By day, I'm a skeletal muscle physiologist in a laboratory at the University of Tampa. But I also have a secret—OK, it's no secret. I absolutely love bodybuilding and lifting weights. Ever since I was a kid, I knew I wanted to be a scientist studying sports performance, and bodybuilding in particular.
To me, bodybuilding is fascinating because it's based on the ultimate dichotomy: gaining size and getting shredded at the same time. These shouldn't mix, right? But they do, as we see in our lab on a regular basis.
At any given time, we're doing approximately six experiments on bodybuilding. We can look at muscle from the bone to the skin; we can scan your whole body and tell you the most accurate ways to look at fat. You name it, we can analyze it.
I want to bring this sport to a new level with the latest science has to offer, and I want you to ride along with me.
Pull up a chair and get out your notebook. Mass Class is about to begin.
If you look at all the scientific literature, you'll see we've narrowed down how muscle grows to at least 3-4 different mechanisms. You'll hear people say, "Oh, so-and-so is the best training method, " but that method might only maximize one of those mechanisms. When you're training for maximum growth, periodize your training so you can optimize each of these mechanisms.
Luckily, there are many different techniques you can use to do this.
Different researchers have different ways of categorizing them, but here's what I consider the primary mechanisms of muscle growth:
You've probably heard guys who are about to go to the gym say things like, "I'm gonna go get my swole on." There is actually something to what they're saying. We call it the cell swelling theory.
Working in the 8-12 rep range (hypertrophy range) can increase cell swelling.
When you train and you get a pump, kind of like Arnold famously talked about in "Pumping Iron, " your muscle cells sense that swelling as a threat. They basically say, "OK, I have to grow or die." So they restructure themselves and get larger.
What are the methods to increase that edema, or that blood to the muscle? Working in the hypertrophy range of 8-12 repetitions is one, especially with short rest period lengths.
Overload techniques like stripsets, supersets, and working to failure are also ideal, if you use them properly.