T Nation

"Rational" Workouts vs "Empirical" Workouts

“Rational” workouts versus “Empirical” workouts.

I wanna go ahead and pull out some philosophy stuff and apply it here with our goals of getting bigger and stronger. I don’t know how common this particular knowledge is, but for the sake making sure everyone is in the right page, let me explain the difference between rationalism and empiricism.

Rationalism is the belief that knowledge can only be gained through a process of reasoning. Empiricism is the belief that knowledge can only be gained through our senses. Until the Renaissance, these two beliefs were combating each other, proving which one is the better method of epistemology.

In lifting weights, if a brilliant exercise scientist looks at a workout program on paper, and through a process of reasoning, such as referring to great books, concludes that the workout program is “good”, then that workout program is GOOD.

In lifting weights, if a powerlifter looks at a workout program, does it, and sees with his own eyes that his deadlift went from 405 pounds to 495 pounds in record time, VISIBLY seeing another plate added on each side after a period of time in his one-rep max, then that workout program is GOOD.

Do you think one is better than the other? Or both have their own value and should BOTH be used? I have a slight feeling a good majority of you all here will hail the empirical approach to be superior but… Honestly, rationalism can be argued to be better as well.

1 Like

This isn’t a new question/ concept, my friend; we just tend to call it “science” vs. “experience” because we are meatheads.

I’ll predict our theme will be: studies can be useful, but don’t trump experience.


And science sometimes leads us astray when the studies are conducted poorly. I recall Waterbury citing some study showing that the duration of the eccentric didn’t matter but they used these super cool machines when doing those tests and indeed in them the speed of the eccentric didn’t matter but with free weights and normal machines it can matter when the goal is hypertrophy.

I guess the worst thing experience does is sometimes giving out bad advice. But then the merits of experience can be called into question, so :woman_shrugging:

1 Like

I think therefore i lift

Or is it the other way about

Fuck knows man

1 Like

Hmm exercise scientists? :thinking: hmmmm I might know a guy.

1 Like

I’ll take the 95 lb gain.

The internet has bred a lot of so-called exercise scientists.

1 Like

Oh…my thing being that my oldest son is working on his masters degree in sports physiology.

This is going to break a few hearts… but most of the hard research in the university setting at this point has been mostly aerobic based . This is according to the PhD who he currently assist.


And the superior one is empiricism.


Doing is believing.

I trust the opinions of people who have both studied and performed these things.

But if I had to weigh them in isolation, the performance side carries more weight. These are physical things. You cant think a weight off the floor. :joy:


Well, not if you take the blue pill


Yeah it’s experience vs theory.

I’ve done the theory thing by jumping from program to program over the years and seeing what I got. Experience has told me what works for me. I’d recommend trying things that have worked for others in the past and after running it making personal adjustments to it to fit your needs.

Experience says progressive overload works. Lifting heavy works.High Intensity works. Volume training works.

1 Like

I like it when Science Bros also Lift. Empirical and Rational in one workout.

So they can experience the process and the results. Then theorize on why it worked, and develop better routines. After that they can experiment by lifting and really refine things.

This year I used two routines loosely based on Fred Hatfield’s work and made great progress, even with a quarantine break in the middle.


echoing @FlatsFarmer

Empiricism will always win. It may not look rationally-correct, but chances are that eventually the science will catch up to prove that it is.

FWIW, I’m currently reading Schoenfeld’s newest book and just finished Beardsley’s book, and the science does actually appear to say that eccentric:concentric tempos don’t matter much.

It seems that:

  • muscle damage is an overrated driver of hypertrophy
  • additionally, eccentric tempos don’t necessarily cause more muscle damage, especially in trained individuals
  • this helps explain why eccentric training does not appear to cause more hypertrophy than concentric training
  • in contrast, tension/force is the key to hypertrophy, and faster eccentric tempos can allow for more force production

I think this is a great example of science vs reason, where many people still say to use slower eccentrics, which the research is currently unsupportive of. If slow eccentrics do in fact cause more muscle growth, the literature will support it, eventually.


To muddy it a little more, every thing everyone is doing in the gym is, itself, part of a (poorly controlled) trial - the empirical feeds the rational!


If you look at Josh Bryant you can see the influence of formal Education and hands on experience.


I like that way of thinking about it. On top of that, the researchers wouldn’t have anything to test if it wasn’t for the empirical “bro science.”

Bros say you need to hit a muscle hard 1x per week -> scientists test

Bros say isolation work is useful -> scientists test


1 Like


Haven’t the world learned yet?? Good grief.

Nowadays, if you look up something like “what kind of exercise to be healthy” on Google, a vast majority of the searches will tell you strength training is just as important as aerobics. And STILL these PhD people are deprioritizing weight training??

That’s just sad.

Can you argue for your case?

Common sense dictates that empirical evidence is superior to conclusions gotten by a process of reasoning (rationalism), but I think I can make a case for rationalism.

I’d appreciate some elaboration on this point. Overrated how-so? Shown to be not as effective as the other means for growth? In what training population? It is my understanding that muscle damage works fine and dandy for some people, but there are others for which it’s not ideal.

Looking at bodybuilding programs, muscle damage certainly isn’t emphasised as much while some people have built respectable physiques from mostly engaging in styles of lifting where there’s potential for a lot of muscle damage and yet not all trainees from within those groups look similarily jacked indicating that either there’s a genetic component or a technique component.

No surprise, I’d expect a violent turnaround to illicit more muscle damage and an emphasised eccentric tempo to ellicit more of an mTor response? Did they somehow constrain the test as to ensure there was adequate muscle tension present to illicit muscle damage?

I think this is too binary a perspective, I don’t think slow eccentrics de facto provides a greater impetus for muscle growth.

Just to elaborate on the anecdote I shared, the machines they used in the tests that Waterbury cited worked in such a manner that they would, regardless of how much force the trainee applied in the opposite direction (barring them overpowering the machine) turn at a set angle/s.

Then, when they tested if 1s eccentrics were superior/inferior to 3s or 5s eccentrics the machine would simply turn more quickly. The machine would’ve turned through the complete range of motion in the given amount of time regardless of how much force the trainee applied (boo) but if we give them the benefit of the doubt and believe that they exerted their maximum effort at any tempo they would be producing maximum muscle tension.

So the test didn’t necessarily show anything about if tempo mattered and illustrated that tension matters a lot. I believe they were testing for muscle damage alone, so I don’t think the test says anything about mTor. I might be misremembering. I don’t really know how to study trauma in muscles.

1 Like
  • Muscle damage alone does not lead to hypertrophy
  • hypertrophy can occur in the absence of appreciable muscle damage
  • muscle damage sustained during resistance training is heavily reduced in as little as 6 weeks, but hypertrophy can continue to occur well past 6 weeks
  • chasing greater amounts of muscle damage will most likely lead to increased soreness, reducing the frequency with which you can stimulate a muscle

That said, muscle damage is useful in that:

  • it provides feedback so you know which muscles/muscle fibres you trained in a session
  • it may increase your myonucleic (muscle cell nuclei) density. More myonuclei is likely important to support sustained muscle hypertrophy. Testosterone, for example, will increase your myonuclei and satellite cell count

Exactly. Damage isn’t bad, but it isn’t necessary

Pretty much, although I don’t have a clue about mTOR signalling. Faster eccentric tempos will allow you to support more weight, thus forcing you to produce greater mechanical tension on the concentric. Additionally, you’ll need to generate greater impulse (and thus, greater force) to initiate the concentric phase of the lift

I haven’t read the studies where this came from, so I can’t answer this for you. I would add however, that the “mechanical tension” referred to in this discussion is the force produced by each individual muscle fibre, and is not entirely related to muscle damage. For example, a 1RM conventional deadlift attempt that is dropped from the top will illicit massive amounts of mechanical tension, but very little muscle damage.

Yeah, isokinetic machines unfortunately give very minimal crossover to standard lifting (as you know).

Oh 100% it’s all super multi-factorial. Just simplifying the variables a bit


I really enjoyed this video as a summary: