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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