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Will changing up your workouts result in better muscle gains?
Or is it better to keep your training program static and consistent, so you’re doing the same lifts and exercises week after week, month after month?
In other words, does introducing novelty improve hypertrophy or does consistency trump all else?
Many people are on the hunt for the “best,” most-scientifically-optimized program and as a result, constantly change their training regimen for the next best thing. This is called program hopping, and it’s generally something you want to avoid.
On the one hand, tweaking training variables can be a great way to keep things fresh and interesting so you enjoy your workouts. On the other hand, too much variability can make it hard to ensure you’re making progress.
In this podcast, I chat with scientist and friend Dr. Bill Campbell about changing up your training program.
Specifically, we cover a recent study that looked at resistance training variables and how tweaking them affects rate of muscle gain compared to keeping workouts static.
And then we dive into practical advice for implementing both consistency and variability in your training.
In case you’re not familiar with Dr. Campbell, he’s a repeat guest on the podcast, and a professor of Exercise Science and the Director of the Performance & Physique Enhancement Laboratory at the University of South Florida, who’s also published more than 150 scientific papers. He also has a research review in which he examines scientific papers and breaks them down into simple, actionable takeaways.
So, if you want to learn whether changing up your workouts will enhance or worsen your progress, what the latest science says on the matter, and how to do it correctly, listen to this episode!
0:00 – Please leave a review of the show wherever you listen to podcasts and make sure to subscribe!
2:46 – When should I change my program, what should I change, and why?
16:11 – Check out my new Sucrosomial Magnesium! https://buylegion.com/mag
17:41 – What was this study about in your research review?
41:18 – What’s your advice on making changes to your program and its variability?
484:52 – Are there some exercises that you shouldn’t change in your program?
50:09 – Are there any other considerations when changing your program?
58:44 – Where can people find you and your work?
Mentioned on the Show:
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What did you think of this episode? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!
Mike: Hello, and welcome to another episode of Muscle for Life. I am Mike Matthews. Thank you for joining me today for another interview with my buddy Bill Campbell on productive and unproductive ways to change up your workouts and doing this productively, changing up your workouts productively is an important part of effective workout programming.
You can’t keep doing the exact same workouts, meaning the exact same exercises, the exact same number of sets per exercise, weight per set, reps per set for long periods of time and expect to keep getting bigger and stronger. Instead, if you want to keep gaining muscle and strength, if you wanna keep getting fitter, you do have to keep tweaking your workouts in very specific ways.
Keep tweaking very specific. Variables, and you’re gonna learn about that in this interview. And then on the other end of the spectrum of variability, we have the opposite mistake. Too much variability, especially too much of the wrong kind of variability Program hopping is a common example of this, where people jump from one program to the next because they’re hunting for the best, the most scientifically optimized program according to one expert or influencer, or guru or another.
And they then change too much about their training too often to make consistent progress. And so, such things are going to be discussed in today’s episode, and you are going to get practical advice that you can implement. Right away to enjoy your training more and make it more effective. And in case you are not familiar with my guest, Dr.
Bill Campbell, he has been on the podcast several times and he is a professor of Exercise Science and the director of the Performance and Physique Enhancement Laboratory at the University of South Florida. Bill has published over 150 scientific papers on improving body composition and body health and body performance, and he also has a research review in which he examines scientific papers and breaks them down into simple actionable takeaways.
I really enjoy his review myself. I read it every month, and you can find it [email protected] And his last name is spelled C A M P B E L L. So bill Campbell phd.com. And of course, I’m not getting paid to promote Bill or promote his work. I just genuinely like Bill and like his work and hope that you do too.
Hey, bill, it’s good to see you again. A different background this time.
Bill: Yeah, my card decided to not work today, so it kind of upended my day, so I’m at a different place than what I, than where I thought I would be when I woke up this morning. But you’re still here. That’s right. Yeah. Looking forward to talking about resistance training.
Mike: Yeah. So talk about specifically about changing up your program, which is a great topic. Something that people have been asking me about since the beginning, and will always be asking about when should I change my program and what changes should I make and why. And I think we can just start with that.
And, uh, you have, uh, some research that obviously you, you’re going to break down on this topic and then that will probably open up into a more general discussion of program variability and what’s productive
Bill: and what’s not. Yeah, so kind of like you, just before we get into the, to the detailed study, I, I get the, I get questions as well and I get the feeling based on some of the questions that I, I call it program hopping.
I don’t know if that’s a term you use, but it’s constantly changing from this workout that this person designed. Oh, now this person, I really like what they said. Let me follow them. And now this one, so globally speaking, that’s kind of where my interest is. I think that’s pretty harmful to constantly be changing programs.
But sticking with a program doesn’t mean that you’re doing the same thing all the time. Same exercises, same reps, teams. I think a well designed program will have changes inherently programmed into it, and that’s different than. Program hopping. We’re in completely different philosophies, different a different coach, so to speak.
So that’s my kind, just my global outlook
Mike: at this. And to that point of program hopping, you also even just have the issue that unless you’re brand new, you can program hop if you’re brand new and you can do quite well, but if you’re not brand new, even just changing exercises too frequently can get in the way of progress.
Because when you start doing many different exercises, you start doing them for the first time in some time. There’s kind of an acclimation phase to getting grooved back in on that exercise to where you’re kind of, you’ve quickly brushed up on your skills, so to speak. But then if all you do is get reacclimated and then change to a new exercise, it can be hard to really make progress when progress is hard to come by.
Bill: Yeah. And you use the same term I did, or the same word I do. It’s if you constantly change or anytime you change in exercise, it necessitates an acclimation period. So, Just in my own experience, the first week even my weights aren’t dialed in yet. I’m still just like, okay, I gotta wait. Let’s see what this feels like.
How many reps am I getting? Even the form is not grooved yet. So then, now let’s, assuming that I’m gonna do this new exercise once a week, so now I’m into my second week, I have a better idea of the weight that I want to hit a, a specific rep range. I’m able to get probably a few more reps, but I’m still getting used to the movement, how my, you know, just if it, depending on the exercise, where my feet should be, where I should be sitting on a machine.
So that’s now the second week, and now in the third week, all right, I, I got my notes. I can set again, if it’s a machine, I set this setting here, this pin goes there. I want my hands this far apart, or my legs placed here, and now I’m pretty locked in by, probably by that third workout. But that means if I’m constantly changing my exercises, I’m giving up a lot of the adaptation.
I’m giving up several weeks of adaptation because of this. You can call it an acclimation phase or a familiarization phase, some people call it as well, and I don’t think a lot of people appreciate that. And if you’re serious about your fitness, you want to be dialed in and you want to, you know, at least probably you’re the same way.
Like once I’m dialed in, now I wanna get the same number of reps in less time. Or what I typically do is I wanna get more reps in the whatever rep range I have programmed. And if I’m constantly changing, I’m never really getting that adaptation and I’m not, I’m not being goal oriented either.
Mike: Yeah. I mean, practically speaking, it just doesn’t work well.
Uh, especially when you’re, you’re a more experienced trainee, you will find that you simply don’t make much progress if, if we’re looking at it in terms of progressive overload, which would begin with usually getting another rep or two or three with that given weight, and then eventually maybe you can kind of cash that in for a little bit more weight, five more pounds on the bar or dumbbell or machine or whatever.
And for people listening, I’m sure a lot of people listening. If they’re a regular here, they know this. But that is the most effective way to continue gaining muscle and strength is to repeat that process again and again over time. And if that process is not happening, if you’re just trying to maintain your physique, okay, fine, then I guess you, you could program hop all you want and maintain muscle and strength.
But even in that, uh, scenario, I would say that the program Hopper would probably enjoy their training more, even if they’re. I mean, I take myself where I’m not trying, I, I was pushing pretty hard for about two years to continue gaining muscle and strength and, and I did gain certainly a bit of strength.
And with that comes muscle. It’s hard to really know because of my physique. I’m, I’m more or less at the end of my genetic rope. There’s not much that’s gonna change at this point, no matter what I do. But if my one RMS went up significantly in my big exercises and, and I could see little differences in my physique, it’s fair to assume I gained some muscle.
But that was, over the course of two years, took a lot of work just to make moderate improvements in my strength and probably marginal improvements in my physique. And so now I’m in more of a maintenance phase where, okay, I wanna enjoy my training, but I’m not concerned if my one RMS aren’t even up trending necessarily, if I can just maintain my previous level of strength.
Maintain my physique. I’m happy with that. I could program hop and somebody like me could program hop. However, again, I would say that, uh, the training is going to be more enjoyable without the program hopping because I don’t know about you, but for me, that acclimation phase is not as fun. It’s just not as fun as when you’re grooved in on an exercise.
You know exactly where your weight needs to be for your rep range that you’re working in. You know exactly how you like to have the exercise set up, and you’re able to perform at your best, given your your circumstances. That’s just more fun than learning new exercises or going back to exercises you haven’t done in a while and reacclimating, and then having to do that again and again and again when your performance is a little bit impaired and you’re just not achieving the same training stimulus.
An example that
Bill: I use and I, and I’m not saying people should train like this, but let’s just use our power lifting friends, as an example. Do you know what our power lifters did last week? They squatted. They benched and they deadlifted. You know what they’re doing this week. Squat, benched, deadlift. You know what they’re doing next week.
You know what they’re doing in four weeks. You know what they’re doing until they die well, or in my observation until they get injured and then start to change until they get a little older generally.
Mike: Fair enough. That’s very true. I think I think of a power lifter in my gym. He’s not even old. He’s, he’s in his late twenties, but he already has sustained enough injuries.
He got pretty strong, he’s pretty serious about it. But even now in his late twenties, I’ve continued to talk to him and, and just urge him to incorporate, maybe try a hybrid kind of approach. Like, you don’t have to give up these exercises that you like, but maybe you want to move away from the super intense strength training, pure strength training that has your knee is like not really kneeing all that well anymore.
And you’re, you’re only 28. You know what I mean? Like, I’m 38, I’m, I’m trying to look out for you here. And, uh, he has started to make some changes and he’s a little bit surprised at how much better his joints
Bill: feel. Yes. And I’m 48 and I’m looking forward, and I do those lifts. I do all the lifts. I don’t do ’em very heavy, relatively speaking, but I’m very much looking forward and I’ve had this mindset for a while.
I wanna lift and pretty much, until I’m in the grave and that’s the name of that game is not being injured.
Mike: Yep. I’m the same way. I still do the exercises myself. Um, but I’m just happy to maintain what I would say is by fitness standards, a high level of relative strength by power lifting standards, a novice level of relative strength.
And I’m fine with that. So you
Bill: still do deadlifts. Do you use a trap bar? Do you use a barbell? How are you doing it? So
Mike: I alternate, uh, I’ll do conventional for a couple of months and then trap for a couple of months. However, the trap bar, I, I am no longer gonna use the trap bars that are available at my gym.
Uh, maybe I’ll just buy my own and, and keep it there and hope that nobody steals it or something. Just because the, the way that it’s designed, it’s just awkward, particularly. When it’s relatively heavy and you get deeper into a set, it tends to tip forward and it’s just, it gets real awkward. It’s just not well designed.
But in, in the previous gym I was going to, they had a, a better trap bar that I never ran into that problem. So I will alternate between just a conventional barbell, a trap bar that I like. Even recently, I have done like three to six week periods of R dls, even though you could say that. That’s maybe more of a supplementary exercise, but my hip was feeling a bit tight.
My so as on my left side was just tight and so conventional, it just deadly. It just didn’t feel great. So I was like, all right, I’m gonna do, I’m gonna pick a, a hip hinge that feels better, and I’ll do that. I did some rack pulls for three or four weeks for the first time, and that’s kind of fun to put a lot of weight on the bar and just get how that feels.
And then when I went back to my conventional deadlift, my performance was even a bit better for, I mean, it might have just even been related to my perception of the load because with those rack pulls, you know, I was doing ’em in the, in the wrap range of like four to six. So pretty heavy weight for me.
But that’s, Probably my favorite exercise. Sometimes I hate it, like if I’m doing sets of eight or sets of 10, I do hate it, but the, the sets of like four to six on, on the deadlift are fun.
Bill: Yeah. And it’s, I keep them at four to six. Typically, I just try to do three sets of five.
Mike: That’s reasonable. Yeah. The, the eights to tens are, it’s just not entirely necessary, but I mean, it, it definitely helps with your, Work capacity, that’s for sure.
Like that is the hardest shit that I do. And
Bill: that’s the only exercise where I’ve contemplated probably within the last three years. Cuz I, I have back issues, so sometimes it’s injured and I have to take time off. That’s the one exercise where I’m like, am I gonna keep doing this?
Mike: I know, I know. I’ve thought about that too.
Like, I know I don’t have to do this, but I like to do it and so I’m just gonna try to be smart about it and avoid any kind of serious injury. So even, okay, this is, this tightness, it’s not feeling good. I’m gonna do something that, that feels better. Uh, some sort of deadlift variant that feels better. And then I’ll come back to, you know, a conventional or maybe at some point do a lot more trap bar than conventional.
I Is it of course. It’s not a necessary exercise. And if you are strictly looking from the perspective of hypertrophy of specific muscle groups, you could make an argument against it. But as a whole body exercise. And I mean, I really like it for its efficiency too, right? I mean, it trains, uh, many, many major muscle groups.
If you wanted to, let’s say you just do, you do three sets of deadlifts, if you really look at the amount of muscle mass that you are training effectively, and then if you wanted to achieve the same training stimulus with a bunch of isolation exercises, yes, you can’t do that, but you’re gonna be, you, you’re talking about, okay, 10 minutes you’re done with your, your deadlifting or 15 minutes or whatever, depending on your arrest periods or three times that to achieve the same training stimulus at least two or three times as much time.
So I like the deadlift from that perspective too.
Bill: Yeah. And I count it. I don’t know how you distribute your working sets, but I actually count ’em for glute hamstrings and back. And I’m sore in all three areas. And the one change I have made, you know, contemplating am I gonna dump this or am I gonna keep doing it?
I went from a conventional stance to a morph sumo stance cause it kept my back more upright. So that’s the one change I’ve made. And it’s amazing if I did take it out when it’s in my workout, when I don’t have it planned or when I don’t have it programmed, everything else is so much easier. Like, it’s so amazing.
So I didn’t wanna miss that. It’s like, yeah, I just don’t feel like I, and again, I, I appreciate there’s a big recovery period and stuff, but that’s, yes, it’s one of those things I’m, I’m kind of handing in my man card if I stop doing it.
Mike: Yep. I feel, I feel the same way, so I’ll just keep, I’ll keep doing it so long as it is the smart thing to do.
I mean, if they’re ever, it would, it would have to be probably just related to injury and just, you know, mobility and bodily function. But if we can stay green light in each of those areas, then there’s no reason why we can’t deadlift at least moderate loads, more or less indefinitely. Did you know that research shows that approximately half of Americans are not meeting their daily magnesium needs?
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That is B Y L E G I O n.com/mag. Coming back to program variability. So we’ve given some thoughts on changing exercises and we can get into some other, some other elements that I’m sure people would be wondering about cuz cause often when people think changing a program, it’s going to be changes in the exercises, it’s going to be changes in the workout splits.
A lot of people, um, have a lot of questions about what is the best split for them, or if one split is better than another for given goals or circumstances. Also rep ranges. We should talk a bit about that, but maybe before we talk about those things, you want to talk about this study that you were involved in?
Bill: Yeah, so I didn’t do this study in my research lab. Oh, sorry. This
Mike: is from your research review. From my research
Bill: review, yes. And what I love about this study, it helps us answer the question, and this is a, a hypertrophy. Context. So we’re talking about building bigger muscles. The question that it helps answer is, do I need to change up my workout?
If so, how often or can I pretty much do pretty much the same thing, workout to workout? And if I do, am I leaving anything on the table in terms of muscle gain or is it actually better? Am I stimulating more muscle fibers? Do I get a greater hypertrophic adaptation? So I, I’d love this study cuz it’s, it answers a practical question.
So what these researchers did, they had re 20 resistance trained males in this study. And they used one of these designs where since the subjects had two legs, they put one leg on one program and one leg on the other program. Uh, which is very good because then you take out any of the genetic variability that you would, you know, that you would have to account for when you have what we call a parallel group design one leg.
Did the same workouts for eight weeks. The other leg and obviously legs. It was a lower body workout. The other leg switched the workouts every single time, and I’ll, I’ll explain what this was, but the workouts were only two exercises. It was leg press first. The standard was four sets of leg press, and then that was followed by four sets of leg extension.
And they did this twice per week for eight weeks. So both legs received. 16 total workouts. And what the researchers measured, their method of assessing muscle hypertrophy was through a muscle biopsy where they measured the muscle fiber, cross-sectional area of the muscle fibers. So type one muscle fibers and the type two muscle fibers.
Did that grow? And if so, by how much? So let’s start with the group that didn’t change anything. That’ll just kind of be the, we’ll call it the same workout group. What they did was the same two exercises, they had the same load, every single workout, and that was where they chose a weight that allowed them to do between nine to 12 repetitions on each set and each set.
And this is true for both legs. Each set was taken to failure or near failure. So that’s a really important consideration. If the researchers didn’t do that, it kind of ruins, in my opinion, it ruins the entire study. So intensity was controlled for by having them train to failure or mere failure on every single set.
This same group, the same leg. Also, not only did they do the same load that allowed them to do nine to 12 reps, they also had the same volume. So eight sets every single workout, four sets like press, four sets, leg extension. They also had the same muscle action. That meant that they kind of exploded on the way out on the concentric, and then they controlled the weight on the way back, and it was essentially an even amount of time.
So, Up and down for the leg press up and down for the leg extension. There was no biased towards an ecentric. You know how some people, well, they’ll, they’ll go down really, really, really slow. That’s not what they did. It was a standard time on concentric and ecentric. And then the last thing that was the same was the rest period.
Two minutes of rest between each set of leg press, two minutes between the last set of the leg press and the first set of the leg extension. And then they continued with the two minute rest period between each set of the leg extensions.
Mike: It’s all around well designed, very representative of the type of stuff that a lot of us do in the gym.
Bill: Yes. Except for me, I’m never, two minutes to me is I, I laugh at two minutes if I’m do, I don’t do leg presses, but if I did, I’d laugh at two minutes. The enjoyment level of a two minute rest period for like squats or deadlifts takes the enjoyment from what, a hundred to minus 30? Like I hate my workout.
Mike: that’s a fair point. With lower body in particular, you could get away with that on a leg extension or a hamstring curl, but certainly on any type of. Compound movement. Uh, yeah, same. Two minutes would not be enough for me. Even two and a half, I’m fine. Two, two and a half. If I’m training a smaller muscle group or I’m training a larger muscle group, but with just isolation exercise.
But for those bigger exercises, including bench press, it’s three to four for me. Yeah, and I
Bill: don’t wanna get off on a tangent, but what I typically do is on squats, I’ll set eight minutes between my, you know, squat after my set and I do something else, usually upper body, and eight minutes later I have to have that set done and be starting my next set of squats.
So you could say it’s still about a four minute rest period between exercises.
Mike: You’re just making use of that downtime?
Bill: Yes. Yeah. And I’m probably just using that as an excuse to not do squats in three or four minutes.
Mike: I mean, I was thinking that, man, if I’m doing like some difficult squats, which if I’m squatting, I’m, I’m gonna be squatting pretty close to failure.
Uh, especially if it’s over six reps. I don’t even know if I’d want to go do an upper body exercise. I think I just wanna sit there for a few minutes. Yeah.
Bill: And that’s, I set my timer for that. It’s eight minutes is a long time. I mean, that’s,
Mike: I just mean, I’m thinking like, okay, I’ve just really exerted myself.
I mean, I at least minimally and I have to wait a minute or two before I even go do a, a pull up or something, you know?
Bill: yes. All right, so now let’s talk about the other group. The other group. We just explained the same group. Now, this group, we’ll call it the varied group. So the other leg, and by the way, the researchers to make sure there was.
Half the exercises or half the programs had to dominant leg, the other half didn’t. So they controlled for that as well. The varied leg, unlike the same workout with volume of nine to 12 reps, what they did was that 25% of the time they had a lightweight, which allowed them to do between 25 and 30 repetitions on each set of failure.
So what you’re gonna see here is every workout. So 25% of the time there’s gonna be four different things that they varied. That way they could vary something every single workout. So one of the workouts are 25% of the time. They varied the load and made it a very lightweight. Another 25% of the time, they manipulated the volume and changed the volume.
Instead of doing eight total sets, they did 12 total sets, six sets of leg press. And six sets of leg extension. Then another 25% of the time they did an ecentric only workout where they only lowered the leg press down, and I think it was 10 seconds per rep, and it was 110% of their normal nine to 12 repetition weight.
And then finally, the last 25% of the time, they extended the rest periods from two minutes to four minutes. So every single workout, something was varied, whether it was the load eccentrically, biasing the repetitions, the volume, or the rest periods. So again, never the same workout in that leg. And they did this again for eight weeks.
Should I jump into the results or do you have any questions about the methods?
Mike: No, no, I, I mean, I, I think the, obviously certain variations based on my understanding of things would be more likely to produce more hypertrophy than others. But those variations all make sense and again, well designed, practical related to what we actually do in the gym.
Bill: And before we give the results, we do have to appreciate it was eight weeks long. So it’s very possible, and we can say this with every study, eight weeks might not be long enough to detect a significant difference that may manifest after four months or five months. So if you know, if you can appreciate, if you’ve got a very small difference, it takes a while before that starts to separate.
So regardless of what the results were, we can really only say, Hey, in eight weeks time, this is what we saw. So what they reported was a very similar. Equal muscle hypertrophic response to these workouts as a percentage increase, there was about 12 to 13%, let’s just around 12 and a half percent for both the leg that was doing the same workouts with no variation.
Again, around 12 and a half percent for the varied leg that continually changed something, and that tells us one thing that’s important to look at this from both perspectives. The first perspective is at least in an eight week time period, there’s no benefit to varying up your workouts. However, if you do want to, there’s clearly no harm in doing so over eight weeks.
That’s just as
Mike: important, at least with those types of variations, right? Like, okay, you work in some different rep ranges, or you manipulate your rest times, or you add a little bit of volume. The volume. That’s something I would caution people against, or at least they have to understand. Where they’re at and what would be an appropriate increase in volume.
I’ve seen a lot of people do it inappropriately where they’ll take a, a major muscle group and they’ll, okay, I’m doing 12 sets per week for my lower body. I’m just gonna go to 18 sets per week because I, I’m an experienced trainee. And then they can’t walk.
Bill: In that case, I always ask, what are you gonna do after a few months of 18?
Mike: Well, this one guy on social media, I mean, he does 45, so I’ll just, uh, I’ll go to 25.
Bill: Yeah. Intensity may be hard to, to keep high for 45 sets per week.
Mike: And for people listening, don’t do that. These are not good ideas. Uh, you, you don’t want to make big jumps in your volume. And it’s actually, uh, I’m writing a little, a little article and it’s probably gonna go into a, a next book on some research on the material differences in particularly in-house steroid versus non-steroid users train and kind of interesting research.
And these are mostly things that most of us who have been doing this for a while and who understand what is likely. Steroid use and what is not just by looking at people or seeing what they’re doing. These are things that we already know. But for people particularly who are new, I think it’ll be helpful for them to have a few other just criteria by which they can.
It’s not about judging people for using steroids or not using steroids, it’s more just understanding what you’re seeing and that what they are doing may not be applicable to you because you don’t have the training experience and you don’t have the drugs. And training volume is one of the things that researchers go over that a lot of steroid users tend to do a lot more sets per week, per major muscle group.
And we see this and it tends to be higher rep, and a lot of those sets tend to be sub maximal as opposed to even a, somebody with outstanding genetics, outstanding muscularity on steroids, 40 plus sets. Close to failure, let’s say at least half of them difficult compound exercises per week for your lower body.
No way. No way. Nobody can do that. You know what I mean? Anyway, just something for people to keep in mind when, when you see a lot of these big jacked people doing tons of sets per week, there could be steroids involved. There also could be a lower intensity involved, which of course you can do that if you are ending most of those sets with 4, 5, 6 plus good reps still in the tank.
Bill: Yeah, and I think there’s also a social media component there is, is that really what they’re doing for a year at a, for six months at a time, or is this for a series of, so I’m interesting to see what your research is telling you. I’ve really been into this with volume, like working sets per week on a muscle group.
And what I’ve been able to find is for body competitive bodybuilders, and these are males, what they’re reporting is around. 20 sets per week per muscle group. And the way that I interpret that, these are people competitive bodybuilders, they kind of live to lift, like that’s their life. They have no problem spending two hours a day in the gym.
As I started getting into this, I’m like, well, I don’t really, and again, I’m not a, I used to bodybuilding. I was younger, but I’m, I’m not close to that. I, I don’t have the time for that. But I think that’s real. Like that’s people that are gonna step on stage doing 20 sets. I look at that as a very high level of volume.
So again, I don’t know what you’ve been seeing if, if that’s kind of in, in your neighborhood of, of your observations.
Mike: Absolutely. And I, I think that’s in line with a lot of more recent research on the matter. And to give Lyle McDonald credit, this is something he’s been saying for a long time, when I first started paying attention to the evidence-based fitness space, I came across Lyle’s work.
And I remember this was like 13 plus years ago, and I, I remember him talking about somewhere between 10 and 20 hard sets. So a set taken close to muscular failure per major MUS group per week. That’s about it. And 20 is really the, the most that he, and, and I don’t think his position has changed on this, that he would recommend.
You might be able to get some additional hypertrophy beyond that, but you also probably will. Fall behind in recovery or just get hurt. So practically speaking, it’s 10 to 20 hard sets per week and somebody new can do fantastically with just 10 sets per muscle group per week. It doesn’t even matter if they split them up into separate workouts, it appears they could just.
You can really even just start with a body part split. If you liked it, like you could ha you could do your chest day and your back day and your arms day, you could do it that way and just make sure you get in your 10 sets per week and you’re gonna do great. However, a more experienced trainee is gonna require more volume than that to continue gaining muscle and strength for that person.
It’s probably gonna be in the range of 15 to 20 to optimize progress. And in that case, they probably will have to, or to really make it work, they are going to have to separate the volume into at least two training sessions, maybe even three, depending on what they’re doing. And, and there’s more and more research that I’ve seen over the last couple of years that supports that.
And the weight of the evidence is it’s, it’s growing. It’s growing for that theory, I guess you could say. And it also, there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence to support it as well, practical application that is right in line with that. So, and certainly I would say for. Probably most people listening and most people who are getting into fitness, they don’t need to know anything else.
If we’re just talking about this little component of building muscle, like really for a guy to get the body he wants, he just needs to gain 20 to 30 pounds of muscle in the right places on his body, bring his body fat down to a low enough level where he can see his abs. He certainly does not need to get into anything on the fringes.
Anything beyond, uh, if we’re talking about just pure volume measured, that way he can know nothing else other than that and get there. And the same thing would go for, I would say most women, at least who come into my orbit to get the body they want, they need to gain 15. Ish pounds, maybe a little bit more, a little bit less of muscle.
They’re usually more focused on the lower body than the upper body, but they also want some upper body muscle definition and they need to bring their body fat percentage down to somewhere between 20 to maybe 25% depending on the look they want. And that’s it. And they’re happy. And similarly for them, they can take that to the bank.
They can start with the 10 hard sets per major MUS group per week. And as they progress, they’re probably gonna have to work that up to closer to 15. And at 15 though, they probably will never need to even try to do 20 hard sets per major MUS group per week to get to where they want to be. I don’t know if you’ve tried to do that.
I have, and it takes a lot of time. You can start there, like if you really want to do that for, let’s say even just three to four major muscle groups per week, and then fine, you’ll just, you kind of cruise at maintenance volume on the others. It’s four to five workouts per week, and those are gonna be. At least an hour and a half, at least 90 minutes per session, maybe even two hours, depending on what you’re doing.
If you want to do that, if you have, if that’s what you wanna spend your time doing, then that’s fine. But as you said, uh, there are many people who don’t have the time or don’t, they don’t want to spend that much time in the gym.
Bill: Yeah. And you’ve made a reference about the set volume per muscle group, like the research being, that’s kind of what the research is saying.
Just it’s something that popped into my mind. I graduated in 2007 with my PhD and there was none of this research at that time. I remember being so frustrated, and again, I love the academic organizations, but they were so focused on changes in blood. Variables like hormones. Why are you encouraging researchers to take blood when we don’t even know how many sets per week we should do?
Mike: Or what those hormonal changes even mean in terms of, I just wanna get more jacked. Is, is this a good proxy for getting more jacked?
Bill: Wait, and I appreciate we need to answer the hormone questions, but they were doing that before we had basic questions. So just in, since literally in the last decade, we’ve had researchers that have answered these basic questions like lifting with high heavy weights versus lightweights and its impact on hypertrophy, training to failure, or keeping a few reps in.
So all of these practical questions, fortunately, have been done, but just for anybody listening to this, it hasn’t always been like that. We didn’t used to know the answers to this stuff, but we could Sure. Tell you how much growth hormone testosterone went up after, uh, four sets of squats, which. It doesn’t really mean much, but I won’t forget that time when we didn’t have this data.
And it’s so nice and that’s where your books are so helpful. You do a great job of distilling that research and making it very practical.
Mike: Thank you. Thank you. Well, why don’t we come back to this study? We, uh, I think that was a productive tangent, but let’s come back to this study. So I think we, we left off is okay.
So we understood that in this eight week period, there were no significant differences between the two groups. And so that at least tells us that we can do things like varying our rep ranges week to week if we wanted to. And I do think that there are productive ways to do that. We could vary our rest times.
Obviously they weren’t varying exercises in this study, but it doesn’t appear to be any better or any worse. And then we started talking about other stuff.
Bill: Yeah, so I think that’s the big conclusion. This was not program hopping to me. This is a program that you follow, that you can build into it. Things that vary or change from workout to workout.
And you can feel good that you’re getting the same hypertrophic response over a two month period. So, and if you don’t like to change things up, then you’re not doing yourself any harm. And I personally, I, I like changing some, I like changing up my rep ranges. Sometimes I do that from set to set, depending on the exercise, sometimes I don’t.
I’m somebody who does for better enjoyment, changing things up from workout to workout. Mainly around my rep ranges. I’m doing no harm by changing up things from workout to workout.
Mike: And that would also be in line with other research on the hypertrophy caused by sets taken close to muscular failure in various rep ranges, right?
That supports that, that a set of five taken close to muscular failure is just as strong of a, a hypertrophy stimulus as a set of 10 or 15. And my understanding is there’s a point probably 20 reps and beyond when that might change and you actually are getting less of a, of a hypertrophy stimulus. But most people, myself included, don’t like doing sets of 25 or 30 reps right up to the point of muscular failure.
That’s the key. You can’t just stop when you want to stop. No, no. You have to suffer. And that’s just not an enjoyable way to train. So I don’t do it and I don’t know of any reason to do it. So that’s it. No,
Bill: I think a very relevant period in our history was covid when people couldn’t get external loads and they were having to do things in their home.
That’s when I, at least in my own head, yeah, you’re gonna, you’re, you go ahead and get some bricks or whatever you can, but make sure you do it till you really can’t do another rep. Even a set of
Mike: pushups to failure just sucks compared to a, a bench press set of five, like that’s doing 50, 60, 70 pushups or whatever.
Even that is obnoxious.
Bill: Yeah. You’re, you’re definitely tapping into the, to the pain threshold with, with lactate production,
Mike: and that’s part of the problem, practically speaking that, you know, I run into is it can be hard to know, are you close to muscular failure or. Is it just really painful or you just wanna stop?
It sounds silly, but in practice when you’re performing, especially an exercise that is a difficult exercise, and you start doing sets of, I’d say 12 to 15 plus, like take any lower body exercise and your legs are now on fire and it’s painful and you just want to stop and you’re asking yourself, okay, how many, what do I think?
How many, how many good reps do I have left? I’ve found it hard to get an honest answer as opposed to sets below 10 reps particularly, you know, one of the reasons I like kind of 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, I like that range is I find that my perception of exertion and my reps in reserve is probably most accurate in that, I mean, I guess you could say it, it’s also quite accurate, lower, but you only would do, you know, that wouldn’t be the bulk of your training doing one twos and threes, but for a rep range that you can use on a lot of exercises, just most of the time.
That’s one of the reasons I like. Rep range is you don’t get the lactic inferno and you don’t add a bunch of time to your workouts by doing 20, 30 reps per set and you feel kind of strong and you have an accurate, it’s easy to, to keep your reps in reserve machinery kind of calibrated.
Bill: Yes, yes. And for anybody that likes to go that high, then that may, I suggest baking soda or betaine, those will help you get more repetitions if you’re gonna be.
North of 25, north of 30, but yes, uh, good luck with that.
Mike: So with making program changes then, what’s your advice in terms of how people should be looking at variability and inserting injecting variability in their training? What do you feel is productive and is unproductive? We talked earlier about exercises, changing exercises too often, unproductive.
Do you have a a certain period that you like to perform? Make sure that you’re performing the same exercises, at least maybe like for your lower body. You want to make sure that you’re doing some sort of squat movement for at least, and you don’t change that exercise for a certain period of time. And then maybe you are then moving on to an isolation exercise for your hamstrings and you’re not too concerned whether it’s a seated or a lying hamstring curl, for example.
You’re okay with changing that more frequently than you might change the kind of staple exercise. And then any other just tips that you might have for people in how they might. Think about changing their reps per set, changing total volume and anything else that you’ve found productive. And, and I know this is very broad, but this is where, you know, you can take it wherever you want and be as specific as you want or, or kind of personalized as you want.
Yeah. I, I
Bill: kind of look at programming over. Eight to 12 week blocks. And just as an example, I like to train for hypertrophy or potentially at my age.
Mike: Yeah. Attempts, yeah. Attempting.
Bill: Oh, maintaining what I have, so I, okay. All right. So what are the exercises that I, one that I enjoy that are gonna, that are my quad exercises, so, I count squats for that.
I count leg extensions for that. I count walking lunges, Bulgarian, split squats, step ups. So I’ll list four or five of them, and I’ll just make sure that those four or five exercises are in my program on a biweekly basis. So I tend to program like two weeks. That way I’m getting exercise variation, but yet I’m also getting it consistently over these eight to 12 weeks.
Um, and that can also include a deload week in there as well. So my philosophy, I guess, is a well designed program is gonna have a good amount of variation in it anyway, within those exercises. For my quads, my squats are gonna be pretty heavy weight, high loads. What I typically like to do is between two to eight repetitions on those, and I’ll just share what I do.
After I’m warming up, I’ll make my first set, try to get eight reps. My second set, I’ll increase the weight, try to hit six reps, and then my third set. Try to get four reps, so eight reps on my first, increase the weight, then I’d get six third set, try to get four. And if I can hit that, those numbers, two workouts in a row for squats, then it’s time to increase the weights.
So I’m actually changing my rep goals within the workout for that particular one. And
Mike: out of curiosity, why do you like it that way as opposed to maybe R P T or maybe doing eight week one and then six is week two and then
Bill: Yeah, well one, eight sets of 8 0 8. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Some people do fine with sets of, uh, you know, doing eight repetitions for multiple sets.
But to me that’s, I’m so winded.
Mike: Four is my cutoff for squats. Yeah. In one workout, especially if I’m doing, uh, six is eight tens.
Bill: Yeah. And appreciate it. I’m only doing three sets, three work sets. I’m doing several warmup sets. Now. Let me go to something else when I do leg extensions. Now I set a goal, at least my current workout, 10 to 15 reps, so I choose a weight.
Where in that one I don’t change. I have a weight that I get pretty close to 15 reps on my first set. Might have my four minute rest period, or depending, maybe three minutes if depends. If I’m doing something else. I’m gonna, I wanna explain something else that I’ve done recently that I really like on leg extensions.
It’s another quad exercise. It’s totally different than what I do for squats. It’s 10 to 15 reps with the same weight, first sets closer to 15. By the time I get to my third set, sometimes I do four sets. I’m getting much closer to that 10 reps, so I’m pretty dialed in on the weight that I need. That keeps me in my 10 to 15, maybe my next.
Eight or 12 week period, maybe that changes to eight to 12 reps. I won’t go less than eight reps on leg extension, so that just gives it a window. So I have different exercises for a muscle group where, and you ask why. Well, squats, I do one thing. Leg extensions, I do another. And here’s something else I’ve recently been doing, and I’ll use leg extensions as an example on this and I’ll, I’ll only do this on single joints, leg extensions, biceps, triceps.
So single joint exercises, it’s, I’m sure you’re familiar with it. Density training. I’ll still do my three sets or I’ll do four sets. I usually only do between three and four sets of an exercise, but I’ll set my timer. Let’s say I’m doing four sets. I’ll set my timer for five minutes and I have to have all four sets done in five minutes.
So I hit the timer. That clock starts counting down from five. So in that case, that is much shorter. Rest periods. And that’s usually at the end of my workout. So there’s something else that gets me outta the gym faster. And it is more lactate. I’m getting that more burning cuz I’m getting, you know, fewer repetitions per set.
But these sets are pretty quickly followed by one another.
Mike: Yep. It’s almost like drop sets, but with a little bit of rest in between. Exactly.
Bill: And I choose to not drop the weight I could. Um, that’s just, I, I don’t, cause again, I have my stuff pretty dialed in. There’s something else that I just enjoyed that as a change.
I might not, I probably won’t do it forever. I’m getting my sets in for that body part for that week. Then it just happens that I’m, I’m being a little more efficient with my time. And again, I don’t do that on all my exercises. So I think what I’m trying to articulate is I have a system that is variable and that I enjoy that works for me and my interpretation of the study we just went over.
It’s fine. Again, I, nobody’s tested exactly what I do, but I will say we do very similar things in my lab. Uh, we did very similar things with, um, a resistance trained female study. It was a protein titration study. Um, we didn’t do density. We didn’t do that, but. Pretty much changed the rep ranges from week to week on the exercises.
They, they gained as much muscle as any of my male studies did. It was, it was pretty powerful. So that, that also had an impression upon me about changing things up, particularly rep
Mike: ranges. Yeah, again, makes a lot of sense to me and, and just my understanding of the literature that I’ve read is I actually prefer changing rep ranges week to week rather than intro workout or even workout to workout.
And it’s mostly just a personal preference. I also like that it’s a little bit easier to program and. Track, uh, it’s just a little bit simpler, you know? Okay. You’re doing your eights this week on your squats. All right? Go do your three or four sets of eight. Okay? Good. And you don’t have to play with weights, and especially that there’s an acclimation, phase two, using pyramids or reverse pyramids where you’re fiddling with your weights in.
You don’t get it quite right, and it takes a couple of weeks for you to understand what that progression needs to look like for you to go from doing, let’s say, eights to sixes, to fours, or the other way around. Okay? You want to warm up, start heavy. You wanna do your fours, followed by your sixes, followed by your eights.
Then if we come back to the changes that people can consider making, I think we’ve made the rep point, clearly the exercise point, I think we’ve made mostly clear. Some people may wonder, should they not change certain exercises for, let’s say an eight to 12 week training block and have those staples that they don’t change.
And then if they want to make changes on other exercises that are not as important or don’t train as much muscle mass, usually it’s compound versus isolation. Is that okay? What are your thoughts on that point in particular? I’m
Bill: such a, um, a whimp for preference, so if. Whatever you enjoy doing. Again, with all of the, the caveats that we set, take each set to near failure.
Don’t be switching exercises constantly, but within those confines, your preferences should really dictate a lot of your programming, in my opinion, cuz that’s gonna make it more enjoyable. It’s gonna make it less likely that you’re gonna skip your workouts. I like your suggestion though, of having what I would call like anchoring exercises that don’t change and then you could have a rotation of other ones.
And again, once you do this a few cycles, you have eliminated an acclimation phase cuz you’re gonna have the neuromuscular efficiency from doing it from a month or two ago. I think the harm is changing literally, coaches constantly and totally different philosophies of programming, kind of getting into this program hopping
Yep, that makes sense. And are there any other, Just considerations that you wanna share. There’s workout splits. I know that that’s something that people wonder should they be changing workout splits often. And I, I think that we’ve already answered that that would be a no, because that is going to involve, like if you’re changing your workout split often you’re making, that’s wholesale changes usually like exer, that that’s going to definitely involve exercise changes.
Uh, would you agree with
Bill: that? Yes. I will say this, and this is making it about what I’m doing currently, so I have. My current workout, I split my body into eight muscle groups, chest, back, biceps, triceps, quads, hamstrings, glutes. So no abs and no calves. I’ve probably pissed off half the people who love to train those,
Mike: but I’ve been training my calves four to five times per week for months now, and I, I knew that that would, is what it was going to take if I ever wanted to have calves that look like I lift, just cuz genetically I started with nothing.
And you know, I’ve, I’ve trained my lower body a lot. I’ve even gotten decently strong in my squats and so forth with no calves. And so coming back to that volume point that we were discussing my calves to grow, and this has been working, it, it requires 15 to 20 hard sets per week. 10, 12 is simply not enough.
I did that for some time. So it is 15 to 20 hard sets for the cabs per week and a variety of rep ranges. So anything from, call it six to 12. Reps per set. And that’s the only thing that has consistently produced calf growth. Whereas other muscle groups, mine progressed well on really just kind of the newbie phase.
Like, you know, gained 80% of my biceps size probably on 12 hard sets per week. Cuz my, on my, my pex, they just responded well to training for my calves. It requires brute force.
Bill: And to be fair, I have naturally big calves, so that’s, if I didn’t, I would probably be working out calves. So one thing, and I’ve done this um, recently, all my muscle groups, I’m getting nine work sets per week.
And what I’ve done was I’ve actually have, I have three different options to hit these nine sets. I have a three day per week plan. I have a four day per week plan and I have a five day per week plan. So at the beginning of the week I kind of map out, okay, what makes sense for me this week? Can I get there three times?
Can I get there five, whatever. But it doesn’t matter. Because at the end of the week, at the end of the seven days, as long as I’ve been there 3, 4, 5 times, depending on that week, I’m getting the same volume. So there’s just another way of, I guess, more variability that I’ve learned that really works for me in my schedule.
Mike: Yeah, that’s a good point. It’s not exactly changing your workout split, but it might look like a bit of a workout split change if it weren’t explained. So that, that’s a great point. And then one other thing I just want to spotlight that you said, just to make sure people understood, I think it’s cool.
I think it’s a, it can make training more enjoyable and that is this kind of biweekly approach. So you are changing, you have the exercises that you wanna be doing for a muscle group and you are doing, let’s see, a four of them, you’re doing two of them week A and then the other two week B, and then back to the first two week A.
You’re never leaving an exercise for long enough to kind of lose your familiarity with it. So you, you get the performance plus you get the novelty, you get the variability. It can be fun to just do different things and not do the exact same routine. Even if you are changing rep ranges, it can be fun, especially if, let’s say these are four different exercises.
These are your four favorite exercises to do for the muscle group. And this is a way you can incorporate them all into your program.
Bill: Yes. Yep. That right there, like week one A. Yeah. Week a, week B. And that can repeat itself. That’s a much, yes. It gives you a lot more options than if you’re having to, if you’re trying to do the same thing every week, that really locks you in.
Mike: And I can speak to that personally because that’s how I trained for, I mentioned for about two years I was pushing pretty hard for, you know, whatever muscle and strength I could gain because my goal was really to maximize performance. I, I think that the best way to do that is probably to stick with at least the anchor exercises, so to speak, and especially on certain exercises like a front squat versus a back squat versus a safety bar squat.
I found that. Once it took me a couple of weeks to kind of get into a groove. I just like to stick with it and grind it out and push with a, a rep max, uh, test at the end of the training block and see if I’ve gained some strength and then make the change to the next exercise acclimate, and then spend that, you know, what was probably like six weeks with that one exercise, just really trying to make a marginal improvement.
So I did that for a long time and yes, it’s effective, but even for someone who I think is probably more resistant to boredom than most people, I even was getting a bit bored with, with my workouts. It was, it was turning into a chore. I now am doing something. A little bit closer to, I have some anchor exercises that I like to stick with for four to eight weeks, and then I have some more kind of secondary accessory exercises that I like for, okay, my biceps exercises.
There are a few biceps exercises I like, so I might do one for two to three weeks and then do another one for two to three weeks. But even this, this every other week approach, uh, could be great for
Bill: that as well. No, I, I like the, I like the, I, I mean, I guess in a sense my squats and deadlifts have been my anchors five years in a sense.
Mike: Yep. And, and with deadlifts just coming back, something I mentioned earlier, I didn’t do this for some time when I was being really kind of rigorous. I was sticking with one variation for that entire training block. But it was interesting cause I hadn’t done it in a long time. Two, it wasn’t necessarily every other week, but it might’ve been kind of two weeks on, two weeks off, or three weeks on, three weeks off with some rd ls, with some rack poles, and then with maybe a trap bar coming back to a conventional deadlift and seeing improvements there, which is cool.
It’s, you know, it was, it was fun actually to do some of these other exercises that I haven’t done in a bit. Or I might have to wait, if I were following my previous approach, I’d have to wait a fair amount of time to do ’em again. It was fun to be able to work them in and get at least acclimated, maybe make a little bit of progress and then, Uh, move on to another one, get acclimated, make a little bit of progress, and then come back to the, the original, which would be the conventional, and see that I certainly lost no strength and I possibly gained a little bit in terms of reps in reserve.
If I look at my training log from before and after, so I came back to it and did sets of eight and my reps in reserve were, and this is based on how accurate my internal reporting is, but I try to be accurate with it. And so it, it did seem that I had probably a one extra rep in reserve on average, so that weight, that same weight at sets of eight, it got a little bit easier.
Oh, that’s cool. That’s progress for, in my mind, I take that as progress.
Bill: That is progress. That’s it’s, there’s a greater stimulus for hyper strength and hypertrophy and adaptation for that. All right.
Mike: Well, uh, coming up on an hour now and uh, I think we’ve touched on at least everything I had here on my outline.
Is there anything else that’s still kind of floating around in your head that you want to share before we wrap up?
Bill: Just that it’s okay to program your workouts so that you enjoy them. I think that’s probably underrated.
Mike: Very agreed. Yeah, I think that that many people get lost in the quest for maximum scientific optimization and often they will wind up with a workout program they don’t like.
And then compliance suffers. And even if compliance doesn’t suffer, their performance suffers to some degree. Because if you’re are a human, you don’t do quite as well in workouts when you’re, you’re not enjoying it, your mind is not there. You’re just trying to get your work done and get out as opposed to having a little bit of fun, getting a good pump, looking forward to that workout, leaving feeling good.
So I totally agree that personal preference is often underrated. So let’s quickly wrap up then. Let’s just let people know where they can find you. Find your work, your research review, which is where you highlighted this study that you shared on the podcast, and anything else that you want people to know about.
Bill: Yeah, so website is Bill Campbell PhD That will take you to learn more about my research review. It’s called Body by Science. And essentially what I do, I review two studies every month that are solely dedicated to increasing muscle mass and losing body fat. One thing I love about it is I bring in experts like you.
You’ve been in one of my expert contributors, and I ask them, I just summarized the research study. Now, how would you apply this to your clients or in your own workouts or your own fat loss strategies? So there’s a research component and there’s a really strong application component. And again, that’s at Bill Campbell PhD.
Thank you for letting me mention that. And if anybody wants to follow me on social media, Instagram is Bill Campbell PhD.
Mike: Awesome. Well, thanks again for your time, bill, and I look forward to the next one. All right. Thank you. 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 have, uh, ideas or suggestions or just feedback to share, shoot me an email, mike muscle for life.com, muscle f o r life.com, 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 soon.