The pendulum of workout programming is always a swingin’.
Some people say frequency is the ticket. You know, you have to squat every day if you want big legs, and if you’re squatting once a week, you’ll always have pinions.
Others claim absurd amounts of volume is the key. If you’re not doing 20 to 40 sets per muscle group per week, you’re basically an unlifting slug.
And others still beat the drum for intensity over everything. Not big enough yet? Lift heavier, you trousered ape.
The bottom line is it’s an extreme world out there and many people have extreme opinions.
Today’s guest Mark Rippetoe is one of those people, but he also has over 40 years of experience with strength training and coaching and is the creator of the iconic weightlifting program Starting Strength.
In this episode, Mark and I talk workout programming, including the needs of beginners versus advanced lifters, how to know you’re no longer a novice trainee, how age affects volume needs and recovery, and more.
11:13 – What is the stress recovery adaptation cycle?
19:28 – Is progressive overload the best way to get gains for a beginner?
31:57 – What is junk volume?
Mentioned on the show:
What did you think of this episode? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!
Mike: Hey Mike here, and if you like what I’m doing on the podcast and elsewhere, and if you want to help me help more people get into the best shape of their lives, please do consider picking up one of my bestselling health and fitness books, including Bigger, leaner, stronger for Men. I. Thinner, leaner, stronger for Women.
My flexible Dieting cookbook, the Shredded Chef and my 100% practical and hands-on blueprint for personal transformation inside and outside of the gym. I. The little Black Book of Workout motivation. Now, these books have sold well over 1 million copies and have helped thousands of people build their best bodies ever, and you can find them on all major online retailers like Audible, Amazon, iTunes, Cobo, and Google Play, as well as in select Barnes and Noble stores.
Again, that’s bigger, leaner, stronger for men. Thinner, leaner, stronger for Women, the Shredded Chef and the Little Black Book of Workout Motivation. Oh, and I should also mention that you can get any of the audio books 100% free when you sign up for an Audible account, which is the perfect way to make those pockets of downtime like commuting.
Meal prepping and cleaning. More interesting, entertaining, and productive. So if you want to take audible up on that offer, and if you want to get one of my audio books for free, go to www.legionathletics.com/audible. That’s led io n athletics slash A U D I B l e, and sign up for your account. Hey, Mike Matthews here and welcome to a new episode of Muscle For Life.
This time around we’re gonna talk about workout programming and oh, is that pendulum always swinging? Some people say frequency is the ticket. You know, they say you gotta squat every day if you want big legs, and if you’re not, and. If you’re squatting only once a week, you are always going to have tiny little opinions to walk around on.
Other people though, say that volume is the key absurd amounts of volume. In some cases, some people go as far as saying that you should be doing up to four T, four zero hard sets per major muscle group per week. And if you are. Not doing at least 20 per week. You’re basically an uplifting slug. And then there are people who really beat the drum for intensity.
Intensity over everything. Oh, you’re not big enough. Well, have you tried lifting heavier? You trousered ape. The bottom line here is it’s a pretty extreme world out there in general, and fitness is definitely no exception. And there are many people who have pretty extreme opinions. Now, today’s guest is Mark Rippetoe, and he is one of those people I.
A very opinionated person, but he also has over 40 years of experience with strength training and coaching, and he is the creator of the iconic weightlifting program, starting Strength. And in this episode, mark and I talk about workout programming, including the needs of beginners versus more experienced.
Weightlifters. How to know whether you are a novice or not. How age affects volume, needs and recovery and more. I hope you like the interview. Here it is. RIP has returned.
Mark: Hey, Mike. What’s going on?
Mike: Hey, man. I think that’s our first formal discussion since uh, you had me out at your HQ to come on your podcast, right?
Mark: Yeah, it is. And God damn, I miss you. Mike, please come back and see me. Oh, shit, we loved having you here. Everybody’s in love with you.
Mike: That’s just par for the course. You know what I mean?
Mark: That’s just, that’s just part of having you anyway.
Mike: Uh, getting ready to go into politics, you know what I mean? Once my ego, I just need to pump it up a little bit more.
Mark: Yeah. Well, I don’t know that you can make it in politics because you don’t lie as easily as you breathe.
Mike: I’m also already a thought criminal, so I don’t know how well that’s gonna go.
Mark: Oh yeah. Certainly you are. No, you can’t be a politician. Anybody can be a politician. Is really, I think you just have to be a diagnosed sociopath before you can.
Mike: That’s a start. I think you also need to be incapable, like you have to be essentially unemployable, so you have to be incapable of, of being able to make it in the private sector
Mark: of doing anything else constructive.
Mike: You can’t actually produce anything of any value and you are a net negative as a human and so
Mark: you don’t add value to anything.
All you do is is lie professionally. And those of you politicians that are listening to this by some quirk of fate, We’re not kidding. Everybody hates you. People that vote for you won’t let you in their houses.
Mike: It has gotten to that point, hasn’t it?
Mark: Oh, they’re just, oh God, if you listen. Oh, it’s just this whole thing is just so revealing.
Mike: I like to believe there are some outliers.
Mark: I’d like to believe that. I’d like to believe that Rand Paul’s a good guy.
Mike: I don’t know too much about him, but I always liked his dad.
Mark: And, uh, dad’s a hero to millions of people, and maybe there’s three or four other ones.
Mike: His dad got nowhere. Nowhere in the political game, nowhere. And that’s why.
Mark: Because he was an honest man and an honest man. Can’t be a politician. Can’t be effective as a politician. Because to be a politician, you have to be perfectly comfortable. Lying all the time, everything that comes outta your mouth must be capable of being a bald face. Grandiose lie. And if you can’t do that, you can’t be a politician.
Mike: It makes me think of, so there was an interview with Kevin Spacey. This was when House of Cards was very popular before everything just fell apart. And he was saying that he met with Bill Clinton and Bill Clinton was telling him how much he likes the show and was telling him how it is 99% accurate.
That is exactly how politics works. And he said the 1%. Inaccuracy was in one of the seasons, maybe it was the second or third season. What was his character’s name? I forget. Spacey’s character, whatever his name was. Uh, Underwood, Frank Underwood. He got an education bill, I think it was passed quickly and easily.
And Bill was saying that was the only thing that was, that never happened. That’s inaccurate. It would’ve never happened. You would’ve never gotten your bill passed that that easily and that quickly. But he said everything else, spot on. Love the show. And you know, you’ll laugh at that, but go watch the show.
Anyone who hasn’t seen the show, go watch the first season and. See what Bill is saying is an accurate portrayal of DC politics. Like there’s not a single mention from any character on either side of the aisle. It doesn’t matter about what is best for the country or best for their constituencies. It’s 100% what’s in it for me.
It’s self-aggrandizement. It is, how do I get more money and more power and fuck my enemies? That’s the entire game. That’s the entire game that everyone played in the show.
Mark: Whether they appear to be on our side or appear to be on the other side, they’re basically all the same people. They really are. You know, if the net effect to us is positive as it’s been the past three years, that’s good, but let’s not mistakenly attribute that to.
Somebody being a good guy.
Mike: Yep. Or even the party in general. So I personally got interested in politics after nine 11. And I was at, even at that time as I started to pay more attention was like, yeah, fuck the Democrats for these reasons and fuck the Republicans for these reasons. Mm-hmm. And especially the neocons of, of, of that time, I couldn’t understand how anybody could seriously get behind these people.
And the same thing went for, I remember it was. Was it Carrie and Bush and I, and I wrote in Ron Paul in that election. I remember friends of my dad giving me shit on how I should be voting for Bush. I was just, you guys are suckers. Your actual suckers if you think that the Bush family has your or any of our best interests in mine, but.
Yeah, so I think that we’ve had, it’s like a road going in the direction it’s going in and both lanes are going in the same direction. You can get in the left lane or you can get in the right lane, but
Mark: still on the road.
Mike: And guess what? That road, it ends in a cliff, and that’s how it works.
Mark: Hopefully. The cliff is several miles in front of us.
But you don’t hopeful know, do you?
Mike: You don’t. No. We, who knows? You don’t know. We might already be over the cliff and we just we’re. The free fall might have be, we don’t know. Right? But that’s actually not what we’re here to talk about. People, free, people who are getting excited, like, wait, is this the inaugural politics and culture show that we’ve toyed with?
Mark: We might ought to give that some more thought. Let’s just, we’ll see what the comments say. They’ll always be, they’re always positive.
Mike: We’ll, let the mob shout us down and then yes. Crawl back into our caves. Let’s talk about programming. And this is a good discussion to have ’cause it’s something that I touch on bits and pieces here and there, and I’ve spoken to a number of people and gotten their ideas about it, but have never really had that discussion with you.
So I thought that would be a good topic to cover and just to lead into it. I think that some of the things that we should talk about, we should probably look at it from first the perspective of somebody who’s new versus experienced, right? Those are two different people.
Mark: There’s no other way to look at it.
Mike: Yep. And then as far as variables, the main things, and I’m just going from questions that I hear about, the main things mostly revolve around intensity. So how heavy. Should I be going? Which ties back into rep ranges, right? And volume. So, and there are different ways to look at that. Obviously you can look at that in terms of total reps or total weight lifted or total hard sets, however you wanna look at that.
And then f and then frequency. How often should you be training? How often should you be training certain muscle groups and that, and that also then kind of leads into splits as well. So I think if we just kind of go wherever we want to go with those things, it’d be a productive discussion. ’cause there’s a lot of opinions on on all of this, and I think it’d be interesting to hear your take and how those things change.
For somebody who’s new, and I think you’ll agree here. Let’s say new is you have. Less than a year of proper training under your belt. So you’re in your first year of doing things right and well. And then intermediate is probably what into your, somewhere in year two, you kind of turn into an intermediate lifter. I guess.
Mark: We’ve got some fairly concrete definitions for these terms and they’ve proven themselves to be. Fairly useful in terms of helping a trainee decide where he is along the trajectory of his training. Because when you first start, you’re a novice and novice. Is determined by how well and how quickly you respond to the fundamental thing about, about strength training.
In fact, about all training, which is the stress recovery. Adaptation cycle. The stress recovery adaptation cycle is extremely fundamental to biology, and your ability to adapt to training is predicated on your understanding of this fundamental biological phenomenon. If an organism is subjected to a stress and a stress would be something that perturbs the organism’s physical environment.
Then. The organism will adapt to that stress unless the stress is too big and if the stress is too big, it kills the organism.
Mike: Right? And as far as lifting goes, you know, there’s, uh, newbie gains as it’s called. So in the beginning, your body’s hyperresponsive. You just don’t have to work as hard to gain, let’s say, your first 20 pounds of muscle as your last 20 pounds of muscle, that
Mark: that’s the net result of someone starting off.
In training, who has not gone through the process of readapting themselves to a strength training stress? This simple observation, which was first published by Hans Seia back in 1936, is the underpinning of all intelligently designed training programs. You have to do more today than you did last time.
And then next time you train, you need to do more then than you do today.
Mike: And you have to accept less, right? You have to accept the, you’re gonna get less reward as time goes on. You’re doing more.
Mark: As time goes on. The first day you ever squat three sets of five the second day and find out where that is.
Let’s say it’s one 15, the second workout, you’re probably gonna be able to do 1 25. You can go up 10 pounds five years from now. You will be making five pound gains every three months. Because the curve, the trajectory of your training, as I mentioned earlier, is a curve that approaches a limit asymptotically, that’s college algebra.
In other words, the phenomenon of diminishing returns. Applies to everything, and it applies to training as well. The stronger you already are, the harder it’s going to be to get stronger. The weaker you are right now and the less adapted to a strength training stimulus, then a strength training stress, then the faster and more effectively you can adapt over time.
And if you don’t take advantage of this phenomenon, if you try to make your squats go up once a month. When you’re a novice, you’re wasting a huge amount of time. And if you’ve been training five years and you’re still beating your head against the wall, trying to make five pound jumps every workout, well you’re not doing that ’cause you learn over the course of time.
Mike: But if that’s your first, your thinking, hey, maybe I can do that because I saw some definitely not on drugs, dude on Instagram, do it and good luck.
Mark: Well, Instagram’s probably not a reliable source of data for much of anything. And, uh, stupid people would disagree. Oh, sure, sure. That’s what Instagram is, is for.
It’s a forum for stupid people to disagree with me and you. And, uh, and I don’t know if wanna disagree with this, it’s fine, but you do so at your peril. You and I have learned some stuff over the years and it’d be better if you, people on Instagram pay attention to what we’re telling you because we know this.
If you start off. Training you haven’t trained before. You are unadapted and adaptations to the unadapted come very, very rapidly, and you should absolutely take advantage of that fact. If you’ve been training for two or three years, your progress is going to be much, much slower because all of the adaptations.
The easy ones, the low hanging fruit have already been taken, and now you’ve gotta apply yourself to training complexity. I. All right, but here’s the lesson. If you are not advanced and you are doing complex programs designed for the advanced people, then you are making slower progress than you’re capable of making, and you are wasting time.
Just come in the gym every day and for as long as you can, three days a. Add five pounds to your squat. Don’t do any front squats. Don’t do leg extensions. Don’t do leg presses. Don’t do anything. Don’t do lunge walks. Don’t do Bulgarian split squats. Don’t do functional training. Dancing around on the floor on unstable surfaces.
Come in and add another five pounds to your squat. Yeah, because for as long as you can do that, that’s the most efficient way to train those newbie gains don’t last forever.
Mike: If you could do that all the way to the end, so the average guy is gonna be able to gain, let’s say somewhere around 40 pounds of muscle.
That’s it. That’s his genetics and that’s the way it goes.
Mark: There are guys that are tall guys with broad shoulders. Oh, we’ve seen guys like that gain a hundred pounds. Sure have that. That actually happens.
Mike: I mean, a hundred pounds of muscle, it’d be hard to believe naturally, but if a dude’s like seven foot,
Mark: I’m talking about a hundred pounds of body weight.
You know, what a percentage of that.
Mike: Yeah, yeah. But for the average, for the average person listening, I’m just saying like average genetics as far as lean muscle goes, The average guy is gonna be able to gain about 40 pounds of muscle lean tissue and, and there’s more weight that can come with it. And so if all we had to do it, it would be nice if all we had to do actually was just what you’re saying.
Hey, just keep on adding weight on your big lifts until you get there. And maybe if you want to do some bodybuilding stuff, ’cause you want like bigger biceps and stuff, sure. Do some curls and whatever.
Mark: It gets you about six or seven months into the process. And at that point, the five pound a workout phenomena goes away and you’re going to have to start making progress in terms of a week, not in terms of workout to workout.
And our term for that stage is now the intermediate lifter one who has experienced all the workout to workout progress he can make. And who now has gotta think more carefully? About his training and he has to think about making progress every seven days or you know, an intermediate period of time like that, but not work out to workout because work out to workout progress only lasts about seven months.
My point, of course, is that if you are a novice, And you are, and you are doing a program that has U P r, the squat. Once a month, you are wasting your time because you can go up five pounds on the squat every workout three days a week, 15 pounds a week instead of. Five pounds a month. Five pounds a month.
When you can do 15 pounds a week is a waste of time. So you have to know where you are and you have to program according to your level of training advancement.
Mike: Hey, before we continue, if you like what I’m doing here on the podcast and elsewhere, and if you wanna help me help more people get into the best shape of their lives, please do consider picking up one of my best selling health and fitness books.
My most popular ones are Bigger, leaner, stronger for Men, thinner, leaner, stronger for Women. My Flexible Dieting Cookbook, the Shredded Chef. And my 100% practical hands-on blueprint for personal transformation, the little Black Book of Workout motivation. Now, these books have sold well over 1 million copies and have helped thousands of people build their best body ever, and you can find them anywhere online where you can buy books like Amazon.
Audible, iTunes, Cobo, and Google Play, as well as in select Barnes and Noble stores. So again, that is bigger, leaner, stronger for men, thinner, leaner, stronger for Women, the Shredded Chef and the Little Black Book of Workout Motivation. Oh, and one other thing is you can get any one of those audio books 100% free when you sign up.
For an audible account, and that’s a great way to make those pockets of downtime like commuting, meal prepping, and cleaning. More interesting, entertaining, and productive. Now, if you want to take audible up on that offer and get one of my audio books for free, just go to legion athletics.com/audible and sign up for your account.
And what are your thoughts on, so let’s stick with the novice. So that’s a model of for progression, right? And really the point there, just in case anybody hasn’t picked up on it specifically, is progressive overload, right? That’s what drives muscle gain. That’s what drives strength gain. And the easiest way to do that is just to add weight to the bar.
So if you can just simply add weight to the bar every workout and keep on going, then that’s the best you can do for progressive overload, right?
Mark: For as long as you can do it. Adding weight to the bar every workout. Out is the best you can do. That’s the arithmetic.
Mike: Now how does that work though, with, for people who are wondering, well what about volume?
So how many sets a week are we talking about? ’cause there are different opinions on this, right? There’s of course there are. Well, let’s just say that not only there are different opinions, there’s quite a bit of argumentation around this.
Mark: Sure. And a lot of those opinions are wrong.
Mike: Well, that’s I guess, right.
Mark: Yeah, we can talk about unnaturally later, but here’s the fucking question. All right, and this is the, this is real, real fundamental. If you take your three sets of five squat workout from 135 for three sets of five ribs up to 4 0 5 for three sets of five reps, Your volume number of reps hasn’t really increased, but what has happened to the size of your legs?
Mike: But there are different ways to look at volume, right? So there you could say, oh, well the total amount of weight that you’re lifting has gone up.
Mark: So, right. I am of the opinion, and I am right about this because I make it a habit to be right about things like this that,
Mike: ’cause you said it, obviously.
Mark: So because I said it and I’ve done it for 42 years, volume outside the context of tonnage.
Is not useful. Data is 50 reps at 20% a training stimulus versus 10 reps. At 90%, what’s the difference in the tonnage.
Mike: Which would kill you if you actually tried to do that. But if it was one set,
Mark: oh no, I’m not talking about No, no, you can’t do that. You can do, uh, you could do sets of two or something and you could do sets of two with 90% for 10 sets, add heavy weight, you know.
But even if the tonnage is exactly the same, tonnage is reps times weight on the bar, even if the tonnage is exactly the same. 50 reps at 20% is five times as many reps as 10 reps at 90%, which makes you grow. Well, the heavier weight makes you grow, right? In other words, my basic observation is this. You do whatever you need to do to get stronger and a muscle grows.
As the result of it’s adapting to higher levels of force production. If you want muscle growth, don’t do sets of 12, do your sets of five and get the weights up to 500 pounds.
Mike: I do understand that line of thinking. My question to you is, and I don’t disagree, so. It’s good timing that we’re doing this interview because I’m wrapping up.
It’s a second edition of a book that I have for intermediate weightlifters, and so I’ve gone through a lot of stuff putting the second edition together, and so I completely agree and I talk about this in the book, the the key still is to keep getting stronger. That does not change. It just gets a lot harder to get stronger.
Mark: That’s true. Sure it does. The stronger you already are. The harder it’s gonna be to get even stronger. The closer you are traveling to the speed of light, the more energy it takes. To make even a small increase toward the speed of light. This is, you know, diminishing returns. This is a commonly observed natural phenomenon.
It’s all over the universe. The same thing takes place.
Mike: It’s true, but it needs to be said though, because if it’s not explained, Then people, what I see is a lot of people reach out to me who are intermediate weightlifters, who are not really going anywhere, and they don’t realize that the fundamental driver of progress is just that is force production and is mechanical tension in the muscles, and they just have to work harder than they did when they were a novice or a year ago, let’s say even.
For less and, and what does work harder mean? Well, it, there are different ways that you can get to that, but one of the primary things is, and this comes to the point, lift heavier weights. Yes. But the volume needs to be increasing in that, okay, if you just lift heavier weights, but you were to drop, let’s say, to put specific numbers on it for people just to give them something easy to think with.
Okay, you’re new and you can let me know if you think otherwise, but you can do, let’s say, Anywhere from nine to maybe 12 hard sets per major muscle group per week with heavy weights and increasing the weights on a regular schedule and gain all the really, the muscle and strength that’s available to you in your first year.
Mark: That’s nine to 12, six Yes. Sets per week. So three to four sets a day?
Mark: Three days a week.
Mike: Exactly. You may, you can break it up however you want, but, but that’s one way to do it.
Mark: That’s efficient though. You train, you rest, you train, you rest.
Mike: You can do that on your squat. You can do that on your pressing, probably wouldn’t wanna do that much deadlifting, but you can do other pull stuff too.
You can do some deadlifting and do some other pulling, but as you become more advanced, that amount of volume, that amount of sets is just not enough to really keep the needle moving and. For the intermediate person, they’re still gonna want to be lifting heavy weights and, and I think there is an argument to be made for periodization where you’re not only working in one rep range when you’re an intermediate, and I’d be curious to get your thoughts on that.
But regardless, you’re gonna have to do more sets per week now to keep gaining strength and therefore to keep gaining muscle, you’re gonna have to do, it might be 15 now. Hard sets, working sets, heavy sets per week to really be able to keep adding weight to the bar. If you don’t, your weights just get stuck.
And once that happens, that’s it. Like you’re not gonna get bigger just by doing workouts where you go through the motions and do the exact same weight and for the exact same number of sets and the exact same number of reps. And you just do that for two years and think that you’re gonna get bigger.
Like, nah, you’re just gonna look more or less the same.
Mark: Now if you don’t perturb. Homeostasis to use the biological phraseology if you don’t perturb the homeostasis. No adaptation takes place because no adaptation’s necessary. You’re doing what you can already do. You have to ask for more than you’re doing now, or nothing will change.
This should be intuitively obvious to anybody If you come in and do exactly the same thing every time you train, well, you’re already capable of doing that. Nothing needs to change in order to keep doing that. If you want something to change, then you’re gonna have to do something different, something harder
Mike: and an easy way to do to make it harder is Okay.
So you were doing, let’s say three workouts of three sets. Okay. Do three workouts of four sets now. Okay. It’s now harder. I.
Mark: Right. It is now harder, but there’s a point of diminishing returns for them.
Mike: Of course, of course.
Mark: I mean, what about 20 sets?
Mike: Li I mean, a guy like Lyle McDonald, his take on it, which I respect, Lyle, I think he’s a smart guy and he is, and I like getting his opinion on these types of things.
But is 10 to 20 hard sets per major muscle group per week is the range, basically. And for newbies, they can probably be around 10. And for even the most advanced weight lifter, Going above 20 for any major muscle group is unlikely to make a difference. Like that’s it. That’s what you’ve got, basically.
Mark: Well, I think that there’s a couple of different schools of thought on this.
I think that advanced lifters have always. Approach the situation, and I mean, guys have been training five years is they’re in the gym five days a week and they may squat three days a week, may squat four or five days a week. We’ve got programs in our book about about program prac programming, which is called Practical Programming for Strength Training.
It’s in its third edition that do just exactly that advanced lifters. Need a lot of work because the closer you get, the higher the level of homeostasis is. The higher your baseline, the more work it takes to perturb that baseline, and it may take several workouts, in fact, to accumulate enough stress to constitute a perturbation and homeostasis.
For a novice lifter that’s just been trained in a month, one workout is enough disruption. But for an advanced lifter that’s been trained in five years, uh, it may take him a month to accumulate enough stress to cause a perturbation in homeostasis. So this is a function of volume and intensity, but nobody derives any benefit from training at 20%.
I mean, what are a hundred air squats good for making you sore? And that’s all. That’s all a hundred air squats can do. A hundred squats with 20% on the bar, what can they do?
Mike: So some people, they will wanna do, let’s say what they call finishers, right? Where you take maybe 50% of your one rep max, usually on an isolation exercise and do sets of 20 to 30 reps or something like that.
And to that, I say, I guess I don’t do it personally. I don’t think it’s very productive.
Mark: How does it make you stronger?
Mike: So what some people would say, I’ll tell you is they would say, well, it’s gonna contribute some volume, right? And we know that volume does help. Like yes, we know that muscle gain is the primary driver of strength.
There’s no question there. But they’re gonna say, well, volume does contribute to muscle gain. So in a way, you can use higher volume work to gain a bit more muscle, which you can then. Calibrate, so to speak, with heavier weights and turn into greater strength.
Mark: Have you actually found that to be the case in your own training?
Mike: No, and that’s why I don’t do finisher, but what I have found to be beneficial, and this is something we can get to soon, would be puritization. So working in different rep ranges where I am accumulating a bit more volume by working, let’s say in the 10 to 12 rep range. But there’s also, the main point for that for me is it’s easier on my joints than just to try to exclusively.
Right now my programming is about 15 hard sets for the major moss groups per week. And I find that if, if week in, week out, I’m only doing, let’s say, four to six rep, like 80, 85%. One rep max work, it definitely takes more of a toll on my joints than if I start a macrocycle, maybe in the around 10 rep range, somewhere around 10.
What I’m doing right now is I’m working in, my first week of, of a Mesocycle is of the macrocycle would be 10 reps. And then the next week I’m doing eight, and then the next week I’m doing six. So I’m getting heavier and then deload and then repeat, but start a bit heavier, 8 6 4 deload, and then start a bit heavier, even 6 4, 2 deload.
And I found that to be helpful and productive.
Mark: That’s a quite useful approach to training for an advanced lifter. Absolutely. It’s, we used to do the same basic. Thing. Back when I was competing in power lifting, we’d start a cycle off with eights and we’d do eights for three weeks. We’d do fives for four to five weeks, and then we’d do triples and then doubles, and then go to the meet.
It works real well, and every one of those meso cycles, you just bump your terminal numbers up about 10 pounds, and that works for a long time. What we did not do, Was back offset to 20 or anything light because working that hard. And then adding junk volume at the end of that does not aid in recovery. It makes recovery more difficult because now you’ve got all this junk volume that you have to recover from while at the same time, that volume does not produce a strength adaptation.
Mike: Hmm. Can you talk more about that junk volume? That’s a term that gets thrown around. I can hear people wondering, oh wait, what does that mean exactly?
Mark: I’m the only one I know of that uses that term, and I’ve stolen it from the cyclists who ride what they call junk miles, just miles for the sake of being on the bike.
Why would you back off and do a set of 20 at 50% when you have worked heavy at five already that day? Why would you do that at any point during the week instead of getting a big pump? Why don’t you get a big squat and let that make your legs grow? Do you ever look at Kakis legs?
Mike: Uh, no. I’m gonna have to Google now.
Mark: Well, he’s real big and all those guys that are real big and strong, the guys that I see doing all of this junk volume, all these junk reps all weigh 185 pounds. The great big strong men don’t do that. There’s a reason why they don’t do that, because it’s not productive. I mean, there’s only so much time you’ve got to do this.
I. And you need to be as efficient with your training as you can be because if you start throwing at a whole bunch of volume, it tears up just a lot of inflammatory stress on your tendons. It’s a lot of inflammatory stress on your joints. It’s stuff that you have to recover from. That’s real hard to recover from.
It’s already hard enough to recover from. Heavy fives
Mike: can make you excessively sore, which just becomes,
Mark: yeah, that’s just inflammation. That’s an inflammation problem to solve. Systemic inflammation is not good for you. It’s adrenal stress. To quote a popular term, you got a whole bunch of cortisol dumped into the system in order to deal with stress that you’re producing voluntarily.
Mike: I think just to add to that, especially when you’re an intermediate or advanced weightlifter, you only can do it’s to this point that you’re making. You can only do so much. Like your body can actually only take so much. And if it’s not the right stuff, it’s not going to produce the adaptation. So, and actually to that point where I see it, I mean, I don’t pay too much attention honestly, what goes on in the fitspo world on the social medias, but that’s where I’ll see a lot of junk volume, so to speak, is guys on drugs.
Who their entire workouts actually consist basically of junk volume. It’s every set is 20 plus reps and they’re doing, you know, five, six exercises per workout, four five sets per exercise, and it’s all super high rep stuff. And how strong are these guys? In some cases they might be decently strong ’cause they’ve gained a fair amount of muscle, but you don’t see it all that often because with that comes the risk of catastrophic injury too.
When again, when you’re on enough. Drugs to where your muscles are a lot stronger than your tendons and your ligaments can keep up with. And so you might feel like you have no problem getting 10 reps of four or five on the bench until something just snaps so you don’t see them trying very often. A lot of these guys, they do intentionally work.
It’s, it’s a lot of sub maximal training to avoid injury and to just sit in the gym for three hours a day because I guess they have nothing better to do.
Mark: You know, look, I, if a guy wants to do a whole bunch of. Sets and reps, then that’s what he needs to do. Alright? It’s not like I haven’t ever done that, alright?
I’m just telling you what I’ve learned. I’ve learned from coaching people that way, and I’ve learned from doing it myself. You want to go in and you want to do the least number of reps that you can do with the heaviest weight you can do to get the training effect you need. Anything else is not productive.
Back offsets a 20. Look you got, go ahead and try it. Hey, do it. Jump right in. But you said a very important thing, all right? If you’re doing a bunch of drugs, it really makes it difficult to determine what’s working. Is it your back offset’s a 20 or is it the 50 milligrams of DI ball you’re taking every day?
You know, you can get away with a bunch of stupid shit if you’re taking enough drugs. If you quit taking a bunch of drugs and things get real serious if you do that because now you don’t have that buffer. You know, if you’re taking a bunch of drugs, you’ve got the ability to deal with way more of an inflammatory load than you do without them, you heal faster.
You gain weight easier. With gained weight comes improved levers in terms of the way your muscles operate, your joints. Big muscles aren’t just stronger muscles, they’re more effective mechanically, muscles, and I. The amount of muscle volume provided by the drugs. If you’re doing that, you got a confounding variable in there, and it’s real hard to calculate what is happening because of what?
Because now there’s factors in there that are not just training. I’m just telling you that what we have learned over the past 42 years of doing this shit, and I’ve made every single one of the mistakes that all these kids are making now. I’ve was overtrained for the vast majority of my life. I’ve been overtrained and I know the effects of over-training.
And you start doing high rep back offsets. You’re gonna be overtrained. And to keep from being overtrained, you’re gonna take a bunch of drugs. I. If you don’t take a bunch of drugs, your total is gonna go down
Mike: and you’re just gonna hurt a lot.
Mark: But a lot of people like that. So to get into the psychology of this, there are a lot of people that have associated soreness with productivity.
Soreness doesn’t produce strength. Going up five pounds on the weight you’re lifting produces strength. Soreness is sometimes a side effect of having done that, but it’s not necessary. We have people go through the whole novice progression without being sore, but once or twice at first, you just don’t get sore.
And if you’re training to produce soreness or you think it’s necessary, well you’ve, you’ve got something else going on, man. You’re doing penance or something. But just being in pain all the time is not, that’s not productive.
Mike: I remember when I, when I used to think that if I didn’t get really sore from a workout that I, I must not, I must not have worked hard enough, you know,
Mark: and I used to think the same thing.
But look, you and I have learned that it’s self flagellation, and that’s all it is. If you want to beat yourself on the back with a switch, then do so. If you want to hurt, burn your hand. None of those things make you strong. You. And if we’re training for strength, you know, if you’re training for aesthetics that the soreness is an unnecessary, an unfortunate side effect sometimes.
But to make it, the goal is to not understand the biology. Yeah. It’s a byproduct.
Mike: You are probably gonna get so at different points along the way. For me now I get a little bit sore when I bump up weight, when things get a bit harder.
Mark: Anytime you change. The level of eccentric loading, you’re gonna get sore.
You go from fives to eights, you’re gonna get sore or, or
Mike: if you are, or if you stay with fives, but you put more weight on the bar,
Mark: stay with fives. Put more weight on the bar. Normally doesn’t produce huge, gigantic, drastic changes and soreness. It’ll produce a little bit of soreness, but not anything that you would recognize.
Like if you finish up a power meet and go back to eights for the start of your next cycle, man, you’re gonna be sore. And that’s because you went from singles to eights. You’ve octupled your amount of eccentric work and now you’re not adapted to it right then, but you get that way and it, it lasts a couple of weeks and that goes away.
And then as you come back down in reps, even as you go up and wait, you still don’t experience that kind of soreness that you get from having changed up to higher reps. But what I’m saying is that if you are doing back offsets, 20, then you’re probably doing that just to get sore. And I, I’m telling you, it’s 50%.
50% is not heavy. And if it’s not heavy, it doesn’t make you stronger. And that’s the deal with all of these eight sets of seven kind of workouts. If you can do eight sets of seven with a weight, How heavy is it?
Mike: If it’s sets of set? It could be heavy ish. I mean, those final few sets,
Mark: you finished the eighth set with the same weight?
Mike: I was gonna say the final couple sets, you’re dropping that weight.
Mark: Oh, if you’re dropping weight and that compounds the problem, doesn’t it? You’re having to do strip sets. Yep. Well, you’re taking weight off. Are we training for strength if you’re taking weight off? This really isn’t as complicated as everybody wants it to be.
If you want to do a whole bunch of lightweight reps, then go ahead and enjoy yourself. But we’ve seen a lot of this in the past couple of years, and every one of those people eventually come back over to us and say, you know, I, I started doing all this volume and shit with this R P E bullshit, and my total went down.
I. Squat went down, bench went down, press went down, deadlift went down. All my lifts went down. That’s just what we hear. That’s what we hear. ’cause that’s what happens when you stop lifting heavy weight. There’s a lot of bad advice.
Mike: Well, there’s just a lot of bad advice out there. There’s a lot of bad programming.
And especially with volume ’cause right now, so when I first started paying attention to the fitness scene, so to speak, frequency was big. So at that time there was a lot of talk about, it was thought that frequency was like a key driver of muscle gain, right? And I remember people saying, oh, if you’re not training the major muscle groups at least three times per week, you’re an idiot.
Like, and body parts splits were shit on as. Absolutely worthless for everybody under all circumstances. So it was a very extreme, the programming pendulum seems to swing all over the place, and it seems to change every like quickly. You know, e every six months there’s a new thing, but, so at that time it was all about frequency.
Now we know better. That frequency doesn’t seem to make that big of a difference other than it just helps you get in enough volume, but it doesn’t seem to be any major difference between. Doing six sets in one workout or three sets in, two workouts, for example, as far as muscle gain goes. So now though, volume is big and there was some research I think from Schoenfeld that suggested that there’s a linear relationship between volume and muscle gain.
And so, you know, you, you could be doing 40.
Mark: 40 sets a five at 20%.
Mike: No, no, no. With 40 sets with heavy weight, 40 hard sets per major muscle group per week. As if that would be productive for anybody ever. You’d have to be on all of the drugs and have all of the genetics to ever get away with that. But regardless, volume is popular right now.
So I hear from people who they find their way into these very high volume programs that just. Beat the shit outta them and Yeah. And then they’ll see, they’ll find that did, they not only did not make progress, they regressed because it was
Mark: because they can’t recover. Stress recovery adaptation
Mike: and just that eccentric loading point alone, we know that that’s what causes the majority of muscle damage, right?
From training. Mm-hmm. It needs to be repaired. This is a mechanical process that takes time and it takes nutrients and it takes good sleep and whatever. Yeah, you only can do so much and you can take your body’s ability to recover. Right? And how do you use that most effectively? And doing a ton of high rep training, which I mean different ways.
Again, volume can be worked out in different ways, in different programs, work it out in different ways, but I. Ultimately what it comes down to, what I see is programs that have people doing 20, 25, even 30 hard sets, at least for some major muscle groups per week. And oftentimes there also is the rep ranges are higher.
And so you get a lot of eccentric loading. They’re just extremely high volume programs and it feels, maybe it can feel productive in the beginning, right? ’cause you’re like, I am working fucking hard. And yeah, that’s true. You are. But now it’s too much. It’s too hard.
Mark: But let me also introduce another idea.
All right. Once a guy is really strong, and I mean really strong, he’s squatting up in the sevens, he’s benching in the fives, he’s pulling in the sevens.
Mike: Maybe put that relative to body weight, like what’s really strong relative to body weight.
Mark: You know, I’m talking about a guy that’s 2 42. That’s doing a three times body weight squat.
Mike: That’s so rare. That’s like superhuman.
Mark: It is rare, but advanced trainees are rare, mike.
Mike: Wouldn’t you say that’s more like elite though?
Mark: Yes, it’s elite. It’s a, it’s an advanced. The most trainees in any given time are novices, aren’t they? And they’re probably at any given time, five times as many novices as there are intermediate trainees, because that’s the way humans are.
You know? And in terms of numbers of advanced lifters, if you want to talk about programming, and we’ll talk about advanced programming, we’re talking about a tiny sliver of the human population, right? And what I’m saying is that if you get up to be that strong, that I think it’s probably going to eventually be realized.
I. That people up at that level may require a third. The volume of work that an intermediate person who is trying to get to that level requires, you know, and I’ve talked to some strong lifters,
Mike: and that’s because the sheer amount of stress.
Mark: If you’re squatting a set of five with 8 0 5, you may only have to do that once every two weeks.
And then the rest of the time you don’t squat. Maybe you alternate squats at that load with deadlifts at that load every other week so that you’re squatting once every 14 days. Now that flies in the face of all of this eight sets of seven bullshit, doesn’t it? But if you look at the amount of stress that a guy that’s that strong can apply to himself, Does he really need a whole bunch of ribs?
How many, how many sets at 8 0 5 can he recover from, you know, I mean, we’re all humans. So I think that phenomenon is just now beginning to be realized that after you get past the intermediate level, that you actually have a bell curve. And if you look at the tails of the bell curve, Novices are on the left hand side of that curve and extremely advanced.
Elite lifters are on the right hand side of that curve, and in the middle is a bunch of volume for intermediates. If you get freaky ass, strong volume is the enemy. As you get older, I. Volume is also the enemy. 60 year old guys can’t recover from a whole bunch of work. They can’t do it. They lack the hormonal milieu.
And if you’re training older guys and you’re asking them to squat three days a week, you don’t know what you’re doing. You’ve not had any experience with it yourself and the experience that they are having with that, you’re not paying close attention to. You’re not an effective coach. If you’re asking old people to do a whole bunch of volume, it doesn’t work.
I know it doesn’t work. I’ve trained them. I am one. There’s a whole bunch of people that specialize in training in older people and the consensus among every one of us with clinical experience with these people. Is that the older you get, the less capable of recovering from a bunch of volume you become.
You know what? I keep hearing about the research? Look, don’t tell me about the research. I’ve read exercise science papers for 40 years. There’s shit. They’re all shit. They’re all masters, theses, you know, and things done on populations of 10 or 11 people in the study. They’re meaningless dribble. I have been training people for in excess of 40 years and I know what the fuck I’m talking about.
I. Okay. I’ve been training me for in excess of 40 years, and I know what the fuck I’m talking about. In the absence of decent research, you had better pay attention to the phenomenology. Here’s the phenomenology I. At a point in a person’s training where they’re a novice when they’re just starting out, you need three sets of five every workout for the major exercises.
And by the major exercises, I mean the two pressing exercises, squats and deadlifts, and power cleans. That’s it. Okay. At another point, a person’s training, they benefit from maybe 20 to 36. On these major exercises a week. You think that high up to 30? I, I don’t know. I’m agreeing with you. I thought you’d said 30.
You need a bunch of volume at a commensurate level of intensity. Okay. Yeah. Okay. Yeah. I’m not talking about 20%.
Mike: My understanding is I think it’s reasonable to say up to 20 per week.
Mark: Yeah. But you understand what I’m saying. Sure, sure, sure. You, you need more sense and rich.
Mike: Yeah, yeah. No, I, I just caught my ear because I was like, damn, 30.
I mean, could you imagine doing 30 hard sets for your lower body in a week?
Mark: Well, I’ve done it. It wasn’t intelligent, wasn’t the smartest thing I ever did, and it wasn’t productive. I mean, everybody has the data in their training logs. Just look at what your own trainings taught you. And then at the other end of the bell curve, you got guys that are older and very strong.
They don’t need hardly any volume at all because they can’t recover from it. Older guys need to lift the heaviest weights they can for threes, maybe fours, maybe fives, and a couple of sets. A week. That’s it. When we’re talking about training, every aspect of your training depends on a correct analysis of where you are along the trajectory of training advancement.
If your body has inexperience, With adaptation, it will adapt faster. If your body in contrast has adapted as much as it possibly can and you’re on the way down, then you’re in a completely different situation than the guy is that’s been trained in two years that’s strong and can tolerate a bunch of work.
But if you miss the boat in terms of this analysis, you’re going to be an ineffective trainee. And that’s my thoughts on programming right there in a nutshell.
Mike: Yeah, I completely agree. And it’s right in line with, again, this is timely for me because I’m diving into all this stuff in this new second edition of this book I’m working on and trying to explain these phenomena as simply and practically as possible without getting too lost in terminology or technical rabbit holes that don’t ultimately really help the reader understand, alright, this is where you’re at.
And this is what you have to do now. And so, yeah. No, I think this was a great discussion. Very productive, and we touched on all the things that I had on my little checklist I thought we should talk about. So yeah, thanks for doing it. And let’s wrap up with letting people know where they can find you if they don’t already know.
And if you have anything new and exciting you wanna let people know about, do you have upcoming seminars? What are you working on?
Mark: Yeah, we’ve got, in fact, we’ll be in Las Vegas in February. Might be a nice point of destination for you if you enjoy Las Vegas. We’re there, I think it’s the first weekend in February, and then we’re back in Wichita Falls in March, in April.
We’ll be in Long Island.
Mike: You’re venturing into New York, huh?
Mark: Oh, we go up there every year, but not California. Oh. I try to stay out California. I’m afraid of the earthquakes and Antifa and all that shit. May, I believe we’re in Denver in May. We’re usually in Denver in May now. If you people are serious about programming, you need to come to the seminar.
We do one pretty much every month. We’re off in January and the schedule is on the website starting strength.com. Our books are on the [email protected]. We are in the process now of rolling out our. Franchise Gyms starting Strength Austin starting Strength Houston starting Strength Dallas starting Strength Denver are all open.
We are looking at Boston and Los Angeles and Chicago, and these things are in the pipe. Right now. That’s exciting and uh, it’s, it’s an exciting thing to get to see the sign up on a building and walk inside and know that everybody is doing our stuff. It’s been a lot of fun. If you’re interested in that, that’s also available on our website and starting shrink gyms.com.
So we got a bunch of stuff going on, Mike, but again, come back out whenever you can. We’ll sit down and do another podcast. Yeah, that’d be fun. Go eat. Always enjoy having you visit.
Mike: Yeah, I’d love to do another visit. I will be traveling. I do plan on traveling a bit more next year, do some live events and stuff, so I’m sure I’ll be coming over that way.
And we can definitely. Plan another.
Mark: Excellent. That’d be fun. Love to see you
Mike: get a workout in this time. Well, my friend, I appreciate the time.
Mark: Always enjoy it. Always enjoy it. Always appreciate your calling.
Mike: Yes, sir. And I look forward to the next one.
Mark: Absolutely. We’ll talk to you soon.
Mike: Hey, Mike here, and if you like what I’m doing on the podcast and elsewhere, and if you want to help me help more people get into the best shape of their lives, please do consider picking up one of my bestselling health and fitness books, including Bigger, leaner, stronger for Men, thinner, leaner, stronger for.
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