The Ogborn Method – 5 Principles to Get Ripped

how to build muscleToday, ladies and gentlemen, I have an awesome treat for you.
My friend Dan Ogborn wrote me an amazing article on some not-so-well-known muscle building principles.  Dan is an exercise scientist and PhD candidate from McMaster University.  Check out this website: The guy is smart, and he loves everything to do with building muscle.  Read this article and learn.  Are you ready to get jacked?

Thanks Jason.

We all want to be ripped and shredded. Everybody has an opinion on how to build muscle – how to create the perfect balance of size and strength, and I’m no different. When Jason asked me to write a guest post, I jumped at the chance as I knew he had an audience that would appreciate my perspective.

I’ve spent the last 13 years running nothing but experiments, from your typical meathead shenanigans at the local gym, working with personal training clients, to completing industry and government-funded studies into nutritional supplementation and the molecular effects of strength training on muscle. I started my website to take information from all sources, from the scientific and practical realms and merge them together into advice that we can use to achieve our goals in the gym.

At the end of the day, we’re all after the same thing: increased strength and muscle mass, lean physiques, improved performance, and long-term health. If you adopt the five principles I outline in the article below, you’ll be well on your way to achieving the physique you want with the strength to back it up.

What a 17th century poet taught me about strength training 

I don’t know much about Ralph Emerson, but after checking him out on Wikipedia I’ve realized this guy knew more about strength training than I would have guessed based on his bio. For a dude in the 1800s who spent most of his days stuck at a desk writing books and poems, he sure knew a lot about training, probably never having lifted a weight in his life. Why am I giving him so much credit? This quote explains it all:

 “As to the methods there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles is sure to have trouble”

I’m pretty sure ole Ralph didn’t have the internet back then, so it’s pretty shocking that he knew that in 2012 the internet would become a literal wasteland of training programs, all purporting to have the secret key to levels of strength and muscle mass you never thought possible.

Methods (programs) are many, principles are few 

Historical jokes aside, there are many legitimate, well-designed training programs online, carefully crafted by intelligent strength coaches. If you have no idea where to start, this would be a good option for you. It’ll help you learn the basics, and stop you from wandering aimlessly through the gym shadowing anyone with an ounce more muscle mass than you.

For those who want to reach their peak potential, you’ll have to ditch the training wheels at some point and learn the basic principles of training. Your focus will switch from what program you’ve bought online to a set of core principles that guide you as you create your own training programs. You’ll become self-reliant, immune to flavor-of-the-month training fads, set new records regularly and take pride in knowing they’re the result of your hard work and careful planning.

Those on a quest to become self-reliant don’t want me to give them a fish, a quick fix, they want to know how to catch it. Well, here’s how to catch that fish. If you’re looking to create a physique that represents the ultimate blend of size and strength, these are five principles that should guide everything you do in the gym:

1) Use multiple rep ranges 

The online world will have you believe that powerlifters and bodybuilders train completely differently, without a shred of similarity, but in practice you’ll see that there’s significant overlap in how the biggest and strongest people train. While a bodybuilder may focus more on higher volume training, they still use heavy compound exercises, it’s just that the emphasis is towards higher repetition work. Conversely, powerlifters emphasize maximal load and compound exercises, but many still use different loads depending on the exercise. It’s never one repetition range at the exclusion of the other, but different athletes prioritize one more than the other to achieve their desired result.

In order to build muscle, the optimal blend of size and strength is developed with multiple repetition ranges. Recent data suggests it’s not load or time-under-tension that dictates hypertrophy, but using as much muscle mass as possible 1-3. These studies demonstrated that when a muscle was worked to concentric failure during the set, heavier weights didn’t increase protein synthesis or hypertrophy more than when a lighter weight (30%-1RM) was lifted to failure. Some have used this as an excuse to lift light weights, which would be appropriate if you need to minimize joint forces (like for the elderly), but for the rest of us, it means that we can and should use a blend of repetition ranges, not exclusively heavy or light.

2) Use Compound AND Isolation Movements 

 There’s no question that over the last decade we’ve shown a bias towards compound exercises (squats, deadlifts, etc.). What’s not to love about them, they use lots of muscle mass, multiple joints and you get to move a ton of weight. It’s no wonder these often get priority in strength and hypertrophy programs, but that doesn’t mean we should forget about isolation exercises altogether.

If you’re capitalizing on the tip above (multiple rep ranges), you’ll find a nice natural division by exercise-type. Basic compound lifts like squats and deadlifts are well suited for heavy loads (1-6RM), while the single-joint movements like bicep curls are better suited to higher repetition ranges. This doesn’t have to be exclusive, who doesn’t love to suffer through a high-rep set of squats every once in a while, just don’t let us catch you maxing out your curls.

There’s room for isolation work in your program, and I’ll go as far as to deem it a necessity for the physique-minded. If you want some curls in your program, don’t be internet-shamed into leaving them out; just don’t do them in the squat rack.

 3) Your rest interval is dictated by training load 

 We often see specific recommendations for how long to rest between sets based on training goal, and if hypertrophy is what you’re after you’ve probably seen that universal 30-90 second recommendation 4. These short breaks increase the growth hormone response to training 5,6 and who doesn’t want more of that? More GH means more growth, right?

Recent data suggests that we may not need to worry as much about the hormonal fluctuations around training in order to build muscle. These traditional, anabolic hormones may not be doing what we suspect after exercise and may not be essential for muscle growth 7-10. Worse yet, those short rest intervals result in having to use less weight on the bar, and can compromise strength gains over time 11.

Fortunately, if you’re using the principles above, you can vary your rest interval to satisfy both your strength and hypertrophy objectives within your training session. Compound exercises are well suited to heavy weights (1-5RM), and to really emphasize strength you’ll require more rest (as high as 3-5 minutes). If you’re performing isolation work with lighter loads (6RM+) you can satisfy the traditional recommendations and use less rest between your sets (30-90 seconds).

You’ll end up with the rest you need to prioritize strength on your compound exercises like squats and deadlifts, while still addressing the classic hypertrophy recommendations at the same time. Win, win!

4) Don’t be afraid to pass the 1hr mark 

 A long-held belief in the training world is that extended training times deplete testosterone and elevate cortisol which limits hypertrophy, and in an over-dramatic horror story, eat away at your hard earned-muscle.

But based on the data above, if these hormones aren’t as related to hypertrophy as we thought 7-10, should we be timing our training session around them? Worse yet, that ‘evil’ cortisol has actually been positively correlated with hypertrophy 8, suggesting our attempts to minimize it may be misguided. This is an evolving story, so we can’t say that they aren’t involved, or that we know precisely what they’re doing, but we definitely can’t make a conclusive case for training under one hour based on fluctuations in testosterone and cortisol.

Ultimately time is an issue with training, whether it‘s for outdated hormonal beliefs, or the fact that we’re all busy people that may not have hours to spend in the gym. It may not be realistic, but I propose we forget the clock when training and just focus on taking the time needed to execute the plan. It’s the quality of the work that matters in the gym, not how quickly you can get it done.

5) Cheat but don’t get sloppy 

A quick trip over to Youtube will show you countless professional powerlifters, strongmen and bodybuilders who deviate from ‘textbook’ form, but still have more muscle mass than you can imagine. Would you call Ronnie Coleman’s technique on the barbell row ‘strict’? Does a Kroc row look anything like the textbook dumbbell row form? How did Arnold have the bicep development he did when he was known to curl like this?:

how to build muscle

Arnold did cheat curls and you should too! – Tweet this quote

A recent biomechanical analysis suggests that a small amount of cheating can actually increase the amount of torque produced by the target muscles in an exercise that may be beneficial during hypertrophy training 12. There are some limitations here, this was a computer simulation of shoulder abduction (lateral raise), but it does fit with anecdotal experience, just as long as we don’t overload the movement too much or in a way that increases the risk of injury. Cheat but just enough that you don’t get caught!

Don’t be a one trick pony 

It’s popular to hear expressions like “Jack of all trades, master of none” thrown around in training articles, to suggest that a program can’t possibly work if it addresses multiple goals at the same time. It’s definitely important to have clear, decisive goals in your training programs, but this expression is really only true when goals are completely incompatible. Fortunately for us, muscle size and strength are inter-related, they co-exist, and they’re anything but incompatible.

Sure we can find examples of small guys with exceptional strength or the odd bodybuilder who lacks strength, but these are the outliers, the exceptions to the rule. If you want to be bigger, you’ve got to get stronger, and any program to promote strength and size should reflect this.  Don’t let catchy quotes dictate how you train, an optimal program to increase muscle mass and strength includes a mix of exercises, rep ranges, and rest intervals.


1.        Burd, N. A., Mitchell, C. J., Churchward-Venne, T. A. & Phillips, S. M. Bigger weights may not beget bigger muscles: evidence from acute muscle protein synthetic responses after resistance exercise. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab 37, 551–554 (2012).
2.        Burd, N. A. et al. Low-load high volume resistance exercise stimulates muscle protein synthesis more than high-load low volume resistance exercise in young men. PLoS ONE 5, e12033 (2010).
3.        Mitchell, C. J., Churchward-Venne, T. A. & West, D. Resistance exercise load does not determine training-mediated hypertrophic gains in young men. Journal of Applied … (2012).
4.        National Strength and Conditioning Association Essentials of Strength and Conditioning. (Human Kinetics: Champaign, IL, 2000).
5.        Kraemer, W. J. et al. Hormonal and growth factor responses to heavy resistance exercise protocols. J Appl Physiol 69, 1442–1450 (1990).
6.        Kraemer, W. J. et al. Changes in hormonal concentrations after different heavy-resistance exercise protocols in women. J Appl Physiol 75, 594–604 (1993).
7.        West, D. W. D. & Phillips, S. M. Anabolic processes in human skeletal muscle: restoring the identities of growth hormone and testosterone. Phys Sportsmed 38, 97–104 (2010).
8.        West, D. W. D. & Phillips, S. M. Associations of exercise-induced hormone profiles and gains in strength and hypertrophy in a large cohort after weight training. Eur J Appl Physiol (2011).doi:10.1007/s00421-011-2246-z
9.        West, D. W. D. et al. Resistance exercise-induced increases in putative anabolic hormones do not enhance muscle protein synthesis or intracellular signalling in young men. J Physiol (Lond) 587, 5239–5247 (2009).
10.      West, D. W. D. et al. Sex-based comparisons of myofibrillar protein synthesis after resistance exercise in the fed state. J Appl Physiol 112, 1805–1813 (2012).
11.      Robinson, J. M. et al. Effects of different weight training exercise/rest intervals on strength, power, and high intensity exercise endurance. J Strength Cond Res 9, 216–221 (1995).
12.      Arandjelović, O. Does cheating pay: the role of externally supplied momentum on muscular force in resistance exercise. Eur J Appl Physiol (2012).doi:10.1007/s00421-012-2420-y