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The Official Newsletter of
updated: March 25, 2014

The Secret to Maximum Muscle Growth...Without Drugs!

by Ron Brown, Ph.D., author of The Body Fat Guide 

"Ron Brown is a certified fitness trainer who doesn't have an inch of flab on his body. He'll tell you what you can do to become fit and trim too." 
Washington DC


HARD WORK! There it is, folks; the secret to maximum muscle growth without drugs, revealed! Work out as hard as you can, eat right, and get plenty of rest to recover and grow muscle. Disappointed? Nothing new? Well, read on and you may soon realize that how you define "hard work" is a lot different than how some scientists define it.

One can only develop a Herculean body through Herculean effort. There are no shortcuts. Either you work as hard as Hercules, or you can forget about looking like Hercules. So how do you apply a Herculean effort to your workouts? Most people associate Hercules and more contemporary strongmen with feats of strength, like lifting heavy weights, pulling trolley cars with their teeth, and tearing phone books in half. These feats require intense muscle contraction for relatively short periods of time, and that's how most people train in the gym for muscle size, using heavy weights and low repetitions of around 6-10 reps per set. But this article will present evidence-based research that explains why training with short periods of intense muscle contraction is not the best way to induce optimal muscle size or muscle hypertrophy.

Work-induced hypertrophy of skeletal muscle has been demonstrated in many laboratory animals (Goldberg et al., 1975; Goldspink & Howells, 1974). For example, disable the nerve to a muscle in a frog's leg and let it hop around all day on its healthy leg. Soon, those muscles in the frog's healthy leg will have grown to almost twice their original size from doing twice their normal amount of work. The greater amount of work performed by a test subject, the greater the induced muscle hypertrophy. This finding is consistent with the idea that it takes a Herculean amount of work to develop a Herculean body. Work itself is defined more specifically as force times distance, which is equivalent to lifting a weight repetitively. 

Power, on the other hand, is defined as work divided time. Thus, strongmen feats require lots of power because a great amount of work is performed over a short amount of time. However, notice that power is not a necessary factor in work-induced hypertrophy...only the overall amount of work counts in producing muscle hypertrophy! In other words, the frog didn't have to perform any exceptional feats of strength to stimulate its leg muscle growth; it just had to hop around all day on one leg to compensate for its disabled leg, thus performing a greater volume of work than usual with its active leg. Ever notice the outstanding size of a sprinter's thighs, a basketball player's shoulders, a tennis player's serving arm? These athletes perform a high volume of work against moderate resistance. Gymnasts perform many repetitions training for their athletic routines, and they acquire massive muscle size.

Studies show that lifting a lighter load of weight over a higher number or volume of sets is more effective in stimulating muscle growth than lifting a heavier load of weight over lower volumes of sets. Burd et al. (2010) found that low-load high-volume training (LLHV) stimulated more muscle protein synthesis compared to conventional high-load low-volume training. The best explanation for this finding is that more overall work is associated with LLHV training. You can easily demonstrate this by performing a short experiment in the gym. 

Grab a pair of dumbbells that you can curl with your arms for about 10 reps. Multiple the combined weight of the dumbbells by the number of repetitions you perform in the set and call that the total number of rep-pounds, which represents the total amount of work you performed for that particular exercise. For example, say you grab a pair of 30-pound dumbbells and curl them for 10 reps. Multiple the combined weight of the dumbbells (60 pounds) by the number of repetitions (10) for 600 rep-pounds. You did 600 rep-pounds of work for that exercise. If you can raise the number of rep-pounds of work per set, you will do more work and stimulate more muscle growth. Most people attempt to perform more work by adding more weight, but research shows that lifting lighter loads for higher volumes is more effective for stimulating muscle growth. This implies that we should be able to generate a higher number of rep-pounds per set using a comparatively lighter weight and more reps. Let's try this method on our next set and compare our results in rep-pounds.

Grab a pair of dumbbells that is half the amount of weight you used previously. So in our example, grab a pair of 15-pound dumbbells. Feels weird already, right? It seems to go against your instinct that lifting such a comparatively lighter weight could be as effective in stimulating muscle growth, but begin lifting. You will probably start laughing as you feel the ease of those first repetitions, especially if you are used to lifting slowly, so pick up speed when performing your movements and notice something begin to happen at around repetition number 20 or so.

Your muscles will begin to feel pumped up and almost ready to explode with blood and burning lactic acid as you begin to hit a wall in your effort. Keep going: 25 reps, 30, finally quit exhausted at 40 reps! Now, let's calculate the rep-pounds. Multiple the combined weight of the dumbbells (30 pounds) by the number of repetitions (40) for 1200 rep-pounds. You did 1200 rep-pounds of work compared to 600 rep-pounds the previous set—TWICE THE WORK! Twice the work with only half the weight, and twice the stimulation for muscle growth! 


Remember, work-induced hypertrophy of skeletal muscle depends on the overall amount or volume of work you perform. Think of increasing the amount of work in your workout as if you were in a contest to see how many gold bars you could load into a cart within half an hour to keep for yourself. Are you going to struggle to slowly load a few huge masses of gold and take lots of time off in between to catch your breathe, relax, and gab with your friends at the water fountain? Or are you going to waste valuable time collecting tiny amounts of gold nuggets and gold dust? No, to get the greatest amount of work done and collect the greatest amount of gold, your instincts should tell you to quickly move as many moderate size gold bars for as long as you can. Start to incorporate this "gold standard" of thinking into your training and observe the results.

The following table shows an example of how work (rep-pounds) increases as you reduce the load (weight) and increase the volume (reps). Compare the difference in rep-pounds between lifting 100 pounds 8 times and lifting 35 pounds 100 times...that's 800 rep-pounds versus 3,500 rep-pounds! It's no wonder that with all your heavy lifting you still feel like you need to take steroids to grow!

Weight (lbs.) Reps Rep-Pounds
100 8 800
90 12 1080
80 20 1600
70 35 2450
55 50 2750
40 75 3000
35 100 3500

If you usually perform 3 sets of 8 reps, try lifting about one-third of your usual weight for 3 sets of 50-100 reps. Make sure the weight is just heavy enough so that you reach failure by the end of each set, the point where the muscle is too exhausted to complete an additional rep. LLHV training is not effective if the load is too low. For example, we can walk for hours and hours, but that is not the best way to build leg muscles. Because the load in LLHV training has to be sufficiently heavy to eventually cause muscle failure, the point where your muscle is too congested with lactic acid to move anymore, it may be a good idea to refer to LLHV training as low-load high-volume training to failure

Also, don't forget to put more speed into lighter movements, allowing you to get more work done in less time! Mr. Olympia Jay Cutler said, "You have to have one or the other; either you're gonna' do less weight, more repetitions, and less sets, or you're gonna' do a lot more sets, heavier weights, and less reps." Calculate your actual rep-pounds—you may be surprised by which method gets the most work done. 

Obviously, LLHV training burns lots of calories while stimulating muscle growth, so you may need to take more days off to avoid over-training and eat more to support growth, which is often not a problem for many bodybuilders who eat excessively while "bulking up." LLHV training also tends to bring out the shape and muscularity of muscle, burns more fat, increases cardiovascular fitness, and avoids joint problems that occur from lifting heavy weights. In addition, lighter, faster movements add a psychologically invigorating effect into your workouts that is often lacking with slow heavy movements. If you want to impress people by lifting huge weights, like a few quarter-reps on the leg press with 1,000 pounds, then stay with high-load training instead. But remember, unlike the old days, bodybuilders no longer win competitions by performing Olympic lifts to demonstrate their strength.

This article began by revealing that hard work is the secret to maximum muscle growth...without  drugs. A more detailed explanation of the secret shows that LLHV or low-load high-volume training to failure requires more work, and more work leads to greater muscle hypertrophy as part of a well-balanced training program that includes proper diet and rest. 


Burd, N. A., West, D. W. D., Staples, A. W., Atherton, P. J., Baker, J. M.,...& Phillips, S. M. ( 2010). Low-load high volume resistance exercise stimulates muscle protein synthesis more than high-load low volume resistance exercise in young men. PLoS ONE, 5, e12033, 1-12.

Goldberg, A. L., Etlinger, J.D., Goldspink, D.F., & Jablecki, C. (1975). Mechanism of work-induced hypertrophy of skeletal muscle. Med Sci Sports. 7(3):185-98.

Goldspink, G., & Howells, K. F. (1974). Work-induced hypertrophy in exercised normal muscles of different ages and the reversibility of hypertrophy after cessation of exercise. Journal of Physiology, 239, 179-193.

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