Part 2: Male Fitness
Getting into awesome shape isn’t nearly as complicated as the fitness industry wants you to believe.
- You don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars per month on the worthless supplements that steroid freaks shill in advertisements.
- You don’t need to constantly change up your exercise routines to “confuse” your muscles. I’m pretty sure muscles lack cognitive abilities, but this approach is a good way to just confuse you instead.
- You don’t need to toil away in the gym for a couple of hours per day, doing tons of sets, supersets, drop sets, giant sets, etc. (As a matter of fact, this is a great way to stunt gains and get nowhere.)
- You don’t need to grind out hours and hours of boring cardio to shed ugly belly fat and love handles and get a shredded six-pack. (How many flabby treadmillers have you come across over the years?)
- You don’t need to obsess over “eating clean” to get ripped, and you don’t need to completely abstain from “cheat” foods while getting down to single-digit body fat percentages.
Those are just a few of the harmful lies and myths that keep guys from ever achieving the lean, muscular, strong, and healthy bodies they truly desire.
Listen as Mike Matthews joins host Lisa Davis to share more about male fitness.
Male Fitness with Michael Matthews
This episode of Talk Fitness is in partnership with The Vitamin Shoppe, where knowledgeable health enthusiasts are standing by to help you thrive every day.
Lisa Davis (Host): Hi, I’m Lisa Davis. So, glad you’re listening to Talk Fitness Today. I recently had the wonderful Michael Matthews on the program. We talked about Thinner, Leaner, Stronger, The Simple Science of Building the Ultimate Female Body and today guys, it’s your turn. Bigger, Leaner, Stronger, The Simple Science of Building the Ultimate Male Body, Michael Matthews is back. Heh, Michael.
Michael Matthews (Guest): Heh, thanks for having back on the show.
Lisa: Oh, it’s great to have you back. So, just like in the other book, you start with some wonderful before and after pictures. Those are so motivating. You have your own before and after picture which is great and if people missed our interview that we did on Thinner, Leaner, Stronger, The Simple Science of Building the Ultimate Female Body; you did share about your experience and how you got into the field. If you could just tell us briefly now again, for people who missed it.
Michael: Yeah sure, so I got into weight lifting as a teenager. I was 17 turning 18 and I grew up playing sports, played a lot of hockey and then wanted to keep doing something with my body and got into weightlifting and in the beginning, I really didn’t know what I was doing. Like most people, I picked up some body building magazines and looked around the internet and found a couple of work out routines and just started going with it. and in the beginning, your body is hyper responsive to resistance training, so you are going to see results with just about anything that you do. However, that lasts for let’s say six months or so, that’s on the high end. For some people it’s the honeymoon phase, the newby game phase. Right. Let’s just say it’s four to six months for most people and then things start to slow down and then if you want to keep progressing, you are going to have to really learn what you are doing.
What got you there is not necessarily going to get you where you want to be and so I learned that eventually. I kind of I would say more or less spun my wheels for many years doing more traditional body building style workouts that weren’t guided by any real basic understanding of the physiology of muscle growth and of strength gain and fat loss and again, I was more just following various tips and programs and things that I would find in magazines and on the internet. But fortunately, I knew that I didn’t really know anything about this. It was something I just enjoyed doing. I would do it with my friends. We weren’t taking it that seriously.
But about let’s see it was probably about five years ago now, it was about seven years into my personal fitness journey I guess, is when I really just decided to start educating myself because I wanted to just see what could I do with my body. What’s the – how lean could I get? How much muscle could I gain? If I was going to keep on working out, I might as well try to get the most out of it and so I really started to educate myself and went primarily to the scientific literature, that’s where I started. Because I was looking to first understand the first principles. I was looking to understand the laws and if we are talking about the dietary side of things; I wanted to understand how does the human metabolism actually work? And if we are talking about the training side of things; how does the physiology muscle growth work? How does the body’s muscle building machinery work? And from there, then I figured I could better vet what I was doing. I could better vet potential diets and potential training programs and maybe even just come up with my own kind of approach based on my understanding.
So, that was again that was about five years ago, and it went well and fortunately there’s just a lot of good information out there. It’s not like – I mean I don’t say that I have – there is nothing breakthrough about me or my work. I have just done a good job I would say finding good information and understanding it and figuring out how to explain it to other people in a way that they can understand it and apply it and get results with it. And so, when I went through that process of educating myself and then I changed how I was eating. I changed how I was training and over the course of the next few years; I was able to dramatically improve my physique, so I was able to get lean and stay lean and add quite a bit of muscle to my frame and I would say achieve the type of body that most guys want. So, not a body builder body per se, but I would say more like maybe an athletic kind of fitness modelish kind of body. And then from there, I was like well, I want to educate other people. I want to share what I have learned with other people, because ire member how annoying it was to not – to just be lost in all of the noise and to not know up from down and to be constantly chasing one method after another or working with one trainer after another and not really seeing clear results or clear progress.
And so, in 2012, I published Bigger, Leaner, Stronger and it was like a first edition. It was kind of a minimum viable product type of approach. I think it was maybe fifty thousand words or so, no more than seventy thousand words. I don’t remember exactly, but I just wanted to put something out there and it wasn’t about marketing or trying to sell the sizzle, it was really just straight to the point. Here’s the book I wish somebody would have given me when I first started working out. It would have saved me a lot of time. It would have saved me a lot of trouble and I would have gotten to where I am now a lot faster. And yeah, so that was 2012 and now I have gone through – that book has gone through several revisions based on further research and just good feedback from readers and bringing up good points and asking good questions and it has now sold close to 300,000 copies and continues to sell well and yeah, so that’s how Bigger, Leaner, Stronger came about.
Lisa: Oh, that’s fantastic. You know in chapter five, the seven biggest muscle building myths and mistakes you write nine out of ten people you see in the gym don’t train correctly. I know that sounds a bit harsh, but it’s true and soon you will see why. Alright, what’s going on in the gym? What’s everybody doing that they shouldn’t be doing and what are some of the myths that they think are true and are keeping them from attaining the body that they really want?
Michael: Yeah, and so this is more particular to guys. What you will see a lot of guys in the gym doing is you will see them do – they are usually doing very long workouts that are focused usually kind of just on one muscle group and they are doing a lot of reps , usually very high reps, not very much weight, kind of focusing on getting a big pump and really trying to kind of blast or just annihilate this muscle group and then let it recover for five to seven days because if you train – when you are training a muscle group when you are doing resistance training, you are causing damage like micro tears in not necessarily the muscle fibers it looks like it is actually more kind of the connective tissue around the muscle fibers, but there is damage that needs to be repaired and until it is; things are going to be too sore and too painful to really train again.
And what you want to be doing and this is again, this is one of the things that I really, really learned in my not just research, but then in my subsequent experience, and now my experience working with thousands of guys is you really want to be focusing one on increasing whole body strength. That really needs to be your over riding goal. If you’re a guy and you want to be gaining, you want to gain muscle as quickly as possible; then you want to gain strength as quickly as possible. Now that’s not necessarily – where this can kind of throw people off is in the beginning as I mentioned, your body is hyper responsive to weight lifting. You will get results no matter what you do in the beginning. You don’t necessarily have to get strong in the beginning to gain some muscle. However, things change after that newby gain phase. Once you are moving out of your beginner phase to your intermediate kind of phase, so once you have got your first year of weight lifting under your belt; then strength and size become much more correlated. Meaning that you are going to have to improve your strength if you want to continue getting bigger.
Okay so, if that’s true; then how do you best get stronger? Well there’s a lot of research. I mean there is just even recently a meta-analysis by Schoenfeld and there was who else, there was Brad Schoenfeld and one or two other people that worked on this paper and it’s very clear, there is no question at this point that lifting heavier weights for fewer reps is better for getting stronger. Furthermore, compound exercises which are exercises that involve multiple joints and multiple muscle groups; are better for increasing whole body strength. So, for example, doing heavy squats, so doing let’s say squats with about 80-85% of your one rep max for somewhere around let’s say four to six reps; that is better for gaining strength than doing let’s say leg extensions on the leg extension machine for who knows how many sets of 12-15-20 reps followed by maybe hamstring curls, another machine exercise – those are isolation exercises because they are using – they are really just using one joint and they are focusing on one major muscle group. In the case of leg extensions, the quads, in the case of the hamstring curls, the hamstrings.
So, that was one of the big changes for example my own workouts. I used to do workouts very much in that way. I would have like a chest day that would just be not too much bench pressing, more pushups and dumbbell flies and pec deck, really trying to isolate the pecs and then also doing a lot of sets and a lot of reps whereas now, yes I still have you could say a chest day; it’s more like a press day where I am doing – I’m working on my chest – my pecs, I’m working my triceps, I’m working on my shoulders; but the workouts now are quite different. I’m doing stuff like barbell bench press, dumbbell bench press, close grip bench press and for shoulders, it’s usually stuff like the overhead press, or the dumbbell press. And then also, usually some isolation exercises for in the case of the shoulders, like side raises and rear raises. So, it’s not that isolation exercises are bad; but you really need to be focusing most of your efforts on getting stronger and on preforming compound lifts. So, that’s just – that’s an example of something that if guys where to just to that; they would – and if they were stop doing what we see a lot of what’s going on in the gym and just start doing that; that alone would really – the results that they would get from that would be very surprising.
Lisa: You know one of the things too that struck me is myth and mistake number 5, lifting like an idiot. You basically talk about that most guys don’t have a clue about proper form on many exercises and this ignorance stunts their gains, causes unnecessary wear and tear on ligaments, tendons and joints and opens the door to debilitating injuries. That’s huge. Because if we are talking about lifting heavier weights and there’s also a bigger risk, right, if you are doing it incorrectly. So, how important is it to work with somebody else, especially if you are brand new. Maybe to have someone guide you at first, a trainer or someone who know what they are doing. Talk to us about this.
Michael: Yeah, and that’s a good point. There are – there have been a few studies that – I actually was just reading recently on the safety of weightlifting and fortunately; if it’s performed properly, weightlifting and even powerlifting is actually quite safe. But, if it’s performed correctly. If it’s performed incorrectly, then it’s yes, it is a dangerous activity. If you are for example, - let’s just take about some common form mistakes. So, for example, you will see when people are squatting a common mistake that we will see is as they are ascending the knees will start to cave in, right, so we have probably all seen that. Whereas proper form is when you are squatting your knees should be in line with your toes at all times. You actually a good cue when you are standing up in the squat is until you really have it grooved in; you almost want to get the feeling of pushing you knees out as if you are pushing them away from each other. What you don’t want is them to buckle in toward each other. On the dead lift which is for anyone not familiar with it; it’s an exercise, barbell on the floor, essentially you are just picking the barbell up. Sounds simple. It’s very difficult, probably the hardest exercise you can do.
But a common mistake that we see on the dead lift is rounding the lower back. In some kind of elite dead lifters like competitive weightlifters; you will see a little bit of rounding in the upper area of the back, that’s not so much an issue; it’s the lower back where you look kind of like a scared cat as they are picking the weight up. That is – you are just asking for a disk injury. Also, another common thing that we see on the dead lift is really yanking the weight up at the top and hyper extending your lower back at the top. Very bad idea, asking for a disk injury. On the bench press, this is an exercise that many people think just ruins your shoulders. Period. No, that’s not true if you do it wrong; it can ruin your shoulders. And one of the most common mistakes that people make on the bench press is they flare their elbows up, so when they are pressing – because it gives you a little bit more leverage and it helps you get the bar up; if you move your elbows away from your torso and up towards your shoulder up to the point maybe where it’s even like a 90 degree angle; that is bad for your shoulders and it’s bad for your rotator cuff muscles in particular which again, if you injure a rotator cuff muscle; it just is a very long annoying recovery. So, what you will see then is aa lot of people that and you know, you see it more with guys because will get competitive and also, they just kind of want to look cool and they want to put up as much weight as possible and what that usually means is form breaks down. Now not only does this increase the risk of injury; it also decreases the effectiveness of the exercise. So ironically, really all you’re getting out of it is an increased risk of injury and you’re getting less muscle gain and strength gain.
It’s much smarter to work with lower weights and proper form and that also then means you are going to progress in – you are going to progress in a way that your body is able to keep up with. Because remember, it’s not just muscles that are involved, it’s also tendons and ligaments. And your muscles – and you will see this actually with steroid users, right, where there is one of the reasons why a lot of steroid users get injuries to particularly to joints and the tendons and ligaments is their muscles get super strong, super-fast, but all the supporting structure, the infrastructure of the body can’t keep up with it and if they don’t know what they are doing in the gym and they just think like this feels light, I’m just going to keep going. I’m just going to keep going. Until eventually, a muscle tears or they have some other type of serious injury. And you see a similar effect when people use improper form to try to add weight. They are demanding more of their body and its sometime muscles, but it’s more often joints and tendons and ligaments than the body can give. So, again, proper form is crucial and if that means slower progress; that’s totally fine. That’s natural. That’s the way it’s supposed to be.
Lisa: Oh yeah. I completely agree. You know another thing you have in the book under these seven biggest myths – excuse me building myths and mistakes, muscle building myths is you have to feel the burn to grow, that’s one and then another one is constantly changing up your routine. Talk to us about those.
Michael: Yeah so feeling the burn, right so again, I used to think that was super important and really what that is, is its lactic acid building up right, so as your muscles get more and more stressed, lactic acid levels rise and we experience that as a burning sensation. There is actually quite a bit of research that has been done on this. I wrote and article on it recently. How important is that? How important is getting a pump? Those things usually go hand in hand like feel the burn, get a pump. And a pump of course is just muscle, you know your muscles are engorged with blood. And the long story short is those are basically non-factors as far as muscle growth goes. The primary drivers of muscle growth have been pretty well taped. We are looking at progressive overload, which basically means adding weight to the bar over time, subjecting your muscles to more and more load over time which is again, that ties back into why I am saying as a natural weightlifter, our number one goal is to increase whole body strength over time. Yes, there are sub goals or other things we can do especially if we really want to perfect our physiques, so to speak; but we need to make whole body strength our primary objective and then you also have metabolic stress, you have muscle damage, those are two other factors. But muscle pump and muscle burn are really non-factors. They look cool, and they might feel good and people get into that and that’s fine if you really like that then you can actually save some of that stuff for the end of your workout.
So, if you are – you know whatever muscle you are training regardless, once you have done your heavy strength training; if you want to do some pump stuff just because you like how it feels; there’s nothing wrong with that as long as you don’t sit in there for like another 45 minutes doing a million sets. But if you want to end with a couple of 20 or 30 rep sets, just to end with a big pump; do it. Nothing wrong with that. But, if that’s the – if that’s like the majority of your workout is just 20 or 30 rep sets and just trying to get a pump; you are not going to get very far. So, that’s that point of why feeling the burn is really just not that important and sorry what was the second point?
Lisa: Oh, the other point was about that you have to change things up al the time.
Michael: Oh, right muscle confusion.
Lisa: Yeah, muscle confusion.
Michael: So yeah, that’s of course been, and I used to think that I read about that in magazines and I thought it was very important. Again, the basic theory seems to sound right and like oh well you are – you need to be like constantly stimulating your muscles with new types of movements and new types of well there is also I mean there is the exercise themselves, but it is also how it trains muscles. You have different planes of motion and so forth. And the long story short here is this is actually counterproductive because one, there is really no evidence to support that there is much of a novelty effect meaning that when you do a new exercise, your muscles don’t like go into this hyper responsive mode again like you were new to weightlifting. That’s just not how it works. You are hyper responsive in the beginning and then once that’s gone, that’s gone for good. There is something to be said for training muscles in different ways with different types of movements, yes, for sure. But, why muscle confusion, why constantly changing up your routine, I think is more counterproductive than anything else is it doesn’t allow you to get good at any particular exercise. And in terms of exercises, out of all the exercises you can do for all your major muscle groups; there’s really a you know you have a [inaudible][00:19:31] principle in play. You have twenty percent of those exercises are going to produce eighty percent of the results. And of those twenty percent; eighty percent of those exercises are going to be compound exercises.
So, for example, the best exercises to build a program around are the big compound lifts, the strength training lifts, the squat, the dead lift, the bench press, the overhead press. Now if you can’t do any of those exercises for any reason; that’s okay. You can work around that. But if you can, if you don’t have any injuries or dysfunctions that preclude you from doing them; those are the best place to start. And what happens is if you are constantly changing your routine; you are not given enough time to really learn proper form and learn proper techniques and improve your technique. A lot of people don’t realize that some of these exercises are kind of technical movement. I mean a squat is not a golf swing, but there are a number of elements to a proper squat and there are a lot of muscles and a lot of joints that have to work in pretty good harmony to produce a good squat. And as with anything; the more you squat, the better you get at squatting. That’s one of the ways to get stronger on the squat is to simply squat more frequently. That’s why many strength training programs have you squatting two or three days per week. There is some evidence to show that higher frequency is better for muscle growth. Period. But what we know for sure is that the higher frequency improves your skill faster and the more skilled you are at squatting, and we can quantify skill in terms of bar path, in terms of angles of your body and of your joints at different points in the squat. Like there is an objective- there are objective measures for good and bad squatting and the closer you get to the good squat; the better you are going be able to squat because what you are doing is you are basically gaining more leverage on the weight and you are also from an anatomical perspective; you are allowing your body to most efficiently move that weight and allowing your muscles to work together as efficiently as possible to produce as much power as possible.
So, what you want to do then is you want to have staple exercises which are your most productive exercises and you want to be doing those frequently. You want to be doing those every week and in some cases several times per week so you can get better at them and so you can continue to get better and better at them and you might – it really kind of depends on I guess your – how quickly you pick up on things and just some people are just naturally very good at duplicating physical motions like being able to just look at things and do them and they improve very quickly. But, you are going to see significant improvements in your technique probably for your first 100-300 hours of doing the exercise. It’s not just like you are going to squat five times and you are going to have it nailed. It might take a bit of time to really get in perfect technique and so that’s why if you change exercises every week, yeah you are giving your muscles some different stimuli and there’s probably some value to that; but you are never going to get really good at any individual exercise and you are not going to be getting good at the exercises that matter most.
And so, those are the main reasons why I’m just not really a fan of muscle confusion. I’d say the benefit of it is it helps keep things – it helps give variety and some people find that that makes the workouts more interesting, but I have worked with a lot of people that had that initially the had that consideration like if they were going to do this same kind of routine, if they are just going to squat every week and there is not that much variety, is it going to get boring and I would say I mean how I have kind of helped them with that is let’s reframe it really look at what our goal is here. Our goal is we are not going into the gym to just exercise. We are not going into the gym to just burn calories and move our bodies. That’s fine, it’s not that those are worthwhile things, but we are going into the gym to train and training has a specific goal.
What’s our objective? Our objective is increasing whole body strength. Why is that our objective? Because that’s what’s going to ultimately get us to the ultimate goal of looking the way you want to look and also feeling great and increasing our longevity and reducing our risk for disease and dysfunction and so when you look at it that way and you go okay I have a very – like I really want that goal. That is motivating to me and if that means that I have to do workouts that on the surface seem kind of boring; then I’m going to do that. And then when they get into the groove of doing it, they often find that they really enjoy the workouts because they are able to progress. And of course, that feeling of progression toward goals is what produces satisfaction. So, all of the sudden, now they don’t care that they are squatting again, or they are dead lifting again or bench pressing again because look at the progress they have made. In the last year, they’ve gained a hundred – they have put on 100 pounds on their big lifts and they are continuing to progress and they know that every time they gain a rep, every time that they are able to put more weight on the bar; they are a little bit closer to the long-term goal. And so, it’s just a – changing the perspective.
Lisa: Oh, completely. Well you know you have got to come back a lot because I think you are fantastic. One of the things that I want to get into when I have you back again is you talk about three different types of meal plans; one for cutting, one for bulking, one for maintaining. There is so much more in the book. we are also going to have you back to talk about your cookbook, the Shredded Chef and in the meantime, tell us all the ways we can find you Michael.
Michael: Yeah, absolutely. So, my central hub I guess you would say is my website muscle for life which is muscle F-O-R life.com and from there you can find my books and I also have a supplement company and you can find all of my things and you can also find me on the social medias although, I will say that I’m not very diligent with them. I don’t spend too much time on them because I’m kind of wrapped up in other things, but I am there. So, you can find me on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter at either muscleforlifefitness or muscleforlife and yeah, I would say those are probably the easiest ways to find me and my stuff.
Lisa: Awesome. Well Michael, I can’t wait to have you back. This has been so incredibly enjoyable and informative. If you want to learn more about Talk Healthy Today, Talk Fitness Today you can go to www.itsyourhealthwithlisadavis.com , lots of great stuff there. You can check us out on social media on Twitter @talkfitness2day. Everyone have a great day and stay well.
This episode of Talk Fitness was produced by The Vitamin Shoppe where trusted health enthusiasts help you thrive every day. Visit one of 800 stores across the country or head to Vitamin Shoppe.com for all your wellness needs.