This guy can’t answer a god-damn question.
Interview with Scott Abel Part I
I know some of you are reading this and saying, who the hell is Scott Abel? I also know that those of you who do know who he is are dying to hear what he has to say, so I’m not going to waste a whole lot of your time. Scott is one of the few coaches in the world of bodybuilding that knows his stuff. All too often we see trainers whose only qualification is a big bicep or mail order certification. Not Scott.
Scott Abel is probably the most innovative coach in bodybuilding today. He’s one of the few individuals I can talk to that completely fascinates me with his knowledge and theories. He’s also managed to help some major bodybuilders take their physique to the next level. Without further ado, we bring you the Scott Abel interview.
AE: Scott, why don’t we start off with you telling the readers a little about yourself, your educational background, things of that nature?
SCOTT: Ok, well I grew up in London, Ontario. Nothing major there. I played sports, mostly hockey, at a very high level. I got used to the pressure of high level athletic at a young age. Then I went to Queens University in Kingston, Ontario, it’s kind of like the Harvard of Canada. I did my undergrad program there, and I did my Masters program there as well.
AE: Undergrad in what, and Masters in what?
SCOTT: My undergrad was in sociology, I took an honors in social theory. My Masters degree was in social theory as well, but my Masters Thesis was athletic as labor, pro athletes as laborâ?¦labor theory.
AE: So having majored primarily in sociology in college, how did you move into becoming an athletic trainer?
SCOTT: Well, bodybuilding has been the one constant in a life full of unconstants. I can put it that way. My life changed, has changed several times for various reasons some significant, some insignificant, but bodybuilding was the one passion that I had that I pursued passionately. While I was doing bodybuilding, I mean, back when I was doing it competitively, there were no experts, there was no line of experts, it just wasn’t as available or as deep as it is now. There was a lot of whispering, conjecture, back then it was sort of a group of few in-the-know people who took juice, and a few out there who knew nothing about anything. I was one of those.
AE: So, most of your background as far as being a trainer, comes from practical knowledge gained through working not only on yourself, but with other athletes, not a formal education per se?
SCOTT: I would say through making a lot of mistakes. I would call it a formal education. One thing that if you take a graduate degree in arts, you learn really quick how to learn or you don’t survive. I spent most of my free time in medical libraries and such, the sport was that important to me. Once I got a handle on it, even when I was at Queens, I ended up teaching certain courses and stuff in the fitness department. I was well respected before I graduated for my knowledge base in exercise. In 1989, I got a job at Weider Muscle Camp, and that was a pivotal year for a lot of people for a lot of reasons, but there were a lot of people there. Tom Deters was my boss, he now runs Muscle & Fitness, Chris Aceto did the same kind of job I did, there was just a lot of good people there. People that are passionate about the sport. What I experienced there basically was, I had always been on the outside of bodybuilding. I competed, but I was never part of the internal milieu. I didn’t hang with bodybuilders, I didn’t know any bodybuilders, it was just something I did. While I was getting my degrees and stuff, I always had that in my head, geez, if I only knew what these experts know. Then when I got the job with Weider, what I found when I got down there was, which is still true today, is basically a bunch of smoke and mirrors. The experts, if anything, had only reviewed the same literature I had reviewed, but nobody had really put anything together. That gave me a lot of confidence when I returned home. I had already been helping people, but not on a level where I had put together any kind of methodology like I have now.
AE: Who are some of the athletes you’ve worked with that our readers might be familiar with?
SCOTT: Well, you know what? I’ve worked with everybody, but I think that stuff gives people the wrong impression. When I came back I worked with and made a lot of pros out of Canadian bodybuilders. If your working with the genetic elite in California, Chris Aceto for example stayed in California and worked there and helped a few people out, got a name for himself. If you’re working with a Flex Wheeler or something you’ve got a lot of room for error, then you get a reputation for knowing what your doing because you trained the best in the world which is kind of like, backwards. When you’re training the best in the world, you’ve got a lot of room for mistakes. It’s not like a coaching thing where you can give Phil Jackson a lot of credit for coaching Michael Jordan. You know it’s a different thing, because in bodybuilding you have to have the hands-on knowledge of someone’s body. But you know, I’ve trained them all, Lenda Murray, Laura Creavalle, all the males I’ve helped out back in my day and even now, but it doesn’t appeal to me to brag about it because I think it’s the wrong message to send out. That someone works with big names, therefore he’s good.
AE: Why don’t you tell me a little bit about Innervation Training?
SCOTT: Ok, Innervation Training is a methodology of training that I developed over the course of years. I had always had this thing in my head, but could never put a handle on it and definitely couldn’t bring it together as a theoretical modality that people could follow. Then there was a bunch of research brought to my attention and the basic one was called functional differentiation. The given theory in bodybuilding and strength sports were wrong because they focused so much on muscular skeletal considerations, whereas if you look at the overall picture, muscles are more effected by neuronal variables, neuro-muscular items than they are muscular skeletal. I always felt like the theorists and experts were missing the point, they’re kind of looking at a snapshot and deciding it explains everything, when it’s really a descriptive phenomenon, whereas what’s really going on in the body is more like a video. The nervous system can explain that better. I looked at independent variables, what’s affecting what, and I just thought, for the longest time that the experts were missing the boat by focusing on the muscles themselves. Thanks to this research, I was able to back-up a lot of what I had to say. It required me revamping a lot of my own workouts and stuff, but now I’ve got it down to a real science where I can apply it to everybody at their level. The other problem that exists out there, is that you’ve got a lot of media created icons and experts who haven’t the foggiest idea of the science involved. They get people calling their way of training a “system” of training, when it’s not a system at all because it can’t be applied to everybody. For instance, Heavy Duty. That’s not a system of training because it leaves out too much.
AE: Give an example of a bodypart, say biceps. What would be an example of a bicep workout utilizing Innervation Training?
SCOTT: Well, you would have to back up. First of all, you would have to take the specimen in front of you as the example you’re writing the bicep workout for. Is the individual an advanced bodybuilder, do they go to the gym on a regular basis, are his goals to be an advanced bodybuilder or to put on muscle mass, or as his goals to be a better halfback in football. These are things that have to be addressed. Then you have to look at the actual anatomical arrangement of the persons body. Is he 6’2" with long legs and long arms, or is he 5’1" with Lee Priest short limbs and an average torso? Both things are going to affect how you structure a workout. Or they should, whereas usually in the mainstream knowledge base, it doesn’t.
AE: Well, that is true. The other systems of working out are pretty much applied across the board to every style of physique, every height, every bodyweight.
SCOTT: Right. Number one, I should probably specify. The number one determining factor if you use Innervation Training, besides the research about how muscles function in terms of the nervous system which is entirely distinct from what the experts are saying now, the concept revolves aroundâ?¦…when the experts exist as they do now, they focus on the concept of strength, whereas I focus on the concept of intensity. Those are vastly different worlds. Intensity, I break that down in my seminars to what’s called the circle of intensity. A circle starts and finishes at the same point. So, to answer the bicep question, or whatever. You take a rank beginner who starts at the top of the circle. Now overload being the first principal of exercise physiology. All that means it to accomplish greater improvement, you’ve got to add greater loads basically. So you take a rank beginner and you give him a whole body workout. Over the course of time you increase the overload by increasing the volume of performance. You break down the bodyparts, you add a few more sets, that kind of thing. Then you break down the bodyparts more and you add more volume. In Innervation Training, in terms of the ways the body responds, that’s called quantitative adaptation or quantitative learning. Your body is adopting to the stress of the program because you’re quantitatively adding more stress. Now after awhile, as your nervous system develops to that stress, adding more volume does not produce any more effort, in fact it produces negative consequences.
AE: It will become counterproductive at a certain point.
SCOTT: Yeah, if that’s all there was to results then advanced people would be doing 30 sets for their biceps and neophytes would be doing 3 sets for their biceps. So, as you come back up the circle of intensity if your drawing a circle and looking at it, as you come back up the circle what you have is qualitative learning where your body is adapting to the program by selectively responding with the right muscle fibers, the right sequencing of muscle fibers, in a very orderly and advanced fashion. That’s qualitative learning and at that point you actually reduce the number of sets, reduce the overall volume because you can produce a greater training load in less time. What I would get out of one set of 10 reps to failure would probably be 10 times as much as what a beginner would get out of three sets of 10 reps to failure. That’s called a training efficiency percentage. If I define that’s the number or percentage of reps in a set that produces an adoptive response.
AE: So one of the aspects of Innervation Training would be that as you become more advanced, you learn how to train muscles more intensely?
SCOTT: I wouldn’t say you learn, your muscle adopt specifically to the type of stress their under. Which again, these things can lead us into patterns that will last an hour in terms of explanation. Between a beginner and an advanced athlete the point I’m making is, calling myself an advanced athlete, if I do a set of 10, and we broke it down and attached electrodes to my muscles, my first rep and my 10th rep would be of almost equal intensity, other than fatigue. All the large fibers had been recruited and will no longer function. Whereas, you take a beginner or intermediate, you know someone that you know, and you can tell just by the way their training that the first five of six reps are relatively easy. Rep number 6 maybe gets difficult, rep number 7 gets a lot slower, rep number 8 is even slower. While an advanced athlete from rep 1-10 is functioning at a high level of intensity and getting the optimum training efficiency percentage, a beginner or intermediate, getting four out of those 10 reps are all out adaptation reps that are forcing the body to respond so he’s getting like a 40% training efficiency percentage because he’s still in the quantitative learning.
AE: That does make sense.
SCOTT: So what I’m looking at in devising a workout, I have to assess what their workload capacity is, and I do that by asking a certain amount of questions and whatnot. So to ask what is a typical bicep workout is a typical question, but again, it’s because people are locked into that mindset of external factors that don’t control anything.
AE: Let’s talk a little bit about your philosophy on nutrition. Say for example you had a fairly advanced bodybuilder come to youâ?¦.
SCOTT: Let me just interrupt for one second.
SCOTT: To make sure you specify with Innervation Training that the topic can go on for several hours. We haven’t even touched on how to apply it, or how to break it down, or what factors are involved in workouts that are designed by that methodology. I just want to make that clear, because it’s quite involved, it took a lot of years to develop.
AE: Well Scott, let’s do this. We’ll proceed with some other questions at this point and get a general overview of your philosophy on training and nutrition, then we’ll come back to Innervation Training and discuss it in more detail. I expect we’ll have to break this interview into two parts, it will probably be fairly lengthy.
SCOTT: It’s something I’m proud of, it took years to develop, I mean, I had 5 people in this years Nationals. Our Nationals. Three of them have gained, in less than a year, 20 lbs or more. With everything else being the same, all other variables remained the same. Their drugs were the same, their supplements were the same, it’s the Innervation Training. People just sort of say, “Training, oh, I know how to do that”, and brush it aside, whereas, if they wanted to take a good look at this, they’d really be surprised.
AE: Well, let me ask you this question then, because this is probably an area where your philosophy differs from mine. If you had to assign a percentage value to training, nutrition, and anabolic use, how important would each factor be in the quest to achieve a championship physique?
SCOTT: At what level?
AE: Let’s say national and professional.
SCOTT: Well, you break that down, I often talk about this stuff as well. We have a lot of parallels, I read your intro, we think a lot alike (I had forwarded the introduction to the December issue to Scott prior to conducting this interview). I always talk about the training pie, and when you are working as an athlete, you’re looking to take care of all of the components that comprise each piece of that pie. So, one is your training environment, one is nutrition, one is pharmaceuticals, one is coaching, one is your workload capacity, your genetic proclivity, you know you can think of a lot of slices. Each slice of that pie would be in and of itself a pie, like if you had to break down something like nutrition, then you have to break down how your body processes it, you know, that kind of thing, on and on. If I had to break it down in terms of slices of the pie, I would say of those three, all things being equal, I would give 20-25% to pharmaceutical enhancement, and split the rest evenly between nutrition and training because the feed each other. But, I mean, all of these questions are loaded and you can go off in different ways. One of the things you specified that I liked about your intro, you know, I hope you include this because I agree, 3 of the 5 things you said in your intro this month have nothing to do with bodybuilding, their personality traits. I think people miss that point. I get a lot of people calling me with inane questions, they’re nowhere near what they’re asking, what they want advice on. It’s one of these ridiculous things where they still haven’t proved they’ve got a commitment to do it.
AE: We’ll I’m sure you experience the same thing, but I get contacted by a great number of athletes and bodybuilders who want to be trained. To be honest with you, there is a very small percentage that actually I take on as clients, because taking the other people’s money would be a waste of time. It would be a waste of my time and a waste of their time.
SCOTT: Yes, and I’m quite well known for my, I wouldn’t say cutthroat, but I’m honest to them. Almost to the point ofâ?¦I don’t cut corners. I’ll tell people flat out what you just said. Donâ??t waste my time or your money. I think the problem there is, when I grew up with bodybuilding, because I’m from a pre-generation of bodybuilding, it was still something you could respect and pursue with a good heart. The people at the top, the Lee Haney’s and such, were all ex-football players, or ex-athletes who had the athletic mentality, it wasn’t about winning, it was about the pursuit of excellence. And now, because of a lot of factors, especially the way the mainstream media in our industry has gone, you basically cater to the lunatic fringe. A lot of the people drawn to bodybuilding now are sort ofâ?¦…you know it appeals to the lower working classes as a group and they use their body as other people use their toys. Sort of a sign of status, like I’ve got a Rolls Royce or I’ve got a Porsche or that kind of thing. It’s like a security thing. So, you’ve got two different kinds of people there, you’ve got people that understand athletics, which makes it easier for you or I to train them because they’re trainable and they get it. Then you’ve got the sort of people that are drawn to it for all the wrong reasons that are emotional and personal, you just can’t work with them. They’re pursuing a whole different mentality.
AE: Yeah, I come across that constantly. In fact, out of the emails and phone calls I get on a daily basis, I would probably say less than 20% or less are from people who really have an understanding of what they’re doing, that have the capability to achieve their goals.
SCOTT: It’s getting less and less. I mean, a lot of the younger generation blows my mind with how easy they think everything is supposed to be. I mean, look at people taking up golf because of Tiger Woods. You know, they’re missing the point that he’s been playing the game since he was 2. Now they think, he’s young at 21, how hard can it be?
AE: Well, one of the focuses that we’ve seen in the sport, and I’m sure you would agree with this, is in the issue of sports pharmacology. Everybody’s fascinated with who’s doing this and what are they taking. As I’ve said to you before, certainly that does have its place, I mean it’s part of the sport, but at the same time people place way too much value on steroids and growth hormone and everything else into the success of the people who are making it to the top of the sport. I mean, they don’t see what is going into the workouts, they don’t see what kind of food these people have to eat, and they don’t see anything else. For them, it’s all about the drugs.
SCOTT: Yes, and that’s an insult to someone like me who’s been doing this for 20 years at a high level. You know? I mean, drugs are a working part of it, and you can have your moral issues if you’d like, and I can debate that with anyone as well, but the bottom line is, it takes years of sacrifice and hard work. If you’re an athlete and you’re sacrificing in the right way you’re not giving up your whole life and becoming an obsessive personality about it, but the problem is, there are things that need to be said about anabolics, but the problem is when you say them, you’re also catering to an audience you really shouldn’t be catering too. That’s sort of a double-edged knife, there’s things that need to be spelled out, at the same time there are these morons out there that are looking for that, “Oh that’s it! That’s the secret. If I jam that, I’m on my way here.”
AE: The mentality that I’ll be on the Mr. O stage next year.
SCOTT: Yeah, unbelievable and the mentality just keeps getting worse. I don’t know how many people I run into up here that just won their novice show and they’re talking about when they’re going to the Olympia. It’s sick!
AE: Let’s move on to nutrition because that’s an area I find particularly interesting. I have a background in Food Science and Dietetics so, that’s kind of where I focus a lot of my attention. Let’s say you have a fairly advanced bodybuilder, he’s going to compete on the national level. He’s coming to you to add as much mass as possible during the offseason. How are you going to evaluate him for his nutritional profile and what steps will he be taking to add more mass?
SCOTT: Ok, my number one determinant there is going to be training and not so much nutrition. When you say I’ve got an advanced bodybuilder, I’m assuming you’re talking genetically as well.
SCOTT: Ok, well that is a huge difference in terms of training somebody. For a number of reasons. One, they respond to training quicker. Two, they tend to process food anabolically, that can be determined genetically. When you’re working with a genetically advanced athlete, this needs to be spelled out to your audience, because a lot of them don’t get the general message of something and they call me with the minor details of something I’ve said because they’ve missed the whole point of specifying genetically advanced individual. With that, it’s a lot easier to maintain muscle than it is to put it on. In terms of calories, maintaining muscle mass is simply a matter of feeding muscle and starving fat, whereas putting muscle on requires a lot of extra calories. Your body won’t make muscle until it understands that consistently it has enough extra calories available to do so. Ronnie Coleman guest posed up here in July at 305 lb, fat! He won the Olympia. I think a lot of people don’t get that it’s necessary to bulk up. They don’t. This sport is kind of contradictory because people do it for cosmetic reasons, yet in order to advance, you sort of have to put the mirror away for a year or two and really decide to put on the weight it takes to support an anabolic environment.
AE: Well, from what I’ve seen and from what I know, people at the top of the sport, at the national and professional level, understand that. I think that the myth of these athletes staying within 10 lbs of their contest bodyweight is something that’s perpetrated by the media and the supplement companies because they want everyone to believe that these athletes aren’t blowing up in the offseason. You see that as well, right?
SCOTT: Oh yeah! And those same principals are even more important for someone who’s less genetically advantaged. They don’t seem to get that, and that’s the problem right there. You know, and advanced guy can put away the mirror for a year and still look good in a sweatshirt or baggy T-shirt, he still looks like a bodybuilder, he’s huge. But you know, a person who’s not as genetically advanced or as far along in their career is not going to look so cosmetically pleasing in the bulk-up phase. But they’ve got to decide what they want to devoteâ?¦…this is what our sport entails. If you’re going to devote yourself to improving, then do it! If not, then take up something else. I mean the other side to that is, it’s possible in a certain way, but you would have to be monitored constantly, and the pros just aren’t that knowledgeable. Contrary to popular belief, a pro card doesn’t come with a PhD in nutrition.
AE: Do you find that most pro bodybuilders have a coach, someone such as yourself?
SCOTT: Well you know what? Bodybuilding is probably the weirdest industry out there for a number of reasons, a couple of which, sadly, are preventable but there is a huge ego involved with getting a coach in our industry whereas, in other sports it’s a matter of fact. You know, you look at figure skaters and tennis players, they’re hiring and firing a coach every single day, but they’re not firing a coach and saying, I’m going to do this by myself. Whereas bodybuilders, especially on the men’s side, there still seems to be a thing where they’d rather get fourth on their own than win with help. I think people with real athletic background, the ones we were talking about earlier, come to the sport with the right frame of mind and have no problem getting help. Why do you see Ronnie Coleman go from 9th or 10th to Olympia champion? He got help.
AE: I think you might enjoy a little more credibility than some of the other so-called “gurus” or trainers in the sport simply because of your physique.
SCOTT: Possibly. I’ve taken a lot of time off in the past and sort of had a kind of backward attitude about that and not train because I was still enjoying research at the time and wanted to be respected for what I knew. Like I said, I was never involved in the internal aspects of bodybuilding, I didn’t realize that the audience of people that I want to talk to are impressed with that. First you have to catch their eye. So, I got back into training and applying my own theories and stuff to myself. You know, everywhere I go I get confused all the time with Greg Kovacs or Craig Titus, it’s quite funny. I have a very, very advanced physique in terms of maturity, I have a very small waist and stuff like that. Everywhere I go, it’s pretty funny
AE: I had never seen a picture of you until a recent issue of MuscleMag International, I’m assuming those are fairly current, right?
SCOTT: They’re about a year old, I’m a lot rounder now. I’m still in the process of getting there. I’m one of the few that can stay in shape year round, and that’s because of what I do now, and because I’m older and enjoy it. But I’m around 260, not even 5’10", so I’m a fairly imposing figure I guess.
AE: Any competitive aspirations for yourself?
SCOTT: No, that’s over for me. Well, I love guest posing, some people have hired me and I love doing it, but to go that extra mile to get on stage, I really have nothing to prove at this point.
Well, that’s it folks. Be sure and tune in next month as Scott Abel dives into Innervation Training and explains more about his unique methodology. We’re hoping to be able to work with Scott in the future, so if you liked this article, please be sure and contact our staff and let us know!
Copyright 1999 Jason Meuller and Anabolic Extreme. This material may not be copied, reproduced, or transmitted without the express written permission of the copyright owners.