The Secret To Adding Muscle and Strength as Fast as Possible
Bob Diry, circa 1914
I know you see this advertised everywhere and everyone seems to have their own secret on how to do it.
I would know, since like you, I have spent well over half of my life looking for the secret to gaining muscle and strength.
I’ve read supplement ads from cover to cover, more research studies than you can shake a stick at, physiology text books, interviewed and chatted with many top strength and nutrition coaches, attended several conferences, certifications and seminars. Heck, I’ve even given seminars on those topics.
I’ve spent 14+ years full time in college and paid a couple hundred thousand in tuition (and still will be paying–yikes) looking for the “secrets’.
I’ve even spent money on supplements, most of which turned out to be utterly worthless and only made my wallet lighter.
A new version of Supertraining came out and I was so stoked to get it as a Christmas present and bring it on vacation to read and relax.
Pay attention now and I will reveal this secret for training.
Are you ready?
Are you sure?
Here it comes!
Here is the secret from the very wise words of Dr. Zatsiorsky
* As often as possible
* As heavy as possible
* As fresh as possible
That is the “secret” to progress! Seriously it really is as much of a secret as you will get.
How you do that is the art portion of the equation.
While there are many methods I find testing your movement (biofeedback) to be the best way to put you on track.
You job now is to accumulate as much volume (weight x reps) as possible, while putting the least amount of effort (staying fresh) as often as possible (frequency).
I did not say it would be easy though, did I? Anything worth attaining will require work, but you need to work intelligently.
What are your secrets dear reader? What has helped you make progress in the fastest way possible? Let me know by posting a comment as I love comments!
“But I love to do it and it feels good. Plus my strength is not going down, so you are full of crap”
I get lots of these emails. Literally I do.
This is not really even debateable in my opinon. From the latest study below, the authors state:
“There is an abundance of literature demonstrating that a single bout of stretching acutely impairs muscle strength, with a lesser effect on power.”
Of course static stretching is not going to make your knee cap shoot across the room or make you instantly as weak as a kitten; but I don’t feel it is an optimal way to increase strength and movement efficiency.
If I Don’t Static Stretch, Can I Move Like Crap?
Most don’t want to give it up since they assume their movement will get worse. I agree that athletes of all types need to move well and movement quality is of high importance, I just don’t think static stretching is the best tool. I would much rather have athletes do dynamic work and joint mobility work (like Z-Health).
What About Long Duration Static Stretching?
An even worse idea! Yes, I understand the proposed concept of very long (5-20 minute) static stretches to reset muscle length, but there are much better ways to do it. What is the cost of this practice? Who in their right mind is even going to do it beyond the most motivated athletes? Many barely warm up as it is in most gyms.
I stole this one from my buddy Frankie, “Drugs make you feel good too, but I would not recommend them.” So just because something feels good does not automatically mean it is good for you? How do you determine if an exercise is good for you? I would go with some form of biofeedback.
Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York, New York, USA.
Stretching is commonly practiced before sports participation; however, effects on subsequent performance and injury prevention are not well understood. There is an abundance of literature demonstrating that a single bout of stretching acutely impairs muscle strength, with a lesser effect on power. The extent to which these effects are apparent when stretching is combined with other aspects of a pre-participation warm-up, such as practice drills and low intensity dynamic exercises, is not known. With respect to the effect of pre-participation stretching on injury prevention a limited number of studies of varying quality have shown mixed results. A general consensus is that stretching in addition to warm-up does not affect the incidence of overuse injuries. There is evidence that pre-participation stretching reduces the incidence of muscle strains but there is clearly a need for further work. Future prospective randomized studies should use stretching interventions that are effective at decreasing passive resistance to stretch and assess effects on subsequent injury incidence in sports with a high prevalence of muscle strains.
Busting Broscience: Does Increasing Testosterone and Anabolic Hormones with Exercise Equal More muscle and Strength?
Anabolic Hormones = More Muscle (Hypertrophy), Right?
You hear this in gyms everywhere,
“Dude, to get huge you need to get your test levels up higher”
or this one
“Brotha, you can’t workout any longer than 45 minutes or else you will go completely catabolic bro!”
What? Is this true?
Have I been wasting all these years in the gym lifting longer than 45 minutes? Do anabolic hormones from exercise matter for building muscle (hypertrophy)?
Where is the research?
I think the answer will surprise you.
In short, anabolic hormones from exercise don’t do much of anything for muscle growth.
from the study referenced below
“We report here that, despite being exposed to substantial differences in purportedly anabolic hormones such as testosterone, GH, and IGF-1, the rate of MPS (my note, this is Muscle Protein Synthesis, so adding protein to muscles to make them bigger) in identically exercised muscles was not different.
These data demonstrate that local factors are paramount in determining not only the signalling pathway activation but also the response of MPS.
Furthermore, our results indicate that increases in MPS are able to occur without increases in systemic anabolic hormone concentrations and are not enhanced by the acute elevation that can follow resistance exercise; this finding is in agreement with previous work from our lab showing that increases in circulating hormones are not necessary for hypertrophy (Wilkinson et al. 2006).”
Dave Barr from Muscle and Fitness and I geek out completely and discuss hormones and their effects in the video below. This was filmed from the ACSM 2009 Annual Conference and I had a blast there. I went there for a relaxing vacation (literally).
Listen to the MP3 below for all the details and what you can do to improve your performance. It is time to put this one to rest and there is even data going back to 1975 also (McManus et al.)
I just added this part since I have recieved many good questions on it
Large muscle movements (squats) DO result in higher blood levels of anabolic hormones (testosterone, etc). BUT these transient, acute (temporary) increases do NOT lead to greater OVERALL muscle mass.
Will squats increase leg strength and size? YES, but it is most likely from LOCAL factors (MGF, etc) released at the site of most tension (legs).
This applies if you are in the normal range for testosterone. If you are very low, testosterone helps. If you use exogenous steroids (which are illegal), those help too–you are going outside of the normal range. There is not any difference (based on a handful of studies) currently to show being high normal is better than mid normal. In the studies conducted, the work performed was fixed, so we don’t currently know if your baseline levels are higher, can you do more work and get a better result? Probably, but that is a different question.
In short, focus on the stimulus first (weight training) before anything else. Work to bet better at lifting more weight (load), more times (more reps and thus more volume) in a shorter period of time (density = volume/ time).
We aimed to determine whether exercise-induced elevations in systemic concentration of testosterone, growth hormone (GH) and insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) enhanced post-exercise myofibrillar protein synthesis (MPS) and phosphorylation of signalling proteins important in regulating mRNA translation. Eight young men (20 ± 1.1 years, BMI = 26 ± 3.5 kg m?2) completed two exercise protocols designed to mai
ntain basal hormone concentrations (low hormone, LH) or elicit increases in endogenous hormones (high hormone, HH). In the LH protocol, participants performed a bout of unilateral resistance exercise with the elbow flexors. The HH protocol consisted of the same elbow flexor exercise with the contralateral arm followed immediately by high-volume leg resistance exercise. Participants consumed 25 g of protein after arm exercise to maximize MPS. Muscle biopsies and blood samples were taken as appropriate. There were no changes in serum testosterone, GH or IGF-1 after the LH protocol, whereas there were marked elevations after HH (testosterone, P < 0.001; GH, P < 0.001; IGF-1, P < 0.05). Exercise stimulated a rise in MPS in the biceps brachii (rest = 0.040 ± 0.007, LH = 0.071 ± 0.008, HH = 0.064 ± 0.014% h?1; P < 0.05) with no effect of elevated hormones (P = 0.72). Phosphorylation of the 70 kDa S6 protein kinase (p70S6K) also increased post-exercise (P < 0.05) with no differences between conditions. We conclude that the transient increases in endogenous purportedly anabolic hormones do not enhance fed-state anabolic signalling or MPS following resistance exercise. Local mechanisms are likely to be of predominant importance for the post-exercise increase in MPS.
The aim of our study was to determine whether resistance exercise-induced elevations in endogenous hormones enhance muscle strength and hypertrophy with training. Twelve healthy young men (21.8 +/- 1.2 y, BMI = 23.1 +/- 0.6 kg(.)m(-2)) independently trained their elbow flexors for 15 weeks on separate days and under different hormonal milieu. In one training condition, participants performed isolated arm curl exercise designed to maintain basal hormone concentrations (low hormone, LH); in the other training condition, participants performed identical arm exercise to the LH condition followed immediately by a high volume of leg resistance exercise to elicit a large increase in endogenous hormones (High Hormone, HH). There was no elevation in serum growth hormone (GH), insulin-like growth factor (IG
F-1) or testosterone after the LH protocol, but significant (P < 0.001) elevations in these hormones immediately and 15 and 30 min after the HH protocol. The hormone responses elicited by each respective exercise protocol late in the training period were similar to the response elicited early in the training period indicating that a divergent post-exercise hormone response was maintained over the training period. Muscle cross-sectional area increased by 12% in LH and 10% in HH (P < 0.001) with no difference between conditions (condition x training interaction, P = 0.25). Similarly, type I (P < 0.01) and type II (P < 0.001) muscle fiber CSA increased with training with no effect of hormone elevation in the HH condition. Strength increased in both arms but the increase was not different between the LH and HH conditions. We conclude that exposure of loaded muscle to acute exercise-induced elevations in endogenous anabolic hormones enhances neither muscle hypertrophy nor strength with resistance training in young men. Key words: testosterone, growth hormone, IGF-1, anabolism.
We examined the changes induced by daily treadmill exercise on body weights, plantaris muscle weights, plantaris protein concentrations, and L-leucine-4,5-3H incorporation into plantaris muscles of normal and castrated young male guinea pigs and of castrated animals receiving testosterone replacement therapy, and compared the testosterone-1,2-3H uptake by plantaris muscles of trained normal guinea pigs to that of untrained animals. Trained animals exhibited significantly lower body and muscle weights and greater labeled leucine incorporation into sarcoplasmic and myofibrillar proteins but did not show significant changes in protein concentrations or labeled testosterone uptake. The level of physical activity of the young animals studied appeared to be more important than gonadal endocrine function in altering protein metabolism and muscle and body weights. Because hypertrophy did not occur in the trained plantaris muscles, which had elevated rates of labeled leucine incorporation, it appears that the trained animals had a higher muscle protein turnover rate. It seems unlikely that testosterone plays an important role in these activity-related phenomena.
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Last time we talked about a super cool research study that looked at muscle and connective tissue hypertrophy. This time there will not be any of those big words and we will check out the lifting world and see if the meatheads had already figured this out years ago (like most things, the answer is yes!).
Ever notice how old school mechanics have massive forearms?
I decide to pull the elusive professional Strongman Adam T Glass out of his cold and dark cave in Minot, ND to get his thoughts on muscle and tendon strength. Take it away Adam
Mike, first of- great article. My thoughts will come from my direct experience and the progress of my students. So whatever that is worth here it comes
Is frequency with the lift clearly a key element for tendon development?
My first thought is absolutely. For example, the only people i see day to day whose wrist tendons look like mine are men who work with hammers and tools all day- the farmers out here.
Is load important for tendon development?
I believe load is the key. I work with some bone heads who curl literally every day. They are typical weekend warriors. A “workout” is bench press and curl. That means 185 on the bar and the partner does all the lifting “Its all you bro” for sets of 10. The curls range from mildly good w/35-40lbs to some wild $hitty looking cleans with 50’s and 60’s. So naturally i introduce them to the plate curl.-
95% of the men i show a plate curl to are unable to curl a 25 for 1-2 reps. Only one man has ever curled a 35 in front of me– Freak show Mark Wilson- A man who has spent most of his life lifting dry wall, swinging a hammer and other stuff. (Editor’s note, if you are in the ND Fargo area, look up Mark Wilson RKC for training HERE)
If frequency is the key element, and SO many men do curls as their primary fitness vehicle, why is the plate curl so challenging for them?
At first i though it was the thumb pinch but every time they complain their wrist tendons hurt when they try it, they are simply not strong enough to handle the force. So in my opinion, based upon what i have seen– load has to play a role in this, but i have not tested enough to have any clear data to say the extent. –Adam T Glass
Special thanks to Adam for his words of wisdom above! Be sure to check him out on his blog below and if you are in Minot ND, you MUST get your butt in to see him and train.
I have noticed that on wrist curls my wrist (and others too) tend to “bend too much” and not stay straight. This shuts down the muscles of the arm via the arthrokinetic reflex as talked about last time. “Jammed joints = muscular weakness”
Frequency and Load
Some of you are now rolling your eyes into your head muttering “This is nothing new” and you would be correct. To others, this is earth shattering since it is rarely talked about in the popular media. Chad Waterbury and Jason Ferroggia had a disccusion like this one below
You need to work to add more weight over time. Keep track of your PRs (personal records) for your major lifts. I have PRs for rack pulls, bench, DB bench, reverse bench, kettlebell press,kettlebell snatch, etc I have about 20+ PRs that I regularly track. I am always looking to add more load and/or reps over time. Just the other night I was not feeling like lifting, but I made it to the gym and after some Z-Health joint mobility work I started out on my main lifts of low rack pulls and kettlebell presses. Everything felt good and tested good (but not great) and over time it started to get better. I opted for an old PR on the rack pull and added 2 reps to a 1 rep max weight and also did a bottoms up kettlebell press on my left side with the 24 kg kettlebell for a PR! I felt great after that! Make it fun and chart progress. You do have a training journal, right?
Chad Waterbury has talked about this before too and if you want to bring up a lift, and easy way is to add some bodyweight drills. Since my bench is stalling a bit and I don’t have tons of time to add more bench work in right now, I am doing 50 pushups each day for a week, and then the following week I will bump it up to 60, etc. I also added inverted rows (from a TRX or a straight bar) to keep it balanced out. My goal is to get to 50 per day, and that may be sets of 10, 8, 15,,and it doesn’t matter.
Finger Lifting: Note, this is advanced, which means don’t go out and try this at home right away with a heavy weight. You may find it is the last time you do any finger lifting. Like all things, the dose is most important and start very very light and build up the load and frequency over time. Adam has been done this MUCH longer than you; so you are for warned.
Frequency + Load = Bigger Muscles and more strength
We have outlined some great options for you to add some size and strength around this Holiday season.
Drop me a line and let me know how it is going and what PRs you are going to break!
Below is a great brand new review of what makes a muscle bigger! Sweet! Here are some take aways to keep in mind.
In general, muscle types can be broadly defined as Type I or Type II.
Slow Twitch (Type I)
These guys are slow muscles and they are more efficient at using oxygen (aerobic) for continuous, extended muscle contractions over a long time. They are a friend to all the cardio bunnies. As the name states, they contract more slowly than fast twitch fibers too.
Fast Twitch (Type II)
Fast twitch fibers use anaerobic metabolism (think NO oxygen) and work best to created short bursts of strength or speed as compared to the Type Is. The downside is that they get tired (fatigue) more quickly. Think of sprinting—you can go very fast, but you can’t go fast AND long distances.
Type IIs are almost more prone to hypertrophy (increasing in size) and are a friend to weight trainers and power/speed athletes. I would argue they are a friend to all since they keep you more “functional” as you age.
The study also states, “Eccentric resistance training has been shown to be highly efficient in inducing sarcomeric protein assembly in the longitudinal orientation of muscle cells.”
What? Eccentric (lowering of weight) may help you increase muscle size! It also may make you crazy sore too. I once (er, I mean I heard about a guy) in college that did too much calf work and included heavy eccentrics for too many reps and walked like a friggin penguin for a week. Those crazy college kids!
So don’t just go crazy on the ecentrics as the study states, “concentric contractions lead to a hypertrophic response (increased fiber diameter) in muscle which can still be activated in old age.”
Yep, you can to be strong as you age!
Last key point, “The central signaling pathway to mediate the elevation of protein synthesis in response to training is the mTOR pathway, which is also stimulated by free amino acids.”
mTOR is the pathway stimulated by protein. So protein by itself is very anabolic (building) in nature.
Stimulate the muscle + protein and calories= increased muscle size! Viola.
Converting Type IIs to Type Is?
They also talk about doing some endurance training at a low intensity and for longer than 30 minutes to help convert Type IIs to Type Is. Yikes! Personally, I want to keep as many Type II fibers as possible; so based on this study you would want to keep your “cardio” work to UNDER 30 minutes and do more high intensity work. Yet another reason for Kettlebell CRF (cardiorespiratory fitness) work instead of jogging. Keep off that darn treadmill too. You can even push your car, pick up something heavy and walk around with it, get a sledge hammer and pound away on a tire, etc.
Any questions, comments, post away! Let me know what you think
Rock on Mike T Nelson
Tegtbur U, Busse MW, Kubis HP. Institut für Sportmedizin, Medizinische Hochschule Hannover , Carl-Neuberg-Str. 1, 30625, Hannover, Deutschland, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Resistance training and to a lesser extent endurance training are capable of enhancing protein synthesis in skeletal muscle via various signaling pathways. Additionally, the expression of muscle fiber types responds to different regimes of training stimuli and immobilization as characterized by changes in myosin heavy chain isoforms (IIIAIIX). Eccentric resistance training has been shown to be highly efficient in inducing sarcomeric protein assembly in the longitudinal orientation of muscle cells. However, concentric contractions lead to a hypertrophic response (increased fiber diameter) in muscle which can still be activated in old age. The central signaling pathway to mediate the elevation of protein synthesis in response to training is the mTOR pathway, which is also stimulated by free amino acids.
Moreover, adaptation to endurance training is mediated by the calcium-calcineurin-NFATc1 pathway which is strongly activated by the calcium transients involved in the muscle contraction process. High contraction frequency and long duration of training sessions are essential for activation and maintenance of fiber type I expression as well as for induction of transformation of type II into type I fibers. Endurance training sessions should therefore be longer than 30 min and dominated by periods of high frequency contractions. A further factor in the muscular response to training includes the recruitment and integration of satellite cells into muscle fibers. Satellite cells can respond to muscular stretch, activity and injury with increased proliferation and can later be integrated into muscle fibers.
CONCLUSION: Therefore, new myonuclei are available to enhance mRNA synthesis and protein expression in muscle cells. New understanding of the cellular mechanisms of signal transduction in muscle in response to training, bed rest and ageing will help to optimize training and interventions in an ageing population.