I met Nick Nilsson a couple years ago and took a look at his programs and was very impressed. He’s a classic hard gainer and spent years as a high-level endurance athlete, but these days he’s yoked and strong. It’s a pretty dramatic transformation. Now he is called the Mad Scientist of Muscle.
In this interview you’ll learn very cool ways of modulating your training and eating, outside of conventional means, for faster and better results. This includes:
- Getting Rid of the Hardgainer Excuse
- How to Use Controlled Overtraining
- Understanding Your Body’s Reaction to Training
- Avoid getting Brainwashed by the Range of Motion Police!
- Why to Hit the Strongest and Weakest with Partials
- Training for Capillary Density
- Why L-Citrulline Trumps L-Arginine
- How to Train and Eat for Growth Hormone vs. How to Train and Eat for Testosterone
- Fasting for Muscle Gain
- How to Take Creatine for Best Results
- And Much More
For even more detail on these training and eating methods check out Mad Scientist Muscle.
Click the link below to access the complete transcript.
Logan: Welcome, I’m Logan Christopher with The Vital Way podcast. Over the past 36 episodes or so, we’ve tried to cover a few different topics. One of the things that’s very near and dear to my heart is training, strength training, getting stronger and building muscle. A lot of Super Man Herbs was kind of built out of this idea of athletic performance so we have another great call lined up for you today. Nick Nilsson is with us. I met Nick I guess it was a couple of years ago. I heard about him, took a look at some of his programs and was really impressed.
Just a little bit of his story, he’s a classic hard gainer and spent years as a high level endurance athlete but these days not so much the endurance thing, much more stronger and muscular as well, a pretty dramatic transformation. He’s called the Mad Scientist of Muscle. I really like that name. I’d like to start out with that Nick. First of all, thanks for joining us. Where did this name come from? Was that self-proclaimed or did someone bestow that on you?
Nick: Actually, that was something that somebody basically called me at one point. “Man, you’re such a mad scientist with all this crazy stuff!” I’m like I totally am and then the name just stuck and I just love it because it describes what I do perfectly.
Logan: Yeah, a similar thing happened to me. Somebody called me the Physical Culture Renaissance Man to describe the wide variety of things that I did and I was like that’s an excellent name; I’m going to use that.
Nick: Yeah, it’s perfect. No royalties. Free though.
Logan: Do you want to share any more of your back story that might be relevant and helpful to other people?
Nick: Absolutely. As you had mentioned before when I first started in the athletics field, I was a very high level endurance athlete. I could literally bust out a triathlon without even training for it. That was kind of my focus all through high school up until the point where in my last year of high school, I started getting bitten by the iron bug. When I went to college, I was 145 pounds. When I finished my first year of college, I was 217 pounds.
Nick: So that was a pretty substantial gain there. I basically had stopped completely doing the endurance staff and I discovered cafeteria food. You know not all that gain was muscle. I’ll be straight up. I was eating upwards of 8,000+ calories a day, sometimes I’d figure it out. I was training six days a week twice a day and literally just devoting a lot of time to it because I just loved it so much. Learning as much as I could, I discovered what worked me for me and literally transformed myself completely so people didn’t even recognize me anymore.
Logan: Nice. My main focus has been strength and movement quality, a bunch but I’ve also done a little bit here and there of putting on some muscle because it’s an interesting thing to do, to be able to have that skill especially because I would definitely say I’m one of those classic hard gainers as well. I’m curious. I guess we should define hard gainer for people that aren’t familiar with it. Why is this something most people should be interested in if they want to put on some muscle?
Nick: Being a hard gainer, the funny thing is I actually don’t really like that word because it’s kind of mentally self-defeating.
Logan: I agree.
Nick: It’s like you’re setting yourself up for failure by saying I can’t do this because whether you say you can or you can’t, you’re going to be right. For me when I basically started training, I decided not to consider myself a hard gainer. I’m just going to train and eat and see what happens then I just took off because then you’re not shooting yourself in the foot right in the start and kind of holding yourself back. Then you’re like reaching for it a little bit more. But obviously, people do have recovery considerations and people are different physiologically, too, and hormonally as well so there are different things for different people that you have to do in order to gain muscle. But I’ve never met a person that I couldn’t put at least a good five solid pounds on pretty quickly.
Logan: I agree with that. People seem to attach to that as sort of an excuse, like oh I can’t gain muscle so I’m not even going to try when really you’re just not doing things right. Yeah, as you said, some people may have an easier time than others but it can certainly be done. That might be the case. Over-training kind of gets a dirty name, right? Everyone is worried about over-training but you talk a lot about how it can be used effectively. So what is controlled over-training and how is it used to get stronger and add more muscle?
Nick: This is really one of the coolest things that I learned straightaway when I started training my first year of training and it has been with me ever since. Basically, a lot of people get stuck on kind of a linear path and they don’t go with how the body actually functions. When you’re training at a certain level and you build up the volume, you get to a point like you’re kind of building up like you’re climbing a hill in a car. You’re hitting the gas as hard as you can and you’re going like maybe five or ten miles an hour because this hill is so steep. That is what’s called accumulation training, which is the accumulation of volume which is essentially over-training. You’re pushing to the point where your body can’t really keep up.
Now the best part here is you don’t actually accidentally just stop and quit or try to keep going and grind through it. You purposefully reduce the training volume, increase the training intensity as a function of how much weight you’re using, increase the rest period so all of a sudden you’re pulling back on the volume and amount of recovery that’s required for your body. So it’s like going over the top of that hill, coming down on the other side with that gas pedal still down. So you’re obviously going to be picking up speed really, really fast and that’s the best analogy for it. You’re grinding and then you’re coasting and really kind of flooring it. You can see some amazing results in mass and strength with this approach. For me, I’ve found the mass to come in the front end when you’re really piling on the volume and the strength just really hits you on the back end when you’re backing off on the volume and focusing on the peak levels of weight that you’re moving.
Logan: This is something that I feel if people understand the sort of principles of progression, they can go very far in their training. I don’t think there’s a person that hasn’t gotten to weightlifting or even just like push-ups who was like if I just add a push-up a day, eventually I’ll be doing hundreds of reps and I’ll be golden and all I’ve got to do is add one per day. Sure, you could progress linearly for a while but it sounds like what you’re talking about here is the body will go one direction but then you can sort of switch gears and go in another and it needs to follow a little bit more of a cycle.
Nick: Exactly right. The problem with most programs is they don’t take into account your body’s reaction to the training so you’ve got to really plan for it. When you plan for it, really magical things happen because then you take advantage of your body’s natural cycles as far as how it reacts to volume, how it reacts to intensity. You use those cycles to push yourself forward and you get a little better every time. It’s really almost like a magical combination when you learn how to do this with your training. One of the programs I’m playing with right now is kind of like a double cycle of this where I’m actually doing over-training and then backing off in the course of a week and then I’m also doing a larger cycle that lasts five weeks and then backing off for a week. So it’s kind of like two of those cycles wrapped up into one and I’m getting really amazing results with it. It’s a very simple program. It’s incredibly effective.
Logan: Well, you mentioned some time periods there. I’m sure people are curious. Let’s keep it simple like a simple cycle, but how long do you do more of a volume and then how long do you switch to focusing on intensity typically?
Nick: In a normal program, I would do about three weeks on the volume. I would find that’s a good amount of time to build up and then three weeks or more on the backing off. When you’re coming back down, you can actually stretch that a little bit longer. It might be three or four or even five weeks, as long as you’re still squeezing out strength things, you can keep up with it. The single best program that I ever did for myself was an absolute monster. It was six days a week, twice a day and each workout was a total body workout for the first three weeks. So I was hitting everything twice a day so 12 times a week, increasing the volume, decreasing the rest periods using partial training, negative training and the whole deal.
At the time, I wasn’t working, which helped. So I was just eating, sleeping and training and it was awesome. I literally gained probably about 20 pounds of reasonably lean mass during that and got ridiculously strong because when I backed off, I backed off to six days a week, still twice a day but working half the body each time, doing more rest between sets, doing fewer sets. Then I get to the point where I was able to do 150 partial reps with 950 pounds on the bar, so just the top two inches of a lockout and just cranking out the reps like that. I actually ended up bending the bar. I felt really bad for the gym.
Logan: Was that a squat lockout or a deadlift lockout?
Nick: It was a squat lockout.
Logan: Yeah, that’s something I want to dive into. Most people just think in terms of muscle when it comes to training but there are several other important components and I’d like to dig a little into each one of these. You talk about something, and this exercise of a perfect example of that one, while it’s definitely hitting the muscles, it’s also big on the connective tissues and even the bones. I’m a huge fan of this. Why is this so important and why do so many people miss it and how do you like to train it?
Nick: Partial training is one of the secret techniques that a lot of people, like you said, they miss out on because they’re really kind of brainwashed by the range of motion police. Literally, you see on YouTube or whatever and people are like oh, you didn’t get full range of motion, you didn’t get full depth, it’s not a lift, it’s no good. No, it’s actually excellent because it develops connective tissue. Nothing works better developing connective tissue than heavy partial training. You need it to really maximize full range of motion strength as well.
I think that’s what a lot of people miss. I think it’s not the end all, be all. It’s a training tool and it’s a very effective tool when used properly, not only for connective tissue but like you said, bones, muscles and the nervous system, for really learning how to active those high threshold motor units. That’s another thing that people really don’t understand with partial training. It’s not just about looking awesome that you have 1,000 pounds on the bar or 500 pounds at the bar when you’re benching it. That’s not the point of it at all. When you see videos on Facebook or YouTube and these people doing versions of partial training, it gives it a bad rep.
When you use partial training, I like to do it maybe if I’m focusing on mass and strength I’ll do it maybe once or maybe even twice a week just to get that. It’s not just blasting a bar up and setting it right back down. You actually want to lift and hold that position so that you’re loading your skeleton and loading that connective tissue and really focusing a lot of tension onto that connective tissue and developing it helps your full range of motion by strengthening that because one of the things I’ve also found, and this is what got me past a plateau in bench press actually, is that I was stuck at 300 pounds on bench press for a long, long time and I couldn’t get past it until I discovered lockout pressing. Within literally six weeks, I was doing 350 and I was stuck in 300 for years. It was my connective tissue that was holding my back. It wasn’t muscle strength. My muscles were capable of moving that weight. It’s just that my body was inhibiting the loads because my connective tissue wasn’t strong enough to bear the load. So I really had to switch up the training to focus on connective tissue training and the weights just started going up.
Logan: Nice. There are a lot of different ways that it can be done. Do you like to just focus on the end range of motions or are you doing sometimes half range of motions, setting different partials and do you do that to focus on what may be your weak points? For instance, some people that last bit of lockout in things like deadlifts can be a problem, in which case short-range rack pulls can really help but if you have a problem getting up off the floor, it’s not going to help as much. What are some of the ways you approach mixing the partials in to best fit what you need with them?
Nick: Doing it that way is excellent. One of the methods that I will actually use for partial training is to hit both the weakest part and the strongest part in the same workout so you’re really kind of targeting both aspects and the middle just kind of takes care of itself. When you’re hitting the lockout, I’ll do the lockout stuff first because it’s really the heaviest and you want to be freshest for it. For example, I might do a barbell bench press where I’m doing just the top couple of inches, doing a static lockout hold to finish off the set and hold it for as long as I can and setting it down. Then I’ll do rack presses of pin presses starting out at the bottom and even coming up just a little to the lockout, to the sticking point and then back down, a very explosive kind of movement off the bottom.
This is actually extremely effective because what happens, especially with bench press, a lot of people come down into the bottom, they store up a lot of elastic energy in that position so they’re not using a lot of muscle fiber and connective tissue strength. It’s a lot of rebound. Even though it may not look it and they’re not bouncing the bar off their chest, which is obviously a mistake that we never want people to do, but even if you’re doing a typical bench press where you’re changing direction without a full pause at the bottom and stopping, you’re still using a lot of elastic tension. If you train out of the bottom out of a pin press without that rebound, without that elastic tension, you’re really going to develop power out of the bottom of the press. It’s an extremely effective way to do it. I’ve also found it very effective for muscle development as well in addition to connective tissue and nervous system strength.
Logan: So speaking of the nervous system, beyond partials what are some of the ways you focus on building that because the nervous system is obviously driving the muscles to fire? That’s how you’re exerting your strength. That’s a huge piece of the puzzle.
Nick: Absolutely. The most effective way, I’ve found, for doing that—there are two ways actually. One is like speed reps where you’re doing very explosive, very fast but still with a good form with light to moderate weights like speed deadlifts or speed squats, for example. One of my favorite methods, however, is doing what I call single-rep cluster training which is sort of like an extended rest pause training where you’re doing a single rep, resting 20 seconds in between each rep and you’re doing 15 to 20 reps of that. What that does is in addition to using a very heavy weight, you could use like 90% to 95% of your one-arm RAM for this for a set of 20 reps. You can believe that is really, really effective stuff.
What it does is it teaches your nervous system how to activate and your limit loads. So you’re actually practicing the movement at your limit loads, which is something you don’t often get. Typical strength training is done with a lot of rest in between sets and very few reps. With this kind, you’re getting very little rest in between sets but you’re still using a heavy weight. 20 seconds is enough to maintain the nervous system activation in between every rep so you’re actually able to continuously function at a relatively high level and get a lot of practice with that weight.
For example when I’m doing a deadlift, I’ll do a set of 20, the first 5 reps are actually the hardest. The middle 10 reps are actually my best form reps. So it takes me about 5 reps then I get in a groove and then the next 10 reps are really good and then maybe the next 5 after that, they’re still good but they’re really grinding at that point. Just practicing and teaching the nervous system how to operate at that high level and practicing that much is really effective and I really have seen my weights go up tremendously when doing that kind of training.
Logan: Nice. One thing I’ve learned and there’s definitely an application for this from like Pablo, the whole idea of greasing the groove as far as training the nervous system that way is you want to be as fresh as possible. There’s definitely a reason for that but here we’re going kind of the opposite way. You’re really keeping the nervous system activated and being able to do more in that route. Is that correct?
Nick: Exactly. The key thing, too, is you’re not pushing yourself to failure on any of these. You’re still keeping shy of failure. Even though I’m saying that you’re grinding some of these reps towards the rep, you’re not pushing so hard that you’re bringing your nervous down and hurting yourself. You’re still operating at a high level but you’re giving yourself enough time in between reps to kind of reset the nervous system and reset the ATP to get yourself back in position for a good rep and keeping that nervous system activation. So it’s similar to greasing the groove but kind of compressed in terms of timeframe.
Logan: Nice. You mentioned doing this with deadlifts. Can this be done with any exercise or do you make some recommendations for that?
Nick: I would stick with the big exercises, deadlifts, squats, presses and that kind of thing. It’s not going to have the same effect on a curl. You can do it that way but I’ve never been a big fan of very low rep curls just because when you start using too much weight, your form kind of breaks down and you’re losing the isolation of the muscles so it’s really not that good.
Logan: Okay. Very cool. So we’ve covered the connective tissue and the nervous system. You also talk about what you call “improving your plumbing.” Why is this important and how do you train it?
Nick: That’s actually a really cool concept in that you don’t often think of the plumbing in your body, the capillaries which are very tiny blood vessels that feed your muscle tissue, bring it oxygen and food and take out waste. You can actually train capillary density in your muscles by doing very high reps, by forcing a lot of blood into your muscles. A good example is hundred-rep sets. There are other variations in this that I work with that incorporate very high reps interspersed with very low reps and then back to high reps
I’ve actually got another book that I’m working on that focuses solely on this entire concept of rebuilding your body from the ground up by changing your plumbing, building your connective tissue, developing your nervous system and even some stuff on hyperplasia which is muscle fiber splitting. It’s basically three weeks of just torture but you come up the other side basically ready for a whole different level of growth because I found, going back to the hard gainer, a lot of people are “hard gainers” because their bodies aren’t physiologically ready or able to hold and maintain that muscle mass and build it. Part of that goes back to the plumbing that you mentioned there that is the blood supply. If you have a muscle that’s very hard to pump up, chances are it’s not very well-developed because of that problem. It can’t get a lot of nutrition. It can’t get a lot of oxygen. It can’t release the waste products very well. By training that with very targeted high rep training, you can develop that capacity, same as you can develop connective tissue strength capacity, same as you can develop nervous system.
I’ve done with this shoulders and my shoulders are like my worst body part. I can’t develop them for anything or used to not be able to until I started doing some of this training that really develops the blood supply to the muscles. I can pump them up like crazy now and so it’s a whole different ball game. It basically changes the hard gainer physiology. I keep using that word because that’s the best way to describe it, even though I don’t like it. By doing that, you change how your body responds to training and it can better support muscle growth, better support muscle tissue and basically achieve a higher level of development.
Logan: That’s very cool and I think that’s something not a lot of people have heard about. I love this because you’re talking about doing single reps here, now we’re doing hundred reps. It seems a lot of people get kind of locked into a favorite set and rep scheme like 5 x 5 and that’s the only way to go. But the body is really adapting in different sorts of ways to different loads as well as different volume parameters so really by mixing and matching, it seems that you can get the best sort of benefits of all these different methods of training.
Nick: That’s absolutely true. Some of the my favorite people to work with are the people who have been stuck at a certain rep range for a long period of time because the first thing you do is you make them do the opposite and they get amazing results.
Logan: Right. That’s the most common plateau, that’s what I’d advise people. Okay, you’ve been doing this; switch your rep range and you’ll bust right through that plateau.
Nick: Exactly. It’s like the simplest thing. Once you do that, if you’ve been doing low reps for a long time, do some high reps. If you’ve been doing a lot of high reps, do some low reps. It’s not rocket science here. Now you owe me a thousand dollars for “training.”
Logan: All right. You also talk about training the fascia which I’d say is probably the sort of least focused on area of the body. How do you focus on this area?
Nick: The interesting thing is over the years, I’ve actually kind of changed my thoughts on fascial training. You see a lot of stuff on stretching the fascia. I actually did write about this previously and just in the past few years, I’ve kind of been doing more research on that. I don’t think the typical fascial stretching is very effective, if at all, because fascia is so incredibly tough. It’s extremely tough and the simplest stretch for a couple of minutes is not going to deform the fascia. Even if it’s loaded, even if your muscle is pumped full of blood, which is the typical way you do it.
What I think is the mechanism here is fascia still does stretch but the analogy I like to use is a tarp stretched really tight over a few things. If you set a big rock on that tight tarp for five minutes, it’s not going to deform anything. But if you set a smaller rock, still heavy, on that tarp for two years, it’s going to eventually create a pit and dent it and deform the tarp. This is what I think happens with the fascia. You can use the fascial “stretching” to activate more muscle fibers to maybe into hyperplasia, to develop and build the muscle fiber from within which then pushes the fascia from within over long periods of time. So you’re getting the deformation, only not from external force of the stretching but from internal force, internal pressure pushing outwards.
I absolutely think fascial stretching does happen. I just think the mechanism is a bit backwards. Stretching is a very, very potent hypertrophy stimulus to your body so using it is not wrong but I think the reason it works is different than I think the reason that a lot of people think it does. I think you’re activating hypertrophy and using that to push the fascia out from the inside for long periods of time rather than a couple of minutes of stretching, which is not going to have that big of an impact on something as tough as fascia. I think it does happen; it’s just I think the mechanism is a little bit different than what I used to think myself.
Logan: Right. That’s good. That means you’re constantly evolving, right? A lot of people get stuck in a position like I know everything about this. I just learned some new tips and tricks that I’m going to be testing out myself. I guess the big question now as we covered all of this different stuff is how do you really put it together into a program that’s kind of targeted in a certain direction?
Nick: The program that I like to use, it’s one I came up with a few years ago, is Mad Scientist Muscle. Ironically enough, it’s one week of doing all this preparation training, basically these high rep stuff to develop the circulation, the connective tissue training, some nervous system activation. Do that for about a week and then straight into accumulation training which is the over-training and then straight into the intensification with another week of that physiological training in between the structural training in between. So it’s kind of taking the best of all of these worlds and mashing them up into a training system.
During these accumulation phases and intensification phases, I use different versions of that and different versions of the program. I’ve got three different ones of that in the book. Basically, it works out to an eight-week training cycle where you’re taking your body through the preparation, you’re taking your body through the over-training and then the ramping down and increasing strength. Some of the results I’ve seen people get with this kind of approach are extremely eye-opening.
Logan: Wow. That’s very cool. Another question popped up. It seems sometimes you’re training super intensely, like going to failure and even beyond that but sometimes not doing that, right? Do you have a viewpoint on these things? Because there’s a you-always-got-to-train-to-failure camp; it’s these last rep that counts and nothing else matters and then there are people that never train to failure. What’s the right approach?
Nick: It’s a very individual approach but for me, I’ve found that I’ve actually not been training to failure very much at all these days. When I first started training when I was a lot younger and could recover better and was really just psycho with this kind of stuff, I was going nuts with the intensity techniques and I would really hammer myself into the ground. These days I find I don’t really need to do that and I get better results by not doing that.
If I wanted to build muscle, I’ll focus on quality training volume. If I would focus on strength then I would back off on volume and do focus on low reps, heavy weight, absolutely not going to failure, still trying to push things. I might not make a lift sometimes here but doing my best not to get to failure. You still want to progress the weight but you want to always kind of lift within your capabilities so that you don’t get injured, so that still can progress forward. So it’s a very incremental approach whereas earlier in my training career, it was a very nuts approach. I would do like triple drops sets and then rebound back up to the top weight again and stuff, too. I actually use that kind of thing from time to time but it’s not constantly like how I used to do it.
I think that’s kind of the evolution that I see in a lot of people, too, when they first start training. They’re just gung-ho and that’s about it. There’s nothing wrong with that. If you can recover from it, it’s a blast. Do it. But you may find you get better results by not doing that as much. It’s kind of like an individual thing that you need to just gauge for yourself. If you find that kind of thing fun, which I do, then by all means do it and just know that you might need a little bit extra recovery time to do it.
Logan: That’s kind of I guess my thoughts on this after years of training. Yes, I do believe everyone kind of goes through that period at least at one point. You can do that and you can kind of trigger the body to come back from the training because it’s such high intensity. You can do a single set and that can be sufficient whereas if you keep things a little bit easier, you may need to do a little bit more overall volume, a little more time training but the recovery demands aren’t quite as big. Your body doesn’t care whether you went to failure or not. As long as it’s progressive in what you’re doing, it’s going to adapt to it.
Nick: Exactly. And that’s really kind of the key thing, progressing the resistance and using good quality form. It doesn’t need to be perfect every single time. This happens, especially as you get into higher loads. Sometimes, your form does kind of not be perfect and there’s nothing wrong with that. But as long as you don’t go into a sloppy form that’s going to injure you, don’t be shy to not have absolutely perfect form so that YouTube trolls are going to criticize everything you do.
Logan: That’s one thing that I like about the partial training specifically. A lot of times, even though you’re working with heavier loads, if you’re doing like a short-range end of motion partial, it’s hard to do those wrong. You’d have to often times try to do things wrong and it’s actually really safe just because even though it’s much more of a load, it’s much less of a chance of something going wrong.
Nick: Exactly. There’s less time to make it go wrong basically.
Logan: Very cool. Obviously, as the Mad Scientist of Muscle, you dive really deep into science. Do you feel that training is completely a science or is there also an art to it?
Nick: It’s really both. It’s a combination of the two. I think people who really kind of go too far in one direction can really shortchange themselves. I know in a lot of cases a lot of people get so absorbed and so focused on there’s no science to back that up and the science doesn’t tell you this. Who cares? The science could be ten years behind it.
Logan: Right. Science is a lagging indicator. Before there’s a double-blind placebo-controlled study, there have to be a lot of people who have experimented with it and found it works in their own practice as well as with clients and stuff like that. So it takes a while to find the science.
Nick: Yeah, science is in the process of proving what we already know works. That’s kind of what it is. I let science guide me but I don’t let it constrain me. That’s kind of the principle that I go by. I would use scientific principles to kind of guide my training. For example, I was talking about the capillary density training. One of the interesting things that I found, and this was where I really did go to the science when I was designing a training protocol for it, is when you’re trying to develop new blood vessels, you need to have L-arginine in the body, in the muscles at the time that these new blood vessels are trying to form. Otherwise, they will not form. So in order to get enough L-arginine into your blood supply at the time, you can’t actually take arginine because it’s sucked up by the gut. It won’t get into your bloodstream very effectively and very efficiently. What you actually need to do with this specific type of training for this specific method is take L-citrulline which converts to L-arginine in your bloodstream at a rate that’s a hundred times greater than by taking arginine.
Nick: Yeah. So what I do before I would do this kind of training is I take a 25 gram straight up serving of L-citrulline and that gets into the muscles so when I’m doing this training, it’s actually right there helping the blood vessels form. Honestly, the pump you get from this is unbelievable, literally unbelievable because this is the kind of thing that actually is useful about arginine. It’s not just for getting pumped. It’s decent for that but this is why you’re taking the arginine. This is to develop the circulatory system on this minor level, which a lot of people really don’t understand about why they’re taking it. They’re like ooh, I get a good pump from it. This is why you want to get a good pump from it and this is the science that tells you why you should be using this instead of that.
In that case, not only did I let science guide me supplement-wise and nutrition-wise, research on that I further dug into showed that when you’re doing this style of training, the muscle fibers that are actually working at the time are the ones that are getting the increased blood supply. If you’re doing hundred-rep sets, the problem with that is you’re using slow twitch muscle fibers so those are the ones that are getting the blood supply. Not a lot of bodybuilders want more slow twitch muscle fibers so you need to actually train the fast twitch muscle fibers in addition and work at it while you’re doing the slow twitch fiber training to get all the blood in there.
So the protocol that I came up with—and actually I’ll tell you about this, kind of a sneak peek into the book, it’s really cool stuff—is you take a weight, for example 20 pounds or 25 pounds on a dumbbell bench press and you do our dumbbell fly, for example. It’s a better example. You do 50 to 60 reps with that, really focus on squeezing and getting a lot of blood in there, getting that pumping the muscle. Now set that 25-pound weight down and grab a pair of 85-pound dumbbells immediately. Do 3 reps of dumbbell bench press. You’re hitting the fast twitch muscle fibers. That’s getting blood supply to those fast twist fibers. Set them right down back, grab those 25’s and do as many more reps as you can on the fly. This might be 20 to 25 reps at this point. Set those down and go right back to the 85’s and do another 3 reps. Keep doing that until you can actually more reps with the 85’s than you can with the 25’s. This actually works because what happens is the slow twitch fibers get fatigued but the fast twitch fibers are as not as fatigued. So I’ve literally gotten to the point where I can’t do 3 reps with 25-pound dumbbells on the flies but I can do 3 reps with the 85-pound dumbbells on the press.
Logan: That’s fascinating. Just for people that might want to try this out, as far as percentage of one-rep maximum because you threw out those numbers but people need to obviously go up or down in weights, how heavy is that 85 pounds for you?
Nick: That would be 80 to 85% 1-RM.
Logan: Okay, so it’s pretty significant.
Nick: It’s a pretty good amount of weight, yeah. For example right now, I could do 3 or 4 reps with 125-pound dumbbells. This would be about I guess 75% to 80%.
Logan: Okay, very nice. That sounds not fun.
Nick: It’s horrible.
Nick: Literally, you’ll go through about five rounds of this going back and forth between these exercises. It takes about eight minutes of non-stop work and literally your pecs will be—I don’t think that my pecs have ever been that sore. Soreness is not the goal but it creates a lot of muscle fiber damage and the pump is ridiculous, especially when you combine it with the citrulline. The effective does of L-citrulline that has been shown in research is about 4 grams, I think, 4 to 8 grams. I was taking 25 grams.
Nick: If you could get potentially upset stomach, sart in the low end and develop that and build that up a little bit. I didn’t start right at 25. I kind of tested it to see, 1 teaspoon, 2, 3, 4 or 5 teaspoons is about the low limit that I’ve hit.
Logan: All right. So you mentioned L-citrulline. I definitely want to talk a bit more about supplements but let’s talk a little bit bigger picture in nutrition. We’ve talked about all these different ways you change up your training in order to—how do you describe it?—you’re working with your body’s reaction to the training to kind of go to the next phase. You do the same thing with eating and nutrition, doing different things at different times to trigger the body to go sort of in different directions. Can you speak to how to you manipulate what you eat, the macronutrients that cause the body to go one way and then rebound in another?
Nick: Absolutely. One of the really fun things in working with the body is figuring how it reacts to things. When you’re trying to lose fat, this basically goes straight to carb cycling and this is the kind of approach that I’ve always taken with it. When you try to lose fat, you don’t want to have a lot of carbs floating around. You will want the insulin levels to be stable. You want your blood sugar to be stable. For me, I found the low carb diet to be perfect for that. So I will do periods of low carb dieting three to five days and then in order to prevent a slowdown of metabolism which can happen within five to seven on a low carb diet, I’ll change the nutrient setting. I might go to the same calorie amount but low fat and high carb just to kind of put a re-feed in there. Your body reacts hormonally very different to these kinds of things.
When you put the carbs, obviously your insulin goes up quite a bit so you use that on those training days focused on building muscle whereas when you’re doing low carb, you’re focused on losing fat. For example, you might during fat loss do lactic acid-focused training which helps get growth hormone, which when you’re not eating carbs there’s a much greater growth hormone response because it’s not fighting insulin. Insulin and growth hormone just don’t get along in your body. I wouldn’t say mutually exclusive but they don’t work together very well. So when you’re trying to lose fat, you want to minimize insulin levels and maximize growth hormone levels. This is done with low carb eating and then switching up. You’re worrying so much about growth hormone, then you’re focusing more on insulin and testosterone which is important in both phases.
Logan: Yeah, there’s a lot of stuff there. Let’s say yeah, someone’s trying to lose weight; what’s kind of like a basic sort of program with the training and with eating, sort of going between these different approaches?
Nick: The approach that I take is basically like a 12-day rotation where I’ll do five days of basically strict low-carb eating and the first couple of days of training might be just like metabolic resistance training, circuit training, that kind of thing. Then once you kind of get all those carbs out of your system, you get the glycogen burned off, then you’re going to do a couple of days of very lactic acid-focused training, like generating lactic acid, higher rep stuff, very little rest in between sets so you’re generating a lot of lactic acid and keeping that there. Sprint training is good for this thing even though your energy levels aren’t going to be great when you’re doing this. Just doing kind of the higher level stuff like that is really good for getting a growth hormone response.
One of the cool things I like to do also is a couple of things that aren’t necessarily proven by science but that’s kind of a theory that I read about quite a few years ago. If you’ve been training a while, you might recognize this from the Serious Growth System from Leo Costa, the Bulgarian burst kind of thing where it’s like of a day of only protein where you’re cutting carbs, you’re cutting fats and you’re just eliminating all that. That kind of forces your body to dig into body fat in order to fuel itself. Then the next day you do no protein whatsoever. The day of no protein is my idea but the only fruit day is what I’ve read about and that’s pulling protein out of your diet for a day, which is similar to carb loading where you take the carbs out of your system and you reload them and you would store a lot of more than normal. You take the protein out in theory and this sets an emergency situation in your body where it wants more protein so when you put the protein back in, the idea goes that it’s going to hold onto more protein again and the best storage of protein is muscle mass.
So you’re also putting the carb back in, you’re putting the protein back in, you’re getting more calories. It’s a very anabolic state for your body to be in. So you’re using it kind of like a slingshot. You can actually stay at a fairly low carb level and low calorie level and still keep your metabolism from grinding to a halt. So you can maintain the caloric deficit without having problems with metabolic slowdown.
Logan: Right. I have a question. This was kind of my experience with the last time I did sort of a muscle gaining program. I was using fasting, which sounds counterintuitive but it’s just like people losing weight. If you do a cheat day or a cheat meal, it upregulates the hormones so that it actually aids in doing that. So I figured the inverse is true with gaining muscle. The body is kind of getting used to all this food so you cut it out for a little bit then you can kind of bounce back and sort of restart the gain. I was doing a very fast sort of pack on the mass approach, not slow going for as much as possible so eating completely all the time but every time I felt like I couldn’t eat anymore and the scales stopped moving up, I’d take about 24 hours off and then train hard, re-start eating after that and it’d seem to really work, that approach. Do you use fasting? You kind of had the protein fasting days, just the fruit, different ideas like this, or do you do some periods of no food completely?
Nick: Yeah, actually I do. I think it’s an excellent way to do it. It’s especially effective for people who kind of have a hard time eating enough to really gain mass because like you said, you do a hormonal reset but at the same time it gives your digestive system a break, too, which I think is a very underappreciated aspect of building muscle and eating for building muscle. When I was younger, I could eat tons all the time. These days, I eat kind of more like a crocodile where I will go with long periods. I might have a few eggs for breakfast and then for dinner I might eat like 4,000 calories. So I can actually eat more in one sitting than I can the whole rest of the day. I do that. That’s when I train and that’s when the body is really primed to use up all that. So there will be days where I literally won’t eat anything until like 6:00 or 9:00 even and I’ll go 24 hours and this will be in a muscle-building program.
It’s the same experience that you have there, too. I find that can actually get more calories and if I save them up and give my digestive system a break so that you’re making room essentially. It sounds kind of crude to say it but you’re just making room for more. The funny thing is this goes right back to the fruit day that I mentioned as well. When you eat nothing but fruit for an entire day, it acts as a snowplow through your digestive system. It literally, all that fiber and water, just pushes everything through and resets your digestive system so you’re able to start putting back a lot more food again.
Logan: All right. You talked a little bit about growth hormone, a little bit about testosterone. Could you recap sort of the quick way to focus on eating and training for growth hormone and sort of the quick way of eating and training for testosterone? Do you sort of cycle in between these two if you’re trying to put on muscle?
Nick: For growth hormone specifically, you want to be in a low carb state and a very stable blood sugar state and focus your training on lactic acid and developing a lot of lactic acid and keeping it there. You also do want to train fairly heavy to keep the testosterone going. When you’re eating low carb and you’re eating a lot of good saturated fats, your testosterone levels will actually go up. So this is actually a very good state for your body to be in. Then when you switch it up and add more carbs back in, that’s when the insulin really peaks. Then you can really focus on heavier training and that’s what’s going to stimulate the testosterone there as well. You really want to get the testosterone in both phases of this kind of thing but you just switch out basically growth hormone for insulin.
Logan: I had a theory and the science has not played this out because the science never looks at partial training but with this idea of heavier loads stimulate more testosterone, would it be your opinion that partials may possibly be better than full range lifts just because of the higher load or at least probably on equal terms?
Nick: I think so, especially the really heavier stuff. That kind of thing really puts an emergency state onto your body. Testosterone obviously being the most potent muscle hormone you have, that’s a key factor right there. One of the other things that I’ve really noticed is deep squatting, there’s something about that, deep squatting, that really sets off the cascade of testosterone production. This could be like a very deep bottom start squat. This could be just dumbbell squats even. Just deep squatting with a good amount of weight is really going to help with that, even more so than like a regular squat with partial range of motion. Just that positioning, I think it really kind of sets things off. I can’t remember where I read that but in my own experience, it really bears that out.
Logan: Yeah. I just remember when I was doing some partial training, especially around the deadlifts, like short-range rack pulls, just the feeling you get when you lift over 1,000 pounds is just awesome. That’s kind of related to the feeling of testosterone. When you have a lot of testosterone, you feel on top of the world. So I figure anything that kind of triggers that in the gym has to be increasing testosterone in much the same way.
Nick: I would totally agree with you on that. Especially, I like the heavier stuff. Part of the fun of doing the heavier stuff is how it feels when doing it.
Logan: Yeah, I think that’s a bit component because our hormones kind of changes up how we feel but how we feel will change our hormones. It kind of goes both ways.
Nick: For sure.
Logan: You mentioned as far as supplements—I’m sure people are going to be curious about this—L-citrulline. What are some of your other favorite supplements and how might you pair them with these different forms of training or eating?
Nick: The funny thing is L-citrulline is one of the very few not normal supplements that I take. For the most part, I keep it pretty simple. I stick with a really good quality protein powder.
Logan: What do you like for that?
Nick: I usually use the BioTrust stuff.
Logan: BioTrust, okay. Whey protein?
Nick: Whey protein, yeah. It’s got micellar casein in there which is an extremely high quality, long duration protein. It essentially takes a bit longer to digest. I have not found a higher quality protein out there. It’s really, really tasty, too, so it’s one of the best ones that I’ve ever found and I just tried a lot of stuff that’s total garbage to very expensive.
Logan: Right. There’s all kinds of stuff out there.
Nick: Yeah, some of the stuff I’ve tried, it’s like oh my god, I can’t believe I ate that. It’s like I can’t even finish the bottle. It’s like here, somebody take this away from me. Yes, so there’s protein and there’s creatine monohydrate. Over the years, I’ve been taking creating for almost 25 years now off and now, I’ve not found anything better than just good, straight up, high quality creatine monohydrate. If you have trouble digesting it, what you want to do is get some hot tap water, mix the creatine into that, stir it until it dissolves and you can’t see it anymore and then drink it. That’s going to solve probably most of your problems right there. The problem with most people taking creatine is they just stir it into cold water, drink it down and that’s that. It’s just like drinking sand. It’s not going to get digested, which is a lot of the reason you get digestive issues from it. If you it stir up, make sure it dissolves in the hot water then drink it, that’s going to fix a lot of your problems and you’re going to get better absorption just in general.
Since creatine is such a big thing that’s been proven time and again, a lot of people have tried to come up with different versions of it. Most of that stuff is just marketing. It’s people trying to differentiate themselves by saying we’ve got liquid creatine. Oh boy, I’ve tried some of that stuff. It’s just horrible. I think it was about 20 years ago that I tried that stuff. It was just nasty orange gel that I just get the willies from thinking about the taste of that stuff. I paid $30 for the tube of this garbage and I threw it away after the first.
Logan: Do you do loading with creatine that’s commonly recommended or how do you take it?
Nick: Yeah, definitely with loading. What I like to do with the loading is combine it with the nutritional tricks that I’d mentioned before. Because creatine is such a water-loving molecule and so are your carbohydrates basically—you store a lot of water with carbs—so if you do like a week with no creatine, you haven’t been on creatine a while, you don’t take carbs for about a week and then you load carbs and you load creatine at the same time, you can literally gain like ten pounds in a day. It’s going to be water weight obviously weight but that flood of water into your muscles carries a lot of anabolic stuff, for lack of a better word, and the stretch on the fibers as all that water is coming in is also a highly anabolic state.
Logan: Yeah, I’ve heard it said that the body will store like four grams of water for every gram of carbohydrate that it stores with it. I’m not sure how much the creatine stores with it, too, but I can imagine those two effects going together have to be pretty big.
Nick: When you do the creatine and the carbs, the first time you double up on the loading like that, the effects are just ridiculous. It’s off the charts.
Logan: Right. Well, I think we’ve covered a whole lot on this call. If people are new to training, they’re probably going to have to listen to it a few times to really pick up everything in there. People that are advanced, I’m sure they’ve picked up a new tip or two that they’re going to have to try. Anything you want to say as far as summarizing everything you talked about here? What I seem to like from your approach is it’s really experimental, right? I imagine in doing this whole process, you’re really getting to know your body better. Could you speak to maybe sort of the idea of listening to your body? I just imagine as you’re kind of getting the body to react to your training, react to your diet in this way that you just become much more in tune with it. Is that correct?
Nick: Absolutely. I think that’s actually one of the most critical things that I want to get across to people and to teach people – you are in charge of your body. You can do whatever the hell you want with it. You don’t have to follow convention. You don’t have to do what I tell you. You don’t have to do what anybody tells you. You could try stuff on your own. You can take the stuff that you read and the stuff that I’ve just told you here today and do your own experiments with it. Maybe your body reacts a bit differently. You can get more out of doing something a little bit differently. That’s really the key. It’s to experiment with it. Don’t be constrained by dogma. Don’t feel like you have to do something in a certain way, that you have to do a full range of motion all the time, that you have to do everything normal. For me, it’s just like normal is stupid. I do normal training once in a while but it’s not very often. It’s only kind of like I don’t want to think about trying to come up with something new at that time that I’ll do just a normal training session. But the exercises might be insane.
Logan: Yeah. I like that. I had this realization the other day that I’m kind of like in alternative health with everything I do, alternative everything. Yeah, my training is not typical. It’s like the conventional of everything is kind of crappy. Who wants to be normal, right?
Nick: Exactly. Normal sucks. Why do I want to do what 95% of people are doing when 95% of people aren’t getting results?
Logan: Right. Let’s face it. The average is not very good.
Nick: Yeah, exactly.
Logan: The average is below average so we should set ourselves apart in some way.
Nick: Exactly. Yeah. So experiment and have fun with it. Have fun with your training.
Logan: I agree. That’s just the thing. There’s so much opportunity, so many different things that you can do. Find something that you’re actually going to enjoy. We both like lifting weights and a variety of other things but that’s obviously not the right approach for everyone. But everyone needs to move so you’ve got to find the right thing for you.
Logan: So where would you like people to go to find out more about you? We’ll be sure to include links to everything you mentioned here in the show notes as well. If any of you guys found that there’s too much detail, like Nick’s programs are very step-by-step, detail-oriented, giving you all this information in a much easier fashion to say read than listening just on this podcast here, what would you recommend for most people?
Nick: Right now I’ve got two main sites, my main informational site and I’ve got tons of stuff on here. It’s FitStep.com. The site where I have all my books located is Fitness-eBooks.com and I’ve got the whole list of what I’ve got available there. It’s exercises stuff, it’s programs and it’s a lot of really cool stuff.
Logan: All right, very cool. Thank you so much, Nick. This was a very exciting call. Like I said, I learned a few things I’m excited to try in my training the upcoming weeks.
Nick: Yeah, man. It was a lot of fun because I love talking about this stuff.
Logan: Absolutely. Well thanks so much for being and thanks everyone for listening. I will be back in a couple of weeks with another episode for you. Thank you.
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