Podcast #20 – Eric Helms Answers Your Most Popular Questions

In this 60-minute interview, researcher and coach, Eric Helms, answers twenty reader questions posted in our Facebook Group. We talk about a variety of topics including RPE (Rating of Perceived Exertion), full-body versus splits, protein frequency and how bodybuilders can progress through a plateau.

The show also starts off with an exclusive musical number by yours truly. Enjoy! 

Selected links

Show notes

  • What is RPE? – RPE stands for Rating of Perceived Exertion. Eric has a Ph.D in a specific type of RPE. It is essentially a scale that tells you how hard the perceived effort of training is to accomplish, which was developed by Gunnar Borg. Eric studies an iteration of RPE developed in 2007 by Mike Tuchscherer, which adds the layer of repetitions in reserve. RPE is used as a simple way to auto-regulate your training volume. In addition, RPE can be used to measure progression and manage fatigue. [2:00]
  • What about going to failure? – While Dorian Yates got ripped by training to failure, however, using RPE can be an effective tool in knowing when you should, or if you should, go to failure. Training to failure all the time will likely put you at a higher risk of injury, with Dorian being a prime example. [5:30]
  • What we know about hypertrophy. – Hypertrophy is primarily related to the amount of work you do at an adequate level of effort (intensity) for what you are capable of doing. In addition, hypertrophy is related to repeating that work and effort as often as possible. [7:00]
  • Andy trained with Dorian Yates. – Andy trained back with Dorian about five years ago. Here’s a photo album with some photos Andy took. [8:00]
  • How useful can RPE be for bodybuilders versus power-lifting or other sports. – RPE would be applied differently depending on the context. A powerlifter might have a heavy singles day using RPE to build technique. Intensity of load is calculated by repetition maximum or percentage of repetition maximum. Volume is calculated by sets x reps x load. RPE is just intensity of effort. RPE is a way to quantify the data and is part of any training program, tracked or not. [10:00]
  • Why use RPE when you could use percentage of repetition maximum? – The further you get away from failure, the less accurate RPE becomes. Anything more than three reps left in reserve, the accuracy of RPE goes down. [12:15]
  • The 2% rule. – If you have rated something at 8.5 RPE and the goal was 8, you drop the load 2%. If you rated it at 7.5 RPE, you would increase the load by 2%. This works fairly well to adjust the load in the right direction. [14:00]
  • Sample programs using RPE. – You can see RPE sample programs in The Muscle and Strength Pyramid Books or on RippedBody.com in the Training section. There is also the RPE Mastery Email Course. [15:00]
  • How did MASS start? – Greg Nuckols messaged Eric about starting a research review and brought Michael Zourdos on board. MASS was born. They pick the most prominent articles that result in you learning how to program better. [16:00]
  • A minimum calorie intake for clients? – Eric bases it on a weekly average and tries not to go below is 10kcals/pound (22kcals/kilogram). However, contest prep clients will have this rule broken. Instead of going lower in calories, increased cardio might be the only option. Andy mentions that there is often a counting or tracking issue when a client is unable to lose weight. Eric will sometimes use single-ingredient food list for the short-term to prove that they can lose weight. Eric also mentions being realistic with clients, especially when they are the general population. Eric also turns to a week-long diet break before trying to cut calories further. [19:00]
  • Eric talks about the simple meal plan they use. – Potatoes, rice, lean meats, and other foods that do not need to be prepared. If a client is spending two hours preparing food, they have been dieting too long. Eric mentions that everything must be weighed on the scale, within the context of assessing a diet. [27:00]
  • Updates coming to the Muscle and Strength Pyramid Books? – There will be translations coming to the ebooks. Might be new video content. Eric has new information for the second edition and wants to talk about the “recovery diet.” Andy mentions the potential of making the ebook into a course. [29:30]
  • What’s the best protein frequency for maximum muscle gain? – There is acute mechanistic data which is not very realistic. However, based on this data, getting 20-40 grams of protein per feeding every 3-4 hours would be optimal. With this in mind, the timing is insignificant compared to actually getting enough daily protein. Intermittent fasting and protein spread should not be opposing strategies, as Eric points out they can be used effectively together. [34:00]
  • Eric talks about his protein research. – Eric is very focused on applied outcomes in the context of resistance training. 1.6-2.2 grams per kilogram of total body mass is optimal. The idea of “a gram per pound” is fairly accurate advice. Resistance training will do more to help maintain muscle mass than protein intake. [37:30]
  • Can a natural bodybuilder train full-body or upper-lower split and maintain hypertrophy? – Eric says yes. Steroids simply make everything work better. A more appropriate question would be on the frequency, intensity and volume required to maintain hypertrophy. Frequency of 2-3 times per week. Hitting each muscle group with at least 10 sets per week. There is an endless number of ways to run your programming, including splits and full-body. [40:30]
  • Does the rate of weight loss impact how much is lean muscle mass or fat? – You could have someone in any ratio. The leaner you get, the more weight loss will be lean muscle mass. The greater caloric deficit, the greater loss will be lean muscle mass. A good target is losing 0.5-1% of your body mass per week with a good diet, de-loads, and adequate training. If you would like simple guidelines, check out The Complete Guide to Setting Up Your Diet. [42:30]
  • Should bodybuilders track volume like power-lifters? – Total repetitions makes more sense for bodybuilders. Total sets would also work. Another way would be relative volume, which is sets x reps x % of 1 Rep Max. Eric thinks modifying sets over time is the best way for bodybuilders to get over a plateau. [45:00]
  • Is there anything coaches are missing in the fitness industry? – More emphasis needs to be on actual coaching for behavior change. Eric’s 3DMJ Podcast covers this concept regularly. [47:45]
  • How to get over insomnia. Minimize screen time after dark. Make your bed a place for sleeping. A regular eating pattern. Melatonin is also an option, but start at a very low dosage. Having a meal before bed might work. Not training at night. Andy has a checklist for better sleep on his FAQ page. [49:30]
  • What is Eric’s daily routine? – Eric is a big picture thinker and broke up his time into blocks. Eric would train 4-6 times per week, while never neglecting sleep or food. Eric likes to schedule fun time and it helps him from getting distracted. Eric also schedules time away from others. [52:00]
  • Nutrition advice for bodybuilding peak week. – Eric suggests reading Evidence-based recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation. You want to not be carb depleted, not be dehydrated, and not be low-blood pressure. Eric uses salt water with his clients right before they go on stage. [57:45]
  • Thoughts on research versus experience. – Eric doesn’t see them as competing forces. Experience is still a form of evidence. [1:03:30]
  • The difference between a Ph.D. and a Masters. – The research project is larger in scope for a Ph.D. You also take more graduate classes for a Ph.D. Differs based on country of study and school. [1:06:00]
  • If you could a put a billboard anywhere in the world, saying anything, what would it say? – Put yourself in other people’s shoes more often. [1:08:05]

Thank you for listening! – Andy and Eric


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Andy Morgan

I am the founder of RippedBody.com, this is my sincere effort to build the best nutrition and training guides on the internet. Some readers hire me to coach them, which I've been doing online, via email, for the last six years. If you're interested in individualized, one-on-one nutrition and training coaching to help you crush your physique goals, let's start the conversation.

3 Comments on “Podcast #20 – Eric Helms Answers Your Most Popular Questions”

  1. Lindsay says:

    Thanks so much for covering my question in such detail. I’m working with general pop, so miscalculating is always an issue. I think there is a bit of an art to asking the question well. I often use a lower target to try and hit a number too. Thanks again, Lindsay

    1. Most welcome, Lindsay.

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