24 – Dr Doug McGuff on Multiple Sets, How To Beat The Plateau and How To Grow Your Personal Training Business

Dr Doug McGuff

Doug’s speech on The 21 Convention that changed my life and the lives of many others.

Dr Doug McGuff (@DougMcGuff / Instagram: ultimate_exercise_) is widely considered the foremost expert in exercise on the planet today. Doug practices full-time emergency medicine with Blue Ridge Emergency Physicians and owns, Ultimate Exercise, where he and his instructors continue to explore the limits of exercise through their personal training of clients. Doug regularly posts his exercise findings and experiences on his blog, BodyByScience.net and provides consultancy and other products and services on DrMcGuff.com.

Doug’s popularity exploded with the release of his ground-breaking book, Body By Science, which he published with John Little. More recently, Doug, alongside Dr Robert P. Murphy, published The Primal Prescription: Surviving The “Sick Care” Sinkhole. This book is an expose on medical care, shows you how to get the best care when you really need it, and is a prescription for wellness, longevity and personal accountability.

Please also check out my first and second interviews with Dr Doug McGuff

This interview was possibly my best yet.


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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.

Show Notes

  • What were the key findings that Doug took away from the Engines of our lives – Workout 2015 congress in Dresden? [6:00]
  • Doug talks about his new book: The Primal Prescription: Surviving The “Sick Care” Sinkhole [8:10]
  • What Does Doug think about ARXFit equipment? [11:02]
  • Doug’s view on multiple sets to failure vs single sets to failure for hypertrophy [14:26]
  • What protocol does Doug start people on and how does he manage their progress? [18:25]
  • A new perspective on ‘sticking points’ and how to approach workouts when one reaches a plateau [21:30]
  • Is there specific circumstances where a second set is worthwhile on an exercise? [29:10]
  • How to grow a personal training business [34:40]
  • What calorie surplus does one need to optimise hypertrophy? [38:23]
  • Does Doug still fast and consume BCAAs before and after workouts? [41:15]
  • The difference in stress tolerance between the young and old [43:00]
  • What exercise, nutritional or lifestyle hacks does Doug employ? [48:17]
  • How should a vegetarian supplement, if at all, on the Slow Carb Diet? [55:10]
  • What has Doug changed his mind about in the last year? [1:02:50]
  • What would Doug change about Body By Science? [1:07:35]
  • What is Doug’s next book going to be about? [1:10:20]
  • What advice would Doug give his twenty-year-old self? [1:12:00]
  • What does Doug believe that other people think is insane? [1:14:22]
  • If Doug had a billboard, what would it say and where would he put it? [1:16:20]

Selected Links from the Episode

People Mentioned

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QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What questions do you have about high intensity strength training that we didn’t discuss in this podcast? Please let me know in the comments below.

Comments 15

  • Hey Lawrence, compliments for this interview! In my opinion, this is an interview at it’s best. Even more so in the context of the two previous ones, that you made with Dr. McGuff. Very good selection of questions and very adequate answers! I also believe, that after some time of bitter discussions, about many training aspects, over BBS blog, during the last month or so, we finally did get quite interesting comments and answers form Doug about training principles, practical advise, BBS prospective and so much more, about issues and details, that were either had Not been understood correctly so far or simply needed to be updated, with account of the experience gathered in time.
    You are doing a really great job with this site and please keep up the good work!
    Thank you and Dr. McGuff as well for the noble effort to properly educate the training community!

    • Thank you for your kind feedback Kamen. It’s very encouraging to read. I am trying to improve with every interview, so please feel free to critique future interviews. For example, if there is a specific question you would have liked me to ask or a topic you want covered, let me know.

      Thanks for contributing the comment! Please leave a review if you haven’t already. Instructions here: https://highintensitybusiness.com/podcast/corporate-warrior-needs-you/


  • Hey Lewrence, as I have already listened at most of your podcsts, I must say, that you are getting better every time and sure enough you will be even better. And that is because you also live with the topics and problems and you have already gathered a lot of personal experience and you now more and more seem to find the most interesting questions, regarding specific aspects and details, that one can figure out only htrough first hand experience, that way serving very well the needs of practical information for the training community.
    In future, I would like to hear a bit more on a subject, that Dr. McGuff briefly touched in the interview, regarding the amount of stimulus, that is sufficient. My interest is in the field of reexamining “how brief is brief enough”. I have a feeling, that in the HIT community things get exessively focused on the “delivering of the stimulus” side of things and then ultimately follow extremely long breaks between exercise sessions. I feel like things have drifted away from the initial idea of HIT in this way. It’s a bit like “Yeah, we will train very rarely, but to be on tha safe side, we will bust our a**es during each session”. I have heard Dr. McGuff, giving an example in previous podcasts, that if you look at total time under load/effort of a traditional “Volume” workout, compared to say BBS workout, it may be even more time under load/effort with BBS protocol! I fully agree, BUT then why are we in fact prescribing equal or more amount of TUL/effort to alter the “volume approach”? I think simply more rest/recovery doesn’t cut it. If we call it “stimulus”, shouldn’t it be something really brief? I often think of the training style of the Most prominent, Trully huge, Most Decorated and in the same time Closest to HIT bodybuilder – Dorian Yates and I see a big missmatch. The bodypart he trained with most “volume” was Back, where he normally did 5 exercises/sets “to failure”. Looking at his DVD B&G each of these sets to failure would take about 30 sec on average, so amounting in about 150 sec (mathematically) TUL of hardcore(great loads) stimulus work! From here you shall start to use Derate factors, taking into account his extraordinariy genetics, rest between exercise, style of repetitions, medical support, consistency of training commitment (it was his job)….list is long. In the end, if you look at BBS style BIG five, where you have two direct back exercises – Pulldown and Row, totalling about 180 seconds “ideally” of TUL, with a fraction of a load (set-wise)… something is not quite matching. Not to mention about DY’s other bodyparts approach. Absolute load is relative to time, BUT then what about the time?! I believe you get the point. As I understand you often ask the questions about hypertrophy and I think the above is well related and should be reexamined! Another topic is rest between exercises. Obviously the biggest guys, when they “train for mass” do rest! Isn’t it in contradicition trying to be Globally metabolically conditioned and promoting hypertrophy in the same time(workout)? Promoting “greater hormone response” thing here doen’t cut it either, I think. Isn’t it enough conditioning the “perfect form” of exercise sets? Isn’t the fact, that you carry most possible muscle at any one time really contributing more to GMC(in myokines prospective…)? It seems, that real muscled guys, in great shape such as David Landau, are so well metabolically conditioned, that easily can use whatever food, even if some would call it modern day “poison”, by keeping the dosages in check. And if you are conditioned in one particualr circuit as again David Landau said, what happens once you change it? I’ll be glad if these questions are included in next interviews with your, I am sure great participants.
    Thank you: Kamen

    • Cheers Kamen. That’s correct I do live this stuff and try to continuously improve whilst balancing a super busy life! A lot of the time my questions have quite a selfish intent, but what I have found is that a lot of you guys have the same questions. So quite often it’s a win-win.

      You make some great points here. I have captured a lot of your points in Evernote (my external brain) to ask future guests. I’m going to reach out to Dorian, and hopefully he’ll come on the show.


  • Cheers Lawrence, it will be really cool if you manage to bring Dorian to the show. There is a lot of information out there about him and from him and I am sure, that you will come up with interesting questions. Altgough I gave him and his training philosophy as an example to illustrate a point. He is generally under the HIT umbrella, but not an extreme HIT anyways. I wish there were more bodybuilders(HIT practitioners) of his kind, to serve as an example. He is interesting with the fact that he was naturally able, extremely consistent and determined to achieve the “ultimate hypertrophy” and he did it! (Weather such an extreme is desirable is another story) And even him, the gifted, evolved to HIT and doing less overe the years in order to make it happen. Dorian is no scientist, however he was known for keeping things very simple so his advice may be cool from practical point of view. I would suggest two questions for him:
    First one would be his take on the slower repetition cadences, being more towards the safety side. Here is one point, where he differs a bit than most of the HIT guys, as usssualy his repetition style instructions are “Control the negative, compress the energy like a spring and then Explode on the way up”. This with huge pountages probably brought his many tears and injuries OR he thinks otherwise?!
    Secondly, he has stated, that although he admired HIT masters like Mike Mentzer and Arthur Jones, he could not agree, that one muscle group can be fully trained with only one movement, as it is suggested in most HIT abbreviated routines. And he said he was convinced by some scientific method like EMG or thermo camera scan. In this sense, interesting is what he would say about Bill De Simone’s Congruent Exercise and respective approach to exercise selection and execution from the biomechanics point of view?! If he is aware of it at all, would this make him think again?
    Best Regards: Kamen

    • I could not disagree more that a body part cannot be worked sufficiently with one exercise . On occasion i may throw in some work for my biceps which consist of one movement which is concentration curls performed in static and slow negative style . and let me tell you my biceps are completely toast after i’m done ! I usually don’t do this because of my use of slow negative pull ups which i’ve been performing for a long time . And by the way that one movement is all i do to stimulate my back but the contractions that i feel throughout my back and front as well are excruciating ! And the soreness that i get is also quite profound from these pull ups . So in my experience you absolutely can work body parts very well with single exercises if they are performed with a lot of effort . But you will not attain results with multiple exercises unless they are done with a lot of effort either .

  • Hi Lawrence,

    I was wondering if we could get some more information on the conference that Doug attended in Germany. I clicked on the link that you provided, however I can’t read German 🙂 I would love to attend it next year if possible.



    PS: Great podcast, keep up the great work!

    • Hi Matt – thanks for the feedback 😀 I just clicked the link to double check that Doug presents in English and he does ;-), take another look and let me know.


    • Hi Matt – thanks for the feedback 😀 I just clicked the link to double check that Doug presents in English and he does ;-), take another look and let me know.



  • Cheers for your kind words and your comments Rob. This marks my third interview with Doug, so there won’t be another for a while, but hopefully we’ll post another at some point in the future. I am familiar with leangains.com but I would need to read more about the workout you describe. I’ve only been on the site a few times but I have heard a lot of good feedback so I shall review more closely. Good to see more local interest in this type of training 😀

  • Thank you, Lawrence! Bill DeSimmone sounds best for my needs really! I spent a lot of time talking to Ted Harisson and got some great ideas of different ways how I can alternate between one set and multiple sets in a very brief way still and still get results. I actually have Project Kratos as the only H.I.T. bodyweight book in my library, but I felt disappointed by the results – although I haven’t quite read that much of it either though! But yeah, Drew Baye is very consistent on his belief in one set only! I can take at least 72-96 hours for sure to recover from a workout like that, but my strength stalls, and my muscles really don’t seem to grow the same way they do when I use 3 sets. I want to believe otherwise, but I haven’t seen it. I’ve gone back and forth freezing my gym membership lately, but truth is I see benefits to the gym, and benefits to staying out of the gym both! The environment at the gym really does something to make energy for the workout to actually happen. On the other hand, my joints clearly tell me I’m better off using bodyweight and bands at home! (It’s pretty consistent!) Saves a lot of time and money too. James Steele told me his opinion was and is that it is all pretty much the same either way – unless you want to be a power lifter or something. I like the not counting thing he has. I don’t know. I guess I’ll read project Kratos and add a few sets here and there once I finally decide to cancel my gym membership officially. Hardest thing in the world to do! (And it’s right next door practically too!) Thank you…

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  • I am currently doing the 12 minute program. However I am never sore after the workout, even though I follow the program to a T. Is that normal? I’m a 37 year old postpartum women in relatively good shape.

    • Hi Jenny,

      How long have you been doing BBS for? In most people, the soreness associated with a particular routine tends to reduce over time. Although no one really knows what causes muscle soreness and what soreness means!? We can only speculate.

      Is your workout performance (increased TUL/resistance) trending upward over time? And does it continue to do so? If the answer is yes, then I see no issue in continuing as you are.

      My only other thought is that you may require more volume in your workouts if you think you aren’t getting enough from them. Perhaps try adding exercise to pre-exhaust selected exercises in your routine. BBS provides a section on advanced techniques.

      Hope that helps,

  • […] Doug McGuff (Listen to my episodes with Doug here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part […]

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