Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Muscle myths, lies, and fallacies - Part 2

In part 1 of this we covered some common shit you hear from both uneducated people and semi-educated people in regards to falsehoods about weight training.

Since there's enough of this shit to fill the New York City sewers, we shall continue........

1.  You have to do cardio to get lean

I think this is a half truth.  It all depends on how lean you want to get.  If you want to get that "summer body" where you don't look like 10 pounds of shit stuffed into a 5 pound bag, you probably don't.  If you're trying to get into bodybuilding contest shape, more than likely you'll have to do some cardio.

So it all depends on the context of that quote.

Cardio is actually a very inefficient way to get into a calorie deficit.  For example, the 160 pound woman who spends an hour on the treadmill at 4MPH will burn about 338 calories.  If she had been eating pretty shitty then simply making a change in diet would be far more efficient than that hour on the treadmill.

For example, one slice of stuffed crust pepperoni pizza from Pizza Hut clocks in at around 380 calories.  How long does it take you to eat that slice?  Well, I guess it depends on how big of a gluttonous son of a bitch you are.  But if you're like me, it takes about 2.9384 seconds.  Compare that to an hour on the treadmill and we can see where efficiency is at.

So if your definition of "lean" is good enough to be in a bathing suit or swim trunks, then fixing your diet will suffice.  In fact, fixing your diet alone will get you into single digits.  But if you're trying to get into stage shape SOME cardio will be required.  Either way, most people aren't going to douse salad dressing all over themselves and flex onstage.  So we can bust this myth that cardio is needed to get "lean".

2.  You can't build muscle with machines

I don't know of a single bodybuilder that hasn't used machines in their training.  To add, I know tons of powerlifters and strongmen that have used machines to bring up weak musculature as well.  Ed Coan and Jouka Ahola both enjoyed some leg presses, and Jouka even liked doing his front squats on the smith machine.  He was sorta strong and jacked.

Used properly, machines have their place in every lifters arsenal.  No different than free weights, they have to be used properly.

One question you should be asking yourself about each movement you do is, "am I moving weight through space, or training the muscle."

Bodybuilders called this "isolating the muscle."  And while you can't truly isolate a muscle group because the body works in synergy, you can emphasize certain muscular areas depending on the movement chosen, and how you perform it.

For example, when you perform a squat, you're not trying to isolate the quadriceps.  You're moving the weight from point A to point B.  When you perform a leg extension however, you should be more concerned about the eccentric (negative, or lowering part of the movement) and the concentric (positive, or raising part of the movement) portions of the rep.  A slow negative, and then a hard contraction of the quads in the positive are far more important than trying to move the entire weight stack in a way that looks like you're having a monkey seizure.

Machines do take the stabilizing muscles out of the movement for sure.  The machine balances the weight for you, and thus fewer muscle groups are brought into play.  This can be good or bad, depending on what you are using the machine for.  If you're using it to emphasize a particular area, then it's a great tool.  This can be used for rehabilitation, prehab, and to increase muscle mass in certain areas.  If you don't think you can't build mass with machine, pick a bicep machine and go ape shit with it on volume while contracting very hard against the resistance multiple times a week, and see if your biceps don't grow.  They will.

Machines can play a great role in your training program if you understand how to implement them, and why you're doing so.

3.  Getting a pump doesn't increase muscle mass / You must get a pump

I've heard both sides of this.  Arnold loved the pump.  Other guys have said and offered up "evidence" that the pump has no correlation to muscle growth.

My own personal opinion is that there probably IS something to the pump related to growth in some way, shape, or form.

First off, getting a great pump is generally associated with having sufficient glycogen stores, being well hydrated, and that the body is in a proper state for optimal training.  Yes, that's total broscience but I can tell when I walk into the gym and feel "full" and get a pump very quickly, that I generally lift better, and feel better.  When I feel "flat" I also often feel lethargic and don't lift quite as well.

All of that is purely anecdotal, but I'm going with it.

In this state we generally are able to train longer and harder, and lift heavier weights much easier.

Second, we've seen from studies, and from about 60 years of anecdotal proof, that training in a higher rep range is indeed a more efficient way to stimulate hypertrophy.  And more often than not, higher reps are equated with a pump.

Now you can flop down and knock out 50 push ups and get a pump, but that doesn't mean muscle growth has been stimulated.  But if you did 5 sets of 50 (if you're capable of that), the pump is probably going to be much more intense, and if this challenged you from a muscular standpoint, it's possible that growth could occur over a period of time, no different than training with weights.

Plenty of people mocked my 100 rep barbell curls.  But it added a significant amount of size to my biceps in a short period of time, and I was able to maintain that size afterwards by just doing some maintenance work.  And Derek Poundstone does them and he's not exactly hurting on the strength and mass side of things either.

I'm not going to get into the whole "sarcoplasmic" vs "myofibrillar" hypertrophy bullshit.  I'm just not.

What I am going to say is this.  I think the pump is a good indicator of the state your body is in for training.  So whether or not the pump is directly related to muscle growth isn't as relevant to me.  What it does speak to me is that I've probably eaten well, hydrated well, and and in a good position to stimulate growth and put together a productive training session.  Is this the case 100% of the time?  No.  However I've paid lots more attention to it because when I've taken carbs out of my diet, I've noticed a huge drop off in training ability.  When I add them back in, of course, training productivity increases.

So while no one can definitely say the pump is or is not related to muscle growth, we can use it as an indicator of being in a position to better stimulate strength and muscle growth.  That's my opinion.

Let me close on this one by also adding this.  I have often found that if a certain movement produces a huge pump in a particular bodypart, then I often tend to grow very quickly when using that movement.  Just something to think about.

4.  You gotta eat tons of protein to gain muscle, bro

Ok, I'm not going to even link all of the studies I sat and read through this morning on the amount of protein needed to gain muscle.  You know why?  Because I found the same thing over and over and over and over and over again.

I'm going to cut right to the chase.

Even if you're training your nuts off 4-5 times a week, 1 GRAM OF PROTEIN PER POUND OF BODYWEIGHT IS ENOUGH.  If you're dieting REALLY hard, it may need to be slightly higher, but not much.  In fact, over and over again it was found that 0.8 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight was found to be sufficient for people involved in intense training.

I know this, in the past I've eaten upwards of 400 grams of protein a day, and saw virtually no different in strength and muscle growth.

Nothing.  Zip.  Nada.  Anyone telling you that force feeding yourself tons of protein is the missing link in your training problem, is missing a link.  

Managing your body composition really comes back to adjusting your carbohydrate and fat intake once the protein is dialed in.  And the fact is, it doesn't take a TON of protein to do that.  Yes, between 0.8 and 1 gram per pound of bodyweight.  That's it.  After that, simply massage your carbs and fats to meet your training goals and needs.

5.  You must workout everyday to look like that / You have to workout everyday

This is often one of the first questions I get asked when approached by strangers.

"You workout all the time, don't you?"

I think they think I'm lying when I tell them "generally 3 times a week.  Sometimes just twice, depending on how I feel."

If you're a sedentary individual, meaning you just grind your ass groove into the couch every evening after work and do little else, doing something in the gym two to three times a week is better than what you've been doing.

If you're a novice lifter, and you're really after the big gains, I always recommend to get into the gym very often.  Five or six times a week.  That's because noobs aren't very strong, and they can recover very quickly from workouts because there's not a lot of demands imposed on recovery.

As a lifter becomes more advanced and strength levels rise, recovery becomes a bigger factor.  So the guy squatting 650 for reps more often than not, needs more time between training sessions than the guy squatting 250 for reps.  This should seem obvious.

If you want a more immediate version of this scenario, put a novice guy beside an advanced guy doing curls.  The novice guy may curl a 65 pound barbell for 10 reps as a max.  Meaning, he couldn't do 11.

The advanced guy might do 165 for 10 reps.  In a minute or so the novice guy is fine, and ready to go again.  But the advanced guy may need more time before he's ready to do another set.  Lifting heavier and heavier loads also means more recovery.  Both on a set to set basis, day to day basis, and week to week basis.

So a very jacked and advanced guy might not to be able to get into the gym 5 or 6 days a week and be adequately recovered.  Not only that, but advanced guys are more efficient in their movements, and can often get more from less.  Where the rank beginner is still developing the technical skills just to be able to perform the movements properly.  

All of these things are very individualistic, but more often than not a very advanced and hard training guy can usually get it done with 3-4 times a week in the gym.  If an advanced guy is in the gym 6, 8, 10, 12 times a week I'm not sure what the fuck he's doing.  Does he have a wrist curl day?  An anterior tibialis day?  I'm not sure what's going on there when I read that from someone who has been under the bar for a long time.

I'm getting sideways here, so back to the topic.  

Fact is, if your diet is dialed in, almost anyone can make major changes in their body and continue to do so by training 3-4 times a week.  For the people that are in the gym everyday, I personally think that either they just really enjoy training more than most, or don't have a life outside of that atmosphere.


  1. Great article Paul, appreciate it.

  2. I see your reasoning with the more recovery is needed the more advanced you are. But at the same time the opposite also seems to be true. All the russian and european lifters keep bumping up volume the more advanced they are (same with how elite oly lifters training is structured, to build volume over their career). I mean look at the programs belayev runs that are out there, he's benching retarded volume like 5 days a week. I guess my point is it seems that's different for different people

    1. No they don't. There is a point of diminishing returns with that kind of training. Not only that, you aren't Russian most likely nor do you have elite genetics.

      I could also point to all the world record holders that don't do those things and it makes the argument obsolete. Point is, for the majority, what I wrote will come into play.

  3. Lol, I actually do have a wrist curl day sometimes when I really want to hit the gym more than 3 times a week. I'll have to start adding an anterior tibialis day too.

  4. Paul, great post and keep up the good work. The lifting culture needs more truthful voices, thank you for being one of them.