Muscle Building: Top 3 Factors, Genetics, Exercise Variety & Periodization

If you’re looking for the scientifically validated best muscle building workout tips and techniques, look no further because this (below) interview I did with Hypertrophy expert Brad Schoenfeld is just what the muscle growth doctor ordered.

Muscle Building QUESTION: You’ve proposed that there are three primary mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy. Can you expand on this?

BRAD. Sure thing. My master’s thesis was titled, “The Mechanisms of Muscle Hypertrophy and their Application to resistance training“, which by the way ended up getting published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. In this paper, I outlined that muscle growth from resistance exercise can be attributed to three primary factors: 1) Mechanical tension, which is basically the forces exerted on a muscle. 2) Metabolic stress, which involves the buildup of metabolites associated with intense exercise such as lactate and hydrogen ions, and 3) Muscle damage. Of the three, mechanical tension appears the dominant factor in muscular hypertrophy, at least to a certain degree. Without force exerted on a muscle, there simply isn’t a reason for it to adapt and grow. But there’s compelling evidence that a threshold exists for tension and once you get beyond this threshold, the other factors can be extremely important in the process. I’m currently in the process of conducting research that will hopefully help to shed greater light on this topic. That’s why it’s important to train in a variety of rep ranges and manipulate the other program variables such as sets and training frequency if your goal is to achieve maximal growth.

Muscle Building QUESTION: You are a proponent of using periodization. Why do think this is beneficial and how do integrate it into your hypertrophy program?

BRAD: Based on my experience, Periodization is the best way to ensure consistent gains without becoming overtrained and hitting a plateau. For those who don’t know, periodization refers to the manipulation of training variables (such as reps, sets, and rest intervals), which are varied over time to optimize a training effect. In the MAX Muscle Plan, I employ a hybrid periodization scheme that’s basically a cross between linear and undulating models. The entire 6-month routine is periodized in a way that each phase builds upon the previous one so that the trainee ultimately achieves maximal muscle growth by the end of the macrocycle. One of the primary ways this is accomplished is by systematically increasing training volume throughout the program. Volume has been shown to be perhaps the most important factor in hypertrophy. At least up to a certain point, a greater volume leads to greater gains in size. Problem is, if you constantly train with high volumes you’ll rapidly become overtrained, which results in the dreaded plateau. In my program, the increases in volume are interspersed with periods of “deloading” where both volume and intensity are decreased. This provides the optimal balance of training and recovery so that gains continue over time.

Muscle Building QUESTION: How big a role do genetics play in hypertrophy? Are there people who won’t be able to bulk up no matter what they do?

BRAD: Genetics are always a huge factor. Studies show they account for up to about 50% of a person’s ultimate muscular potential. But that certainly shouldn’t discourage anyone. You are still in control of at least 50% of your gains. And this makes it even more important for those who have difficulty packing on mass to train scientifically. I’ve worked with a lot of people over the years who told me they simply couldn’t get bigger, and when I put them through a structured hypertrophy regimen they were able to gain significant muscle in a fairly short period of time.

Muscle Building QUESTION: Do you advocate a lot of variety in your hypertrophy routines? What about using different training modalities?

BRAD: There’s definitely a benefit to using a variety of exercises for maximizing muscle growth. Free weights, machines, and cables all have certain advantages and disadvantages when it comes to building muscle, and the advantages of one tend to compensate for the disadvantages of the other. Combining these exercises produces a synergistic effect that maximizes results.

Same thing with training from multiple angles. Muscles like the deltoids and pectorals are partitioned into separate “heads” that allow you target individual areas of the muscle. Then there are muscles such as the trapezius with upper, middle, and lower regions that can each be activated by different movement patterns. And there is emerging evidence that the majority of muscles are compartmentalized so that many of the fibers do not actually  span the entire length of the muscle, which further emphasizes the need for exercise variety. Bottom line is that you should frequently switch around your exercises to optimize growth and symmetrical muscular development.

Muscle Building QUESTION: Thanks for taking the time to do this interview, Brad. One final question: Where can readers get a copy of your new book?

BRAD. Glad you asked. The MAX Muscle Plan available at all major bookstores. It’s also available at a considerable discount through here.


For more practical training info on MUSCLE BUILDING, check out:

Top 5 Muscle Building Mistakes (Part 1): Resting too long between sets

Top 5 Muscle Building (Part 2): Not Doing Enough Sets Per Muscle Group

Top 5 Muscle Building Mistakes (Part 3): Avoiding Machines

Top 5 Muscle Building Mistakes (Part 4): Avoiding Isolation Exercises

Top 5 Muscle Building Mistakes (Part 5): CNS Based Training

About Brad:

395676_3064613575366_425451786_nBrad Schoenfeld, MSc, CSCS, CSPS., is an internationally renowned fitness expert and widely regarded as one of the leading authorities on body composition training (muscle development and fat loss). He is a lifetime drug-free bodybuilder, and has won numerous natural bodybuilding titles including the ANPPC Tri-State Naturals and USA Mixed Pairs crowns.

Brad is the author of multiple best-selling fitness books. Sculpting Her Body Perfect (Human Kinetics Publications, 2007), Look Great Naked (Prentice Hall, 2001), Look Great Sleeveless (Prentice Hall, 2002), Look Great at Any Age (Prentice Hall, 2003), The Look Great Naked Diet (Penguin/Putnam, 2003),  28-Day Body Shapeover (Human Kinetics, 2005), Women’s Home Workout Bible (Human Kinetics, 2009), and his newest book, The MAX Muscle Plan (Human Kinetics, 2013).

Brad is also the 2011 NSCA Personal Trainer of the Year.

Check out his blog and keep in-touch with Brad through his Facebook page.

Learn How To Program Like A Pro

Using My Must-Have Programming Charts

Learn how I how I quickly and easily create programs that get results and keep clients coming back for more by downloading my 2 must-have programming charts and watching the included video lesson.

With these two charts, you’ll be able to combine the most important functional movements with isolation exercises for the perfect balance of strength, hypertrophy and performance.

In this video lesson you’ll discover:

And much more!

If your goal is to write better programs for your clients and save time while doing so, then you’ll want to sign up for this free lesson!