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Anabolic Radio EP. 2: Dr. Scott Stevenson Maximizing Muscle Growth - Understanding Principles

Posted by Issac Ishak on



When you understand the principle behind an exercise or protocol you can approach a problem with more solutions.

When you understand the principle you have a deeper understanding.

In this episode of Anabolic Radio I had the pleasure of speaking to @fortitude_training who I first met in 2018 in the UK 🇬🇧 @ Bodypower! Dr. Scott W. Stevenson, PhD, LAc is an applied exercise physiologist (PhD from University of Georgia, ASM and NSCA-certified), licensed acupuncturist and competitive bodybuilder (four overall titles, including the 2009 NPC Mr. Arizona and four top 5 national level showings). Scott has over thirty years in the gym and two decades of experience personal training and coaching online. He’s a former college professor (Cal Poly Pomona), academic dean and instructor (ASAOM), columnist for EliteFTS, and adjunct professor at University of Tampa.  Scott has published in the peer-reviewed scientific literature and his lay bodybuilding articles have appeared in Musclemag and Flex magazine. He’s also an Author “Be Your Own Bodybuilding Coach” and creator of the Fortitude Training System and DC Training.

Whether you’re an elite athlete, or beginner just getting in the routine of hitting the gym consistently— it’s critical to understand the foundational importance of principles.

From energy metabolism, kinetics of joint movement, the basis of exercise physiology is to provide an efficient and effective approach toward optimizing performance, shortening/improving rate of recovery, and improving fitness.

While it’s easy to get lost in the literally thousands of books and scientific articles on this subject of exercise physiology, here are 10 basic principles that you can apply to your everyday training regime to improve your overall performance.

The first five are general theories that serve as the framework for all good training programs, while the last five are more scientific principles that will help you understand how your body responds during and after exercise. As always, these principles only apply to healthy individuals, meaning if you’re not already doing so— you need to be taking the required steps necessary to optimize your general health and energy balance.


1. A physiological system will adapt to stress by making itself more resistant to future stresses (the "Overload Theory").


The body sees exercise as a stressor, it’s something that requires more work than usual and is typically associated with a hormonal cascade, elevated heart rate, thus placing you in a sympathetic state. Each time you exercise, your muscles essentially adapt little by little, until the exercise becomes "normal" and ceases to be a stressor. While this might sound like a simple concept, the body will adapt in very specific ways to stressors of different types, frequencies, and intensities. The key to using the overload principle to your advantage is to determine the correct exercises that will provide your body with a sufficient stimulus body to adapt in a way that will maximize performance.


2. The adaptation to overload occurs during rest periods.


While it’s important to aim for progression, between sessions when his body actually undergoes the adaptations necessary to improve. Depending on the nature and intensity of your training sessions, full recovery can take anywhere from a few days to a week or even longer depending on the training stimulus. Active recovery and stretching are potential variables that can help improve rate of recovery, overtime as we become more advanced we’re placing in a better position to determine our readiness to train. Be on the lookout for signs such as an elevation in resting heart rate, decreased/limited range of motion, extensive DOMS 3+ days, all of which are biofeedback signals that you could potentially be overstressed/under-recovered.


3. All individuals respond differently to training.


At the heart of science lies this one small fact: one size does not fit all. While general principles apply to all individuals, putting these into practice is more art than science. Innate differences in aerobic capacity, muscle fiber type, conformation, and even temperament affect how you will respond to a conditioning program. Only through trial and error will you be able to determine what works for you. Science is the framework that should guide the development and execution of your training program, but there is no substitute for experience and common sense.


4. All adaptations are reversible.


While the precise timeline varies according to the individual and the type of training stimulus, the unfortunate truth is that it takes about twice as much time to build up fitness as it does to lose it. That said, if you went out of town for two weeks over the holidays, you can count on about four weeks of training to get you back to where you were before you left. This isn’t a HUGE deal when we look at the big picture of things, especially when you’re not taking care of your variables when it comes to your nutrition. Big picture mentality is understanding, as soon as you get back into the swing of things you’ll eventually get to where you previously were with time.


5. There is a rate-limiting factor in all processes.


While this is more of a general scientific principle, you should try your best to remember it. While there are many different factors all influencing your overall level of performance, there are only a very few that are preventing you from progressing. Whether it’s a lack of execution, insufficient muscle strength, poor motor coordination/neurological connection, or any of a number of other problems, the key is to figure out what the weaknesses is and spend your time improving on them. It won’t do you much good to practice doing all the things that come easily to you, but mastering what is difficult will lead to much greater rewards.


6. Aerobic performance is determined by how much oxygen the cardiovascular system can transport to the working muscles and how efficiently those muscles can utilize the oxygen.


Known as the Fick principle, this theory states that maximal oxygen consumption, which occurs during maximal aerobic exercise, depends on heart rate, stroke volume (how much blood is pumped in one heartbeat), and the amount of oxygen that the muscle can extract from the blood. Aerobic training increases the size of the heart, which increases stroke volume, and also causes skeletal muscle to synthesize more metabolic enzymes that help the muscle use oxygen more efficiently. However, maximal heart rate does not increase with training. In fact, the heart rate of ‘fit’ individuals is generally lower than that of unfit individuals; stroke volume and oxygen extraction are so much improved that the heart doesn’t have to beat as many times to deliver the same amount of oxygen to the muscle.


7. Skeletal muscle fibers are able to change their phenotype (collective characteristics) to match the demands placed on them.


This phenomenon is known as myoplasticity, and it encompasses everything from changes in fiber shape and size to alterations in protein expression and cellular metabolism. For example, resistance training causes muscles to hypertrophy and produce more contractile proteins, making them able to generate more force when they contract. In contrast, aerobic exercise increases the expression of oxidative enzymes, which help the muscles use fats more efficiently. One of the many reasons why I’m a big fan of phasic training/having stimuli specific training blocks.


8. Improvements in muscle strength are caused by both muscular and neural adaptations.


While muscle adapts in its own way to new challenges, the nervous system itself can "learn" how best to coordinate new movements. By recruiting the most appropriate muscle fibers, activating other muscles to stabilize the rest of the body, and improving the synchronization between different muscle contractions, neural adaptations can lead to large improvements in performance before any muscular adaptation occurs. This idea is particularly important for those looking to improve their training, as we often perform movements that require both strength and coordination.

Apply this principle by dividing new movements into several steps will allow your nervous system to learn each step individually before trying to combine it into a complicated pattern.


9. Blood flow increases in response to the metabolic byproducts of exercise. WARM UP!!


While large arteries are, essentially, pipes that transport blood around the body, smaller vessels called arterioles fine-tune the supply of blood to each organ. The arterioles act like a faucet: they dilate to allow more blood to flow through, and constrict to divert the flow of blood elsewhere. Arterioles located in skeletal muscle will dilate in response to changes in pH, oxygen and CO2 content, and certain metabolites that are produced during exercise. This allows more blood to flow only to the exercising muscle groups where it is needed most.

This principle is one of the many reasons why good athletes always warm up prior to a workout. A warm-up ensures that muscles will have enough blood flowing to them to perform at high intensity, and big picture it’s going to help prevent things like injuries/joint degradation.


10. Even modest levels of dehydration can impair performance. Proper Hydration!


The general rule of thumb is that even 2% dehydration can impair athletic performance. As the old saying goes, you can’t make a man drink, but there are some simple strategies for ensuring that you aren’t dehydrated. Many of us tend to gravitate towards nutrition/training and advanced strategies that will potentially improve our performance, but overlook one of the simplest variables which is hydration! A study by Kraft et al. placed 10 males through a full body resistance training session in two groups hydrated vs dehydrated. The dehydrated group exhibited decrease perceived level of effort, elevated heart rate, and just these two variables alone are significant enough to impact total training volume. Research has shown that the smallest amount of dehydration (~3%) dehydration status will substantially decrease strength and total volume/repetitions/set.

If you don’t know about Dr. Scot… He’s easily one of the most intelligent people I know.

We dive into muscle physiology, principles like the force-velocity relationship, length-tension relationship, and different modes of contraction (eccentric, concentric, isometric) across a range of motion. 🤓

Super insightful conversation, excited for everyone to tune in!


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