An Interview With Dr. Stu Phillips on Muscle Hypertrophy and Sports Nutrition

Yesterday I had the privilege of sitting down with Dr. Stuart Phillips from McMaster University (click HERE to follow him on Twitter) and discussing various topics in sports science and nutrition. We talked about the hormone hypothesis, best rep ranges for hypertrophy (and load versus effort), THIS article (Mitchell et al. 2012), sarcoplasmic versus myofibrillar hypertrophy, limitations & practical relevance of his research, levels of protein intake for maximal hypertrophy, recommended supplements for maximum hypertrophy, and more.

Below is the YouTube video, for the MP3 download click HERE.

I hope you enjoy the interview!


Training for Strength: Bonus e-book!

The importance of strength

If you are a strength coach, I’m guessing that you probably spend a lot of time on building programs designed to increase your athletes’ strength. Call it an educated guess.

Or, if you’re a personal trainer, I am guessing that you might want to help your clients gain strength so that they can lift a greater volume of heavier weights and improve their body composition. Again, I might be reaching here, but please stay with me.

And if you’re a physical therapist, you might be putting late-stage rehabilitation programs together that help your patients improve their full function after regaining pain-free range-of-motion. That sounds like increasing strength is a big part of the process.

The bottom line is that almost every professional working in the evidence-based strength and conditioning, fitness, rehabilitation, exercise therapy, and exercise in healthcare professions needs to understand how best to improve strength in their patients, clients or athletes.


Programming for strength gains

So how do you go about developing your own strength training programs? How do you decide whether to use more volume or less? To train to muscular failure or not? To use high or moderate percentages of 1RM? To use short rest periods or long rest periods?

If you’re an evidence-based practitioner, then when you review the evidence before deciding how to structure your strength-training programs, you naturally refer to a flow-chart that looks something like this:


Unfortunately, there haven’t been that many systematic reviews showing how different strength training variables (like volume or percentage of 1RM) affect strength gains. One or two have been performed in relation to volume but that’s about it. That means it’s a lot of hard work to be a truly evidence-based practitioner when it comes to understanding how to alter training variables to best gain strength. You need to wade through all of the randomized controlled trials (RCTs) to see what they say.

As you can see, the level of evidence for observational trials and other evidence is below that of RCTs. That means before you start reading observational trials and seeking expert opinion, you should really read and assess the evidence provided by the RCTs.


Focusing on long-term results

And don’t forget that the level of evidence is higher where it directly measures the variable you want to understand, which in this case is long-term strength gains. So studies exploring the long-term effects of different training variables on muscular strength are more important than those exploring the immediate effects of different resistance-training workouts on muscle protein synthesis, post-exercise hormone responses, or the molecular signaling processes that underpin gains in strength and size.

Remember, we once thought that post-exercise hormones were the key for long-term hypertrophy. So it’s likely that our current models are not perfect. In fact, they are always in a state of flux. Mitchell et al. (2014) recently reminded us of this when they reported that long-term muscular size gains were not correlated with short-term rises in muscle protein synthesis, nor with the phosphorylation of many of the signaling proteins.

In reality, our understanding of these acute study results is constantly changing, which is part of what makes it so exciting to study. Equally, our understanding of the results of long-term trials will never change, which makes their findings more reliable.

For example, if a long-term trial monitored one group who trained bench press with an average load of 200lbs (a high percentage of 1RM), and another group of similar strength levels trained bench press with an average load of 150lbs, (a moderate percentage of 1RM), then the resulting difference in strength gains tells us something about the effects of high or moderate percentages of 1RM that will likely never be superseded.

To paraphrase Henry Rollins, the long-term effects of training with 200lbs will always be the long-term effects of training with 200lbs (for trainees with the same strength levels).

Henry Rollins

Sorry, I couldn’t resist that.

The important thing is that if you are helping people improve their strength, and you consider yourself to be an evidence-based strength coach, personal trainer, or physical therapist, then you need to know what the long-term trials tell you. Annoyingly, the literature is extensive and it’s hard to track all of the studies down.

Fortunately, Chris has pulled them all together and described the results in a single e-book, called simply “Training for Strength”. Let me tell you how you can get a copy.


How to get your copy of Training for Strength

If you’re currently a paying subscriber to our monthly Strength & Conditioning Research review service, you’re going to receive a free bonus copy later today. We like to look after our subscribers.

If you aren’t a paying subscriber yet, to get your copy of Training for Strength, just sign up to our monthly review service today. Shortly after completing your subscription, you will be emailed a free bonus copy of the Training for Strength e-book (PDF and e-reader versions).

Strength versions

And don’t worry, we are not trying to trap you into a long-term subscription! Signing up to the monthly review service does not commit you to more than one edition, which costs just $10. And you can cancel your subscription whenever you like. So unless you absolutely cannot spare $10 to see whether you like our monthly review service, there is no reason at all to miss out on this e-book.

Click subscribe now and give it a try!

4 Keys to Better Gut Health and Improved Fitness

By Eirik Garnas

“All disease begins in the gut”
– Hippocrates

About 2000 years after the father of medicine said these words, the emerging field of microbiome science and increased focus on the gastrointestinal tract in health and disease have revealed that Hippocrates was probably right all along. Of course, saying that all disease begins in the gut is clearly stretching the truth, but science shows that it’s definitely ground zero for a lot of the ills that run rampant in the modern world. Since around 70% of our immune system is located in and around the gastrointestinal tract, it’s clear that taking good care of the digestive machinery is a good idea if you want to live a long and healthy life. Also, besides the obvious impact on general health, good gut health is also of special interest to those who are interested in fitness, as it in many ways is a key to optimizing workout results.

Good gut health isn't only a key to a long and healthy life, it also lays the foundation for optimal athletic performance. Picture: Christina Gloger

Good gut health isn’t only a key to a long and healthy life, it also lays the foundation for optimal athletic performance. Picture: Christina Gloger

While the discussion surrounding nutrition and exercise long has revolved around adequate protein intake, post-workout food intake, carbohydrates vs. fats, etc., we’re now starting to understand that macronutrient composition and nutrient timing are only a part of the picture. Since the food you eat is what fuels your efforts in the gym, and a healthy gut microbiota (the collection of microbes that live in the GI tract) promotes a well functioning immune system, making sure gut health is taken care of is especially important for athletes and fitness enthusiasts who want to boost recovery and athletic performance. Studies in animals even show that beneficial bacteria can significantly increase testosterone production (1), and although we need human data to confirm that these results also apply to our species, there’s no doubt that the increased production of short-chain fatty acid’s in the colon, decreased low-grade inflammation, and improved metabolic health that result from boosting gut health have a positive impact on physical fitness.

Just like trainees should eat a diet that optimizes gene expression in the human genome, paying attention to the vastly larger (in terms of unique genetic material) human microbiome (the collective genomes of all the microbes that live in and on the human body) is also essential. However, as it turns out, a lot of the things we have to do to optimize human gene expression, are also the things we have to do to take good care of the second genome in our body.

If we’re really going to optimize athletic performance and muscle growth, we have to focus not just on our human cells and DNA, but also on our microbial inhabitants and the DNA they provide.

The complex ecosystem in our gut and the vital role of the intestinal barrier

The human body is inhabited by trillions of microorganisms from thousands of different species, but it’s only during the last 5-10 years that we’ve really begun to understand the essential role these critters play in our health. To get a scope of the magnitude of this microbial rainforest, it’s now clear that the vast majority of cells in our body are microbial and that these germs provide us with 99% of our total genetic material (2,3). This alone is enough to understand that we can no longer dismiss human-microbe contact as simply a question of pathogens and infectious disease, but that we have to start looking at Homo sapiens as a superorganism that is made up of both eukaryotic and prokaryotic cells.

Most of these critters live in our gastrointestinal tract, where they help us digest food, regulate our immune system, and provide a wide spectrum of other functions that researchers are just beginning to explore. This gut microbiota is often referred to as the forgotten organ; an essential piece of the human body that has long been dismissed, but is now starting to gain massive attention in both the scientific community and popular press.

One of the most important functions of these gut microbes is to help control the absorption of luminal content through the gut wall. The intestinal barrier is the main interface between us and the external environment, and this barrier is essentially outside our body, in the sense that the gut is constantly bombarded with antigens, bacteria, food, and other components from the environment.

While there’s still a way to go in terms of establishing cause and effects in a lot of health problems, a plethora of chronic health disorder have now been scientifically linked to a dybiotic gut microbiota (microbial imbalances), loss of microbial old friends, and/or leaky gut (increased intestinal permeability). While both gut dysbiosis and leaky gut were once considered bogus/alternative disorders, there are now thousands of scientific papers linking these conditions to diseases such as type-2 diabetes (4), cardiovascular disease (5), acne vulgaris, and obesity (6).

Saving the human microbiome

Ironically enough, the primary reason we now have to use science to learn more about how to manipulate the microbiome is that modern technology and science have allowed us to create foods, drugs, and living conditions that perturb the microbial ecosystems that live in and on our bodies. In a healthy state, we provide gut bacteria with food and shelter, they provide us with functions that stretch far beyond the scope of our own physiological capabilities, and our human and microbial part live silently and symbiotically side by side. However, the so-called westernized microbiome, damaged by antibiotics, caesarean sections, refined foods, and sterile living conditions, doesn’t shield us from disease in the same way as the hunter-gatherer microbiome (7,8,9).

The western lifestyle perturbs the human microbiome.

The western lifestyle perturbs the human microbiome .Image source

To restore a natural equilibrium we have to return to our roots and understand that just like our human genome was forged in an ancestral natural environment, the microbiome is also healthiest when we eat nutritious whole foods, drink clean (non-chlorinated) water, spend time outdoors, perform natural births, breastfeed infants, get dirty once in a while, and take other measures to populate the microbiota with new types of bacteria and feed healthy microbial populations. While several lifestyle factors impact the microbiome, the following 4 are especially important for boosting good bacterial populations and tightening up the intestinal junctions that have become “loose”.

1) Eat traditionally fermented foods

It’s important to note that I’m not talking about the low-fat acidophilus milk you’ll find at the average grocery store. Instead we’re aiming for products such as dirty fermented veggies, grass-fed greek yoghurt, and thousand of years old kefir grains. Traditionally fermented foods are a rich bacterial resource and also provide other food ingredients – such as vitamin K in sauerkraut and lactoferrin in kefir – which are often lacking from the modern diet (10). Make your own or take a trip down to your closest health food store (make sure you get raw and fermented) and pick up some of nature’s “superfood”.

2) Eat more fermentable substrates/prebiotics

While fermented foods and other sources of probiotics help populate the gut microbiota with good bugs like lactobacillus and bifidobacteria, these guys won’t set up shop in your GI tract unless they are given the proper fuels to survive and thrive. The human genome only produces the necessary enzymes to break down some proteins, fats, simple sugars, and starch, but the gut microbiome can adapt to break down a wide range of food ingredients. Certain indigestible (to the human host) compounds, such as inulin-type fructans and resistant starches, are especially beneficial as they specifically boost populations of good bacteria. However, the key here is to already have a relatively healthy gut ecosystem to begin with, as supplementing with heavy doses of prebiotics in an imbalanced (dysbiotic) gut could do more harm than good. Combining prebiotics with sources of probiotics such as traditionally fermented foods is therefore especially important if you’re suffering from moderate-severe gut dysbiosis.

Good sources of inulin-type fructans include leeks, onions, and jerusalem artichoke. Resistant starch is found in green bananas, legumes, and potatoes, among other foods. As cooking breaks down a lot of the resistant starch found in food, cooling legumes and potatoes for about 36 hours after heating is a good approach. This increases the resistant stach content through a process called starch retrogradation. Potato starch in its raw form has become especially popular lately, as it is a cheap and convenient source of gut friendly resistant starch.

It’s estimated that most contemporary hunter-gatherers and paleolithic tribes have/had vastly more fermentable substrates in their diet compared to what is found in the refined western diet.

Overall message: Eat more plants, and especially those that are rich in fermentable substrates/prebiotics. Fermentable substrates boost the growth of beneficial bacteria and production of short-chain fatty acids in the colon and allow your gastrointestinal barrier to function optimally (11,12,13).

3) Stay clear of antibiotics and other antimicrobial drugs if possible

There’s now overwhelming evidence showing that the rampant use of antimicrobials both in humans, livestock, and farming changes the microbial ecosystems in our environment (14,15,16). While antibiotics certainly have helped the human race overcome several types of infectious diseases, they also wipe out good gut bacteria and can thereby promote a state of gut dysbiosis.

As previously mentioned, researchers are now beginning to talk about a westernized microbiome, which diversity and resilience is nothing more than a faint imprint of the ancestral microbiome of our ancestors – or even just people who lived before the antibiotic era. Modern hygiene, western diets, and a lack of microbial exposures have certainly contributed to this ecosystem disaster, but broad spectrum antibiotics play an especially important role as they are like a carpet bomb to the gut microbiome.

4) Get dirty

Soaps, antibacterial gels, and cleaning detergents are all considered an essential part of the civilized, modern lifestyle. However, let’s forget the TV commercials and magazine ads extolling the virtues of regular hand washing and clean homes and look back at the way humans have lived throughout most of our evolutionary history. Food with clinging soil, untreated water, and a raw and animal-like contact with nature are all part of the evolutionary milieu in which our genome was forged, and although we’ve now disconnected ourselves from these exposures, it doesn’t mean that we have adapted to extremely “clean” living conditions.

While we’ve known for a long time that indoor living and lack of sun exposure lead to “inferior” gene expression in our human genome, we’re now learning that the consequences to our microbiome could be even greater. By “shutting off” contact to the vast microbial ecosystems found in the environment around us, such as in unpolluted and untreated water and soil, we’ve also distanced ourselves from some old microbial friends.

Nobody’s denying that modern hygiene has helped us overcome life-threatening infectious diseases and that life in the industrialized world has many upsides. However, it’s also important to note that this disconnect from mother nature has significant implications for human heath. The hygiene hypothesis, which states that a lack of microbial exposure in early stages of life leads to poor immunoregulation and increased risk of autoimmune disease later in life, has now gotten its successor in the old friends hypothesis. This hypothesis, which is supported by more and more compeling evidence, states that a lack of microbial exposures leads to higher risk of disease because we’re losing contact with “microbial old friends” that once were a part of the diverse, ancestral human microbiome.

Several studies are now beginning to show that contemporary hunter-gatherers and non-westernized populations have vastly more diverse microbiomes than westerners, and it’s likely that this is one of the primary reasons these cultures have such low incidence of inflammatory health disorders (17,18,19).


Diseases of civilization, such as type-2 diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease, are also sometimes called mismatch diseases (20). This means that they primarily result from a gene-environment mismatch, in the sense that our genome hasn’t adapted to the modern lifestyle that is characterized by sedentary living, the western dietary pattern, widespread use of pharmaceuticals, etc. However, we’re now learning that this mismatch doesn’t only involve the human genome, but also the vastly larger human microbiome (the collective genomes of all the microbes that live in and on the human body).

The human microbiome responds rapidly to changes in environment and lifestyle, and it’s now well established that the typical western lifestyle perturbs the microbial ecosystems in and on our body. Most of the critters associated with the human host live in the gastrointestinal tract, and this gut microbiota – the collection of microbes in our GI tract – plays an especially important role in health and disease. As gut bacteria regulate our immune system, impact hormone production, and break down the food we eat, a healthy gut microbiota is also essential for good athletic performance and recovery.

So, how can we deal with this mismatch? Do we have to move into the wilderness and adopt a hunter-gatherer lifestyle? No, unless that’s your thing of course. However, dirtying up our modern lifestyle by reconnecting with nature, adopting ancient food practises, and rewilding our bodies is something everyone can benefit from. From a practical standpoint, eating a healthy diet is the number one key to good gut health. Besides this top priority, eating more traditionally fermented foods and fermentable substrates, avoiding antibiotics, and getting dirty once in a while are 4 of the major things that you can incorporate into your lifestyle today.

About the author

eirik-garnas_organic-fitness-authorName: Eirik Garnas
facebook_buttonBesides studying for a degree in Public Nutrition, Iíve spent the last couple of years coaching people on their way to a healthier body and better physique. I’m educated as a personal trainer from the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences and also have additional courses in sales/coaching, kettlebells, body analysis, and functional rehabilitation. Subscribe to my website and follow my facebook page if you want to read more of my articles on fitness, nutrition, and health.

Are Cheat Reps Beneficial? A Discussion of the Evidence and Implementation

Are Cheat Reps Beneficial? A Discussion of the Evidence and Implementation
Jason Tremblay, President of The Strength Guys Inc.
Andrew Vigotsky, Chief Research Officer of The Strength Guys Inc.

The word “never” is an evil word to use in sport science. How many times have you been told to never use momentum? To never break form? It’s common knowledge. But for the purpose of hypertrophy, is there a role in the training regimen of bodybuilders for cheat reps? So often we see bad form being chastised, but did the old timers like Schwarzanegger and Draper performing cheat curls in the original Golds Gym know something that we didn’t… Do cheat reps and momentum have their place in a bodybuilding regimen? Theory and evidence suggest that this may be the case.


Current hypertrophy theory suggests that mechanosensors convert mechanical energy into chemical signals which mediate anabolic pathways – ultimately creating an environment where more proteins are being synthesized than proteins being degraded.9 From this, one could surmise that muscle hypertrophy is based on the recruitment of as many motor units as possible in the target muscles, and achieving high firing rates in these motor units for a sufficient duration of time. 6, 8

In a recent article by Ogborn and Schoenfeld (2014), points were made in relation to Henneman’s size principle that may offer credence to the argument for including momentum in hypertrophy training. 5 The gist of Henneman’s size principle is that motor units are recruited in an orderly manner. Lower intensity tasks will invoke smaller motor unit activation, while higher intensity tasks will invoke a full spectrum of motor units. Ogborn and Schoenfeld noted that this principle discounts the role of fatigue and its ability to impact motor unit recruitment.

How could this occur? As fatigue builds up, force decreases. In order to sustain force output to get through repetitions in an environment of fatigue build-up, Loenneke (2011) theorized that we must recruit higher threshold motor units. 4 Thus, lower intensity training may be able to recruit a full spectrum of motor units as well. 2

In a physiological environment of high fatigue, being able to sustain force output and continue performing repetitions appears to be of value for hypertrophy. Therefore, there is a valid theoretical basis for performing cheat reps at the end of a set. This thought process also jives well with Arandjelovic (2013).

Although often perceived as counterproductive, “cheating”, at least in the case of a dumbbell lateral raise, allows the lifter to safely lift more weight, which increases the torque of the target muscles despite the increase in momentum. Of course, one can overdo this by “cheating” too much, so using moderate momentum (57.5º/s) seems to be ideal for safely increasing training stimuli and the resulting hypertrophic response, or at least hypothetically as per Arandjelovic’s 2013 complex modeling paper. 1

As coaches, we must not only consider evidence, but also practical implications of said evidence. We have presented both physiological and biomechanical arguments in favor of cheat reps – now let’s investigate methods of implementing cheat reps during program design.

It is easy to see why coaches, trainers, and trainees have frowned upon using momentum during lifting. When done incorrectly, it just looks bad, and depending on the situation, it may significantly increase the risk of injury. 3 When making important program design decisions, such as whether to integrate cheat reps or not, it is important to look at them in the context of risk vs. benefit. Does the risk of injury from performing cheat reps outweigh the benefit of potentially recruiting more high threshold motor units, accumulating more fatigue, and increasing torque on the target muscle? In our opinion, the answer to this question depends heavily on the exercise – because clearly, using momentum on a lateral raise isn’t the same as heaving a heavy dumbbell around while performing some single arm rows, which is why we present to you four rules to effectively and safely reap the benefits of utilizing cheat reps.

Rule #1 – Primarily use cheat reps with isolation lifts.

The lighter loads and less degrees of freedom should serve to decrease the risk of injury and offer a safer platform to reap the benefits of this intensity technique.

Rule #2 – Don’t over do it!

Arandjelovic (2013) suggests using moderate momentum to safely increase the stimuli.1

Rule #3 – Don’t cheat with heavy axial loads

Exercises that require a stable spinal column aren’t conductive to cheat reps, which include the exercises listed below (e.g., squats and deadlifts).

Rule #4 – Confine cheat reps to a limited number of sets per workout

Training to muscular failure too frequently may lead to burnout.

As with any rule, there are exceptions. Lifters should utilize good form with cheating, for example, push pressing the last couple of reps on military presses or swaying a bit with the last couple of reps on chin ups. Below are some exercises and how we categorize them with regards to cheat reps.

  • Conductive to cheating include: curls, lateral raises, cable tricep extensions, front raises, and rear delt raises.
  • On the fence with cheating include: one arm rows, lat pulldowns, bent over rows, shrugs, seated rows, chest supported rows, chins, military press
  • Not conductive to cheating include: squats, deadlifts, lunges, good mornings, back extensions, hip thrusts, dips, bench press, power cleans, power snatches, swings, jump squats


As you can see, it’s safe to cheat on back exercises that involve pulling or rowing, but we do not recommend cheating on complex movements or movements that involve loading the spinal column. After years of chastising the use of momentum during exercise, we leave you with this classic:

“The last three or four reps is what makes the muscle grow. This area of pain divides the champion from someone else who is not a champion. That’s what most people lack, having the guts to go on and just say they’ll go through the pain no matter what happens.” – Arnold Schwarzenegger

Maybe success does leave clues after all…

About the Strength Guys

The Strength Guys are an online coaching and performance group logowho strive to follow an evidence-based practice. In addition to coaching, The Strength Guys provide content on a regular basis via Twitter & Instagram, and Facebook.

Want to get in touch with The Strength Guys? Please contact


  1. Arandjelović, O. (2013). Does cheating pay: the role of externally supplied momentum on muscular force in resistance exercise. European journal of applied physiology, 113(1), 135-145.
  2. Burd, N. A., West, D. W., Staples, A. W., Atherton, P. J., Baker, J. M., Moore, D. R., … & Phillips, S. M. (2010). Low-load high volume resistance exercise stimulates muscle protein synthesis more than high-load low volume resistance exercise in young men. PloS one, 5(8), e12033.
  3. Faigenbaum, A. D., & Myer, G. D. (2010). Resistance training among young athletes: safety, efficacy and injury prevention effects. British journal of sports medicine44(1), 56-63.
  4. Loenneke, J. P., Fahs, C. A., Wilson, J. M., & Bemben, M. G. (2011). Blood flow restriction: the metabolite/volume threshold theory. Medical hypotheses, 77(5), 748-752.
  5. Ogborn, D., & Schoenfeld, B. J. (2014). The Role of Fiber Types in Muscle Hypertrophy: Implications for Loading Strategies. Strength & Conditioning Journal.
  6. Schoenfeld, B. J. (2013). Is There a Minimum Intensity Threshold for Resistance Training-Induced Hypertrophic Adaptations?. Sports Medicine, 43(12), 1279-1288.
  7. Schoenfeld, B. J. (2010). The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 24(10), 2857-2872.
  8. Wernbom, M., Augustsson, J., & Thomeé, R. (2007). The influence of frequency, intensity, volume and mode of strength training on whole muscle cross-sectional area in humans. Sports Medicine, 37(3), 225-264.
  9. Zou, K., Meador, B. M., Johnson, B., Huntsman, H. D., Mahmassani, Z., Valero, M. C., … & Boppart, M. D. (2011). The α7β1-integrin increases muscle hypertrophy following multiple bouts of eccentric exercise. Journal of Applied Physiology, 111(4), 1134-1141.