Huberman Lab - Science & Tools For Muscle Growth, Increasing Strength & Muscular Recovery

Welcome to the Huberman Lab Podcast,

where we discuss science

and science-based tools for everyday life.

I’m Andrew Huberman,

and I’m a professor of neurobiology and ophthalmology

at Stanford School of Medicine.

This podcast is separate from my teaching

and research roles at Stanford.

It is, however, part of my desire and effort

to bring zero cost to consumer information

about science and science-related tools

to the general public.

In keeping with that theme,

I’d like to thank the sponsors of today’s podcast.

Our first sponsor is Athletic Greens.

Athletic Greens is an all-in-one

vitamin mineral probiotic drink.

I’ve been taking Athletic Greens since 2012,

so I’m delighted that they’re sponsoring the podcast.

The reason I started taking Athletic Greens

and the reason I still take Athletic Greens

once or twice a day

is that it helps me cover

all of my basic nutritional needs.

It makes up for any deficiencies that I might have.

In addition, it has probiotics,

which are vital for microbiome health.

I’ve done a couple of episodes now

on the so-called gut microbiome

and the ways in which the microbiome interacts

with your immune system, with your brain to regulate mood,

and essentially with every biological system

relevant to health throughout your brain and body.

With Athletic Greens, I get the vitamins I need,

the minerals I need,

and the probiotics to support my microbiome.

If you’d like to try Athletic Greens,

you can go to slash Huberman

and claim a special offer.

They’ll give you five free travel packs

plus a year supply of vitamin D3 K2.

There are a ton of data now

showing that vitamin D3 is essential

for various aspects of our brain and body health.

Even if we’re getting a lot of sunshine,

many of us are still deficient in vitamin D3.

And K2 is also important

because it regulates things like cardiovascular function,

calcium in the body, and so on.

Again, go to slash Huberman

to claim the special offer of the five free travel packs

and the year supply of vitamin D3 K2.

Today’s episode is also brought to us by Element.

Element is an electrolyte drink

that has everything you need and nothing you don’t.

That means the exact ratios of electrolytes are an element,

and those are sodium, magnesium, and potassium,

but it has no sugar.

I’ve talked many times before on this podcast

about the key role of hydration and electrolytes

for nerve cell function, neuron function,

as well as the function of all the cells

and all the tissues and organ systems of the body.

If we have sodium, magnesium, and potassium

present in the proper ratios,

all of those cells function properly,

and all our bodily systems can be optimized.

If the electrolytes are not present,

and if hydration is low,

we simply can’t think as well as we would otherwise,

our mood is off, hormone systems go off,

our ability to get into physical action,

to engage in endurance and strength,

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They’re all delicious.

So again, if you want to try Element,

you can go to slash Huberman.

Today’s episode is also brought to us by Thesis.

Thesis makes what are called nootropics,

which means smart drugs.

Now, to be honest, I am not a fan of the term nootropics.

I don’t believe in smart drugs in the sense that

I don’t believe that there’s any one substance

or collection of substances that can make us smarter.

I do believe based on science, however,

that there are particular neural circuits

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different neural circuits for different brain states.

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My go-to formula is the clarity formula,

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I’m pleased to announce that the Huberman Lab Podcast

is now partnered with Momentus Supplements.

We partnered with Momentus for several important reasons.

First of all, they ship internationally

because we know that many of you are located

outside of the United States.

Second of all, and perhaps most important,

the quality of their supplements is second to none,

both in terms of purity and precision

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that’s optimized for effectiveness,

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that’s really systematic and scientific.

If you’d like to see the supplements

that we partner with Momentus on,

you can go to slash Huberman.

There you’ll see those supplements,

and just keep in mind that we are constantly expanding

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Again, that’s slash Huberman.

Today’s episode of the Huberman Lab Podcast

is our fourth and final episode in this month,

which is all about skills and athletic performance.

Now, in a previous episode,

we talked about science-based,

in particular neuroscience-based tools

for accelerating fat loss.

Previous to that,

we talked about ways to improve skill learning,

motor movements,

which also included things like music and piano playing,

not just athletic performance.

And we’ve also been exploring other aspects

of physical performance throughout the entire month.

Today, I want to talk about something

that is vitally important

for not just athletic performance,

but for your entire life and indeed for your longevity,

and that’s muscle.

Now, many of you, when you hear the word muscle,

think muscle growth and building big muscles.

And while we will touch on muscle hypertrophy,

muscle growth today,

and science-based protocols to enhance hypertrophy,

we will mainly be talking about muscle

as it relates to the nervous system.

And I can’t emphasize this enough.

The whole reason why you have a brain

is so that you can move.

And one of the things that’s exquisite

and fantastic about the human brain

is that it can direct all sorts

of different kinds of movement,

different speeds of movement,

movement of different durations.

We can train our musculature

to lift heavier and heavier objects,

or we can train our musculature

to take us further and further, so-called endurance.

We can also build smoothness of movement, excuse me,

smoothness of movement,

as well as speed of movement, suppleness of movement.

All of that is governed by the relationship

between the nervous system, neurons,

and their connections to muscle.

So when you hear the science of muscle

and muscle hypertrophy,

you might think, oh, well,

I’m not interested in building muscle,

but muscle does many critical things.

It’s important for movement.

It’s important for metabolism.

The more muscle you have,

and not just muscle size,

but the quality of muscle, that’s a real thing,

the higher your metabolism is,

and indeed the healthier you are.

It turns out that jumping ability

and ability to stand up quickly

and to get up off the floor quickly

is one of the most predictive markers of aging

and biological aging, and no surprise,

that is governed by the brain to muscle connection.

In addition, muscle and musculature is vital for posture,

and we don’t talk about posture enough.

We all have been told we need to sit up straight

or stand up straight,

but posture is vitally important

for how the rest of our body works.

It’s vital to how we breathe.

It’s actually even vital to how alert or sleepy we are.

So we’re going to talk about the musculature for posture.

We also are going to talk about muscle

as it relates to aesthetic things.

Now, these are all linked.

Muscle for metabolism, movement, posture, and aesthetics,

of course, are linked, right?

As our posture changes, our aesthetic changes.

As our posture and aesthetic changes, how we move changes.

And as we improve muscle quality,

whether or not that’s increasing muscle size or not,

that changes the way that our entire system,

not just our nervous system and our muscular system,

but our immune system and the other organs of the body work.

So today, as always,

we’re going to talk a little bit of mechanism.

I’m going to explain how neurons control muscle,

and then we’re going to look at muscle metabolism,

how muscle uses energy.

I promise to make all of this very simple.

I’m actually going to keep it very brief,

probably about 10 minutes total.

And by the end of that 10 minutes,

you will understand a lot about the neuromuscular connection,

how your brain and nervous system control your muscle

and how those muscles work.

Then we are going to talk about how muscles use energy

and can change how they use energy

for sake of getting stronger.

If you like for also increasing the size,

so-called hypertrophy of muscle,

and for improving endurance,

as well as for improving posture

and how you move generally.

We will touch on some nutritional themes

and how that relates to muscle in particular,

a specific amino acid that if it’s available

in your bloodstream frequently enough

and at sufficient levels can help you build

and improve the quality of muscle.

And we’ll talk about specific exercise regimes

as well as of course, supplementation

and things that can enhance

neuromuscular performance overall.

We are also going to talk about recovery.

Recovery as everybody knows is when things improve.

That’s when neurons get better at controlling muscle.

That’s when muscle grows.

That’s when muscle gets more flexible.

None of that actually happens during training.

It happens after training.

And there is a lot of confusion

about how to optimize recovery

and how to measure whether or not you are recovered

and ready to come back in

for another neuromuscular training session.

So we’ll talk about that as well.

Today is going to have a lot of protocols

and you’re going to come away with a lot of understanding

about how you move, how you work

and these incredible organs

that we call the nervous system and the musculature,

the so-called neuromuscular system.

Before we dive into today’s topic,

I want to just take about three minutes

and cover some essential summary of the previous episode.

In the previous episode, we talked about fat loss,

talked about shiver-induced fat loss.

We talked about NEAT, non-exercise activity thermogenesis

for increasing caloric burn and fat oxidation.

And we talked about how to use cold

specifically to enhance fat loss.

I described a protocol

involving getting into cold of some sort,

whether or not it’s ice bath, cold shower,

some form of cold, it could even be a river or an ocean

if you have access to that,

and inducing shiver and then getting out,

not crossing your arms or huddling,

but allowing that cold to evaporate off you

and continuing to shiver

and then getting back into the colder environment

of water or stream or shower, et cetera.

All of that is described

in a beautifully illustrated protocol

that I didn’t illustrate,

that’s why it’s beautifully illustrated


They’ve made that protocol for you

and they’ve made it available free of charge for you.

So there’s no obligation there of any kind financially.

You can go to

There’s a little tab that says protocols

and you can download that protocol.

Someone there, I don’t know who exactly illustrated it

and you can come away with a PDF

of what I described in the previous episode.

So I just want to make sure

that you’re aware of that resource.

The other announcement I’d like to make

is that many of you have asked

how you can help support the podcast

and there’s a very straightforward,

zero cost way to do that

and that’s to subscribe to our YouTube channel.

So if you go to YouTube,

if you’re not already there watching this now,

hit the subscribe button.

That helps us tremendously

to get the word out more broadly about the podcast

and we thank you for your support.

Most people, when they hear the word muscle,

they just think about strength.

But of course, muscles are involved

in everything that we do.

They are involved in speaking,

they’re involved in sitting and standing up,

they’re involved in lifting objects, including ourselves.

They are absolutely essential

for maintaining how we breathe.

They’re absolutely essential for ambulation, for moving

and for skills of any kind.

So when we think about muscle,

we don’t just want to think about muscle,

the meat that is muscle,

but what controls that muscle.

And no surprise,

what controls muscle is the nervous system.

The nervous system does that

through three main nodes of control, areas of control.

And I’ve talked about these before on a previous podcast,

so I will keep this very brief.

Basically, we have upper motor neurons in our motor cortex.

So those are in our skull

and those are involved in deliberate movement.

So if I decide that I’m going to pick my pen up

and put it down, which is what I’m doing right now,

my upper motor neurons were involved

in generating that movement.

Those upper motor neurons send signals

down to my spinal cord,

where there are two categories of neurons.

One are the lower motor neurons

and those lower motor neurons send little wires

that we call axons out to our muscles

and cause those muscles to contract.

They do that by dumping chemicals onto the muscle.

In fact, the chemical is acetylcholine.

I’ve talked before about acetylcholine in the brain,

which is vitally important for focus

and actually can gate neuroplasticity,

the brain’s ability to change in response to experience.

But in the neuromuscular system,

acetylcholine released from motor neurons is the way,

the only way that muscles can contract.

Now there’s another category of neurons in the spinal cord

called central pattern generators or CPGs.

And those are involved in rhythmic movements.

Anytime we’re walking or doing something

where we don’t have to think about it to do it deliberately,

it’s just happening reflexively,

that central pattern generators and motor neurons.

Anytime we’re doing something deliberately,

that the top-down control, as we call it,

from the upper motor neurons comes in

and takes control of that system.

So it’s really simple.

You’ve only got three ingredients.

You got the upper motor neurons, the lower motor neurons,

and for rhythmic movements that are reflexive,

you’ve also got the central pattern generators.

So it’s a terrifically simple system at that level.

But what we’re going to focus on today

is how that system can control muscle

in ways that make that system better.

Now, when I say better, I want to be very specific.

If your goal is to build larger muscles,

there’s a way to use your nervous system

to trigger hypertrophy,

to increase the size of those muscles.

And it is indeed controlled by the nervous system.

So you can forget the idea that the muscles have memory

or that muscles grow in response to something

that’s just happening within the muscle.

It’s the nerve to muscle connection

that actually creates hypertrophy.

I’ll talk exactly about how to optimize that process.

In addition, if you want to improve endurance

or improve flexibility or suppleness or explosiveness,

that is all accomplished by the way

that the nervous system engages muscles specifically.

And so what that means is we have to ask ourselves,

are we going to take control of the upper motor neurons,

the central pattern generators,

or the lower motor neurons or all three

in order to get to some end point

of how the nervous system controls muscle.

So neurophysiology 101,

I’ll give you one piece of history

because it’s important to know.

Sherrington, who won the Nobel Prize,

called movement the final common path.

Why did he say that?

Well, the whole reason for having a nervous system,

the whole reason for having a brain

is so that we can control our movements

in very dedicated ways.

That is one of the reasons,

perhaps the predominant reason

why the human brain is so large.

You might think, oh, it’s so large for thinking

and for creativity.

Ah, no, when you look at the amount of real estate

in the brain that’s devoted to different aspects of life,

it’s mainly vision, our ability to see, and movement,

our ability to engage in lots of different kinds

of movements, slow movements, fast movements,

explosive, et cetera.

Other animals don’t have that ability

because they don’t have the mental real estate.

They don’t have the neural real estate in their brain.

They have neuromuscular junctions.

They have central pattern generators.

What they don’t have are these incredible

upper motor neurons that can direct activity

of the muscles in very specific ways.

So we can all feel blessed that we have this system.

And today I’m going to teach you how to use that system

toward particular end points.

So if we decide that we are going to direct our muscles

in some particular movement of any kind,

whether or not it’s a weightlifting exercise

or whether or not it’s a yoga movement

or simply picking up and putting down a pen,

we are engaging flexors and extensors.

And our body is covered with flexors

and extensors all over.

So for instance, our bicep is a flexor

and our tricep is an extensor.

Those are what are called antagonistic muscles.

They move the limbs in opposite directions.

So if you bring your wrist closer to your shoulder,

that’s flexion using your bicep.

If you move your wrist further away from your shoulder,

that’s extension using your tricep.

And without getting into a lot of detail,

the way that the nerves and brain are wired up to muscle

make it such that when a flexor is activated,

when the nerve dumps chemical acetylcholine

onto the muscle to activate the biceps,

the triceps is inhibited.

It’s prevented from engaging.

There are ways to bypass this,

but that’s the typical mode of action.

The converse is also true.

When our tricep is inactivated, okay?

When we move our wrist away from our shoulder,

our bicep is inhibited.

And we have flexors like our abdominal muscles

and we have extensors in our lower back.

Many of you probably know this,

but some of you probably don’t that your spine has flexors

to move basically your chin toward your waist.

And it has, those are your abdominal muscles among others.

And you have extensors that move your chin basically back,

like looking up toward the ceiling,

and those are your extensors.

You have other muscles that are stabilizing muscles

and things of that sort,

but those movements of flexion and extension

and the fact that they are what we call

reciprocally innervated or mutual inhibition,

you hear different language around this,

is characteristic of most of our limb movements, okay?

So hamstring and quadricep,

the hamstring brings the ankle closer

back towards the glutes.

Basically it’s lifting your heel up, right?

Which is almost always done toward the back.

Whereas your quadriceps is the extensor

opposite to the hamstrings.

So you get the idea.

So there’s flexors and extensors

and it’s the neurons that control those flexors

and extensors that allow us to move in particular ways.

So now you have heard neuromuscular physiology

in its simplest form,

but I do want this to be accessible.

I want to get just briefly,

just briefly into some of the underlying metabolism

of how muscles use and create energy.

Because in doing that,

we will be in a great position to understand

all the tools that follow

about how to optimize the neuromuscular system

for your particular goals.

So in the previous episode about fat loss,

we talked about lipolysis,

the breakdown of fat into fatty acids

so it can be used as fuel.

And it ended in a step where we got ATP,

which is the bottleneck and final common path

for all energy producing functions in the body.

There are other ways,

but basically ATP is the key element there.

Now with muscles, they don’t function on fats normally.

What they are going to function on,

their ability to move and their ability to do things

and allow us to move in any way that we want to

is based on a process of glycolysis.

The breakdown of things like glycogen

and glucose into energy.

And it’s a very simple process.

You don’t have to know any chemistry.

So if I say the words carbon or hydrogen

or something like that, don’t freak out.

You don’t have to understand any chemistry.

But basically what happens is you’ve got this

available sugar resource that’s stored in muscle.

And that’s glucose.

And that glucose has six carbons

and six waters basically.

That can be broken down

into two sets of three carbons, all right?

So basically you take glucose and you break it

into these two little batches of carbons

that we call pyruvates.

So six divided by two is three.

So you get three and three pyruvates.

And that generates a little bit of ATP of energy,

but just a little bit.

Now, if there’s oxygen available, okay?

If there’s sufficient oxygen there,

what can happen is that pyruvate

can be brought to the mitochondria

and through a whole set of things

that you probably don’t want to hear about right now,

like the electron transport chain and citric acid cycle.

What happens is it’s broken down

and you get 28 to 30 ATP, which is a lot of ATP.

So the only things you need to know,

the only things you need to know about this process

is that glucose and glycogen

are broken down into pyruvate.

You get a little bit of energy from that.

And when I say energy, I mean the ability to move.

It’s fuel, it literally just gets burned up.

But if there’s oxygen available, and that’s key,

then within the mitochondria,

you can create 28 to 30 ATP, which is a lot of ATP.

Now, what does this mean?

This means that movement of muscle

is metabolically expensive.

And indeed, compared to other tissues,

compared to fat, compared to bone,

compared to almost all other tissues except brain tissue,

muscle is the most metabolically demanding,

which is why people who have more muscle

relative to adipose tissue to fat,

they can eat more and they’re more of a furnace.

They just kind of burn that up, okay?

So even if you didn’t understand anything that I just said,

what you probably did hear and that I hope you heard

is that if you have oxygen around,

you can create energy from this fuel source

that we call glycogen and glucose.

But what if there isn’t oxygen around?

And what is that like?

Well, you’ve experienced that.

I’m not talking about oxygen in the environment.

I’m talking about oxygen in the muscle.

So if you’ve ever carried a box while moving

or you were carrying heavy groceries to the car

or you were exercising particularly hard

and you felt the burn, well, that burning,

which most people think is lactic acid,

is actually a process by which pyruvate,

which as I said before,

normally could be converted into ATP if there’s oxygen.

Well, if there’s not enough oxygen

because that muscle is working too hard or too long,

what ends up happening is that a hydrogen molecule

comes in there and you get something called lactate.

So believe it or not, humans don’t make lactic acid.

That’s another species.

We make lactate and we think,

and we hear that lactate is bad.

We need to buffer the burn or avoid the burn,

that lactic acid and lactate are what prevent us

for performing as well as we ought to be able to

or for going as far as we possibly could

in an endurance event.

Guess what?

That’s not true at all.

Lactate has three functions,

all of which are really interesting and really important.

First of all, it’s a buffer against acidity.

You don’t want muscle to get too acidic

because it can’t function.

You don’t want any body tissue to get too acidic.

So that burn that you feel is acidity in that environment.

That and lactate, what most people call lactic acid,

but again, we don’t make lactic acid.

Lactate is there to buffer that,

to reduce the amount of burn.

So most people have this exactly backwards.

So when you feel that burn, that is not lactic acid.

That is lactate that’s present to suppress the burn,

to suppress acidity.

It’s also a fuel.

When you feel that burn,

lactate is shuttled to those areas of the muscle.

And there’s an actual fuel burning process

where in the absence of oxygen,

you can continue to generate muscular contractions.

Now this is informative because it also tells us

that that burning, that acidity that we feel

can inhibit the way that our muscles work,

but that lactate comes in

and allows our muscles to continue to function.

So we’ll talk a little bit more

about what this whole lactate thing and the burn means,

but it’s a really important process.

And it’s amazing to me that most people understand it

in exactly the incorrect way.

They think, oh, lactic acid is bad and the burn is bad.

No, it reveals a number of really important things

are going on with this vital molecule lactate,

which can reduce acidity, reduce the burn,

as well as act as a fuel.

Now here’s where it gets really, really cool.

And if you don’t have enough of an incentive to exercise

based on all the information out there

about how it’ll make you live longer

and make your heart better, et cetera,

here’s a reason that regardless

of what kind of exercise you do,

if it’s weight training or running or cycling or swimming,

that every once in a while, about 10% of the time,

you should exercise to the point of intensity

where you start to feel that so-called burn, right?

The reason for that is that lactate shows up

to the site of the burn, so to speak,

and it acts as a hormonal signal

for other organs of the body in a very positive way, okay?

As you may recall from a very early episode

of the Huberman Lab podcast,

I talked about what a hormone is and how it works.

We have lots of different kinds of hormones,

but hormones are chemicals that are released

in one location in the body and travel have effects

on lots of other organs of the body.

So when I say that lactate acts as a hormonal signal,

what I mean is that it’s in a position to influence tissues

that are outside of the muscle.

And basically, it can send signals to the heart,

to the liver, and to the brain,

and it can have effects on the heart, the liver,

and the brain that are very positive, okay?

So just to zoom out for a second,

I promise we won’t get any more technical than this.

We will get into tools and protocols

that are really straightforward,

but what I’m telling you is that if you feel a burn

from a particular exercise or movement,

that burn is going to be buffered

by this molecule we call lactate.

Lactate will then provide additional fuel

for additional work, so this is a good incentive,

provided you can do it safely

to quote-unquote work through the burn.

That burn acts as a beacon to the lactate,

which comes in and allows you to do more work.

It’s not a signal to stop necessarily.

I mean, stop if you’re doing something unsafe,

but it’s a signal that lactate should come in

and allow you to continue to do work,

and it can act as a hormonal signal.

Lactate can then travel to the heart

and to the liver and to the brain

and can enhance their function in positive ways,

not just in those moments,

but in the period of time that follows.

So many people are curious about how they can exercise

to make their brain better.

That’s one of the most common questions I get.

What I’m telling you is that provided you can do it safely,

by engaging the so-called burn,

which is a different threshold for everybody, right?

Your hill run will be different than my hill run

to generate the burn,

but provided you can do that for about 10%

of your workouts or of an individual workout

or activity of any kind,

you are generating the activity

of this lactate-based hormonal signal

that can improve the function of neurons.

And it does that, if you want to know,

for the aficionados, by improving the function

of another cell type called the astrocytes,

which are a glial cell type, okay?

Which are very involved in clearance of debris

from the brain.

They’re involved in the formation of synapses,

connections between neurons in the brain.

So put simply, if you’re an exerciser,

if you’re doing movement of any kind,

and you’re interested in allocating some of that movement

toward enhancing brain, heart, and liver health,

there is a nice set of scientific data

that points to the fact that getting lactate

shuttled to the muscles by engaging this burning sensation

is advantageous for the health of those other tissues.

So, as I mentioned, that burn is present

from lack of oxygen being present.

And then the hydrogen comes in and you get this lactate.

But this process of lactate acting as a buffer of fuel

and a positive hormonal signal for other tissues

occurs only if there’s oxygen.

So if you feel the burn,

you definitely want to focus on your breathing

at that point.

That would be the time to take deep inhales

and try and bring more oxygen into your system.

It’s definitely not a time to hold your breath.

And if ever you’ve run to the point of feeling the burn

and then you were exercised in any way on the treadmill

or on the bike or whatever, and felt that burn,

and then you held your breath, it feels much more intense.

By breathing, you bring lactate to the site

and you are able to allow lactate to act more as a buffer,

a fuel, and a hormonal signal.

And the reason I brought this up today is because,

as I mentioned, so many people are interested

in using exercise, not just for sake of improving

physical health and wellbeing and performance,

but also for enhancing their brain.

And there are a lot of data out there

speaking to the findings that exercise of various kinds

can increase neurogenesis, the creation of new neurons.

Well, the unfortunate news is that

while that’s true in mice,

there is very little evidence for enhanced neurogenesis

from exercise or otherwise in humans.

There’s a little bit,

and there are a few sites within the brain

such as the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus,

which may be involved in the formation of new memories.

To be clear, the dentate gyrus is definitely involved

in the formation of new memories,

whether or not the new neurons that are added there

in humans are involved in new memories.

The evidence for that is weak at best, frankly,

whereas in animals, the data are quite strong.

But most of the data point to the fact

that hormonal signals,

things that are transported in the blood

during exercise are what are beneficial for the brain,

excuse me, and that those signals

are not causing the increase in the number of neurons

in the dentate gyrus or otherwise,

that it’s more about the health of the connections

between the neurons, growth factors of various kinds,

things like IGF-1, there’s a long list of these things.

So if you’ve heard that exercise increases

the number of neurons in your brain,

well, that’s not true.

And that probably is a good thing, frankly,

because we always hear more neurons, more neurons,

as if it’s a good thing.

But the brain doesn’t do so well

with bringing in entirely new elements.

It has a hard time negotiating that

and making use of those new elements.

We know about this from things like the cochlear implant

where deaf people are given a device

where they suddenly can hear.

Some people really like that,

deaf people really like that and can benefit from it.

Other deaf people find that it’s very intrusive,

that it’s hard to take an existing neural circuit

in the brain and incorporate a lot

of new information into it.

So new neurons, as great as that sounds,

more neurons, more neurons,

it actually might not be the best way

for the nervous system to change and modify itself

and to promote its own longevity.

So when I tell you,

you know, not such great evidence

for new neurons past puberty,

that’s what the data really show in humans.

And I sort of knock back the data

on exercise and neurogenesis.

Don’t let that depress you.

If you have dementia in your family,

don’t translate that into a necessarily

that you will develop dementia.

Understand that exercise is still beneficial

for the brain and other aspects of the nervous system,

but that it’s going to be doing it

through these hormonal signals,

things like IGF-1,

things like this lactate pathway

when you experience the burn from exercise.

And again, you don’t want to try

and get this feeling of a burn

throughout the entire episode of exercise.

That’ll be far too intense

and would inhibit your recovery.

I don’t think it’d be good for performance either.

It’s only about 10% of your total effort

in any one exercise bout

that’s going to give you this positive effect.

So now you know how to devote a small portion

of your exercise, 10%,

in order for muscle and lactate to benefit other tissues,

namely your heart, your liver, and your brain.

I’d now like to shift our attention

to how to use specific aspects of muscular contraction

to improve muscle hypertrophy, muscle growth,

as well as improving muscle strength.

There are a lot of reasons to want to get stronger.

And I should just mention that it’s not always the case

that getting stronger involves muscles getting bigger.

There are ways for muscles to get stronger

without getting bigger.

However, increasing the size of a muscle

almost inevitably increases the strength of that muscle,

at least to some degree.

Reasons why most everyone should want

to get their muscles stronger

is that muscles are generally getting progressively weaker

across the lifespan.

So when I say getting stronger,

it’s not necessarily about being able to move

increasing amounts of weight in the gym,

although if that’s your goal,

what I’m about to discuss will be relevant to that,

but rather to offset some of the normal decline

in strength and posture and the ability

to generate a large range of movement safely

that occurs as we age.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the episode,

we just tend to lose function in this neuromuscular system

as we get older and doing things to offset that

has been shown again and again to be beneficial

for the neuromuscular system, for protection of injury,

for enhancing the strength of bones and bone density.

So there are a lot of reasons to use resistance exercise

that extend far beyond just the desire

to increase muscle size,

because I know many of you are interested

in increasing muscle size, but many of you are not.

So there’s an important principle of muscle physiology

called the Henneman Size Principle.

And the Henneman Size Principle essentially says

that we recruit what are called motor units.

Motor units are just the connections

between nerve and muscle

in a pattern that staircases

from low threshold to high threshold.

What this means is when you pick up something that is light,

you’re going to use the minimum amount

of nerve to muscle energy in order to move that thing.

Likewise, when you pick up an object that’s heavy,

you’re going to use the minimum amount

of nerve to muscle connectivity and energy

in order to move that object.

So it’s basically a conservation of energy principle.

Now, if you continue to exert effort of movement,

what will happen is you will tend to recruit

more and more motor units with time.

And that process of recruiting more neurons,

more lower motor neurons,

as if you recall from the beginning of the episode,

these lower motor neurons are in our spinal cord

and they actually dump a chemical, acetylcholine on muscle,

cause the muscles to contract.

As you recruit more and more of these motor units,

these connections between these lower motor neurons

and muscle, that’s when you start to get changes

in the muscle.

That’s when you open the gate for the potential

for the muscles to get stronger and to get larger,

if that’s what your goal is.

And so the way this process works

has been badly misunderstood

in the kind of online literature of weight training

and bodybuilding, and even in sports physiology.

The Henneman size principle is kind of a foundational

principle within muscle physiology,

but many people have come to interpret it by saying

that the way to recruit high threshold motor units,

the ones that are hard to get to,

is to just use heavy weights.

And that’s actually not the case.

As we’ll talk about, the research supports

that weights in a very large range

of sort of a percentage of your maximum,

anywhere from 30 to 80%.

So weights that are not very light,

but are moderately light, too heavy,

can cause changes in the connections

between nerve and muscle that lead to muscle strength

and muscle hypertrophy.

Put differently, heavy weights can help build muscle

and strength, but they are not required.

What one has to do is adhere

to a certain number of parameters,

just a couple of key variables

that I’ll spell out for you.

And if you do that,

you can greatly increase muscle hypertrophy, muscle size,

and or muscle strength, if that’s what you want to do.

And you don’t necessarily have to use heavy weights

in order to do that.

Now, I’m sure the power lifters

and the people that like to move heavy weights around

will say, no, if you want to get strong,

you absolutely have to lift heavy weights.

And that might be true if you want to get very strong,

but for most people who are interested

in supporting their muscular

such that they offset any age-related decline in strength

or in increasing hypertrophy and strength to some degree,

there really isn’t a need to lie

about the Henneman size principle,

which many people out there are doing,

and claiming that you absolutely need to use

the heaviest weights possible

in order to build strength and muscle.

So I’m going to explain how all of this works

in simple terms.

So first of all, let’s just talk about what hypertrophy is

and what strength changes in the muscle are.

We can make this very simple as well.

If this were a muscle physiology class,

we would talk all about myofibrils and sarcomeres

and all that stuff.

We’re not going to do that.

That’s not the purpose of today’s conversation.

If you’re interested in that,

as well as a lot of the other information

that I’m going to discuss in more detail,

I highly encourage you to check out the YouTube channel

and the writings of Dr. Andy Galpin.

He’s a PhD and a full professor in exercise physiology.

He’s extremely knowledgeable

in this entire area of science-based tools for hypertrophy,

how strength and hypertrophy really work.

His lab does everything from biopsy on muscles,

working with athletes and typical folks as well.

A lot of the information

that you’re going to hear from me

in the next 15 minutes or so

comes from an extensive exploration of the work

that he and his colleagues have done,

as well as folks like Brad Schoenfield,

another academic who’s superb

in this whole space of muscle physiology,

and from a lengthy conversation that I had

with Andy, Dr. Galpin, prior to this episode.

So if we want to think about muscle hypertrophy,

we have to ask what is changing

when muscles get larger or stronger?

And there are really just three ways

that muscles can be stimulated to change.

So let’s review those three ways

and talk about what happens inside the muscle.

So there are three major stimuli

for changing the way that muscle works

and making muscles stronger, larger, or better in some way.

And those are stress, tension, and damage.

Those three things don’t necessarily all have to be present,

but stress of some kind has to exist.

Something has to be different

in the way that the nerve communicates with the muscle

and the way that the muscle contracts or performs

that makes the muscle need to change.

So this is very reminiscent of neuroplasticity in the brain.

Something needs to happen.

Certain chemicals need to be present.

Certain processes need to happen,

or else a tissue simply won’t change itself.

But if those processes and events do happen,

then the tissue has essentially no option

except but to change.

So muscles move, as I mentioned,

because nerves dump chemical onto the muscles,

but they move because they have these things

called myosin and actin filaments.

And if you want to read up on this,

you can look on the internet.

You can put the sliding filament theory

of muscle contraction

if you really want to go deep down that rabbit hole.

It’s interesting.

You can learn about this in a muscle physiology class.

But basically, along the length of the muscle,

you have what’s called myosin.

And just think of myosin as kind of like a wire.

It’s like a bunch of beads and wires

that extend across the muscle.

I think that’s the simplest way to describe it.

And the myosin is surrounded

by these little beads called actin.

The way muscles get bigger

is that basically the myosin gets thicker.

It’s a protein, right?

And it gets thicker.

So put this in your mind.

If you’re listening to this,

or even if you’re watching it on YouTube,

the way to think about this whole actin, myosin thing

and muscles getting bigger

is imagine that you’re holding a bouquet of balloons,

a bunch of balloons by their strings,

except you’re not holding the strings all at their bottom.

So the bouquet isn’t nicely arranged.

It’s not like some balloons that are all up at the top

and you’re holding the strings down at the bottom.

Imagine that one of the balloons

is very close to your hand.

Another one is a little bit higher up.

And so this bouquet is very disorganized.

In other words, the string extending out of your hand,

the strings rather extending out of your hand

are all different lengths.

And so the balloons are all over the place.

That’s essentially what myosin looks like in the muscle.

And those strings are what we call the filaments.

And then the myosin head that is the balloon.

When you stress a muscle properly,

or you give it sufficient tension,

or you damage the muscle just enough,

there’s an adaptive response that takes place

where protein is synthesized.

And it’s a very specific protein, it’s myosin.

The myosin gets thicker.

In other words, the balloons get bigger.

So the way to think about muscle growth

and the way to think about muscles getting stronger

is that those balloons get bigger

and the muscle gets thicker.

Now, the question then should be, as always,

how does that happen?

I mean, the muscle doesn’t really know anything

about what’s happening in the outside world.

The way it happens is the nerve,

the neuron has to tell the muscle to get stronger.

And it does that through what we call a signaling cascade.

It talks to the muscle in terms of chemicals.

It doesn’t whisper to it or shout at it,

hey, get bigger.

What it does, it releases certain chemicals

that within the muscle,

there are certain chemicals released rather

that make those balloons, as I’m referring to them,

the myosin get thicker.

So let’s talk about the stimulus for doing that.

And if already in your mind, you’re imagining,

oh my goodness, these balloons of muscle

are going to get thick, thick, thick, thick,

and it’s just going to spiral out of control.

Don’t worry about that.

People invest a ton of time and energy

into trying to make their muscles larger.

It’s actually much harder for people to do

than you might think.

But I do want to give one exception

because it illustrates an important principle

of where we’re headed next.

Everybody has imbalances in how muscles can grow,

how well muscles can grow or how poorly

or how challenging it is for their muscles to grow.

Now, many people who are afraid of like getting too bulky,

for instance, are afraid of lifting weights.

But I think the research shows now that everyone

of pretty much every age should be doing some sort

of resistance exercise,

even if that’s body weight exercises

in order to offset this age-related decline

in muscle contractile ability, muscle strength, et cetera,

improve bone density.

There’s nothing good about getting frail

and weak over time.

And people who invest the effort

into doing resistance exercise of some kind,

whether or not it’s with bands or with weights

or with body weight really benefit tremendously

at a whole body level, at a systemic level,

as well as in terms of muscle strength.

There is a good predictor of how well

or how efficient you will be in building the strength

and or if you like the size of a given muscle.

And it has everything to do with those upper motor neurons

that are involved in deliberate control of muscle.

You can actually do this test right now.

You can just kind of march across your body mentally

and see whether or not you can independently contract

any or all of your muscles.

So for instance, if you are sitting in a chair

or you’re standing, see whether or not

you can contract your calf muscle

just using those upper motor neurons,

sending a signal down

and deliberately isolating the calf muscle, okay?

If you can contract the calf muscle hard

to the point where that muscle

almost feels like it’s trying to cramp,

like it hurts just a little bit,

you know, it’s not going to be extremely painful

nor is it going to have no sensation whatsoever,

chances are you have very good upper motor neuron

to calf control.

And chances are, if you can isolate that,

what they call the brain or mind muscle connection,

and you can contract the muscle to the point

where it cramps a little bit,

that you hold a decent to high potential

to change the strength and the size of that muscle

if you train it properly.

Now, if you have a hard time doing that,

chances are you won’t be able to do that.

If for instance, you focus on your back muscle,

like we all have these muscles called the lat,

the latissimus dorsi muscles,

which basically are involved in chin-ups

and things like that, but their function

from a more of a kinesiology standpoint

is to move the elbow back behind the body, okay?

So it’s not about flexing your bicep,

it’s about moving your elbow back behind your body.

If you can do that mentally,

or you can do that physical movement

of moving your elbow back behind your body

and you can contract that muscle hard,

chances are that you have the capacity

to enhance the strength and or size of that particular muscle

because you have the neural control of that muscle.

This is a key feature of the neuromuscular system

to appreciate as we begin to talk more

about specific protocols.

Because everything about muscle hypertrophy,

about stimulating muscle growth

is about generating isolated contractions,

about challenging specific muscles in a very unnatural way.

Whereas with strength,

it’s about using musculature as a system,

moving weights, moving resistance, moving the body.

The specific goal of hypertrophy

is to isolate specific nerve to muscle pathways

so that you stimulate the chemical

and signaling transduction events in muscles

so that those muscles respond by getting larger.

So there’s a critical distinction

in terms of getting stronger

versus trying to get muscles to be larger,

hypertrophy per se,

and it has to do with how much you isolate those muscles.

Muscle isolation is not a natural phenomenon.

It’s not something that we normally do.

When we walk, we don’t think,

okay, right calf contract, left calf contract.

No, you just generate those rhythmic movements

and of course, there’s no reason for them

to get stronger or larger in response to those movements.

Let’s say you were to do a kind of strange experiment

of attaching 30 pound weights to your ankles

and you were to do those movements.

Well, if you weren’t specifically contracting your calves

in each step, there’s no reason for the calves

to take on the bulk of the work

and you would distribute that work across your hip flexors

and other aspects of your musculature.

Your whole nervous system seeks to gain efficiency.

It seeks to spread out the effort.

So you can nest this as a principle for yourself,

which is if you want to get stronger,

it’s really about moving progressively greater loads

or increasing the amount of weight that you move.

Whereas if you’re specifically interested

in generating hypertrophy,

it’s all about trying to generate those really hard,

almost painful, localized contractions of muscle.

Now, of course, how much weight you use

in order to generate those contractions

will also impact hypertrophy.

But I think most people don’t really understand

the mind-muscle connection.

It sounds like a great thing,

but it’s actually one of the things you want to avoid

if your goal is simply to become more supple

or to become stronger.

You want to do the movements properly and safely, of course,

but it’s the opposite of hypertrophy,

where with hypertrophy,

you’re really trying to make that particular muscle,

sometimes two muscles, do the majority, if not all the work.

Whereas in moving force loads,

in trying to generate activity of any kind,

like lifting a bar or doing a chin-up or something,

those so-called compound movements

that involve a lot of muscle groups,

if your goal is to be better at those,

you want to avoid isolating any one particular muscle.

Now, I know this probably comes across

as a kind of an obvious duh,

especially to the folks that have spent a lot of time

in the gym aimed at getting hypertrophy,

but I think most people don’t appreciate

that it’s the nerve-to-muscle connections

and the distinction between

isolating nerve-to-muscle connections

versus distributing the work of nerve-to-muscle connections

that’s vital in determining whether or not

you generate hypertrophy,

isolated nerve-to-muscle contractions,

versus strength and offsetting strength loss,

which would be distributed nerve-to-muscle connections.

If ever there was an area of practical science

that was very confused, very controversial,

and almost combative at times,

it would be this issue of how best to train.

I suppose the only thing that’s even more barbed wire

of a conversation than that is how best to eat for health.

Those seem to be the two most common areas of online battle.

And the scientific literature has a lot to say

about both of those things.

Again, my sources for what I’m about to tell you

are Professor Andy Galpin and colleagues.

I know there are other excellent people

out there in the field, but I really trust his work.

He does very controlled studies.

He spent a lot of time in this space.

And what’s really exciting

is that in just the last three years or so,

there’s been a tremendous amount of information

to come out about the practical steps that one can take

in order to maximize the benefits

of resistance exercise of any kind.

So I’m going to talk about those,

and I’m going to talk about the research.

I will provide some links,

both to a couple of the more in-depth tutorials

from Dr. Galpin, as well as some of the papers

that the information I’m about to tell you stems from.

There’s a lot of information saying

that you need to move weights

that are 80 to 90% of your one rep maximum,

or 70%, or cycle that for three weeks on,

and then go to more moderate weights.

There are a lot of paths.

As some people say, there are a lot of ways

to add up numbers to get 100.

There’s a near infinite number of ways

to add up different numbers to get to 100.

And what’s very clear now

from all the literature that’s transpired,

and especially from the literature

in this last three years,

is that once you know roughly your one repetition maximum,

the maximum amount of weight

that you can perform an exercise with

for one repetition in good form, full range of motion,

that it’s very clear that moving weights,

or using bands, or using body weight, for instance,

in the 30 to 80% of one rep maximum,

that is going to be the most beneficial range

in terms of muscle hypertrophy and strength,

so muscle growth and strength.

And there will be a bias.

If you’re moving weights that are in the 75%, 80% range,

or maybe even going above that, 85 and 90%,

you’re going to bias your improvements

towards strength gains.

This is true.

And if you use weights that are in the 30%

of your one repetition maximum, or 40% or 50%,

and doing many more repetitions, of course,

then you are biasing towards hypertrophy

and what some people like to call muscle endurance,

but that’s a little bit of a complicated term

because endurance we almost always think of

as relating to running or swimming

or some long bouts of activity.

So 30 to 80% of one repetition maximums,

it doesn’t really seem to matter for sake of hypertrophy,

except at the far ends

when you’re really trying to bias for strength.

Now, it is clear, however,

that one needs to perform those sets to failure

where you can’t perform another repetition

in good form again, or near to failure.

And there’s all sorts of interesting nomenclature

that’s popping up all over the internet,

some of which is scientific,

some of which is not scientific

about how you are supposed to perceive

how close you were to failure, et cetera.

But there are some very interesting principles

that relate to how the nerves connect to the muscles

that strongly predict whether or not this exercise

that you’re performing will be beneficial for you or not.

So here’s how it goes.

For individuals that are untrained,

meaning they have been doing resistance exercise

for anywhere from zero, probably out to about two years,

although for some people it might be zero to one year,

but those are the so-called beginners,

they’re sort of untrained.

For those people, the key parameter

seems to be to perform enough sets

of a given exercise per muscle per week, okay?

The same is also true for people that have been training

for one or two years or more.

What differs is how many sets to perform

depending on whether or not you’re trained or untrained.

So let’s say you’re somebody

who’s been doing some resistance exercise

kind of on and off over the years,

and you decide you want to get serious about that

for sake of sport or offsetting age-related declines

in strength, the range of sets to do

in order to improve strength,

to activate these cascades in the muscle,

ranges anywhere from two, believe it or not,

to 20 per week.

Again, these are sets per week,

and they don’t necessarily all have to be performed

in the same weight training session.

I will talk about numbers of sessions.

So it appears that five sets per week

in this 30% to 80% of the one repetition maximum range,

getting close to failure

or occasionally actually going to full muscular failure,

which isn’t really full muscular failure,

but the inability to generate a contraction of the muscle

or move the weight in good form.

I’ll go deeper into that in a moment,

but about five sets per week is what’s required

just to maintain your muscle.

So think about that.

If you’re somebody who’s kind of averse

to resistance training,

you are going to lose muscle size and strength.

Your metabolism will drop.

Your posture will get worse.

Everything in the context of nerve to muscle connectivity

will get worse over time

unless you are generating five sets

or more of this 30% to 80%

of your one repetition maximum per week, okay?

So what this means is for the typical person

who hasn’t done a lot of weight training,

you need to do at least five sets per muscle group.

Now that’s just to maintain.

And then there’s this huge range

that goes all the way up to 15,

and in some case, 20 sets per week.

Now, how many sets you perform

is going to depend on the intensity

of the work that you perform.

This is where it gets a little bit controversial,

but I think nowadays most people agree,

and Dr. Galpin confirmed that 10%,

not to be confused with the 10% we discussed earlier,

but 10% of the sets of a given workout

or 10% of workouts overall

should be of the high-intensity sort

where one is actually working to muscular failure.

Now, I say not true muscular failure

because in theory, you have a concentric movement,

which is the kind of lifting of the weight,

and then you have the eccentric portion

of muscle contraction, which is the lowering.

And the eccentric movements,

because of the way that muscle fibers lengthen

and that sliding actin myosin that we talked about before,

you’re always stronger in lowering something

than you are in lifting it.

But the point being that most of your training,

most of your sets should be not to failure.

And the reason for that is it allows you

to do more volume of work

without fatiguing the nervous system

and depleting the nerve to muscle connection

in ways that are detrimental.

So we can make this simple.

Perform anywhere from five to 15 sets

of resistance exercise per week,

and that’s per muscle,

and that’s in this 30 to 80%

of your one repetition maximum.

That seems to be the most scientifically supported way

of offsetting any decline in muscle strength

if you’re working in the kind of five set range

and in increasing muscle strength

when you start to get up into the 10 and 15 set range.

Now, the caveat to that is everyone varies

and muscles vary in terms of their recoverability.

Depending on how well you can control

the contraction of muscles deliberately,

and you can actually figure that out

by sort of marching.

You might take five minutes

and just kind of march across your body

and mentally try and control the contractions of muscles

in a very deliberate way

to the point where you can generate a hard contraction.

And you may have to move a limb

in order to do this, by the way.

I’m not talking about just mentally contracting your bicep

without moving your wrist.

I’m talking about doing that without any weight in hand

or any band or any resistance.

If you can generate a high intensity contraction

using these upper motor neuron

lower motor neuron pathways to muscle,

you might think, well,

I should perform many more sets, right?

But actually the opposite is true.

If you can generate high intensity muscular contractions

using your brain, using your neurons,

it will take fewer sets in order to stimulate the muscle

to maintain itself and to stimulate the muscle

in order to grow or get stronger.

So the more efficient you are in recruiting motor units,

remember Henneman size principle,

the recruitment of more motor units,

which isn’t just muscles, it’s nerve to muscle connections.

The better you are at doing that,

the more you will recruit

these so-called high threshold motor units,

the ones that are hard to get to,

the more you’ll kick off the cascades of things

within muscle that stimulate muscle growth and strength.

So if you have muscles that are challenging to contract,

it’s going to take more sets

in order to stimulate the desired effect in those muscles,

not fewer, okay?

If you have muscles that you are very good

at generating force within, it’s going to take fewer sets.

Now, how many sets?

You are going to have to determine that.

It’s going to depend for those of you

that are using like 50% of your one repetition maximum,

because you’re doing a lot of repetitions,

you might find that three or four,

five sets will maintain the muscle.

You might decide to do that once at one point in the week

and then do it again, right?

So if you’re going for 10 sets a week,

you can divide that among two sessions

or you can do that all in one session.

The data really show it doesn’t matter.

There are some differences in terms of whether or not

you’re trying to generate maximum intensity

within a workout or whether or not

you want to spread that out.

But in general, resistance workouts of any kind

tend to be best favored by workouts

that are somewhere between 45 minutes and 60 minutes.

And generally not longer than 60 minutes

because that’s when all the things like cortisol

and some of the inflammatory pathways

really start to create a situation in the muscle

and in the body that’s not so great for you.

So it’s not a hard and fast rule,

you know, that the ax doesn’t drop at 60 minutes,

but it’s pretty clear that performing this

five to 15 sets per week,

whether or not it’s in one workout

or whether that’s divided up across multiple workouts

is really what’s going to be most beneficial.

And please do keep in mind Henneman’s size principle

and the recruitment of motor units.

And remember, the better you are

at contracting particular muscles

and in isolating those muscles,

the fewer sets likely you need to do

in order to get the desired effect.

Now, what about people who have been training for a while?

If you’re somebody who’s been doing

weight training for a while,

the data point to the fact that

more volume can be beneficial,

even for muscles that you are very efficient at contracting.

Now, the curve on this, the graph on this

begins again at about five sets per week

for maintaining a given muscle group

and extends all the way out to 25 or 30 sets per week.

However, there are individuals who for whatever reason

can generate so much force,

they’re so good at training muscles

that they can generate so much force

in just four or six or eight sets

that doing this large volume of work

is actually going to be counterproductive.

So everyone needs to figure out for themselves,

first of all, how often you’re willing to do

resistance exercise of any kind.

And again, it doesn’t matter if you’re using bands

or weights or body weight.

For instance, if you’re doing chin-ups,

chances are, unless you are very strong,

that you’re not using weights,

you’re just using something that you can hold onto.

Or if you’re doing push-ups,

some of you will be working in that 30 to 80%

of your one repetition maximum range.

It doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to be

moving weights in a gym, for instance.

So the purpose here is to figure out

what muscles you’re trying to train.

That’s an issue that we’ll talk about in a moment.

And then it does appear that somewhere between

five and 15 sets per week is going to be

the thing that’s going to work for most people.

Now, this is based on a tremendous amount of work

that was done by Andy Galpin and colleagues,

Brad Schoenfield and colleagues and others,

Mike Roberts.

There’s a huge group of people out there

doing exercise physiology and a small subset of them

that are linking them back to real world protocols

that don’t just pertain to athletes.

So that’s mainly what I’m focusing on today.

And surely there will be exceptions.

Now, if you are going to divide the sets across the week,

you’re not going to do all 10 sets, for instance,

for a given muscle group in one session.

Then of course, it’s imperative that the muscles

recover in between sessions.

And we are going to talk about recovery

both at the systemic level, the whole nervous system,

and at the local level, the nerve to muscle

and local even muscle level.

We’ll talk about that in about 10 minutes

when we talk about recovery.

I do want to mention something very important,

which is that everything I’m referring to here,

it has to do with full range of motion, okay?

And you might ask, well,

what about the speeds of movements?

This is actually turns out to be

a really interesting data set.

For generating explosiveness and speed,

so for sprinters or throwing sports,

or for people that want to generate a lot of jumping power,

it does appear that learning to move weights

as fast as you safely can,

especially under moderate to heavy loads,

can increase explosiveness and speed.

And most of that effect is from changes in the neurons.

It’s not from changes in the muscle,

it’s from changes in the way that the upper motor neurons

communicate with the lower motor neurons

and generating a pathway, a neural circuit, as we call it,

that is very efficient at generating action potentials,

which are the electricity within neurons

to trigger the muscle.

Now, of course, there are events that happen

from nerve to muscle,

but the takeaway from that enormous literature, frankly,

is that if you want to get faster,

yes, it can be beneficial to get stronger,

but if you want to dedicate resistance training

specifically to jumping higher, to running faster,

to throwing further, and these sorts of things,

that learning to generate force with increasing speed

is going to be beneficial.

On the flip side of that,

for people that want to get stronger,

it appears that the slowing down of the weight

as things get harder is a key parameter

in recruiting those high threshold motor units.

So let me phrase that a little bit differently.

Think about a set in the gym,

or think about a set of pushups or a set of pull-ups.

Initially, you can move very fast if you like.

If you want to generate hypertrophy,

the goal really is not necessarily to move super slow,

but to isolate the muscle and therefore not to use momentum

rather than lift weights, as they say, challenge muscles.

If you want to get stronger,

you’re going to be distributing that effort

over more muscles and more of your nervous system.

For generating explosiveness and speed,

it’s very clear that learning to generate forces quickly

and to move heavy or moderately heavy loads quickly

is going to be beneficial

because of the way that you train the motor neurons.

And of course, changes in the muscle.

But this could look different for different sports.

And obviously you want to make safety paramount.

If you’re injured,

you’re not going to be able to train at all for sport

or for any purpose that is.

And so what this would involve is something like 60 to 75%

of a one repetition maximum.

And then in a controlled way,

moving that as quickly as one can throughout the entire set

and certainly not going to failure

because as you approach failure,

the inability to move the weight with good form,

the weight inevitably slows down.

In fact, there are a lot of new technologies now

that are focused on informing people

of how quickly the bar or weight is moving.

I saw an advertisement for this the other day.

There are things that people can attach to bars

that will literally speak to you as you’re doing a set

and inform you whether or not you’re moving

four times more slowly per rep

than you were at the beginning

and trying to hone in on the exact speed of movement.

In talking to these experts prior to this episode,

it does appear that for sake of hypertrophy,

as long as you’re not moving the muscles so quickly

that you start to distribute the effort

to lots of other muscles, it doesn’t really matter.

Because as the set gets harder,

the motor units that you recruit will increase

the number of neurons that you recruit

and the number of muscle fibers

in between these high threshold muscle fibers will increase.

And so it’s really only for purposes of hypertrophy

that you really need to be concerned

about how quickly the weight is slowing down.

However, if you’re trying to get faster, more explosive

and generate more speed and jumping power,

throwing power, things of that sort,

you never really want to use a weight

or get to a portion of the set

where you’re moving the bar very, very slowly.

And I’m sure as I say that,

some of the exercise physiologists

and advanced trainers out there

will come after me with pitchforks, which is fine.

I’d love to see the literature that shows

that low gear, slow movements with very heavy weights

can indeed improve explosiveness.

And that may in fact be the case,

but the data that I was able to access was essentially

as I described just a moment ago.

So as you’re probably starting to realize,

you need to customize a resistance practice

for your particular needs and goals.

And I certainly am not the first to suggest

that people periodize their training,

that they do things from anywhere from one month

to six months and to see how it goes

and to make modifications as they go.

Because the nervous system,

in particular the neuromuscular system

changes very quickly at the beginning of training.

In fact, some of the changes that one can see

when they first embrace or start resistance training

can be very remarkable, but they tend to slow over time.

So we’ve talked about a few principles.

The fact that you need to get sufficient volume,

you need at least five sets to maintain

and you probably need about 10 sets per muscle group

in order to improve muscle.

That moving weights of moderate

to moderately heavy weight quickly

is going to be best for explosiveness.

That isolating muscles

and really contracting muscles hard,

something that you can test

by just when you’re outside the training session,

seeing whether or not you can cramp the muscle hard

will tell you your capacity to improve hypertrophy

or to engage strength changes in that muscle.

That your ability to contract a muscle hard

is inversely related to the number of sets

that you should do in order to isolate

and stimulate that muscle.

And there are some other things

that can enhance the whole process

of building nerve to muscle connections,

making them more efficient

and generating if you like more strength and hypertrophy.

One of them I loathe to say,

I was told is in between set contractions.

The other name for this is the people in the gym

does typically seem to be guys in the gym

flexing their muscles in between sets.

And indeed the research supports the fact

that contractions of about 30 seconds

in between the actual work sets,

they’re not going to favor better performance

on the work sets.

If anything, they’re going to compromise them,

but those hard contractions in between sets

for a variety of reasons related to local muscle metabolism,

as well as what we talked about before,

which are stress, tension and damage,

they seem to improve stress, tension and damage

and the nerve to muscle contraction

in ways that facilitate hypertrophy.

In other words,

you see that person flexing in between sets in the gym,

provided that they’re really isolating that muscle

and provided it’s one that they ought to be improving.

Not one of these people

that always skips leg day type of people.

These people are highly asymmetric,

although that’s up to them.

That process of flexing in between sets

does seem to improve the nerve to muscle connection

and enhance hypertrophy.

And I say, I was loath to say it

because nowadays with phones,

it seems like the end of every set includes a selfie.

That’s sort of like the 11th rep of every set.

I like to joke.

It seems like very few people are capable

of actually going into the gym

and doing a workout without taking a picture of themselves,

which I think is fine if that’s your thing.

Although I must say that the athletes that I know

and even the recreational athletes that I know

who seem to get the most out of their training

and who also seem to get the most

out of other aspects of their life

seem to be able to control their phone behavior,

both in the gym and outside of the gym.

But that’s more of an editorial point there.

In an earlier episode,

I talked about estrogen and testosterone.

And during that discussion,

I talked about the use of resistance exercise

specifically for increasing testosterone,

both in men and in women.

And indeed that is a powerful effect of resistance exercise.

And indeed it’s mediated by the nerve to muscle connections.

We talked about that in that earlier episode.

I just want to briefly mention that protocol

since it’s distinctly different

from the other protocols I’ve talked about today.

The protocols I’ve talked about today thus far

of explosive movements or of hypertrophy based training,

provided the training is 60 minutes or less

will cause increases in serum testosterone

that’s been shown over and over again.

And if the session extends too long past 75 minutes

and is of sufficiently high intensity,

chances are testosterone levels will start to drop

and cortisol levels will go up

in ways that can be detrimental to recovery

and the goals of the training.

But that’s different than training

that’s specifically geared toward increasing testosterone.

Duncan French, who’s one of the directors

of the UFC Performance Center,

when he was a graduate student

at University of Connecticut stores,

did some beautiful work.

He and his colleagues found the ideal training protocols

for stimulating testosterone release,

which is something that many people want to do

for a variety of reasons.

And that involved doing six sets of 10 repetitions,

even if it requires lightening the weight

on one set to the next,

with about two minutes, 120 seconds rest in between sets,

which if you think about it is pretty short rest

and is pretty darn hard work.

Now, what’s interesting is that

there’s a very limited threshold

for increasing testosterone.

That protocol of six sets of 10 repetitions

led to these big increases in serum testosterone.

But if people did 10 sets of 10,

so just four more repetitions per set,

then testosterone did not increase.

In fact, you got more of this catabolic cortisol

like pathway.

You get other benefits from the so-called

10 sets of 10 protocol,

but not the testosterone increase

and maybe even reductions in testosterone.

Now it’s important to point out that

that six sets of 10 was done with big compound movements.

So things like squats or deadlifts or chin-ups

or things of that sort.

And those were done as single sessions,

not in concert with a bunch of other exercise.

Although if athletes are doing that,

there’s no reason why they couldn’t also do

other types of training elsewhere in the week.

I asked Duncan about this and he mentioned that

that done twice a week is probably the maximum amount

that anyone could do that

and still maintain this increase in testosterone.

It’s a very interesting protocol

because as a neuroscientist,

it’s amazing to me that six sets of 10 repetitions

with something causes a distinctly, excuse me,

causes a distinctly different result

in terms of hormone output

than 10 sets of 10 of the exact same movement.

And it speaks to the exquisite way

in which nerve to muscle connections

dictate the whole physiology of your entire system.

If there’s a theme that I really want to bring forward today

is that weight training or resistance training of any kind

is really used for either systemic effects, right?

10% of training done where you’re feeling that burn,

which means lactate will be present

and sending signals to your brain

and your heart and to your liver that are beneficial

or isolating muscles,

which may also generate a kind of a lactate

which is associated with the burn result.

But that isolation of muscles is distinctly different.

So systemic versus isolated.

Those are the two general ways

in which resistance training can be applied.

So I just wanted to mention that earlier protocol

because it’s well-supported by the literature.

If you were to incorporate that protocol,

you might ask,

well, then can you do any other weight training

during the week?

And sure, of course you can provided you’re recovering.

So let’s talk about how you know if you’re recovering,

how you know if a muscle is recovered

and how you know if your whole system is recovered

because recovery is what dictates

whether or not you can come back

and do more work of a different kind,

meaning you do a leg training one day,

can you and should you come back

and do upper body training the next day?

And it dictates whether or not you’ll see any improvement

from session to session at all.

Before I talk about recovery,

I just want to make sure I nail down the details

that I was able to extract from the literature

and from my conversation with Dr. Galpin.

If you’re wondering how quickly to perform repetitions

for sake of hypertrophy or strength gains,

anywhere from a half a second per repetition

all the way up to eight seconds per repetition,

it doesn’t seem to matter.

Again, if you’re thinking about explosiveness

or building speed,

or you’re specifically using resistance training

to build endurance, that’s a separate matter.

We talked about explosiveness and speed.

I’ll talk about endurance in a few moments.

We also talked about in-between set contractions,

so-called selfie effect of people flexing

a particular muscle,

isolating a particular muscle between sets.

Just want to mention that would be a terrible thing to do

if your goal is performance on sets.

So moving a particular amount of weight,

that’s actually going to diminish the amount of weight

that you can move.

It’s going to enhance muscle growth

and it’s going to enhance the nerve to muscle isolation

of that particular pathway.

So again, that flexing between sets

is going to favor hypertrophy, not performance.

If you’re trying to get stronger,

you’re trying to move more weights,

you’re trying to distribute work,

and you’re trying to do maybe skill training

with resistance,

then flexing between sets is absolutely the wrong thing

to do for obvious reasons.

You’re fatiguing the muscle further.

Just remaining still or walking around a little bit

has been shown to be beneficial

in terms of moving some of the lactate out of the muscle,

as well as just recovering between sets.

Now, how long to recover between sets?

This is a question for the testosterone protocol.

Duncan French and colleagues found

that it was about two minutes,

keeping that really on the clock, two minutes, not longer.

For hypertrophy and for strength gains,

it does seem that resting anywhere from two minutes

or even three or four, even five or six minutes

can be beneficial.

And if you’re interested in expanding the volume of work

that you can do in a given session,

at high capacity, at high intensity with a given weight,

please see the episode that I did on cold and performance

about supercharging performance,

which is based on the work of my colleague, Craig Heller,

in the biology department at Stanford,

which talks about palmar cooling,

about how you can cool the core of the body

best through the palms,

using these particular venous portals

that are only present in your hands.

People are now doing this with ice packs or with gel packs.

There are a number of different ways one can do this.

I talk all about that in that episode.

It allows you to do more repetitions

and more work at a given weight over time.

So rather than getting 10 repetitions

and then eight and then seven and then six,

through proper use of palmar cooling,

one can do 10, 10, 10, 10, and even add sets.

And that’s one way that one can accomplish

higher volume work

without having to drop the weight considerably.

So that’s where you can hit that really sweet spot,

if that’s your goal, of getting strong

and generating some hypertrophy.

Because as soon as you have to drop to lighter weights,

excuse me,

then you’re shifting more towards hypertrophy and endurance

and less toward strength in a given muscle.

So check out that episode.

The last thing besides between set contractions

and whether or not you’re distributing work

or whether or not you’re really trying to isolate muscles

is this notion of pre-exhausting muscles.

It’s been shown over and over again that, for instance,

if you want to generate force in a given muscle

and really isolate that,

doing the isolation work before a compound movement.

So this would be, you know, leg extensions,

the thing where you sit

and you extend your toes up toward the ceiling.

Leg extensions before squats will allow the squats

to target that muscle group more effectively.

And that makes perfectly good sense

based on the Henneman size principle

and fatiguing motor units.

It should be obvious why that’s the case.

But of course, that’s going to be anti-performance

in terms of how much weight you can lift

and maybe even the form that you can maintain

when you move to the bigger compound movement.

So you really have to ask yourself a number of questions.

How good are you at isolating a given muscle?

Therefore, how many sets do you want to do?

How often are you willing to train?

Therefore, how many sets are you going to do

in a given session

versus how many are you going to distribute across the week?

Are you aiming for performance?

Are you going to distribute that work

across the nervous system and musculature?

Are you trying to move weights

or are you trying to challenge muscles?

If you’re trying to challenge muscles,

then you really want to focus on things

like this pre-exhausting,

the isolation of a muscle before the compound movement.

Your performance on compound movements

will absolutely suffer,

but your ability to isolate that muscle

and generate hypertrophy through the accumulation

of larger myosin, those bigger balloons, will benefit.

And once again, if you’re trying to get faster,

then the speed of the movement really matters.

So how do we know if we’ve recovered?

How can we test recovery?

And this is not just recovery from resistance training.

This is recovery from running, recovery from swimming.

Up until now, I’ve been talking about resistance training

more or less in a vacuum.

I haven’t even touched on the fact

that many people are running

and they’re doing resistance training,

or they’re swimming and they’re doing resistance training.

It’s not simply the case that if a given muscle is fatigued,

you can just work other muscles

because even if you’ve beautifully isolated a muscle,

let’s say you have incredible abilities

to isolate just your quadriceps, for instance,

and you do a workout where you isolate your quadriceps,

you do your six sets of intense work,

or maybe use Palmer cooling,

and you’re able to do 12 sets of intense work,

and you’re done, and that muscle group,

the next day is certainly not going to be recovered

unless you’re somebody who’s extraordinary at recovery

or you’re enhancing your recovery through chemical means,

which we’ll talk about at the end.

Well, you can assess systemic recovery,

meaning your nervous system

and your nervous system’s ability to generate force

both distributed and isolated through three main tests.

And fortunately, these tests are very simple,

and two of them are essentially zero cost,

require no equipment.

HRV, heart rate variability, has made its way finally

into the forefront of exercise physiology

and even into the popular discussion.

I’ve talked about HRV before,

how when we exhale, our heart rate slows down

because of the way that our diaphragm is connected

to our heart and to our brain

and the way our brain is connected to our heart.

Excuse me, when we inhale, our heart rate speeds up,

and that is the basis of heart rate variability.

Heart rate variability is good.

It means that you’re breathing properly.

And when I say it’s good,

it means you want a lot of heart rate variability.

You don’t want a heart rate

that is high or low consistently over time.

That might come as a bit of a surprise

for you endurance athletes

who probably are trying to accomplish

your endurance work at a steady cadence

and really hit that nice sweet spot

where you’re breathing rhythmically,

your heart rate’s going rhythmically,

you’re in that steady heart rate,

and then away from exercise,

you have a nice low heart rate, as they say.

Well, nice low heart rate isn’t necessarily always so nice.

Turns out that introducing bouts

of increasing your heart rate during exercise,

and even through your waking day,

through stressful events even,

is provided their brief, is beneficial.

A good nerve to heart system

benefits from being able to increase heart rate

and decrease heart rate.

Heart rate variability is good.

So you don’t want high heart rate,

you don’t want low heart rate all the time.

But heart rate variability is difficult

for a lot of people to measure.

There are some devices that will allow you to do that,

various watches and devices.

There are more devices becoming available all the time.

Hopefully soon, some that are integrated with your phone

that involve no contact or anything on your body.

But those do carry some costs,

and they are not perfect yet.

The measures of heart rate variability

that one can use while in movement

are still in the phase, I would say,

of technology development where everyone isn’t using them.

Let’s leave it at that.

There are two measures, however,

whether or not you recovered,

that you can use first thing in the morning

when you wake up, maybe after five, 10 minutes, if you like,

but ideally right when you wake up

in order to assess how well recovered you are,

and therefore whether or not you should train

your whole system at all that day.

The first one is grip strength.

Grip strength, the ability to generate force

at the level of squeezing the fist

or squeezing down on something

might seem like kind of a trivial way to assess recovery,

but it’s not because it relates to your ability

to use your upper motor neurons,

to control your lower motor neurons,

and to generate isolated force.

And so that’s really what you’re assessing when you do that.

Some people will use one of these grip tools,

or Costello has this toy that’s shaped like a donut,

and it’s this hard rubber, and I’ve tried this before.

You know, if I’ve been working really hard,

not sleeping very well, or I’ve been training a lot,

any one or combination of those things, my grip suffers.

I can’t actually squeeze that thing down

as much as I can Costello,

because he was born with a, you know, like a 24-inch neck,

and even though he’s never touched a weight,

somehow he can just clamp down on that thing,

and it just, you know, he can turn it

into a pancake with ease,

and he likes to chuckle while I struggle with this thing.

But on a good day, I can squeeze this thing

so that I eliminate the hole in the donut, so to speak.

You can also take a floor weight, and excuse me,

a floor scale, and squeeze the scale,

and see how much force you can generate.

I would do that as a baseline to establish

what you can do when you’re well-rested.

And then if you do that in the morning,

you can see whether or not you’re able to generate

the same amount of force,

or you could use the rubber donut or something.

A lot of this is very subjective.

With the scale, you’re really trying to assess

whether or not you can generate the same amount of force.

If you start seeing a 10% or 20%,

certainly reduction in that, that’s concerning.

It means that your system,

that your nervous system as a whole,

it’s not necessarily fatigued.

It’s that the pathways from nerve to muscle

are still in the process of rewiring themselves

in order to generate force.

And you might think, well, I trained one muscle group one day.

Why am I having a hard time doing this

for a completely different muscle group?

Doesn’t make any sense.

But there’s something about the upper motor neuron

to lower motor neuron pathway generally

that allows you to use something like grip strength

as a kind of a thermometer, if you will,

of your ability to recover.

So look for your ability to generate force in grip

when you first wake up.

It’s not going to be as good as it is at 3 p.m.

after a cup of coffee and a couple meals,

but the point isn’t performance overall.

The point is to assess whether or not you’re getting better,

worse, or the same from day to day.

The other one that’s really terrific,

and the Andy Galpin’s group is using,

and I’m delighted about this

because it relates to something

that my lab is very excited about as well,

is carbon dioxide tolerance.

So this is a really interesting tool

that endurance athletes, strength athletes,

I think can all benefit from.

In fact, athletes and people of all kinds,

even if you’re not an athlete,

even if you’re not exercising at all,

there’s a good question of whether or not

your system as a whole is doing okay or not.

You know, we rely on the thermometer.

Do we have a fever or not?

We rely on subjective things.

You know, do I feel good or not?

Am I digesting well or not?

Those are all subjective.

The carbon dioxide tolerance test is,

it’s objective in that it measures your capacity

to engage the so-called parasympathetic arm

of your nervous system,

which is the calming aspect of your nervous system,

and it measures your ability to consciously control

a particular skeletal muscle, which is your diaphragm.

So here’s how you do the carbon dioxide tolerance test.

You wake up in the morning.

If you have to use the restroom first, do that,

but try and stay away from your phone.

Try and, if you have your phone, put it on airplane mode,

go to the timer or use a hand watch

or some other way of measuring time.

Stay off social media for just a few seconds.

It’ll be okay.

And what you’re going to do is you’re going to inhale

through your nose as deeply as you can.

You can do this lying down, you know, sitting, whatever.

Inhale through your nose and then exhale all the way.

So that’s one.

You’re going to repeat that four times, okay?

So inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale.

Exhale, inhale, exhale, four times.

And ideally you’re inhaling through the nose

and you’re exhaling through the mouth.

That’s just the beginning

of this carbon dioxide tolerance test.

Then you take a fifth inhale as deep as you can

through your nose, fill your lungs as much as you can.

And if you can try and expand your,

make your stomach go out while you do that,

that means that your diaphragm is really engaged.

So you’re inhaling as much as you possibly can.

Then hit the timer.

And your goal is to release that air

as slowly as possible through your mouth.

So it looks like you have a tiny, tiny little straw

in your mouth and you’re letting it go

as slowly as you possibly can.

Measure what we call the carbon dioxide blow-off time

or discard rate.

I know you can all sit with lungs empty

after you eliminate all that air,

but don’t lie to yourself.

Don’t stop the timer when you’ve been sitting

with your lungs empty for a while.

Stop the timer when you are finally no longer able

to exhale any more air.

Okay, so four.

So you do inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale,

inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale slowly.

I just said it quickly for sake of time.

Then you do this fifth big inhale through your mouth

and then,

and I’m not going to do it for the full duration.

And then you’re measuring that time.

Your carbon dioxide discard rate will be somewhere

between one second and presumably two minutes.

Two minutes would be a heroic carbon dioxide discard time.

30 seconds would be more typical.

20 seconds would be fast.

If your carbon dioxide discard time is 20

or 25 seconds or less,

you are not necessarily recovered

from your previous day’s activities.

Okay, there’s ways to push through this,

but hold onto that thought for a moment.

If your carbon dioxide discard time is somewhere

between about 30 seconds and 60 seconds,

you are in what we would call kind of the green zone

where you are in a position to do more physical work.

And if your carbon dioxide discard time is somewhere

between 65 and 120 seconds,

well then you have almost certainly

recovered your nervous system.

I’m not talking about the individual muscles,

but your nervous system is prepared to do more work.

And Andy’s lab has great data on this

as it relates to exercise physiology.

I think that story should be out

in the not too distant future.

My lab has been using carbon dioxide discard time

to look at anxiety and recovery from bouts of anxiety.

So two totally independent projects,

but using the same measure.

So you’ve got HRV, which requires some technology usually.

You’ve got grip strength,

which you can assess subjectively

or you can use a floor scale.

And now you have carbon dioxide tolerance.

You want to do this in the morning when you wake up

and keep track, just write down in a little book

or maybe just keep track in your mind

of your carbon dioxide discard time.

If you find that your discard times are dropping,

even if they’re in the 40 second range or 50 second range,

but normally you can do 75 seconds or 120 seconds.

If they’re starting to drop by anywhere from 15 to 20%,

you’re veering in the direction of not recovering.

And I’m really keen on this tool

because everybody has different recovery abilities.

Some people are eating really well

and sleeping really well.

Some people have minimal stress

or can buffer stress really well.

Other people, they dissolve into a puddle of tears

if they read one text message that’s troubling or whatever.

And I realize, and I say that with sympathy,

I realize people have varying levels of stress

and demand in their life.

It’s just impossible to prescribe an entire protocol

that says, okay, yes, you should train today.

And this is exactly what you should do.

No, you shouldn’t.

Use carbon dioxide discard rate

because A, it’s valuable, it’s informative.

B, it’s zero cost.

And C, it’s something that you can track objectively

over time.

And that’s really the key.

And I just should, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say

that what carbon dioxide discard rate is tapping into

is your ability to mechanically control your diaphragm.

Certainly that’s one aspect of it,

but that relates in a very direct way

to your ability to put the brake on your stress system,

to engage the so-called parasympathetic

or calming arm of your autonomic nervous system.

And another thing that Andy Galpin’s group is testing

is at the offset of training after your run,

after your weight training session,

maybe even after your plyometrics session,

we didn’t really talk about jumping and throwing

and that sort of thing.

Maybe we’ll talk about it in a future episode,

but they and other groups, including some elite athletes

and other groups that are very interested

in physical performance are using a tool

where they deliberately disengage for five minutes

at the end of training.

They deliberately engage this calming

or parasympathetic arm of the nervous system.

And you can do that through any number of different tools.

I’m a big fan of respiration tools

because they’re always available to you.

Your breathing is always there.

I talk about some of these tools in previous episodes,

but you could use things like non-sleep deep rest,

NSDR at the end of a training session.

You could do 10 physiological size,

double inhales through the nose, followed by long exhales.

That will definitely engage

the parasympathetic nervous system at the end of training.

So rather than finish your training session

and then just hop onto your phone,

serious athletes and people who are serious about recovery

initiate that recovery at the very end of their training.

And they start to kickstart that recovery process rather,

and they measure CO2 tolerance in the morning.

So there are several groups that are doing that.

In fact, I know several groups because I’m working with them

that are using physiological size between sets

in order to recover their nervous system

and maintain nerve to muscle contractibility,

maintain focus throughout their training session,

enhance their focus by doing a few physiological size.

So double inhale, exhale in between sets.

So they’re getting very focused and very intense

about their strength work or explosiveness work

or muscle isolation work during their sets.

And then in between sets,

they’re deliberately disengaging the nervous system

and then they’re re-engaging it again.

So I just wanted to emphasize that.

So recovery is a complex process.

It’s got a lot of things,

but the CO2 tolerance test should be a valuable tool.

Now, another tool for recovery

that people are very excited about

is the use of cold and the ice bath.

And this is important.

If you are somebody who uses cold through cold shower

or ice bath or jumping in a lake or a river,

whatever it is that you use to generate cold

as a recovery tool,

you should be aware that there are data starting to emerge

that if your goal is recovery or strength improvements,

using cold within the four hours following a workout,

I’m not talking about Palmer cooling,

I’m talking about whole body cooling

or cooling from the neck down.

Yes, it will reduce inflammation.

Yes, it will reduce the amount

of delayed onset muscle soreness.

One readout of how intense or damaging a given workout was,

not the only readout.

But it does seem to interfere

with some of the things like mTOR pathways,

the mammalian targeted rapamycin pathway

and other pathways related to inflammation

that promote muscle repair, remember, and muscle growth.

Remember, stress, tension, and damage

are the stimulus for nerve to muscle connections to change

and for muscles to get bigger, stronger, and better.

And so if you’re getting into the ice bath after training

or taking a really cold shower

after doing resistance training,

you are likely short-circuiting the improvements

that you’re trying to create.

Now, athletes who are trying to recover quickly

so that they can get back into more training sessions,

or let’s say you’re somebody who doesn’t really want

to gain much strength or hypertrophy,

and you’re mainly focused on endurance

and you want to do more endurance work

and you’ve been weight training,

well, then exposing yourself to cold can be beneficial,

but you’re not going to get as great of benefits

from the resistance training.

In other words, cold after resistance training

seems to short-circuit some of the benefits

of that resistance training.

There are some other things that can short-circuit

the benefits of resistance training as well.

One of those is antihistamines.

Some interesting data were published recently,

I believe it was in scientific reports, yes,

that showed that antihistamines can prevent

some of the benefits of cardiovascular exercise,

of endurance-type work, so running, swimming,

fairly long duration, or even sprint-type work,

as well as inhibit some of the processes

associated with resistance training.

Remember, resistance training or endurance training,

that’s a stimulus for stress,

and the adaptation to that stress is how you get better,

that you can run further, faster, lift more weight,

hypertrophy the muscle, et cetera.

So antihistamines can be a problem.

Obviously, don’t compromise your ability

to breathe completely, but antihistamines

generally work by blocking what are called mast cells, M-A-S-T.

Mast cells are really interesting cells

that we’ll talk about in our month on neuroimmune function.

They travel in the bloodstream,

and they’re these little packets

that burst open at sites of inflammation.

Muscle damage and inflammation is a signal

that something needs to change,

and so taking antihistamines, it appears,

can disrupt some of that inflammatory process.

So you actually want inflammation

during and immediately after a workout,

then you want to bring inflammation down later,

and I’ll mention how to do that.

The other thing are non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs.

You know their trade names.

These are painkillers that many people take.

Those, as I’ve mentioned in a previous episode,

can interfere with the benefits of endurance training

and the benefits of resistance training.

In addition to that, they block pain signals,

and pain is a very good signal

that you might be doing something wrong,

and so while nobody likes to be in pain,

I suppose there are probably a few people out there

that like to be in pain, but that’s a different story,

but nobody likes to be in pain,

the non-steroid anti-inflammatories, the NSAIDs,

as they’re called, and the antihistamines

seem to prevent a lot of the gains,

the improvements in endurance strength and size

that people are specifically using exercise for.

So be cautious about your use

of non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs,

especially within the four hours preceding

or the four hours following exercise.

So I hope you’re starting to get the picture.

In order to change the nerve to muscle connectivity

in ways that will better serve you,

you need a stressor during the actual training.

Which particular stressor depends on your training goals,

but that stressor is almost always going to be associated

with inflammation, and then after the training,

you want to try and get into a state of reduced inflammation,

and that’s why you would do some sort of protocol,

non-sleep deep rest, which we will link to in our caption,

or perhaps you would use the hypnosis app

that we’ve talked about before, reveree,

There’s a great app for accessing deep rest states

or the physiological side to try and get the system,

your system to calm down after training.

There are also tools that one can use to reduce inflammation

at a kind of foundational level away from training.

And these are tools that I’ve talked about

many times before, but I’ll just restate them again.

The kind of golden three, according to Andy Galpin,

and the ones that he recommends are sufficient omega-3s.

Again, that can be accomplished through diet,

through whole food intake, or through supplementation,

or both, so in general, getting above 1,000 milligrams

of EPA per day to keep inflammation low or relatively low.

Vitamin D, and in some cases, magnesium malate.

Magnesium malate seems to be particularly effective

in offsetting delayed onset muscle soreness.

Soreness itself is not required

for improvements in strength,

improvements in explosiveness, improvements in hypertrophy.

That’s a myth.

Now, if you do experience delayed onset muscle soreness,

chances are you stressed that particular muscle pretty well,

or even maybe too well.

Maybe you stressed it too much and you need longer recovery.

There’s a total debate out there

about whether or not you should train again

when a muscle is still sore.

I think the general takeaway is no,

that means it’s not recovered.

And there are things, of course, like massage,

like fascial release, and things of that sort,

sauna, cold, that can perhaps accelerate

the movement from soreness to not sore.

But in general, the omega-3, vitamin D,

and magnesium malate trio seem to be an effective way

to reduce inflammation at kind of a systemic level.

But remember, you want inflammation

provided you’re not damaging the muscle so much

that you’re injured during the training session

because that’s the stimulus for change in those muscles.

I want to talk about a few other things

that support the process of nerve to muscle communication

and touch on some of the things

that a lot of people are doing

to try and quote-unquote enhance their workouts

and evaluate whether or not those are, in fact,

enhancing workouts or not.

Because weight training,

unlike a lot of other forms of exercise,

has a unique aspect to it,

which is this feature that I guess

some people call it the pump,

which is the fact that blood goes into the muscle

when you train.

It’s the only kind of training

where you actually get a window

into what the result might actually look like

before you actually accomplish that result.

So if you think about when you go out for a hard run

and let’s say you go out for a two-mile run,

let’s say your goal is to break,

you want to do a sub-10 two-mile.

Actually, when I went to university,

I was running cross-country my senior year of high school

and I wanted to walk on for the cross-country team.

And so I went out there

and it turned out you had to do a sub-10 two-mile.

And I think the best mile I ever ran in high school

was a 457, which isn’t terrible.

I can’t do that now.

It’s not even close to what high school athletes,

the best high school athletes can do now.

But that would have meant doing it back-to-back.

So a sub-10 minute two-mile didn’t even come close.

I told Costello this story the other day

and he just kind of laughed at me.

He was like, why would you even want to run two miles?

Because Costello is built almost exclusively

of these type two fast twitch muscles.

They’re designed for moving objects.

He’s incredibly strong.

He has been since he was a puppy.

I mean, that dog could probably drag a tractor

if he wanted to, but he can’t really go far.

Whereas a greyhound or a whippet

or some of these other sight hounds or scent hounds

can go, go, go.

They have a higher percentage

of the so-called slow twitch muscle fibers.

They are much better at endurance.

So a sub-10 two-mile would have been very, very challenging.

No chance I could have done that, I don’t think,

even with a lot of training.

But let’s say that you want to improve your performance

in a given type of exercise.

Let’s talk about some of the things

that seem to work across the board

to improve strength, improve hypertrophy,

and improve nerve to muscle communication and performance.

The first thing that’s absolutely key

for nerve to muscle communication

and physical performance of any kind

might not sound that exciting to you,

but it is very exciting, and that’s salt.

Nerves, nerve cells, neurons, communicate with each other

and communicate with muscle by electricity.

But that electricity is generated by particular ions

moving into and out of the neuron.

And the rushing in of a particular ion, sodium, salt,

is what allows nerve cells to fire.

If you don’t have enough salt in your system,

your neurons and your brain

and your nerve to muscle communication will be terrible.

If you have sufficient salt, it will be excellent.

How much salt will depend on how much water you’re drinking,

how much caffeine you’re drinking,

and how much food you’re ingesting.

So, and whether or not you’re taking any diuretics,

how hot it is, et cetera, how much you’re sweating.

So you want to make sure that you have enough salt,

potassium, and magnesium in your system

if you want to perform well.

I realize that salt isn’t a very glamorous performance tool,

but it is vital.

It is absolutely vital.

And the endurance athletes

and the people that train in high heat

can speak to the fact that when your electrolytes are low,

your brain doesn’t function,

your body doesn’t function nearly as well.

In fact, even for mental work,

for studying and for writing and for doing math and coding,

doing analytic work of any kind,

even a hard conversation that’s important to you,

having sufficient electrolytes is really going to help

and being low on electrolytes won’t help.

And just drinking water won’t help

because you need electrolytes.

The other thing that’s been shown over and over again,

in numerous well-controlled studies

to improve muscle performance is creatine.

Early on, there was a lot of controversy about creatine,

but there are many studies.

If you want, you can go to this website

that everyone now knows I love,

which is this free website,,

that there are no fewer than 18 studies there, 66 studies.

So 18 studies supporting that muscle creatine content

can be increased by ingesting creatine.

How much creatine?

Well, I asked the experts,

and they tell me that for somebody who’s about 180 pounds,

five grams a day should be sufficient or so.

Heavier than 180, so if you get like,

if you’re a 220 pound or 230 pound person,

10 to 15 grams of creatine.

People lighter than 180 pounds,

maybe three to five grams of protein, excuse me, creatine,

or even one to three grams.

Creatine is a fuel source for early inbouts of activity,

for high intensity activity.

It is also a fuel source for neurons in the brain,

and it can have some cognitive enhancing effects.

So creatine is a very interesting molecule.

Early on, when it was released as a supplement,

it was thought that you had to load it

in higher dosages for a few days

and then maintain it at lower dosages.

So you’d take 20 or 30 grams a day,

then back off to five or 10.

It doesn’t seem to be the case

that you can get all the benefits

from taking the dosages at the low level.

I just mentioned a few moments ago

as they relate to body weight throughout.

So salt and electrolytes, absolutely key.

You need those present.

You need to be well hydrated.

Creatine seems to have a performance enhancing effect.

There are 66 studies, 66,

showing that power output is greatly increased,

anywhere from 12 to 20%.

And this is sprinting and running and jumping

as well as weightlifting by creatine.

The ability to hydrate your body is improved by creatine

because of the way that it brings more water

into cells of various kinds.

As an indirect effect, it can help increase lean mass

because of the way that it brings more water into muscle

and probably also because of the way

that if you get stronger,

you can generate more force and generate more hypertrophy.

It reduces fatigue.

Seven studies have shown that it reduces fatigue.

There are even some interesting effects

on improving cognition after traumatic brain injury,

although that’s a serious medical condition in situations,

you absolutely should talk to a board certified physician

before adding anything

or taking anything out of your current regimen.

There are a few other effects

that are interesting and notable,

but the big ones are the ones that I referred to before

about increased power output, et cetera.

And I just want to emphasize

that creatine can increase this hormone

that we talked about in the testosterone episode,


which is testosterone converted by 5-alpha reductase

into dihydrotestosterone.

It’s the more dominant androgen in humans,

leads to increases in strength and libido and so forth.

It also can increase male pattern baldness.

Some people, not everybody,

experience some hair loss with creatine.

Other people don’t.

Some people experience accelerated beard growth

because basically DHT has the opposite effect

on hair follicles on the face as it does on the scalp.

Some people don’t.

Women who ingest creatine,

there are essentially no data showing

that it increases hair loss or facial hair growth,

but of course, everyone is different.

So you can go to

You can explore those studies.

So creatine, definitely a powerful

performance enhancing molecule.

The other one, one that personally I’ve never tried,

but that seems to have a very strong

and well-supported effects is beta-alanine.

Now, beta-alanine is interesting

because when you hear about weight training,

you think about heavy deadlifts and bench presses,

all that kind of stuff that people are doing.

But beta-alanine seems to support exercise

that is of slightly longer duration.

So a mix of anaerobic and aerobic type movements.

So things, these are physical performance

in the 60 to 240 second range.

So you can use your mind and kind of figure out,

you know, like things that weights of the,

that limit you to eight to 15 repetitions.

Cardiovascular exercise of the sort

like rowing or sprinting.

So interval work, it seems to help with that kind of work.

So we’re not talking about long runs.

We’re not talking about heavy deadlifts.

The standard dose is somewhere between two and five grams.

Again, as always, check with a doctor,

make sure these things are safe for you.

I’m not responsible for your health.

You are, I don’t say that just to protect me.

I would say that also to protect you.

But it really seems to improve muscular endurance,

improve anaerobic running capacity, reduce fatigue.

There are even some interesting effects

on reduction of body fat and improvements in lean mass.

So creatine, beta-alanine, electrolytes.

These are kind of the core three things

that seem to improve performance

and are well supported by the scientific literature.

And in the earlier episode on supercharging performance,

we talked about Palmer cooling.

That’s certainly a performance enhancing tool.

It’s nothing you ingest.

You’re cooling your palms in a very specific way.

That’s very powerful.

Now, what about for longer duration bouts of exercise?

We’ve mainly been focusing on resistance training,

but what about for long runs, long swims,

these kinds of things?

Well, it does seem that beet juice

and ingesting things like arginine and citrulline

can improve performance for those long bouts of exercise.

That’s mainly going to be due to effects

of those compounds on vasodilation.

It’s going to open up the vasculature

and allow more blood flow.

Do note that things like citrulline and arginine

can have some side effects, if you will.

They can increase the likelihood

of having herpes cold sore outbreaks on the mouth.

The arginine is in the pathway by which,

I don’t know if people know this,

but the herpes virus lives on neurons

of the trigeminal nerve that innervate the lips

and the eyes and the mucous membranes of the face.

So this is the herpes type one simplex virus.

The virus lives on those neurons

and then periodically inflames those neurons,

and that’s what leads to the cold sore.

It seems like arginine and citrulline

can lead to increases in cold sores

and canker sores and outbreaks of those kinds.

So you want to be aware of that.

That’s not everybody, and not everybody is carrying HSV-1.

Just be aware that I think it’s now 80 or 90% of people,

by time they’re 12 years old, they’ve contracted HSV-1.

It’s very contagious.

And typically people will get one outbreak

and then only under conditions of stress

or heightened arginine or citrulline ingestion

will have them later.

Again, this is not necessarily a sexually, an STI.

This is a sexually transmitted infection.

This is an infection that is passed very easily

from mucous membranes,

just in terms of touching objects and things of that sort.

Very common in the general population.

Any discussion about muscle and muscle performance

would not be adequate

if we didn’t mention something about nutrition,

but rather than have a whole discussion about nutrition,

because there’s lots of information about that online,

like for instance, if you want to gain muscle,

that you need to have a caloric surplus

of about 10 to 15%.

You could have a caloric surplus of more

if you want to avoid gaining weight,

then you would not create a caloric surplus, et cetera.

You can find all that information online.

That’s not what this podcast is really about.

We had a month where we talked a lot about hormones

and food and moods.

We talked about foods,

but more as they relate to the nervous system.

When it comes to supporting muscle,

to supporting the synthesis of larger,

what I called myosin balloons,

it does seem that ingesting 700 to 3,000 milligrams

of the essential amino acid leucine

with each meal is important.

Now, that does not necessarily mean from supplements.

In fact, most people recommend that you get your protein,

you get your amino acids,

including your essential amino acids

and your leucine from whole foods,

high quality proteins, high density proteins.

What do you mean by that?

Well, it is true that a lot of sources of protein

are found in things like beans and nuts

and things like that,

that all the essential amino acids can be found there.

But per unit calorie, if it’s in your practice,

if it’s in your ethics to ingest animal proteins,

it’s true that for instance,

200 calories of steak or chicken or fish or eggs

will have a higher density of essential amino acids

than the equivalent amount of calories from nuts or plants.

That’s just simply the way it works.

So I’m not, for the vegans and vegetarians,

I’m certainly not saying there’s no way

that you can support muscle growth.

You absolutely can.

Some of them might want to supplement leucine,

but this 700 to 3,000 milligrams of leucine per meal

is one of the best ways that’s been shown

to support the synthesis of more myosin

if your goal is hypertrophy.

And it’s also the way that you would support muscle repair

if your goal is strength.

So that’s specifically geared

towards muscle hypertrophy and strength.

And I encourage you to think about this

protein density issue

and whether or not you ingest animal proteins or you don’t

to think about whether or not you’re getting

sufficient essential amino acids, especially leucine.

Now, many people have addressed the question

of whether or not you need to eat six or seven times a day.

It turns out that you don’t.

That’s kind of the old school thinking

that you need to eat very frequently.

I think for certain athletes who are very active

for drug-assisted,

meaning people that are enhancing their testosterone levels

to super physiological levels,

where they are experiencing very heightened levels

of protein synthesis and they can utilize all that,

that might make sense.

Again, I’m not supporting the use

of those performance enhancing drugs,

but there are people doing that.

And that’s one of the reasons why they eat so frequently

and so much protein.

For typical people who are not doing that,

I imagine most of you are not,

then it does appear that you need to eat,

but you don’t need to eat six or seven times a day.

It does seem like not eating once a day is also important.

So somewhere between one meal a day and six meals a day

lies the more reasonable two or three

or maybe four times a day.

I think that a whole discussion about this is warranted

and we’ll have this discussion with Dr. Galpin

at a future time of how,

whether or not eating protein more frequently

can enhance this myosin synthesis.

But I think the simple takeaway from the literature

that I was able to extract and from my discussion with him

is eating two to four times a day,

making sure you’re getting sufficient amino acids

in a way that’s compatible with your ethics

and with your nutritional regimen

is going to support muscle repair, muscle growth,

strength improvements, et cetera, just fine.

There’s one more thing that I’d like to cover,

which is the relationship

between particular kinds of exercise

and our ability to think and perform cognitive functions.

We all hear that exercise is so vital for our brain

that it supports our brain health and our body health.

And indeed that’s true, provided it’s done correctly.

However, many of us are familiar with the experience

of going for a run or going for a swim

or working out hard in the gym

and then not being able to use our brain

to be essentially useless for cognitive functions

for the rest of the day.

I discussed this with Dr. Galpin this morning

and I learned something very interesting,

which is that hard bouts of exercise

of the sort where you’re training near failure

or you’re generating focused muscular contractions

for a session that lasts anywhere from, I don’t know,

30, 45 minutes, maybe 60 minutes,

or a long run where you’re engaging

in some interval training during that run.

After exercise,

there’s a reduction in oxygenation of the brain.

So there’s actually a quite significant dip

in the amount of oxygen that your neurons are getting

and therefore your ability to think.

So it’s important that you control the intensity

and the duration of your training sessions

so that you’re still able to do well in life

and lean into life the way you need to,

because I’m guessing most of you are not in a position

to just prioritize your physical training.

You also need to use your minds.

I’m certainly familiar with wanting to get exercise,

but also the requirement of needing to perform

cognitive work throughout the day.

It also turns out that you can leverage something

interesting about exercise and nerve to muscle work

in ways that can benefit cognitive function and focus.

And it has to do with the way that your body

and your nervous system predict bouts

of intense focused effort.

So let’s say you’re doing resistance training

two or three times a week, maybe even four times a week,

and you’re doing it consistently at a given time.

There are clocks, literally biological clocks

within the liver and within the brain

that learn to predict that focus and that intense work.

If you are trying to get intense cognitive work done,

you might try scheduling that cognitive work

on the days when you don’t do physical training

at the same time when you normally would do

that intense focused physical training.

Because the systems of the body that generate

acetylcholine release and other neuromodulators,

the systems of the body and brain

that generate focused effort,

those are on this sort of clock mechanism

in a way that you likely will find

that after just a week of training at regular times,

you will be able to focus readily on other things

when you’re not training,

provided you do it during the period of time of day

when you normally would train.

So this is kind of an indirect positive effect.

You’re harnessing the focus and the expectation of focus

in your nervous system for that particular time of day.

And of course, we’d be remiss

if we didn’t talk about time of day for training.

Turns out that whether or not you do,

whether or not you train in the morning or in the afternoon,

doesn’t really seem to matter

for sake of things like hypertrophy and strength, et cetera.

Everyone seems to have a time of day

that they prefer to train.

I’ve said before,

and there are reasons based on body temperature rhythms

and cortisol release that training 30 minutes,

three hours or 11 hours after your normal waking time

can be very beneficial

and can provide a sort of predictability or regularity

to when your body will be ready to train

and best apt to train well.

There is some evidence that training in the afternoon

is better for performance,

whereas training for body composition changes

and strength changes, et cetera,

doesn’t really matter when you train.

So you also want to make it compatible with sleep,

compatible with work.

That really gets down into the weeds of optimization.

But I think it’s interesting to note

that if you’re going to train at a regular time,

you can take the days when you don’t train

and use that to enhance your cognitive focus

for things that have nothing to do with exercise.

So this might be writing or reading

or music or math, et cetera.

Typically, I restrict these podcast episodes

to about 90 minutes,

so-called ultradian cycle for learning.

Today was a bit longer.

And I admit that I tried to pack a lot into this.

It is the last episode in this month

on physical performance.

I figured in this case, more is better,

especially since everything is timestamped for you.

You certainly don’t have to watch it all at once.

And you can come back to it over and over again

and to the precise locations in the episode that you like

in order to take notes

or extract the information that you need.

I’d like to point you to Dr. Andy Galpin’s page.

I highly recommend looking into the work that he’s doing

if you want more details.

He’s very, very skilled, excellent communicator.

He’s superb at what he does.

He’s a professor.

He works with athletes.

He works with typical folks

in the exercise and muscle physiology world.

Brad Schoenfield’s work, I also have a lot of respect for.

I’ve never met him.

I don’t know him.

There’s no paid endorsement here.

They’re not sponsors or related to the podcast in any way.

I just think the work is of very high quality

and they are both on the academic side

and the practical side.

And of course, there are other people out there

doing fabulous work in this area as well.

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The way this podcast is set up,

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So the episodes on sleep, for instance,

that were way back in January,

what seems like way back,

are still every bit as relevant today

as they were back in January

for somebody that has challenges with sleep

and wants to understand sleep and get better at sleep,

or wants to understand their dreams

or how to use sleep and dreaming

to leverage neuroplasticity and learning.

So if you pass information along about the podcast,

that’s great.

And as always, please put your questions

about the podcast episodes

and suggestions for future episodes

in the comment section.

I really do read through all those comments.

It takes me some time, but I do read through those.

I reply to as many of them as I can,

but I do read them

and they’re a great way for us to get feedback.

On Apple, you can give us a five-star review

if you think we deserve that.

And if you want to do all these things you’re welcome to,

if you want to do just one of them, we understand.

And if you do none of them,

we still appreciate that you come here

to digest the information

about science and science-related tools.

And as mentioned at the beginning of today’s episode,

we are now partnered with Momentus Supplements

because they make single ingredient formulations

that are of the absolute highest quality

and they ship international.

If you go to slash Huberman,

you will find many of the supplements

that have been discussed on various episodes

of the Huberman Lab Podcast,

and you will find various protocols

related to those supplements.

Last but not least,

I want to thank you for your time and attention today.

And as always, thank you for your interest in science.


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