This is a long over-due interview with my buddy Mark McManus. When it comes to training specifically for aesthetics and muscle growth, I consider him my go-to guy. And, he definitely walks the walk – check out how he looks!
What is your training experience?
Well, like many things in life, we experience something we don’t like before we decide that we MUST have its opposite. I was no exception. It was a feeling of being too skinny that drove me to want to start building some muscle.
My training system (called THT training is built around the most fundamental principle of building muscle – Progressive Overload. Basically this means that you must increase the weight lifted and/or the reps completed on as many sets as possible on successive workouts. Building muscle needn’t be as complicated as some people make out – obedience to this principle WILL bring success, you just have to learn how to OPTIMIZE it – that’s where the other THT principles come in.
Why 8 to 12 repetitions for muscular growth?
This is one part of the optimization I’m talking about. Getting stronger through progressive overload is the key, but what rep range should we reach ‘muscular failure’ in? My research would indicate that failure on the 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th or 12th rep in EVERY set produces most growth. So in each set you may have to adjust weight to achieve failure in this anabolic rep range.
Lower rep ranges work best for those prioritizing strength gains as opposed to muscle size. Higher rep ranges activate the aerobic pathways (rather than the desired anaerobic), and also ensure that successive sets are less than optimal due to the rapid fatigue they produce.
8-12 reps produces more structural adaptations over neural ones. I want to train to be bigger and look better naturally, so this is where I stay.
Why ‘Go To Failure?’
The necessary muscle stimulation to FORCE muscle adaptation occurs in the last few reps of a set. You have to give your muscles a reason to grow. Continually reaching failure at higher and higher weights ensures that you are providing the MAXIMUM anabolic signal to the muscles worked.
Which exercises do you recommend?
Man, there are some really silly exercises out there, I stick to the basics. I’m sure some of your readers will have experienced the following scenario…
You begin working out and follow the basics i.e. basic exercises and working on beating your last performance every time – you’re building muscle at a good rate.
Then as time passes, you meet some gym rats and/or buy some muscle mags (rags) that convince you that you’re doing it all wrong and need to follow a more complex routine and weird exercises. You’re convinced they’re right and start changing things up; it’s just then you’re results stop coming. Of course you tell yourself it’s because you’re no longer a beginner and can’t expect new gains every month or so. Well, in my opinion, you just made a BIG mistake.
The basic exercises and progressive overload will force a muscle to continually grow so long as you get your diet right. I recommend a combination of heavy compound lifts for larger muscle groups and also some compound movements for smaller muscle like triceps. I only think a few of the ‘isolation’ movements are worth doing.
However, it must be stated that I have a different definition if what constitutes a compound or isolation movement. I agree with what IFBB pro Jeff Willet said in this interview I did with him,
I would consider barbell curls a compound movement as compared to something like concentration curls or preacher curls because barbell curls are a multi-joint/multi-muscle movement. This makes it a superior bicep exercise because the compound nature of it allows you to handle more weight through a more natural range of motion. Same is true for French Curls.
Jeff here is talking about performing these exercise with what is sometimes referred to as Biomechanically Optimized Form. This involves using the body’s natural biomechanics when lifting to MAXIMIZE the load that can be placed on the intended muscle and help ensure that you stay injury-free.
[Mark in 2006, after his first successful cutting cycle. He felt he was quite skinny back then but had a good foundation to build on. Had ripped abs but needed more muscle.]
Lets talk about six-pack abs
There is so much misinformation about abdominal development. Abs are to built like any other muscle i.e. progressively overloading them with weighted resistance. 2 exercises I especially like to get the job done are weighted decline sit-ups, and weighted lying leg raises.
However, building abdominal muscle is only one aspect of attaining the elusive six-pack. The majority of work goes into getting your body fat low enough to see those sculpted abs. This is done with diet and cardio.
- Nutrition – The BEST fat-burning diet
- Weight Training – Essential! Based on my THT training but tweaked a little for cutting purposes
- Cardio – Cardio is an essential part of cutting. However, no marathon sessions are needed! Short, intense bursts work best – you’ll discover why and HOW to do it.
What makes Total Six Pack Abs superior
Each one of the 3 factors above actually INCREASES in intensity throughout the program.
- The diet actually INCREASES in its fat-burning potential
- The weight training INCREASES in its muscle-building and fat-burning potential
- The Cardio INCREASES in its fat-burning potential
This is the secret of those who KEEP losing fat week on week VS those who stall, lose motivation and QUIT! Abs can be attained quite quickly if the fat keeps coming off week on week!
There are formulas in the book which will reveal the EXACT cutting macro nutrient grams based on YOUR OWN body. Grams of carbs, fat, and protein are tailor-fitted to the individuals current body make-up.
[Comparison between Mark’s his first cut and his latest fat loss cycle from the summer of 2009.]
You may also find it surprising that the Total Six Pack Abs program actually allows for sweet treats every week! Inside the book you’ll discover the science of why this is the case and why it’s surprisingly BENEFICIAL for torching unwanted body fat.
Thanks for the interview, Yavor. Keep up the good work at your site!