Q&A: Brad Schoenfeld on Maximizing Muscle Growth

Building muscle

As a strength and conditioning coach, I want to help my athletes get bigger, faster and stronger. Lately, I've been a fan of The M.A.X. Muscle Plan, a book on body composition training (muscle development and fat loss) by strength coach and muscle growth specialist Brad Schoenfeld. I thought his philosophy would be helpful to STACK readers.

STACK: How does an athlete benefit from gaining more muscle?

Brad Schoenfeld: The answer here is specific to the sport played. If the sport requires strength and/or power, building muscle enhances those attributes. There is a direct correlation between muscle cross sectional area (CSA) and strength. Greater CSA results in greater strength. Moreover, power is developed on a foundation of strength, so all other things being equal, increasing strength will translate into greater power.

STACK: What are some of your favorite muscle-building strategies?

Schoenfeld: Variety is a biggie. Incorporate different rep ranges and exercises over the course of a training cycle. It's misguided to think there's a single best rep range for hypertrophy. Using a combination of low, medium and high loads produces a synergistic effect on development. Similarly, varying exercise selection is important to fully develop the muscles. Another important factor is to use high volumes of training. There is a clear dose-response effect between volume and muscle growth, with greater volumes leading to greater gains up to a certain point. Problem is, too much volume will result in overtraining. The strategy I like to employ is gradually increasing volume over the course of a training cycle, ultimately leading to a super-compensatory response.

STACK: You co-authored a paper on the muscle pump. Could you explain what that is and why it might be important?

Schoenfeld: The pump leads to greater intracellular hydration. There is compelling evidence that a hydrated cell causes an increase in anabolism (muscle growth) and a decrease in protein breakdown. This is a hypertrophy home run. Now, it's important to understand that the research on the topic is specific to cells in a test tube. It is a very difficult phenomenon to study in a living human, post-exercise. But the current evidence provides a good rationale for including some pump training in a routine to maximize growth.

STACK: Bodybuilders are usually more muscular than powerlifters, who are usually stronger. That must mean there's more to getting big than lifting heavy weights, right?

Schoenfeld: Correct. As noted above, there is good evidence that using lighter weights can have a synergistic effect on hypertrophy. This seems to be particularly important for targeting the Type I muscle fibers, which are endurance-oriented and thus need a greater time under tension to respond.

STACK: What would be your best advice for readers who want to put on more muscle?

Schoenfeld: Vary your routine using the full spectrum of rep ranges. Periodize your routine so that volume and frequency are progressively increased over time. Train intensely, but also incorporate regular "de-loads," when you pull back a bit so that your body can recuperate. Most of all, be consistent. You can't pack on size if you're not in the gym.

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Justin Kompf Justin Kompf - Justin Kompf is the head strength and conditioning coach at SUNY Cortland. Before working at Cortland, he interned at the University of California at Riverside and at Syracuse University. He graduated from Cortland with a degree in Kinesiology in 2012.
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