Interview: Eric Bach on gaining muscle, bro splits, and how to pick a good trainer

Many of you know that I’m a contributor at Roman Fitness Systems.  That was one of the first fitness sites I ever started reading, and Eric Bach was one of the first fitness coaches I became familiar with through the articles he wrote for RFS.

Eric impressed me with his knowledge of workout programming, his love of front squats, and his willingness to use swear words in his articles.  So I invited him to do an interview and share some of his advice on building muscle, getting string without getting fat, and getting the most out of online fitness coaching.

Bio: Eric Bach, BS, CSCS, Pn1 is a Strength Coach, author, and business mentor to trainers at Bachperformance.com. He specializes in helping busy guys maintain their athleticism and look better naked without living in the gym. Residing in Denver, Colorado, Eric enjoys traveling with his wife Lauren, good bourbon, and Packers Football. Grab your free eBook 25 Expert Tips to Maximize Muscle Growth here. eBook 25 Expert Tips to Maximize Muscle Growth here

Who are your readers, and how do most of them find you?  

The majority of my readers are men age 20-40 with a fair number of them being ex-athletes, coaches, and busy guys. I’ve written one or two blog posts every week for the past four years, so most folks have read something I published on Bachperformance.com, T-Nation, or other fitness related sites.

What are the biggest mistakes you see people making when they want to bulk up?

The biggest mistake most people make when trying to bulk up is trying to change too many things at once. To sustain any goal or fitness habit you must break things into chunks. More often than not, people try to find the perfect bodybuilding routine that has then trained six times per week.
While there’s nothing wrong with training six times per week. There’s little chance you’ll sustain six workouts per week if you’ve got a demanding job, busy family life, and a commute on both ends of your day. Instead, you’re better off finding a plan that is sustainable and allows consistent training and progressive overload.
The imperfect training plan done consistently is better than the perfect plan done inconsistently.

What kind of training frequency, volume, and splits do you favor for muscle growth?  And does it change as the trainee gets more advanced?

The more frequent you workout the better for muscle growth. When looking at what drives the muscle building process, the most important parts are creating sufficient tension in the muscles, metabolic tension, and protein synthesis. Therefore, the more often we can create these factors, the greater the potential for growth.
Regarding training splits, I’m a huge fan of push, pull, lower and push-pull splits. You can do both variations with high frequency as long as intensity and volume within each workout are kept in check. Frequent stimulus begets frequent protein synthesis and thus, more potential growth.

For muscle growth, do you think it’s better to take longer rests between sets or keep rest periods to a minimum?

Once you have a foundation of strength, keep sets a bit shorter for muscle growth.  Metabolic stress, or getting a wicked pump,  is a big component to growth and shorter rest periods stimulate the build-up of metabolic by-products that trigger protein synthesis within the muscles.  For the most part, keep rest periods between 45 and 90 seconds.

How much should people worry about overtraining?  What do you do to prevent it?

Most people don’t need to worry about overtraining. UFC fighters and high-level athletes?  Sure. But for most, the issue is under-recovering. Ensure you’re getting at least 1 gram of protein/lb of lean bodyweight and sleep a minimum of seven hours per night. I’d wager every one of us would perform better physically and mentally if we’d put a greater value to sleep.

What are the biggest mistakes that you see intermediate-level trainees making?

The biggest mistake intermediates make is program hopping. The way I see it, if you don’t have a base of strength with big movement patterns you’re still a beginner. But, this is where most people struggle.
They’ve built strength and muscle. Now, they have more options to pursue in the gym.

Do they want to get ripped?
Do they want to build muscle? How about more strength? Oh…well…I heard Crossfit is fun.

You know what I mean? Pick one goal and go all in for at least twelve weeks. By chasing two rabbits you catch none. Or, by being a jack-of-all-trades you’re the master of none. Pick one thing at a time; go all in until you succeed, the reevaluate. Transforming your body takes time. Often months and years, not days and weeks. Stay the course; focus on the ruthless execution of the basics, and stay at it.

Suppose somebody wants to minimize their time spent working out- what can they do to get better results in less time?  

Adopt a total body training split to drive progressive overload and consistent stimulus to the most muscle mass possible. It’s great to blast every muscle into oblivion, but not if you’re training becomes inconsistent and you skip legs each week.
Here’s an example that would work well:
Monday:
1.Squat 5×3
2.Bench Press 3×6
3.Lunge 3×8
4a.Farmer Walks 3×30 steps
4b. Dips 3×20
5. Isolation Work on medial delts, biceps, calves for 10-15 minutes
Tuesday: OFF
Wednesday:
1.Deadlift 5×3
2.Dumbbell Overhead Press 4×6
3.Chin Up 3×8-12
4a.Plank 3×30 seconds
4b. Biceps Curl 3x 12
5. Isolation Work on medial delts, biceps, calves for 10-15 minutes
Thursday: OFF
Friday:
1.Back Squat 5×3
2.Bent Over Row 4×6
3.Dumbbell Bench Press 3×8
4a. Dumbbell Curl 3×12
4b. Hip Thrust 3×12
5. Isolation Work on medial delts, biceps, calves for 10-15 minutes
Saturday/Sunday: Off/Conditioning
This plan provides the heavy lifting to provide tension to muscles, the frequent stimulation to trigger muscle growth and gives you the option to get your much-needed biceps curls at the end of each workout.

What should people do to minimize fat gain while bulking?  

Don’t follow a See-Food diet. Crushing an extra 1000 calories won’t help you build more muscle than an extra 500, it will just be added as fat. Your best option is to find out your “maintenance calories.” A simple equation here is Bodyweight (pounds) x16.
From here, increase calories by 300 per day.
Gaining lean muscle? Awesome. Keep it up until you plateau, then increase by 150.
Are 300 calories per day leaving you soft? Try 200 calories at first, then gradually bump it up.
After a certain point, more calories does not equal more muscle. It just makes you fat. Build slow and stay lean, my friends.

How much do you incorporate carb and calorie cycling into your nutrition plans?  Are you a fan of cheat days?

With my more advanced clients it plays a big part. By varying food intake and specifically carbohydrate intake based on activity levels we’re able to strategically minimize fat gain during a bulk, or accelerate fat loss without sacrificing lean muscle during a diet. To simplify we’ll focus first on replacing grains and starches with greens during fat loss. It works like a charm.

I am a fan of cheat days as well, but they need to be earned. After a few weeks of hard dieting, cheat days play a vital role in providing additional fuel to bump t-3, t-4, and support better hormone levels for dieters. Even better, the cheat day provides a light at the end of the tunnel. They must be earned, but cheat days can be a game changer.

What’s your stance on intermittent fasting?

I’m a fan of it for fat loss. There is a growing amount of literature to support IF, but the real benefit lies in the lifestyle factors. After the first few weeks’ people adapt well to shorter eating windows and find it’s a great way to enjoy bigger portion sizes while still losing fat. If you like big, satiating meals rather than picking at your food like a bird, IF is worth a shot for fat loss.

Which kinds of people should look at hiring an online fitness coach vs an in-person trainer?

If you’re experienced in the gym but find your training is stale, then online coaching is for you. Good online trainers still provide the expert programming, motivation, and accountability to help you take your body to the next level.
Moreover, if your schedule is insane online training may be for. You’re able to train on your schedule, rather than working with your trainer to streamline two different schedules.

What should a potential trainee look for in an online fitness coach?

First, look for results from their clients.   Unfortunately, 20 years old with a set of abs or a nice ass can snap photos and claim to be an online trainer.  There are good ones out there but look for coaches who have shown the ability to get their clients results, not just themselves. Testimonials and client stories are a good place to start.
Second, look for trainers that have some education whether it’s University or certification from the NSCA, ACE, NASM. For nutrition, look for ISSN or Precision Nutrition.
Third, look at their modes of communication. Do they write? Do they do video? Do people interact or have they been published in respected sites? These are all indications both of a knowledge base and ability to relate to people.  Find someone who relates to you, understands your problems, and has helped others like you.

Conversely, what should an online trainer look for in a client?  

Look for your ideal client, the one type of person who you help best. For me, that’s busy guys who want to look better naked, stay athletic, and not live in the gym.  Find these clients–the ones you relate to best helps you build the client–trainer relationship. The more respect and similarity between the client and trainer, the better the bond and deeper the connection. Not to get all woo-woo, but people like to spend time with others of similar interest. Find clients you can relate to and help best, get great results, then find more of them.

You’ve written a fair amount about hormone management- how much of a difference does that make for muscle growth?  

Hormones make a world of difference. Without proper management of insulin, you’ll be hard pressed to add muscle. The better your insulin sensitivity the more likely your food will be broken down into energy or used for lean muscle growth compared to fat gain.
Testosterone/cortisol balance is also essential. You need both hormones, but to maximize muscle growth you need to focus on lifting to provide an anabolic environment, minimizing environmental toxins, sleep at least seven hours per night, and eat a plethora of fruits, vegetables, and lean protein.
In most cases, you already know what to do. Avoid overly processed foods, train for strength, and sleep. If any of these factors are out of whack, your hormones may be as well.

You mentioned fruit.  Do you think fructose is particularly conducive to fat gain because it’s metabolized differently from other sugars, or is a carb a carb?

I think the “fructose makes you fat” idea is vastly overblown. If you’re overweight and looking to cut down the last place I’d look is fruit intake. Most people struggle with eating too much refined crap the way it is. Cut down on that first. If you’re looking to get exceptionally lean, then dial back fruit to 1-3 pieces per day as a starting point.

So people can add calories to break plateaus- what about changing up the training?  At what point is changing your workouts necessary to keep progress going?

This question could go any number of ways, but for the sake of brevity I’ll do my best to simplify. My first concern would be finding a program you’re able to do consistently. Once the habit of training is firmly implanted into your lifestyle, I’d work on increasing training frequency. If it’s been 3-4 weeks and training is flat (while nutrition staying dialed in), it’s time to switch gears. You can’t program hop, but stagnant motivation and a lack of results is a clear indication something needs to change.

How much do you base your ideas off published studies vs. personal experience?

The more personal experience I have the more they influence me. Now, I do search for research on difficult topics and to either reinforce or battle a point, but it’s damn near impossible to directly transfer research performed in a classroom that uses 18-22 moderately trained college students as their only target group. Studies are important, but you must factor in the populations and methods used and measure that against your own lifestyle or that of your clients.

Eric Bach, BS, CSCS, Pn1 is a Strength Coach, author, and business mentor to trainers at Bachperformance.com. He specializes in helping busy guys maintain their athleticism and look better naked without living in the gym. Residing in Denver, Colorado, Eric enjoys traveling with his wife Lauren, good bourbon, and Packers Football. Grab your free eBook 25 Expert Tips to Maximize Muscle Growth here

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