Any improvement in body composition (more muscle, less body fat) is the only non-surgical way to improve body shape, how you look – which is the honest reason why 99% of most people exercise in the first place. A program designed to build muscle will give you the health you need and the body shape you want.

Although more folks than ever are flocking to gyms to pump iron very few people understand program design that builds muscle.

The Science . . . Well?

The science of better health and fitness is a rapidly evolving one. That means education is a constantly ongoing process. For me, that means I’m always reviewing research, reading hundreds and hundreds of published studies about exercise and nutrition every month. Not just the results, I scrutinize the entire publication. Most people read the morning paper over breakfast; I read volumes of sports science journals! I know I need to get a life, but I enjoy it. It keeps me up to date.

More importantly, in doing so, I gain insights from the literature that few possess. I’m going to give you just some pertinent facts I’ve managed to glean from the research on building muscle mass. This information is going to clear up a lot of aspects for you.

Building Muscle

Despite the well-documented benefits of building muscle, research on how to optimize muscle growth (hypertrophy) from training is a topic that has received scant attention from the scientific community. Up until now, learning how to make muscles bigger was not a priority, but that’s changing (Particularly now that governments realize the incredible cost ageing-related muscle wasting has on our already struggling healthcare system!).

The use of lots of volume (up to 20 working sets for each muscle group), moderate loads (12-8RM) and short rest intervals (1 minute) between sets is a common textbook recommendation to “optimize” the hypertrophy response from training [1,2,3]. However, if we look to the information that underlines these rather specific recommendations, it becomes clear that both the research and common sense is lacking. For example, not one study has shown these “traditional” hypertrophy-specific recommendations are the most effective way to build muscle. In fact, the results of two 6 month-long, well-controlled training studies refute these recommendations directly[4,5].

Most studies on resistance (weight) training that textbooks and organizations fall back on to substantiate these hypertrophy-specific recommendations didn’t even assess changes in muscle mass. The fact is, relatively few studies have actually measured muscle growth directly during weight training programs. Of the studies that have assessed muscle hypertrophy, the vast majority have utilized short-term investigations (12 weeks or less) and untrained (inexperienced) individuals, [6-15] who (as you know) respond to any loading protocol!

We know that the type, timing, and quality of nutrient intake does influence the hypertrophy response to training[16]. However, most resistance training studies often used to support training guidelines, never attempted to control or monitor dietary intake[6-15]. This is a very important consideration that has been completely overlooked by most of the experts.

Strength and Size Go Together

Some organizations have tried to segregate strength and hypertrophy training recommendations. All this has done is make matters very confusing for the professionals certified by these organizations as well as general fitness enthusiasts.

For example, the use of heavier loads (1-6RM) are strength-specific recommendations (optimize strength development). Whereas the use of moderate loads (8-12RM) are hypertrophy-specific [1,2,3]. Unfortunately, not one study single has been able to confirm these recommendations directly, and the results of two six-month long training studies refute this notion directly [25,26].

The truth is, a science-based distinction between training for strength as opposed to hypertrophy is almost impossible—the principles of one are intertwined within the other.

Another topic of mass confusion is rest intervals between sets. Around 1 minute rest between maximum-effort sets is often recommended to “optimize” hypertrophy[1,2,3,11]. However, there is no clear evidence that can directly support this very specific training recommendation.

Conversely, research on this subject clearly shows us that the amount of rest between sets not only affects weightlifting performance and strength gains during training [17,18,19]. That is, weightlifting performance is compromised by short rest intervals between sets (i.e., 30-60 seconds) and improved by longer rest intervals (two-three minutes), particularly when complex exercises are involved.

Shorter rest intervals would appear to be counter-productive to hypertrophy development as they reduce work capacity and the amount of overload used[17,18,19]. Some resistance training studies have compared these rest intervals directly and shown that greater strength increases are achieved with longer versus shorter rest periods between sets [20,21]. Maximizing strength development is the fastest road to gaining muscle mass.

As I mentioned earlier, the hypertrophy-specific recommendations; use of lots of volume (up to 20 working sets for each muscle group), moderate loads (12-8RM) and short rest intervals (1 minute) between sets, has been as a common textbook recommendation to “optimize” the hypertrophy response from training. However, the only research provided to support this recommendation are interviews conducted with elite bodybuilders back in the 1980s! [ 1,2,3,11] Constructing a training program based on the advice from genetically gifted, full-time athletes that use a lot of anabolic drugs isn’t exactly what I’d call training recommendations based on science.

See Also:
Hardgainer? Are you really?

The bottom line is, most of the traditional training recommendations for building muscle are based on outdated and flawed information. They are not based on well-controlled research.

The problem is, these recommendations have perpetuated over the years simply because no one has bothered to take a closer look at the science-based principles of building muscle. No wonder there is a ‘mass of confusion’ about how to build muscle mass!

Max-OT Training

This brings me to Max-OT training. Max-OT takes the conventional approach to building muscle and turns it on its head. It takes the science and constructs a training protocol based on your muscle’s physiological responses to resistance training, placing the primary focus on maximizing overload with every set. When you analyze the scientific research and realizes there is more evidence that refutes the conventional approach to building muscle and you couple that with the real-world results Max-OT delivers, it becomes very clear why Max-OT delivers the dramatic results it does.


1. Conroy B & Earle RW. In: Essentials of Strength and Conditioning: National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). Baechle TR and Earle RW. 2nd Ed. Human Kinetics: Champaign IL, Ch4:65, 2000.
2. Kraemer WJ, Adams K, Cafarelli E, Dudley GA et al., Progression models in resistance training for healthy adults. Med Sci Sports Exerc 34:364-80, 2002.
3. Baechle TR, Earle RW, Wathen D. In: Essentials of Strength and Conditioning: National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). Baechle TR, Earle RW. 2nd Ed. Human Kinetics Champaign IL, Ch18:409-19, 2000.
4. Ahtiainen JP, Pakarinen A, Alen M, Kraemer WJ, Hakkinen K. Short vs. Long Rest Period Between the Sets in Hypertrophic Resistance Training: Influence on Muscle Strength, Size, and Hormonal Adaptations in Trained Men. J Strength Cond Res 19:572-82, 2005.
5. Kraemer WJ, Nindl BC, Ratamess NA, et al. Changes in muscle hypertrophy in women with periodised resistance training. Med Sci Sports Exerc 36:697-708, 2004.
6. Campos GE, Luecke TJ, Wendeln HK, et al. Muscular adaptations in response to three different resistance-training regimens: specificity of repetition maximum training zones. Eur J Appl Physiol 88:50-60, 2002.
7. Harris C, DeBeliso MA, Spitzer-Gibson TA, Adams KJ. The effect of resistance-training intensity on strength-gain response in the older adult. J Strength Cond Res 18:833-8, 2004.
8. Cureton, K. J., M. A. Collins, D. W. Hill, and F. M. McElhannon. Muscle hypertrophy in men and women. Med Sci Sports Exerc 20: 338-344, 1988.
9. Staron RS, Malicky ES, Leonardi MJ, et al. Muscle hypertrophy and fast fiber type conversions in heavy resistance-trained women. Eur J App Physiol 60:71-79 1990.
10. Goto K, Ishii N, Kizuka T, Takamatsu K. The impact of metabolic stress on hormonal responses and muscular adaptations. Med Sci Sports Exerc 37:955-63, 2005.
11. Kraemer WJ, Fleck SJ, Evans WJ. Strength and power training: physiological mechanisms of adaptation. In: Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews, edited by J. O. Holloszy. Baltimore, MD: Williams and Wilkins 363-397, 1996.
12. Bemben DA, Fetters NL, Bemben MG, Nabavi N, Koh ET. Musculoskeletal responses to high- and low-intensity resistance training in early postmenopausal women. Med Sci Sports Exerc 32:1949-57, 2000.
13. Gettman LR., Ayres JJ, Pollock ML, Jackson A. The effect of circuit weight training on strength, cardiorespiratory function, and body composition of adult men. Med Sci Sports Exerc 10: 171-176, 1978.
14. Moss BM, Refsnes PE, Abildgaard A, Nicolaysen K, Jensen J. Effects of maximal effort strength training with different loads on dynamic strength, cross-sectional area, load-power and load-velocity relationships. Eur J Appl Physiol 75: 193-199, 1997.
15. Sale DG, Jacobs I, MacDougall JD, Garner S. Comparisons of two regimens of concurrent strength and endurance training. Med Sci Sports Exerc 22: 348-356, 1990.
16. Lemon PW, Berardi JM, Noreen EE. The role of protein and amino acid supplements in the athlete’s diet: does type or timing of ingestion matter? Curr Sports Med Rep 4:214-21, 2002.
17. Kraemer W J. A series of studies-the physiological basis for strength training in American football: fact over philosophy. J Strength Cond Res 11: 131-142, 1997.
18. Richmond SR, Godard MP. The effects of varied rest periods between sets to failure using the bench press in recreationally trained men. J Strength Cond Res 18:846-9, 2004.
19. Willardson JM, Burkett LN. A comparison of 3 different rest intervals on the exercise volume completed during a workout. J Strength Cond Res 19:23-6 2005.
20. Robinson JM, Stone MH, Johnson RL, Penland CM, Warren BJ, Lewis RD. Effects of Different Weight Training Exercise/Rest Intervals on Strength, Power, and High Intensity Exercise Endurance. J Streng Cond Res 9: 216-221, 1995.
21. Pincivero DM, Lephart SM, Karunakara RG. Effects of rest interval on isokinetic strength and functional performance after short-term high intensity training. Br J Sports Med 31:229-34, 1997.

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Building Muscle – A Mass of Confusion

by Paul Cribb Ph.D. CSCS. time to read: 8 min
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