The scientific method is one of the most important tools we have in the pursuit of maximal strength and muscular development. As research in the sports science field elucidates the various mechanisms and methodologies involved in athletic development we can derive more effective protocols and further enhance the results of our athletes. However, there are several criticisms of the literature and more accurately scientists themselves. Often there’s a dichotomy within the fitness industry where it’s the nerds vs the bros. In my opinion this polarization is entirely unhelpful and based on false assumptions about what each demographic actually represents.
However, with increased availability of information I have seen misapplication of the evidence which has at least in part contributed to the development of this polarization. Let’s take MRV for example. MRV is an acronym for “maximum recoverable volume” which was coined by Dr. Mike Israetel along with several other landmarks in an attempt to improve the application of volume prescriptions for hypertrophy. These landmarks are simply guidelines meant to convey a broader understanding of the dose response relationship between volume and hypertrophy. They are not set in stone. For instance let us assume that on average the minimum number of sets per week an individual must do to grow their quads is 12 and the maximum they can stand before their fatigue outpaces adaptation is 24. The concept of MRV suggests that we should start at no less than 12 and over time increase volume until we reach close proximity to 24.
This is essentially taking one arm of the overload principle and making it easier to understand and apply. It’s a simple and intelligent delineation which has a lot of practical value for athletes and coaches alike. However, I’ve also seen this concept misapplied. I’ve had people tell me they are about to deload because they’ve reached their estimated MRV. In one particular case I asked if they were fatigued, if their desire to train was still high, if they were sleeping well etc. By my estimation all the indicators showed green lights and there was no need or even an indication this individual required a deload. But he was convinced he required one because “that’s what the research shows”.
Let’s make one thing clear, this was a blatant misapplication of the volume landmarks concept. In his writing and videos Mike gives an abundance of context on how to progress or regress volume based on various indicators. This individual knew all of the details when we spoke. Yet he was convinced he had reached his MRV. And this is where science can get in the way of progress. Or more accurately, this is an example of how people misuse science to justify their own biases or lack of work ethic. This particular individual was 6’1 and 185Lb. He was lean and had a six pack but his goal was to become “a muscle monster” as he put it. This may offend some people but 185Lb at 6’1 is anything but a muscle monster. This guy just didn’t want to work hard to gain serious muscle. So instead he decided to follow his internal bias and call it science.
Almost invariably the argument against research hinges on individuals like this. The claim being that they are the product of the application of research. And since they are unimpressive the research is incorrect. But the individual in this example is no more a representative of science than I am of Victoria’s Secret ideal female physique. As a side note, it’s humorous that people will discredit scientists, meanwhile they’re doing this publicly on a social platform, they drive to work, they have a phone that can connect you with anyone on the planet, they jump on a plane and can fly anywhere in the world, they live in a home, have electricity, eat foods that rely on complex agricultural processes, and if they get sick they can take life saving medication. All made possible by science.
The scientific method works. It’s not infallible but it’s by far the best methodological approach we have to answer questions and solve problems. The false dichotomy of nerds vs bros at its very core demonstrates a lack of understanding of science. Much of what drives research has a basis in anecdotes. Bodybuilders touted the importance of high protein diets, so researchers studied it and found they were right. Phil Heath at one point said he ate fish close to his show because it thins the skin. Through research we know this is not true. Switching to a leaner protein (ie. fish) reduced his fat content and by extension his calories to decrease his body fat percentage even further.
Phil Heath was doing the right thing and getting results because of it. But his rationale for why it was happening was wrong. But by conducting a proper study we can delineate which specific variables are causing the change. By knowing the mechanisms involved we gain a broader range of application for this tactic. As we gain more insight through research we can superimpose it over what we already know from real world experience to enhance the resolution. It’s not bro’s vs nerds. They’re just opposite sides of the same coin.