Episode 82. What Real Research Says about Training for Physique Development
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A discussion about what really works to build a better physique, featuring a clinical study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology in 2016: Morton et al. “Neither load nor systemic hormones determine resistance training-mediated hypertrophy or strength gains in resistance-trained young men.”
This research’s results contradict popular fitness industry dogma that says, ‘train for strength and development will come.’
About the Study
- This research studied 49 healthy young men who had been doing resistance training (RT) for at least the past 2 years and at least 2 workouts per week, including at least one lower body workout.
- Studying trained persons is important, because untrained persons demonstrate short-term adoptive response.
- The group was divided into High Rep (HR) lower weight, and Low Rep (LR) higher weight sub-groups. The HR group did 3 sets of 20-25 reps per set of about 30 and 50% of 1 Rep Max (RM). The LR group did 3 sets of 8-12 at about 75-90%.
- Reps were performed to “volitional failure”, meaning until another rep can’t be performed without cheating or help.
- The increases in muscular strength were not significantly different between groups. The exception was bench press 1 RM, which increased more in the LR group.
- The study also measured changes in hormones. “Post-exercise levels of circulating hormones did not change as a result of the RT intervention and were unrelated to changes in muscle mass and strength.”
- This study (and a recent meta-analysis) do not support the assertion that greater weights are required for muscle growth, especially [when compared to] lighter, moderate weights are used to volitional failure.
Important Take-Aways from the Study
- Intensity is more important than load. This study controlled for how hard the study subjects were working out.
- Hormonal levels didn’t change, so there’s no evidence here about the importance of supplements or their timing.
- Training heavy has to do with how much load the muscle is under at the cellular level, not how much weight is on the “bar”. Intensity of effort is the goal, not amount of load.
- Hypertrophy and strength gains are not a function of the load lifted.
- Continually training heavy invites unnecessary joint strain. Training with moderate weights and higher reps decreases stress on joints, allowing for more training longevity (training into later years).
- The best bodybuilders are not the best powerlifters, and vice versa. You won’t see a lot of remarkable physiques at a natural powerlifting competition.
- First two principles of exercise physiology: 1) Overload; 2) SAID = Specific Adaptation to Applied Demands.
- This study, along with other previous studies, directly proves that hypertrophy and strength gains are not a function of the load lifted.
- Intensity of effort is what determines hypertrophy.
- Morton, et al, “Taken together with previous data (4, 28), the findings of the present study, along with a recent meta-analysis (35), do not support the assertion that higher-load RT is a prerequisite to maximize RT-induced muscle hypertrophy especially when lower-load exercises are performed to volitional failure.”