Is It Good To Train For Mass (Hypertrophy)?

Steve Freides

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NB: The above is just general weight-loss guidance. What comes off, we hope, is mostly fat.

-S-
 

Marlon Leon

Triple-Digit Post Count
This thread became very interesting. Andrew Read tends to write very directly, but the point about mass, even in the form of muscle, being a health risk is not necessarily known by many people. It was news to me when I saw a recent study. I guess to some degree I have suspected it but among lifters bigger is better since it equals bigger weights lifted. In addition guys have gotten bigger and bigger over the last five decades. We got used to ridiculously seized men such as Arnold.

And whenever some article mentions the body weight index (ratio of height to weight) people start to complain that they are above the ideal, because they have so much muscle which is totally different than carrying to much fat. Turns out that too much mass, muscle or fat, is stressful for the body.
 

jef

I am a student of strength.
Certified Instructor
Marlon Leon said:
And whenever some article mentions the body weight index (ratio of height to weight) people start to complain that they are above the ideal, because they have so much muscle which is totally different than carrying to much fat.
Every time an article uses BMI, I do complain because they show misunderstanding of this indicator.
It has been created in the fifties to study population, not individuals.
It was chosen because it was easy to calculate, not because it was meaningful. Limits for categories are arbitrary (and absolutely NOT based of decades of experience, contrary to what Andrew Read writes) and different, depending on which country decides it, and have changed overtime for unclear reasons.
An average alone does mean much. What is the standard deviation? Is it observational or ideal? How has "ideal" been defined (hint: arbitrary)?

The value in the article would put my ideal weight at 67kg. This is ridiculous. When I am at 68, I already have little fat (six pack) and could not lose more unless I starve or lose a bone. And I am very far for being muscular! When I do not pay extra attention to make weight, I naturally go around 71-72. Yes, this just anecdotal, but so are all the examples given so far.

I fully agree that excessive weight, even if only muscle, can be detrimental. That said, high-level competitive sport is not supposed to be healthy, it is supposed to be competitive. High level athletes push hard to the limits, and they usually know it, and they have to sacrifice health during their career. What they do and look like does not apply to most of us. Different goals...

The non-competitive who puts health in first place may, or may not, need hypertrophy.
How much is too much? I would argue than many people would benefit of some hypertrophy.

Anyway, my approach is to increase strength first (how surprising...). Most of the time, if some hypertrophy is needed, and the student eats and rests appropriately, the body will make it happen. Not necessarily 20 kg. Sometimes, a 2 to 3 kg permanent increase is all that is needed.
 

Stuart Elliott

More than 500 posts
The non-competitive who puts health in first place may, or may not, need hypertrophy.
How much is too much? I would argue than many people would benefit of some hypertrophy.
Along the same lines, when I read Hypertrophy or Mass threads, I ask myself....... how much is enough?
As a non-competitive (bar weekend sports) who puts health in first place, I've concluded (at least in my mind) the answer is anecdotal.
 
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Steve Freides

Forum Administrator
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Senior Certified Instructor
... increase strength first ... Most of the time, if some hypertrophy is needed, and the student eats and rests appropriately, the body will make it happen. Not necessarily 20 kg. Sometimes, a 2 to 3 kg permanent increase is all that is needed.
I like this, too - that's the kind of thing I was talking about. Although I've never been described as "fat", I weigh 10 lbs. less than I did for much of my adult life, and I do have more muscle because I lost some bodyfat.

-S-
 

Anna C

More than 5000 posts
Elite Certified Instructor
Very interesting thread. Some interesting implications for women here, too. This commentary may well apply to men too, but is mostly about women.

We all have our own unique combination of priorities when we train. Skill, capabilities, strength, body changes, enjoyment of the training session, how we feel during and after training, how we feel overall, the effects on our mental health, the overall health effects of our training, avoiding injury, moving better, the thrill of competition, etc... So how do we choose our objectives, and therefore our programs and methods that support them?

Many women train for looks only. This could be skinny cardio-queens who want very little muscle, all the way to figure and bodybuilding competitors who want a lot. "Show muscles, not go muscles" is a funny phrase I heard yesterday for the stage competitors. The looks-based-exercisers will do whatever they think will get them the appearance body changes they want. It's all about achieving or pursuing a desired appearance.

Many women don't know any other way to train other than for looks. They haven't found and hooked into the enjoyment of pursuing skill, capability, and strength. Ironically, when we start chasing these things, the looks-objectives are often reached more effectively!

(Side note: I think that CrossFit has done a good job getting women in this new mindset... though when they go whole-hog with it, there is a certain stocky, (dare I say, "bulky") look that is often achieved, plus the alarming injury rate. There are many other reasons why I don't feel like CrossFit is the best way to train, but not to go down that road here.... just wanted to say they do get some positive points for the mindset shift and bringing women in to strength training and focusing on capabilities. Of course, StrongFirst has some fantastic options for women, but one can't just join up and start doing the "WODs" like they can with CrossFit. In our world we usually have to figure out progression through different programs and modes, and/or hire a coach to guide us.)

Other women such as pro and amateur athletes get so involved in their training that they really don't give a damn what it makes them look like, they're going to train for capability, competition, etc. More power to them! That is certainly everyone's right. Also, if we see our "resulting body from training" as something more like height, facial features, skin color and other things that are just who we are, we can just learn to accept and be happy with it. This can be a powerful and liberating mindset.

I think most women who strength-train intelligently have a range of body changes that they would be comfortable with, so they want to keep things within this range while they go after the other results from training (health, strength, capability, competition, etc.). They might steer away from certain goals or modes of training because it would take them outside of that comfortable range; such as, and relevant to this thread, "too muscular." Nothing wrong with this either. Muscularity and overall appearance is another aspect of our overall impression and image -- like the clothes we wear, tattoos and jewelry, our hairstyle, where we aim to have the things we can control be in harmony with who we feel we are and the personality we want to project.

As a part-time personal trainer, I find that it somewhat challenging to convince women to really pursue strength. And I don't mean "do strength exercises" -- most are fine with this. I mean really pursue it, and progress. They really don't have a good understanding of how it will change their body or whether that will be within their acceptable range. I was there myself, 4 years ago. Even with what I know now about what works, I can't just say "kettebells do this" or "barbells do this". It's hard to explain that weights/reps/sets, rest, and exercises can be manipulated to have different effects over time and keep them on track towards their goals. They don't know that it takes a LOT of training before that even matters, that diet and other variables also play a part, or how hard you have to work to even begin to "get bulky." So mostly I try to focus on the benefits that everyone can be on board with: better movement quality, more stability and resiliency, more capability for life, and a bit more muscle for a more favorable body composition and metabolism. I just still wish I could find that magic explanation that would make them "get it" and really engage with the process of getting strong.

I would welcome any thoughts on the subject as it applies to women... even from the men!
 

Oscar

Quadruple-Digit Post Count
They don't know that it takes a LOT of training before that even matters, that diet and other variables also play a part, or how hard you have to work to even begin to "get bulky."
I think this is key. And it also applies to men. I havent met many women or men who were overly muscular, to the point it was detrimental. The ones I have met that (in my opinion) carried too much muscle, it was because they chose to train for it. Therefore, for them, they werent too muscular.

I sustain that its extremely uncommon and unlikely for a normal person to be too muscular. Most normal persons who have a high BMI is because of fat, not muscle. In my opinion, if we talk about people who are overly muscular, we are talking about 0.1% of the population, therefore a discussion not worth having.
 

Kettlebelephant

Quadruple-Digit Post Count
As a part-time personal trainer, I find that it somewhat challenging to convince women to really pursue strength. And I don't mean "do strength exercises" -- most are fine with this. I mean really pursue it, and progress. They really don't have a good understanding of how it will change their body or whether that will be within their acceptable range. I was there myself, 4 years ago. Even with what I know now about what works, I can't just say "kettebells do this" or "barbells do this". It's hard to explain that weights/reps/sets, rest, and exercises can be manipulated to have different effects over time and keep them on track towards their goals. They don't know that it takes a LOT of training before that even matters, that diet and other variables also play a part, or how hard you have to work to even begin to "get bulky." So mostly I try to focus on the benefits that everyone can be on board with: better movement quality, more stability and resiliency, more capability for life, and a bit more muscle for a more favorable body composition and metabolism. I just still wish I could find that magic explanation that would make them "get it" and really engage with the process of getting strong.
I don't have to convince women as a personal trainer, but that's a topic that often comes up at parties or similar events.
It almost always works to show women photos of female heptathletes and pole vaulters and explaining that besides doing skill training for their sport the only "gym training" is pure strength work.
Don't use female sprinters though, a lot of women think they are too muscular and don't want to look like that.
In my experience that approach works better than the usual talk about manipulating reps etc., that women naturally don't have enough testosterone to "get bulky overnight" and all that stuff. In the end most of them won't listen to that and still be afraid of heavy weights, but tell them that Allison Stokke, Jessica Ennis or Brianne Theisen-Eaton work with barbells and they are eager to try :)
Once they do it for a couple of weeks they stay with it.
 
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North Coast Miller

More than 2500 posts
So mostly I try to focus on the benefits that everyone can be on board with: better movement quality, more stability and resiliency, more capability for life, and a bit more muscle for a more favorable body composition and metabolism. I just still wish I could find that magic explanation that would make them "get it" and really engage with the process of getting strong.

I would welcome any thoughts on the subject as it applies to women... even from the men!
The only things that work in my very limited experience are:
- "this is going to help as you age more than X fitness mode"
- and related "this is going to keep you active longer for your kids"

Most women do not have increasing strength as an internal goal, and might never. You have to give them an external reason. They don't see it as something to pursue without added context.

Tell them it will stave off osteoporosis, help prevent falling and help prevent injuries when you DO fall, and the time to build a reserve is right now.

With many women having their kids later in life, staying relevant is another good reason, and intimately linked to the first.

Ultimately you might just have to lead them to it via conditioning/weight loss. Many men don't have an internal drive to increase strength, so is no surprise many women don't either.

In reality you can have a targeted strength program that produces extra curves, the two are quite compatible. I have trained alongside a number of very shapely women who were moving honest weight, but who also took the approach of spending added time on developing the look they wanted.
 

Mark Kidd

More than 500 posts
I don't know if This has been said, but I want to reinforce this: sarcopenia. Once I read about that in @Scott Iardella book, Edge of Strength, I have had it in the back of my head. Re-reading it reinforces the need for hypertropy.

With regards to Read, he is ignoring what many men go through in their early twenties. Without changing much, I seem to have put on like 20lbs of mass over night. Everyone said I had finally filled out. Maybe I was a late bloomer, but I'm not sure how to reverse that. I definitely have weight to lose now.
 

Anna C

More than 5000 posts
Elite Certified Instructor
I sustain that its extremely uncommon and unlikely for a normal person to be too muscular.
I think if I were to pick a hundred or so women who seriously train for strength, hypertrophy, or both (not just StrongFirst methods, but all types of training methods), and another hundred women who aspire to be fit but are currently not, and asked the unfit group, "How many of these women are more muscular than you would want to be?" I think the answer from most of them would probably be close to half. So this might be the definition of "too muscular" to the general population. Part of it is that we have a skewed perception of what a woman should look like. But that's just my opinion. And my answer may be more like 5% of them, because my perception has been skewed towards strength. We all have our opinions and perceptions which become part of the issue of what is or is not "too muscular."

Most women do not have increasing strength as an internal goal, and might never. You have to give them an external reason. They don't see it as something to pursue without added context.
Good point, and you give some good examples there, thanks.
 

Mark Kidd

More than 500 posts
I generally like what Andrew Read has written but I don't like that one.

First of all, it sounds far too much like preaching to me. That's a question of taste, I suppose.

Secondly, I think he polarizes the issue far too much. I don't think anyone has supported the use of PEDs for hypertrophy in this discussion. And no, we are not talking about getting fat either. There is something in between the extremes.
Agreed. Read is trying to sell himself as a badass (imo) and after that "can't run? Crappy human" meme, I lost all respect for him. There are tons of legitimate reasons as to why someone can't run (one person asked if they were a crappy human because they lost their legs in Afganistan and couldn't run, one was born missing a good part of their leg). He replied let the excuses begin.

Also anyone who has researched BMI knows it is deeply flawed. My current doctor doesn't even use it. My previous doctor swore by it, but then again he diagnosed a "slipped disc" with his fingers. It was piriformis syndrome.
 
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Kettlebelephant

Quadruple-Digit Post Count
Agreed. Read is trying to sell himself as a badass (imo) and after that "can't run? Crappy human" meme, I lost all respect for him. There are tons of legitimate reasons as to why someone can run (one person asked if they were a crappy human because they lost their legs in Afganistan and couldn't run, one was born missing a good part of their leg). He replied let the excuses begin.
I follow his work and articles for years now and he clearly has some issues. He acknowledges himself that he often "searches" for the quarrel, even in his private life.
He often changes his opinion on things - e.g. heavy TGUs & swings are good -> SF/RKC split -> S&S published -> now his opinion is heavy TGUs and swings are a waste of time, because they won't make you strong.
My opinion about him is torn into 2 parts. He has this side you mentioned with the "run excuses", but on the other hand tremendously good stuff (e.g. the book Run Strong).
One very good thing about him is that he trains various people (from sick old people to soccer moms to athletes from various fields) on a daily basis and bases his statements on the experiences from that. Most so called fitness experts nowadays only train elite athletes or don't train anyone anymore because they are too busy writing books and stuff. He's clearly not one of those.
Don't judge every little word or sentence he writes/says, but instead focus on the big message he tries to convey.
This is again true with his statement I posted earlier. The examples with BMI may not be the best for several reasons, but the big message is that your ideal weight should be somewhere in that area, because every mass (fat or muscle) becomes a burden for your body at a certain point and that point is a lot lower than you'd think.
Btw like @Steve Freides he also says that you should have the weight that you had when you graduated. Of course that's not ideal for some, but a good guideline for the masses.
So much to the person Andrew Read and I think further discussing his person should stop, because it has nothing to do with the original topic.

The value in the article would put my ideal weight at 67kg. This is ridiculous. When I am at 68, I already have little fat (six pack) and could not lose more unless I starve or lose a bone. And I am very far for being muscular! When I do not pay extra attention to make weight, I naturally go around 71-72. Yes, this just anecdotal, but so are all the examples given so far.
Like I said earlier in this post "Don't judge every little word or detail". At 71-72Kg you're still within that "ideal weight + 10%" range.
I too don't think you're necessarily overweight if you're outside that 10%, especially as an athletic person, but it's a good guideline.
You say that you naturally go around 71-71Kg. That's ~105% of the "ideal" weight. I already said this in my original post, I naturally tend to be ~105% of "ideal" weight, too. That makes two of us and I think if we'd make a poll we'd find even more.
IMO that really is a good guideline.
Now you can start to pick apart every little detail and every example he gives or decide to focus on the big message and realise that his guideline is probably very close to the ideal thing.***

***I have to say at this point, that I don't think you'd stop questioning things in detail, there's definitely value to that and you should continue doing it. It's just the specific case with Read where you shouldn't focus on every little detail. Not to give him a free-card, but my experience with his statements shows me that the big message behind them is valuable 99% of the time, even though he has problems conveying it because of his attitude.

Anyway, my approach is to increase strength first (how surprising...). Most of the time, if some hypertrophy is needed, and the student eats and rests appropriately, the body will make it happen. Not necessarily 20 kg. Sometimes, a 2 to 3 kg permanent increase is all that is needed.
Yes, the definition of adding mass is different from person to person. Adding 2-3Kg would be a good mass-gain for me personally, but for the bodybuilding.com crowd it probably wouldn't count as a good gain.
My own mass only came from strength work and like I said before I'm very happy with the results and my weight.
 

North Coast Miller

More than 2500 posts
I think if I were to pick a hundred or so women who seriously train for strength, hypertrophy, or both (not just StrongFirst methods, but all types of training methods), and another hundred women who aspire to be fit but are currently not, and asked the unfit group, "How many of these women are more muscular than you would want to be?" I think the answer from most of them would probably be close to half. So this might be the definition of "too muscular" to the general population. Part of it is that we have a skewed perception of what a woman should look like. But that's just my opinion. And my answer may be more like 5% of them, because my perception has been skewed towards strength. We all have our opinions and perceptions which become part of the issue of what is or is not "too muscular."
If you took the fit women and showed them on their day off, in jeans and a tshirt or thin hoodie the objection level would go way down.

IMO most of us who have a history of fitness can no longer can give a truly rational response to why we train so doggedly. In terms of longevity and general health we do several times more work than is needed. Once exercise becomes ingrained it is its own reason - it feels good. Many endeavors are like this.

I can't recall who stated this on the forum, but asserted their real purpose as a trainer was to indoctrinate their GPP clients into a lifestyle of health. The specifics of strength, endurance, etc were all secondary to just reprogramming the client to seek out fitness and a mind toward their overall health. If they get bit by a particular mode or are amenable to one the trainer is well versed in, all well and good. Otherwise just get em hooked on whatever mode they will do with enthusiasm and flesh it out from there. Even if they don't develop a desire for strength you've already changed their life profoundly.

Obviously this doesn't apply to a client looking to improve existing athletic ability, but mostly that is not the type of person seeking instruction.
 

Harald Motz

Quadruple-Digit Post Count
Certified Instructor
I was about to write something about the topic today, but beginning to type, I erased that, because it rises so much opinions, answers and more questions in myself.

Last year I gained 10kg of mass-loss.
 

Kettlebelephant

Quadruple-Digit Post Count
I was about to write something about the topic today, but beginning to type, I erased that, because it rises so much opinions, answers and more questions in myself.

Last year I gained 10kg of mass-loss.
Just a quick question:
Do you feel better at your current weight Harald?
And is it hard for you to stay there?
 

Anna C

More than 5000 posts
Elite Certified Instructor
If you took the fit women and showed them on their day off, in jeans and a tshirt or thin hoodie the objection level would go way down.
I agree! We often don't do a good job correlating what women really look like in different conditions, which can lead to distorted impressions about how we want to train.

IMO most of us who have a history of fitness can no longer can give a truly rational response to why we train so doggedly. In terms of longevity and general health we do several times more work than is needed. Once exercise becomes ingrained it is its own reason - it feels good. Many endeavors are like this.
True too... but while it doesn't take a lot to maintain a decent level of fitness with consistency over a lifetime, it can take some really dedicated training to truly transform a person from unfit to fit. So yes, as you said, indoctrinate them to a lifestyle of health, point them in the right direction, get them hooked on it... eventually it can make a difference over time with consistency. So maybe the key points for me as a trainer are that 1) strength training can get them where they want to be faster and more effectively than many other modes of training, and 2) they might get hooked on it which is really the best of all scenarios, because then they will keep doing it because they love it. (I know :))
 

Mark Kidd

More than 500 posts
To whomever mentioned Arnold, I completely agree. Just like have now learned to accept that borderline anorexic women can be butt whoopers.
Or skinny fat mean a dude was in shape?

The whole fitness industry has been warped by steriods, PEDs, fat burners l, testosterone becoming a 4 letter word, and a lack of critical thinking.
 
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Harald Motz

Quadruple-Digit Post Count
Certified Instructor
Do you feel better at your current weight Harald?
The easy way to answer this question, to tout ones own horns, to show some betterment and or development would be "yes of course I do feel better now". Maybe I just feel the same but different. You can not step into the same stream twice.

To be big can feel good, to be more wiry can feel good also. When it comes to training, when I reflect on that, it is my therapy. The way I train has effects on my look for myself and through the lens of people.
I train, therefore I am. This provokes many answers and questions in me.

Do you feel better at your current weight Harald?
I feel better with this synergy of experience. I learned flowing locomotion again from a man who benched more, than I will ever deadlift, in synergy with strength work. I train, therefore I am.

And is it hard for you to stay there?
No. It ebbs and flows.
 
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