James Hoffmann comes onto the podcast to talk all things recovery.
From the importance of sleep, de-stressing to the efficacy of massage therapy and more.
- Sports performance consultant for RP
- PhD Sport Physiology
- Coaches & loves Rugby
- Athletic Background : Wrestling, Rugby, American Football, Martial Arts
- Areas of interest : Recovery-Adaptation relationships in sport
London Seminar 2019
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- 04:21 What approaches has James changed in regards to recovery and fatigue management
- 06:55 Efficacy of HRV for a physique athlete
- 11:29 How bad is waking up a few times during the night
- 14:10 Protein pre-bed negatively impacting sleep?
- 16:24 James speaks about personal experience with athletes who don’t need much sleep?
- 20:21 James take on training after a poor night of sleep
- 23:17 Can someone being under-recovered in a muscle group without soreness
- 27:15 Anything that can be done for connective tissue recovery?
- 30:47 James talks about supplements
- 33:20 James follows up with talking about the placebo effect
- 36:01 How big of an effect can compassionate touching have
- 38:42 Does training within 24h impede recovery
- 41:54 James shares his take on volume landmarks for legs vs. the general recommendations out there
- 45:20 James thoughts on exercise variations on stimulus/fatigue ratio
- 55:01 James talks about reps in reserve
Steve: Hi guys, welcome to the Revive Stronger podcast, I’m your host as always Steve Hall and I am joined by James Hoffman. I think this is the third or fourth time James has been on the podcast I always love having James on. He is a great talker and just fun to talk to, and if you don’t know James, which I imagine most of you do. He has a PhD in Sport physiology, and is a coach for Renaissance Periodization and does loads of work with them. Hopefully, some of you have the e-books or even the audiobook that is now available, and his area of speciality is recovery. That is an area that James knows inside and out really, really well and in London on the 11th and 12th of May if you do not know, we do have James Hoffman, Mike Israetel and Gabrielle Fundaro coming over and presenting. So we’re really excited about that, and so if you want to pick up tickets or anything this is gonna be a nice teaser for it, but if you do want to come then please purchase your tickets they will be in the description box below. It’ll be amazing to see you, I know James will love to see you there as well, and yeah how are you doing James?
James: I’m good brother, thanks for having me and I’m super excited to come out and hang out with you guys again. It’s always great to be on your show and see you in real life too so it’s gonna be really fun.
Steve: Yeah, it’s been too long I can’t believe it’s been…
James: It’s been a while.
Steve:..yeah, the number of years but the first time.. I’ve said it before just the first time when you and Mike came over I was this just has to happen more often cuz I don’t think I’d ever really heard you guys properly present at that time, and I know even the people that were at that first seminar were blown away – I was blown away a lot of it was new information as well that hadn’t been spread out. Where is now it’s prolific, which is great.
James: That’s true now that I think about it. That was so long ago we hadn’t even put out a lot of the volume landmarks stuff.. that was a while ago, geez, that’s kinda cool.
Steve: Yeah, all the longtime periodization and as soon as I was hearing all that I was I was probably one of the first people to implement it heavily with my clients and things, and ever since then I’ve been hooked because I mean the results and the stuff you talk about is so powerful. So every time you guys come as well, so the listeners are aware, it’s new information. It’s not stuff that kind of is the same lecture every single place that they go to. It’s not just stuff that you’re reading textbooks and being able to be in the audience and ask questions is really cool so I think people appreciate that.
James: Well it’s really cool for me because you know sometimes, because Mike and I have such a similar background we kind of get the echo chamber effect where he’ll say something and I don’t totally disagree and so we kind of have to ping-pong a little bit, and then we see somebody yourself pay those ideas forward where we say “Hey, volume landmarks are important”, and then him and I kinda are “Yeah, that makes sense” but we’re not sure if other people get it. Then we see what you’re putting out with Revive Stronger and all your content we’re “Oh okay, cool, this does make sense”, other people are using it, other people are finding it to be helpful so that’s really enriching for me too is when I see somebody yourself making the infographics or saying “Here’s what we did”, that’s really I don’t know I just kind of when I see that it really makes me feel good.
Steve: Well it’s incredibly powerful I think, I was just watching a podcast I think it’s iron Culture. It’s Omar Isuf and Eric Helms started running it and Mike was on there with John Meadows, and John Meadows he’s aware of the volume landmarks now and I mean he for all I know he’s implementing that sort of kind of idea, methodology with his clients so if you’re reaching me, you’re reaching people that, it’s crazy.
James: It is crazy.
James: It is crazy, it is funny when I see people who I don’t even know maybe I’m friends on Instagram for whatever reason and they’ll say “Volume landmarks something” I’m that wasn’t even a thing but a few years ago, so it’s a treat.
Steve: Cool, so today obviously when James comes over he’s going to be touching on a lot of things recovery based, training, and things around hypertrophy for physique athletes, and that’s what this podcast is all about. So to give you a bit of a teaser and to really just showcase James’s knowledge because he’s a really really smart guy we’re gonna be going over some questions that have been submitted so we had actually the first one I wanted to ask was from Brett Freeman and he asked over on Facebook “What approaches to recovery have you changed in the last 6 to 12 months and why?”. I thought that was quite cool.
James: That is a really good one, the last six to twelve months a couple things that I’ve changed, one thing that I’ve been messing around with and this is maybe maybe not a recovery one per se, maybe a training one or maybe a little bit of both is modifying my mesocycle lengths a little bit more strategically with my training goals. So for example, I’ll know that for physique related training which I know it’s big, the big basis of your clients and followers for me it’s four weeks up, one week down, that’s all I can do. I’ve tried to do the five and one, I’ve tried to do the six and one. it’s no, it’s just not gonna happen. So I know that that’s rock solid, but I also know that when I transition to strength mesocycles, so I usually will run a hypertrophy macro, and then follow it up with the strength macro. When I switch over to strength I cannot do that 4:1 anymore, I have to be a little bit more careful I have to switch to three and ones. So just being more cognizant of not just following the same kind of lockstep routine for all of your training goals is important, even something silly mesocycle length can play a huge role, so for the strength, I’ll do three and ones. Other things, I started becoming a little bit more cognizant of autoregulating my rest days which has been really helpful. So I usually follow a six-day training split, and I used to do it very rigidly as most people do, which is I still think is a good idea you have the same training days at the same times. For me I just started auto-regulating my rest day, and that actually has been super massively helpful for me, just as someone who is in touch with a lot of these things I can make that decision call it very well but I can also free up my schedule to do more work stuff or if I wanted to go take a hike or something for just mental recovery or something that. That’s been really good for me, but you do have to be careful because you can get into the problem of not taking enough rest where you actually just do six days repeat, six days repeat kind of problem, or you can find convenient excuses “Oh, today I got to go to
Costco and I can’t train today”, it’s no, that’s bullshit you can still do both. But those are things that I’ve been doing lately, one thing I have been kind of looking into, which I haven’t had a lot of hands-on time with is some of the systems the loop system, and some of the other kind of monitoring tools available. It’s something that I’m interested in, I haven’t really played around with, I’d to play around with, and I know one of my colleagues has. But that’s kind of where I’ve been at lately, those are some of the big changes.
Steve: I think that’s really cool, and the whoop system I remember actually I think you brought it up in RP+ video, and I was I’ve never heard of this thing. I think it might be an American thing or something so I was looking it up but these kind of athlete monitoring tools are really cool, and actually a question came up asking about kind of the efficacy of heart rate variability, and whether or not for a physique athlete that’s something that maybe you would advise monitoring, or what are the positives and the negative aspects of that tool?
James: Yeah, yeah, so heart rate variability actually is very very valid in terms of does it measure what it seeks to measure and the answer is yes, so it does a good job in that regard. The problem that we run into is can you use it as an effective monitoring tool for physique athletes, the answer is maybe, maybe not. So with heart rate variability what you get is a very valid marker of something’s not going quite right. You might be showing signs of overreaching or you might already be there, the problem is that by the time you are able to definitively say “My heart rate variability is not in the spot where it’s supposed to be”, it’s too late. And now you have to take more powerful fatigue management strategies rather than so for example if you had really really bad nutrition the day before a really hard training session and you knew it you are “Man, I just I did not eat my calories or my carbs”, you know that the next day is gonna be bad unless you do something. So you can preemptively say “Okay my calories are off, maybe I’m gonna eat a little bit more, maybe I’ll push that one day back so I can eat more and have a better training day”. That’s something you can do. With heart rate variability you can’t just do something eat more carbs or push the day back, or have a light day. You have to move into something deload or a low volume training phase or something that because by the time you get that measurement you say definitively “That’s off”, it’s too late. You’re probably already overreaching or at least very very close to it. It’s a good measurement for physique athletes, I don’t think it’s gonna be a staple whereas for team sport athletes it might be more useful because there, it might be more useful for things when you don’t want to see big drops in power, speed, explosiveness so if heart rate variability is something that you’re measuring that can be a bolstering piece of data that says “Ok, I had a bad training day”, my athlete is reporting to me that they’re not feeling great or they’re anxious or they’re stressed or something that, and now I have a physiological measurements showing that something’s off. Right now I got 1, 2,3 I got a performance psych and a fizz measure that might be good for a team sports athlete. For physique athletes I think performance and perceptive measures are probably going to be your go-to, whereas heart rate variability won’t be a primary measurement, it’ll probably be a supplemental, maybe a bolstering so that would be if you have a physique athlete and they’re kind of they had a couple kind of shitty training days in a row, they weren’t able to get the reps they were supposed to get or they had to drop the weight a whole bunch to get the reps, kind of “I’m not really sure how this is going”. That’s a pretty strong sign that something wrong, if you had a heart rate variability with that where you say “Oh, their heart rate variability is fucked up”, now you have increasing evidence to say “Ok, they’re not where they’re supposed to be”, but as a standalone I probably wouldn’t use it for a physique people too much.
James: And that’s why something the whoop might be useful for physique athletes because it measures things your work output, your sleep, and your heart rate variability and then that gives you a couple of things to work with rather than just one.
Steve: Okay, cool, yeah and I guess heart rate variability you’d need to have a chest strap, and kind of maybe a Garmin watch or something along those lines to try and get a good marker. I guess you could try and kind of measure it yourself that you kind of utilizing those tools to be easier so things yeah performance, motivation to train, number of hours slept, and kind of just generally how you feeling are probably easier for most people to track.
James: Absolutely and they’re also more powerful for the most part in terms of their actual implications for what you do. The оne thing that, and this is something I’ve heard from people that I’ve been working with Jake and a couple of other guys. When you use those things the heart rate monitor on the wrist or even the whoop system you have to be locked into that thing it has to be on you, it has to be firm, firmly on you not just loosey-goosey a watch, right it’s got to be on there, and some people have to duct-tape them on.
James: That’s one of the downsides of that device is that to actually use it properly it really has to be secure on your body, and I think they make some different sites I don’t know if they have a chest strap but I think they have other places you can put it on but I do know that’s a big limitation is that thing’s on you all the time, and if it gets if it’s loose or if it moves around it can mess it up.
Steve: Cool, perfect, we’ve got a load of questions actually surrounding sleep so I thought I’d kind of punch these all into a row, and obviously you mentioned sleep already and we know I mean it’s becoming more and more obvious why to sleep so important. So the first one I have for you is from ghostman824 from Instagram. It’s actually a client of mine so his name is Andrew so…
James: Is he pasty, is that why he is ghost man?
Steve: He actually is pasty, so I think that might be why. He’ll probably tell me now. So he asked how bad is waking up a few times in the night to go for a pee?
James: Not bad, not bad if it’s just something that happens kind of incidentally. If it’s one of those things where you wake up all the time every night what I would say is you might want to think about altering your hydration and eating habits before bedtime so that that’s not quite so disruptive, so for example I have that problem I know that with my casein shake before bedtime, so I always make a casein shake, I know there’s a threshold about how much water I can use. Where if I go above a certain amount, I’m gonna wake up, and have to pee, and that’s annoying and it disrupts my sleep a little bit. So that’s something that I’ve been more conscious of, and if you have a lot of let’s say you train in the evening, and maybe you have a lot of food in the evening maybe you’re having fruits and whole grains and some other stuff, that’s just a lot of liquid you’re gonna end up taking indirectly just from food so you might want to choose some less water based sources fruits and stuff if you’re really finding that you have to pee a lot in the night. How big of a deal is it, not bad, if you get up and you go pee and you’re able to go right back to sleep, usually not a huge deal. If it’s one of those things where you’re um you’re laying there restless because you have to pee but it hasn’t quite registered in your brain yet, where you’re kind of just list just going back and forth. I know I get that, do you ever feel that way if you have to pee and you just you can’t sleep and figure it out?
Steve: Yeah, you just try to put it off.
James: Yeah, and then you realize “Oh, I just gotta go pee”, right? So that’s no good or if you go pee and then you’re wide awake because you had gotten up and moved around, that’s no good but for the most part if you were able to pee and then go back to sleep and your wake up feeling mostly restful, it’s not a big deal.
Steve: I know James, I don’t know if you’ve had experience with clients when maybe if they’ve been a contest prep client or they’ve been dieting a long time because for me when I was in prep waking up six times a night regularly probably wasn’t optimal..
James: No but that’s in those situations you know you’re in a suboptimal thing and you know that’s just gonna be part of the deal at that point. It’s not great but man you physique people just they do all sorts of crazy shit…
Steve: Yeah, the body is just not happy at that point.
James: Yeah, it’s usually not a big deal, some people I know Mike has mentioned to me a couple of times that he goes pee two or three times per night, for me that would be really disruptive, for him it doesn’t seem to bother him too much.
Steve: Cool, great answer. So the next question actually relating to you talked about your Casein shake before bed and there was a question from Mackenod, who has asked protein pre-bed, is there any kind of evidence for it negatively impacting sleep? I think this comes from the idea about kind of circadian rhythms, and eating a lot before bed means to become more widely spread that that could potentially impact sleep quality.
James: So protein specifically not to my knowledge, they have looked at just food and jet lag, so eating right before bed in general regardless of what sources of food and then one that they have looked at which is kind of wishy-washy is sugar specifically, and I’m not super convinced on the sugar stuff but there is somebody of literature that says taking a huge huge bolus of carbohydrates before bed may impede sleep and it could be related to blood glucose regulation something that. I’m not super sold on that, I don’t think it’s quite fleshed out, but there is some evidence that says “Yeah, some people are more sensitive to eating a big chunk of food before bedtime”, and that’s something that you can play around with as part of individualizing your plan. So for me for example that doesn’t bother me, I could eat the house and go right to bed. Other people if they have to maybe push their bedtime meal back a little bit instead of right before bed, maybe an hour before bed, some people maybe even two hours before bed just because all that food does have a tendency to keep them more awake for whatever reason. Now in terms of protein, there’s nothing really that I’ve seen that it seems to indicate that the protein source is a big deal, it does seem that if anything having really really sugary stuff may be impeding your sleep ability to fall asleep but I’m not totally sure about that. So what I would say is trial and error it a little bit for yourself if you can do a casein shake and some fats, no big deal an hour before bed. You can try and push it back a little bit see if you can do it right before bed, and if you find that you lay down and you don’t fall asleep for 30-45 minutes, the next time push that meal back about an hour or so and see how that goes, and just trial and error until you find that sweet spot where you can lay down, fall asleep within about 15-20 minutes or so and then you’re out.
Steve: Cool, yeah, that makes complete sense and you talked about there is individualization which is obviously massive for everyone and someone has actually asked kind of I guess a bit of an individualization type of question for their sleep, and that was from Tanja and she was basically saying have you ever encountered an athlete or a client where they just seemed to not need that much sleep, where they wake up and feel better when they have less sleep rather than more? She’s kind of , I feel and now and then I do that and I feel great but I’m worried to keep doing it because it might not be a good idea.
James: Yeah, I have a very politically incorrect answer for that, a lot of people think they can do a lot of bullshit, right? So yes, the answer is yes, I have had people report that but the reality is is that it’s a weird ego thing, they are mostly lying to themselves so there is a genetic condition, which is very very rare where people can get basically the same normal restful effects of sleep with very little sleep three to five hours but this is a very very tiny tiny tiny tiny percentage of the population, most of us will start to see the negative effects of not getting enough sleep, if you don’t get about seven hours or so, most people on average. So we usually recommend six to eight, six is a very consistent threshold in the literature where they say six hours or less and you will start to have sleep deprivation effects, somewhere around seven is where a lot of people will kind of start reporting that and what you get a lot of times is people who will say “Oh I can get by on six hours or five hours of sleep”, that just means you’re used to being sleep-deprived all the time, that means you could be better. There’s actually a really awesome Joe Rogan podcast episode where he has a sleeping guy come in.
Steve: Is it Matthew Walker?
James: Yes and he had this exact same conversation where he was basically saying that’s mostly bullshit, and what we find is yeah you might have a day or two where you maybe only got five or six hours of sleep and you woke up and you were fine. The point being is don’t do that all the time you can get by on a day or two of suboptimal sleep conditions and it won’t really have a tangible effect. The problem is when you start living that chronic lifestyle of under sleep, sleep deprivation, it will start to rack up, and what you will find is that your ability to lose fat and lose weight will go down, your ability to gain muscle will go down, your performance will go down, your MRVs for everything will go down. It’s just a shitstorm of bad things, so, for the most part, we have recommended six to eight for kind of recreational people, and then eight to ten for more advanced people, which is very congruent with something Matthew Walker who will recommend seven to nine, for most people on average. So we say six to eight because six is kind of the very consistent cutoff for sleep deprivation effects, but somewhere around you know eight-ish hours per night is a very very consistent number, and of course there is some individualization there, but not to the point where you can get four to five hours of sleep and call that individualization. That’s not true right, for the most part, you should be getting at least six to eight, preferably more seven to nine if you’re a sporting type person.
Steve: And I guess because the entire audience here are people work hard in the gym, and when you demand more from your body, you, therefore, need more recovery which is why you’re saying kind of more advanced people need more sleep, more than ly.
James: Yeah, and it’s really just a matter of their recovery time courses are longer because they inflict an incredible, excuse me, they have just inflicted more trauma on themselves than a recreational user or a newbie. If you can squat you know 150 kilos for sets of 10, that’s just going to take a lot out of you. It’s gonna take a little longer to recover from, and you might need more of that regenerative restorative sleep ability just to get through that next couple days. So and that’s fine there’s nothing wrong with being a noob but what we do find is that people who are more trained generally cause more fatigue, and that fatigue needs more advanced strategies to dissipate.
Steve: Nice, and on the same sort of kind of lines, Jay Pedro has said so if he misses a night of sleep or he says he misses a night of sleep, but that sounds pretty horrific so maybe just a poor night of sleep, basically said should he train the following day if he knows he’s had poor sleep the night before, or are there other strategies what would you advise there, James?
James: That’s a tough one, that’s a really good question, should you train when you know you had shit sleep. It’s one of those things where that would be a direct indicator, we said before about the poor nutrition the day before, you know that next session if you were going to look at probabilities it’s probably not gonna go great, even if it’s not the worst training session, even if you’re able to hit kind of your minimum reps in all of your sets, it’s not going to be the greatest one. So that’s a judgement call if you can auto-regulate within your program that’s what I would recommend. So if you have a real night of sleep and you’re “Dude, I don’t know about this next training session”, push it back a day, or take a light session and then you can get back to your normal training on the next day. For physique athletes, I think and I don’t wanna, this is not meant to sound degrading in any way, this is just the way it is. I think you can work through that problem more than your kind of traditional team sport style athletes, right? Why is that, well because if you’re a weight lifter or a rugby player or football player you know any of those things, the intensity of your session is what’s really driving the games right, making you stronger, more powerful, you need to hit a threshold of intensity in order for that overload to be met. For physique athletes the amount of intensity that you actually need is relatively low so long as you can hit kind of that really minimum check mark number, and then after that it’s all volume, and even then you can actually just lower the intensity a little bit to get more volume and the effects are probably pretty damn equivocal. So what I would say if you are a more sporting team sports, track and field, weightlifting, powerlifting type athlete it might be worth delaying that next session or taking a light session on that day and then doing a normal session later. For physique athletes you can make the judgment call it’s probably better to autoregulate a little bit, maybe move it back if you can, if you can’t it might not be the biggest deal in the world so long as you can get that volume in and the intensity again maybe not be a limiting factor for a physique so not a big deal.
Steve: I really answer and I think it’s funny because you talk about how obviously there is relative intensity you just need to kind of tick it off, it doesn’t have to be something that’s super hardcore but a lot of bodybuilders would not be able to do that. They’d probably drive themselves into the ground via training.
James: It’s understandable because it’s kind of an ego thing where you are you got to take the weight off the bar and you’re am I getting weaker. It’s no, you’re not getting weaker, you just have a shit day and you can still make a great session out of this but it’s hard, and it’s hard for me too, nobody wants to take the weight down, but it’s not a big deal.
Steve: So we’ve covered all the sleeping questions which are awesome. The next question we have is from Jason Tucker, and here’s asked: “Can someone be under-recovered in a certain muscle group without soreness?”.
James: Yes, yes, absolutely, soreness is a good indicator of kind of just general, the general status of that muscle so if you go and do a bunch of stiff legged deadlifts and your hamstrings are fucked, should you go and sprint the next day? Probably not, that soreness is there to tell you “Man, you those hamstrings really really bad, you probably shouldn’t do anything”. Okay, pretty cool, does that necessarily mean that a lack of soreness means a lack of trauma or a lack of you know recovery needs? No, that does not necessarily mean that. So essentially what we have is a situation where you might be cutting for example, where your soreness just goes down a lot as a result of not eating very much and this is something that I’m sure most of you and your clients can relate to. When you get to the second or third meso of a cut and you get kind of depleted, you just don’t really get that sore anymore, you kind of just feel blah but you have still inflicted quite a bit of damage on the muscle tissue, on the connective tissue, and on the innervating nervous system components of whatever muscles that you trained right, and those still have a recovery time course and in fact those recovery time courses might have actually lengthened as a result of the suboptimal nutrition situation. They are just gonna take longer because you’re not putting as much stuff back in the body. So soreness is not an end-all-be-all, you should be very cognizant if you have trained a muscle within the last 24 to 48 hours it is very ly still recovering even without soreness, and if you go and try and do a really really hard overloading session or let’s say you blasted your biceps or something really really crazy right, you did 10 sets of 10 to 15. They should be fucked up by all accounts right, you’re this should have really messed me up but they’re not sore for some reason, you might get a little elbow achy, you might get a little forearm achy or something that but you don’t really have any pain, should you go rock climbing with your friends the next day – no, that’s probably a bad idea even if you’re not sore because that muscles still fucked up and if you go and do a bunch of rock climbing it’s gonna be putting more strain on that, it’s gonna be putting you at an adverse risk of injury, stuff that. So one thing that we to remind people is, it’s not just the muscle, it’s also the connective tissue, it’s also the nervous system that we have to consider in the recovery time course. The muscle is just usually one of the first things to go when we’re overreaching and that’s what we think about more often than not but sometimes things your joints can take a huge beating, and if you don’t give it that time off it’s not going to recover and so the muscle would be a false negative in that case. So you might be “My biceps don’t hurt, I can go ahead and train”, well really your elbow joint hasn’t recovered yet whether it’s on you know the triceps or the biceps areas, and you go and train and you’re gonna keep fucking it up. So soreness is a good indirect indicator but it’s not an end-all beyond you should all be cognizant, if you have trained something within 24 to 48 hours it’s probably still recovering.
Steve: I know for me with something calves very rarely do they ever get sore but I will end up you said I don’t know my feet will end up hurting or just behind my knee, the tendons behind there will end up aching a bit, and it’s just there are some muscles they’re just they don’t get that soreness other muscles to do.
James: Yeah and Mike’s really good about talking about this, you shouldn’t necessarily be chasing soreness as a goal either, and it’s a good feeling, it helps remind you that you did something good and it’s a satisfying feeling for those of you who train, but at the same time you can still get a great stimulus and you can still get great growth or strength gains without being sore all the time and in fact being sore all the time might on the net be a negative thing, because you’re actually just chronically under recovered at that point.
Steve: Brilliant, the next question is from Jbo38 and they have asked “Is there anything that can be done for connective tissue recovery?”, so we were kind of talking about that..
Steve:.. and they said, “Any supplements that you can take as well?”.
James: So the best thing you can do for connective tissue recovery is two things one – rest, two – using lighter loads in training. So your connective tissues really take a beating from heavier loads, so load on the bar, so I don’t mean volume load in terms of doing lots and sets and reps what we are talking about here is just how heavy is the weight that you’re moving around. That’s what really puts a big strain on your joints, now, unfortunately, un your muscles, your joints typically don’t have a lot of vascularization so what that means is they don’t get a lot of blood flow all day, even when you’re training. What that also means is that the recovery time courses can be a bit longer sometimes, when they get really messed up. So there’s no supplement that can really help joints that are in bad shape in terms of can you take glucosamine chondroitin that kind of stuff, that’s okay on a daily basis I would say it’s probably not worth the money unless you have chronic joint issues. For the most part, if you’re having joint problems the first thing you need to think about is giving those areas rest and that might mean either taking complete rest or finding alternative movements that don’t cause that same joint pain. So for example, if you are doing underhand pull-ups and you’re just man I’m just getting elbow tendonitis from this fucking underhand pull-ups try something else, try narrow grip, try overhand, try wide grip, try doing some pullovers, try doing some different row variations. At that point whatever you’re doing in that underhand movement is causing that to be inflamed and you need to give it a break, try and find something else to work around it that you can do pain-free. if you can’t do anything pain-free at that point you might have to just give it a rest, or work with much much lighter weights, doing really really high rep ranges, maybe 10 to 30 or kind of metabolites style training. That will really actually help increase flow to the area because you get that huge pumping effect, and the loads are so low it won’t cause a lot of joint flare-ups. So the big thing again with the joints is how much weight is on the bar, that’s really gonna cause joint issues to start coming to light, rest is usually the first, using lighter loads and then if you need to think about supplementing with something else that’s okay but at that point I would go to your doctor or PT and say hey I’m really having a bunch of knee or elbow problems, is there something I should be doing, should I be getting a cortisol shot or you know something that. I know Steve you probably feel the same way but the supplement stuff is more often than not kind of a waste, I mean there’s a few things out there that are really good but the effect sizes are really really tiny. So with this stuff usually what people are trying to do is okay I have my elbows has been fucked up for a while, I don’t want to deal with the real problem, I know what the real problem is, the real problem is that I need to take a break from all the benching, or I need to do some variation in my benching. They just don’t want to do that, they’re what can I do to keep doing what I’m doing and make this go away. Which is an understandable thought but it’s not gonna get the job done so taking a supplement isn’t usually not gonna be powerful enough to fix any of those problems. It’s usually got to be back to the drawing board, volume landmarks type situation, all right I’ve exceeded my joint MRV, I got to figure out a way around this.
Steve: Yeah, I’d to talk a bit more about supplementation actually because I am exactly along the same lines of you and I think I recently saw RP strength over on Facebook put out their top five fat loss supplements so something is creatine, caffeine, protein powders and carb powders, anything else there’s not sufficient research to back them up.
James: Yeah man, I wish there were, I wish there were more things that were useful but they’re just not and it you know I used to call a suburban drug cartel where you show up to the gym with the duffel bag full of supplements you’re yeah I got this, fucking this, this, this and this, it’s breaking bad you’ve got a chemistry set in your gym bag, and the problem is is that none of that does anything. It’s a lot of fuss and hassle and it’s a lot of money you know what I mean and what we find is that doing the basic stuff right getting your volume landmarks, getting your you know recovery strategies in, your nutrition, those are the things that are gonna take you all the way. The supplements can help you a teeny teeny bit but man I hate seeing people waste money on that stuff.
Steve: Yeah, I think one of the things that’s become more popular and I know you’ve spoken a bit about kind of being in that pns kind of mode, and being kind of nice and relaxed especially post-workout, try and de-stress. I think people have tried to maximize that as much as possible and they’ve, I think there are some supplements with ashwagandha, I don’t know if you’ve got any experience with ashwagandha, whether or not you think that’s anything?
James: I wouldn’t even know how to spell it.
Steve: I think it is very similar to how it sounds.
James: Okay, no I haven’t looked into that at all, I know what’s really big out here and especially now that I moved to California is the cannabinoids and CBD stuff, and people are looking at that and saying is there anything there and we actually, somebody just posted a really, it’s massive on RP that was an hour or hour and a half long video on the scientific research on that, and there’s not a ton on it right now, and it doesn’t seem to be a lot of big performance-enhancing effects. What I mean by is direct performance enhancing effects right but some things I think some of the cannabinoids and CBD can help people get into a more relaxed state which is you know whether using drugs or not doesn’t really matter. It’s kind of the endgame is what you want, so that might be useful and I think more researchers going to be coming out on that stuff. It’s kind of funny because here in California you can just go to the pot store and buy pot if you want, I mean if you do that. So it’s kind of a funny thing, and so it’s been a becoming increasingly popular idea is can I use cannabinoids to help me relax and the answer is probably yes but does it have a direct effect under physiology in terms of performance, probably not.
Steve: Right, yeah I think it’s, CBD is something Miguel Blacutt did a huge article on our site for and well I say huge, there’s not actually that much research on it at the moment so it’s hard to say much, and obviously I don’t know if you want to talk a bit about, I don’t want to say its placebo but I think that can have a huge effect when you do take supplements, the placebo effect.
James: Yeah, this is where you get, so I’ve always said this and I stand by it now, this is a great example the saying is “There’s a science to training, and there’s an art to coaching”, the placebo effect is one of the most powerful effects that you can elicit whether it’s right or wrong. So you have a situation where you have an athlete, and maybe they’re taking a bunch of garbage right and you see that they’re taking a bunch of garbage but they swear that this garbage is helping them, right, they’re “No dude, once I got on this fucking garbage you know trenbowow whatever 2.0 I am the man”. So as a coach you have an option of saying okay dude but you know that’s just total stupid garbage right, and if you do that what’s gonna happen, you were just gonna lose rapport with that person cuz he’s already in, he’s already all in on this stupid thing, you know it’s stupid, he thinks it’s the greatest thing in the world. So you’re gonna come in and say “Dude, that’s stupid why are you doing that”, he’s gonna be “Whoa, whoa, whoa!”, you know you’re just gonna lose rapport with that guy, or you could just let him do his thing, and think it’s the greatest thing and let him ride that wave of confidence and efficacy and just let him do his thing, you know what I mean? It’s with people with massage they’re I love massage, keep doing, you know I can say it’s dumb all day but if it makes you feel it’s working keep, doing it. That’s the art of coaching right because if I take that away now I’m actually disrupting part of their training regime, and I’m losing points with my athlete at that point. So there’s an art there right where we can look at the research and we can say yeah this supplement, that supplement, this thing, that thing, it’s probably no good but at the same time actually interacting with people and getting them to do what you want is a whole another ball game.
Steve: The trouble is, James when you say it’s great for them, and then over on your stories on Instagram you call it out and say it’s rubbish and then they check in and they are ..
James: I know!!
Steve: “Dude, you told me I should take this and it’s amazing”.
James: You are I never told you that, you just thought I did. Yeah it’s a hard balance to strike, and it’s one of those where you can say you know “Hey, if you want to have a conversation about this let me know”, but at the same time you have to weigh the pros and cons of disrupting their kind of style and routine, and you have to make sure that you are you’re on a level with them that you can bring those things up and they won’t take offence, or you won’t lose stock with them right they can come to you and say “Steve, what do you think about ashwagandha?” and you can say you I don’t think it’s that great, and they can go okay you know maybe I’ll reevaluate my position on this. I think more often than not when you come in guns blazing pew pew pew pew, hey, stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid you just end up losing points with people, or you take them out of the element that has led to them being successful so…
Steve: Absolutely, I think that’s really really solid. So in terms of the next question that is from Milo Wolf and he is asking about compassionate touching..
James: Oh boy.
Steve:.. and basically just wanted to know how big of a factor really is that, how powerful kind compassionate touching can be?
James: Not that powerful, it’s one of the ones that I think is definitely worth if you have that option available, it’s definitely worth pursuing, and I think it’s something we can all relate to. So I know compassionate touching is a funny one because it sounds all weird and yet sexual, it’s one of the ones if you’ve ever gotten a nice shoulder rub, or a head rub from somebody or somebody who’s massaged your thigh when you were watching the TV on the couch, something that right everyone has been there at some point and knows how nice that feels and how relaxed it makes you. It’s not gonna be a huge profound thing where we’re gonna see your training numbers change, and your HRVs normalize right and your resting heart rate goes down- no, it’s not that, it’s nothing crazy right. This is more about generally reinforcing social support so you have a strong enough rapport with somebody that you can be touching them in a semi-intimate way right so you have a social support factor there, and you’re helping promote relaxation in many ways so we’re actually seeing total nervous system activity can go down from compassionate touch which is kind of neat which on the net balances towards anabolism rather than catabolism, and you can kind of double up on a bunch of other recovery modalities I said a relaxation, social support. So I don’t think it’s super powerful, I think it’s one that you should pursue if the option is available to you, just keeping in mind that it’s not a deal breaker, it’s not gonna be a huge thing but I think it’s a nice thing, and if you have a significant other, or a friend that you are intimate with on that level and I mean intimate not in the sexual sense just yeah if you have a guy friend and you don’t mind giving each other rubdown every now and again or something that. I know that sounds funny but it’s true, it can be a little bit of a boost to your training program, absolutely. It’s not a huge one, but a boost.
Steve: I mean everyone knows that when you kind of rub a dog’s head or rub their belly or whatever they get a boost out of it so we are very similar.
James: I think they get a huge boost out of it. If we made the recovery pyramid for dogs it would be compassionate touch was two-thirds of the pyramid itself.
Steve: You just wish they could give it back, then you could just you buy a dog as a supplement, you’re oh yeah he’s for my compassionate touch. I give him a go and he gives my head a rub.
James: I wish you could package that dopamine response they get from it right and sell it as a supplement, that would be amazing. It’s just elation.
Steve: Something we already kind of touched on a little bit actually is from Joseph Kaufman who has asked: “Does training a muscle within 24 hours impede recovery?”.
James: Yes and no, so each muscle group and the type of work done will have a different recovery time course. So for example if you train your quadriceps you did a hard set of squats, multiple sets right, can you train quads the next day? Probably not. Why, because they got really fucked up and they take a little while. What about something your medial delt, well your medial delts is the size of maybe your pinky finger and it’s one that you very often can do a hard training session and be actually recovered later that day and so by the next day you could actually train again. So what we find is that muscle size, muscle strength and the, of course, the amount of volume and/or intensity trained on that muscle will largely dictate how long it takes. What we find is that bigger muscles have a bigger area and can exert more power and force, they generally take a little bit longer to recover than smaller ones which just cannot inflict that much damage on themselves. So things your biceps, deltoids, relatively small muscle groups can have a very very low recovery time course and can be trained pretty frequently right, and this is why we joke about guys who skip leg day and they just do arms all the time. Well, why can they do that, well the recovery time course for your biceps is actually pretty small right you can actually train biceps for men you know four times per week pretty consistently, females 4 to 6 times per week pretty easily. Why is that, well you can do an overloading session, it just doesn’t take that long. Whereas bigger muscles your pecs, your glutes, quads, things that, because of the amount of trauma that you can inflict on yourself, because those muscles are so big and if you’re using big compound movements and getting synergy with other muscle groups you can do a lot of work and a lot of trauma, and it’s a lot of areas and a lot of materials that need to get repackaged and put back together. So it just takes a little bit longer, so in some sense, if you trained a muscle group your hamstrings for example 2 sessions within 24 hours-ish, yeah, that’s gonna impede your recovery from the first session, absolutely. Whereas something else your delts or your biceps as an example, maybe not. You might actually be able to do overloading sessions back-to-back, maybe not every day but pretty close to it, and it’s not a big deal. So keep that in mind, so if you have big muscle groups usually the recovery course is a little bit bigger, moderate-moderate, small-small, that’s the general trends, not always true but mostly true.
Steve: Yeah, I think it’s, it’s something I experimented with, with my calves recently talking about those again I was just I’m gonna try training them every single session and they just can, they could just take a beating every session. I think part of it is your will to do it.
James: Yeah, there’s nothing worse than having to do the marathon calf session twice per week you know what I mean, that is for me was a soul-crushing thing where I was alright you gotta do my fucking 20 sets of calves, goddammit. it’s just breaking it up until four sessions is so much easier just, even up here right, I mean physically you can do it and just having to, I used to call it Smolov calves because it was just so awful, but yeah absolutely, calves are a great example.
Steve: Something that’s kind of jolted, something I was thinking about, I’ve been talking to Pascal about a little bit in that I think it’s become somewhat kind of accepted in the evidence-based community for kind of how much volume can certain muscle groups kind of benefit from and require. In that legs, and I think it was shown with the Schoenfeld crazy volume study recently that legs could benefit from more, and then kind of upper body was less, which is counter to both mine and Pascal’s experience, and I think it’s also counter to the volume recommendations that RP have out in terms of the quads and the hamstrings are less total sets, hard sets, compared to the chest and the back, and I don’t know if you had seen that yourself and had any thoughts on that?
James: I haven’t really I didn’t do a deep dive into that study, I only looked at it very superficially so I can’t really comment on a really deep level in terms of study design, but a lot of that depends on, of course, the populations that they use, and how those assessments were made. Typically I think that yeah I agree with what you said that’s kind of counterintuitive to what we would typically experience, usually the lower body because of the intensity in this case your legs tend to be very strong, they get a lot of synergy with your hips and your lower back, you can use a lot more weight generally than you can with your upper body, and it really takes a lot to get them going. Whereas, the upper body seems it can just take a beating pretty consistently, especially if you look at upper back lats. How much lat training can you do per week, I mean I actually had to just give up at one point because I was doing so many, I was doing 40 fucking sets. I actually just increased my frequency at that point, I think I talked about it on RP plus one week. I was just okay I’m just gonna start doing you know 10 sets, four days a week and see how that goes and actually that was a massive improvement, but still, I could probably be doing more lats. Can I do that on my legs – fuck, no way. It’s just not gonna happen. So I’m not sure, it’s one of those weird phenomenon that you see in studies. I think it’s one of those things we look at it and we can’t take a really hard line and say this is the take-home message. I think when we look at what we say there’s probably different volume recommendations across different muscle groups for various reasons. That would be kind of my take-home on that where we say I don’t think we can definitively say what those numbers are, I think we can probably say that they’re different.
Steve: And I think for me personally anyway, and I think for a lot of people you can kind of if you are auto-regulating it, if you are starting off with low numbers and then you’re assessing how much you might be able to get away with, then you might find that you’re not similar to those numbers, or you’re completely different, and you are always saying and mike says you put out these numbers and they range a lot of the time but you’ve got to find your own landmarks.
James: Yeah, it’s literally the numbers we put out there as guidelines is a dartboard right, where you just got to throw the dart and hope that it sticks on the board, and then after that, you got to figure it out for yourself. So for relatively untrained females they’re gonna be either at the very top end of those ranges or even beyond some of those ranges right, whereas advanced males who have been training for 15 plus years, who are very strong and muscled, they’re gonna be probably on the bottom end of that, or maybe even in a different range altogether. So there’s a huge individualization factor there, so just think I said think of those as a dart board to get you started, all you got to do is throw the dart and hope it sticks, and then go from there, and then make your own adjustments.
Steve: And something else along those lines I think would be really interesting to hear your take on it, James, is kind of the exercises, counting volume can be quite difficult at times because for example, you can already do maybe I don’t know, you could easily do over 20 sets of leg extensions probably for the quads, you’re not doing 20 sets of squats, so I don’t know if obviously for me personally I probably can do two sets in my first week of heavy squats along with a small amount of additional work and my quads are sore again for half a week, whereas if I did buy Smith Machine squats or even leg press I couldn’t do that little and still see that response. I don’t know if you want to talk a bit about that and sometimes bang for buck exercises in that regard?
James: Yeah, yeah so Mike has been trying to kind of formalize some of these ideas and a couple of terms he’s thrown out lately which I think are really nice are stimulus to fatigue ratio, as well as efficiency, so stimulus to fatigue ratio basically in this context deals with how much growth are you getting from a movement relative to how much fatigue you are generating from that movement, so in bodybuilding context a really poor example might be a deadlift where you’re gonna get some growth from a deadlift, but the amount of fatigue you generated at the same time kind of outweighs how much growth you’re getting comparatively, whereas something else a stiff legged deadlift or maybe a 45 degree back raise in terms of glute and hamstring development is a much more favourable trade-off in terms of stimulus to fatigue ratio because you’re really training that muscle hard, it’s getting a great growth, and it’s not systemically taxing you to the point where you can’t do anything else. So that’s good there, there’s also this idea of efficiency which is basically how much volume do you have to put in to get the same amount of growth and you said this is a great example on this idea where high bar squats you only need a couple sets to get going, whereas something a knee extension, leg press or smith machine squat you might need four-five sets to get that same effect. So what we would say is that’s a poor efficiency example, where the high bar squats got you a lot of gains with very little input, whereas to get the same input you would have to add or maybe even multiply the amount of work you did by 2 or 2.5 from a different movement. In that case, it’s poor efficiency in terms of how much energy you have to expand, how much sets and reps you have to do to get the same growth that you got from something else. So on that note, this idea of picking movements that are really really good for you is really interesting, this is a huge part of individualization. So the example you gave with the knee extensions is a really good one because I can squat quite uh, I can do a lot of sets of squats, and I’ll get fucked up at some point but it takes a lot to get me going. Knee extensions I can do three sets of knee extensions and I can’t walk for days.
Steve: Wow. (*laughing)
James: Why is that – I don’t know. It’s just the way that I’m built, maybe there’s an occlusion effect from them because I have long legs or something, who knows – I don’t know but there’s definitely individualization factor there for me where I get a lot out of me extensions, where a lot of people don’t get dick out of knee extensions, they won’t get anything. So what that means is you essentially have to find movements were doing them doesn’t require a huge monumental effort and you get a lot out of it right. So, for example, you might find that you don’t get dick from doing barbell bench press, you don’t feel it in your chest, you don’t get a pump, you don’t feel you get any growth, your strength doesn’t go up but for whatever reason when you do incline dumbbells your shit just goes through the roof. That’s an example of a good individualization choice in terms of efficiency where the incline dumbbells just for whatever reason, whether it’s your technique, or whether it’s your anthropometry, or whatever, are just a better movement you don’t have to do very much you get sore, you get pumped, you get everything and that’s good. So there’s there’s some kind of general guidelines we can give for some of those things we can say okay you know barbell movements tend to be really really good in terms of stimulus to fatigue ratio as well as efficiency, machines can be really good but sometimes their efficiency is lower because you have to do a lot of them to get the same effect da da da da da, but ultimately it’s a lot of trial and error, you have to go try these movements, try them for different, not just once try them for a whole mesocycles at a time, see how it goes and then go from there. So a couple of just personal examples and I don’t use anecdote but just to drive home this idea of individualization, I know for me a close grip underhand pull-ups is one of the few things where I will feel anything in my lats, period. So I know that when I’m really trying to work on my lats I use close grip underhand variations whether it’s a pull-up or pulldown, or even you know a neutral Close Grip kind of thing, those really work for me. I also know that wide grip bench because I have gigantic Stretch Armstrong’s arms does tend to work really really well for me if I want to develop my pecs, whereas medium and close grip I don’t really get a ton of pec out of it those wide grips really works well for me. So those are movements that I go to when I’m really trying to develop those areas, wise the knee extensions those fuck me up in a way that I just cannot describe, I can’t walk I’m fucked up for days. I know that I can just do you know a reasonable amount of squats and I can put in a very low amount of knee extensions and I’ll get a lot of quad growth out of it for whatever reason. Everyone will have to figure out what those movements are for themselves, you can’t just say oh James said knee extensions right, no. That might not be true at all for you, but what you want to see is essentially if we’re talking about volume landmarks, something that gets you all the kind of the ghetto MEV estimators with actual very very low MEV numbers rights, so Steve said you might only do two sets of squats and get good pumps, good strength, good soreness, all that stuff, that’s ideal. That’s exactly what you want, you want to be able to do two or three sets on week one, hit all the ghetto MEV estimates and then you were able to progress all the way up to what is a very reasonable MRV, that’s the golden zone in terms of exercise selection. What you don’t want is to start something where you have to do six to eight sets to get anything out of it. So if you go you’re okay today I’m working on delts, I’m gonna go to the delt you know Shmagma* machine and you just got to sit there all day eight sets to get anything going. That’s a waste of your time in terms of efficiency, whereas doing something else an upright row or even a dumbbell lateral raise or upright row, you might only need to do two or three sets and you’ll already get a huge pump and soreness from that. That’s the idea there. To start, you want to find exercises where you get all of those things pumps, soreness, progressing in either the volume or the intensity that you can use with very very low starting numbers but those numbers are able to expand out too much higher numbers, up to what you estimate to be towards your MRV for those movements.
Steve: Brilliant, I think as soon as you guys start talking about the ghetto MEV concept, that really helped me just in my own sessions kind of think about things a little bit more, and I’ve started utilizing it with clients and they’re just thinking about exercises more. Where do they get good mind-muscle connection, what movements are actually good for them or they think they should be able to do squats and that should be a good movement for them but when they think about the things you talked about the pump, the soreness and kind of how much progress they get, there’s barely anything. Whereas it might be a leg press for them so I think that’s really helpful.
James: For sure, and the one thing is so I’m I’m always the old man over here when people, when clients are saying I don’t get anything from a movement that you it’s hard to argue against, so if the client is I don’t get anything from high bar squats, you’ve got to give them that stink eye right, cuz you’re I know that high bar squats on average are good in terms of stimulus to fatigue and good in terms of efficiency. So it makes me think what are you doing, that would be I’d send me a video of your squat cuz I bet you’re doing some stupid ass shit right, and more often than not it’s not that they’re doing something really stupid I’m just embellishing a little bit but more often than not they’re doing the movement in a way which might be technically sound, you look at it and you’re okay there’s nothing wrong with this but they’re not doing it in a way that’s actually training the targeted muscle groups, they might be relying more heavily on their posterior chain or their upper back muscles to kind of up the squat up rather than letting their knees displace forward and really working on the quads or something along those lines, and that’s where you have to kind of and we joke about this on RP plus. You got to shit test your technique, if you’re doing a movement that generally scores high on those things and you’re just seemingly getting nothing out of it, you might have to really work on that mind-muscle connection, work on your grip placement, foot placement, modify the technique a little bit until you can really feel that muscle working. for example, even though a regular bench press isn’t a great movement for me I know how to bench press to make it a good movement, you know what I mean?
James: I know that there are better choices for me, but I know that I can modify any technique to meet my individual needs. So always be skeptical of yourself you know when you think of this is just a bad movement for me, shit test it first, give it one or two mesocycles, modify the technique until you can try and get a good mind-muscle connection, all that stuff, and then if you run it for two mesos and you’re this movement sucks, it sucks, it’s not for you, move on to a new one and that’s fine.
Steve: Yeah, I think I can even give an example myself for high bar squats, not that they’ve ever been bad for me but there was a time where I was getting pretty heavy in terms of loads on the bar and they start beating up my hips and my knees and not so much getting so much in my quads and I just found I was kind of almost dive-bombing them a little bit and not controlling things as well as I should and as soon as I went to control the entire movement, not using the stretch reflex to a large degree at all, they just became a really great movement again.
James: It’s a brilliant example, and that’s something that you kind of you get into that movement training mindset where you’re okay I have this weight, I have this many reps I just gotta blast through this right, but for physique training – no, it’s each one of those reps counts and you got to make the most of it, so that’s an awesome example.
Steve: Cool so actually to ask, I’m not gonna ask any more questions, the other thing I wanted to ask about was in terms of the stimulus to fatigue ratio. I’d love to hear your kind of apply that to the reps in reserve concept which obviously I think has been RP’s been out there for a while now but I think you guys really popularized kind of reps in reserve or reps from failure training, so I’d love to hear you talk about that.
James: Yeah, so you know when I have worked with athletes in the past when I was doing more personal training and strength conditioning stuff, we would usually use a fixed set and rep scheme, that was kind of the go-to. I really started getting more into the reps in reserve or from fail style when I started doing more online stuff because when you’re coaching somebody in person you can see okay that the last set was all grinders, every one of them was one from failure, it was just horrible grinder set. When you’re working with somebody remotely you can’t know how close they are to failure or how much relative effort they’re putting in, so you have to kind of program it in such a way where they’re not either under training all the time or overtraining all the time, and that’s when this reps in reserve thing can be really really helpful especially for your online clients. Now, what’s really interesting is that the reps and reserve is a measure of relative intensity and relative intensity can be broken down a number of different ways percentage of your one rep max, percentage of maximum movement speed, there’s a number of ways, that’s just one of them. And reps in reserve basically say okay if I was to make an all-out effort and go to failure right, what would that be? Okay, take that and now I’m gonna back off a certain number of reps right so instead of getting 10, which 10 would be gun to my head I had to get all the reps right that would be the best effort, I say okay, now we’re gonna back that up and say do one from failure so that would be about nine, do two from failure that’d be eight, etc. What that does is ensures that you’re kind of at least for our purposes in physique training in what we would kind of consider a golden zone of relative intensity which is roughly somewhere between five and you could say zero but I would say one reps in reserve from a maximal effort. Why is that? Well, of what we have found is that less than that, excuse me, it’s probably not good enough in terms of either the absolute load on the bar or the relative effort that you have to put into each set to get a lot of gains, so going less than five reps in reserve means you’re probably just under doing it quite a bit, you could be training harder without very much penalty. On the other hand, training above one if you’re at one or even at the failure point what we have is a problem of training too hard and we can measure that in terms of stimulus to fatigue ratio, so what we find is that there’s kind of an asymptotic curve in terms of how much you get out of increasing the relative intensity. So from about four to close to one you get basically an asymptote, a plateau in shape, where increasing the relative intensity does increase the amount of gains you get per repetition, but to a point, and somewhere around two or one it kind of effectively flattens out in terms of how much you can get from it. Now, unfortunately, that curve is not the same if we take that same idea and say how much fatigue do we get per rep right. Unfortunately, it’s a very different looking curve where now we actually see an exponential jump, twice, we get that kind of a sigmoid shape where we see the first curve, somewhere around three to two kind of levels out, and then from two to zero takes off again. So what that means is although training with very very low reps in reserve, so one or zero is very stimulative in terms of per rep effort, it’s also massively fatiguing, way way-way more so than doing something closer to four to two. So what we find is that in terms of making a good long-term plan, even a good moderate term plan, training at the failure point or very very close to it, unfortunately, is a short-term gain at a long-term cost scenario, where you’re just gonna be accumulating fatigue really really fast, you might be еeking out just little bit more gains per session, which is cool right, you’re really getting as many gains as you possibly can out of it, but you will not be able to sustain that type of training for a very long time without either having to deload all the time, which essentially takes the time away from gains, or having to do bigger more powerful recovery strategies. So, we generally look at stimulus to fatigue ratio in terms of reps in reserve with that golden zone of probably somewhere around two seems to be on average a really good spot where you’re not hitting that second exponential curve in terms of fatigue per reps and you’re kind of maxing out how much gains per rep you essentially are getting, so it’s kind of a funny thing, it’s not something that you’ll find in an exercise physiology textbook, it’s something that is a lot of I would call indirect research where there’s a lot of things kind of pointing in this direction, but there’s not a single study that says this definitely is THIS. That won’t exist, you have to kind of consolidate hundreds of studies that are all kind of pointing towards a central theme which is as you raise the relative intensity you make more gains but you also make exponentially more fatigue. So because physique training is so dependent on the amount of volume, amount of work you put in, raising the relative intensity essentially only limits that, it’s not a favourable trade-off. Whereas if you were a strength sports athlete, a team sports athlete, maintaining a high absolute intensity and a relative intensity to some degree is necessary in order to get stronger and faster. You cannot get faster without making maximum movement efforts. That’s just how it goes right, do you need to make maximal efforts for bodybuilding- no, no, absolutely not. That’s the big differentiating factor here right, you need to put in lots of volumes, if you are getting lots of intensity, it’s going to limit the amount of volume you can put in by lowering your MRVs across the board, whether it’s systemic or per muscle group or all of those things. So it’s just an unfavourable trade-off, we say oh okay yeah you can really make it hard on yourself and try and inch out more and more gains, but that program will be short-lived, you will not be able to sustain it in the long term, so if you look at long-term gains you will see a big spike in the beginning Burt* and then just plateau off, versus doing a more moderate reps in reserve on average, you’ll see kind of more of a wave linear overtime which is what we want to see.
Steve: Yeah, I think in my own experience when I started using that kind of starting off of higher reps in reserve and moving towards lower ones, it just smoothed progression much more, whereas I’d always maybe I’d be at a 2 or a 1 reps in reserve consistently and I could train week to week but often I just end up repeating performance and no sessions would feel, everything would be somewhat hard, I never had super hard challenging sessions I do now or I might get there but the fatigue would start building up really rapidly. Whereas when I started and with clients transitioning from the kind of 4-3 reps reserve towards failure over weeks, you get that really nice kind of overload and what might kind of term the easy gains and then you just have smooth transitions towards really hard training eventually, but it’s horrible.
James: Absolutely, absolutely, and you know what’s up fucked up too is there are obviously physical effects and that’s probably what we’re talking about the most but let’s not forget the psychological toll of going 1 or 0 from failure, you know what I mean? You have to get fucking amped up to really truly put in that kind of effort, how many days per week can you do that? I can do it maybe once per month if I’m lucky, truly right to get that pumped up here, to make that kind of effort because it’s pain, it’s suffering, it’s a lot of energy, it’s exhaustion and then it’s a huge recovery, you know if you try to do an amrap set for a deficit deadlift or something, you’re gonna be for the rest of that day and for days after you know what I mean?
James: So it’s when we’re thinking about, and you know obviously I’m a little biased towards recovery but when we’re thinking about training and recovery stuff, you also have to factor in the psychological fatigue of trying to train that way. It’s really hard to get amped up to go to the gym and know that you’re gonna every single set is gonna be at the point of failure or almost at, it’s just tough, hard.
Steve: Awesome, James, I wanna say a massive thank you for this podcast, we’ve gone a little over an hour, I could keep going talking to James as you can see, it’s just a great guy, knows a lot and actually explains things in a really nice way that’s really easy to understand which I really appreciate because there are really smart people out there who can’t quite do that and James is really good at that. So again to remind you James and Mike and Gabrielle will be in London on the 11th and 12th of May at time of recording this we still have one or two VIP tickets, they will probably be sold out by the time this comes out but there are still general tickets for the 11th so it’d be amazing to see as many faces there and James if people want to kind of find out more about you or find out kind of anything where you’re putting out information or social media things where should they look?
James: Well, I’ve been criticized for my social media accounts not being exciting enough but my Instagram is rpdrjames, I am on Facebook just as myself. If you are interested in things we were talking about today you can check Mike and I do a weekly webinar on a program called rp+ which is just you get to write in every week, if you have questions you can just send a message on the forum, we’ll pick them out of the forum and answer your questions every week live. Those are the big places you can find me.
Steve: I don’t know on Instagram you recently shared I think it was some sort of meme or something which I found incredibly hilarious and I had to check out that page.
James: Oh, the gymfuckery one?
James: Oh, dude there is so.. I was just all day, all day on that page dude.. For those of you who don’t know to check out Gymfuckery, it’s an Instagram page where they just look at people doing dumb shit in the gym, it’s amazing.
Steve: It was hilarious. So again thank you, James, thank you, everyone, for listening and we will catch you soon.
James: Thanks for having me.
*Transcript by Simeon Tsvetkov
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