Mark McManus Interview, The Muscle Hacker Shares His Wisdom On Building Muscle And Carving Out A Six Pack

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.

My book Total Six Pack Abs‘ is a FULL six-pack system i.e. it covers the following areas thoroughly…

  • 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!

21 thoughts on “Mark McManus Interview, The Muscle Hacker Shares His Wisdom On Building Muscle And Carving Out A Six Pack”

  1. Yavor, great interview. Mark hits on some good points. I’ve heard several theories on going to failure. On one side is the argument that this is psychologically discouraging if your last rep is a failure. I tend to think that it forces you to reach beyond what you think you are capable of doing. How many times have we been able to force out 2-3 more reps after we thought we were cooked?

    Also, I’d be interested in researching more about his theory on nutrition regarding carbs vs. fat. I think everyone agrees that protein is mandatory.

    Finally, the short interval cardio is definitely beneficial. Although I’m guilty of doing steady state cardio in preparation of a 5k, I still try to mix interval sprints into things.

  2. Andy,

    theories are good, but I also like try model success from people that practice it.

    The bottom line is – if you want a muscular body like the guys you see in movies for example, you need to train for hypertrophy – the way Mark describes it – 8-12 reps per set, going to failure, etc

    With strength training only you want see much PHYSICAL change in your body.



  3. Hi,

    Just want to ask you what’s your opinion on EDT(Escalating Density Training)? It has several way to use it…

    For size:

    First, start by doing a set of 3 reps. Then stop and rest 10 seconds. Now do another set of 3 reps. Stop and rest 10 seconds.

    Keep going using 3 rep sets and 10 seconds rest until you can’t get 3 reps anymore. When you hit this point, begin taking 20 SECONDS rest in between your 3 rep sets.

    Keep going using 3 rep sets and 20 seconds rest until you again can’t get 3 reps anymore. Then take 30 SECONDS rest in between your 3 rep sets. If you have to increase again, go to 40 seconds, and so on.

    Keep going in this fashion until your 15 minutes are up.
    (more volume, less rest, ideal for muscle break down)

    For Strength:

    First, start by doing a set of 2 reps. Then stop and rest 1 minutes. Now do another set of 2 reps. Stop and rest 1 minutes.

    Your goal is to complete 10 sets of 2 rep sets and 1 minutes rest.

    Next workout, do 10 sets of 3 rep sets. Next, 4.

    When you hit 4, increase the weight so that you can do only 2 times.

    What do you thing, i think this principle is quite flexible!!

  4. Chuck,

    EDT is a good system. Just make sure you don’t take your eyes off the big picture. If you want more muscle – make sure after 1-2 months your numbers are up. If you are stalling, change your approach.


  5. hey I love the site just started reading. I had question for you . I thought you cant gain muscle or size at a low body fat level or while in a deficit. You have to bulk to gain muscle. just curious

  6. ok man sounds good. I just want to put on a little size. I just read that you cant put on muscle while staying in a deficit or lean but its good to know

  7. Taylor

    size will come buddy – just need to use progressive overload, hustle each workout, eat enough to have energy for your workouts and recover for the next. You can be in deficit the rest of the time.



  8. Vic,

    exactly man – but people don’t realize they need to HUSTLE in their workouts. Doing 3 sets of 10 or 5 sets of 5 or whatever isn’t enough. But doing those sets and giving all you got, AND coming next workout and improving upon your last workout – now this would give results…


  9. Yavor,
    This is the first article I checked out on your site. I am currently working on size and I have always believed in being 100 percent focused on constant improvements(every workout). I have also been training my abs with machine crunches/etc. designed to reach failure in the 6 to 10 rep range. Good Stuff!

  10. Jason,

    6-10 is good for muscle growth. For abs – once in a while switch to low (1-3, 3-6) and high (20-30+) reps.
    Mark’s book is solid if you want pure hypertrophy.

    Good luck!


  11. Great interview Yavor,

    I have followed Mark’s advice for quite some time and I must say that I like his sensible approach – espcially emphazising on progressive overload and great technique (and not always “right form”, but bio-optimized as I am pretty sure he calls it)

    Take care brother,

  12. Alex,

    Mark is spot on. Me and my personal training clients have benefited from his workout approach when it comes to pure hypertrophy. Make sure you are aggressively pursuing the next increase – whether more reps or more weight, and you can’t help but become more muscular!

    Keep kicking a** with your blog!



  13. Hey Yavor!

    Cool site you have here, I can really relate to it.
    Man your friend is ripped!

    I go to gym a little but don’t really have the desire to get that big and go on massive supplement/diet/training regimes.

    I like being fit,lean,toned and making a little progress in size over time. I prefer cardio and martial arts, rather be able to fight than bench 150kg’s 🙂

    Keep up the cool site!

  14. Diggy,

    thanks man! Mark is ripped and knows his stuff too! I think your approach is spot on – emphasizing fun activities and increasing strength gradually. I follow your, as well as Alex’ and Glenn’s blogs and you all guys look great. And have too much fun lol.



  15. i was just curious. i am following the 5 day a week workout routine but i was curious say for example if i did legs monday, chest tuesday and so on if after this 1st week if i should keep this same routine and workouts for the 10 week period or can i switch it im a lttle confused thanks

  16. Ryan,

    it’s bet to keep the schedule for the full 8-12 weeks. This is not set in stone, but generally prorgessive overload means increasing one of the training modalities, while keeping the others the same. If you switch the schedule around, an increase in the poundage (or even a decrease!) may come as a result of changing the order of the exercises or the split, instead of from you actually getting stronger.

    Make sense?

    So the short answer is keep it the same and PUSH HARD.



  17. ok i think i do understand. so say for example if i do something like this LEGS
    (1) Barbell Squats
    (2) Barbell Squats
    (3) Barbell Squats
    (4) Barbell Squats
    (5) Stiff Leg Deadlifts
    (6) Stiff Leg Deadlifts
    (1) Standing Machine Calf Raises
    (2) Standing Machine Calf Raises

    Day 2 – Chest & Triceps
    (1) Flat Dumbbell/Barbell Bench Press
    (2) Flat Dumbbell/Barbell Bench Press
    (3) Incline Dumbbell/Barbell Bench Press
    (4) Incline Dumbbell/Barbell Bench Press
    (5) Flat Dumbbell Flies
    (6) Flat Dumbbell Flies

    (1) Decline Tricep Extensions or Flat Overhead EZ Bar
    Extensions (French Curls)
    (2) Decline Tricep Extensions or Flat Overhead EZ Bar
    (3) Decline Tricep Extensions or Flat Overhead EZ Bar
    (4) Tricep Cable Push Downs (or Close Grip Bench Press if you
    don’t have access to the necessary equipment)
    (5) Tricep Cable Push Downs
    (6) Tricep Cable Push Down

    Day 3 – Biceps, Forearms & Abs
    (1) Standing Dumbbell Curls (Alternate)
    (2) Standing Dumbbell Curls
    (3) EZ Bar Curl
    (4) EZ Bar Curl
    (5) EZ Bar Curl
    (6) Barbell Curls (or Incline Dumbbell Curls)
    (7) Barbell Curls

    (1) Dumbbell Wrist Curls
    (2) Dumbbell Wrist Curls
    ABS (for picture guides see Total Six Pack Abs)
    (1) Weighted Decline Sit-Ups
    (2) Weighted Decline Sit-Ups
    (3) Crunches
    (4) Crunches
    (5) Weighted Leg Raises
    (6) Weighted Leg Raises

    Day 4 – Shoulders & Traps
    (1) Standing Dumbbell/Barbell Shoulder Press
    (2) Standing Dumbbell/Barbell Shoulder Press
    (3) Flies (Dumbbell Lateral Raise)
    (4) Flies
    (5) Flies
    (6) Bent Over Rear Lateral Raises
    (7) Bent Over Rear Lateral Raises
    (1) Upright Rows
    (2) Upright Rows
    (3) Upright Rows

    Day 5 – Back
    (1) Barbell Row
    (2) Barbell Row
    (3) Barbell Row
    (4) Deadlift
    (5) Deadlift
    (6) Deadlift

    with a certain amount of sets and stuff for the full 8-12 weeks would i just want to keep these exact same exercises for all of these diff body parts or switch them up? or would i wait to switch them up on the next 8-12 week cycle. thanks for your time

  18. Yes, keep the workout the same for the full 8-12 weeks. And push hard 🙂 And, on the next cycle, you can switch things up.

  19. Great article/interview. I’ve been using Mark’s THT program for about a month now & am really starting to see results. Loving it.

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