5 “Laws” of Muscle Building You Should Forget

Mike Wines
Written By: Mike Wines
August 11th, 2017
Updated: June 13th, 2020
23K Reads
5 “Laws” of Muscle Building You Should Forget
If you're going to break a law, break one of these 5 muscle building laws. The logic behind them is faulty and not helping you reach your goals any faster.

Unless you’re browsing the annuls of PubMed, you’re going to be hard pressed to find anything remotely new and unique in the fitness world.

Sure, exogenous ketones and carb cycling are hot right now but truth be told, some of it is more hype than help given one ends up majoring in the minors.

If you’re an avid reader of online fitness content, you’ve probably seen a fair amount of contradicting evidence.

Some claim carbs are the best thing since sliced bread (Hint: because they are. No but really, bread is a carb.), while others deny that carbs should even exist.

Rather than blast you with studies, I want to simplify the complex and give you something substantive you can walk away with.

1. Training Matters More than Lifestyle

Close but no cigar, chief. What constitutes ‘lifestyle’? Everything which doesn’t revolve around training and the art and science of building a better meat suit. In other words, nutrition, sleep, digestion, endocrine health, environment, stress management, and emotional well-being.

Related: Defeating DOMS: 5 Science Based Suggestions

In one of my previous articles, I laid out a fairly succinct pyramid which breaks all of this down into a somewhat easy to digest format. Here’s a recap in case you missed it:

The hierarchy of strength training diagram

Takeaway: Training is only one small piece of the puzzle. Without a synergistic lifestyle and environment (both in and outside the gym), you will be leaving most of your progress on the table.

2. “Broscience is dead, I’m ‘evidence based’, bro.”

I may be standing on an empirical soap box but this has become the rallying cry for many online fitness professionals. If there isn’t a study to back it up, they don’t want to hear about it. I understand the need for evidence and I’m all for testing hypotheses and substantiating theories.

But, we must be careful that we don’t “miss the forest through the trees” from time to time. Some of the best coaches and athletes in the world incorporate science but rely heavily on intuition garnered from experience.

Bro science works because doing so many little things that don’t really matter creates a wave of momentum that keeps people on task with the bigger important things, like working hard and being consistent.

Interestingly enough, it’s the know-it-alls who’ve reduced training to just “adding weight to the bar” and nutrition to just “calories in and calories out” that often achieve the worst results.” – Bryan Krahn

Takeaway: Just because you can’t prove something doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Take time to examine mechanisms and speak with others; you might be surprised by how many other coaches and lifters employ the same methods despite the lack of “peer reviewed evidence”.

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3. You Live or Die By Numbers

How much weight is on the bar? How many grams of protein should I eat post workout? How long should I rest between sets?

Everyone loves numbers and idea of absolutes. Recently, I had an interesting conversation with a buddy which cemented this idea even further into my mind. It went something like this:

Me: “You get a new Fitbit?”

Him: “Yeah, my work gave one to every employee.”

Me: “That’s cool, what are you planning to do with the data?”

Him: “What do you mean? I just think it’s cool to be able to see how many steps I’ve taken and what my heart rate is throughout the day.”

Related: The Future of Fitness - 5 Trends to Keep Your Eye On

At that point, I let the conversation trail off and changed topics because I could tell I had already lost him. But, it got me thinking, in our current culture of digital accomplishment and cyber rewards, have we lost the ability to read subjective signals from our own bodies?

Has technology taken the place of common sense and intuition? I’m not sure, but I think many folks unknowingly get lost in the numbers without even considering what their own body is trying to convey via various physiological systems.

“I’ve become much more process oriented and much less results oriented, which is extremely important for long-term success. If you live and die by numbers alone, you’re bound to get discouraged when you hit plateaus, which are inevitable the longer you keep at it.

Training (to me) used to be a means to an end but it’s morphed into an end in and of itself. I train for the sake of training.” – Ben Bruno

Takeaway: Technology and monitoring is helpful, but don’t get lost in the data. Numbers are meaningless without application. Know what you’re tracking, why you’re tracking it, and what you’re going to do with it.

Athlete focused on nutrient timing and numbers

4. Completely Dismissing Nutrient Timing

Muscle metabolism and endocrine discussion aside, I think intermittent fasting has gotten popular lately due to the dramatic increase in commitments within the average individual’s lifestyle.

Everyone always wants to add more, rather than take something away. They simply try to rationalize their stressful lifestyle with research rather than improving their productivity and time management. As one of my mentors wisely noted:

“’I have too much on my plate in the mornings. I’m too frazzled to eat’…are not depictions of fasting in its original intent. This is living life as a stressed-out monkey and a reason to change your habits and your life, not close down your food window. Don’t try to justify your perpetual bad decisions with research taken out of context.” – Dr. Ben House

Not only that, as I touched upon in a previous article, carb timing DURING workouts can play a marked role in endocrine and immune adaptations to a training session:

  • Lower prevalence of upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs)
  • Improve muscle glycogen (both during and after the session)
  • Blunted cortisol response
  • Improved T:C (testosterone:cortisol) ratio

Takeaway: Details matter, regardless of what some may suggest. The period around the training session is one of the largest windows of physiological adaptation, use it wisely.

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5. Training Frequency Determines Rate of Adaptation

#teamnodaysoff, right? If you’re crushing yourself daily in the hopes that it will double or triple your rate of physiological adaptation. I’ve got some bad news…

Steroids won’t be entering this conversation as they are the trump card for the above statement. If you’re sipping a cocktail of dianabol, methyltestosterone, and clomid, then we shouldn’t even be having this discussion. You should be training your face off because the drugs will make up for much of the intellectual “oversight” which many employ within training.

Related: Forget Steroids - 5 Full Body Workouts For Serious Gains

However, if you’re natural, then we need to consider each system’s SRA (Stimulus, Recovery, Adaptation) curve relative to the individual training session. You see, as you might have guessed, there are a myriad of systems involved during a training session.

Your musculoskeletal system is essentially a slave to your nervous system but the endocrine system supplies some of the “punch” to get your nervous system firing on all cylinders. Each system becomes taxed depending upon the volume and intensity of the homeostatic disruption and thus, you must take each into consideration when designing a training program.

Takeaway: Larger disruptions in homeostasis (i.e. higher intensities and volumes) will require longer SRA curves. If training is more infrequent, these disruptions can be larger due to the increased area under the “recovery” portion of the SRA curve.

However, if you try to push stimuli too close together without allowing specific systems (e.g. CNS, connective tissue, etc.) to complete their entire SRA curves, you will run into issues with central or peripheral maladaptation such as nonfunctional overreaching.

Train Hard, Think Harder

In the age of the internet, it’s easy to get caught up in a single mindset or methodology. Everyone claims to have the answer and rejects the notion that maybe, just maybe, they’re wrong. Be better, hold yourself to a higher standard, and ask the tough questions. If you don’t, who will?

“We live in an age of information and accountability. If you are stupid, you are easily replaceable. Be an intellectual savage who does not accept ordinary, mundane, or low level things in your life.” – Pat Davidson

Think critically, challenge everything.