to prove.....