A question I get fairly frequently is to recommend books on developing muscle mass. And unfortunately, there tend to be few on the list. In my experience over the years, books tend to come in one of two categories.
The first is a book on training written by whatever professional bodybuilder is popular at the time. Arnold’s Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding is probably one of the best known (and just carrying the damn thing is a training effect in its own right) but Dorian, Tom Platz and many others have written books as well. Occasionally coaches such as John Parillo, who’s book is actually quite excellent, or Vince Gironda, who’s book is, well, interesting have been written.
And while there is certainly information to be gleaned from these, they are always colored by the issue of steroid use. Steroids often make the training being done far less relevant. Again, I’m not saying that the advice should be ignored, it just has to be considered within the realities of the sport.
At the other end of the spectrum tend to be scientifically (or to use the current term “evidence based”) tomes on the topic. Most of these have actually dealt more with strength training than bodybuilding per se and a lot of them leave a lot to be desired in my opinion. A lot of this, honestly is that, for most of the years of exercise science research, there just wasn’t a lot of good stuff on muscle growth being done. That’s changed in recent years. Which brings me to today’s product review which is Brad Schoenfeld’s new textbook on the topic.
The Science and Development of Muscle Hypertrophy
Brad Schoenfeld is one of a new crop of exercise scientists who come from a background of strength training and/or bodybuilding. I’ve reviewed a number of his studies (and he’s done others including a number of excellent meta-analyses of topics such as rest intervals, repetition speed, the mechanism of growth, and others) and have mentioned that it’s nice to see someone finally at least attempting to do training studies that have some relevance to real-world training.
Brad was nice enough to send me his book ahead of printing (being in the industry has some perks) which I plowed through. I should mention that his book got an early accolade which was that it was part of my morning bathroom reading. Few books make it to that level and that alone should tell you how good it is. Ok, moving on.
Let me say up front that, while excellent, Brad’s book is a textbook. He’ll probably force all of his exercise physiology students to buy it since that’s how you make the big money in the textbook field. If he can update it annually, he can ensure that new students have to pay full price and old editions aren’t worth anything.
Just as an overall review, the book leaves basically no topic related to hypertrophy unturned. And make no mistake this is geared towards muscle growth. It’s not aimed at strength training or exercise performance. It’s about muscle growth and little else.
Talkin’ About Hypertrophy
The book is divided into 7 primary chapters with subsections and I’ve shown the book’s Table of Contents below.
I’m not going to go through each and every section of the book in detail as it would take forever and, by that point, you might as well just buy the book and read it. Rather, I want to make some general comments about the book, etc. I’ll make some comments about pros and cons (or more what I did or didn’t like) as I go.
Since the book was published by Human Kinetics, who has been around for ever, it is extremely well laid out and I can’t actually recall even one typo. If I believed in editors, I would hire them. There are graphics as needed to illustrate concepts, usually muscular or biomechanical stuff and little boxes with key points for when your brain shuts off and you need a break from reading dense text but just want the TL;DR.
As noted, this is a textbook. As such, it can read a little bit dryly in places but that’s just the nature of this type of thing. It’s not really meant for popular consumption in the sense that many books on the topic are. At the same time, for the research nerds who are looking to really get into some details, this is a fantastic book. The book is meticulously referenced with a total of 861 references. Having fully referenced two books (both of which had over 600 references), trust me when I say that this is an exhaustive undertaking. If the study exists, it’s likely in this book.
The reference list appears at the back of the book rather than after each individual chapter. I’ve seen it done both ways (hell, I’ve done it both ways in different books) and that’s not a problem necessarily although it can entail a lot of flipping back and forth if you read the section, want to check the reference and then, if you’re me, go to the computer and Google the paper.
However, the references are in alphabetical order (something else other books do) and are numbered as such. So in any given chapter, a sentence with three references might have numbers that look something like 126, 426, 523). This is a personal preference thing and I find it unwieldy in terms of looking things up. Because rather than just looking at references 126-128 on something, I have to keep going back and forth from page to reference list since I can’t remember the numbers all at once. Again, some books do this and it’s just one of those things. I know how exhausting it is doing reference lists at all and I do understand. It also makes renumbering trivial if you find something and have to add it after the fact (my reference lists always have stuff like 17, 17a, 17b for this reason).
Stylistically, I found the book a little bit inconsistent. It tends to go back and forth from a lot of basically applied information to a lot of deep molecular level stuff. But it didn’t always delve into that level. It was more of a “In support of this, such and such researcher found that such and such intervention had such and such molecular effect.” I think that could have been left out. There is also a mixture of human and animal research, just for the record.
Perhaps the biggest drawback for many readers, and again this is consistent with this being a textbook is this: Outside of one small section (where Brad is discussing various periodization schemes) that provides some sample workouts, there simply aren’t any. If readers are getting this book hoping to find sample programs for different goals, training ages, etc. they will be disappointed.
Some of it can be inferred from the text. For example, when talking about exercise selection, Brad looks at the pros and cons of compound and isolation movements along with some of the limited (but increasing amounts of) research on how different movements target different muscles of any given group and gives what amount to practical suggestions (i.e. hamstrings need a hip extension and knee flexion movement). But you won’t find, for example, a sample hamstring routine for an intermediate lifter. Or information about scheduling split routines or anything like that.
Similarly, despite examining nutrition for hypertrophy, primarily in terms of issues like protein, carb and fat intake, nutrient timing, etc. you won’t find meal plans or anything like that. It’s just not that kind of book.
But even applying that information tends to require readers have somewhat of a background in those practical aspects of training in the first place. Mind you, I would be surprised if anybody who hadn’t been lifting for a while and who either didn’t have practical, theoretical (or both) experience in the weight room would be likely to buy this book in the first place. But it bears mentioning.
Summing Up Brad’s Book on Hypertrophy
Overall, and I’m sure this won’t surprise readers of this site, I find Brad’s book excellent. It’s as thorough a look at the science of muscle growth and hypertrophy as is or has ever been available. I don’t know that much of it will surprise readers who have a decent scientific grounding in the area but it really paints an up-to-date picture of everything that has been done as of when Brad decided it had to go to the publisher.
Trust me that books like this frequently never want to get done as you keep trying to add every new finding but that’s what second editions are for (that and to screw over your students). I’d also recommend it to anybody who wants to be lazy about finding research on a topic: Brad has done the work for you and you can probably write endless articles just from scavenging his reference list.
If you’re someone looking for an applied type of book with specific routines or exercise demonstrations or pictures of something beyond muscle fasicles and length-tension relationships, this isn’t the book for you.