The Intelligent & Relentless Pursuit of Muscle™

The Hypertrophy Specialist


I'll admit it, before last month I'd never heard of Brad Schoenfeld.

It appears he's certainly been around the fitness block. He's published numerous books, appeared on numerous television shows, owns his own personal training facility, is an adjunct professor, and has earned multiple degrees and certifications.

Still, I didn't know he existed.

That was before I read his October 2010 article in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research entitled,  The Mechanisms of Muscle Hypertrophy and Their Application to Resistance Training. This was quite simply the most comprehensive and succinct article on hypertrophy training I've ever read. If you're interested in hypertrophy and don't mind immersing yourself in some high-level science, then I suggest you find a way to access this article.

Anyhow, I was intrigued enough to contact Brad and ask him some questions about training for muscular growth. Forgive me if some of this stuff is a little too science-geeky, especially in the first part of the article, but that's what happened when two hypertrophy geeks get together.


BC: Thanks for agreeing to do this interview, Brad. I'm curious as to how you found the time to compile all of the research that went into your article...was this just something you whipped up on a whim, or was it a work in progress over a period of many years?

BS:

BC: Well you did a great job. Let's plow right in. What are the different ways a muscle grows, and what are the primary methods of causing muscles to grow?

BS:

[Editor's note: In layman's terms, in-series hypertrophy refers to muscles growing by actually getting longer, like adding segments to a rope. For instance, if you were to hyperextend a limb and place a cast on it to hold it in that position, the stretched muscle would actually grow longer by adding additional sarcomeres. On the other hand, in-parallel growth means exactly that, sarcomeres being added next to each other like sardines being added to a tin.]

[Editor's note: Hydration can cause cell growth because, as the liquid exerts pressure against the cell wall, it's perceived as a threat to cellular integrity and the cell responds by reinforcing it's structure, i.e., growth. This is one of the mechanisms by which creatine is thought to work, as it increases a cell's fluid volume, which may then promote cell growth.]

BC: When we look at bodybuilders versus powerlifters, how do the muscular adaptations differ between the two types of training?

BS:

BC: Please talk briefly about mechanical tension and metabolic stress. Should our goal be to maximize one or the other during a workout or to achieve a proper blend of the two stimuli?

BS:

BC: What are the primary "anabolic" hormones in the body that we should be trying to maximize in our training? 

BS:

BC: Many strength coaches hate on "pumping" training, saying that there is no evidence that trying to achieve a pump leads to increases in hypertrophy. Are these coaches correct?

BS:

[Editor's note: Osmolytes are organic compounds that maintain cell volume and fluid balance.]

BC: Does this mean that we should solely seek "da pump" during our workouts or should we also be thinking about setting PR's and progressive overload?

BS:

BC: Is there such thing as "Irrational Hypertrophy," and if so, what is it?

[Yet another editor's note: Irrational hypertrophy is the concept that muscle growth simply can't occur when the cell lacks sufficient resources. These resources could simply be lack of calories, lack of protein, or lack of some intermediate metabolic chemical.]

BS:

BC: On a personal note, I've noticed that natural lifters seem to need to hit the muscle groups more frequently than one time per week for optimal hypertrophic results. Many bodybuilders hit their muscle groups one time per week and achieve great results, but they're taking exogenous anabolic steroids, human growth hormone, IGF-1, and insulin. Do you believe that natural bodybuilders should train differently than drug-assisted bodybuilders?

BS:

BC: Many bodybuilders utilize Joe Weider's "Instinctive Principle," which is in itself a form of periodization that relies on biofeedback. Mel Siff called this "auto-regulation" and described it as "Cybernetic Periodization."

Do you believe that most bodybuilders and powerlifters should stick to a set periodized routine and stick to the formula, or that most should ditch the periodization schemes and learn how to listen to their bodies and train accordingly?

BS:

BC: Let's say I want my legs to grow as large as humanly possible. Should I just focus on getting stronger at heavy lower body lifts such as squats, deadlifts, and leg press, or should I incorporate isolation movements such as leg extensions and leg curls?

BS:

BC: Does there seem to be an optimal split in terms of maximizing strength and hypertrophy? Should we be performing full body workouts, lower body and upper body split workouts, pushing and pulling workouts, or body part split routines?

BS:

BC: Let's say I want to isolate a certain part of a muscle, for example the outer pecs or lower lats. Is this possible or just wishful thinking? Does a comprehensive hypertrophy program focus mostly on the basics or does it include a wide variety of exercises with various vectors and positions of maximal tension?

BS:

BC: Are machines useful in the development of hypertrophy? What could a machine possibly do that a free weight exercise couldn't?

BS:

BC: Does there appear to be an optimal rep range for maximum hypertrophy? Is this range uniform depending on the muscle/muscle group? Many bodybuilders swear by higher rep ranges for the lower body.

BS:

BC: What about rest time in between sets? Should we wait 30 seconds, a minute, two minutes, or five minutes before performing the next set of an exercise?

BS:

BC: Do we need to go to failure on all of our sets or at least some of our sets?

BS:

BC: Last question Brad, what is something that will inspire me for my workout later on today? Thanks again for taking the time to conduct this interview.

BS:


TAKE HOME POINTS, AS WE, THE EDITORS, SEE THEM:

1. You can add muscle cells in series, sort of like adding segments to a rope, or in parallel, which is kind of like adding sardines to a tin. Of the two, in parallel is the primary way in which you build muscle.

2. You can also gain muscle size by "non-functional," or saracoplasmic hypertrophy. This refers to things like collagen, glycogen, fluid, and other non-contractile "materials" that fluff up the cell, sort of like adding additional stuffing to a sofa cushion.

However, there's evidence to suggest that adding non-contractile elements to the cell actually stresses the cell out, sending it signals to grow.

3. Muscle responds to mechanical stress, like weight lifting (duh!), and also metabolic stress. This metabolic stress refers to the build up of various metabolites like lactate, hydrogen ions, and creatine, all of which are thought to spur the muscle cell to grow further.

4. Furthermore, actual muscle damage seems to lead to more muscle growth, and it's the eccentric, or lowering part of the exercise rep that causes the most damage.

The coveted "pump" is actually caused by intracellular hydration, and this hydration may spur the muscle cell to additional growth. In other words, the pump is good.

5. Periodized training, where the non drug-aided trainee works each muscle group once or twice a week, while making periodic adjustments as needed, seems to work the best, at least as far as Brad's personal experience has shown.

6. Multi-joint movements like squats, deadlifts, rows, and presses build the most muscle mass, but targeted training of individual muscles is also an important part of achieving overall symmetry.

7. There is no such thing as "isolation" training; the human body doesn't work that way. However, given that certain muscles are innervated by different nerve branches, it means that muscles should be worked across a wide range of angles and planes.

8. As we all know, free weights have the most bang for your training buck, but machine training is well-suited for targeting specific muscles.

9. Most research shows that working within a range of 65% to 85% of 1RM builds the most muscle.

10. Brad reports that a rest interval of about 1- 2 minutes is optimal for maximizing hypertrophy.



It appears the pump may lead to additional muscle growth.

It appears the "pump" may lead to additional muscle growth.

Skeletal Muscle Many muscles are serviced by different nerve branches.

Many muscles are serviced by different nerve branches.

There's no such thing as isolation training.

There's no such thing as "isolation" training.

Muscle damage itself may spur additional growth.

Muscle damage itself may spur additional growth.

Brad suggests that working each muscle group twice a week might be optimal.

Brad suggests that working each muscle group twice a week might be optimal.

Stained muscle cells. (Okay, they're rat cells. Sue me.)

Stained muscle cells. (Okay, they're rat cells. Sue me.)

Working with a weight that's between 65% and 85% of 1RM might be    optimal.

Working with a weight that's between 65% and 85% of 1RM might be optimal.


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