Maximizing Muscle Growth
PrefaceThe advice is based on meta-analyses or literature reviews.
At The Gym
- dose response for strength development.
- Resting 3 minutes between sets promotes more growth than shorter durations rest periods.
- According to the Brzycki formula, this corresponds to about 23 and 8 reps, respectively.
- According to the Brzycki formula, this corresponds to about 5 reps.
- The free-weight bench press activates more muscles than the machine bench press, weakly suggesting that free-weights might prove better at stimulating muscle growth than machine exercises McCaw.
- Full-body workouts appear as good as split-body workouts Ratamess Benton.
- Working out once per week may be enough to maintain muscle mass Trappe. A third the original is enough to maintain strength Bickel
- When comparing dumbbells, barbells, and machines, it's complicated... Farias.
In the Kitchen
- - that's about double the 0.8 recommended for the general population. A literature review
- Consuming more than 30g of protein in a meal yields no benefits, so you have to split your protein consumption throughout the day moderate serving of high-quality protein.
- You should definitely take creatine supplements, which have been found to .
- Caffeine doesn't increase strength Astorino.
General Health RecommendationsFrom Prescription of resistance training for health and disease:
From Prescription of Resistance Training for Healthy Populations:
The current research indicates that, for healthy persons of all ages and many patients with chronic diseases, single set programs of up to 15 repetitions performed a minimum of 2 d·wk−1 are recommended. Each workout session should consist of 8-10 different exercises that train the major muscle groups. Single set programs are less time consuming and more cost efficient, which generally translates into improved program compliance. Further, single set programs are recommended for the above-mentioned populations because they produce most of the health and fitness benefits of multiple set programs. The goal of this type of program is to develop and maintain a significant amount of muscle mass, endurance, and strength to contribute to overall fitness and health. Patients with chronic diseases (e.g., arthritis) may have to limit range of motion for some exercises and use lighter weights with more repetitions.
A minimum of 1 set of 8 to 10 exercises (multi-joint and single joint) that involve the major muscle groups should be performed 2 to 3 times a week for healthy participants of all ages. More technical and advanced training including periodised multiple set regimens and/or advanced exercises may be more appropriate for individuals whose goals include maximum gains in strength and lean body mass.
[TODO: Integrate this section into the "At The Gym" section]
One literature review Manipulating resistance training program variables to optimize maximum strength in men: a review found
In general, maximum strength is best developed with 1–6 repetition maximum loads, a combination of concentric and eccentric muscle actions, 3–6 maximal sets per session, training to failure for limited periods, long interset recovery time, 3–5 days of training per week, and dividing the day’s training into 2 sessions. Variation of the volume and intensity in the course of a training cycle will further enhance strength gains.
Another literature review is (TODO): Bird
A third literature review (TODO) Wernbom concludes
This review demonstrates that several modes of training and all three types of muscle actions can induce hypertrophy at impressive rates and that, at present, there is insufficient evidence for the superiority of any mode and/or type of muscle action over other modes and types of training. That said, it appears that exercise with a maximal-eccentric component can induce increases in muscle mass with shorter durations of work than other modes. Some evidence suggests that the training frequency has a large impact on the rate of gain in muscle volume for shorter training periods. Because longer studies using relatively high frequencies are lacking, it cannot be excluded that stagnation or even overtraining would occur in the long term. Regarding intensity, moderately heavy loads seem to elicit the greatest gains for most categories of training, although examples of very high rates were noted at both very low and very high intensities when the sets were performed with maximum effort or taken to muscular failure. Thus, achieving recruitment of the greatest numble of muscle fibres possible and exposing them to the exercise stimulus may be as important as the training load per se. For the total volume or duration of activity, the results suggest a dose-response curve characterized by an increase in the rate of growth in the initial part of the curve, which is followed by the region of peak rate of increase, which in turn is followed by a plateau or even a decline.
I couldn't find any meta-analyses on the optimal creatine dosage so I decided to take a look at the data on my own. I looked at the creatine meta-analysis creatine supplementation and assumed the average American weight of ~182lb to convert between studies using creatine in g vs. g/kg. Then I constructed a scatter plot of the effect size on lean body mass (relative to the control group) after adding a little bit of noise for illustrative purposes. Unfortunately, the chart isn't very illuminating:
The charts representing the effect of creatine on chest press and leg press are similarly unhelpful.
Next, I tried dividing the studies into low-creatine (< 5.8 g/d) and high-creatine (>8.2 g/d). The average effect size in the high-creatine was 0.23 higher than in the low-creatine group. However, the p-value was fairly high (p=0.26) and this difference represents just a 16% increase in effect size, suggesting that the first ~5 g/d of creatine represent most (if not all) of the gains.
This analysis has two major problems, however. The first is high error bars due to small sample sizes and noisy muscle growth. The second is that there just aren't that many studies on the effect of very high creatine consumption on muscle growth (just 2 where more than 20 g/d was consumed).
Both these problems are mitigated by examining chest press strength gains instead:
Here, we actually find a negative difference between low and high creatine consumption, but p=0.4, so really the finding is just "no effect".
In short, while there's clear evidence that non-zero creatine consumption promotes muscle growth, we don't have a clear idea on how much creatine is ideal. There isn't good evidence to suggest that consuming more than 5 g/d helps much.
Now I want to move on to the controversial part of this page where I disagree with the academics with decades of experience. I think several of these meta-analyses suffer from significant problems.
Take dose response for strength development, for example. The authors found that trained athletes saw smaller returns from exercising 3 times per week rather than 2.
However, I'm suspicious of this study. It didn't look at a bunch of studies that investigated this question. Instead, it looked at a bunch of studies that investigated weight-lifting generally and compared how much strength increased relative to the group's standard deviation.
This choice of analysis doesn't make much sense to me. Suppose the meta-analysis had two studies:
- A set of 10-year-old apathetic girls do 2 sets of bench press 3 times per week. Each lift is 3 inches. Another set is the control group.
- A set of driven 20-year-old men do 1 sets of bench press 2 times per week and are given 90g of protein as supplements. Each lift is 2 feet. Another set is the control group.
It's likely the second study would find a larger effect size due to the demographic and procedural differences. The analysis in dose response for strength development would then conclude that 1 set is better than 2, and 2-days-per-week is better than 3. This is absurd reasoning.
They mention that they also did an analysis based on gender and age, but (1) they don't present this analysis and (2) this still ignores other factors such as protein intake.
The analyses Effects of resistance training frequency on measures of muscle hypertrophy: a systematic review and meta-analysis, Maximizing strength development in athletes, and Grgic also suffer from the same problems.
Instead, I think we're better off finding studies that keep the same sets and reps and just change the number of days worked per week.
I should note that some of the studies don't fall victim to these issues. For instance, Single vs. multiple sets and Bågenhammar both look at studies with groups that differ only in one variable and look at the differences in muscle growth between the groups.
At some point I should come back to this and re-examine the other meta-analyses (TODO).
These short-comings are a big problem since these were the studies we were relying on for optimal reps and optimal days-per-week estimates. For this reason, I think it's worth diving into these two topics a bit more.
Optimal Number of Reps (Bench Press)
This table lists studies where participants performed 3 sets of the bench press 3 times per week. "X > Y" means that performing X reps led to greater gains than Y reps. Some of the results are not statistically significant.
|6 reps > 2 reps ~ 10 reps||Effect of varied weight training programs|
|6-8 reps > 30-40 reps > 100-150 reps||Anderson|
|8 > 16||Bemben|
|6 > 10||Comparative effects of three weight training programs|
|8-12 > 25-35||Effects of low-vs. high-load resistance training on muscle strength and hypertrophy in well-trained men|
It looks like 5-9 reps is probably around optimal.
Days per week