Hey ladies and gentle men! Welcome to the new 180DegreeHealth!
My brain is about to explode if I don’t get my thoughts out immediately! It’s been 11 long days since I’ve done a blog post! Gasp! I’m having withdrawals!
What I love about blogging, and the all-encompassing nature of my work in general, is that I always feel that I have the liberty to write about whatever is on my mind. Well, the following may seem like a radical departure from what we’ve been discussing lately, but the game I love playing more than any other is spotting very obvious fallacies and pouring salt on them like a helpless, innocent slug. Today’s fallacy is that strength = muscle development. It does not.
While I’m no bodybuilder or powerlifter, I do love learning about simple fundamentals of human physiology. You certainly don’t have to be able to hit home runs to know sports trivia. The wide gap between strength development and muscle development is yet another very interesting physiological phenomenon. One I can’t help but share.
This came up recently as I was reading Martin Berkhan’s article about a new disease amongst exercisers called Fuckarounditis. The article was hilarious, and there’s no doubt that Berkhan’s rapid increase in popularity over the past couple of years is well-earned. The dude has created a remarkable system and has found a way to do things with the human body that are unprecedented – namely, maintaining year-round, almost grotesque leanness at levels the human race has scarcely witnessed before, and doing so apparently without negative metabolic consequences (and having cheesecake and beer binges to boot). The world’s top obesity experts should be studying what Martin is doing, and the tricks he is using to favorably manipulate leptin – to see if it really is something new and improved over all the crap that they already know doesn’t work.
But Martin definitely makes some big mistakes in that article, and the guy, as much as I like him, has made huge errors with his equating of strength and muscle gain throughout the course of his work. Muscle growth comes from working a muscle really hard. It does not come from gaining strength. While one is bound to gain a little muscle from gaining strength, strength and muscle mass do not “intersect at the points that people would like you to believe that they do,” in the words of champion bodybuilder AND now champion powerlifter Kevin Weiss.
Being a good powerlifter (and even more so when it comes to Olympic style powerlifting) is about recruiting several muscles together in one fluid motion so that the primary muscles involved don’t have to do so much work. It’s also about keeping the weight in the most favorable places from a leverage standpoint. Essentially, it’s about taking the burden off of muscles working in isolation in their unfavorable leverage points.
Bodybuilding is very different. For muscle growth or hypertrophy, you want to be completely exhausting a muscle without relying on other muscles or momentum to help you complete the exercise. For example, by working strictly within the range of motion of the abdominal muscles, you can turn a situp into an extremely difficult exercise and struggle to complete 10 reps at a slow, controlled pace. Or you can involve momentum, your hip flexors, your back, your neck, even strap your hands behind your head for more leverage – and lo and behold you take all the pressure off of the abs and can do situps all day long. The less you use your abs, the more situps you can do.
The same is true of powerlifting. The easier you make the deadlift or squat or benchpress, the more weight you can lift. You also build much more strength by working with the heaviest weight you can load up on – usually enough to perform just 2-3 repetitions, if that.
But maximum muscle growth usually occurs in the 8-12 rep range for most people. Thus, using lighter weight – actually erring on the light side, is even better because you can use the most unfavorable and muscle-torturing form and tempo to complete the exercise. This works much better for muscle development – in the context of a program that is smart and a lot of intensity on behalf of the trainee. I know. This time last year I gained 15 pounds of lean mass in about two months without ever lifting a weight that I couldn’t perform at least 8 repetitions with.
Anyway, just to prove a point – here are people suffering from many symptoms of what Martin calls Fuckarounditis. Here we have talk of toning, functional exercise, bodyweight exercise, bosu balls, cables and tubing, Swiss balls piled on top of Swiss balls… But again, in the CONTEXT of the training being performed, and the broader elements of the program being used, the results speak for themselves. If these people have Fuckarounditis, I hope it’s contagious. To put it all into perspective, Scott Abel has 50 pounds more lean mass than Berkhan, but he does supported chin-ups (less than bodyweight), while Berkhan does weighted chin-ups (more than bodyweight). Berkhan is much smaller and stronger than Abel, probably even stronger than Abel when he was a competitive bodybuilder at 5’9”, 270 pounds! So yes, it’s okay to use a Swiss ball from time to time.