January 2013: Brad Schoenfeld (Part 2)

by on January 23, 2013

JOHN: Ok Brad, let’s talk a bit about the almighty pump now. Does it mean anything, does it help with hypertrophy, is it essential to get as big as possible?

BRAD: The pump is not essential to hypertrophy per se–there is little doubt you can increase size without training for the pump. But there is compelling evidence that it enhances muscle growth and thus may be important for maximizing hypertrophy. The pump is basically an increase in hydration of the muscle fiber. The end result of this cell swelling is an increase in protein synthesis and a decrease in protein breakdown in the muscle fiber–the mechanisms that mediate an increase in hypertrophy. It is believed that the hypertrophic effects of the pump are a survival mechanism. Namely, swelling increases cellular pressure that is perceived by the body as a threat to the cell’s integrity. In response, the cell initiates a signaling cascade that ultimately causes the muscle to grow larger to protect its ultra-structure. Now this should not be taken to mean that all hypertrophy training needs to be pumping sets. Rather, it gives credence for the fact that training for the pump is not simply a temporary cosmetic phenomenon and can be a beneficial part of a growth-oriented routine.

JOHN: This pump you speak of, is this what they call sarcoplasmic hypertrophy? To get this pump, do we do this through time under tension and if so does there appear to be an optimal time range for this such as 50 seconds per set for example?

BRAD: To answer your first question: Since the pump is a transient phenomenon, it is not indicative of sarcoplasmic hypertrophy in the truest sense of the term. Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy refers to a long-term gain in non-contractile muscle proteins. This would encompass such things as collagen, mitochondria, and glycogen. Now since glycogen attracts fluid into the cell at approximately 3 g for every gram of glycogen, fluid buildup can encompass aspects of sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. And the cell swelling effect of these adaptations may in fact promote a hypertrophic response. But this is separate and distinct to the post-workout pump that is achieved through training.

As far as optimizing the pump, there is clearly a correlation to time-under-tension. Low rep work does not significantly involve the glycolytic energy system, and thus there is not much metabolic stress generated from this type of training. No studies have been done to determine an “optimal” pump range, but experience dictates that somewhat higher reps (10+) are best in this regard. Using a technique such as drop sets is also another excellent way to enhance the pump effect. Beginning with a hypertrophy type range of 6-12 reps and then reducing the poundage by ~25% for additional reps really generates a lot of metabolic stress and thus enhances the cell swelling effect.

JOHN: Does the training style in which you focus primarily on pump, create overtraining to the degree of training that is heavier and lower rep in nature?

BRAD: The two primary factors responsible for overtraining are volume and intensity. With resistance training, intensity seems to be more related to the effort that is put into training (i.e. training at or near failure) as opposed to the amount of load per se. I’ve not seen any direct research comparing overtraining in low vs. moderate-high reps (I just might do such a study now that you’ve piqued my interest!), but given the causal factors there shouldn’t be any significant differences provided that the effort is similar and volume is approximately equated. Now pump type training is often associated with high training volumes so this must be taken into account. However, provided a periodized approach is used where unloading phases are systematically inserted into the training cycle based on individual response, overtraining really shouldn’t be an issue with any training regimen.

JOHN: I like to increase frequency when a client has their recovery in full swing. One of the ways I do this is by training the bodypart twice in a week, but the second workouts are more “pump” driven, and less intense. Generally speaking (assuming nutrition is on point), how long would you tell someone to wait before training a bodypart again?

BRAD: The general “rule” is 48 hours, which encompasses the approximate time course for protein synthesis. An important thing to remember, however, is that muscles are never isolated. So if you train the shoulders one day and then chest the next, you will extensively involve the anterior deltoid and triceps as synergists in the chest workout. And if you train chest one day and then back the next, the sternal head of the pecs will be involved as synergists in lat pulldowns and pull-up exercises. And this does not take into account the stabilizer muscles that are inherent amongst exercise in general. So as you can see, even the most carefully planned out routine will tend to interfere with this “rule” to some degree. Bottom line is that workouts should be structured to afford adequate rest between working muscles and, most importantly, frequency should be periodized so that local overtraining doesn’t become an issue.

JOHN: So does soreness mean anything?

BRAD: I’m actually working on a review article about this topic as we speak. The best answer here is, maybe. Delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is a general indicator of muscle damage. And there is evidence that at least to some extent, damage is involved in remodeling of muscle tissue and thus helps to enhance the hypertrophic response. That said, too much damage will have a negative effect on results as the structural disruptions outpace the body’s ability to efficiently repair the damage. With this as background, soreness can provide somewhat of a gauge as to the damaging effects of training. But this is in no way a be-all-end-all gauge of the phenomenon. Studies show that the time course and magnitude of damage does not necessarily correlate with DOMS. What’s more, individual perceptions of soreness vary greatly, with some experiencing repeated soreness over time while others not getting sore at all. So the fact that someone is not sore after a workout by no means should be taken as a sign that adaptive processes are not taking place. Perhaps the most appropriate way to use is soreness is by its severity: if you are so sore that it is hard to walk or wash your hair, then you have probably overdone it and need to better acclimate your body to the training stimulus.

JOHN: I am coming off my best year in terms of muscle gain (12 lbs of dry stage weight), and I was the least sore I have ever been during that training cycle. I am a total believer that soreness, at least the extreme kind you feel, is not mandatory for excellent gains! If you would have asked me 2 years ago, I would have said the more sore you get the better, haha!!!

OK, so I want to touch on satellite cells. Can you educate us on the role of satellite cells when it comes to muscle growth. I am fascinated by your writings on the topic.

BRAD: To answer your question, a little background information is in order. The basis of muscle growth is achieved by a process called protein synthesis, which takes place in the nucleus of muscle fibers. Muscles are multinucleated, meaning they have many nuclei, and this allows them to carry out sufficient protein synthesis that’s required during normal daily living. However, when a person lifts weights intensely, the amount of nuclei that you have are not sufficient to support continued growth. This is where satellite cells come into play. Satellite cells are basically unspecialized muscle stem cells that get called upon to become active when needed. During intense resistance training, satellite cells become activated and then fuse to muscle fibers where they donate their nuclei so that muscles can produce more protein. This ensures that the muscle has the continued capacity to grow; if satellite cell activation is insufficient, muscle development will inevitably stagnate over time.

JOHN: Sometimes I see people who do everything right, and they still have a real difficult time of putting on a significant amount of muscle. Could this be a limiting factor? Maybe their bodies just want to stay at homeostasis and not create additional nuclei?

BRAD: There is absolutely a genetic component involved. This was demonstrated quite clearly in a recent cluster analysis study. The study examined over 60 individuals who participated in a resistance training study and classified them based on their hypertrophic response to the program. Interestingly, a primary difference between those who experienced “extreme” hypertrophy (greater than 50% increase in muscle cross sectional area) compared to those who experienced little to no results was that the extreme responders had a much greater ability to expand their satellite cell pool. Now while genetics certainly play a role here, it is conceivable that training-related factors may help to enhance satellite cell activation, proliferation, and differentiation. Muscle damage, for example, is believed to enhance satellite cell activity. And various hormones and growth factors also have been shown to play a role. This is another area of focus for my research; hopefully I will have some data to share in the not-too-distant future on the topic.

JOHN: Well, I was hoping you would tell me you have invented a drink that would increase my satellite cell pool, shucks.

So you mentioned growth factors. When I think of growth factors I think of IGF-1, GH, etc. What popped into my mind was the old philosophy that after 60 minutes your test levels and other key hormones start to drop? Is this true? Should we stop right at 60 minutes?

BRAD: I think this is of minor consequence in the overall scheme of things. What is more important as to the duration of training session, IMO, is that your ability to train hard starts to wane when sessions go beyond about an hour or so. Now this is more relevant to hypertrophy-type training where rest intervals are generally relatively short and training is carried out to the point of muscular failure. Thus, it is generally best to limit the overall duration of a session. That said, there is no magic cut-off at one-hour; if the workout lasts slightly longer that should not pose a problem. I should note that for strength/power type training that employs long rest intervals and generally does not involve much training to failure, longer duration workouts are not detrimental and in fact have benefit.

JOHN: And while we are on this topic, what do you think are a few of the biggest reasons why people fail to grow new muscle when that is their goal?

BRAD: The primary reason why people don’t optimize their growth is poor training and/or nutrition. An important thing to realize is that training follows the principle of individuality; just because a routine works for one person, doesn’t mean that it will necessarily work well for another. One thing I always point out with respect to my programs is that they are templates that are intended to be individualized. A lifter must be in tune with his body and make necessary adjustments based on individual response. It gets progressively more difficult to keep adding muscle as you gain lifting experience and thus approach your genetic ceiling. As such, you must constantly tweak your routine to force your body to adapt. This is where science meets art with respect to training!

JOHN: Now this one strikes a chord with me, mostly because I get tired of hearing people saying to do the same thing over and over again. Training is an art. If you saw pictures of my back 10 years ago you would have said no way will I ever have a respectable back, but I essentially invented many exercises and fixed it, as the basic just didn’t work for me.

A big part of the “art” aspect of this to me, is also how you can elegantly structure exercises. Some sequences just seem to work better than others. I’ll give you an example. When I first started telling people to try leg curls before squats, it was met with alot of resistance. Now you will be hard pressed to find someone who tried this and didn’t agree.

Have you found a few cool sequences or exercises variations that you proud of?

BRAD: My approach to programming involves looking at how exercises complement one another in an overall training scheme. This involves taking into account factors such as plane of movement, training angle, modality, multi- vs. single joint, and active insufficiency. Certain muscle groups lend themselves more toward some factors compared to others. For example, a back routine might generally focus on multiplanar movements using different modalities. For example, I might have the lifter perform chins (frontal plane), barbell close grip rows (sagittal plane) and wide-grip machine rows (transverse plane); each exercise targets the muscle complex from different planes with different modalities. For the chest, I’d tend to focus on training angle and multi-/single-joint movements, as well as modality. So a sample routine might involve performing dumbbell incline press, barbell decline press, and flat cable flys. Active insufficiency can be incorporated nicely into triceps training. The long head of the triceps is maximally active in overhead movements (this stretches the muscle, since it crosses the shoulder joint) while it becomes more actively insufficient during exercises where the arm is at the sides. Thus, a routine might involve overhead triceps extensions, skull crushers, and triceps pressdowns. These are just examples as I strive to vary exercises over the course of the training cycle and take into account the needs of the individual. Of course, if a lifter has a weak point I’ll hone in on this and use the above principles to optimize stress to the target area and de-emphasize the stronger area if symmetry issues exist.

JOHN: I love your take on planes of movement. Back training was always fascinating to me, because you can feel completely crushed, destroyed, time to go home, but then you do another exercise from a different plane as you discuss, and all of a sudden the back “repumps” up and you are back in business.

I want to finish with talking about injury prevention. Specifically, for those of us who love lifting, and want to be able to do it to a ripe old age, what are a couple of tips you can give us to keep us in one piece!

BRAD: Resistance training is an inherently safe activity, so injury prevention is mostly common sense stuff. Problem is, lifters often don’t use common sense. The most important tip I can give is to train with proper form. This means that a lifter needs to understand what constitutes proper form. A good working knowledge of human movement and muscle function is imperative in this regard. Once you have a comprehension of how the body works, exercise technique necessarily takes care of itself. Along the same lines, if a lifter wants to “cheat” a few reps, he should do so in a controlled fashion; no jerking, twisting maneuvers! Another important point is know the limits of your flexibility and avoid extreme ranges of movement that compromise these limits. For example, I often see guys trying to get an extreme stretch in the bottom position of a fly, past the point where their joint is meant to travel. This is a prescription for injury. Other exercises such as behind the neck presses and pulldowns are beyond the capacity of many individuals flexibility range and can harm the shoulder joint. Finally, I’ll again mention the importance of periodization here. Periodizing a workout helps to prevent overtraining, which is a primary culprit for hastening the onset of injury. You can’t train balls-to-the-wall all the time; your body needs to recover. Systematically employing unloading periods will keep you fresh and ultimately reduce injury potential.

JOHN: More great info. Thanks Brad. This has been an extremely enjoyable interview, and the knowledge you shared with is the top of the line. I am sure my readers would agree and thank you as well.

Everybody be sure to check out Brad’s blog at http://workout911.com/

Also be sure to pick up Brad’s book The Max Muscle Plan, as it is a winner!