The 3 Things Most People Don’t Know About Muscle w/ Dr. Andy Galpin


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This week on Barbell Shrugged we drink scotch and talk muscle once again with our buddy, Dr. Andy Galpin.

Andy’s been on the show a lot, but there’s no shortage of topics to chat about. There are too many unanswered questions, and too many training myths that are still accepted as truth by coaches and athletes.

1. Do you need to break down muscle in training to increase muscle mass?

Most people would say yes, because it’s true. If you’ve induced soreness then you’ve definitely done enough to stimulate repair and adaptation. But the question is whether or not this is necessary.

There are a few things we know for certain when it comes to building muscle. First, you need a lot energy to do it – Plenty of carbohydrate and fat. That’s because it takes work and juice to assemble sourced amino acids into long proteins.

What’s more, just like little construction teams assembling beams and walls on site, the structure of new muscle depends on getting the raw materials into position. Not only must you have enough protein, you need a strong incentive that drives the construction effort.

In this sense, building muscle is a very expensive thing to do. The incentive must be intense, but does it have to be damaging? …No.

Damage is associated with muscle growth, but it’s not necessary in and of itself. You can induce damage, sure. That works well, especially if you’re doing heavy eccentric work during long squat sets, let’s say. But you have to consider the cost.

Recovery will take longer when you’re really sore, which is a problem.

If you’re looking to get stronger and build skill rapidly in the gym then you need to be training hard and often. You need to be producing a large amount of force under tension in the gym, which is really what drives your strength and size gains.

This is your potent incentive to construct new muscle. But when you’re sore you can’t train very well. It’s hard to get better.

Be careful with how often you train maximally. It’s much wiser to train optimally, saving all that wear and tear. This approach will keep you stronger and healthier for longer.

Great time working on this project for @ufc …look at @dc_mma face, FOCUSED! HAHA

A photo posted by Andy Galpin (@drandygalpin) on


2. Is muscle dumb? Not even close. 

If you ask folks to name the largest organ in the body they will likely reply, “The skin!”

A much better answer is your muscle. Somewhere along the line people came to think of muscle as dumb tissue. You shock it with nerve impulse and it contracts. But this is an incredibly shallow view.

In reality your muscle tissue serves as a giant endocrine organ. When placed under tension or metabolic stress, your muscle fires off myokines that are utilized by just about every tissue in your body.

In the liver this signaling helps regulate your blood sugar. In the brain, it helps to regulate rest patterns and sleep quality. The list is very, very long.

Here’s the critical point – for years the center of the health universe has been the heart. But perhaps this needs to change. We now understand that more high-quality, high-functioning muscle mass means a dramatically lowered work burden for the heart. It means metabolic efficiency. It means reduced fall risk and preserved quality of life with advanced age.

In short, muscle is everything. You do not want to artificially increase it with drugs and what not. But, if you can increase muscle mass through strength training and a nutrient dense, high energy diet, then you will very likely be much healthier as well.

Curious about muscle biopsies? Check this video out. 

3. You can get much stronger without gaining muscle, but it’s not just nerves.

Can you get stronger without getting bigger? Sure, but there’s more going on than you think.

Again, most people would guess that nervous system adaptations are the explanation. It’s the common belief, and again it’s only partially right.

Yes, your nervous system get’s better at recruiting and coordinating muscle contraction with training. But there are plenty of adaptations that still occur within the muscle tissue itself.

In time you can get better and more efficient at transmitting force from the contracting muscle cell, the muscle bundle, the fascia and tendon to the bone. The process of assembling and constructing new tissue – your response to damaging stressors – it all improves with exercise and training. Size is only a part of it.

In a very real sense strength is a skill that emerges from every level of the body, starting muscle up. And the greatest consequence of that strength, besides performance of course, is health.




Additional Resources

  • Need help gaining muscle? Try our Muscle Gain Challenge.
  • Follow Andy on Instagram for some great science information, as well as some behind the scenes party pics with the Barbell Shrugged crew. You can also reach out to him through his Cal State University page HERE.

59 Responses to “The 3 Things Most People Don’t Know About Muscle w/ Dr. Andy Galpin”

  1. Robert Permenter

    Wow the section where you all talked about everything being a max effort, is something I’ve come to realize about fitness. Makes you wonder if that’s why being fitter acts like an antidepressant? You are stronger therefore everything you do is easier, and because life is easier to manage you have less “mundane” stress affecting you.

  2. Shahrin

    Hey guys. Brilliant podcast. Very informative.

    Not sure if you guys were joking, but I actually tried, but found nothing there :(

  3. Curt

    Awesome video/podcast. VERY informative. Keep up the great work guys. I don’t miss these as you guys put out killer content.

  4. Ade

    Thanks for really top notch podcast.

    The information on general health shows that investment needs to be directed into further study that can be turned into public information from health services.
    It shows that as a society, we have many things in health care all wrong.

  5. Mark

    Where can I find literature on the study mentioned the podcast?
    The study that showed VO2 max to be the most significant to life expectancy. Then the second study which showed leg strength to be even more significant.

    And most importantly the part where LDL and cholesterol was not a significant marker for this.

    Im tired of people telling me “the facts” about how cholesterol is bad and how eating butter again will get me unhealthy. What is the real facts? How do I explain this to others? And so on.

    Thank you

  6. Carlie

    You guys are amazing. Every episode has brilliant and entertaining content. This episode touched home for me, I am currently working as a CNA on a cardiac unit at a large hospital and I am constantly frustrated at the care patients are getting and the level of acceptance people have for aging and illness. All of these patients with diabetes and cardiac issues are fed low fat low cholesterol diets( sugar free jello, Margarine, cream of wheat, Splenda bullshit!!!) and told to walk for their exersize. Can you even imagine if they were fed quality protein, veggies, and taught how to incorporate weight training????
    I keep failing our “wellness” challenges for employees because I eat “too much” fat (kerrygold, coconut oil, avocado, nuts, and avocado oil, and bulletproof coffee), I don’t eat enough fiber from grains, I eat veggies instead, and I don’t do enough “cardio” I do crossfit and HIIT training instead. the other employees who drink diet coke and eat lean cuisines for lunch with light cardio are winning the challenges.
    I am in the process of re-evaluating careers so I can help more people and keep on track of my lifestyle changes and keep up with progressive thinking and change.
    You all are inspiring.

    Thank you all for opening minds and making me think and smile!!!!

  7. Morgan

    Excellent information!!!

    Andy Galpin mentioned speaking engagements in SoCal, any links to when and where at local crossfit boxes?

    Also, any more information regarding the endocrine function of muscle? More detail on the role of myokines and cytokines on the other organ systems?

    There was so much talk about not needing to feel sore after a workout to grow muscle in highly trained athletes, however I’m willing to guess the other 99% of us aren’t in that category even if we are generally regarded as fit compared to the general population. How is the average adult with a regular job and family who is fit, but not “elite” supposed to judge whether or not training is having the desired effect of increased muscle growth for longevity and well being? It takes so long to build muscle period, what kind of markers are there on a weekly basis that can guide the majority of people who train with crossfit? It may take a half year of training to see true muscle gains independent of improved neurological function, so it’s daunting to think you may be wasting so many months by either under or over training.

    Thanks a bunch, cheers!

    • Chris

      Your best guide is performance. If you feel great and are getting stronger, you’re doing great! Eat well, train hard, sleep 7.5-8 hrs (if not always, as much as you can), monitor your hormone levels just to ensure something is not sabotaging your efforts. Nail the basics and you’ll do fine.

        • Chris

          Get your blood work done frequently. I’d say once a month early on. Seek out a great doctor who can help you, not an average joe, rushed general practitioner.

          • Jake

            Thanks for the response. I was dealing with low T a couple years ago, im only 32. Used synthetic boosters in the past but now ive been going natural to keep hormones regulated (maca, ashwaganda, fats, etc) Was hoping you had a cheaper way of checking levels as my physician is just our family healthcare provider under my wifes insurance and doesnt special in this issue. I appreciate the reponse and enjoy lustening to you guys! -Jake

  8. Cindy

    Excellent question/response, Morgan. I’d be very interested to hear the answer and introduced to more information on the topic.
    Aside from the obvious, gaining strength in the lifts and endurance/stamina overall.
    I’m not an elite athlete and never will be; however, I am in excellent health and physically fit (compared to the general population). I’m a 57-year-old grandmother that has changed her life in the past 2 1/2 yrs since I began Crossfit workouts. Age is inevitable, poor health need not be. :-)
    Thanks, Chris & Dr Galpin, for an informative and interesting article/video.

    • Chris

      You got it. The obvious stuff is all you need. Sleep, eat well, train hard. If you feel great and are making progress, you got it! :)

  9. Perry Smith

    With an ageing population this is important info to at least get a conversation going. The stress on our health care system will be unsastainable unless people are educated how to not be broken when we get old.

  10. Jack Simpson

    At the end of the episode he mentioned he will be speaking soon in Sacramento, where can I find more info out about this? I’d love to be able to hear more from him.

  11. Josh

    I was driving my son to take his SATs this morning. Last night he lost his 7th, 8th and 9th straight wrestling match due to crappy conditioning and being weak. I had the podcast on in the truck. Even though I have been telling him for several years he needed to work on his strength…it never sunk in till he heard Andy’s awesome discussion of muscle and its capacity to improve, well, just about everything. He asked some questions and for once it wasn’t really just him paying lip service and ignoring my advice just because I am his dad…I think it actually sunk in. He wandered into the garage tonight and he trained and he actually tried. I am hoping this was his aha moment.

    Thank you Barbell Shrugged. Your message always has connected with me, I have listened to every single podcast. I am a 50 year old IT Exec (who has a Masters in kinesiology from the 80s)…I am looking forward to retiring soon and going back to my roots as a strength coach, opening a box/athletic training facility and relearning the power of the Barbell Life again. You guys are doing amazing things.

    I think today you may have added a new 15 year old fan as well!

  12. Cole

    At the end of the video you guys said to go to barbell to subscribe to get more info like this ? did you mean to say just subscribe to this page ? I’m here in Gainesville/ UF. And I’m an LMT, CPT and a competitive lifter. I really enjoy what you guys post, this was my favorite by far. Thank you

  13. Maggie

    First of all, the first three podcasts of the year have been extremely informative and entertaining. Off to a great start guys.
    In this last one with Dr. Andy Galpin, I finally heard you bring up massage therapy in regard to maintaining muscle and fascia health for improving performance, but it was immediately dismissed as not having data to support that statement. As an LMT and new to the crossfit/lifting world, this area is of great interest to me as many of my clients are now crossiftters. What information, articles, books could you recommend with information on this topic (effects of stretching and massage therapy on athletic performance/strength training). I realize it is not studied extensively as Dr. Galpin stated, but hoping you could point me in the right direction to get my hands on some reading.
    You guys are the shit…keep it up, and thanks.

    • Chris

      We didn’t dismiss it. Plenty of strength athletes use it, obviously efficaciously. Our point…it’s just not clear HOW beneficial it really it. To learn more (we haven’t dug deep), start with a Google Scholar search of the evidence. Muscle, strength, recovery, massage AND fascia would be great keywords to start with.

  14. Rhiannon

    OMG mind explosion!!! All that talk about increasing leg strength, muscle density, VO2 to improve length of life.. it makes so much sense I can’t get over it!! And loved the bit about soreness and muscle growth being side by side but without being a necessity. In fact I loved the whole damn thing. I think I will listen to this a few more times and I’ve got to do some more reading on all of this. Facinating Great podcast! Thanks guys!

  15. Coach Hallanger

    Hi guys!
    This was gold! I just loved that it seemed to never end. So much important knowledge and ideas to spread to our communities – CF related or not. The choice for people to choose resistance training has to be exactly that, a choice. This information will definitely work as strong valid suggestions on why to do resistance training.
    Thanks again guys, and a shout out to Dr Galpin for sharing his knowledge.

  16. Matthias

    I’m liking the topic quite a bit. Keep up the good work!

    One thing I have noticed in recent episodes though is that you guys interrupt your guests mid-sentence more often than not. That’s not vey nice towards your guest experts and it’s hard to listen to sometimes.

    But overall: keep up the good work! It would be interesting to find more how you guys got to where you are now. (i.e. your personal fitness journey) and what you wished you could tell your 18-year-old self if you had the opportunity.

    • Chris

      Matthias, we have a natural, free flowing discussion. It’s not meant to be overly formal. Our guests always have a blast.

  17. Tom

    Thanks for the awesome episode.

    Can you link me to any of the studies that looked at the relation between muscle damage/soreness and muscle growth?

  18. Kyle Buth

    Hey can you guys provide any articles that you researched for the effects of hypertrophy on a blood panel? Id love to look at some of the research done on this.

  19. A quick guide to supplements - Barbell Shrugged

    […] 1 have no competitions coming up. I’m very happy with my current body composition, but I would like to drop about 3% body fat. I would also like to add about 3-5 pounds of muscle tissue, because as I’ve said before, building and maintaining healthy, functional muscle tissue is always important. […]

  20. Vinny

    I just wanted to thank Doug for fitting Spark into this conversation; easily one of the most informational and exciting books I’ve ever read.

  21. Scott Hadwin

    You guys are awesome! I’ve learned more about lifting in one hour than I have the past 3-4 years. And I’m not a gym dummy either. I’ve put on 20-25lbs of lean mass on over the past 2 years. You guys give great information and keep it entertaining. I found you guys through Cory Gregory’s Twitter and just wanted to say thanks for the info!

  22. Forrest

    Hey guys, as always I love the content that you produce.
    I have a question about diet and muscle building. Dr. Galpin described the need for “fresh workers” or sufficient energy in the form of glucose. I understand that insulin release is spurred by the presence of blood glucose and that insluin drives amino acid uptake into muscle cells. I suppose I always have thought that the purpose of eating carbs is to produce the insulin necessary to drive muscle growth as opposed to producing sufficient glucose (energy) to allow for new muscle growth.

    So my question is, is it possible to effectively (not necessarily optimally) build muscle on a low carb/high fat diet? Or in other words, can the energy surplus required to create new muscle come from a fat source?

    I’m sorry if my thoughts are a little scattered in this post. I had a hard time pinning down a definitive question. I’d appreciate any thoughts on this subject in general.

  23. Joe Capone

    Could I get the citation for the study linking improving leg strength to spontaneous activity in the elderly? Coming from one of the med students you were ripping on… who also likes to pick heavy things up and put them back down.

  24. Ty

    By far my favorite video so far. Extremely informative. Thanks for posting the citations to the studies, I was hoping they would be posted up.


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