Do you want to gain muscle?
Are you tired of using your precious time in the gym on unproven “broscience” instead of scientific methods to maximize your results?
This is the podcast for you. Brad Schoenfeld, MSc, CSCS, CSPS., is a world renowned fitness expert. He’s regarded as one of the leading authorities on using diet and exercise to gain muscle and lose fat.
In this episode, Brad gives you some of the most practical and valuable tips from his new book, The MAX Muscle plan — a scientific guide to gaining muscle.
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The Max Muscle Plan by Brad Schoenfeld
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> Did you enjoy this podcast? [Click here to check out my book, *Flexible Dieting](https://evidencemag.com/flexible-dieting-book)*. Want an even more in-depth education on how to lose weight, build muscle, and get stronger and healthier? [Join Evidence Mag Elite](https://evidencemag.com/elite) and get member’s-only reports and interviews.
**Armi Legge:** Muscle is awesome. It makes you better at many sports. It helps you fight the negative effects of aging. It helps you lift things and resist fatigue in every day life. It increases your metabolic rate, though only slightly. It makes you more resistant to diabetes. It increases your self-confidence. It makes you more attractive, and yes, that’s true for women as well as men. So how do you get more muscular? That’s a question that researchers have been trying to answer for years. While there is still a lot we don’t know, it’s a fairly well understand topic overall.
Today, we’re going to talk with Brad Schoenfeld, a researcher, natural bodybuilder, personal trainer, and author of a new book called “The Max Muscle Plan.” If you’re one of those people who never seems to be able to put on muscle mass, AKA a “hard gainer,” an advanced bodybuilder trying to push your genetic limits, or an average trainee trying to maximize your time in the gym, this is the podcast for you.
You are listening to episode four of Impruvism Radio, the podcast that uses science to help you become more awesome. I’m your host, Armi Legge. If you like what you hear on the show and you want more information like this, you should navigate to Impruvism.com, enter your email address in the box on the right side of the page and click “submit.” After you do, you’ll get free updates whenever we publish a new article or podcast. Now let’s hear from Brad Schoenfeld, a best-selling author who has written a new scientific guide to gaining muscle, called “The Max Muscle Plan.” Brad is going to teach you about his system and give you some practical tips about how to maximize your own muscle growth.
Today, we’re speaking with Brad Schoenfeld, a best-selling author, personal trainer, natural bodybuilder, and researcher. Brad has developed a system called “The Max Muscle Plan” for, as you might guess, gaining the maximum amount of muscle possible. Brad, what makes the Max Muscle Plan different from most other muscle gaining systems?
**Brad Schoenfeld:** Well, it’s a system that I basically have perfected over the course of many years with both experience and research. It is really one of the most and only scientifically based programs that has a huge amount of practical applications and experience. I’ve gotten into it. I’ve used this for well over a decade on literally over 1,000 different clients, ranging from your elite physique athletes to your rank beginner, aspiring bodybuilders, and people who just want to maximize their muscle.
**Armi Legge:** So what prompted you to write “The Max Muscle Plan?”
**Brad Schoenfeld:** First of all, because it was something I was very passionate about. I think there was a real gap in the consumer literature. Most of the books on the topic are based on hearsay, whether it’s militaristic books on strength building and other variables specific to resistance training and exercise. Hypertrophy, muscle building has always been something that has relied more on gym lore than on science. This is something I’m very passionate about. Something I’ve used over time, based upon not only the experience I have, but certainly the research has come to a point to where it was something that needed to be shared in the public.
Perhaps you know and certainly everyone out there should know is that this is my sphere of interest in my doctoral work and my research. I’m a lecturer at the Lehman College in my sphere of interest is hypertrophy. Research is an interest of mine and I have done a ton of work in the research field. I’ve also been a trainer for many, many years.
**Armi Legge:** It sounds like it’s one of the first really scientific approaches to focus specifically on muscle gain rather than strength or some of the other areas surrounding weight training. One of the things in your book that makes it unique is that it uses periodization. What kind of periodization does your book use?
**Brad Schoenfeld:** It’s a modified, linear approach. When we talk about periodization, there are a lot of bastardized ways. Periodization is really a concept. When people try to pigeon-hole it into a given approach, it’s a little misleading because there are so many ways to carry out periodization. By the way, it’s one of the real issues with looking at it from a research based perspective, is periodization good or not, because there are a gazillion different permutations as how you compare it as a brand. In a research study, you are picking one type of periodization versus another or versus a non-periodized program. That doesn’t mean that other ones would be more or less effective.
Mine would be considered a linear-type approach but it’s a very modified version that I’ve used with many athletes over the years that I’ve found to be very effective.
**Armi Legge:** Specifically for muscle gain, what makes a linear approach better than a mixed approach? Actually, would you first explain the difference between the two and then explain why you chose the linear approach?
**Brad Schoenfeld:** Yeah, and again, it’s not a true linear approach. There are a lot of modifications within it. I have different phases. I have the strength phase, the metabolic phase, and then a hypertrophy phase, which is kind of linear. That would be the linear aspect to it, that it goes from one to the next to the next over the course of the given cycles. The cycles range anywhere from four weeks to twelve weeks. As opposed to a classic, non-linear, undulating approach where Monday, you’ll do a higher repetition range and focus on a certain perimeter, Wednesday you focus on a different parameter, Friday on a different parameter. Everything is kind of mixed into a schedule that is revolving around the course of a cycle.
It’s not what is better. I don’t want to say better than another. Why I chose this approach for what I did is this is better designed toward achieving a given peak condition. The classic linear approach worked really well for Olympic athletes and that’s where it was actually founded because they are looking to peak for a given goal at a certain period of time. That is why the undulating approach isn’t used as much if you’re looking to become an Olympic athlete. Your goal is needed to peak at this particular time.
That is where my program design is from. Certainly a non-linear approach is very viable and can be utilized. To say one is better than the other is not the case. However, the other thing that is really effective in terms of the approach that I use is that it allows volume to be consistently increased over the course of the given hypertrophy mesocycle. If you’re do an undulating approach, it’s difficult to effectively increase volume. By increasing volume, I do it by increasing frequency of training. You can increase volume by making a session longer but there are really diminishing returns, especially when you’re keeping rest intervals constant to stringing out a training session. You just start to get very fatigued, if not physically, then mentally to maintain consistency. I found that keeping the session the same length and just increasing the frequency of training in a given cycle is how you can optimize the volume approach. Volume has been one of the things that the literature shows is related to increases to muscle mass.
The problem is that consistently training at very high volumes will tend to hasten the onset of overtraining, and that’s going to have a negative result. Hopefully this makes sense in that what you want to do is- obviously you can just train six days a week for six months. The likelihood is, unless you’re very chemically enhanced or have great genetics, you’ll become very overtrained very rapidly. So by having a three day week period and then a four day week and then going up to about six days a week over the course of a given cycle allows you to increase the volume and thereby not allowing for that overtraining syndrome to take place.
By the way, that is the most important aspect to periodization. It allows you to avoid plateaus and overtraining by consistently manipulating variables.
**Armi Legge:** So besides the fact it allows someone to increase volume over time, why not just start out with a normal hypertrophy rep range and then increase it? Why put the specific emphasis on gaining strength and getting your athletes strong right at the very beginning of your program?
**Brad Schoenfeld:** First of all, there is some benefit to training, to having the lower rep range from a hypertrophy perspective. Mostly it’s because, by increasing strength, you facilitate the increased ability to use higher weights in your hypertrophy workout. It’s a misperception that your specificity is on strength and then all of a sudden you start hypertrophy, more moderate reps, and you lose all your strength gains. That’s just bunk. Literature shows that clearly not to be the case. That strength is very easily maintained in the moderate rep range but it allows you to use heavier rates. I’ve seen it consistently. I’ve added in strength. Anecdotally, but the literature shows it and I can vouch for it from the training prescriptive from training different people.
You improve the ability to use heavier weights. One of the factors that is certainly a major factor involved in hypertrophy is the tension on the muscle. You can increase the load that you’re using, you’re going to increase muscular tension, all things being equal. As long as you’re maintaining that rep range and thus facilitating greater hypertrophy gains. If you can do, let’s say a 10-rep bench press with 275 rather than 250, that, all other things being equal, can help your promote greater muscular gains.
**Armi Legge:** One of the other controversial topics in gaining muscle is whether or not to use cardio. Do you use cardio in the Max Muscle plan, and if so, how?
**Brad Schoenfeld:** It’s something that certainly is not essential. One thing people try to do is gain muscle while losing body fat at the same time. For novice type people, that can work. But you’re going to end up compromising. If you want to maximize your muscular gains, you need to focus on resistance training and generally you’re going to need a caloric surplus to do that. If you do a lot of cardio, that will reduce the caloric surplus. You have to balance the caloric surplus. It doesn’t mean you should be cramming down gobs of junk food. Obviously, the quality of the food matters. Your protein content will be very important, as well as other factors. I would say that you certainly don’t want to do a lot of cardio.
I don’t want this to be taken to the fact you should be a complete slug and just do your resistance training and plop down on the couch and never move. That’s clearly not the case but there is certainly diminishing returns from a cardio standpoint. It will diminish your muscular gains if you hit a certain point. What is that point? It depends on intensity, duration, and genetics. What I tend to tell people is to minimize the cardio if their goal is to maximize muscle gains. That is dependent on the person. You have to look at their overall goals and their genetics to give a specific recommendation.
**Armi Legge:** It sounds like it’s one of those things that can’t be chalked up to a single answer.
**Brad Schoenfeld:** What I will tell you, and it’s what I told every one of my students in virtually every presentation I make is virtually every answer I will give to almost every answer you throw at me is, “it depends.” There are certain scientific principles that we have, but within that- and I think this is an important point to make because I consider myself an evidence-based practitioner and I promote this incessantly in every lecture that I give. Evidenced-based practice, contrary to what people think, is not simply following what research shows because research has limitations to itself. So yes, we need to base our guidelines. Basically the research is our guiding force. However, then we need to take personal experiences and the individual into account. The application of research will be variable based upon who we are applying that research to. Especially with exercise research, there are huge gaps in the literature in so many different aspects. Hypertrophy is probably one of the most of those aspects.
I can give you generalizations and make certain certain comments that apply in a general context. By the way, just like in my book, my book provides a template. It is not just okay to follow this exactly. It’s should and is designed to serve as a template for training, but I talk extensively in the book about how you need to then take your genetics and abilities and other factors into account and then modify it. I give specific advice on how that should be done.
**Armi Legge:** It sounds great. Another question that I have a feeling is going to be “it depends,” is after someone has finished the full periodization system in the Max Muscle Plan, do they start back at square one for the next cycle, or is there a maintenance phase?
**Brad Schoenfeld:** Again, it would depend what the goals are. If you want to just continue to try to maximize your gains, then yeah. The program is designed to be replicated. You do it in a 6 month periodized routine. Then you do it again. Two cycles would be an entire year. To keep maximizing muscle, it can be repeated extensively. You can pretty much keep doing this over and over. Then, of course, you need to make modifications based upon how your body adapts. But I give extensive advice on how that should be done.
**Armi Legge:** What are some of the most common reasons people trying to gain muscle don’t get the results they want?
**Brad Schoenfeld:** Number one is not training scientifically. It’s falling for a lot of hype rather than what we know to be true. Lik
Like I said, a lot of it depends, but a lot of it is science too. If you’re doing things that are contrary to what we know… I know people that say “screw science.” That is a very short-sighted way to go. The little axiom that those who choose to not look at history are doomed to repeat it. That’s really the case here. That is certainly one of them. Some other things are not getting proper nutrition into their program. It’s all about just what they do in the gym. It’s a biggie if you don’t eat. What you take in will have a major effect on how you gain muscle. I think one of the other really major things, and this again goes along with periodization, is that they train balls to the wall 100% of the time. They think, “well, if I’m going to do it.” I see this all the time. Every time they’re in the gym, that vein is bulging on the side of their head, trying to get that last rep out every set. It’s taking it to the point of failure with wrist straps and that is contrary to how you’re going to gain muscle.
One of the things I talk about in the modified periodization scheme is that it has built in unloading phases that are structured throughout the program so they you keep it as a wave-like loading pattern. You go up, up, up, keeping the intensity higher and higher, the intensity and effort. Then you’re going to unload where you reduce the effort, the frequency, and the volume, generally for a week. Then you come back and train harder and harder again.
You have these built in unloading phases so that you prevent overtraining, which is really vital to seeing continuous gains.
**Armi Legge:** It sounds like you’ve put together an absolutely great system. What is the most interesting thing that you did not know before that you learned when researching this book about muscle gain?
**Brad Schoenfeld:** When you say “researching this book,” this book was the culmination of- I mean, I started doing the research right around the year 2000. That is when I really started getting into the science. I was always into the science, but when I really started to look to the research more than just as just a consumer would look at an abstract and tried to listen to some of the other experts, if you will, and researchers in the area. I started really delving into the science. Then once I got into my masters program about seven years ago, that’s when I immersed myself in it. I can’t say it was one point. It wasn’t like I just did a three month review of literature to say, “a-ha!”
I think one of the things over time that has really struck me the most is the complexity of how protein synthesis vs. protein- basically, muscle development is the difference between how much protein is synthesized and how much protein you break down. And the complexity by various pathways that carry out this process, anabolic vs. catabolic pathways, was the most eye-opening thing. There are so many different factors that go into it.
There is such an over-simplification by so many people as to the process. They try to just boil it down to one thing. What we’ve really seen from the research is it’s just such a complex process that we’re still really in the infancy of learning. I guess if you could say there’s one thing that really struck me is how little we know about what’s going on molecularly inside our bodies. We made huge headway. We’ve come so far in a fairly short period of time. I would say it has taken place in the past two decades with what we know. All of this research has started to a significant extent and we’re still in the infancy of learning everything. It’s exciting because, as I mentioned, my major research interest is unveiling the mechanisms for muscle hypertrophy and how it comes about molecularly, what’s going on.
It’s more than just for knowledge sake. Once we can really define this, it can help us in terms of practical application of what we’re doing.
**Armi Legge:** Speaking of practical application of how to gain muscle, where can people learn more about your work and where can they buy a copy of “The Max Muscle Plan?”
**Brad Schoenfeld:** My book is available everywhere in all the major bookstores. Barnes and Noble. Certainly, I would always suggest amazon.com because it’s cheap there. You don’t have to go out of the house to get it. You just press a button. I think at a 40% discount. I know that changes from day to day. It’s a very inexpensive book, soft cover. They can learn more about me. I have an inactive blog which needs to be more active. I’m currently finishing up my PhD work so I will have a lot more time once that is done to post more. I do post a lot of good stuff there, which is workout911.com. Feel free to friend me on facebook. I like having more friends and importing knowledge. I consider myself an educator, most importantly. The more people I can touch and share information with and learn from.
Certainly one thing I say is I’m all about learning new things and I’m never above learning new things and try to learn new things everyday. I learn from my students. I learn hopefully from everyone. If you can share stuff with me that teaches me, more power to it.
**Armi Legge:** That would be great if they can, because you certainly shared a lot of knowledge in the last 20 minutes. Thank you for coming on the show, Brad.
**Brad Schoenfeld:** My pleasure.
**Armi Legge:** Thank you for listening to episode four of Impruvism Radio. Please join us again next week, when we hear from a surprise guest on a surprise topic. And by surprise, I mean I don’t know what we’re going to talk about because I haven’t recorded an interview yet. Whatever it is, you can bet it will be awesome and you will regret it forever if you don’t hear it.
You will probably also never forgive yourself if you don’t leave a review on iTunes. I actually got an email from Apple today saying they have a limited number of spaces for reviews on the podcasting servers, so from now on, we will only be accepting positive reviews. Make sure Apple doesn’t get mad at you for wasting their space. Click on the link to iTunes in the show notes for this episode on impruvism.com. Open the podcast in the iTunes store. Scroll down to where it says “customer ratings,” and leave your thoughts. And just so you know, I’m joking about the whole Apple thing, but positive reviews are still much appreciated.