Tate Talks Hypertrophy - Part 1

An Interview with Dave Tate

There's no doubt that Dave Tate knows strength. He's squatted 935, benched 610, and pulled 740 pounds off the floor. There's also no doubt that Dave knows how to get big and manipulate his body comp. He's obtained elite status in four different powerlifting weight classes and he even competed in bodybuilding back in college.

The problem is, no one ever talks to Dave about hypertrophy and bodybuilding. Let's end that right now. T-Nation sat down recently with him to discuss hypertrophy, bodybuilding, hardcore warehouse gyms, and much more.

Testosterone Nation: Dave, when I first started watching EliteFTS powerlifting videos, I was surprised by how often the term hypertrophy came up. Why is hypertrophy important from a powerlifting point of view?

Dave Tate: Well, you can't flex bone. When a person wants to get into powerlifting training, a lot of the times hypertrophy is going to be a side effect of the training. A powerlifter needs that mass for several reasons.

There's always a height to weight ratio when it comes to strength. Regardless of what anyone says, if you're 6' 2" and weigh 165 pounds, you might pull okay but you're not going to squat worth a shit. You don't have the thickness or the torso. I'm not saying you have to have a fat torso, but a light lifter like that won't have the torso support for leverage.

So in that case you need to take that lifter and build him up, and you're not necessarily going to build anyone up doing dynamic work or max effort work. It still comes down to the three ways to induce muscle tension: the repetition method, the max effort method, and the dynamic method.

Where the miscommunication comes in is when the beginners place all their focus on the max effort and the dynamic methods. They don't understand the application of the repetition method. From a powerlifter's standpoint, a bigger muscle is going to be a stronger muscle. While that's not always the case, it is part of the equation.

It has to be useable mass or relative mass. You don't want to send somebody into a weight class heavier if they're just going to be weaker and have bigger muscles. It's just going to be counterproductive.

T-Nation: Where do powerlifters and bodybuilders differ when it comes to hypertrophy and mass?

Tate: The main difference in powerlifting hypertrophy and bodybuilding hypertrophy is where the general concern is and what parameters are going to be used.

A powerlifter will be more concerned with the mass he has around the elbow joint, the lower part of the triceps. He'll be concerned with the mass he can develop around the knee, the lower quad area. Also the stabilizing mass, the rotator cuff region, back thickness – things that are going to help him with his lifts.

When you're dealing with someone who just wants to look big, now you're going to start dealing with muscle belly mass – how full the pecs are going to be, how big the biceps are going to be, the sweep of the quads. The focus isn't on how the muscle works as a unit with the rest of the body, but how to grow it in proportion to the rest of the frame.

So a lot of it is going to be about the exercise selection, but it's going to come down to the parameters of hypertrophy that you're using. It's two entirely different games. You can use "Westside principals" to develop hypertrophy, but it's not really Westside training that you're going to use; it's a conjugate method of developing hypertrophy which is going to take on its own life separate from what you'd normally use for powerlifting training.

In summary, powerlifting hypertrophy is a side effect of training for strength, whereas strength is a limited side effect of training for hypertrophy for the bodybuilder.

T-Nation: Makes sense. Let's talk about exercise selection, or in particular, the different styles of the same exercise that a powerlifter and bodybuilder would use.

Tate: I worked with a taller lifter recently who was interested in overall mass. One of the problems he was having was leg mass and the overall gains he was receiving from squatting.

I found out he was squatting with a twelve inch stance, doing rock bottom squats. Now, that's a great quad exercise, but as far as a mass building exercise, it's not going to be as good as a wide box squat.

T-Nation: Why is that exactly?

Tate: It's fairly simply. Let's say the guy can handle 225. But that 225 pound load on his body isn't going to develop the same mass as what a 315 load would. Here's a guy who's been trying to bring his squat up for some time and it hasn't gone up.

So the first thing to do is widen his stance out, put him up on a high box, and teach him how to sit back onto his glutes and his hamstrings. So more of the focus is going to be shifted to the bigger body parts as opposed to what he was doing before, which was just hitting his quads and lower back.

Now, let's say after six to eight weeks, the guy is doing sets of five with 315 on the box squat. His bodyweight and mass will go up because now he's supporting heavier loads on his body. And, if he were to move his stance back in, he'd shatter the record he had before because his overall strength is now up!


T-Nation: This reminds me of when a newbie gets on the forum and asks how to hypertrophy part of his upper body. Many people respond with "squat!" The message is that the whole body will grow when exposed to heavy loads. Do you buy that?

Tate: I do, but the only thing I'd change in that is to say you need to squat in cycles to get better. I'm not totally convinced that a repetition range of dynamic squats of two to three reps is going to be optimal for someone who's only trying to create hypertrophy.

In that case, I'd like to see the reps bumped up a little bit, maybe to five, but still being done in a dynamic nature with one minute rest intervals. Training percent would be based on how the lifter feels.

Lactic Acid Tolerance training with the dynamic squat (low rest period and very high sets) can also do wonders for increasing muscle mass because of the GH production associated with this type of training.

T-Nation: Okay, so why squat in cycles?

Tate: One reason is because although the squat is one of the best exercises for mass, it's also one of the main exercises that people stick to way too long.

Let's say you hit an overtraining state. Diagnose that however you want: lack of progress, morning pulse rate, feeling like shit, whatever. If you're in that state and you're continuously putting a bar on your back, which is a load on your spine (and your spine is your central nervous system), then you're inhibiting your ability to recover from other training.

T-Nation: You know, a lot of hardcore people wouldn't think of not squatting for a period of weeks!

Tate: I think it's important. It's very apparent that there are times when you need to get the bar off your back. Every time I went through a phase where I took the bar off my back, my muscle hypertrophy increased significantly. Now, keep in mind the overtraining state was in effect, there were injuries in effect, and there was probably a year when I didn't have a bar off my back.

But I think that for every 12 to 16 weeks of squatting, you should go through a three week phase where you take the bar off your back. Now, with that three week break, I'm not saying you don't squat; maybe you use the belt squat, which we use a lot of. It's a belt squat machine that allows you to squat but there's no loading on your spine.

belt squat machine

The belt squat machine

Also, when you're going through that phase, there are no good mornings or safety squat bar lifts either – no bar on your back whatsoever! What you're reduced to is a lot of glute-ham raises, a lot of hamstring and quad work, step-ups, lunges, and belt squats.

What you find is that your leg mass increases for two reasons. First, your body is able to begin recovery like it normally should. And second, you're using exercises that you probably haven't been using for the last 12 to 16 weeks.

T-Nation: Interesting stuff. Now, back in the day in the bodybuilding world, a machine was marketed based on its ability to isolate a muscle. These days, too much isolation is looked down on – not much bang for the buck there – but what about in powerlifting? Is there ever a need to isolate and hypertrophy a muscle?

Tate: Very rarely does a powerlifter isolate. Normally when this is done it's to bring up a specific weak point that's due to a muscle imbalance. If we do a leg extension to correct an imbalance (we don't use a leg extension machine, we just jump on a reverse hyper and sit on it and do high reps that way), we do it to add in a specific movement for that potential imbalance that we can recover from extremely fast – it doesn't place a huge demand on the central nervous system.

For powerlifting, a lot of isolation work – concentration curls and shit like that – isn't going to do a whole lot. For someone trying to build hypertrophy though, whose main function isn't going to be strength, I think movements like that are extremely important. It's not going to be the core of the program though. They still need to do the heavy and hard work necessary for muscle mass.

I do have to say that I don't like the term "isolation movement" and only use it because this is the term people relate certain movements to. In truth, you can't isolate one muscle without incorporating others. The CNS is also used regardless of the movement. When it comes to training effect, I believe the CNS needs to be addressed first in regards to movement selection and recovery protocols.

T-Nation: What about the "pump" and hypertrophy? Is the pump necessary?

Tate: I'm part of the old school on this. I think if you're trying to build hypertrophy, you still at some point need to pump the shit out of the body. You need to get the fluid and blood in there.

Contrary to what a lot of people think, that's still what everybody fucking does. If you're a competitive bodybuilder or are training for mass, that's how you finish your session.

That's where I like the idea of some of the different machines – because they don't place a huge demand on the body. You can get on a chest press machine, a pec deck, a cable crossover, whatever the hell you want to use, and you can completely gorge that muscle. But because you did those movements, it's not going to place a huge demand on your recovery.

Basically, with training, I think 20% of what you do in the gym is going to give you 80% of the results. Now, the powerlifter's 20% will be in the heavy, heavy ass training that requires the right mental attitude – the max effort work, the speed work. They're blasting 100%. They're tapping into almost all of their recovery abilities just on those 20% movements alone. So training economy becomes extremely important.

Hold on, can I go on a rant here?

T-Nation: Hell yeah you can!

Tate: Okay, let's look at this remaining 80%. Most people will look at this 80/20 rule and say, "Okay, we need to place all the focus on this 20%." Bullshit! You need to place your focus on all 100%!

Training is about getting the job done, not just doing part of it. Just about everyone will do the 20%. We live in a country full of 20 percenters: people who start off great but never finish. People give in when things get tough or they get tired.

Then we have those who will do 90% of all the work they need to be doing. These are the ones who'll achieve good results. They're paying their dues and getting their rewards.

The fact is, very few walk the line and take care of all 100%. This is because it's the last 5% that separates the good from the great. This is the work you have to do to be your best. It may not be the work that'll generate 80% of the results, but who the hell wants to be 80 or 90% of what you can be? This is one thing that pisses me off when I read about training economy. Okay, rant over.

Anyway, if they wanted to build muscle mass using other movements on the backend, then they'd need to reduce the intensity and effort being placed on the max effort and speed movements. The speed movements could be done at a lighter percentage, possibly in more of a lactic acid training cycle, shorter rest periods, no bands, no chains.

The max effort work would leave singles and hit triples or possibly fives. That way it's not going to hit their muscular and central nervous system as hard, which leaves them a little of that recovery window to play with. They can use it to put in that other stuff now.

Compare a professional bodybuilder and a powerlifter. Wait, I don't want to say a professionalbodybuilder because they're in terrible fucking shape too. Let's say a high level aspiring bodybuilder. He can go into the gym – say he's training chest, shoulders, and triceps – and knock out seven exercises, three or four sets at ten to twelve reps. He can bust ass basically the whole time.

A powerlifter is going to give you two of those movements and be shot! This is because of the level of effort and intensity that the powerlifter places into each rep.

T-Nation: Why is that exactly?

Tate: Because the powerlifter is trained to do one thing, and that's to move that weight with everything he has. It's not an endurance event for the powerlifter. So he's going to put more effort into his first three reps than the bodybuilder puts into his first three. The bodybuilder has trained his body to be a little more capable of endurance work. The powerlifter could do it if he was coached and told "less force, less force," but he'd hate it.

T-Nation: So basically, many bodybuilders have trained themselves to endure until the last couple of reps of the set because those are the only ones that "count" as many of the old bodybuilding books used to say. Those last reps are the only ones they get intense on. The powerlifter is trained to be intense from the beginning, to make every rep an example of explosive force.

Tate: Yes. On the flipside, you take the bodybuilder and have him move to powerlifting training and he's not going to understand how to apply force. Tell him you want 100% effort in these repetitions and he won't get it. He'll do a rep like he's getting ready to do a set of ten; he'll leave something in the tank.


So if you're trying to merge the two, then you need to understand those big differences. If the bodybuilder goes to use heavy triples or dynamic work as part of his bodybuilding workout, but he doesn't understand the compensatory acceleration or the force that's required to make those methods work properly, he's not going to get the most out of it.

The powerlifter doesn't understand how the repetition method works for hypertrophy, where the first eight reps are just primers to get you to the last three or four. So that's not going to be as effective for him.

T-Nation: So if the powerlifter needs to hypertrophy something or the bodybuilder needs to get strong in order to further his hypertrophy, then they each can learn something from the other?

Tate: Exactly.

T-Nation: You know, I was watching some EliteFTS DVDs the other day and I was struck by most of these guys' calf development. Any bodybuilder would kill for those calves. Let me guess, they don't even train calves directly do they?

Tate: No. It's a side effect of squatting heavy. Plus, a bigger guy is always going to have bigger calves. Look at your football coach. You've got your old lineman coaches with like 50 inch calves! It's just the nature of having the extra bodyweight – and walking around is going to develop that.

But the calves are partially responsible for supporting the knee. Just the nature of walking the weight out of the rack, squatting and pulling, you're training your calves.

Most of the time, you don't need to do what most people think you need to grow. Everyone is caught up in movements they feel work specific muscles, but they don't understand the effect on the entire body. For example, if you read any bodybuilding book, it'll list bench press as a chest movement. Well, I feel it more in my triceps, plus  there have been thousands of shoulder injuries from bench pressing. I'd say it's safe to assume that the bench press is also a shoulder and triceps movement!

I've also had bench sessions where my lats, traps, and lower back were fired, not to mention the numerous times I've had glute and hamstring cramps. So if you think bench press is a chest movement, you're being misguided.

I also remember overhearing George Halbert telling another Westside member a bit of advice after a max effort board press. The other member asked George about doing extensions. George's reply was classic. He said, "What exactly will dumbbell extensions do for my triceps that 700 pound board presses didn't already do?"

T-Nation: Good point there! Back to what you said about calves. There's a lesson there for the hypertrophy oriented. I mean, a guy has 45 minutes to train during his lunch break and he spends ten minutes of that on direct calf work. Yet the biggest calves I've ever seen are on men who don't train them directly!

Tate: Everyone wants to major in the minor shit. A lot of people love training calves because it's easy. Compare a calf raise to a bent-over row. Which one is the pussy going to choose? It makes me sick to see how most people train today.

I still like to say that we're the most overeducated, under-producing group of trainers and coaches ever. The one thing that's never changed is that you still have to work hard. It seems that a lot of people and a lot of programs are trying to sidestep that one main issue. But you gotta go in there and you gotta bust your ass! People need to quit looking for the easy way out and get to work.

Tune in tomorrow for Part 2 of "Tate Talks Hypertrophy!"

Chris Shugart is T Nation's Chief Content Officer and the creator of the Velocity Diet. As part of his investigative journalism for T Nation, Chris was featured on HBO’s "Real Sports with Bryant Gumble." Follow on Instagram