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How does strength training differ from hypertrophy training? How much overlap is there?
In other words, will strength training get you bigger? Likewise, will hypertrophy training make you stronger? If you want to maximize strength gains, how should your training program look?
Can you build a healthy, muscular physique with just strength training or do you also need accessory movements? And if you are training more like a powerlifter, how much volume is necessary to get stronger?
These are common questions I get about strength versus hypertrophy training, and in this podcast, I invited Dr. Brad Schoenfeld to dive into the science of training for strength compared to lifting with the goal of gaining muscle size.
He’s the perfect guest for the topic, because he was recently involved a narrative review of the science of maximizing strength.
Brad practically needs no introduction, but in case you’re not familiar with him, he’s an internationally renowned fitness expert, author, educator, lecturer, and researcher, who’s published over 200 peer-reviewed research articles on exercise and sports nutrition. He’s truly an authority on all things related to body composition, hypertrophy, fat loss, and natural bodybuilding.
In this interview, Brad and I discuss . . .
- The role of rep ranges for achieving strength goals and how training with heavier and lighter loads may have additive effects
- Why 1RM calculators don’t always accurately predict your true strength
- The usefulness of machines compared to free weights
- Compound versus isolation exercises and how to adjust your training to your specific circumstances and goals
- Whether deadlifts are overrated or underrated for hypertrophy
- How specificity is often overemphasized in strength training
- “Strength endurance” and how it’s more practical for everyday activities than maximal strength
- Set intensity and training to failure
- The role of age in strength training and how your age factors into your programing
- And a lot more . . .
So whether you’re a seasoned lifter or just starting, tune in to learn how to optimize your training for strength and hypertrophy goals, and let me know your thoughts!
0:00 – Please leave a review of the show wherever you listen to podcasts and make sure to subscribe!
2:43 – What is the difference between getting strong and having bigger muscles?
31:07 – Save up to 30% on Legion Health Supplements this week only! buylegion.com
32:17 – What is set intensity and proximity to muscular failure?
46:12 – What are your thoughts on strength training as you get older?
51:00 – What are your thoughts on the one rep max test and how necessary are they?
54:17 – Where can people find you and your work?
Mentioned on the Show:
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Brad’s Textbook: Science and Development of Muscle Hypertrophy
What did you think of this episode? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!
Mike: Hi there, and welcome to Muscle for Life. I’m Mike Matthews. Thank you for joining me today for a new episode on the differences between strength training and hypertrophy training. And the similarities, the overlap between those two things. And I wanted to record this episode because I am often asked if strength training is good for hypertrophy, if it works at all for hypertrophy, will strength training, like pure strength training, will that make you bigger?
And then I get asked the other side of that coin, which is, will hypertrophy training make me stronger? And if so, how much stronger can I. With pure hypertrophy training. And then of course there is the middle path, the hybrid approach, the power building approach as it is often called where you have a base, a foundation of strength training, and then you have some hypertrophy training.
Added to the program, how does that compare to pure strength training or pure hypertrophy training for the purposes of gaining strength and muscle? Well, those are just a few of the questions that you are going to get answers to in today’s podcast, and you are going to get those answers, not from me, but from somebody who knows a lot more about this stuff than I do.
Somebody whose work I have benefited a lot from in my understanding of all things getting. And that is Dr. Brad Schoenfeld, who is an internationally renowned fitness expert, author, educator, lecturer and researcher who has published over 200 peer-reviewed research articles on exercise and sports nutrition.
I think most people in the evidence-based fitness space would agree that Brad is the preeminent authority on all things related to improving body composition. . And so if you want to learn the current weight of the evidence on various things like rep ranges and how they relate to gaining muscle and strength one rep max calculators, and why they don’t always accurately predict your true strength, the usefulness of machines compared to free weights.
The utility of compound exercises versus isolation exercises, whether deadlifts are overrated or underrated for hypertrophy and much more. Listen to this episode. Hello, Bratus. Nice to see you again.
Brad: My pleasure, Mike. You too.
Mike: Yeah. Yeah. Thank you for taking the time to do this. I, I really appreciate it. So we’re here to talk about strength training and I guess you could say versus hypertrophy, but, but particularly about strength training and how that differs from hypertrophy training.
And I think maybe a good place to start this discussion is, is almost like a definition of terms. What does that really mean? If, like, practically speaking, how does your training or your programming differ if you are going for. If your primary goal is to get stronger versus to get bigger muscles, and the, the confusion that I see that people reach out to me and what they ask about is usually it’s something along the lines of, well, Mike, aren’t bigger muscles stronger?
Like generally speaking, isn’t that the best way to get stronger is just get bigger? So wouldn’t hypertrophy training. Naturally just make you stronger. And so that’s, that’s the type of question I often get asked. And, and then usually there are follow up questions when they look at strength programs.
They don’t quite understand why they’re set up the way they are and, and how that produces more strength and maybe a typical body building program over.
Brad: Yeah, there’s a lot to unpack there. So first of all, uh, I’ll answer the question as to the transfer of hypertrophy to strength. And there certainly is a relationship between hypertrophy and strength.
So if you get bigger as a general rule, you’re gonna get stronger to a degree. However, it is certainly also not, this is quite clear, it’s not a linear improvement. So if you get X amount of hypertrophy, it’s not gonna mean you get X amount of strength. Generally strength has other components that go into it.
So it’s gonna be X plus for strength. And, um, I mean there’s multiple factors and, and mostly neurological factors. So the recruitment aspect, but rate code, things like the, uh, firing frequency, coordination, the synergism between muscle synchronization, uh, not only muscles, within muscles as well, within fibers.
Again, it’s, it’s a highly nuanced, most applied research and applied, uh, aspects of training are nuanced, and certainly that’s the case. So now to answer your question as to what are the general differences, there are some, I mean, it’s not. The differences aren’t huge because a certain amount of quote unquote strength training is gonna get you bigger, and a certain amount of hypertrophy training will get you stronger as well.
So if you wanna maximize, like if you’re a power lifter, you’re not gonna train like a body boiler. And if you’re a body boiler, you’re not gonna train like a power lifter. And again, now I, I wanna also, Go down different rabbit holes here, but strength depends upon what your definition of of strength is.
Is it maximal strength? So the maximal amount ab of your maximal ability to move weight once and maximal dynamic strength versus iso isometric strength. So, The, the ability to push against a immovable object in, in, you know, produce force maximally in that context versus dynamically moving something eccentrically and or perhaps eccentrically.
Uh, and also is it endurance threat. So the amount of the, which is the ability to have sub maximal force carried out over Thailand. So there’s different, even with that qualifications of strength, assuming, and most people do, uh, take the opinion or, or take the, uh, focus of saying that strength is the maximal amount of dynamic movement that you can accomplish once and not more, which is equivalent to a one rm.
Generally speaking, you’re gonna need to train with very heavy load. One to five repetitions. And, uh, the amount of volume needs to be less is a general rule. Whereas for hyper fee, it’s gonna have more to do with the volume that you’re performing. You can achieve maximal perch fee across a very wide spectrum of loading ranges and.
Hypothetically, training within different repetition zones might be a, an optimal strategy in that regard. So again, that’s kind of a short course, but there’s certainly a lot of other factors that if you’re looking to maximize your. Maximal strength that would go into it versus maximizing hypertrophy.
Mike: I’d like to take one of those things you said and, and let’s focus on that, uh, briefly, just because it’s a question that, that I, I’ve gotten many times and it, it has to do with that specificity point of doing a lot of, let’s say ones to fives. People will, will ask me why is it that if I, if I do a lot of more traditional hypertrophy training and I’m gaining strength in that rep range, I could squat X pounds for, for 10 reps close to muscular failure, and then I work on at it for six months, and now it’s, you know, whatever, plus 10% or whatever.
I’ve, whatever I’ve gained. But then I, I plug my numbers into an estimated one RM calculator. and I try to go do a triple or a double, not even necessarily a one rm, just a, a heavy set. And, and I have not been training in that rep range, and it’s too heavy. I, I can’t, it says I should be able to get three or maybe four, and I can get one and I have to grind it out.
What’s going on?
Brad: Yeah, so first of all, those regression equations are highly individual and they’re. . So there’s a lot of problems. First of all, they’re exercise. Uh, they’re not specific to exercises. So a squat would be different than a bench press, which would be different than a leg, uh, leg extension, let’s say multi-joint for a single joint, and different individuals.
And just to give you a for instance, Our lab carried out a study, this was years ago now, but we looked at the leg press in resistance trained individuals. So it was, uh, I think they had an average of five years resistance training experience and everyone had over a year, they did two conditions. One was 75 of one R of their one rm.
So we tested their one RM initially in the leg press. Then we did 75%, one rm. And we did, uh, 30% of one rm. So basically we were looking at MG activity and light versus heavier low training. The range, this has really just opened my eyes, but the range of repetitions that they got at 75% was seven to 21, I believe.
So the was, I think 12 subjects. So one of them only got seven reps. At their 75%. One r another got 21, and at 30% one RM it was something like 20 to 72 reps. So the spectrum of, you know, so just shows you that regressing, these re uh, regression equations are, are very, uh, they look to, they look to have the means.
So they’ll say, this is what the average person’s gonna do. But there’s a lot of issues when you’re looking. Use that for the general public,
Mike: especially if somebody is just not average, they’re below average or they’re above average and it, it doesn’t work well for them. That’s
Brad: what average means. Is that you’re, you’re combining people at the low and the high.
Yeah. That general. Yeah.
Mike: Yeah. It’s just a point that I like to make sometimes for people who don’t spend much time with scientific research and they don’t, they don’t think of that, that we’re looking at averages here and sometimes looking at outliers can be just as, I mean,
Brad: with an average, you’re, you’re generally gonna get a cluster around the mean.
So if you have a mean of let’s say 10 reps, uh, at a given load, you’re gonna get, you know, 60% of the subjects will be within a very close proximity. Then you start going out a little more and you’ll be between eight to 12 and then six to, you know, 15 or something. So, uh, and like you said, there are quote unquote outliers that are gonna be extreme ranges of these values.
So with that said, um, the mechanistically as to why. So if you’re then asking what are the mechanisms why you’re not gonna necessarily see that. It’s not entirely clear, but it does seem that training with heavy loads can give you, from a speculative standpoint, feeling a weight, a heavy load just has a different, when you, when you feel a weight and then train with it, you’re able to.
Generate a certain sense of how to move that weight a lot better than you are when you’re getting sub maxim, when you’re using a sub maximal load. And that seems to account, at least for a good portion of that, is that actually while, while certainly your one RM will go up and R research and all research, I mean, shows clearly that training at a 10 RM will improve your one RM at least on average.
But to really maximize that, you’re gonna need to train with heavier loads. And the more well-trained you get, the, uh, more important it is to train at lower, at at heavier loads. At lower percentages, I’m sorry, higher percentages of your one R l?
Mike: Yeah. Lower reps per set. Lower reps, exactly. And, and as far as volume goes, another question I often get is, okay, so if, let’s say, doing a lot of fours and fives and sixes is, is good for getting stronger and it also can produce hypertrophy just as well, theoretically, as.
More traditional hypertrophy, training higher rep. Why don’t I just do a bunch of fours and fives and sixes to get the best of both worlds?
Brad: Well, first of all, it’s not clear that, uh, you can on a set equated basis, that that is gonna be the case. W within certain loading ranges. When you start getting over six and probably eight, then you start to see somewhat of an equating effect.
But, uh, certainly we’ve done a, a study out of our lab showed that training with two to four reps did not at an equal set number, did not provide equal hypertrophy. It produced greater strength, but the hypertrophy was less. So there does seem to be something to an effect of a quote unquote, time under tension at, at certainly had very heavy loads.
And it is possible, there is some evidence that, uh, there might be additive effects of training at. Uh, from a hypertrophy standpoint, training with somewhat heavier loads and somewhat lighter loads. So doing maybe some rep, uh, ranges within the 15 to 20 plus range and some reps within the, let’s say six to 10 range.
Mike: why, why, why might that be?
Brad: So again, when you’re asking mechanistically, not entirely clear, but, uh, speculatively there might be differences in fiber type specific hypertrophy. So it could be that the lighter load training is keeping the, uh, is stimulating the type one fibers to a greater extent, cuz type one fibers are more endurance oriented and maybe need.
Tuts to develop optimally and vice versa. The, uh, heavier loads may target the highest threshold motive to a greater degree. Again, that is not well defined, but I’m, I’m speculating on mechanistically cuz we have some evidence from some of the research that I’ve collaborated on. I wanna also make clear that it’s not, you’re gonna get huge doing one versus the other.
We’re talking more nuances. A bodybuilder, it would be more important to a bodybuilder and probably of little relevance to your average gym goer who’s so, so this is where context comes in. Uh, if you’re just the average guy or gal who’s looking to increase their muscle and gain some strength, what are the things that I love as they.
As a bro and as a, uh, former body builder to optimize hypertrophy just aren’t gonna be that important. And when we talk about these things, uh, they might think that it’s gonna be very important for them when it’s, again, context specific. The difference in getting an extra pound of muscle over time probably has little relevance to a stockbroker or a insurance salesperson versus a body.
Mike: Yeah. Yeah, that’s an important point. Uh, I would say that at least most of the people who are in my orbit, people I’ve heard from over the years, these are, like you said, these are people who, fitness is not their entire life. They don’t do this as a full-time job. And on average, the average guy who finds their way to me, it’s probably looking to, if you take a normal body comp, he’s looking to.
25 ish pounds, maybe 30 pounds of muscle, and that, that’s it. That, that’s the look he wants. He wants to bring his body fat probably somewhere between 10 and 15%. Look athletic and, and females maybe 15 pounds of muscle in the right places on their body. 20 and 25% body fat. And what’s great about that is those, those goals represent physiques.
Fit healthy physiques and there are many different ways to get there. You, you could get there with just pure strength training if you enjoyed that the most. Right. Do you
Brad: agree? I do, and I, another thing I’d say from, at least from a hypertrophy standpoint, is that you can accomplish if your goals are more modest, when I see even more modest, certainly when your goals are not to be a.
Bodybuilder or optimize your genetic potential. Uh, fairly minimalistic basic routines can be quite effective in that regard. So then it starts depending upon where it’s a spectrum, it’s not this or that, not bodybuilder versus, you know, very minimal routine, but, When you start saying, you know, this is my goal.
How far in that spectrum do you need to go? How much more time do you need to spend? And I would say that with a very minimalistic routine, you know, three days a week of probably 45, half hour, 45 minute workouts can get you good majority of your genetic potential. So you can accomplish a lot with quite a modest time investment.
Whereas if you then wanna take your body to its ultimate potential, You need to increase, I don’t wanna say exponentially, but you’re gonna need a lot more involvement. And, and generally you’re gonna need also a lot more strategic planning that goes into your workout to get your body to that. So, yeah.
And then to your point, a strength-based workout can accomplish certainly, number one, like I said, you’re gonna need less volume to maximize strength. That seems pretty clear by the literature.
Mike: And can you speak to that point in particular? Uh, so, so people understand specifically what does that look.
Brad: Well, when you say, what does it look like, again, not now, if you’re asking about maximizing muscle strength, then again, you’re gonna need more planning, like if you’re, if you’re a power lifter.
But to just get high levels of strength when you’re looking to, when you have a strength focused workout, I mean, doing a three day, week type workout for, you know, three, let’s say three sets in your lower rep ranges, your one to five rep ranges, or even three to five, you probably don’t even. Need to do your one rms, unless that is a real goal, three to five, three to six.
You can probably stay in that rep range, uh, and and achieve 98% of of your strength goals in that respect. And then look and then, It’s going to come down to, so people a lot of times go into training like I did when I started training. I had a goal, yeah, I just wanna get tone, you know, I want to, and then all of a sudden I started seeing results.
And then I was like, you know what? I think I, I like this, I want, then all of a sudden I started having bodybuilder aspirations. So my goals, uh, consecutively started to increase and thus my, the, the effort that I had to put in and the time investment. Uh, had to get greater as
Mike: well. And when you say three sets in, in a workout, do you mean three sets per exercise or
Brad: Yeah, yeah.
Not three sets total in the, in the workout? Yeah. Three, three sets. But, but again, the focus would be more on compound type movements. So you can reduce, uh, the, generally speaking now. So, again, I don’t know how deep you wanna get into this, but um, for basic strength type goals, you’re doing your, your big three, your squats, your, uh, deadlift and, and a press and probably a four.
And you do some type of pull, like a row. That that can give you the vast majority of what you’re looking for. Then if your goals start getting a little more lofty, adding in some accessory movements can be beneficial and also with some lighter loads to cuz hypertrophy, as we talked about, if you wanna increase hypertrophy, that can add to your strength.
So this is where you get into the weeds and, uh, I don’t like giving cookie cutter prescriptions for this reason, because it gets taken outta context and, and how far you wanna go. Um, can you get a very nice, uh, physique and, and very good strength gains just from doing your, I’d say big four type movements, a pulling exercise, a pushing exercise, and you know, a squat and either a regular deadlift or perhaps Romanian.
Mike: and, uh, that, that the, the exercise, um, that was one of the next exercises. One of the next questions I wanted to ask you is, Why? Why are those exercises best for maximizing strength versus taking any of those of those exercises and breaking them down? Let’s say that time isn’t really an issue. They don’t really, somebody doesn’t care whether it’s a 30 minute workout or a 60 minute workout.
Why not take. Any one of those exercises and break them down into the different muscle groups and maybe do some isolation exercises for each of those.
Brad: Well, there’s nothing wrong with that. And to your point, it is time. So I, I was kind of referring to the fact that, yeah, you can just do, if you wanna just do a basic type workout, you can get by with, let’s say, 12 sets in a workout three days a week, and achieve your, you know, very good gains.
Yeah, absolutely. If you wanna, there’s, as you said this earlier in the podcast, that, uh, the many ro many roads lead to gains is a, uh, uh, phrase I like to use. And, uh, absolutely that is an option. And, and there are substitutes. It’s not like, so is there anything magical about a squat? No. Do you have to do squats?
No. I would say if you do, if you’re a power lifter, , um, And, and there is somewhat of a functional transfer to, let’s say, activities of daily living. But even that, it’s very, we’ve actually done research on this and others have as well, showing that the functional transfer of a leg press is highly relevant.
It’s not like you’re not gonna be able to pick up packages if you’re doing leg press. So I mean, then it comes down to what, what functional tests you want and how. How necessary is it to, uh, to have that specificity associated with it? So if you’re an athlete and there are certain things you’re doing, a squat might be a more beneficial routine.
But again, we’re talking minutia here. So, uh, for the average person, I would say it would have virtually zero relevance. And, and people, I think there are people in the field who, in my humble opinion way overstate the, uh, specificity aspects cause specificity. Um, Is much more generalized in these contexts than some people want to give onto.
Mike: Yeah. Something I’ve always told people is it’s just, it’s mostly this point of time efficiency, right? It is very time efficient to do a deadlift, to train all the muscles on the backside of your body versus breaking that down into a few sets of four exercises or whatever it would be. Does that mean you have to deadlift?
No. But if you can do some sort of deadlift, as you mentioned, there are variations. If for whatever reason, a conventional doesn’t work well for. It’s just, uh, it’s, it’s a time efficient way to train. And since we’re talking about deadlifting, a quick little aside that I would love for you to comment on is deadlifting and hypertrophy.
I don’t know if you’ve seen, I’ve just seen this on social media, one of these little controversies that pops up and it, uh, burns for a bit and eventually, eventually burns out, but it’s still burning from what I’m seeing. And that is, is the deadlift. Overrated for hypertrophy. Some people say it’s just bad for hypertrophy, period.
If if it, it’s just for getting
Brad: strong. Yeah. So the deadlifts a good exercise and, and certainly it’s gonna pr or can promote hypertrophy. So with that said, generally I don’t program the deadlift as part of a hypertrophy block. So if the focus is on hypertrophy, and, uh, there’s a couple of reasons. The primary one is that the stim in my, again, Speaking of my homo opinion, I’m not saying you can’t use it in a hypertrophy routine.
I just think it’s not the best movement for hypertrophy routine specifically because it has a poor stimulus to fatigue ratio. So it takes a huge amount out of you, and thus when you put it into a generalized program, it can impair your ability to, to have the energy to properly perform. When I say properly, to put the effort into, Muscle groups that you’re doing other exercises.
So I just don’t think it’s, it’s a great movement in that context. And the other thing is it’s somewhat difficult to get a good eccentric, uh, on, certainly the way most people perform at it is they just do it as a concentric movement. And there’s, you know, some quite good evidence that the eccentric, uh, portion is extremely important.
Now, with that, Other exercises can serve as your eccentric. It’s not like every exercise has to serve the exact same purpose, but I think in, in total, I think the, the primary reason is just its effect, again, in my opinion, negative effect on other movements in your routine. I just think that the impaired recovery, uh, that it generates is a, makes it not the best movement for hypertrophy.
Mike: And would you say that, that what you just said applies equally to somebody who is new versus somebody experienced? Uh, the reason I ask that is, you know, you take the experienced person who has to do quite a bit of volume just to, just to. Continue to gain any muscle at all versus somebody new who is hyper responsive and they don’t need to do that much more than there are a couple sets of deadlift and then maybe they’re doing like two other little pull exercises and that gives them basically all of the, the potential pull muscle group growth that they can squeeze out of an individual session, you know?
Brad: Look, when it comes to, uh, beginners, so I, I. Then it depends upon where on the spectrum you’re talking about. But if you’re talking about people, let’s say in the first several months of training, in my opinion, again, I think that the most important thing is, is not focusing on those things. It’s on, it’s focusing on getting their form right.
So it’s focusing on, uh, on the movement patterns, uh, the hypertrophy is gonna come. So focus on trying to focus on maximizing hypertrophy within your first few months of training. And to me is not. Not the way you should be, uh, programming and, and I I’ll say this as well, that, um, generally speaking, periodization, well, I think it’s, it’s a very important factor, especially as people get more advanced, you want to go the opposite.
So regression is, is, uh, with newbies is more appropriate that you wanna keep doing the same types of workouts. So some variance certainly can be beneficial as, uh, you get more experienced in a. In your, uh, training and particularly, uh, hypertrophy is your goal. So working muscles from different angles at the beginning, phases of a routine, you want repetition.
So you want the same movement patterns so that your body gets used to doing them. And particularly when it comes to free weight movements, which, uh, are. Performed in three dimensional space and thus, thus involve, uh, more neuro, have more neuromuscular uh, aspects to them.
Mike: And for people who, again, whose primary goal is strength, who.
Can’t or don’t want to do the big four, the proper big four, the barbell lifts. What are your thoughts on some workarounds? What are, like you mentioned, a leg press, let’s say they, they can’t, they can’t do a barbell back squat because it hurts them because of some. Situation. And, and let’s assume the same thing for a barbell deadlift, or let’s say a bench press, maybe their shoulders are kind of jacked up.
And what are your, what are your thoughts on using other exercises, similar movement patterns with, with the heavier loads? And again, I’m, I’m, I’m, I’m asking you that because, People ask me this because, you know, there you mentioned there’s a bit of a dogma in the, in the strength training space, so to speak, that if you are not doing.
A barbell. Sometimes it’s just the barbell back squat. Sometimes even the barbell front squat is shit on as that’s not a real squat, right? So if you’re not doing a barbell back squat, a barbell deadlift, the sumo deadlift is okay if it better fits your anatomy, but that’s the only, that’s the only other option you have.
And a barbell bench press and a barbell overhead press, sometimes those are separated in a barbell row. If you’re not doing those things, you’re not really doing strength training, like if you’re using machines or dumbbells. You can’t really say that you’re strength training.
Brad: Well, that, that’s silly. Now if that would sound like someone who’s a power lifter.
So yeah, you’re not gonna, if you wanna compete as a power lifter, you need to do your big three. That’s the essence. That’s, that’s where the specificity becomes very specific. By the way, your, if your goal is to get strong for activities of daily living, strength, endurance is generally your most important, uh, thing there.
So most people aren’t lifting. The heaviest object they can once they, they’re looking to move packages and carry them from the supermarket to their car or pick
Mike: up kids and run around with
Brad: them and stuff. Yeah, exactly. So there, that’s where strength endurance. And so I think that’s silly. Now, one of the.
To me, yeah, machines are fine. Well, obviously machines have some drawbacks from a total strength standpoint in the sense that certain stabilizer muscles aren’t gonna get worked. So if you’re looking to pick up something from the floor, like your spinal erectors aren’t directly worked, if you’re doing a leg press, it’s not gonna do much for that.
Doesn’t mean you can’t then do some, as you were talking about before, accessory movements to work the spinal erectors. But the one real issue that you have with a lot of machines, so it depends on the machine, is that heavy loading in machines that start from a mechanically inefficient position can be an issue.
So let’s say you’re doing a bench press, you’re gonna unrack it and you’re in a mechanically efficient position, you’re gonna start with an ecentric and then move up. Whereas if you’re taking a. Let’s say most, um, chest press is you’re starting from here. So it’s starting from a position of inertia and then trying to move that heavy load so you don’t get the effect of, of the eccentric, you know, which makes it a more biomechanically efficient movement to then transition to the concentric from the eccentric c.
I also find it
Mike: a little bit uncomfortable sometimes, like on my shoulders, if it’s a one, if it’s, if it’s just poorly designed and it really puts you in a stretch like you would, it’s even beyond touching your chest with a bar, and then it’s heavy weight and it can
Brad: be awkward. Well, that, that’s another issue as well, that machines are built for the average, quote unquote, average individual is the general rule.
And if you’re taller, shorter, thinner, fat, I mean, it’s
Mike: limb length, right? Long arms, short arms.
Brad: Absolutely. So anthropometry, so multiple factors can, can influence that. And, uh, that you have to find a machine you like. But I was talking about purely from a, uh, can you use it for heavier loads and then. If those are issues, you might need a spotter to help you off with the first rep.
If you’re gonna be doing, let’s say, three to five reps, uh, where it, it’s not really an issue if you’re doing higher, higher rep work. So if you’re doing eight, 10 reps, it’s not gonna be an issue to get the weight off. It really is an issue when you’re in that one to three range or so.
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This week only [email protected] B U Y L E G I O N dot. Can you talk about, um, set intensity, and by that I mean proximity to muscular failure and may maybe even, you wanna start with helping people understand what that is? What that actually looks like. I mean, you could say, oh, well, it’s like when you can’t move the weight anymore.
Right. I, I just have seen though that over the years, many people, they seem to think they’re closer to muscular failure than they actually are. Where you’ll see a set and they will, they’ll say they had one good rep left, but you didn’t see the bar or dumbbell or machine really slow down at all. And so they’re mix.
Just perception of difficulty with actual proximity to failure. Uh, I’d love to hear your thoughts on that. And then proximity to failure in the context of strength training and how. That or, or if that should be different treated differently than in hypertrophy training? Yeah,
Brad: so it’s a great question to answer your first question or maybe it was your second question.
First to answer what is proximity to failure? That’s actually interesting in that there is not necessarily a consensus even in, in the literature on this. So generally speaking, like in our, our research, we would classify it as the inability to complete another repetition. Good form concentric repetition with good form.
But some people, I mean, I would say that sometimes a certainly a trained, uh, individual knows when they are, can’t do another rep. If you’ve been training long enough. Although I’ll
Mike: say if you haven’t gone to failure, I’d ran, I’ve run into this. Yeah.
Brad: That’s my point. Yeah. Yeah. A highly, so a highly trained individual who, who, right.
Who has trained to failure before who, who knows what it’s like to fail, can, can say, you know what? I just don’t have another rep. I know
Mike: that, oh, yeah, no, sorry to interject. I was just saying for me, what I. By not pushing to failure, like I’ve done it many times, but by not doing it for a period of time and then, and then realizing I should be putting some more of this into my training just so I don’t lose again, my, my reps in reserve, so I keep it honest, so to speak.
I found that with some exercises. Yeah, I was pretty accurate. But with others, and, and I’m sure you’ll be speaking about this, there are certain exercises. Wouldn’t push to actual failure. I don’t think it’s worth the risk, but certainly with some machine, like I think of a machine pull or something like that, there were some exercises where because I hadn’t gone to failure in some time, I lost a little bit of my accuracy in my perception and I could do, I can think of a couple instances where I was a little bit surprised, like I was able to do two or three more reps than I thought.
Just because I hadn’t pushed myself like that in several
Brad: months. Yep. Well, fair points. Um, I will say that some people say that regardless, you need to, uh, attempt another rep and then until that weight does not move and it comes back to your chest on a bench press, let’s say, or you, your ass is on the, on the ground on a squat, you have not actually failed.
So there, there is, like I said, even in, in research and, and by the way, like you say, in our research, really it’s volitional failure cuz some we have, when we’re training individuals, we’re trying to push them as hard as we can. They, a lot of them just say, you know what, I can’t do anymore. . You can’t
Uh, yeah, make them do another app. Now your question is, How relevant is failure? So I’m, I come from the old school of, you know, you gotta train hard, go hard or go home. I used to actually, so that opinion has really softened over the years because the literature has, I don’t wanna say conclusively, but I think quite, uh, compellingly shown that certainly you don’t need to spend all your sets to failure.
And the question as to whether any sets need to be to failure is called in a question. I’d say this for maximal strength. Probably not. Maybe just, yeah, for your one RF on a one rm, you might need to do that. Even that is still somewhat equivocal. But if you’re training, let’s say you’re three to five rep ranges, two to fives, certainly you don’t need to go to failure.
You could be a rep, maybe even more away from failure. From a hypertrophy standpoint, the majority of sets. You gotta train. Look, and with saying this, you have to be training hard. It’s not like you can, you, you need to be really pushing your body. That’s the, you can’t be on your
Mike: phone doing your leg extensions, ,
Uh, if you’re putting the weight down and it wasn’t challenging, then you haven’t taxed your muscles in a way that they’re gonna adapt. But I would say certainly within a one to, from a hypertrophy standpoint, if you’re one to two reps away from failure, the majority of literature we’ve. Made analysis on this shows that that will get you the majority, if not all the effects.
Now with that said, uh, I wrote a whole blog post on this. The literature itself is somewhat lacking in that there’s just many things we haven’t studied. So the literature either looks at all sets to failure versus no sense to failure. Could that be a confounder that all sets to failure ultimately is having negative effects over time on your volume load.
When if you’re just doing the last set of failure, you might achieve a greater stimulus from that. No study really has looked at a very advanced subject. We have some, uh, trained subjects. Uh, one of our studies, uh, looked at failure and train subjects, but they. High level bodybuilders and you could make a case that when you’re at close to your genetic ceiling, that some failure training might be a better stimulus, uh, at least in certain respects.
And you kind of touched on this earlier, which I think is another very important thing. The type of exercise, uh, becomes important. Going to failure on sets of squats or rows is gonna have a much different effect on your recovery than going on, going to failure on a lateral raise or on a leg extension.
Mike: And then, and then also risk of injury, right? I mean,
Brad: well, that too. Yeah. Now I know if you have good spotters, I mean, you know, then a lot of people don’t. But yeah, certainly from a, uh, A gain standpoint. I think that, uh, you wanna be more, you, you could be more liberal with your, uh, use of failure in your single joint movements, your machine generally, your machine type movements and your structural movements that involve the lower back and, and even just more complex movement pattern squats, particular that.
Presses rose done in free weights. Uh, that’s where you wanna be more conservative again, in my opinion. But there’s not good evidence we no studies. If you then say, well, show me that literature, this is just kind of extrapolating. That’s when we talk about evidence based practice, when you don’t have evidence on something or objective evidence, you then look to your expertise in combination with what the literature shows.
And that would be my takeaways, uh, given my experience. And
Mike: when, when you say ending, so let’s, let’s, let’s, um, think about the, you’re doing your big exercises, your strength, strength building sets, so to speak, and, and you, you say ending one or two reps shy of failure by that. So like one rep, do you mean where if you were to try the next rep, you would fail or one good rep left and then it’s gonna
Brad: get bad?
Basically it’s called a repetitions in reserve, which is. Proximity to, to failure in the literature that’s been disputed too, is to what is actually does an r i r mean? But let’s take it at that. So an r i R of one would mean you could have had one more rep. You could have performed another rep, uh, in good form.
On R A R F two would be you had two more reps. And that seems to me, based on my takeaway, and, and again, even this, the literature hasn’t quantified. Uh, so you have to try to extrapolate from the studies that have, uh, been done on the topic. So that’s kind of my takeaway. I, I know some, some of my colleagues think it’s more like three to four or such, uh, in strength training for hypertrophy.
Uh, yeah. Which, Again, maybe it’s my bias as a, like I said, as a former bodybuilder, , and, uh, but yeah, I, I, to me, I’m more comfortable. I, I wouldn’t necessarily go that far, but I, I wouldn’t also discount it. I just don’t think we have enough good evidence on it. And certainly I would think that just logically, as you get more well trained, That you’re gonna need to have a somewhat closer proximity to failure to continue to make gains because it gets harder and harder.
I mean, let’s face it, when you’re, you’ve been training 10 hard years, you’re lucky to make a couple of pounds of muscle per year if you’re an addie. Yep.
Mike: Yeah. Something that I try to apply in my training is I try to err on the side of being a little bit closer to failure rather than, Far away from failure, just because I know that whether I like it or not, my tendency is going to probably be to work a little bit less rather than a little bit.
More or, or to, my, my perception is going to be that it’s a little bit harder. Maybe that’s a better way of putting it. Cuz I’m, I, I like to go in the gym and train hard, but I still, I’ve seen this practically my perception of difficulty and how that relates to proximity to failure tends to unfortunately move in the direction of, I think it’s a little bit harder than it actually is.
I, I can do a little bit more than I think I actually can. And so my, my little solution. Was to tend to, to, to push myself, particularly with the isolation exercises a little bit harder rather than a little bit less hard. And I’ve found that that helped me recalibrate my, my, my understanding of what it feels like to actually be.
One rep shy of failure or two reps shy of failure and what that final rep of that set feels like. And it’s, it’s very difficult always, no matter what the exercise is, it’s like high level of difficulty. The rep has slowed down and I’m grimacing and I can’t, I can’t just like stoically do the, you know, the final couple reps.
And so for, for whatever that’s worth, that’s something that has helped me a.
Brad: From an APPLI standpoint, I, I generally now have more lean to. Taking failure on the last set of a movement so that you’re gonna kind of reduce some of perhaps negative effects on your volume load, the reduction that you’d get, uh, and then perhaps even using some drop sets too on the last set.
So you got a failure and then you do a one or two drops, uh, from there on selective exercises. So, but yeah, I do think, uh, to your point that number one, I think it’s beneficial. Again, at a very advanced level, as well as the fact that, uh, keeping that feel, like you said, knowing what it’s like consistently, because I, I don’t think you completely, quote unquote lose it, especially human training as long as we have.
But there is, I think, a sense that you, it, I think it can promote some degree of lack, lack days. lack, lackda.
Mike: Yeah, yeah, exactly. Yeah. Even if it’s not intentional, like, you know, I’m not a, I’m not a lazy person by nature, but I just, I just noticed that, and, and I have found that there, there seems to be a little bit of transference.
So when I was 10 years ago, I was more comfortable. Squatting, not necessarily to intend to squat to failure, but squatting to failure because I think I’m like, you know, grind out a rep and then be like, yeah, I think I can get one more. Uh, no. Definitely could not have to have to bail and I don’t, I don’t.
Do that. I don’t like to do that now on a squat or on a deadlift, just because, well, I mean, at, at this point, I’ve pretty much gained most of the muscle and strength that’s genetically available to me. And I, I’m now just as interested in staying healthy, not getting injured so I can, can do this. So I can do this for the long term.
Uh, I’m 38 now versus 28, so there’s. Some somewhat of a difference there in terms of what I can recover from and so forth. Um, however, what I’ve found is for, for some time my training was set up in such a way where I did AM wraps every four months I would do, uh, one set. So I’d be building, you know, as a Paradise program and I’d be kind of building up to a heavy AM wrap on a squat, a heavy AM wrap.
Um, so putting. 90% of the one rep Max 90 to 95 of when I started the block, so maybe that’s actually more like 85 now. Hopefully I’ve gained a little bit of strength and push close to failure and not pushing all the way, but I found that because I had gone all the way or close to all the way on maybe a leg press it.
It just helped me, I think, have a pretty good understanding in that squat. That. I think that was, I, maybe I could do one more. Not even sure If I could do one more. I think it’s time to call it here and And be pretty pretty right with that as opposed to thinking. Yeah, I think that was maybe one more, but I could have actually done three if you would’ve been there with a gun to my head, you know.
Brad: Yeah, look, and your, to your point too, that as you get older, uh, longevity is the most important thing in this, uh, game. That, uh, when you’re injured, you’re not training and you’re gonna actually regress. And by the way, as you get older too, your recovery is, uh, starts becoming impaired. So you have to be, uh, in tune with your body and as, uh, your body changes, you need to adjust.
You can’t, can’t expect to be doing the same thing at, uh, 40 as you, as you were at. , and
Mike: can you speak a little bit more to that, uh, in the context of, of pure strength training, because that is, that that is sometimes an obstacle or people perceive that to be an obstacle, that they think that any type of strength training, lifting heavier loads, any exercise, everything we’ve discussed.
Yeah. Isn’t that more for 20 year olds? You know, I’m, I’m 40, I’m 45. Uh, isn’t that just gonna get me hurt?
Brad: Certainly that’s, you can’t make that generalized, uh, comment. But what I would say is, is that a lot of people as they get older, will start to have joint related issues where using heavier loads is gonna be burdensome on their joints.
So that’s specific to the individual. It’s just doing some heavy load lifting. Now, by the way, a lot of that is due to people who’ve lifted a long time with poor form and, and doing too much volume with heavy loads, et cetera. So, I mean, it’s brought on by themselves or work related, the things they’ve. So you have to know your body, but having some strength training if it’s done smartly.
And it all comes down to how smart your training is. And, uh, I mean, I know people who still power lift in their sixties, but again, they have to manage that over time. So they’re, they’re not gonna be able to do what they did when they were 20. If they were s, if they’re smart about it, you still can lift, lift real heavy, uh, without having the negative effects.
How that ultimately plays out is always specific to the individual. Making a cookie cutter or giving a cookie cutter recommendation on it doesn’t, doesn’t injustice. Um,
Mike: but on, on average, and, and this is the question that I get, is strength training. It, it, many people perceive it to just be bad for the joints.
They, they, they maybe would liken it to, to running, you know, if you run enough, your knees just don’t knee anymore. . If you pa, if you squat enough, eventually your knees don’t knee
Brad: anymore. That’s a little different because running is repetitive motion task, so you, it’s just cumulative effects. Again, with strength training, if you’re doing very low volumes, I mean, you’re doing a few sets of heavy load and it doesn’t have to be an either or a thing either.
It’s not like you can do strength training or hypertrophy. You could just do a, a set, let’s say have a set or two of heavy load training and then do other light load training. So it’s not one, necessarily one versus the other. So you can. At least some of the benefits are a lot of the benefits of training with those heavy loads from selected performance on let’s say one or two sets, and then mixing in some lighter load training.
So the, again, this is where people I think often go off the tracks, is that they have very, they have tunnel vision. So their thinking is, I do this or I do that. When training can be. Carried out in just so many different, there’s so many different ways to train that, uh, and certain so many possibilities for how to get to an end, a certain endpoint that, uh, that really is not, not appropriate to make that type of, you know, for me to make that type of comment that this is how, uh, strength training is bad.
Hypertrophy training is good when you reach a certain age. Like I said, if you do, uh, let’s say one, a set of three and then the rest, the rest of your sensor are with lighter loads, can you still get a good amount of strength with that? Yeah. Yeah,
Mike: and unfortunately in the, in the age of social media, that’s where people get a lot of advice, and generally speaking, short and simple messages work better on Twitter or on TikTok or Instagram than longer more nuanced messages that just sound more complicated and you gotta think more and you got it.
It’s more appealing. It can be more appealing to listen to somebody who is more doctrinaire about, it’s very binary. It’s yes or no, it’s this or that.
Brad: People wanna be told what to do. There’s two things there. Number one, people think that people who are. Very definitive and confident in their opinion. No more when it’s, that’s generally the opposite.
The people that are, that have their very defined opinions is, this is what you need to do. Don’t appreciate the nuances of, of exercise science. And number two, uh, the, the people who are listening to them. Like you’re saying, they, they wanna be told what to do. They don’t wanna have to think, they don’t wanna have to be told, well, here are, here are all your choices.
You could do this, this, this. And now you have to understand the theory behind it. It’s boggles people’s minds in a lot of respects, and it’s like, just tell me what to do.
Mike: Yeah. They want the, how do you pronounce it? I can spell it. The pre fee, the, the fixed price menu. You know, they just want the, just gimme the whatever, the whatever The chef just, just give it to me.
I’ll just eat it. Uh, last question for you, and then I know you have to run. Uh, you’ve been, you’ve mentioned one RM tests a couple of times, and I wanted, that’s one final thing I wanted to get your comments on. Um, how necessary do is that, let’s say somebody again, they’re primarily training for strength and like you mentioned earlier in the podcast, a lot of people, when they think of strength, they think of putting a lot of weight on the bar and doing maybe no more than three, probably one to three reps.
Like, that’s, that’s how you express. And what are your thoughts on doing true one rep max tests should, is it, is it necessary? When might it be appropriate? When would it not be appropriate and when it is appropriate, how would you go about doing it? How often? Again, something I get asked about and I have my opinion, but I’d love to hear your.
Brad: Yeah, I, I do not think it’s, uh, necessary. And the ve no, it’s necessary if you’re a power lifter. But outside of that, for athletes, I think the, then you have to weigh the danger, the risks of doing that, of injuring your, uh, your athlete. Uh, for the average individual, I think it’s, uh, it’s a no. There’s just nothing there.
No, no. It’s certainly not necessary. You will, if you wanna maximize strength. Yeah. Lift you. You wanna know your, like I said, you, you certainly wanna know where failure is, but you just wanna be able to train with a weight that’s very heavy that’s gonna allow you, let’s say, Three to five repetitions and you could have gotten one or two more where you think you could have gotten one or two more, as long as you have a decent idea.
Uh, now that’s where this is the slippery slope. You kind of mentioned some people might be six reps away. They’re doing three reps.
Mike: Or they wonder, they’re like, well, I think maybe I had two, but I don’t know, maybe I should do a real one RM to see.
Brad: Yeah, so if you’re, if you just don’t have a good concept of your where failures, but I would say even in that respect, you don’t necessarily need to do a one rm, do a three RM or a five rm.
It is somewhat safer in that respect, and you will get the same benefit from it. So if you wanna be able to train in the three to five RM range at a certain r I r, And having a, a insight into your three RM can be somewhat beneficial, but certainly doing one rm now, it’s very beneficial in research cuz it gives you a, an objective measure of maximal strength, which is why we do it.
But, um, outside of research or power lifting, some maybe very other narrow, uh, subsets, I just don’t think it’s, uh,
Mike: Yeah, makes sense. And for what it’s worth for people listening, when I was doing those, uh, amrap, as many reps as possible, my rep max testing every four months, I would usually end up getting between four and eight reps.
That was the, and, and I was pushing pretty hard, so. . I’ll say that it was maybe a zero to one good reps left if let’s just call it a one. I could probably have done one more, but it was always at least four reps just for this reason. I just didn’t see a point to load it up even heavier when knowing what my four or five rm, maybe six, was just as useful for my programming, just so I could update my numbers and understand approximately how strong I am.
Yeah, I totally. Well, we’re coming up on time and that was actually, that was the last question that I wanted to ask you before we wrap up. Is there anything else that, um, I should have asked you or that you, you want to say before we sign off?
Brad: No, just, uh, if people wanna follow me, I’m, uh, I’m all over Instagram.
Just google me or search me on Instagram and Twitter. The two main platforms I use, so I, I give out free content and, uh, my goal is to educate. Gimme a
Mike: shot. Yeah. Yeah. And, and obviously you have books if people wanna check out your books and that
Brad: too. Uh, and Amazon, just Google me in a or search me in Amazon and I have Yeah.
A number of books.
Mike: Yeah. Well, um, I, I, I have always appreciated your work. I, I came across your work early on and in my journey of educating myself and it really helped me understand the, the science of, of. Training and, and hypertrophy training in particular. And so I will continue to follow your work and thank you for, for doing what you’re doing.
Thanks so much,
Mike: 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.
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