This is part of an interview with Casey Butt on the Muscle and Strength website. 
On the website it’s in 3 parts:
1: http://www.muscleandstrength.com/articles/interview-with-casey-butt-part-1.html
2: http://www.muscleandstrength.com/articles/interview-casey-butt-part-2.html

3: http://www.muscleandstrength.com/articles/interview-with-casey-butt-part-3.html

I think that the information he presents here is something that all gym goers should know, hence the reprint on this website…

Enjoy!

Muscle and Strength: You mentioned that you carry several other beliefs that are somewhat controversial. I want to ask you about them. Let’s talk about full body routines. Why do you believe they are best for naturals? And why have they gone the way of the dinosaur over the last 30-40 years? For the most part on lifting forums, I only see HIT practitioners and 5×5 programs that slant towards being “full body”…

Casey Butt: Year-round, elaborate split routines, in the typical bodybuilding sense, were essentially “born” as a consequence of several occurrences in the early 1960s and have become popular because bodybuilders copied the routines of their drug-using heroes.  In the 1950s and early ’60s Weider was promoting higher volume, more isolation laden, training routines as more modern and sophisticated than the “old fashioned” lower volume routines that were the staple of the York training courses – and in certain regards it was true.  And the magazines naturally focused on bodybuilding champions’ pre-contest training, which was higher in volume than the rest of the training year.  Several top bodybuilders did, in fact, train on split routines in the 1950s and earlier, but this was typically reserved for sharpening up in the weeks leading up to contests, with full-body routines used for building up during the rest of the year.

By the early 1960s steroids entered the picture as primarily a pre-contest training aid (following the Weightlifters’ practice of ramping up steroid use as contests drew near) and this allowed for yet further increases in training volume.  Around this point split routines became the norm rather than the exception.  Again, pre-contest training was the focus of the magazines as readers wanted to know what Mr. So-and-so did to win the title.  What got lost however, was the fact that most of these lifters followed full-body routines to build up during the off-season and when they were not dosing Nilevar or Dianabol.

As bodybuilders realized that steroids could be used to very effectively bulk up in the “off-season” their use spilled over to the entire training year and split routines were adopted as the off-season template followed by top bodybuilders.  It’s natural that aspiring trainees copied their heroes’ routines and practices, but they were generally kept in the dark about steroid use as the major magazines purposefully hid it and promoted aspects of bodybuilding more profitable to them (training courses such as isometrics in the power rack and the supplements of the day – wheat germ oil, desiccated liver, protein powders and pills, etc.).  That practice has been part and parcel of the training media since the introduction of steroids, and if anything is even more rampant today.

SteroidsSteroids change a trainee’s tolerance and response to exercise in a number of ways.  Most importantly, steroids are an artificial source of testosterone and mimic it’s anabolic/androgenic properties.  For that reason, steroid users do not have to be concerned with maintaining and manipulating their own naturaltestosterone levels through training and diet.  A natural trainee’s progress, however, is inexorably linked to his hormonal response to training.  Training of too low a systemic magnitude and there is no response, too much and the body can’t keep up and overtraining results.

On the scientific front, several studies over the decades have shown that protein synthesis and hormonal responses to training return to baseline within 36-48 hours of even intense, high-volume weight training.  At the same time, routines consisting of compound exercises have been shown to be vastly superior to those consisting predominantly of isolation exercises and machines, with regards to lean body mass and strength gains.  Volume wise, 2-4 sets in the 8-12 rep range have been shown to be the most efficient count for hypertrophy and growth hormone release, whereas 4-6 sets of 4-6 reps have been shown to be near optimal for strength building and testosterone release.  On top of that are the findings that intense exercise involving larger total muscle masses, such as performing heavy Squats andDeadlifts, results in the most dramatic responses of the body with regards to testosterone and growth hormone levels.  The blood cortisol:testosterone ratio begins to climb into unfavorable territory after 45-60 mins of intense training as well.

Put together, the body of credible scientific literature over the past 60+ years points directly to relatively brief (an hour or so) full-body routines as being the superior form of exercise for hypertrophy and strength building purposes, particularly in the absence of exogeneous anabolic steroids.  For a bodybuilder trying to build up, there’s no advantage to performing many isolation exercises and no need to do more than 2-6 sets of any exercise.  Each session should include movements that tax the largest amount of muscle mass as possible so as to elevate testosterone and growth hormone levels.  The most logical routine design that fits this prescription best is the full-body routine, centered around basic free-weight exercises.

I find it ironic that the majority of modern science supports not what is considered modern by most, but what is considered old-fashioned and was exactly what Reg Park, Clancy Ross, John Grimek, Steve Reeves, George Eiferman, Jack Delinger, etc, all recommended before the introduction of steroids into bodybuilding.  Park and Ross were even particularly careful to caution trainees that split routines are okay before contests to lean out, but not best for building up in the off-season …and building up is what most natural bodybuilders spend the majority of their time aspiring to do.

I’ve been deliberately careful to specify here that this is all within the context of building muscle mass.  There are times when split routines are an equally or more viable training option, particularly pre-contest when lagging muscle heads begin to become apparent at low body fat levels and must be addressed (though for trainees who never intend to dip much below 10% body fat or so they may never even be aware of such deficiencies).  There are also certain groups of trainees who naturally respond well to split routines, even in the off-season.  Those are typically people who have naturally high testosterone levels, robust joint structures, and can deliver significant enough training loads to the muscles in a single bout to justify longer breaks between training sessions.  Highly experienced trainees who are close to their genetic potentials can also benefit from a split routine that allows them to focus more work on lagging body parts – though this can also usually be done on an advanced full-body routine.

The majority of drug-free trainees, however, who are looking to build more overall body muscle mass, strength, a visually impressive physique, and don’t have particularly robust joints, would be far better off focusing on just getting stronger on the basic free-weight movements to the practical exclusion of every other thought – and full-body routines are the near ideal vehicle for that, most of the time.  That’s how Park did it, he didn’t have any glaring weaknesses, and as I mentioned in response to the previous question, no drug-tested bodybuilder yet has surpassed that level of development.

An Interview with Casey Butt, Part 2

Author:

Steve Shaw

Steve ReevesDr. Casey Butt is one of the most controversial figures in bodybuilding. He is a life long natural lifter, but more then that, Casey Butt is a student of natural bodybuilding. His study on natural bodybuilding potential is the definitive measuring stick for the sport. More information on Casey Butt can be found at www.weightrainer.net.

In Part 2 of our interview with Casey Butt, we explore the topics of exercise selection, bulking, and proteinconsumption.

Muscle and Strength: So, if a full body routine is the way to go, and a natural has about a one hour training window, that would imply that there are limited exercises a natural will use each week. What exercises should be at the core of every natural full body routine, and should the same exercises be performed during every workout?

Casey Butt: It very much depends on the experience level of the trainee.  Most people tend to look at weight training as something that impacts only the muscles when, in fact, the picture is a bit more complex than that.  Anytime a weight is lifted the major systems stressed can be broken into five main categories:

  1. The muscle fibers themselves
  2. The connective tissues (i.e. tendons and ligaments)
  3. The nervous system (central and peripheral
  4. The biochemical systems (anabolic and catabolic hormones both locally in the muscles and systemically throughout the body)
  5. The bones

Bones are not stressed by training to the point where they require significant recovery so they can be essentially disregarded from consideration.

The fundamental flaw in HIT logic is that the founders considered training only from the perspective of Seyle’s General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS).  That is, it was based on a single factor model of the training response – you stress the muscles then you must wait for them to recover and get stronger (i.e. grow) and only then can you train again.  It is quite logical, but incomplete because many systems are stressed by training and they all don’t recover in the same time frame.  For instance, after even intense training of 16 sets to failure per body part muscle protein synthesis has been shown to return to baseline within 48 hours.  Beginners, because they are far from their potentials and the loads they lift do not significant disrupt and stress the connective tissues and nervous system, can train again, practically full bore, 48 hours after their last session.

As trainees become more advanced, however, they gain the ability to better recruit the muscle fibers (motor units) as the nervous system improves it’s neuromuscular coordination.  At the same time, increased hypertrophy further makes the muscles stronger.  The result is that now the trainee starts to become strong enough to significantly stress the joints and connective tissues and also can recruit motor units ‘efficiently’ enough to tax the nervous system as well.  Now, he cannot train again, full bore, on the same exercises again in 48 hours – the nervous system and connective tissues will typically require longer than that to fully recover and allow full strength to be demonstrated again.  Don’t forget that the nervous system is the master controller of all muscular contraction and if it ‘says’ you’re not recruiting the muscle fibers at full force (i.e. maximum rate coding) then it’s not going to happen no matter how ‘good’ you might feel.  Similarly, the connective tissues contain sensory organs that relay information about joint integrity back to the central nervous system – if the surrounding muscles and connective tissues cannot hold the joint sufficiently stable the nervous system will not allow the major muscle groups to be fired at full force.

Reg Park, natural bodybuilder

Typically, the ‘solution’ to this, based on a single factor training model (the GAS) has been for the trainee to simply wait until he’s fully recovered, without considering which aspects of his physiology are really requiring the extra recovery time – the muscles or nervous system and connective tissues?  The shortcoming of this approach is that growth in the muscle is actually complete within 48 hours of training and the rest of the time is simply waiting for other systems to catch up – time that could be used to stimulate the muscles again.

For beginners, none of this is a problem because, as I said earlier, they don’t have the ability or even need to impose heavy training stresses on their bodies systemically to illicit a training response.  The more advanced the trainee gets, however, the larger the training stress must be and the more recovery of the different systems involved becomes an issue.  Most advanced trainees know they simply cannot pound the same exercises heavily three times per week. This is somewhat intuitive because advanced trainees’ bodies are very accustomed to the stresses of lifting and no longer respond as easily to training as beginners.  They need more loading to cause the cellular disruption that stimulates growth, and this high loading also imposes longer recover times on the other systems (nervous system, connective tissues, etc.).

The currently standard approach to this is for intermediates and advanced trainees to simply perform more volume, both more sets and more exercises, per body part.  This also has the advantage of allowing the advanced trainee to use a variety of exercises and train different aspects of each muscle group.  And it does work because many fine advanced physiques have been the product of it.  However, this does not address the reality that if you take seven days between training muscles, growth only occurs for two of those days.  Wouldn’t it be much more ideal to take advantage of the other five days as well?

In order to do that the intermediate and advanced trainee has three options:

  1. He or she can train the same exercises three times a week but use different loading patterns (sets, reps and total volume) on the different days so as not to repeat the stress that the nervous system and connective tissues ‘see’ more than once a week.
  2. He/she can use completely different exercises on each of the training days, achieving essentially the same effect.
  3. A combination of the first two.

In each case the goal is to stimulate muscle growth three times per week instead of just once, but vary the training stress each time so the same loading pattern is not repeated on the nervous system and connective tissues, and thus not disrupting their timely recovery.

The first step into the intermediate stages would be to perform the same exercises three times per week, one exercise per major muscle group, with the same rep count, but simply vary the load.  Monday could be heavy day, with the trainee going to near maximum on his/her sets, Wednesday may be a light day with only 60-80% of Monday’s weights used, and Friday would be a medium day consisting of 85-90% of Monday’s weights.  This is Bill Starr’s classic approach to weekly periodization for lifters.  It is common for trainees to underestimate the importance of the light and medium days in this scheme.  In this case the light day serves as what was referred to as a “feeder” workout in the 1970s – the lighter weights bring fresh blood through the muscles, “massage” the joints and foster faster recovery from the heavy day.  Without the light day, overtraining is actually more likely to occur.  The medium day, while not maximal, still employs weights heavy enough to provoke a growth response (training to only 90% of the failure point can be theoretically argued to be as effective as actually hitting failure in terms of muscle stimulation).  In addition, medium day is a perfect day for trainees to perfect their form and use very strict lifting cadences – this in itself makes 85-90% of maximum seem much heavier.

Marvin EderThe next evolution would be to perform different reps on the different training days, but still just one exercise per major muscle group.  For instance, Monday might be heavy sets of five, Wednesday lighter sets of 15 with shorter breaks between sets and Friday moderately heavy sets of 10 reps.  In this way the trainee performs a variety of rep counts throughout the week, stressing the muscles, nervous system and connective tissues in different fashions.  A further evolution would be for the trainee to perform different exercises on each of the three weekly full-body sessions.  Using the chest as an example, dips could be performed on Monday, flat dumbbell presses on Tuesday and incline presses on Friday.  The nature of these exercises and rep counts are chosen so that the heavy, light and medium scheme is preserved.

For instance, heavy sets of 6-8 reps of dips may be performed on Monday, whereas Tuesday would see lighter sets of 12-15 reps on flat DB presses.  Friday may consist of moderate sets of 10 reps on incline presses.  Although the stress on the body would fall in the heavy, light and medium ranges, the trainee would actually be training hard on all three days and therefore effectively stimulating growth three times per week.  If a trainee wishes to stick to a single rep range the exercises themselves must be used to impose heavy/light/medium days.  For instance, bench presses on heavy day, DB flyes on light day, and incline presses on medium day – all for the same number of sets and reps.  In this case the very nature of the exercise enforce different magnitudes of loads – a trainee will use the heaviest weights for bench presses, the lightest weights for DB flyes and 75-85% of his bench press weights for incline presses, thus maintaining a heavy/light/medium pattern across the week.

At some point during the advanced stages the trainee will begin performing two exercises per major muscle group, particularly on the heavy day.  This might start with the introduction of lighter dumbbell work after the major exercise for each body part.  Now the 60-minute training session rule no longer rigidly applies.  Advanced trainees may need more disruption to the system than can be produced in one hour – particularly on heavy days.  The hormonal response to training is a function of the severity of the disruption caused by the training stress, so advanced athletes may not fit the 45-60 minute rule at all.  For them it may logically take a longer period of more severe loading for the cortisol:testosterone ratio to go sour.

Advancing further, very experienced trainees need more training load to elicit further gains, and now the training effect may not even be effectively stimulated in one session.  The standard approach would be for the trainee to split his routine so more work can be performed for each body part per session and the training stimulus achieved that way.  However, it is not the only viable option and does not have the support of the body of scientific research or the training of elite strength and power athletes.

Now the trainee may need several heavy sessions in a row to produce improvement.  At this advanced stage the first evolution would be for the heavy/light/medium pattern to morph into a heavy/medium/light pattern.  The total weekly loading remains the same, but following the heavy day with a medium day instead of a light day, just 48 hours later, does not allow for full recovery and further cellular disruption is caused.  It is crucial that the next day, however, be a genuine light day.  As the trainee advances even further the weekly load might become heavy/medium/medium.  Then heavy/heavy/light, heavy/heavy/medium and finally, if the trainee poses truly superior recovery abilities all three days heavy.  It is around this time that the trainee may even begin training more than three times per week.

At such an advanced and extreme stage of loading however, it is very unlikely that the trainee could maintain such intense training for periods of longer than a few weeks – even though a very large weekly load is required to disrupt this trainee’s homeostasis and produce a training response.  At that point it becomes imperative that the trainee start implementing the heavy/light/medium scheme over the weekly load rather than just daily.  In other words, the trainee may train medium for one week, heavy for two weeks and then a light week.  This is advanced periodization and has been the cornerstone of practically every great Olympic athlete’s training of the past 40+ years.

So, as you can see, it isn’t just as simple as, “Everybody should do this routine.”  The sad part is that with the introduction of steroids into bodybuilding the science and art of drug-free training entered a stagnate age with very little advancement being made into the proper evolution of drug-free training.  Split routines, while they do have their place even for drug-free trainees – particularly for refinement and pre-contest – work most effectively in conjunction with steroid use.  In order to make the fastest possible progress, most typical drug-free trainees trying to get bigger and stronger simply need the hormonal cascade caused by working the whole body at one time and then allowing sufficient rest for improvement to manifest itself.

Heavy Compound ExercisesGoing back to the question of exercise selection, there is one over-riding truth that applies to all levels of drug-free trainees:  For maximum productivity, training must revolve around the free-weight compound movements.  This has been verified time and time again both in the scientific research and in-the-trenches gym experience.  For beginners and intermediates, very few isolation exercises should be included in the routine and only to address muscles that absolutely do not get sufficiently targeted by the major exercises (Squats, Presses, Rows,Pull-ups and Deadlifts).  Examples might be direct calf, ab, forearm and neck work.  This holds true even at the advanced stages, although then free-weight isolation exercises may be added to heavy days and/or chosen on lights day to better allow the joints to recover from the preceding heavy and/or medium days.  Having said that, if an advanced drug-free trainee wishes to address a perceived weakness, he/she is still much better off doing that by proper selection of an appropriate compound exercise than an isolation.  Going back to the chest example, V-bar dips would be a much more productive way to bring up lagging outer pecs than DB flyes.

The basic rules are:

Beginners

Intermediates

  • Cycling of poundages via various implementations of the heavy/light medium scheme.  Different intensities, rep ranges and/or exercises may be used on each of the training days.

Advanced

  • Additional exercises are added to the routine (particularly on heavy days).  The trainee begins arranging training in periods of medium, heavy and light weeks rather than just days.  The 60-minute training session rule no longer rigidly applies.

Again, a long response but it was hard to briefly address the question without being vague and incomplete.

Muscle and Strength: On to the next controversial issue… diet. I’m sure that you’re aware of the study regarding sumo wrestlers, revealing that they have an incredible amount of muscle mass despite not lifting weights. There are also numerous studies which reveal that the human body appears to be very anabolic when over-eating in short-term durations.

http://www.biomedexperts.com/Abstract.bme/8780332/Changes_in_macronutrient_balance_during_over-_and_underfeeding_assessed_by_12-d_continuous_whole-body_calorimetry

http://www.ajcn.org/cgi/content/abstract/49/4/608

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/4061637

What is your take on these studies, how much of a factor is diet in the gaining of muscle mass, and how would you recommend a typical hardgainer eat if they have a difficult time adding any weight? And to throw in another question: is dirty bulking “evil”, as some make it seem?

Casey Butt: I think all experienced bodybuilders have observed the phenomenon of rapid gains during short periods of overfeeding, particularly when people go on vacation or end a long low-calorie diet.  However, the key thing to keep in mind here is the time frame over which the body reacts ‘favorably’ to the increase in calories.

Very simply, the body exists in essentially two states:  energy surplus or energy deficit.  In an energy deficit the body will decrease its expression of enzymes responsible for fat storage (lipoprotein lipase, etc), while increasing fat release from adipose cells.  This is to provide the body with the energy it needs to maintain metabolism under a calorie deficit (after all, the major purpose of body fat is to provide a source of stored energy).  At the same time, in the absence of high insulin levels in response to blood glucose, insulin receptors will uncover on the surface of muscle cells, increasing insulin sensitivity – with little glucose and protein available, the muscle cell will increase it’s efficiency of uptake and utilization of these now very much in demand substances.  Likewise, growth hormone, IGF-1 andtestosterone levels, all of which increase metabolism and lean body mass, decrease when dietary calories are low.

Under these conditions the body has become a very efficient machine at releasing and burning fat from the fat cells and shuttling glucose and nutrients preferentially into the muscle cells (I’m simplifying the situation by neglecting the over-riding needs of the major organs, nervous system, etc).

In a calorie surplus, however, the body will go into a storage mode.  In the presence of constantly high insulin, insulin receptors on the surface of muscle cells will “retract” into the cell membrane and become less “sensitive” to the presence of insulin (“insulin resistance”).  High levels of fatty acids and glucose in the bloodstream will cause fat cells to up regulate enzymes responsible for fat production and storage.  You are now a fat storing machine.

Classic muscle buildingThe key to the preferential deposition of lean body mass, as shown in the above studies during over-eating, lies in the short term nature of the response.  Insulin sensitivity and fat storage enzyme activities don’t suddenly change dramatically in a few hours or overnight.  If the body reacted that quickly to changing environments it would bang back and forth constantly in a never-ending oscillation of metabolically costly adaptations.  Evolution isn’t that stupid (or perhaps it was but those species never lived that long) and so the adaption to sudden over- or under-eating takes time.

In one of the studies you mentioned (G. Forbes, M. Brown, S. Welle, and L. Underwood, “Hormonal response to overfeeding”, Am J Clin Nutr, 1989; 49: 608-11) it was found that elevated testosterone, IGF-1 and insulin levels in response to over-eating all peaked at around 14 days and began to decline thereafter.  Perhaps even more importantly, in the presence of high blood sugar and insulin levels fat cells start to increase insulin transporter expression at about two weeks, and that also corresponds with the time it takes for muscle cells to start exhibiting insulin resistance – after a few weeks of over-eating things are starting to go sour.

So, as you can see, the happy situation of preferentially putting on muscle just because you’re eating like a pig simply can’t last – if it did, formerly obese people would be cleaning up in bodybuilding competitions, but it just doesn’t work that way.  I over-ate for 18 years and it didn’t do anything for me.  As I mentioned earlier, bodybuilders often experience quick “rebound” muscle gains when they start eating “normally” again after a long cutting period.  In such a circumstance they’re coming out of a situation where their muscles are very insulin sensitive and their fat cells are metabolically “geared” to release fat, not store it, and so gains come fast and relatively easily for as long as that situation lasts.  A person can experience something similar, though to a lesser degree, by simply over-eating for a few weeks after a period of eating maintenance level calories.  However, like I said, you’ve only got a few weeks to play and then you must pay.  If a bodybuilder wants to exploit the anabolic effects of over-eating then I suggest they do it for two weeks or so and then either go on a cut or eat maintenance calorie levels for at least an equal period of time.

As for “dirty bulking” I’d have to say that it’s basic macro-nutrients that are most important – calories, carbs, proteins and fats – so “quality” is secondary to “quantity” in this instance.  Having said that, it is a known fact that certain dietary components influence testosterone levels and, therefore, could be expected to affect the results of a “bulk”.  To maximize testosterone levels I’d recommend 30-35% of daily calories from fats with 2/3rds of those being saturated.  I’d avoid partially hydrogenated vegetable oils (trans fats) under any circumstances.  I’d also recommend at least daily meals of red meat and eggs for the cholesterol, which is crucial to testosterone production in natural athletes.  I wouldn’t go overboard with protein as excessively high protein intakes decrease testosterone levels.  As for carbs, I can’t think that it would matter much as to whether “fast” or “slow”, “clean” or “dirty”  carbs were consumed because with such a high calorie intake, insulin levels would be elevated practically all of the time anyway.

The only significant adjustments I’d make as a long-term eating plan for a natural trainee, other than lowering the calories back down to a sustainable level, would be to limit quick-digesting carbs to breakfast and immediately after training.  I’d also try to take in a quick-digesting protein at those times as well.  At practically all other times, slow carbs and proteins are the way to go.

Muscle and Strength: Speaking of protein intake…do you feel it’s important for a natural lifter to over-eat protein as we have a tendency to do? I see a very wide daily protein recommendation, depending on which guru is speaking. I’ve seen recommendations as low as 70-100 grams per day, and recommendations of over 400 grams per day. What are your thoughts on this?

Casey Butt: Most credible scientific research that’s been done has concluded that hard training bodybuilders and strength athletes need up to 1.76 to 1.8 grams per kilogram of bodyweight per day (g/kg-bw/day) as an optimal protein intake, on a long-term basis.  At the same time, it’s been found that 1.41 g/kg-bw/day is required to achieve neutral nitrogen balance in strength training individuals.  So the research-supported optimal amount of protein comes out somewhere between 0.64 to 0.82 grams per pound of bodyweight per day (g/lb-bw/day).  Considering that the average person is about 15% body fat, it’s roughly between 0.75 to 0.96 grams per pound of lean body mass (g/lb-lbm/day).  To cover the bases, I’d tend to err on the high side of that and aim for 0.96 g/lb-lbm/day – so 1 gram per pound of lean body mass per day is a nice round number to work with.

When protein intake goes above that, the body will increase it’s protein oxidation rate and will convert the additional protein into glucose and possibly then body fat (if calories are above maintenance).  So if a bodybuilder habitually consumes too much protein it won’t be forced into the muscles causing “extra” growth, it will simply be converted and eliminated by the liver and kidneys.  In the end, the muscles won’t see any more amino acids if a person eats 10 g/lb-lbm/day than if he eats 1 g/lb-lbm/day because the body will simply “deal” with the extra amount.  In fact, it appears that under such high protein intakes a person is actually more likely to have a negative nitrogen balance than if he just ate less protein.

However, there are a few other downsides to such a high protein intake.  For one, if the body up regulates enzymes that are responsible for protein oxidation, then you will always need that high protein intake to break even.  In a sense, your body has become a protein burner, and if you don’t take in a huge amount of protein day-in-day-out, then you’ll slip into a negative nitrogen balance every time you let your protein intake drop for a few hours.  You’re not getting anything out of it, but you’re now forcing yourself to habitually need a high protein intake or you’ll go catabolic.  Another significant downside is that high protein intakes have been shown to lower testosterone levels – obviously something of critical importance to avoid for a natural bodybuilder.

Protein IntakeBut just as the body needs time to adapt to a sudden dramatic increase in calories, protein intake is the same.  Your body won’t become a raging protein-burning furnace just because you had a high protein meal.  If so, a steak would set you off.  Similarly, if you go a day or so with low protein intake, your body won’t lose all its muscle – luckily the liver acts as a buffer, has a higher protein turnover rate, and absorbs a portion of dailyprotein intake fluctuations.

At the same time, studies into the phenomenon of “catch-up growth” in underfed animals suggest that the enzymes responsible for increased protein oxidation seem to take two-to-three days of high protein intake in order to be up regulated to the point where they catch up with the increased protein.  Until that time the increased amino acid levels in the blood will promote muscle protein anabolism.  During such periods it has been shown that protein intakes as high as 3.3 g/kg-bw/day (also stated as 1.5 g/lb-bw/day  or 1.76 g/lb-lbm/day) can promote maximum growth.  This has been suggested as one of the factors responsible for the rapid increase of lean body mass in the early stages of protein and calorie over-feeding during “catch-up growth”.  After three days, however, the body simply gets better at eliminating the extra protein to the point where you’re no farther ahead.

Similarly, if you suddenly start consuming less protein, it will take several days for the urea-cycle enzymes to be down-regulated and the body to lower its rate of protein degradation.  The body will also get more efficient at “recycling” amino acids by salvaging them from the urea cycle.  Before that happens, protein synthesis will be lowered in the muscle, while degradation continues at its normal pace – you’ll won’t grow and you’ll probably atrophy somewhat.  When the urea-cycle and urea-salvage pathways get up to speed, however, the situation will normalize as the body becomes more efficient at how it handles its amino acid reserves.

As was discussed earlier, the muscles are only in an anabolic state for 36-48 hours following training (incidentally, muscle protein synthesis appears to peak at about 24 hours after the training session).  So, accounting for digestion transit times, I recommend that bodybuilders consume most of their dietary protein in the several hours before training to roughly 22 hours afterwards.  Between 36-48 hours after training a trainee doesn’t need any higher protein intake than a sedentary individual – which is about 0.80 g/kg-bw/day or roughly 0.43 g/lb-lbm/day.

My advice for natural bodybuilders is to either keep protein intake fixed at roughly 1 g/lb-lbm/day or, if they wish to take advantage of any potential growth benefits of short-term protein over-feeding, take in up to 1.76 g/lb-lbm/day in the 2 hours before and 22 hours after heavy training sessions. The day after that, protein intake should be lowered back down to 1 g/lb-lbm/day.  To avoid adaptation to habitually high protein intakes, I then recommend at least one day of lowered protein intake of roughly 0.43 g/lb-lbm/day at least 48 hours after a heavy training session.

This type of protein cycling is most practical on full body routines.  For instance, if you train Monday/Wednesday/Friday, with Monday heavy, Wednesday light and Friday medium you could eat high protein on Monday (1.76 g/lb-lbm/day starting about 2 hours before the heavy workout and continuing for the next 24 hours), then on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday you’d go back to taking in 0.96~1.0 g/lb-lbm/day.  On Friday (medium day) you’d up it to 1.76 g/lb-lbm/day again (similar to Monday).  On Saturday and Sunday, in order to stave off adaptation to high protein intakes during the week, you’d lower protein intake to 0.43 g/lb-lbm/day – this could also serve as carb-up days for Monday’s heavy workout and the rest of the week.

At the more advanced stages, when training is arranged as several heavy days in a row, followed by several lighter days to allow for nervous system recuperation, then protein cycles could become deeper, with up to three days of high protein intake followed by three days of lowered intake.

This is all assuming that calorie intake is sufficient.  When calories go down, protein requirements go up.  But there is very little scientific research available concerning protein requirements of bodybuilders in calorie deficits.  In any case, experience and common sense would have to be the discriminating factor – as it should be in all training and nutrition related considerations.

I’ve probably made it sound overly complicated above, but it really doesn’t have to be – the simplified version is that your body isn’t stupid, it likes to preserve homeostasis, and it needs more protein in the day or so following heavy training.  Eat more protein after you train hard and then eat less around the days that you’re not training heavy so your body doesn’t adapt to constantly excessively high protein levels.

 

An Interview with Casey Butt, Part 3

Author:

Steve Shaw

Testosterone Levels and Muscle MassDr. Casey Butt is one of the most controversial figures in bodybuilding. He is a life long natural lifter, but more then that, Casey Butt is a student of natural bodybuilding. His study on natural bodybuilding potential is the definitive measuring stick for the sport. More information on Casey Butt can be found at www.weightrainer.net.

In Part 3 of our interview with Casey Butt, we explore the topics of hardgainers, the supplement industry, and the importance of training for strength.

Muscle and Strength: Switching gears…you’ve written for Hardgainer magazine. Do you feel hardgainers exist? And what are the key mistakes that naturals make that lead them down the path to zero gains? I see so many young lifters on the Internet who can’t seem to make any gains. Is this merely a patience issue, or is there more to it then that?

Casey Butt: There is clearly a continuum of trainees’ abilities to make gains.  It doesn’t take much observation in the gym to realize that some people gain quickly and relatively easily while others’ gains are painfully slow or even non-existent.  And I’ve been around the “scene” long enough to realize it can’t simply be explained by some people following more effective training routines,diets, taking the right supplements, etc.  The fact is, were all these things optimized for each individual there would still be a huge difference between the extremes of how people’s bodies respond to training.

There are a myriad of factors influencing how much and how quickly a person can build muscle, strength and power.  Top of the list are things such as natural anabolic hormone levels such astestosterone, GH, IGF-1, cortisol, insulin, glucagon, etc.  Also, how these are affected in each individual by training and nutrition plays a huge factor.  The average male testosterone level varies from 3 to 10 ng/ml.  It is completely out of touch with reality for a person, no matter how well-intentioned, to believe that someone whose average daily testosterone level is 3 ng/ml will make gains as quickly, or have the potential to achieve an equal level of muscle mass, as someone whose average daily testosterone level is 10 ng/ml.  A given amount of testosterone will only allow the development and maintenance of a certain amount of muscle mass and that’s that.  If this were not true, then steroid use wouldn’t result in a sudden jump in muscle mass for natural trainees who’ve already maxed out their natural potentials – yet we see this all the time when advanced naturals finally give in and take the plunge into anabolic drug use.  Similarly, drug-using bodybuilders, once they reach the limit of muscle mass allowed by their existing drug schedule, won’t get any bigger unless they increase the amount of steroids they take or switch to steroids that are more anabolic in nature.

Some people’s body chemistries respond to food intake by building more muscle than others.  Some people quickly get fat when they overeat, others just get more energetic and their body temperature increases to burn off the excess calories.  I’ve known natural bodybuilders who can eat like horses and not gain fat, they just keep getting stronger and more muscular.  Me, on the other hand, can get fat just watching them eat.  How the body responds to meals with regards to insulin, glucagon, growth hormone, thyroid hormones (notably T3 and T4), testosterone, etc, all factor heavily into whether a person is going to build comparatively more muscle or more fat.  Of course, general biochemistry and physiology applies to everyone, and general guidelines apply, but there is huge variation between people’s responses to food intake even on identical programs.

So far these are all hormonal factors – structural considerations bear heavily as well.  Large, robust-jointed people have a huge advantage over small, more fragile-jointed types.  How much training stress can be imposed on a muscle is directly related to how robust it’s connective tissues (tendons) are and how secure the joint is across which it acts.  Sensory organs in the tendons and joint capsules relay information back to the central nervous system regarding connective tissue tension and joint stability.  The moment either of these is compromised the nervous system will limit the contracting force of the muscles involved.

Larger, more robust-jointed trainees have a distinct advantage over smaller-jointed trainees in that their sturdy structures give them the capacity to lift more weight and deliver greater training stimuli to the muscles each session.  Loads that these people can easily tolerate will be unliftable by smaller-jointed people, not necessarily because of the strength of the muscles themselves, but because their nervous systems and joint structures simply will not allow the weight to be lifted.  For this reason, smaller-jointed people typically cannot keep up to their larger-boned counterparts on free-weightcompound movements, but will often display impressive strength on isolation movements that impose less joint capsule deformation.  For instance, experienced small-boned trainees are usually comparatively weak on pressing movements but may equal the larger-structured guys’ strength onflyes and lateral raises - that’s usually a sign of joint/connective tissue/nervous system inhibition rather than muscle weakness.

Food for Muscle GrowthAsk yourself this:  When is the last time you saw a small-boned elite-level Powerlifting, Olympic Weightlifting or natural Bodybuilding champion?  It is becoming increasing rare in natural bodybuilding, particularly now that drug-free Bodybuilding seems to be gaining popularity and the competition is getting higher, but it practically never happens in strength sports.

Occasionally a trainee comes along who seems to have all the gifts – high natural anabolic hormone levels, excellent hormonal response to training and eating, a robust structure that allows heavy loads to be lifted and great stress to be delivered to the working muscles.  Given desire and diligence, these are the trainees who go on to be legends of their sports.  In bodybuilding, examples which always come to mind are the old-timers Reg Park and John Grimek.  Both were robust-jointed, trained extremely heavily and had metabolisms that allowed them to assimilate incredible amounts of nutrition and grow from their training (in reality both heavy training and hearty eating must go together to allow each other to take place).  Reg’s wife Mareon told of him eating six bowls of borshch on their first date – that was the appetizer.  John Grimek’s wife said there was no way of filling him up yet his waist remained small and “trim”.  Park’s waist, despite his 230 pound off-season bodyweight, never went above 33″.  If many other people tried eating like that they’d expand like balloons – particularly the fragile jointed types who have difficulty stimulating the muscles without frying the nervous system.  Men like Park and Grimek were supremely gifted in that their bodies well tolerated heavy, hard training and the growth stimulus delivered by that was satisfied by their heavy food intakes.

Such gifted individuals are usually not difficult to spot, even as beginners.  I’ve seen photos of four-time Mr. Natural Universe Mike O’Hearn when he was just 15 years old and even at that age he already had a physique superior to many experienced drug-free trainees.

So my answer has to be, “Yes, there is such thing as a hardgainer.”  But more than that there is a vast continuum of how people respond to training and eating.  For hardgainers to finally stop looking and lifting like hardgainers they have to assess their own situations and adapt their training accordingly – with the knowledge that fragile joints, heavy loading and nervous system overtraining are all intertwined and can’t be ignored as so many training “authorities” seem to do.

As for the second part of the question, I’d have to say that the number one mistake naturals make is one of priorities.  What the vast majority of natural bodybuilders want most is to get bigger, yet they fail to understand the over-riding necessity of getting progressively stronger, for reps, on the major free-weight compound exercises in order to achieve that goal …and failing to give that fundamental tenet its proper magnitude is what leads to 90% of the other common mistakes most trainees make.

In light of what I said above about small-boned trainees’ joint structures not accommodating the use of heavy weights on the free-weight compound movements it might be easy to conclude that these types should train mostly on isolation movements, but this is not the case either.  Even though small-boned trainees tend to overtrain more easily on the compound movements (especially when training to failure with heavy weights), for maximum training stimulus all natural trainees simply must have maximum muscle fiber loading across the mid-range of the fibers range of contraction.  This is where the potential for greatest growth stimulus lies and what the old-timers referred to as training the “belly” of the muscle.  The basic compound exercises typically apply maximum loading across this range.

What most trainees reactively do when their strength gains on the major exercises eventually come to a halt is start throwing in additional isolation work in an effort to spur further growth – but all this is usually doing is giving an appeasing distraction that fools trainees into thinking they’re progressing, when in reality they are just as stagnant as they ever were.  It’s simply smoke and mirrors.  Big loads are necessary to stress the fibers at the points of maximum cross-bridge overlap and to cause the local and systemic release of anabolic hormones such as prostaglandins, GH, IGF-1 and testosterone.  Although it should just be common sense, it needs to be pointed out to many people that little weights and isolation exercises do not build big muscles.

The “secret” is to learn to continue to make strength progress on the basic exercises, for reps, at the advanced stages.  Even for large-boned trainees this is a task, but for the small-boned it is especially challenging.  In any case, the more experienced a trainee gets the more variety he needs in terms of sets, reps, training intensity (both in terms of weight and how close one trains to failure) and even exercise selection to keep training performances improving – but it is CRUCIAL that the experienced trainee masters this if he/she wants to make further progress.

John Grimek

What most naturals need to do is stop concerning themselves with every new flashy training theory that comes along and just devote themselves to simply getting stronger for reps on a few basicexercises for each major body part – even to the point of ignoring practically everything else and allowing no distractions from that goal.  And if muscle proportion and balance is a priority (which it really always should be) the solution almost always lies in the selection of the proper free-weight compound exercises, not more “exotic” isolation work.

Now, I have to seemingly contradict myself and say that isolation work does have a place in an advanced trainee’s schedule – particularly for competitive athletes addressing weak points or any trainee who may be rehabilitating an injury or trying to prevent one.  But my point above is that for anyone trying to boost overall muscle mass, strength gains on the basics are the route to success.

Muscle and Strength: You just referenced flashy training routines. Speaking of “flashy,” Recently, I’ve noticed a spike in outrageous supplement claims. We’re also seeing two major bodybuilding websites promote diets that rely heavily on supplements as food. What is taking place in the industry? And do you feel it’s business as usual?

Casey Butt: Anytime there’s a population desperate for something that isn’t easy to achieve, and there’s an unregulated industry allowed to profit from the situation, it isn’t difficult to predict what’s going to happen.

The basic premise the supplement industry thrives on is the concept that, through modern science, products can be made that are more effective than food for building muscle and strength.  This probably started in the bodybuilding community with Irvin Johnson’s protein powders in the early 1950s.  At that time Johnson (who later changed his name to Rheo H. Blair) was using a mixture of essentially casein, milk powder and whole egg powder to produce what was probably one of the bestprotein powders ever made, including the mega-hyped powders of today.  Shortly after that the magazine publishers realized that it was much more profitable to sell supplements than barbell sets because supplements must be re-purchased on a regular basis whereas a barbell set is a one-time deal.  There’s a famous story of fitness crusader Paul Bragg telling York chief Bob Hoffman, who up to that point was reluctant to sell supplements, that once he realized the money that could roll in from supplement sales he’d quickly change his mind about selling them.  Shortly after, York switched its advertising focus from barbell sets to supplements and the entire industry hasn’t looked back since.

By the 1960s all the major magazines owned supplement companies and were selling supplements.  This corresponded with a journalistic shift in the magazines from focusing on training and nutrition, to focusing on training and supplements …and increasingly often just on supplements.  The FDA was watching at the time, however, and didn’t let the supplement advertisers have free reign as they do nowadays.  In fact, Peary Rader, the original publisher of Iron Man magazine, stopped selling his own supplement line because he said it wasn’t worth the hassle from the FDA watchdogs.

The supplement industry was quite healthy in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but I think at that time they had little credibility because they hadn’t produced anything effective in 25 or 30 years since the introduction of protein powder and desiccated liver tablets.  Carnosine, l-carnitine, boron, dibencozide, beta ecdysterone, smilax, chromium picolinate, etc, were are popular in those days, but none of them really did anything significant so they weren’t capable of generating much public attention.   I think that all changed with the introduction of ephedrine and creatine monohydrate in the early 1990s.  Those were two supplements that had noticeable effects – ephedrine would have you bouncing off the walls and killed your appetite and most people got (still get) a few percent strength-endurance increase withcreatine.  The magazines of the day were still trying to imply that creatine directly built muscle though, rather than acknowledging that it allowed mild strength increases by replenishing ATP stores in muscle and was not “anabolic” per se.

Steve Reeves Natural BodybuilderI think it was shortly after that when manufacturers really got an idea of the potential money involved and the supplement marketing claims started getter bolder, falser and more ridiculous.  By the late 1990s one company was outrightly claiming that their product was as anabolic as a cycle of deca-durabolin.  In fact, they claimed a typical gain from their product would be 17 pounds of muscle in 8 weeks – quite impressive considering the “active” ingredient was simply a combination of zinc, magnesium and vitamin B6.

By the late 1990s I thought it would all come to a boil and there would be a backlash against such blatant advertising lies, but I was woefully wrong on that count.  The situation has gotten unbelievably worse.  It’s to the point now were advertisers can make any ridiculous claim they like with no repercussions whatsoever. Supplements today represent a 20+ billion dollar a year industry in the U.S. alone.  One bodybuilding supplement website recently claimed that their new, yet unreleased, supplement and training “protocol” put 27 pounds of muscle on an already experienced lifter and increased his overhead press to 375 for 5 rest-paused reps.  Only the most inexperienced and naive person would believe such preposterous nonsense.

For one, the guy was claiming to be roughly the same height, weight and body fat percentage that Mike Mentzer competed at in the late 1970s – that’s five pounds heavier than Serge Nubret and at least ten pounds more that Larry Scott at his peak.  And not only were these guys anabolic steroid users, they were also some of the world’s best in the sport.  In fact, no competitor of this guy’s height stepped on the Mr. Olympia stage until the late 1980s carrying as much muscle as was being claimed of him …and that was before he supposedly gained 27 more pounds of muscle.  Now he’s bigger than Lee Haney was at his best …without steroids of course …it was all due to the new protein powder.  Oddly enough though, his pre-new-gains photos showed that, while displaying a good physique for a non-competitor, he wasn’t carrying anywhere near the level of muscle mass as a Mike Mentzer, or Larry Scott, or…

The overhead pressing claim was perhaps even more ridiculous.  In 1969 Bill March shocked the Olympic Weightlifting community by performing a strict-form 390 lb overhead press at 224 pounds bodyweight.  Up to that point no lifter, so light, had lifted so much weight (and certainly without excessive lean-back).  In fact, even to this day March’s lift stands as one of the all-time great feats of pure pressing strength (there have been much heavier presses but not under the 242+ lb weight class and not without form looseness such as driving with the legs and leaning back on the press, i.e. the “Russian Press”).  Oh, and March was a dedicated Olympic Press specialist and on Dianabol for ten years before he reached that level.  Yet a popular supplement manufacturer would have us believe that their lifter, who once competed in Olympic Lifting and won no major or even minor titles, can press 375 x 5 with rest-pauses.  Even March couldn’t have done that …and he was one of history’s best.

I think it’s a sad, sad state of affairs when physical culture has degenerated into such a circus that crooks like this can influence young, impressionable trainees and take their money.  It’s even worse considering that some of these kids are so deeply brainwashed and in awe of these phony heroes that even after they get ripped off they won’t admit it because they want to be cool and one of the “in” crowd.  It’s also a little sad because the person I spoke of above truly does seem to have an impressive knowledge of training, a good physique and a respectable level of strength.  He could be a positive role model, but instead the lure of the dollar and self-promoting BS appears to be too strong to resist.

As for manufacturers promoting diets that rely heavily on supplements as food, that’s taken a little longer than I expected actually.  But I guess there had to be a certain level of tolerance amongst consumers before they pushed it that far.  Now some are saying that the routines they recommend won’t work without their supplements and vice versa.  That’s just setting up a safety net for themselves so when the program doesn’t work they’ll say you didn’t train properly, or if the training doesn’t work it’s because you didn’t take enough supplements …you should buy more next time.

What’s taking place in the industry is simply greed.  It has been there all along.  But like most things, a little is nice for awhile, but then a little doesn’t do it and it needs to escalate.  Now it’s to the point where, for some reason, the FDA has allowed things to spiral out of reason and the supplement manufacturers are making false claims and telling blatant lies in their ads.

For the record, there is no legal supplement that is any more “anabolic” than food.  No known legal substance can significantly alter the actions of the testosterone receptor or protein translation at the ribosome – period – only natural and chemically altered androgens can do that.  Likewise, you cannot trick your body into dramatically increasing testosterone levels by taking some herb found in some exotic corner of the world (where, by the way, the people are probably smaller and weaker than you despite having consumed said herb for centuries).  Next year there’ll be a new rash of thesesupplements because the ones we have now won’t live up to the hype and money will have to be made from something else – it’s been going on that way for years.

Having said all that, let me also say that there are useful supplements - particularly the ones which provide the body with the building blocks it needs to grow and get stronger or to preserve muscle when on a diet.  The granddaddy of these are the various quality protein powders but others, such as some carbohydrate powders and creatine, deserve honorable mentions as well.  Bear in mind, though, that none of these will make your physique dreams come true …only you can do that.

For hard training bodybuilders it is often difficult to take in enough protein, at the right times.  Good quality protein powders, such as those made from milk and egg ingredients can fill that gap.  Likewise,multi-vitamins/minerals and select vitamins and minerals act as nutritional “insurance” against deficiencies that can diminish the training response.  Some organ and glandular extracts can even have quite powerful physiological effects (such as desiccated thyroid or even liver).  But none of these will ever come even remotely close to putting 27 pounds of muscle on a person in 6 weeks – even Dianabol won’t do that.  It is simply an advertising lie and, to be quite honest, is probably crossing the criminal line.

People need to stop putting their hopes in bogus supplements that are designed first and foremost to get their money.  I can’t count how many times I’ve seen guys in the gym wimp out on a set of squatsand put the bar back with good reps left in them (if they even do squats), yet those same guys will whip out a bottle of some useless, overpriced capsules of God-knows-what when their workout is finished and think they’re accomplishing something.  Let me tell you, there isn’t a supplement on Earth that’s as anabolic as that one extra squat would have been had they been man enough to do it.  But they’ll sit on the bench with their hopes in a little bottle of pills of ground up weeds from God-knows-where and not supported by a shred of peer reviewed scientific evidence.  These people need to wake up!

Drug Free Natural Bodybuilder

Drug-free physique success comes from hard work, proper nutrition and adequate rest – nothing else.  If trainees have those bases covered then, and only then, should they start considering the few extra percent that selected quality supplements might give them

Muscle and Strength: Is it possible to separate strength from mass? I know we’ve touched on this slightly. But so many young lifters put supplements and diet well above the importance of strength. Just how important is it for a natural to focus on getting stronger? Can you get big without getting strong as a natural?

Casey Butt: People always seem to confuse strength and mass gains and try to separate the two by comparing different people to each other.  For instance, the argument that bodybuilders are bigger than powerlifters, but not as strong, is often used to “prove” that strength and mass are not related and that you can get big without getting stronger.

However, that argument is terribly short-sighted and doesn’t convey any knowledge of how the body responds to different training protocols at all.  For one, successful powerlifters tend to have certain mechanical advantages – leverages, robust joints, tendon insertion points, etc – that allow them to demonstrate a high level of strength.  Because of mechanical advantages two people can have muscles with exactly the same strength but one person would be able to lift more weight because of better leverages and more robust joint structures.  Therefore, you cannot compare two different individuals and draw conclusions about strength vs. muscle mass based on their performances.

Additionally, powerlifters train in a manner that maximizes their neuromuscular “skill” at performing the three powerlifts.  Not only is their technique optimized for strength demonstration (for instance, on thebench press - arching the back, holding the elbows in during the initial drive, flexing the lats at the bottom, lowering the bar to the lower pecs, etc), but they also train the nervous system to become better at generating high forces for short periods.  In other words, yes, you can appear to get stronger and actually get stronger by training expressly for that purpose.

The fact is that it isn’t just the muscles that make you strong, it’s also how the nervous system controls those muscles and your natural birth-given leverages.

Muscles adapt differently to different loading schemes.  If you perpetually do low reps, train to improve neuromuscular coordination and perfect lifting technique, then you will likely gain strength faster than muscle size.  That type of training is designed to preferentially increase maximum strength.  However, if you train with higher reps and a higher total volume (as determined by weights x reps x sets) then you will be training to increase muscle mass because that is the adaptive response the body has to such training.  Of course you will get stronger as well, because a bigger muscle is a stronger muscle, but also because of neuromuscular adaptations to a degree.

So, essentially, strength is composed of two trainable components – the muscles’ capacity to generate force and the nervous system’s ability to efficiently recruit the motor units of those muscles to lift weights.  You can train each aspect individually to degree, but you can never completely separate the two.  Strength athletes cannot lift maximal weights unless they have both of these qualities in sufficient quantities – strength is the product of both.

Bodybuilders focus on the first quality – muscular capacity.  It also happens that the biggest muscles are created not only by increasing absolute strength but also by increasing endurance in roughly the 5 to 15 rep range.  So bodybuilding training is, in essence, strength-endurance training.  But make no mistake, aside from the large increase in neuromuscular coordination that all beginners experience and the small continuing “improvements” that occur from there, the only way to continue to significantly increase strength-endurance – in other words the ability to lift weights for reps – is for the muscles to get bigger.  It is a simple physiological fact that cannot be disputed.  If you will notice, in my previous responses I was always careful to say that trainees must increase their “strength for reps”, not simply their strength or their one-rep maximums.  This is why.

Bodybuilders who think they can go to the gym day-in-day-in and lift the same weights for the same reps (assuming they are performing sets of about 5 to 15 reps) and get bigger muscles are simply deluding themselves.  The only ways you can improve your strength in the 5-15 rep range is for the muscles to get bigger or for the nervous system to refine its recruitment patterns (which happens only to a small extent past the beginner stages while performing sets of 5-15 reps).  But perhaps more clearly and easily understood is the fact that if a person does not get stronger in the 5-15 rep range (assuming technique is unchanged) then he/she is not increasing muscle size.  Over the long term it is not possible for neuromuscular coordination to decrease while regularly performing an exercise, so if your strength-endurance is not increasing then it means only one thing – you are NOT growing.  It’s as simple as that.

Trainees simply MUST increase the weights they can use for sets of approximately 5 to 15 reps in order for the muscles to get bigger.  Of course, it would be possible to focus on strength to a degree by performing lower reps and perfecting technique, but that is not applicable to the point at hand.  Muscles respond to work in the low-rep ranges by getting stronger through means other than great visible hypertrophy (although they will get bigger in response to this type of work also).  But muscles adapt to work in the 5-15 rep range primarily by getting bigger – this is the physiological response that improves their ability to do that type of work and it’s why sets of 5-15 reps have traditionally been the bodybuilding mainstay.  Quite simply, if they aren’t getting bigger they aren’t adapting.

This is why I say it is crucial for natural bodybuilders to focus on strength increases for reps, though not specifically increases in their one-rep maximums (even though, again, the two are inter-related to a degree).  The most fundamental thing a natural can absorb into his consciousness that will put him on the road to success is, “I must get stronger for reps (5-15) on the basic exercises.”  And each day in the gym he should ask himself, “Am I getting stronger?”  If the answer is “no” then he is simply wasting his time and living in a fantasy.

Of all the things in the bodybuilding world, the tendency to ignore this fundamental and all-governing fact (and the over-hyping of ineffective supplements) amazes me the most.

About the author

george harris NLP Hypnotherapist, outdoor fitness and hill walking leader and nutritional therapist living and working in Kendal and the Lake District. Taking hill walks and weekend events for Large Outdoors. Seeing hypnotherapy clients who want to lose weight, stop smoking and lots of other issues. It's the best and most satisfying work I've ever done; helping clients make profound changes to their lives is an honour and a privilege.