Listen on Apple Podcasts | Listen on Spotify | Listen on YouTube

In this installment of the Best of Muscle For Life, you’ll hear hand-picked clips from three popular MFL episodes: an interview with Jordan Syatt on building a healthy relationship with food, a monologue on the importance of volume versus intensity for gaining muscle, and a book club episode on Walter Isaacson’s Benjamin Franklin

Some people—my favorite people—listen to most or even all of my podcasts, but my wizbang analytics tell me that while many listeners tune in on a regular basis, they don’t catch every installment of Muscle for Life and thus miss out on insights that could help them do at least a little better inside and outside the gym.

That’s why I do “best of” episodes that contain a few of the most practical and compelling ideas, tips, and moments from the more popular episodes I’ve published over the years. This way, you can learn interesting insights that you might have otherwise missed and find new episodes of the show to listen to.

So, in this installment of The Best of Muscle for Life, you’ll be hearing hand-picked morsels from three episodes:

Jordan Syatt on Developing a Healthy Relationship With Food

(Originally published 10/13/2021)

Is Volume or Intensity More Important for Building Muscle?

(Originally published 8/30/2021)

Book Club: Benjamin Franklin – An American Life

(Originally published 9/22/2017)

And we’ll be starting with number one, Jordan Syatt on Developing a Healthy Relationship With Food.


0:00 – Find the Perfect Strength Training Program for You:

3:44 – Jordan Syatt on Developing a Healthy Relationship With Food

12:06 – Is Volume or Intensity More Important for Building Muscle?

22:03 Book Club: Benjamin Franklin – An American Life

Mentioned on the Show:

Find the Perfect Strength Training Program for You in Just 60 Seconds:

What did you think of this episode? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!


Hello and welcome to the latest and greatest episode of Muscle for Life. I’m Mike Matthews and thank you for joining me today. Now, I have recorded hundreds of episodes of Muscle for Life, and I’ve talked about a huge variety of things related to health, fitness, lifestyle. Mindsets ranging from the basics of diet and exercise, like energy and macronutrient, balance and progressive overload, and training frequency and volume to fads like the ketogenic and carnivore diet.

And. Collagen protein to more unfamiliar territories like body weight, set point, and fasted cardio, and some episodes resonate with my crowd more than others, but all of them contain at least a few key s that just about anyone can benefit from. At least that’s what I tell myself. That’s what helps me sit down in the chair every day and do this, and as cool as that.

It poses a problem for you, my dear listener, especially if you are new here, and that is, ain’t nobody got time for that. We’re talking about probably a thousand plus hours of content at this point. And while some people actually do make the time to listen to most or even. All of my podcasts, my Whizbang analytics tell me that while many listeners tune in on a regular basis, they don’t catch every installment of Muscle for Life.

Thus, they miss out on insights that could help them get even just a little bit better inside and outside the gym. Because if you just get a little bit better, consistently enough, that can add up to big results in the long. And people have also been telling me that they would like me to do more shorter multi topic episodes like my q and Ass and says You episodes.

And so I got an idea. How about a best of series of podcasts that contains a few of the most practical and compelling ideas, tips, and. From my most popular episodes, going all the way back to beginning This way, people who are new in particular can quickly determine if this is the droid they’re looking for, if this podcast is for them or not, and then those who are regulars and enjoy what I’m doing, but just don’t have the time or inclination to listen to all of my.

And I do understand that I don’t take it personally. , you can also then benefit from the discussions and the episodes that you are not listening to in full. And you can also find new episodes to listen to without having to give an hour of your time to determine whether it was worth it or not. So here we are with the best of Muscle for Life, and in this episode you’ll be.

Handpicked morsels from three episodes. First is an interview I did with Jordan Syk on developing a healthy relationship with food. A lot of people like that interview. The second episode featured, or the snippets from the episode featured in this episode is a monologue that I recorded called Is volume or Intensity More Important for Building Muscle and.

We have a book club episode where I talked about some of my key takeaways and my thoughts from the book, Benjamin Franklin and American Life. And so let’s start with the first highlight reel, which is from the interview I did with Jordan Sciat on developing a healthy relationship with food before we get.

Have you ever wondered what strength training split you should follow, what rep ranges you should work in, how many sets you should do per workout or per week? Well, I created a free 62nd training quiz that will answer those questions for you and others, including how frequently you should train each major muscle.

Which exercises you should do, what supplements you should consider, uh, which ones are at least worth taking and more. To take this quiz and to get your free personalized training plan, go to Muscle for muscle f o r quiz, answer the questions and learn exactly what to do in the gym to gain more muscle and strength.

I think we often talk about health and almost solely think about it in terms of physiological health, like how, how your body is functioning, which is normal. It’s, it’s very, very important. But a lot of times people will have an unhealthy relationship with food, especially from a mental or psychological or emotional perspective.

And, and one, I think the most important things to understand about having a healthy relationship with food. I think this is almost overdone now, like, it’s like the fitness industry runs on a pendulum of extremes. Yeah, and I think what I’m about to say has been taken too far, but it still holds true that you can’t have this idea of a good or a bad food, especially if you’re already starting from a disordered relationship with food.

The reason this is, IM important to understand is because if someone, if, if, if you can’t. A cookie, or you can’t go out to dinner with your family and have a slice of pizza without getting anxious or feeling like you’re gonna ruin all your progress, regardless of how good your physiological health is.

That is not a good, healthier relationship with food. If you can’t go enjoy, uh, a night, a dinner out with your son or with your daughter, with your wife, or with your husband because you’re fearful, you’re gonna ruin all your progress. I don’t care how good your physiological health is, your, your psychological health is not there.

As hard as it is for them to hear this, the first thing they have to do is if they have a binge, you can’t then follow that up with, well now I have to starve myself. Because if you then consequently try to starve yourself or over restrict the following day, you feed directly back into that ha, that habit loop.

What they often do is they’ll try and overexercise and undereat immediately after they binge, which then leads the exact same thing over and over again. The worst thing you can do is try to over exercise and undereat to make up for the damage and, and this is where I start to. People starting to develop a healthier relationship with food from here is when they understand that that one meal or that one night didn’t do any damage.

That when they understand and internalize that, well then they stop trying to overcompensate for the next day by starving themselves or over exercising. And then from there they can stop binging. And whenever someone says they wanna try to fasting, I always ask why. Yeah, like, why do you wanna do it? And if the answer is, I think it’s gonna be like optimal for fat loss, I think it’s gonna help improve my fat loss, then.

Then no, I I don’t think it’s worth it. If the answer is, well, I don’t like breakfast, or I work a job that makes it difficult to eat on this type of a schedule, then sure. Abso if, if, if intermittent fasting, skipping breakfast, in other words, uh, is good for your schedule and helps, makes it easier for you to stick to your, hit your calories on a regular basis to, to your macros to make sure you’re eating overall nutrient dense, rich foods, great, go for it.

But if you think intermittent fasting is gonna be the, the difference. In terms of your overall fat loss, that it’s somehow going to change your body, your metabolism, in order to help you burn fat more quickly than, no, that’s, it’s ridiculous. A lot of people freak out that they’re gonna ruin all their progress on vacation and, uh, there’s a couple things I say.

First and foremost, if you go on vacation and you don’t gain a little bit of. , you probably didn’t enjoy your vacation very much, so it’s like we have to sort of put that out there. It doesn’t mean you should be binging the whole time and eating nonstop and eating to the point of feeling sick. Over the holidays or like over over Christmas, Hanukkah, whatever you celebrate.

If you don’t gain a little bit of fat, you probably didn’t enjoy the holiday season. I think so many people are, are so petrified to the possibility of gaining a little bit of fat that they actually end up gaining more fat through binge eating and they don’t even enjoy the food they’re eating cuz the whole time they’re feeling guilty about it.

I think you’re, your maintenance mindset is often largely influenced by, your calorie deficit mindset, right? And, and it’s how you, how you end up getting very lean. You should try and get very lean in a way that you’d like to mimic in your maintenance life, right? It’s like where, where I think a lot of people really screw up is they try and do something that is completely unrealistic for them to do forever.

Then when they try and go in more towards maintenance mode and their lifestyle completely shifts, they end up gaining weight back much more quickly because they did it in a way that they couldn’t have sustained. They’re, they do a lot of things. They, oftentimes, they weigh, they, they exercise way more than they possibly can sustain.

Like they’ll, whether they’re doing two days, whether they’re trying to do cardio all the time, whether they’re radically reducing calories. One of the ones that I see a lot in people, and this is in people who know what to do, this is in people who generally have a higher knowledge of fitness than most, but they still struggle to maintain a lower body.

Fat is as soon as they go into a a dieting phase, their foods will go to all of the. Diet foods, all of the, the very low, the, the tilapia and the rice cakes and the Yes. Or, or even like the, like the Walden farms, uh, dressing. Oh, that stuff’s so gross. And like the, they’ll like the zero calorie jello and all that stuff.

And the reason they do it, I understand why that what they’re trying to do is they’re trying to fill up as much as they can for as few calories as possible. Cause they wanna stay full. But the issue is as soon as they go to their maintenance, They’re eliminating all of that. They’re not filling up on the jello, they’re not filling up, they’re not having like these, these massive gargantuan bowls of vegetables.

They’re going back to what generally a normal amount of food looks like in a a, nor like from overall natural. Nutrient dense, rich foods, but those have more calories. They’ve created this idea of how full they’re supposed to be, so when they fill up on these other foods that are otherwise very healthy for them, they’re going to be eating significantly, significantly more calories because they’re used to this certain amount of volume in their stomach.

And so what do you like to see people do to avoid that problem? I think some of that stuff in your diet can be okay, but you really have to give an honest look at at what you’re eating and, and I think there are a couple things that you have to do when you’re dieting. You have to be okay with a little bit of hunger.

You have to, you have to be okay with that. I think one of the biggest issues is people will try and avoid hunger so much that they actually create a fear around it. That, that they’re so scared of ever being slightly hungry, that it actually becomes a huge, a huge fear of, of going to bed Hungry is a really common one.

A lot of people are very fearful of going to bed hungry, which is often what will perpetuate, binge, binge eating as well. But hunger is a normal part of dieting. Like it’s a normal part. It’s a normal part of being a human. And also I would say just taking the foods that you normally eat and trying your best just to have slightly smaller portions of those same foods If, if your cutting diet looks drastically different than your maintenance.

You are not gonna be able to sustain it. It’s, it’s not, that’s why the extreme things like juice cleanses and stuff don’t work long term. And it’s also why things like when you go from, uh, alright, like I’m gonna, I, I always eat the, the regular cream cheese or I always eat the regular yogurt and then I’m gonna get the, the zero fat yogurt or zero fat, whatever.

Everything goes to the zero fat. Zero fat, zero fat. The diet, the diet, the diet. But you don’t do that in your regular life. You’re not gonna be able to sustain that. So ideally have, have less elimination, less complete substitutions, and more just slightly reduced portions. Okay. That’s it for the featured moments from the interview I did with Jordan on developing a healthy relationship with food.

And if you want to go check out the whole episode, it was published in October of 2021. And now let’s move on to the featured snippets from, is volume more Intensity, more important for Building Muscle? Okay, so let’s start this discussion with volume. What is volume? Well, volume is simply the amount of work that you’re doing over a period of time.

And in weightlifting, in strength training and body building, you can measure volume in a few different ways. What is the most productive way to track your volume? To think about your volume? It is hard sets, and those are sets that are taken to within, let’s say one to three reps of muscular failures. So pretty close to failure, uh, hard, they’re hard sets.

However, there are some caveats that I’m gonna share with you, uh, in a few minutes. But as a general rule, tracking the number of hard sets that you do, and you can look at that in terms of individual muscle groups in individual workouts. You can look at it in terms of muscle groups per week. You can look at it in terms of in.

Exercises, depending on your programming, depending on your goals, but that is the generally most productive way to track your volume, to plan your volume, to think about training volume. Alright, so now let’s talk about intensity and then we will talk about intensity versus volume and get into some practical programming tips.

What is intensity? Well, this is how hard you’re training. So whereas volume is the total amount of work that you’re doing, this is, that’s like a quantitative thing, right? You could think of intensity as a bit more of a qualitative aspect in, in weightlifting and strength training, you can measure intensity in a few different ways.

One of the simplest and most useful ways to express how hard you are working in sets is to use a simple system known as reps in reserve, which is how many more reps you could have done in a set before failure. That number is your reps in reserve. Now let’s talk about volume versus intensity, which is better for muscle growth, and the answer is neither.

You need both. So then let’s talk about why. Both volume and intensity. And for that, I’m gonna quote a buddy of mine, Eric Helms. He said, muscle growth occurs due to cumulative tension stimulus over time. So in other words, you build muscle by contracting those muscles at a sufficient intensity for a sufficient duration.

Over time and the process of increasing the amount of tension that your muscles are exposed to, that they are generating over time is known as progressive overload. And you can increase that tension stimulus in two ways. You can increase the amount of tension produced in each rep by lifting heavier weights.

So that is where intensity helps, and you can extend the amount of time that your muscles are exposed to tension. By doing more sets or more reps, and so that’s where volume comes into the picture. Now, with the first option with heavier weights, you are forcing your muscles to produce very high amounts of tension, right?

They have to contract very hard, but for relatively brief period of times. Now, with the volume approach, you are using lighter weights if you’re doing more reps, for example, and that doesn’t mean that those sets are easier. In fact, they may even feel harder, but you have lighter weights for. Reps and that forces your muscles to contract moderately hard, not as hard as the heavy weights, but still hard or the heavier weights for a longer period of time.

Now, if you just go for more sets, let’s say the weight doesn’t change, but you just do more hard sets per uh, weak for that exercise or maybe for the muscle group. Then you haven’t changed the maximum amount of muscle contraction that’s occurring in your training, right? You haven’t increased the weight, which would then cause your muscles to contract even harder.

You haven’t decreased the weight, which would cause them to contract less. Hard. You are keeping the maximum level of contraction the same. You are just contracting them more because you are doing more sets. Okay, so let’s summarize quickly what we’ve learned here. We’ve learned that we want to be taking our sets fairly close to failure.

One to three good reps. Left is a good target. Um, you’re gonna want to have maybe two reps. Left in general on your compound exercises, and you can push closer two or three in your compounds, and then you can push closer to failure in your isolation exercises, your accessory exercises, because it is safer that way.

And if you don’t push yourself hard enough in your sets, then you’re just not going to generate enough tension to stimulate muscle growth. We’ve also learned that you have to use sufficiently. Weights, people who have at least a few months of good weightlifting under their belt. The weights really should be no lighter than probably about 60% of one rep max, and most people will probably find that they can do 15, maybe 16 reps with 60%.

Many people know that the best way to continue getting bigger as a natural weightlifter is to continue getting stronger. You have to see your one rep maxes on your big exercises going up. You have to see your whole body strength going. Time to continue gaining muscle. And so they figure maybe I should just train like a power lifter, right?

Uh, the more weight I can lift, the bigger I’ll be. Power lifters are stronger than bodybuilders. I’ll just do that. And the problem with that line of thinking is it’s putting the cart before the horse. Getting stronger is not what causes muscle growth. Muscle growth cause. Strength gain because bigger muscles are stronger muscles.

So as you get bigger, that should eventually result in your strength going up. But you can’t get so hung up on chasing strength that you neglect volume, which is needed to cause hypertrophy, which is then needed to increase your strength. So then why do we have to keep adding weight to the bar over time?

Why is that strength gain correlated with the ability to continue gaining muscle? Well, one reason is to ensure that we are still taking our sets close enough to failure because we need to do that to maximize tension in each workout. So we have to maintain the effectiveness of each set in terms of building muscle.

If we just use the same amount of weight, we will. Get strong enough to where that weight is just not that difficult anymore. We may be ending our last, our final sets on an exercise with 3, 4, 5, 6 reps in reserve. That’s not hard enough to generate a large enough training response. We need to be ending those sets a bit closer to failure.

How do we do that? Add weight to the bar. We also want to improve our ability to move those he heavy loads, which then of course allows us to rack up more tension more easily during our workouts. Again, we’re looking for that sweet spot where the weight is heavy enough to cause our muscles to contract.

Hard but not so heavy that we can only do maybe one or two or three reps. We wanna be able to do enough reps in each set to rack up enough tension. And we also want to be adding weight to the bar. We want to see our one rms going up to gauge how well our program is working if our one rms of our whole body strength.

Has not gone up for a while. It is a sign that the program may not be providing enough tension to drive the muscle growth that then allows us to add weight to the bar. So that’d be under training. Maybe it’s providing too much. Maybe it’s trying to get you to do too much and you are not fully recovering, so you are overreaching.

Or it may be a recovery issue. Maybe your programming is good and you are not sleeping enough. For example. That alone, uh, can. Halt progress in its tracks. And so those are the the primary reasons why, again, we need to be seeing weights going up over time. What are the current best evidence-based guidelines for programming our training?

In light of everything we’ve just discussed here, they are. So do 10 to 20 hard sets per major muss group. Per week. If you’re new, you can be closer to 10. If you are intermediate or advanced, you probably need to be in the middle. You wanna be doing probably no fewer than 12 hard sets for any individual muscle group per week.

And if you wanna progress, you’re probably gonna have to be closer to 15 to 16 or so, at least in your bigger muscle groups. And if you want to really blast a muscle group, if you want to do a specialization routine, you can push it probably as high as 20. Uh, but do not try to do 20 hard sets. All of your major muscle groups per week, that is going to be very difficult.

It’s gonna require probably a couple of hours in the gym every day. So 10 20 hard sets per major mouse group per week. Use weights that are heavy in the range of, let’s say 60 to 95% of everyone, rep max. That’s between two and 15 reps, and exactly how that should, um, Play out in your training is again, a whole nother discussion, but I do recommend checking out my book Beyond Bigger Lean or Stronger if you want to know about that because I, I talk about periodization in detail and you see exactly how I periodize my training and, uh, I, I share.

A couple of other principles that you can use to periodize your training. You could just follow the program, but you also learn the first principles. You learn why I set the program up the way that I did, and then you can just use that information to create your own programming. And the last point here is to take all of your hard sets to one to three reps shy.

Of failure, so that is zero reps in reserve. If you’re one rep shy of failure or two reps in reserve, two good reps left. If you are three reps, shy of failure. And that’s it for the highlight reel of is volume or intensity more important for building muscle? And if you liked it and you want to learn more, you can find the whole episode back in August of 2021.

And last, we have now the book club episode for the book Benjamin Franklin and American. Now if you look at the reading habits of extremely successful people, you’ll notice that many of them spend a lot of time reading biographies and autobiographies. For example, the top Nike designer and entrepreneur, Duane Edwards attributes much of his rather unlikely professional success to a biography that he read when he was young of Jackie.

Robinson, the baseball player that inspired him to endure great hardship and do whatever it takes to succeed. Elon Musk has also spoken many times about his love of biographies, of brilliant inventors and entrepreneurs in particular, including Howard Hughes, Albert Einstein, Nicola Tesla, and. Fittingly Benjamin Franklin.

I don’t think that it is a coincidence that this type of literature is so popular among overachievers. I think there are several reasons for this. I think that biographies are the ultimate in self-improvement literature because they provide you with. Wide ranging raw and unfiltered information as opposed to pre-digested morsels.

Unlike most self-help books, biographies aren’t making carefully crafted arguments that are intended to sell you on particular ideas or strategies or ideologies. They’re just showing you the real. Results of very different paradigms for thinking and living paradigms that you can then assess and analyze to formulate your own highly individual lessons and takeaways.

Let’s now talk about this week’s book, which is widely considered to be the definitive biography of Benjamin Franklin, and a book that sits on many must. Of many notable people, and I love this book for several reasons. First, I’m a bit of an Isaacson fanboy because he’s not only an outstanding researcher, writer, and storyteller, but he is also really worked his ass off for decades to hone his craft and establish himself as one of the premier biographers of our times, and he is also had a pretty stellar business career as well.

Second. I like this book because I think that Ben Franklin was a man worth modeling in many ways. What spoke most to me was his intense curiosity, diligence, persistence, practicality, lightheartedness, congeniality, and relentless drive to improve both his life and the lives of others. I really do believe that the world could use more Franklins and really could never have enough of these types of people.

And so if we can embody. Just a fraction of his spirit. Then minimally, the people that are in our orbits are going to be better for it. Alright, let’s get to my five key takeaways from the book. Here’s the first one, quote to poor fourth benefits for the common good is divine. And my note here is that Franklin sincerely believed in leading a virtuous life and serving the country that he loved.

And despite what you might hear from some of the more degenerate members of society, many highly accomplished people out there have a very similar philosophy in life. I’ve met many of these people myself. I’ve met many very, very successful people, millionaires, multimillionaires, and even a couple billionaires.

And one of the first things that has struck me about. Each and every one of them is just how nice and caring these people are and how much they really go out of their way to help others without expecting anything in return. Simply the enjoyment that they get from being of service to others is pay enough, take away.

Number two, let this be a caution to you not always to hold your head. So high stoop, young man stoop as you go through this world, and you’ll miss many hard thumps. Many of the overachievers that I’ve known and that I’ve read about have been exceedingly humble, so much so that in my personal interactions with some of these people, it has actually made me uncomfortable more than once because their humility made me feel almost arrogant.

In comparison, which is a pathology that I really don’t want to develop. I mean, I’m all for cultivating self-confidence, but there’s a big difference between growing as an individual and swelling take away. Number three, I would rather have it said he wrote his mother, he lived useful than he died. Rich.

According to research conducted by Nobel Prize-winning scientists at Princeton, the happiness that you derive from making money tends to level off at around $75,000 per year. So what that means is if you’re like most people, as your income rises toward that number, your spirits will also rise. But once you reach it, the effects tend to plateau.

In other words, if you go from $35,000 a year to $75,000 per year, yeah, you’re probably gonna feel quite a bit. Happy and cheerful. But if you go from $75,000 a year to $150,000 per year, that’s much less likely to positively impact your happiness. More money does not necessarily buy more happiness, but less money is associated with emotional.

Pain, perhaps $75,000 is a threshold beyond which further increases in income no longer improve individual’s ability to do what matters most to their emotional wellbeing, such as spending time with people they like avoiding pain and disease, and enjoying leisure. Take away number five. As we enjoy great advantages from the invention of others, we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by any invention of ours.

And this we should do freely and generously. And my note here is, as you can tell, Franklin felt very strongly about the importance of serving others and of viewing it as a privilege, not a burden. And this is something that I remind myself. Regularly. Remember, our fore bearers made tremendous sacrifices.

Just so I can sit here and record this, and you can sit there and listen to it, and we pay it forward by doing the same, by giving freely and generously of ourselves for the sake of our future generations. Okay, well if you liked what you heard there, then you will probably like the rest of the episode, which you can find in September of 2017.

If you just go back to September of 2017, you’ll see book Club Benjamin Franklin and American Life. Well, I hope you liked this episode. I hope you found it helpful, and if you did subscribe to the show because it makes sure that you don’t miss new episodes. And it also helps me because it increases the rankings of the show a little bit, which of course then makes it a little bit more easily found by other people who may like it just as much as you.

And if you didn’t like something about this episode or about the show in general, or if you. Uh, ideas or suggestions or just feedback to share. Shoot me an email, mike muscle for, muscle f o r and let me know what I could do better or just, uh, what your thoughts are about maybe what you’d like to see me do in the future.

I read everything myself. I’m always looking for new ideas and constructive feedback. So thanks again for listening to this episode, and I hope to hear from you.

View Complete Transcript