Doug McGuff, M.D., Discusses
High-Intensity-Training Dose/Response for Muscle and Strength - Part 3
Dr. McGuff continues explaining his beliefs regarding short, high-intensity workouts and why most bodybuilders are doing too much in the gym.
JL: Speaking of psychological issues attached to bodybuilding, I’d like to look at some popular general approaches to bodybuilding. One is the performance of multiple sets per muscle group—up to 20 sets per bodypart. The other is the concept of periodization. What are your thoughts on them?
DM: Well, in terms of multiple sets per muscle group, I think it’s just misunderstanding what the stimulus is in regard to the response that you’re seeking. Once you’ve recruited all of the motor units that you’re capable of recruiting and fatiguing, you’ve really done all that you can do in terms of stimulus. In order to do a high volume of sets, you have to hold back on the amount of intensity. What happens is that you never reach a level of intensity to trigger the adaptive response that you’re looking for, but you accumulate an amount of work that chronically interferes with and prevents the adaptive response from occurring—even if by some fluke you were able to produce an adequate intensity stimulus.
So in terms of the stimulus/organism/response relationship, you’re screwing it up on both sides of the equation. You’re not letting yourself produce enough intensity to cross the threshold into adaptation. On the other side you’re accumulating so much work that you’re chronically interfering with the organism’s ability to cope and to produce new tissue.
Periodization seems to be a huge overcomplication of what is a relatively simple process. It’s done for the purpose of making the people who propose it look intelligent. That may be a little bit harsh, but I believe that what you’re doing by overcomplicating the process is saying, “Here are periods where you’re going to be addressing strength, and here are periods where you’re going to be addressing hypertrophy.” The body just doesn’t work that way. These arbitrary categories of activity are just creating periods of what they’re calling “active rest,” when what you really need is plain old rest. It’s kind of an oxymoron.
If you’ve applied an adequate stimulus, the body needs to be undisturbed long enough to produce an adaptive response, which is difficult. If you keep throwing in all this stuff labeled “active rest,” you’re really just interfering with that adaptive response.
JL: How do you presently train, and what has been the most productive routine that you’ve ever done?
DM: I’ve had two points in my life where I feel I’ve broken through a longtime plateau. The first was around 1994 or 1995. Ellington Darden came out with Upside Down Bodybuilding. Two routines, which he called loading and packing, were seven-to-eight-set routines that used big, basic exercises. It was high intensity, straight to failure. Those routines represented a significant reduction in volume and frequency from what I’d been doing—standard high-intensity training, 12 to 17 exercises done three times a week. I made a reduction to seven or eight exercises, initially done twice a week and then on Monday, Friday and again on Wednesday, so I worked out every fifth day, roughly. When I made that change, it was the first time in a long time that I had a rapid jump in muscle growth.
The other time was when I opened my own facility and went from roughly that version of training to a consolidated routine of three to five exercises done once every seven to 12 days. While doing that routine, I went from an arm that measured about 15 5/8 inches to about 16 1/8 inches in lean condition. Every interval in improvement that I’ve had that has been long lasting has been a result of a reduction in volume and frequency.
JL: When would you prescribe so-called advanced techniques for one of your clients—like rest/pause or negative-only training—if at all? At what point would you do it—after a year, when they’re close to their potential? Would you have them max out at going to positive failure first?