Here's How The Scientific Method Can Get You Swole

I show up at the gym for back day. Specifically, I had heavy weighted pull-ups scheduled. My previous personal record was 50 lbs. added to my bodyweight for three reps. I had every intention of at least adding another 5 lbs. to the lift.

I slowly climbed in weight, but I began to notice that everything felt heavier. Even my non-weighted sets that I did as warm-ups felt heavier than normal.

By the time I got to 30 lbs. I hit a wall. I didn’t set a personal record that day. I rushed home to study my notes to see what I had done wrong, and then it dawned on me. “I only slept for 3 hours last night,” I said in the kitchen of my tiny studio apartment. “It’s the sleep!”

The Scientific Method

What is it?

You probably already know what the scientific method is, at least vaguely. If you don’t remember, don’t sweat it. The scientific method is a series of steps that scientists use to make observations and conduct experiments.

"Why Should I Learn it?"

Because the scientific method will give you control. The scientific method is the final step in becoming your own person. Without it, you will not know for sure the direction your overall fitness journey needs to take.

It’s easy not to be able to see the forest for the trees in life, and fitness is no exception. The scientific method will give you a bird’s eye view. You will see the forest, the trees, the dirt, the animals, and everything else the woods has to offer.

"How do I apply it?"

Here are the steps of the scientific method, and how to implement them in your training.

Step 1: Ask A Question

This question, in general, is going to be, “how do I achieve my ambitions.” Aspirations can vary from, “how do I get to single digit body fat percentage,” to “how do I get a 600 lb. deadlift.”

You should question everything.

Never take any advice at face value.

Step 2: Do Research

This one can be simple or complex, depending on how inquisitive you are. If you would like to keep things simple, then a Google search may be all you need.

If that isn’t good enough then anatomy and physiology books may be your route. Still not satisfied? Buy a subscription to a fitness oriented academic journal. But taking the time to do a bit of research is not optional, it is a must if you are going to gain control of your training.

Step 3: Construct A Hypothesis

A hypothesis is just an educated guess. So based on your questions, and the research that you found in response to those questions, form an educated guess about the answer. Keep in mind the word “educated.”

Hypothetically, if you find the optimal way to train the quads is with heavy weight, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you should load up the leg press with ten plates on each side and go through a 2-inch range of motion.

Always strive to get a view of the entire picture. The big picture and the details are both important; base your hypothesis on both.

Step 4: Test Your Hypothesis

Testing a hypothesis within a fitness program takes time. Lots and lots of time. You need to dedicate at least six weeks to analyzing your educated guess.

Fair Testing

Fair testing means that you will only change one variable at a time. Testing in this manner will increase the precision of your experiment.

An example of this would be, instead of overhauling your entire leg training, change how many reps you’re doing on each exercise. Adjust the parameters one at a time and you won’t have to wonder about what spurred growth.

Step 5: Analyze The Results

This one’s simple; did you get the desired outcome? If you did, then accept your initial hypothesis. If you did not, then reject.

Now let’s say, you rejected your theory. Does that mean that you just wasted the previous two months that you spent researching? No!

Missing a rep is called failure, but in the context of life, there is no such thing as failure. There are only learning experiences. That sounds cliché, but who cares, it’s true.

As long as you find out what you did wrong and don’t do it again, you didn’t fail; you became better.

The Scientific Method and Me

Here’s the story of how I discovered the scientific method’s applications to my weight-lifting journey; presented in the same format as the steps listed above.

Step 1: Ask A Question

These are some of the questions I’ve had over the years.

  1. Can I build muscle like a bodybuilder and get stronger like a powerlifter simultaneously
  2. Based on anatomy and function, what is the optimal way to train each muscle?
  3. What are the proper amounts of volume for a given workout? Am I doing too much work? Should I be concerned with overtraining?

Step 2: Do Research

  1. I looked at the top powerlifters in the game. The vast majority of them had something in common, a lot of muscle. So obviously, I should be able to build muscle and get stronger at the same time. Also, science says that a bigger muscle is a stronger muscle.
  2. Studying anatomy and function has taken countless hours of work, but it has been well worth it. I have read numerous books, and articles, and watched tons of YouTube videos on this topic.
  3. The amount of conflicting information on this topic is staggering. Coaches and athletes have vastly different views on this subject.

Step 3: Construct A Hypothesis

  1. A bigger muscle is a stronger muscle. Therefore, bodybuilding and powerlifting may have excellent synergy.
  2. Train muscles with their fiber type and function in mind. Variations in fiber type amongst different people are probably not enough to make that much of a difference in training amongst people.
  3. Everyone has differing work capacities. I must find my work capacity. The only way to do that is to continue to push my limits.

Step 4: Test Your Hypothesis

  1. During my research, I came across the concept of powerbuilding, powerlifting and bodybuilding at the same time. I adapted this training modality to align with my goals at the time and used my newly created plan for about four months.
  2. Before each workout, I would open my training log and some piece of literature or media that explained anatomy and function and tailored my workout to the specified function and fiber types. I did this every training session for about three months.
  3. The testing for this was done largely by accident. I continued to up the total volume of a workout for months on end. Every single workout had to be more grueling than the last. I kept a close eye on the numbers to see if I was continuing to get stronger.

Step 5: Analyze The Results

  1. After about six months of powerbuilding my bench press, deadlift, and squat numbers were higher than ever. I also looked and felt great. As a matter of fact, during this period was the first time I ever considered becoming a personal trainer. People were asking me all kinds of questions at the gym, and it felt good to be able to give them an answer that I believed.
  2. This question has taken, by far, the longest to answer. Technically, I still haven’t fleshed out an answer to this issue, because my knowledge of functional anatomy is still meager. However, my training has become far more streamlined because of my studying. I was doing a lot of unnecessary work during my first couple of years of bodybuilding training. Now, when I step into the gym, I feel a sense of direction and confidence.
  3. I continued upping the intensity of my workouts until I learned a precious lesson one day. For some reason, I had trouble sleeping for a few days.

Since then I have tried a few other times to set a personal record on a day that I was running low on sleep, and every single time I have failed.