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, Mike Israetel on breaking through muscle gain plateaus.
0:00 – Our (new and improved) protein bars are back! Try them risk-free today! Go to buylegion.com/bar and use coupon code MUSCLE to save 20% or get double reward points!
3:55 – Dr. Mike Israetel on Breaking Through Muscle Gain Plateaus
11:47 – Should You Use Supersets to Build Muscle Faster? What 18 Studies Say
18:08 – Motivation Monday: If You Can Change Your Body, You Can Change Your Life
Mentioned on the Show:
Our (new and improved) protein bars are back! Try them risk-free today! Go to buylegion.com/bar and use coupon code MUSCLE to save 20% or get double reward points!
What did you think of this episode? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!
Hello and welcome to Muscle for Life. I’m Mike Matthews. Thank you for joining me today for another installment of the Best of Muscle for Life, which is basically a handpicked selection of the juiciest morsels from some of the more popular episodes I’ve recorded over the years. And I do these episodes because, Some people, my favorite people, of course, they listen to most, or even all of my podcasts, but my analytics tell me that while many listeners do tune in on a regular basis, they don’t catch every episode.
And thus they miss out on insights that could help them do at least a little bit better inside and outside of the gym. And so I had the idea, why don’t I do these best of episodes? I share some of the most practical and compelling ideas, tips, and moments from the more popular episodes that I’ve done over the years.
And these best of episodes, they do well and so I keep doing them. And in this installment of the best of Muscle Life, you are going to be hearing highlight reels from three episodes. Dr. Mike Isra on breaking through muscle gain plateaus. That is an interview I did back in July of 2019. I really enjoyed it.
And then we have a monologue that I recorded called Should You Use Supersets to Build Muscle Faster, what 18 Studies Say? And that was originally published back in June of 2018. And then finally there is another monologue called If You Can Change Your Body, you can Change your. And that was originally published back in August of 2017.
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No forms, no return is even necessary, so you can’t lose. Go to buy legion.com/bar now. Place your order. Use the coupon code muscle save 20%. Try the bar’s risk free and see what you think. Okay, so let’s start with number one. Let’s start with the interview I did with Mike Isra on breaking through Muscle Game Plateau.
plateau does not mean rates of gain you are unsatisfied with. In that case, everyone always should be considering themselves plateauing. Cuz unless I’m turning into Thanos, then I’m plateauing cuz I would love to be growing faster. You know, , let’s say you put on 10 pounds of muscle a month. I mean that sounds absurd, but what if someone was like, Hey, do you wanna put on 15?
I mean, how many people would really say no? They’d probably say, yeah, sure. So then sort of reflexively, we have to redefine a plateau as like, well, anything under 10 pounds of muscle a month. But that’s completely insane, right? The more direct concern here is that individuals will think that they’re at a plateau, whereas they’re really, like you described, just transitioning from very nbe gains into intermediate gains.
NBE gains happen on a weekly and monthly order as far as rep strength on lifts for a weekly and visual changes that are pretty apparent monthly. And then intermediate gains sort of happen more in the monthly and yearly time scales, right? So monthly you notice that you’re getting considerably stronger.
And then y you know, within several months, every year sort of, you notice that you’re looking very different, right? And that, that can be a shock. So, right. One of the first things to do is to set realistic expectations and, uh, to sort of benchmark your progress and figure out if you really are plateauing.
Now, one thing that has to be said for. We get into any more advanced critiques is that you’ve gotta be measuring your rates of progress, or at least benchmarks of how you’re doing in order to figure out if you’re plateauing or, so I’ve, I’ve spoken to too many people at gyms and, uh, they say, you know, I think my bench was plateauing.
I’m like, okay. Like, like how? How’s the plateauing? They’re like, well, take a getting stronger. I’m like, okay. What’s your best. Rep effort recently, and they’re like, um, I can’t remember. I’m like, well, she can’t remember how strong you are. How the hell do you know if you’re plateauing? It’s completely insane.
So basically you wanna make sure you keep a good log book, keep tabs on your appearance. Generally speaking, taking pictures is good. Sometimes you feel like you don’t, you know, pictures and body weight. You look at, you know, you weighed 165 pounds and you looked like something, and then two months later you think like you’ve plateaued.
But then you take a picture and you weigh 1 68 and you look a leave a little sharper. You’re like, oh, well gee, I don’t even know what I was thinking. I’m like, sometimes, you know, you look at enough Instagram pictures of other people and you can get ahead of yourself. And then as far as rep strength, that, that’s the easiest one.
That’s the. The sort of golden ticket to benchmark is, you know, how’s your repetition, strength? And that comes back to the importance of having good, basically identical or very similar technique from week to week to month to month on basic exercises so you can keep track of, see if your squats are actually getting stronger, your pull-ups, your bench press, so on and so forth.
And if that’s the case, you may find that after analysis. You’re not really at a plateau. You’re actually at, uh, a small rate of improvement. Now, the cool thing is, is all of the tips I’m going to share, plateau busting, so to speak, are applicable to just making your gains better. So there’s not any different tips of like, well, cuz somebody could say like, well, okay, you know, Dr.
Mike fine, I’m not technically at a plateau, but. I don’t wanna gain five pounds on my squat every two months. I wanna gain 10 or 15 same tips. So no worries, but at least you can be assured that you’re not at a plateau. Technically speaking, a plateau, uh, in any definition is defined as a lack of ascension.
So on any time scale you wanna measure it. Let’s say you’re measuring three months behind and to now, three months ago to now you’re looking at your rep maxes on, let’s say whatever. Let’s say you say your quads are plateaued. You look at your best rep effort. On squats, leg presses, and hack squats three months ago.
You compare them to today and you see that there is no increase or a decrease, like any decrease is definitely a plateau or worse. And no increase as well. So my first recommendation is deload. And if you don’t know what that means, look it up. Right? There’s tons of me to just type in deload definition on Google and then you’re gonna hit hit with a ton of stuff.
You might, you might even find an article I wrote on it. Over A Muscle for Life, if anyone listening, if you search for deload. Exactly. Yep. You’ll find articles by you, by me. Like you know, the, there’s one on juggernaut that my colleague and I wrote a long time ago, like fatigue and its causes, or you know, what is fatigue?
And there’s just tons of stuff about how to deload, just the real simple basics that a lot of people just don’t do because you walk into a gym, 95% of the people won’t be able to tell you what a deload is. So when those people say, man, you know, like I’m kind of kind of hitting a plateau, automatically light bulb as a trainer or a coach or someone who knows stuff should come up in your head and be like, mm-hmm.
This is probably just an accumulated fatigue issue. You know, as soon as you remove accumulated fatigue, it turns out they were making gains the entire time. So the next is still kind of a backdrop kind of thing, but it’s so important it has to be said and we don’t have to spend much time on it. Because this podcast today is I, is probably about training, right?
But it just, it’s one of these things that co and it has to be said, but that has to be said is innuendo. Four. It’s really, really important. Is your nutrition fundamentally sound? Is your sleep fundamentally? Are you gaining weight at a rate high enough for it to reflect itself on the scale so that you’re actually fueling and providing substrates for the muscle growth process?
And lastly, possibly not least, are you managing stress in various stressors effectively, which can include other physical activity forms. And now that brings us to the workout program. So the critical component of almost everyone who’s concerned about plateau. Is training hard enough in the sense that they bring their sets relatively close to failure and they’re trying to lift relatively heavy.
I have very few people, there’s the kind of people that don’t train hard enough, they’re usually just not concerned about plateaus, right? They’re just kind of, ah, just read the newspaper in between sets, that sort of thing. So big factor in determining rates of gain is your volume, your training volume, and that basically is on a spectrum from what we’d call a minimum effective volume all the way to maximum recoverable.
So here’s our trap. People get caught in. They do, uh, their workout where they train their biceps every week, several sessions. Total number of sets per week that they do for biceps is say 10. Okay? When they were a beginner, their minimum effective volume was one set per week. Like you can get beginners to grow from one set of biceps per week, right?
Like, like literal first timers. And after a couple of months, that might go to like six to eight sets a week where you can make really good gains on just training your arms maybe twice a week for three or four sets at a time after 1, 2, 3. Your minimum effective volume, a minimum amount of physical number of sets that it takes, hard sets to grow.
Your biceps might actually exceed eight or 10. Right? And for many people, and your minimum effective volume slowly trends up through your entire lifting career. So what you might be doing is running, uh, an amount of volume that is no longer sufficient to make gains for you, and you’re sort of baffled and puzzled at the sort of details.
It’s kind of like gaining weight from, you know, a hundred pounds to 200 pounds to 300. And wondering why like an apple no longer fills you up. Well, you’re a different size now. Like it’s gonna take 2, 3, 4 apples, right? Same idea. So you gotta try to figure out what your minimum effective volume is and if you’re training above that.
Second thing is you gotta try to figure out what your maximum recoverable volume is and make sure you’re not training over that the human body and every individual. Can only recover from a certain amount of volume at a time period. And if you exceed that amount of volume per week, especially, then your body spends all of its resources healing you from the muscle damage and has no resources left over to actually make you better recovery proceeds adaptation, right?
So like your body’s gonna try to fix you first, and then it’s gonna work on whatever it’s got left to make you better. If you train so much that your body can only barely fix you, or not even, you’re not recovering, then you essentially are in a position where you’ve mathematically ruled out muscle growth altogether.
All right. That’s it for the highlights from the interview I did with Mike Isra, and if you want to listen to the whole interview, you can find it by going back to July of 2019. Now, let’s move on to the monologue that I recorded on super sets. What is a super set? Let’s start there. Well, a superset is a weightlifting technique where you do two exercises in a row with little or no rest in between the exercises.
This is why they’re often called paired sets as well. And when you pair more than two exercises in this way, that’s usually referred to as a circuit or a tri set for three sets, a quad set for four sets and so on. You’ve probably also heard the term giant set as well. Which usually refers to a circuit of four or more exercises done back to back.
Now sometimes super sets are used to target the same muscle group with the goal of. More fully activating all of the muscle fibers. At least that is the purported goal. And so, for example, you might superset barbell curls with dumbbell hammer curls, which both target the biceps but in slightly different ways.
Now, supersets are also used often to target different, usually opposing muscle groups. And that’s usually just to save time. So you know, you might super set the bench press with the barbell rose. Which target your push and pull muscles respectively. And then after completing a superset, you will generally rest for a minute or two before moving on to the next superset or just set exercise or whatever in your workout.
Many people assume that super sets are highly effective. Supersets are difficult. They are painful, more so than traditional sets, but that does not mean they are better for muscle and strength gain. The main reason that super sets feel harder is simply the shorter rest periods that makes weights feel heavier.
That gives you a bigger pump, it more elevates your heart rate. But studies show that none of those things. Our powerful muscle building stimuli. None of those things necessarily mean that that workout is going to result in considerable muscle growth. Let’s move on to the the next claim, which is that super sets help you do more reps in each workout and therefore are better for building muscle.
And the first part of this is true. Yes, super sets do help you do more reps in each workout. If you are keeping the. Equal by super setting exercises together, you get more work done in the time that you have to work out and as accumulating volume total reps, total hard sets. You can look at it in different ways.
That is. An important part of muscle building Research has shown that a number of times. It all kind of sounds good, right? The problem, however, is just as a calorie is not a calorie when it comes to optimizing your body composition. A rep is not a rep when it comes to optimizing strength. And muscle gain.
In other words, you have higher and lower quality volume, and if you want to gain muscle and strength as quickly as possible, you want to emphasize the former, the high quality volume as much as possible. One of the key factors. That determines the quality of the reps that you do. The quality of the volume is the intensity or the amount of weight that you are using relative to your one rep max and the R p E, the rating of perceived exertion, which really you can just look at as.
When you finish a set, how many more reps could you get? Reps in reserve is another way of looking at that. So the intensity of your workout is how much weight do you have on the bar and how far are you pushing yourself in your sets? How close to technical failure are you coming? And technical failure, of course, is the point where you can no longer maintain proper form to complete.
Alright, so now that we have thoroughly torn supersets down, now that we have cut them down to size, let’s talk about a better kind of superset, a better way to superset, because as you have probably concluded by now, they just aren’t very useful, uh, in the way that they’re normally practiced. They aren’t better from muscle, also growth than traditional sets.
They make it harder to handle heavy loads and to add weight to the bar, and they really don’t save that much time. I mean, does 15. Really matter that much in your day? Probably not. So what are super sets good for then? Well, I like them when they’re used to create what are called antagonist paired sets.
When a muscle contracts, it’s considered an agonist, and the muscle that produces the opposing motion is considered the antagonist. Therefore, an antagonist muscle is simply one that performs. Opposite function of another. So for example, when the biceps work to flex your elbow, the triceps are the antagonist because they do the opposite, right?
They extend. So the difference here between antagonist paired sets, uh, the better superset and the traditional superset is this, with traditional supersets, you’re increasing fatigue in a single muscle group with antagonist paired sets, though you are training. Muscle groups and you’re simply doing more sets and less time by shortening rest times without greatly increasing the fatigue in either one.
So in effect, with antagonist paired sets, you are using your sets for one muscle group as the rest periods for the other, which are naturally unengaged while the agonist is in the. Driver’s seat. So you do your biceps set, your biceps are being worked, and then you go do your triceps set. And because of how your body works, your biceps are naturally unengaged here and while you’re training your triceps, that is your biceps rest, so to speak.
This also works for muscle groups that aren’t antagonistic but are far, uh, enough away from each other. That training one. Doesn’t impact the other. For example, I like to superset shoulder and calf exercises because it saves time and I don’t really see any sacrifice or performance on either, because like a side raise or a rear raise and a seated calf raise are, are not very demanding exercises.
They are very isolated, um, in terms of the muscles they are working and they don’t place much strain on the body or much demand in terms of overall force production or energy product. Well, I hope you liked My Choice Snippet from that episode, and if I have peaked your interest and you want to listen to the whole thing, you can find it by going back to June of 2018.
And last, we have a monologue. If you can change your body, you can change your life. One of the things that I love about fitness is you can’t slide by on bullshit. It’s just one of those special things in life that you can’t buy, steal or fake. There aren’t any rewards for complaining or failing, and it doesn’t care about your opinions or feelings.
In fitness, the bottom line is you have to give something to get something. I mean, it’s called working out after all, and for a good reason, you either do the work and transform your body or you. Period. This is a very valuable lesson to learn, I think because it’s a metaphor for something bigger. No matter what you’re facing in life, you basically have two choices you can put in the work or get put in your place.
Nature must be smiling at everything we try to do to change or avoid this rule and escape its certainty. Not so long. For bearers had to chase, fight and kill just to survive. I mean, they expected hardship. They were willing to face the worst. They embraced the fact that the universe in all of its apparent tranquility, Is really a carefully balanced chaos of forces that we barely understand.
Now, us, on the other hand, we have it very easy and that makes it easy to go soft, to lose perspective and be lulled into idleness inertia and irresponsibility. And I like to think that working out is something of an inoculation against this. I like to think that it’s. Tribute of sorts to the primacy of work.
A constant reminder that the same power that you muster to change your body can also be harnessed to change your life. And that’s another reason why we do it, right? Another reason why we pour so much time and energy and effort into our training and why it’s so important to us. You know, many people, they look at us and they just don’t get it.
You know, they wonder, is it just narcissism? Have we just fallen in love with our reflect? , or maybe it’s insecurity, they think maybe they think we’re feeding some sort of superiority complex, or maybe it’s something darker. Something like self-loathing. You know, are we just unable to accept ourselves the way that we are?
Well, if you ask me all of these people, they’re just missing the point. We don’t train to feel VA glorious or paper over shortcomings or punish ourselves. We train because it gives us more than a better body. It gives us a better life. It builds a lot more than muscle. It builds character. It teaches us how to stop bullshitting ourselves and confront reality.
It teaches us how to have courage to commit to big goals. It teaches us how to create purpose and meaning. It teaches us how to take action instead of just making excuses and finding reasons to fail. And you know, at bottom, I think working out teaches us a very powerful lesson if you have the power to change your body.
Then you have the power to change your life. That’s why we train, and let’s not forget it. Let’s also not forget that the gym is a lot more than a place to just move, grunt, and sweat. It’s a miniature cosmos of sorts where we can make contact with the deeper parts of ourselves, our convictions, our fears, our habits, our anxie.
It’s an arena where we can confront these opponents head on and prove that we have what it takes to vanquish them. I think that the gym is also a setting where we can test the assumptions we’ve made about ourselves and the stories underlying them. It calls on us to demonstrate how we respond to the greater struggles of life, adversity, pain, insecurity, stress, weakness, disadvantage, and I think in some ways calls on us to demonstrate who we really.
In this way, I think the gym really is a training and and testing ground for the body, mind, and soul. You know, the conflicts that we learn to endure in the gym, they empower us in our daily lives as well. The concentration, discipline, and resilience required to build a great body are also required to build a great life.
And like I’ve been saying, if you can do one, you can do the other because the way to do anything is at bottom the way to do everything. And that’s it for a few of the featured moments from if you can change your body, you can change your life. And if you wanna listen to the rest of the episode or the whole episode, you can find it by going to August of 2017 in the feed.
Well, I hope you liked this episode. I hope you found it helpful, and if you did subscribe to the show because it makes sure that you don’t miss new episodes. And it also helps me because it increases the rankings of the show a little bit, which of course then makes it a little bit more easily found by other people who may like it just as much as you.
And if you didn’t like something about this episode or about the show in general, or if you. Uh, ideas or suggestions or just feedback to share. Shoot me an email, mike muscle for 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.