Børge Fagerli is a Norwegian bodybuilding coach, author and speaker. He is also the creator of myo reps, a training method that is probably more famous than his own (difficult to pronounce) name. A widely respected source of wisdom, Fagerli regularly appears in podcasts. His recent series of Q&As with YouTuber Abel Csabai is especially a must-listen for the studious iron-eater.
Like colleagues such as Menno Henselmans (a friend of his), Mike Israetel and Eric Helms, Fagerli is a coach who gathers his knowledge from scientific research on the one hand and experience with clients on the other. He stands out for his down-to-earth view of things, without overcomplicating things and without considering bodybuilding as the highest good in a person’s life.
From his Q&A sessions with Abel Csabai (all from 2018), a podcast with Revive Stronger (from 2018) and one with coach Dave Maconi (from 2019) we pick up a number of interesting training-related topics in which Fagerli’s sometimes headstrong visions come to light. Enough food for thought!
Børge Fagerli is not a fan of high training volumes. For beginners he uses the rule: 2 to 3 sets per muscle group and that 2 to 3 times a week [ i ] . He advises average bodybuilders ‘only’ 9 to 18 sets per week [ ii ] , where you should only sit on the higher side when nutrition and recovery (rest) are optimal. These recommendations run counter to the relatively high set volumes preached by colleagues such as Mike Israetel and Brad Schoenfeld, the latter partly based on their own research.
Natural bodybuilders all too often think: more is better. But the relationship between training volume and muscle growth is not linear. Rather, there is an inverse U-shaped relationship: the yield of doing more sets quickly decreases.
According to Fagerli, there is already a significantly smaller yield after one set (calculated per muscle group per training). According to him, the first set provides 70 to 80 percent of the training effect. After about 6 sets, the extra sets may only yield 1 or 2 percent extra muscle growth. This is often disproportionate to the fatigue they cause and therefore to the recovery capacity that is required. In other words, you’re doing junk volume [ iii ] . Ultimately, extra sets no longer provide any extra muscle growth or even lead to muscle breakdown because you do not recover enough from your workouts.
RESEARCH VERSUS REAL LIFE
And what about the many recent studies, which really show more muscle growth if you do more sets? Fagerli openly questions this [ i ] . Those studies are, without exception, short-term studies, which do not factor in the fatigue that bodybuilders build up over the long term. Even though you initially build muscle mass faster, due to that fatigue you will also stagnate faster.
In addition, there is the laboratory versus everyday life, with all its fluctuations and setbacks. Because no matter how fanatical and dedicated someone is to strength sports, life brings periods of stress, little sleep, bad food, too little time to train and so on. Life happens. Things like this defy the recovery capacity and therefore the amount of volume your body can handle.
WHY THE RUSH?
According to Fagerli, it is therefore better to be conservative with volume, even if this may mean that you build up muscle mass less quickly in the short term. At least you are assured that your body can recover sufficiently, even in times of less optimal conditions. That you have a training program that you can follow consistently and that won’t get you in trouble if things go wrong.
Moreover: why the rush? Your body can only achieve a limited amount of muscle growth in a certain time (at most 1 kg per month), so why try to force more muscle growth? And even if you realize much less muscle growth than your potential during a certain period of time, that’s not a disaster. Then you just grow a little slower. Ultimately, every natural bodybuilder will reach his or her genetic potential. Of course it is different if, for example, a competition or photo shoot is on the program. Then you sometimes have to give something extra temporarily.
In short, Fagerli sees changing body composition as a long-term process and is unimpressed by rapid muscle growth in short-term studies, especially if they have also been performed on young students (who are physiologically in optimal conditions) [ vi ] .
This ‘take it easy’ philosophy will not appeal to everyone. Many bodybuilders are simply in the gym often and for a long time. However, keep in mind that you can still be in the gym often and long enough once you are (very) advanced. Because squeezing the last bit of gains out of your genetic potential takes a little more work. Although Fagerli thinks that even as an advanced lifter you should not exaggerate.
“Volume is the main driver of muscle growth”, you hear many coaches say these days, probably instigated again by Schoenfeld and Israetel. Fagerli disagrees [ vii ] . According to him, it is not volume, but load (the weight) that is the way to overload a muscle, in other words to load the muscle more heavily than it is used to. He therefore prefers progressive tension overload to progressive volume overload [ viii ].
You can actually make that progress in volume in two ways: by doing more reps with the same weight, or by doing more sets.
PROGRESSION IN NUMBER OF REPETITIONS
The number of reps within a certain rep range jumps more or less automatically, because with a weight you usually try to get a certain number of reps before you increase the weight again. Continuing to increase the number of reps without adding weight is something Fagerli says should only be done if you have no other choice. For example if you are older and your joints can no longer tolerate higher weights [ ix ] .
PROGRESSION IN NUMBER OF SETS
Fagerli recognizes that you will have to do a few more sets as you get more advanced. This again depends on how fast you want to achieve muscle growth and what sacrifices you are willing to make for that. More volume often means increasing your training frequency and that is a sacrifice of time. Not everyone can or wants to make one and that is not necessary, as long as you accept that building muscle mass will go a bit slower as a result [ x ] .
NUMBER OF SETS VS. REPS IN RESERVE
Volume is more important for those who train submaximally. Submaximal means staying far from muscle failure in your sets, for example five reps (5 Reps In Reserve, RIR). Some people do this consciously, others by accident. In order to get an optimal training stimulus, you have to do some more sets. But you don’t have to exaggerate about that either. Those who train submaximally normally only need to do 30% more volume (i.e. sets) to get the same training stimulus as when you train a set with roughly 0-2 RIR. To put it more simply, one set to muscle failure is roughly equivalent to two submaximal sets [ ix ] .
VARY IN EXERCISES?
It is still a common advice: change your exercises regularly. We explained to you a while ago why that is nonsense. Fagerli also believes that you should stick to the same exercises as much as possible, especially when it comes to compound exercises. This of course as long as you can perform the exercise comfortably and without pain [ xii ] .
The need to vary exercise is actually purely psychological and not physiological. As long as you make progress in strength and/or reps with an exercise, there is normal muscle growth. Frequently changing exercises means false progression.
If you really want some variation, you can always vary in isolation exercises. And of course you can add exercises if you want to give a certain muscle group extra attention.
Fagerli is somewhat more skeptical about the phenomenon of deloading than many of his colleagues. Which again does not mean that deloads are useless according to him. It depends on the context and how you fill in that deload.
DELOADING AND OVERREACHING
There is still no (direct) scientifically proven benefit for maximizing the training load – and even beyond that (overreaching) – and then deloading. Fagerli likens that to deliberately getting yourself burned in the sun, while you can also gradually tan without burning. In other words, if your training is well programmed, you will recover sufficiently and you will not need to deload [ xiii ] . The danger of training towards overreaching is also that you recover too little in the meantime. One night of poor sleep can lead to recovery problems.
Although a short rest period every now and then never hurts, Fagerli sees deloading mainly as a reactive measure. In other words, you do it when you find it necessary [ xiv ] . The main indicator for this is loss of strength. You usually notice this best when you can no longer do as many repetitions with a certain weight as last time. During a single workout, that can still be an incident, but if this trend continues, you’ll need to get some extra rest – overall or just for a particular muscle group. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a whole week. One or a few days of extra rest may be sufficient. Another good indicator of too little recovery, according to Fagerli, is a loss of grip strength.
DELOAD AND STILL TRAIN
Fagerli calls traditional deloads, where you keep training, “a waste of time” [ xv ] . Many bodybuilders continue to train during their deload (week), but then, for example, halve their volume or cut back considerably on their intensity. Active recovery is the philosophy behind it. Fagerli finds neither the meat nor fish. You do not give your muscles, joints and tendons the rest to really recover, nor do you give your body a chance to ‘reset’. Fagerli therefore considers this traditional deloading strategy only useful for powerlifters and weightlifters in preparation for a competition. In their case, such a deload is called a taper.
According to Fagerli, a deload for bodybuilders, reactive or planned, can best be a complete rest period, for example a few days or a whole week.
According to Fagerli, rest periods in bodybuilding can be especially useful to make your muscles more sensitive to training (resensitisation) [ xvi ] . You will of course not suddenly start to gain again as a newbie after a while, but it is quite possible that you will realize a stronger growth response with the same or even a smaller training stimulus. This requires a rest period of at least 9 or 10 days [ xvii ] . Not training any longer can lead to a loss of muscle mass.
This strategy seems especially useful for individuals who have trained with too much volume on a structural basis. As a result, they can no longer recover sufficiently from their training (non-functional overreaching), while the body needs high volumes to grow due to adaptation. In such a situation, which eventually leads to overtraining, according to Fagerli it is best to rest for 10 to 14 days – on the one hand for recovery, on the other hand to resensitize to lower volumes [ v ] . Such a ‘hard reset’ may also be psychologically necessary. After all, drastically reducing the volume from one day to the next will feel like a few big steps back for many.
Børge Fagerli is best known as the creator of myo reps, a training method derived from rest-pause sets, but adapted and refined by Fagerli [ xi ] .
Rest-pause training allows you to train to or near muscle failure multiple times in one set, without requiring much additional training volume. You do a set, wait a moment, and squeeze out a few more reps. And repeat that a few times.
MECHANICAL STRESS AND METABOLIC STRESS
The roughly five repetitions before muscle failure are often referred to as ‘effective’ because they recruit most muscle fibers. These reps feel the heaviest. If you’re using a heavy weight and doing just six reps, for example, the whole set will feel heavy. With a light weight and, for example, fifteen repetitions, the first eight to ten repetitions will still be easy for you. Only the last five are effective. This is because you built up metabolic stress in the first ten (slight) repetitions.
It is evident that metabolic stress plays a role in muscle growth, but the exact role is still unclear. You need both mechanical stress (weight) and metabolic stress and Fagerli thinks they balance each other out [ iv ] . For example, metabolic stress can increase the mechanical tension if you use light weights, such as a set of fifteen reps. In addition, Fagerli thinks that metabolic stress makes a muscle more sensitive to muscle growth. With that in mind, he developed myo reps.
HOW MYO REPS WORKS
With myo reps you make optimal use of metabolic stress without it costing a lot of extra time and fatigue. It goes like this. You do one whole set in a relatively high rep range, 15 to 20 repetitions (the ‘activation set’). You train this until muscle failure or possibly 1-2 RIR. Now inhale deeply three to five times, which equates to 10-15 seconds of rest. Then do a mini set of 3-5 reps, with 1 RIR. Rest for a while and through another mini-set. And so on. Basically you do one activation set and 3-5 mini sets. So for example 15 + 5 + 5 + 5 + 5.
The big advantage of myo reps is that after the activation set you remain in a constant state of high metabolic stress and you optimally address your muscle fibers several times in succession, without having to do excessive volume. After all, in the example you just did, you only do 35 reps in total, while those give you no less than 25 effective reps. If you had to rebuild each set from 0 to 15 reps, it would cost you a lot more volume, time and cardiovascular fatigue.
Rest-pause sets and myo reps are typical advanced techniques. As a beginner or average bodybuilder you don’t need this kind of ‘foolishness’. Even advanced users should only use them in moderation. Training to muscle failure leads to a relatively high training load and techniques that allow you to operate in the muscle failure area for a longer period of time, all the more so. Don’t apply them to big exercises like squats, deadlifts and barbell rows (the latter due to increasing pressure in the lower back) and save them for later in your workout.
- Brains and Gains: Børge Fagerli – Mechanisms of Hypertrophy, Deloads, Sustainability
- Abel Csabai: Q&A with Borge (10 episodes)
- Revive Stronger: Børge Fagerli – Myo-reps for efficient muscle growth
- [ i ] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pD3Xmr5JsQQ&t=980
- [ ii ] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cNAhvVXKr8U&t=2318s
- [ iii ] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cNAhvVXKr8U&t=1465s
- [ iv ] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rjak6Zp_AvY&t=570s
- [ v ] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FtJabM3xxj0&t=905s
- [ vi ] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rjak6Zp_AvY&t=2355s
- [ vii ] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rjak6Zp_AvY&t=1320s
- [ viii ] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pD3Xmr5JsQQ&t=690s
- [ ix ] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hR-OyK0daL8&t=71s
- [ x ] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pD3Xmr5JsQQ&t=2320s
- [ xi ] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cNAhvVXKr8U&t=496s
- [ xii ] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FtJabM3xxj0&t=210s
- [ xiii ] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rjak6Zp_AvY&t=1530s
- [ xiv ] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FtJabM3xxj0&t=1280s
- [ xv ] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FtJabM3xxj0&t=1110s
- [ xvi ] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-U6C6NAOgZ4&t=2083s
- [ xvii ] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_JtIFPY6bAU&t=849