Thinking Backwards (in Bodybuilding)

Check out this video by popular fitness youtuber Jeff Nippard. If you don’t want to watch the entire 18 minutes, I’ll summarize below as well as point out the big flaw in what Jeff is trying to explore here: he’s thinking backwards, assuming reality must match some “study,” rather than evaluating obvious outcomes.

What Jeff is exploring here is the connection between “how hard you train” vs “gains.” Throughout the video, there is a basic assumption, based on “research” that the connection between “hard training” and hypertrophy occurs due to some linear equation – reps slowing down, etc. etc. It’s all very loose and difficult to define, but it is attempting to point toward an old training idea – going to failure, meaning lifting until you cannot perform the exercise for additional reps. The big questions are:

Do you need to go to failure? How close to failure do you need to go? If you go to failure, does that impact recovery, which impacts training, etc. etc.?

During the video, Jeff shows several high-caliber bodybuilders, including 8x Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman, 4x Mr. Olympia Jay Cutler, and Kai Greene, a multiple Arnold Classic champion. All three of these men have legendary physiques, and all three of them seem to, in the video examples, NOT be doing what the “research” suggests one ought to do. Jeff then does a little prescriptive analysis, calls what they are doing either “warm-ups” or “stimulative” (the term he used when Kai Greene benched 405 for 8 reps!) or “he makes it look easy” (with Jay Cutler incline benching 405), but what he should have been doing was questioning the validity of the research and the formula in general.

What one should do, if you are looking to figure out how to lift, is to look at the best of the best and see what they do and did to get there. Obviously what Jay Cutler does in the gym works. Look at him. Obviously, Kai Greene’s approach to training works. Look at him. Of course, Ronnie Coleman is doing something he means to maximize his physique. He’s Ronnie Coleman. He probably knows what he’s doing. Yes, these guys use steroids, but so do lots of other competitors. Yes, they have great genetics, but so do lots of other competitors.

Scratching your head and wondering why their routine doesn’t match what research suggests should make you question the research, not techniques of those who very obviously reached the peak of human muscular development.

Just imagine going up to Jay Cutler and telling him, at his peak, that’s he’s not lifting hard enough to maximize his development. Unless you were Ronnie Coleman, who beat him several times, he’d be right to just stop listening to you. Hell, he and Ronnie trained differently for the years they were fighting neck and neck, always in the 1-2 spots. Maybe the assumptions about some optimal “reps in the tank” formula for each set are simply bad assumptions.

I like Jeff’s channel a lot, and I like that he’s always looking at peer-reviewed studies, but virtually all of these Kinesiology studies are testing things that Arnold Schwarzenegger’s generation figured out in the 70s via trial and error. And I suppose that’s my bigger point – real science doesn’t look like science. It tends to be done piecemeal by experimentation on the fringes, not by the academic study approach, and it’s usually directed toward some aim, such as flight, electric lights, or in this case, getting as jacked as possible.

So in that way, the Bro Scientists are actually more scientific than the bookworms at the university.

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2 Comments

  1. Yeah the video examples he choose were kinda weird in that they didn’t totally illustrate his points. In a way though, that makes me feel a little better about listening to the guy, cuz I know he’s not just showing cherry picked footage from bodybuilders to try and convince that they all train the way he says we should.

  2. I was just telling someone how I started eating almost exclusively meat, and ten or so years of constipation was cured.

    “But fiber!”

    Yes, but fiber didn’t cure my constipation. Meat did. So either my body doesn’t follow science, or whoever told you fiber is necessary didn’t.

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