The 21 Laws of Muscle

Follow the Laws, Get Better Results

Simple, rapid-fire truths about building muscle, getting stronger, and getting leaner.


I’m known for my detailed content, but let’s do something different. Here are twenty-one quick truths based on my experience, observation, and education.

Training, Muscle, and Strength

  1. The simplest training program done with a high level of effort and focus will work better than the perfect program done at 80%. If you train hard, focus on progression, eat enough, include sufficient rest days, and stay patient, you’ll achieve your full potential regardless of the program. What you do in the gym is mostly a matter of personal preference and enjoyment. Most of the time, your program works. It’s just that your rate of progress is not up to your expectations. The natural rate of possible progression is lower than you think. Relax and stay consistent.
  2. The most important factors in a training program are level of effort, getting enough rest in the week, and exercise execution and selection (the best exercises for your body type and goal). Advanced or special methods can be useful, but a great coach doesn’t use a lot of these methods. A great coach knows a lot of these methods yet rarely uses them. He or she only uses them when they’re necessary to progress.
  3. Most people who get great results from following the training of their favorite expert do so because it motivates them and makes them train harder. It’s not because the program is magical.
  4. Muscle tension – especially tension while lengthening the muscle’s fibers – is the primary stimulus for muscle growth. To keep muscle tension sufficiently high, you must progressively add weight as your body adapts and gets stronger. But only add weight when your body is ready for it. If you lose the mind-muscle connection or lose technical efficiency just to use more weight, you’re not ready for it. Using too much weight – or adding too much weight too soon – decreases tension on the target muscle because you compensate with other muscles or cheat.
  5. People who major in the minors probably don’t train hard enough to progress. Those constantly roaming social media for the next coolest exercise likely don’t train hard enough to progress. Those who overthink everything likely don’t train hard enough to progress. Those who love to argue training semantics likely don’t train hard enough to progress.
  6. If you train HARD, taking the same number of rest days as you have training days will give you shocking results. It will allow you to progress faster and feel better than if you train 5-6 days a week. (Try this program.)
  7. You can’t compensate for piss-poor effort on your sets by doing more sets. And if your motivation dies off after 30 minutes, train 29 minutes. If it dies off after two exercises, do two exercises. It’s better to do less at 100% focus, intensity, and drive than to add a lot of half-assed work.
  8. Once you’re past the beginner stage, you don’t need to do the same amount of work for all your muscles. Do more for those lagging behind and less for those that respond easily. (More info here.)
  9. Protein synthesis is elevated for 24 to 36 hours after a workout. If you create so much damage that, after that period, you haven’t repaired the damage and added new protein to the muscle, your growth from a workout will be limited.
  10. Many people kill their strength progression by adding too much weight too soon. You can gain 0.5 to 2% in strength per week on a lift. Very advanced lifters progress at an even slower rate. Arbitrarily adding 5-10 pounds to the bar every week exceeds the normal rate of progress. It won’t take long until you hit the wall if you try to do that.
  11. Don’t train without a plan, but don’t be afraid to adjust the plan based on how you feel or perform in the gym.
  12. Under most circumstances, 2 to 4 work sets per exercise are perfectly adequate if done with enough intensity and focus. Your body has a limited capacity to tolerate and positively adapt to training stress. If you add work for a muscle you want to bring up, reduce volume elsewhere.
  13. Even if you skip a workout or don’t train for a week (or even two) you will not lose your gains. You might feel flat and have a lower muscle tone, but you’re not losing muscle.
  14. There are no mandatory exercises, nor are any exercises “the best” for everybody. What is best for you depends on your body type, goals, and experience.
  15. When you want to lose fat, move more, but don’t train more. When you cut calories, your body has a lower capacity to recover from hard training.

Diet & Nutrition

  1. The protein threshold theory states that the body requires a certain amount of daily protein. Hard-training people have a higher threshold. If you haven’t reached your daily threshold, your body will keep you craving food – a strategy to coax you into getting the needed protein. A lot of nighttime cravings come from not having had enough protein during the day.
  2. You won’t build a significant amount of muscle if you’re in a caloric deficit. Most people need at least 300 surplus calories per day to gain optimally. But don’t overdo it. Don’t bulk if you don’t know for certain that you’ll have the capacity, motivation, and dedication to diet off the added fat.
  3. The vast majority of overweight people overeat and under-move. It’s their fault. The good news? They can change the situation by doing the opposite.
  4. You can achieve a caloric deficit by eating less, being more active, or a combination of both. But the less you eat, the less sustainable your fat loss efforts are, and the more likely you are to regain the weight. Moving more throughout the day makes fat loss more sustainable.
  5. Keto has done more to kill gains than anything else. It made people afraid of carbs, and carbs are one of the most anabolic substances. It’s not just about energy. Carb intake increases several factors that promote muscle growth (mTOR, IGF-1, insulin) and decrease cortisol, which is catabolic.
  6. If you train hard, take advantage of proper workout nutrition. Surge Workout Fuel (on Amazon) outperforms every workout nutrition formula I’ve ever used. It makes such an improvement in performance and gains I won’t train without it – and neither should anyone serious about lifting or competing. Regardless of your fitness goals, Surge Workout Fuel will get you there faster and take you farther.

SURGEAMZ

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Holy cow I love this. It should honestly be the 21 Commandments, etched on stone tablets and handed down from the mountain top. Like, I wish I had this when I started lifting in 1999. Of course, I also would not have accepted ANY of it and figured I knew better, but looking at it now, it is SO true.

I ran out of things to point out specifically that were right, because it was all so good. Even the keto part, which I as a pretty much zero carb dude, found myself agreeing. I DO find carbs have a place, but I also find it varies by individual. I only seem to need them in one meal a week, but I DO know that, if I skip that one meal too many weeks in a row, I feel the effects. Even those on the keto train could probably do well to try a cyclical approach and see how it takes care of them.

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I was just discussing this with @QuadQueen . I went lower carb, like, ten years ago and have eaten that way more or less until about a month ago.

I recently read an article by Thibs and a book by Jade Teta that both essentially say the same thing: carbs are the best “supplement” to control cortisol. And both say some of us–the naturally skinny, naturally good at endurance activity types–can simply get wrecked if cortisol levels are too high for too long.

About three weeks ago, I switched to lower fat/higher carb and feel significantly less anxious, almost to the point of being sedated, and have been sleeping better than I can ever remember.

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That is pretty fascinating, and I can definitely believe that. @flipcollar was a great example of a dude that had a blast furnace of a metabolism and was constantly putting away the carbs to great effect. I imagine if he attempted a keto approach, it’d be terrible. I grew up a fat kid, naturally put on size in all manners, and feel so much better when carbs are reduced, which is similar to @Jon_Andersen .

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I talked to him a while back in another thread.

IIRC, he stays peeled, and strong as an ox, eating Oreos and Pop Tarts.

That’s some blessing.

All my football player friends, the guys born benching 315, seem to do well low carb, too.

Your approach obviously works for you. If you don’t mind my asking, did you have an “aha” moment when you realized carbs weren’t for you?

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I was “fortunate” in that in the late 90s/early aughts, Atkins was taking off and I was hanging out online in a martial arts community that was big on low carb. It convinced me to give it a try and it turned out to work VERY well for me. But, of course, I got sucked into the stupid keto/atkins junkfood stuff and just traded garbage for garbage and did myself no favors. Transitioning to more of a carnivore approach has been a blessing, just because it’s like a forced paleo approach as well.

Except we’ve also seen how THAT goes

Haha!

This is a very interesting discussion. I don’t want to take too deep of a dive into this one point, because all 21 were valuable, but I find the carb conversation to be one of the most “mysterious.”

I, personally, have a much tougher time staying lean than gaining weight (of both kinds). I’ve also always leaned more heavily toward a carb-based diet than fat. I actually prefer to eat fatty foods, and feel like that’s why: I have a tougher time controlling my caloric intake when I feel like I’ve given myself free reign to eat what I want.

I’ve also simply just always been either an athlete, so long practices and tons of conditioning, or trained with high-volume bodybuilding work. I’ve never really given a fat-based diet a fair chance for any length of time, because it didn’t “fit,” so to speak.

Now that I’m older (I know, haters, I’m not that old), it’s even harder to stay lean and I’m certainly not doing the volume/ conditioning I once did… but it’s also harder to recover between workouts. Maybe the next experiement is getting really targeted with my carbs - essentially protein/ fat all day and Surge Workout Fuel intra-workout? I’ve already gone the route of carbs just pre-, intra-, post-, but this would be tightening that window even further.

Just to bring it back to other points here - extending my week to allow me more recovery days, essentially training EOD (arm day gets tacked on without needing its own rest days), has been the best recent training change I’ve made!

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