“The ability to summon positive emotions during periods of intense stress lies at the heart of effective leadership.” – Jim Loehr
So I’ll jump right to the punchline for today’s post: we (i.e., scientists and coaches) don’t know exactly what triggers hypertrophy. Not at the cellular level, nor at the practical level. That magic, fool-proof code has not yet (and probably won’t anytime soon) be cracked. And just when we think we’ve got a pretty good bead on what’s up, we get thrown a corner-huggin’ curve ball.
What we do have though, is an extensive amalgamation of leading theories, best guesses, and 100+ years of in-the-trenches, trial-and-error. The bulk of which can be narrowed down to my ideal of waving intensities, and weaving modalities.
On the practical level, we understand intuitively that “the pump”, “muscular failure”, “complete muscular inroad”, moving heavy weight as fast as humanly possible, time-under-load (tempo), etc. are all potentiators and/or indicators of pending hypertrophy. We understand that genetics plays a HUGE role. As does nutrition; as does lifestyle (sleep, son!!). About the only thing we do know for certain is that the biological system will not change unless forced to do so. That means some pain and discomfort. Get over it. Muscle is fucking expensive in a biological sense, and so the body must have two things in order for growth to happen: (1) a surplus of “positive energy” and (2) a reason to allocate some of that “positive energy” toward growing and maintaining muscle mass. In short, you need to nail the One Goal, Four Pillars, Five Ts approach.
So if you wanna get jacked-to-the-gills (i.e., to your genetic potential), that means two things: (1) you’ve got to be an otherwise healthy organism (posses an excess of “positive energy”) AND (2) be willing to push your body beyond the comfort zone again and again, ad nauseum. Methods are many; principles are few. And those, my friends, are the two most basic of S&C principles.
Quick aside: do you know the story of the Hindu Goddess Akhilandeshvari? If you fling iron, or otherwise engage in *any* sort of ongoing self-improvement, you should.
Milo gets all the attention from an S&C mythology perspective. And I can dig it; progressive overload (in all it’s various manifestations) is vitally important to what we do. But the constant breaking down and rebuilding into an ever-better version of what once was, ala Akhilandeshvari, is a paramount flip-side to the Milo story. To get better, you’ve got to embrace the idea of constantly breaking and rebuilding.
Milo is “masculine” whereas Akhilandeshvari “feminine”; Yin and Yang. Fits perfectly. And this works in the game of life, as well as in training.
Back to our regularly scheduled program…
So my original intent, as I began to write this post, was to delve into some of the recent science supporting the concept of training to failure. A tactic I use myself quite often. And I employ it even more so with my Efficient Exercise clients. Why more so with my clients vs myself? It’s the Five Ts, my friend. My clients only have a half-hour, two times a week to get it done. That means I have to pull out the heavy artillery on them; bang for the buck, as it were.
But as far as that Training to Failure post goes, it seems that Christian Thibaudeau has already done that (and quite well, I might add) over at T-Nation. It’s a great article; be sure to check it out. It covers all the salient points that I think are important to this topic…
…save for the fact that some very bros and betties have supported never training to failure. Like just about every pre-1970s bodybuilder, for instance. And some famous post 1970s bodybuilders as well; Lee “always leave 2 reps in the tank” Haney, for one.
And performance coaches abhor going to failure. I get it — teach the body to fail and, when the money is on the line, you’ll get just that; failure. Or, as my man Archilochus (with my favorite quote) says:
We do not rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.
Which was the way I was trained as an athlete. Leave 2 reps in the tank during hypertrophy phases, and No MISSES!! during the “performance” blocks. I’ve come to appreciate that this is more psychological than physiological, though. And this isn’t just woo-thought here. It’s more like manipulating the placebo effect for winning. For more on that idea, check out this most awesome article. Now this particular piece focuses on immune response, but anything can be conditioned in this manner. Anything.
That said, I took a more middle-of-the-road approach when I began training/coaching. I’ve found that training to and including failure, even during performance blocks, works beautifully. It’s a natural extension of Autoregulation. But with
performance athletes any and every trainee, I like to sandwich praise-of-effort (which can include training to failure) with a win on either side. No matter what. It’s just coaching/teaching psyc 101. If you get used to winning — and you have the “hardware” to support that notion — you will in fact, when the going gets tough — find a way to win. On the field, or in life. By this point you can’t help it; via repetition, it’s been hardwired into your DNA.
And it’s Akhilandeshvari approved.
In health, fitness, and ancestral wellness –