Hypertrophy Researcher, Dr. Brad Schoenfeld, Answers Your Questions

Dr. Brad Schoenfeld is a prolific research machine and an absolute asset to the lifting community.  I’m ecstatic to have been able to steal an hour of his time to have him answer reader questions.

The key topics we covered are considerations for older lifters, hypertrophy mechanisms, training splits, the value of mind-muscle connection, and how to tell if you are training too much or too little.

3 Key Points

    1. Research should be used as a guideline and not as a clear answer for all people.
    2. Research should not be looked at as individual studies to prove a point and you should be suspicious when it is used this way by others.
    3. There is no magic hypertrophy rep range and periodization of volume is the real key to long-term success.

Show Notes

  • How did Brad get into the Industry? Brad was a really skinny kid and unhappy with his physique. He started to get into lifting weights and ended up wanting to devote his life to fitness. Both of Brad’s parents were medical physicians so he had a great interest in science. Today, he is primarily researching, educating, and writing. He was a practitioner for 20 years, which has really shaped and directed his research. Brad was 49 years old when he got his Ph.D. Brad’s focus is on changing the field in terms of muscle hypertrophy. He currently has 30 papers that are in-review of being published. [3:00]
  • If Brad had unlimited resources and funding to do one study relating to exercise science, what would it be? The perfect study would involve a group of subjects that Brad could completely control and monitor. Brad finds it difficult to get subjects to write good food diaries, recruitment, and dropouts. [9:45]
  • What advice would Brad give to someone who sees a study with seemingly extraordinary results? It can be difficult for the average person to navigate these individual studies because of a number of factors. You should never use science as a means to prove your point because it is meant to be viewed as a body of evidence. Research can only serve as a guideline because of individual variation of responses. [12:30]
  • What are the considerations for older lifters? Ability to recover declines so older lifters may need more recovery time between sets or deloads more often. Older people tend to need a higher per-dose intake of protein due to anabolic resistance. However, these statements are all generalizations. [13:30]
  • Is there a rule of thumb for people to know if they are training too much or too little? Training too little is hard to determine, according to Brad, because what defines “good results” to the trainee and what is the trainee capable of achieving? In contrast, training too much may result in decreased performance, increased illness, lethargy around sessions. Overtraining is a conglomeration of symptoms. [17:30]
  • What’s better for getting ripped, light loads or heavy loads? According to Brad, you can expect the same results. There is no advantage to using heavier loads over lighter loads when it comes to hypertrophy (gaining muscle mass). However, Brad mentions there is mounting evidence that suggests using a combination of lighter and heavier loads may maximize hypertrophy. Brad also mentions that it is not very fun to take light loads to failure. [20:30]
  • Can you expect similar hypertrophy with moderate loads and low loads when the numbers of sets are equated, and high loads when volume load (load×sets×reps) is equated? Volume load is the total weight lifted during a set. Lighter sets result in a significantly higher volume load compared to otherwise equal moderate loads. With very heavy loads, volume load becomes more important. However, as the reps increase Brad is less sure as to the relevance of volume load due to other factors, like time under tension. Brad reiterates that science can only offer guidelines and a person trying to factor every variable in real life is not realistic.  [24:00]
  • Any update on Brad’s take on the mechanism of hypertrophy (i.e. mechanical tension, metabolic stress and muscle damage)? In particular, any change in opinion on the importance of muscle damage for hypertrophy? The mechanisms are generally poorly understood. There is just not enough information to form an educated conclusion. There was recent research by Demos that has often been taken out of context, according to Brad. Another study by Flann tried to assess the topic but it used an odd protocol which is hard to use to find a conclusion. [32:30]
  • What’s the ideal training split? There is no such thing as an ideal split due to individual variability, according to Brad. There is a benefit to changing how you distribute training over weeks and months when you push your body and then pull-back. The body adapts because it is pushed beyond its current capacity. Using periodization with high volume periods, while not overtraining, would be the best way to optimize training. [38:45]
  • Can use of the mind-muscle connection with lighter loads lead to greater hypertrophy than with heavier loads without that focus? Brad notes that “light” and “heavy” are ambiguous terms and should be quantified. It is harder to develop a mind-muscle connection with very heavy (1-3RM) loads. In a 6-15RM, there is a clear benefit to thinking about the muscle based on the current research. [42:00]
  • How do you design specialization routines for lagging muscle groups? Brad suggests prioritizing the muscle group in the sequence and increasing the volume. In some cases, pulling back volume might be needed if the muscle is being overtrained. [44:00]
  • What is the highlight of Brad’s career to date? Releasing the “Science and Development of Muscle Hypertrophy” textbook. [45:00]

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Thank you for listening! – Andy

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