Some people—my favorite people—listen to most or even all of my podcasts, but my wizbang analytics tell me that while many listeners tune in on a regular basis, they don’t catch every installment of Muscle for Life and thus miss out on insights that could help them do at least a little better inside and outside the gym.
That’s why I do “best of” episodes that contain a few of the most practical and compelling ideas, tips, and moments from the more popular episodes I’ve published over the years. This way, you can learn interesting insights that you might have otherwise missed and find new episodes of the show to listen to.
So, in this installment of The Best of Muscle for Life, you’ll be hearing hand-picked morsels from three episodes:
And we’ll be starting with number one, Eric Helms on supersets, dropsets, forced reps, and more.
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3:33 – Eric Helms on Supersets, Dropsets, Forced Reps, and More!
14:07 – The Top 5 Proven Ways to Build Muscle Faster
20:59 – Motivation Monday: The Great “Work-Life Balance” Dilemma
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!
Hey there, and welcome to another episode of Muscle for Life. I’m your host, Mike Matthews. Thank you for joining me today. And if you haven’t already, please do take a moment to subscribe to the show in whatever app you are listening to me in so you don’t miss any new episodes. And it helps me because it boosts the ranking of the show in the various charts.
And so this episode is another installment of the best of Muscle for Life. And so in this episode, you are going to hear handpicked artisanal offerings curated from three of the more popular episodes that I have recorded over the years because some people, my favorite people, of course, they listen to most or even.
All of my podcasts, but my whizbang analytics tell me that while many listeners do tune in on a regular basis, they do not catch every installment of the show, and therefore they miss out on insights that could help them do at least a little bit better inside and outside of the gym. And that’s why I do these.
Best of episodes, I try to pick a few of the most practical and compelling ideas, tips, and moments from the more popular episodes that I’ve published over the years. And that way you can learn some stuff that you might have otherwise missed. And you can also find new episodes of the show to listen to.
So in this installment of the Best of Muscle for Life, the highlight reel is going to. Snippets from an interview I did with Eric Helms on super sets, drop sets, force reps, and more. An episode I recorded by myself, a monologue called The Top Five Proven Ways to Build Muscle Faster. And another monologue, which is called the Great work Life balance dilemma.
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And let’s start with the first one, Eric Helms on superset drop sets, force reps, and more. I think. Placing these techniques in with the word advanced or with special? I, I actually don’t agree. I don’t, I don’t think these are advanced techniques. I think they are interesting strategies that may allow you to be time efficient or in some cases potentially enhanced performance, but in other cases actually degrade it.
And I think that’s an important thing to point out. Is we have to think about rather than how the, these have been positioned by magazines, but what do they logically do? Logic is one thing, but the next step, and we’ve now actually got a fair amount of research on these is, is what happens when we actually test them in the, in a lab setting.
We’re an applied lab setting and, and we’re, we’re still far behind the amount of time that’s been spent using these. I was recently reading a book by Dave Draper and he was talking about. Antagonist paired sets back in, back in the mid sixties. Him and Arnold really liked to, to structure their training so they would do, you know, a push and then a pull back to back and they found it was time efficient.
I remember Arnold’s che chest and back workout was like the, I I remember that from Arnold’s book back in the day. Mm-hmm. . Yeah. And, and we’ll get into it, but there, there’s actually some, some of those things that they kind of intuitively landed on do make sense. And then some of the things that have been more kind of just pushed, cuz magazines gotta put something out every.
Perhaps don’t make quite as much sense. So I, I think overall, if I was gonna give a big, high level summary, it’s each one of these techniques has potential to be positive or negative depending on how it’s used and the logic you put into it and the context. Now let’s say you did have front and raises and a shoulder press to do on that day, but you also had, let’s say you’re doing like a shoulder in Lake Day or something like that.
If you were to do squats and then, you know, take. Do your shoulder press, take a break, do leg extensions, and then do, then do front raises. Your belts would’ve recovered somewhat from the acute stress of those shoulder presses, and you’d probably be able to perform more reps with heavier load. And this is an example of, oh, you can do more total work.
You can probably create more tension. And this seems to be reflected in the research that when you train group and then basically keep training. It’s the same thing as not taking a rest interval, you know? So if you’re doing shoulder press and you go right to front raises, this parallels the same research we see where people don’t take enough rest and the performance goes down and subsequently you’d expect long-term outcomes be worse.
And I think that’s the main benefit or potential benefit of Supersets. Is in the real world where sometimes we kind of look at people and go, how do they develop such a good physique? But they’re so not evidence-based. I’m seeing all these super sets and drop sets, et cetera. And it’s like, well, people have a certain amount of time to train.
And while they may be making the efficiency of each one of those sets a little less, uh, because you know, it’s doing a continuous set of 40 or et cetera. Compared to the person who’s maybe read a textbook and they’re going, right, I care about strength and size. I’m gonna rest five minutes between each set and I’m gonna focus on the big compound lifts.
They might be able to get through three times as much volume per muscle group, even if that volume is a inefficient and they’re gonna be able to grow more. So it’s kind of like, all right, well, what’s the best of both worlds? And something like an antagonist paired setss a really good idea. That’s a way that I’ve programmed.
If you read, you know, the muscle and strength pyramids, I recommend, you know, doing a chest and back and then arms back to back, and then leg extensions back to back. So if it’s an upper body movement, pairing your pushes and poles set to set. And then like you said, if it’s it’s isolation arm work or isolation legwork, same exact thing.
And that’s a pretty efficient way to capitalize on time while not compromising, perform. After some of the antagonist pared set research came out in the right around 2010 or so, that’s when there was kind of a boom of it. There was a study, I believe done, it might have been squats and bench pull and bench press or just squats and bench or just squats and bench pull.
I can’t quite remember the study, but it was one of those three designs, and that’s exactly what they found was that even though. The prime movers in the upper body exercises that were paired with the squats should have been rested and and weren’t being trained in each movement. There was actually a decrement in performance very slightly on the number of reps they could perform during squats, and that’s because these big lift compound movements, even when a muscle isn’t being trained directly, it might be trained isometrically.
And more importantly, if you do a hard set of squats close to technical failure like that. It’s a full body exercise from a cardiometabolic standpoint, and you just might be too gased. And that’s exactly what they found. So there are certain movements I just don’t think are well suited to this. I think, you know, a bench press and a bench pull is probably as much of a compound as I would do it with.
I mean, you’re, you’re lying on a bench either face down or face up and it’s only upper body, so it’s not that hard, even though it is a compound movement. Yeah. Or maybe a seated overhead press. I don’t standing’s a little bit more difficult, but Yeah, exactly. Yeah, I think. Upper body movements you’d probably be fine with.
Uh, the ones I wouldn’t recommend combining with would be things like a deadlift or an R D l or any squat variation. Probably not even a leg press if you’re going pretty hard, cuz you can push yourself harder on those. So maybe, and I think it depends on, on the, on the person likely, but. I, I think that that’s a really good point, is that it’s not just about pairing movements that that shouldn’t affect one another, although that is a big part of it.
If you want to get some of that quote unquote little bit of magic that is in the a p t, the antagonist paired sets, it is about actually pairing antagonists, which therefore prevents you from doing something that trains the full body, you know, even isometrically. So like a deadlift, a squat, uh, you know, lunges, R D L.
Those are all movements that you probably want to do on your own. And if you’re a power lifter, I would probably even tell you to do, uh, bench press on, on, on its own. Because you’re in that arch position, you’ve got leg drive and it’s an important lift to you. You don’t wanna risk it. So, but yeah. But if you’re, you’re a bodybuilder, I think pairing benches with rows, you know, overhead press with lap pull downs.
Curls with tricep push downs, leg extensions with leg curls. And I do think you could do some things like if you wanted to do squats and then calf raises, I think that’s probably fine. If you wanted to do something like let’s say an R DL and a lateral raise, I think that’s probably fine. But you want to pick that other exercise that really is, is quite not fatiguing and.
Loosen up on your rest interval, you know, and you may even find that you have to rest in long enough w while doing that, that it doesn’t really give you a time advantage. So is it even worth it? So I think you have to consider that kind of on a case by case basis. Drop sets and, and rest pause have been researched only.
A little more recently, and they’ve actually got some promising studies behind them doing drop sets where, for example, you’ll do a certain load and then once you’ve hit failure, uh, you then drop the load and then extend the set. The way they’ve been done in the research has been so that the reps aren’t super crazy high to the point where it’d be suboptimal, but you start with a reasonably heavy load and you do a couple drops, and this has actually been shown to.
Effective as straight sets of a, of a similar numbers, you know, three straight sets versus one heavy set and, and three drops or something like that. Now that’s great because it does save you time. Uh, it even saves a little bit of volume and, and joint stress, uh, cause you don’t have to use as heavy of a load.
And the total reps are typically similar or less in a drop set versus the straight set. And this is essentially coming down to what is a quote unquote effective. Uh, so once you’ve done one set to failure, you’re gonna maintain that high level of motor unit activation. And even though you’re using a lower load or even doing fewer reps, it’s gonna be basically producing high tension from the word go as soon as you pick up those slightly lighter dumbbells.
Now the problem though is that progressive overload is still the primary variable. We need to ensure that we get any fitness adaptation over. So if you’re going to be comparing, you don’t wanna be comparing apples to oranges in your logbook over time to ensure progress. So if you’ve been doing, let’s say, straight sets on curls and all of a sudden you go to drop sets, you don’t really want to try to compare those two.
You just want to assign either drop sets or rest pause, which you’ll talk about in a second to that, that movement. And then try to just add a few more reps here and there. You know, increase the load on your drops and the top set and just try to make those progressive increases. And we don’t really know.
like, what’s the conversion like? How many drops should I do? What’s equivalent to doing, you know, three hard sets of bicep curls? Is that, uh, one hard set and two drops, or is it three drops or is it four drops that we don’t know? We just know In, in the studies that have been done, kind of the researcher’s best guess at what would be equivalent in fact was.
Four strips. Uh, also popularized by my Dorian aids, kind of along with that pre-ex exhaust. The, these are essentially when you can’t train without a spotter, you know, or maybe if you’re doing a, like a unilateral movement, you can spot yourself. And this is where you might take your eight rep max, but do 10 reps because your spotter helped you in the last two.
Now, These not a lot of research here. There is some, and for the most part, it shows that it’s equal to normal training, but might produce a little more fatigue, which makes sense. Not great longitudinal research, so we can’t say if it enhances strength or hypertrophy, but I will say that I’m not a fan of four strips because I think it’s very difficult to apply.
A consistent stimulus from a spotter. So you don’t know how much help you’re getting. And I also think it doesn’t typically ingrain good form or good habits. I think it’s really important, especially in the novice stages of a lifter, to to be able to be confident and know where their true failure is so they can do things like stop a little bit short, be safe without a spotter, but also not be sandbagging without a spotter.
And then, you know, who, who, is it the same gym partner every time? Is it a random person? You know, how do you know whether you are actually there or not, et cetera. And, and then you’re enhancing muscle damage a fair bit and, and, and fatigue and, and I don’t know that you’re getting a payoff from it. How much different is your, your rep at a eight or a nine or a 10 R p e versus the two reps past that you did in terms of the tension stimulus?
It is more volume, but is the volume. That much more effective per rep when you’re going past failure that it’s worth the add additional fatigue. And my hunch is no, we don’t have research on that quite yet. And that’s it for a few of the more shareable moments of the interview I did with Eric. And if you want to listen to the whole thing, it was originally published in July of 2019, so you can go back and find it.
And let’s move on to the top five proven ways to build muscle faster. You have to maintain the training mentality. And what that means is you have to have clear goals in terms of, uh, progressive overload, in particular in terms of increasing whole body strength, cuz that really is what it comes down to, especially as a natural weightlifter.
If you want to continue getting bigger over time, you have to continue getting stronger. So then that means you have to program for that with that goal in mind. And you have to be structured with your workout program. You can’t just kind of show up and do whatever you want to do for as long as you want to do it and leave.
You have to pay attention to the details and you have to push yourself hard in your workouts. And your workouts are going to get harder over time. They will, because if you want to continue forcing your body to adapt, if you want your body to. To get bigger and stronger, then you have to make it work harder and harder.
And you can look in that, you can look at that in various different ways. One simple way to look at, it could just be heavy sets or hard sets. So you know, that’s why you’ll see many advanced weightlifters, especially bodybuilders, and it’s hard to say, of course, if, if any given bodybuilder is natural or not.
But if you look at someone like Eric Helms, for example, who. Do think truly is a natural bodybuilder. You’ll see that his workouts are difficult. He does a lot of work in his workouts, a lot more working sets than he would probably recommend to something, somebody new just starting out. And that’s because that’s what it takes, you know, for his body to continue to progress.
It takes that much. . Okay, so the next tip here is something I mentioned earlier, and that is eating enough protein. Now, dietary laxity is simply one of the biggest mistakes you can make as an intermediate plus weightlifter. The bottom line is no workout program, no matter how well it’s designed. And no matter how willing you are to work hard at it can overcome a poor diet.
And that’s especially true when you are an intermediate plus weightlift. When you’re new, you can get away with quite a few mistakes if your training is set up correctly, because as I mentioned earlier, your body is just hyper responsive to it. So your protein intake can be lower than optimal. Your calories can be lower or even higher than optimal, and you can still see good results.
Once the newbie gains are done, then you are simply not going to get very far if you don’t really get your food right. And a big part of getting your food right, of course, is getting your protein right, and not just getting it right in terms of a single number, but getting it right, consistently hitting that number every day.
I really should emphasize that because, you know, I’ve worked with thousands and thousands of people now over the years, and one of the most common mistakes that intermediate plus weightlifters make in terms of protein intake is not eating enough. Consistently. Okay, so the next tip here is don’t cheat your form.
And there’s a reason why using improper form is called cheating because you are cheating yourself out of gains. And also, uh, depending on the exercise, increase in the risk of injury. Remember that the goal with every rep that you do is not to see how much weight you can move. The goal is to make your muscles work as hard as possible, and the better your form is, the better you are going to be able to do this.
Now, when I say form, what I’m talking about, um, is technique and range of motion, right? Those are the two aspects of form. So examples of proper technique are moving the weights in a controlled manner, keeping your elbows tucked in when you bench press, maintaining a neutral lower back when you deadlift and not letting your knees cave in when you ascend on the.
And as far as range of motion goes, we have getting the bar down to your chest when you bench press. We have getting your hips slightly below parallel when you squat and we have getting the bar to your collarbone area when you’re overhead pressing. And it’s very important that you get both of these things right because.
Poor technique increases the risk of injury, and in some cases shifts the workload to muscles that you are not trying to target or emphasize. And reducing the range of motion simply reduces the effectiveness of the exercise because it makes your muscles do less work. Okay, so the next tip here is to track your progress.
And this is a hugely important part of training as an inter intermediate plus weightlifter that many, many people get wrong. I used to get it wrong myself. I used to show up and do more or less the same exercises every week with the same weights and even probably the same reps cuz I wasn’t tracking my progress and therefore I didn’t know whether I was going up or down and I was stuck in a rut for quite some time.
And that’s one of the big reasons. So what this boils down to is on the dietary side of things, tracking your food intake, using an app like My Fitness Pal, or just following a meal plan, which is what I prefer to do. So I like to just work everything out. Make sure that, you know, I have a perfect day of calories and macros and also food choices.
You know that I’m eating enough nutritious foods. Then I just eat those foods every. Until I get sick of something and I make a a substitution. So let’s say, you know, if my lunch gets boring, then I will take my numbers that I’ve allotted to the, to that lunch and just come up with something different that fits those numbers and then eat that every day until, you know, eventually I wanna make a change.
But because. , you know, with flexible dieting, you are eating foods that you like. Um, I find that, you know, I don’t really get food burnout. I can eat the same things every day for months on end with slight variations here and there, and actually look forward to every meal. And in terms of training, it means tracking what you’re actually doing in your workouts so you can see if you’re progressing.
Because again, as I mentioned earlier, your number one goal as a natural weightlifter is to increase your whole body strength over time and to do. You have to be adding weight to the bar over time. And to do that you have to be gaining reps on your exercises over time, cuz eventually you can turn those additional reps into more weight.
Okay, I hope you liked those highlights from the top five proven ways to build Muscle faster. And if you wanna listen to the whole thing, that one was published in January of 2018, so you can go back and find it. And last, we have the great work-life balance.
I actually think that you have to have an imbalanced life to achieve great things. And obviously my focus right now is on my career. I’m trying to achieve great things in my career. I’m trying to build several businesses and sell millions of books, and there’s uh, there’s a three to five. Plan that I am working on, realizing, and to do that, it just requires a lot of time, and that means that I’m going to have to imbalance my life to get there.
I’m gonna have to sacrifice something. So what I sacrifice, for example, is free time or personal time. I go to the gym for. An hour, uh, five days a week. So I do have that time. That’s definitely personal time. I also spend that time to work on my German, which I’m learning. It’s a good use of my rest time.
Previously, I would just read while I’d be resting in between sets. Now I work on my German and I’m making good progress. Um, but beyond that, you know, maybe I have a little bit of wiggle room on the weekends. If I’m taking time away from work on the weekends, it’s usually just spend time with my family and I spend some time with my family every weeknight, and that’s about it.
So I’m not really hanging out with friends. I don’t have any hobbies outside of reading, which I do early in the morning. I wake up at five 30 and I hop in my infrared sauna for at least 30 minutes, and I read during that time. So, um, I get at least 30 minutes of reading in per day, but I’m also usually putting in some extra time at night, maybe another 30 minutes, and then also some audiobook time.
I get a lot of personal satisfaction out of doing things that I feel are purposeful, that I feel have a clear purpose. I know why I am doing this, and work, of course, provides that. And it also for me, provides that flow experience right where I can really. Apply myself to something, really focus all of my attention on it, really concentrate on it, become absorbed in it, lose track of time, make progress, get feedback, uh, improve my skills and so forth.
I just really enjoy that process and of course, work is a very easy way to tap into that. That said, a work-life balance lesson that I have learned over the years is it’s okay to let your life become very imbalanced, but you have to be aware of where the imbalances are and how imbalanced things are. Or it can rebound negatively.
So for example, I’ve experienced this in my relationship with my wife because like I had mentioned earlier in this episode, years ago, I was working even more than I. now, and I didn’t give her that much time. There would be extended periods of a few weeks where we really wouldn’t spend that much time together because I would just be working.
And we do fit very well together because Sarah is not a needy person and she very much understands why I’m working hard and she’s very much supportive of that. Um, obviously it’s in her own self-interest. She also knows how much my work means to me, how much I enjoy working, and what the bigger picture is, what we are working toward as a family.
However, you can only neglect a relationship for so long before it just begins to strain at the seams. And so I’ve had to learn that lesson, uh, a few times where I’ll just let things get too imbalanced, I’ll get too, uh, immersed in my work for too long and really not. For air, for, for anything. And so now I’m better in that regard.
Where I am, uh, I’m okay with severe imbalances in my personal time and in my social time. I can happily enjoy my time away from work, but I am genuinely looking forward to getting back at it. And why is that? Well, an answer that I’ve come across that at least makes sense to me is expressed in a poem.
Gerta and it goes like this. Daily work. My hands, employment to complete is pure enjoyment. Let o, let me never falter. Know there is no empty dreaming Lo these trees, but bear poles seeming yet will yield both food and shelter. In other words, I dislike making stuff. I just like making stuff happen. I’d say if I’m addicted to anything, it’s.
To seeing my ideas and plans manifested in the real world and to seeing them work as I had anticipated, at least partly, of course, plans never go as planned, but you can go into something with a, a vision of what something could be, and to bring that into reality is just fun. That’s more thrilling to me than walking my dogs or riding my bike or.
Movies and the fact that other people also find my ideas helpful and are willing to pay me for them just makes it all the better. And that for me, I think is really why I like to work. I like being able to look at something physical, real, and working, and just know that I did that. And so that’s why I work a lot more than I play.
I don’t believe in T G I F. I don’t check my calendar for upcoming holidays. I just mostly work on holidays, and if I don’t, it’ll be, there’ll be family days. I don’t fantasize about getting away from it all, which makes me think of a Seth Godden quote. He said, instead of wondering when your next vacation is, maybe you should set up a life you don’t need to escape from.
Richard Branson said something similar. He said, if you hide under the covers, because you can’t face another day of the same old grind, you clearly need more change in your life if you leap outta bed precisely because today everything is gonna be different and something is sure to surprise you, then you’re halfway there.
Work life balance. What I think the crux is, you have to find your balance, and that means you have to reconcile your ambitions with your time, with your actions. If you’re like me and you have a strong desire to make good things happen in your life and the lives of others, and if you don’t do enough of that stuff, then your life is going to feel out of balance.
I think that leisure time and idleness has value for sure, but I also kind of look at it like a medicine. If you take too much, it just makes you sicker than you were before you started taking it. On the other hand, if you’re not really concerned with all of that and your ambition is more just to have a good time, relax, play, then I don’t see any reason why you should even feel compelled to stay busy all the time or feel guilty for not working as much as the next person.
Just because you could burn your candle at both ends doesn’t mean that you have to. Makes me think of a Bob Dylan quote. He said, what’s money? A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night and in between does what he wants to do. So in the end, you really just have to decide what you want to do.
Do you want to make stuff happen or do you want to luxuriate? And if it’s the former, then just go do it. And who cares what other people think? People love to criticize and disparage what they don’t understand. And also what they wish they had, what they en. And that’s it for the features from the great work life balance dilemma, and that one was published back in April of 2018.
If you want to go find it and listen to it in its entirety. 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.