The Beauty of the "Law of Diminishing Returns"

by Thom Brogan


Perhaps the most efficient way to drive yourself insane would be to identify an aspect of reality you don't enjoy and subsequently expend all of your energies to try ignore it. For bodybuilders and power-lifters, this would be the so-called "Law of Diminishing Returns".

The "Law of Diminishing Returns" is a construct with portions of its basis in reality. The remainder of it is a creative rationalization. According to the "Law", you work harder and harder and train more and more, but get less and less back for each workout you put in. Often, advocates of this "Law" cite the fact that humans have genetic upper-limits of muscular growth. While true, the advocates glaringly omit the fact that, if you fail to train as intensely, briefly, and infrequently[!] as your body requires to reach this upper limit, you will never be anywhere near it. Instead, they follow the same (or same type of) workout year in and year out (too long, too frequent, and just moderately intense), end up severely overtrained. Never thinking to look to the reality of the effect of their actions, they opt to blame their "Law of Diminishing Returns". I say we should examine genetic limitations and see whom is breaking whose laws!

As a survival mechanism, the human body has evolved to develop protections against various types of stress. Your skin increases it's levels of melanin in response to the stress of the sun's radiation and your muscles increase their size and strength in response to highly demanding stress placed upon them.

When muscular strength and growth are induced with exercise, it is the body's response to a high-intensity stress. As Mike Mentzer has consistently pointed out, a person will not experience the increases in muscular strength and size until her or his body has both recovered from the intense stress of exercising and allowed sufficient time for overcompensation to protect the body from further possible stress.

The error that many people are making when they hear the above line of reasoning is that they fail to apply it to their own body! When you take each exercise to muscular failure, your body is subjected to very high levels of stress. You want this, of course, because your body will react to this stress by becoming more muscular and stronger. You have to remember, though, that while the concept (high-intensity bodybuilding) remains the same, the omitted measurements of the concept change dramatically!

Most people remember that they need to train at 100% intensity to increase their muscular size and strength. By allowing that one's workouts aren't too long and too frequent, strength and muscular size will be increased. Note, though, that the increases aren't measurably proportionate. You may be able to increase your bent-legged deadlift from 200 pounds to 600 pounds, but you sure as hell aren't putting 400 pounds of muscle on your body as a direct result. This clearly illustrates that the amount of stress you have to put your body through to continue training with 100% intensity increases exponentially!

Even if you gained 60-70 pounds of muscle as the result of such an increase of strength, the amount of stress your new tissue would be subjected to would still be incredibly damaging and exhausting. To keep gaining muscle and strength, you'd have to rest much, much longer after taking a 600 pound deadlift to failure than you would after you took the 200 pound deadlift to failure. If you hold that consciously in your head when you contemplate how many exercises you should do per workout and how many days of rest you'll need afterwards, it's quite likely that you'll keep limiting the amount of exercises you perform and increasing the amount of days that you rest as keep getting stronger and more muscular.

The choice is simple: You can accept the Law of Causality and use Heavy Duty bodybuilding to reach your genetic limits or you can use the "Law of Diminishing Returns" to comfort yourself as you deliberately limit your genetic capacity for muscular growth. Either way, you'll get what you deserve!

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