61 – James Steele PhD – The Real Truth About Maximizing Muscle Gain

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Dr James Steele (@JamesSteeleii) is an Associate Professor in Sport and Exercise Science at Southampton Solent University (United Kingdom). James teaches across both exercise physiology, biomechanics, and research methods, is an active researcher and has published numerous peer-reviewed articles on a variety of areas relating to health and fitness. He is currently involved in a number of projects regarding resistance training including; its physiological effects; the impact of manipulation of variables within resistance training programs, understanding effort, its measurement and application; inter-individual responses to resistance training; and in particular currently leads the Resistance Exercise And Community Health (REACH) Project – an internationally collaborative project which aims to examine an intervention to increase initiation and maintenance of resistance exercise for public health using a home- or community centre-based, self-managed approach.

James has been on the podcast twice before (Part 1 and Part 2). This was his best yet. In this podcast, we dig into a ton of scientific literature regarding muscle gain potential and how the findings can be implemented into an exercise regimen for optimal upside. You will be hard pressed to find an interview on the subject of muscle hypertrophy that is more in-depth and informative than this. Consider this a master class in how to optimise your exercise regimen and diet for maximum muscle gain.

This episode was so complete from a muscle hypertrophy perspective, that until more interesting data on the subject surfaces, this will probably be the last episode with such a laser focus on this area.

For more context on the type of workouts that James shares on the podcast, see here:

In this episode, we discuss:

  • How greater resistance training frequency may produce better results in terms of muscle hypertrophy in trained individuals and how this relates to increased protein synthesis and the attenuation of muscle damage.
  • The ROI on increased frequency and the training approach to training and diet that is going to achieve optimal muscle gain.
  • The literature on the subject on muscle fibre typing and discuss whether if fibre type does help to tailor a training protocol to an individual.
  • The pros and cons of training not-to-failure.
  • James’s current workout regimen and diet and how this has evolved.
  • His thoughts on Myokine secretion from resistance exercise.
  • How to optimise an exercise regimen to improve skill/sport performance.
  • And much more.

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Want to hear another episode from a pioneering sports scientist? — Listen to this interview with Dr Jeremy Loenneke. In this episode, we discuss Blood Flow Restriction Training, Periodization, General Adaptation Syndrome and HIT and more (stream below or right-click here to download):

This episode is sponsored by Hituni.com, the best online courses in high intensity strength training. I recently completed their personal trainer course to increase my knowledge and become certified in HIT. HITuni offer DIY courses to help you get better results from your training and personal training courses to help you start and grow your HIT Business. Visit HITuni.com and use the code “HIB10” to get 10% OFF.

This episode is also brought to you by, former guest, and health and sleep coach, Alex Fergus. Alex has worked with hundreds of clients from all walks of life to help them fall asleep faster and improve their sleep quality, as well as, optimise fat loss, muscle gain, overall health and energy level.

Alex is an accomplished athlete, representing New Zealand in rowing, winning national bodybuilding titles and breaking powerlifting records. He’s absolutely ripped and strong as an ox, and has won the Paleo f(x) RealFit competition 2 years running against some of the most fierce competition around. The first time around, he won the competition training only 15-minutes per week.

Alex attributes much of his success to optimising his sleep. As a former chronically sleep deprived young adult, Alex pays close attention to his sleep and has invested heavily to optimise his own sleep quality for maximum benefit. Alex has devoted much of his time to researching how to improve sleep and has a ton of experience helping his clients with theirs. For a FREE 4 part sleep improvement series with tips that will revolutionise your sleep quality and help you fall asleep faster to give you more energy, improved body composition and better well-being, sign up here.

Scroll below for links and show notes…

Show Notes

  • Can increasing training frequency increase muscular hypertrophy? [07:45]
  • Why increased frequency appear to run counter to the attenuation of frequency practiced in the HIT community? [16:00]
  • How to implement the findings from the latest scientific literature into a training regimen [28:10]
  • How long has James been experimenting with higher frequency on his own workouts? [33:10]
  • How to regulate workout volume to optimise results and prevent overtraining [35:35]
  • How much does diet really matter when building optimal muscle mass? [40:25]
  • What should one eat to optimise muscle gain? [46:42]
  • James’s diet [52:59]
  • How to view/regulate your performance from workout-to-workout [55:40]
  • Upsides and downsides of training not-to-failure [1:02:15]
  • A review of the literature regarding tailoring training regimens based on different muscle fibre types [1:07:20]
  • James’s thoughts on the benefits of myokine secretion from an exercise stimulus [1:23:43]
  • How should one optimise their training regimen to improve performance at specific skills and sports? [1:28:17]
  • James’s final piece of advice [1:39:20]

Selected Links from the Episode

People Mentioned

QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favourite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

Comments 7

  • I was really looking forward to this episode, well done.

    Some things I thought about:

    1. Regarding the first (speculative) review paper that was mentioned on frequency. Is looking at protein synthesis sufficient when making claims about frequency of training? what about other variables?

    2. I wondered what James thinks about using advanced techniques. Can they be used to ensure muscular failure without recovery being attenuated when training with higher frequencies?
    (In my own experience using these techniques too frequently causes overtraining symptoms)

    3. Regarding overtraining. It seems to me that there is not enough research on this at all and it seems harder and harder to actually define overtraining after this podcast.

    4. Other than theoretical support, from what i have seen, Most evidence points to frequencies of 2x a week are better than once a week, but if three or more per week is better is still not clear/studied

    5. The most interesting part was that a good training stimulus can still be provided even when underperforming some workouts in terms of strength.


    • Great questions Julien. I wish more people would approach the subject of exercise like you have here. Truly objective. I will nudge James 😀

    • Hi Julien,

      Sorry for the delayed reply.

      1. This is a great point and as you point out it is speculative. The data from studies on muscle protein synthesis would lead to this hypothesis but it remains to be shown empirically through chronic training intervention studies that higher frequencies will truly lead to significantly greater hypertrophy. It seems plausible, but as I mentioned, i’m sceptical of how much it will really add.

      2. I think from a practical perspective the use of advanced techniques is a great idea if someone is struggling to achieve failure in their workouts. I suspect that if training with a greater frequency though might mean that these have to be used sparingly. As you note, using them too often may affect recovery and thus how often you can train. I think that this is something that needs to be figured out by the individual though as it depends on how much advanced techniques need to be used to help get to that point of failure.

      3. I agree on this point and the latest consensus statement on the topic also notes that it is an area where there is little agreement upon diagnosis (http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17461391.2012.730061). However, short term performance decrements are definitely not overtraining and I think most HIT-ers are far too quick to read into minor performance drops as being overtraining. As mentioned in the podcast, small performance changes workout to workout are more often than not just noise and the likelyhood of anyone following a HIT based appraoch actually achieving a state of overtraining syndrome is highly unlikely. OTS really happens mostly in athletes or individuals who are training with very high intensities of effort, using damaging approaches, at extremely high volumes, at very high frequencies.

      4. As above, there is little in the way of good data to support frequencies higher than twice a week at the moment. I believe Brad Schoenfeld is working on a study currently and we also have one planned over the next year. Hopefully we’ll have a bit more of an understanding soon. That being said though, I again doubt it will make a massive difference even if it offers a slight benefit.

      5. Exactly! Performance ≠ Stimulus

      Thanks for the thoughts and question Julien!


  • In regards to increasing training frequency to 3-4 HIT bodyweight sessions per week are there instances when you would train on back to back days doing a full body HIT session each time? And if so provided in yourself you felt recovered and capable are there any perceived down sides to doing so? Or would if be more advisable to have at least one day between sessions?

    Many thanks for your time


    • Back to back sessions in that sense can be fine – I sometimes do back to back sessions but if I ever do I’ll try to time them so I have at least ~24 hours between them. As I mention though, your individual mileage in terms of how quickly you recover and feel prepared to train again will vary. I suspect for most every other day would be fine.


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