An Interview with Borge Fagerli (aka Blade)
An Interview with Borge Fagerli (aka Blade)
I first came across the name Blade on bodybuilding forums around the turn of the century and noticed he was consistently one of the most educated members on a variety of boards with in-depth knowledge on everything from training and diet, to performance enhancing ergogenics. In time, Blade, who happened to be a Norwegian athlete and coach called Borge Fagerli, would set up his own business (Myrevolution) enabling regular joes as well as advanced athletes the ability to have Borge advise them on all things relating to performance enhancement. I recently caught up with Borge just as he was about to fly out to the Arnold Classic in America, and he was gracious enough to provide us with the following interview.
Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself, and your background in the industry?
My name is Borge Fagerli, I’m 37 (or twenty-seventeen, that sounds better), and I’ve been working as a coach/personal trainer and writer for close to 17 years now. MyRevolution was founded in 2006 by me and a friend of mine from high school, with a mission statement of helping people in creating their own destiny. We produce and sell the highest quality nutritional supplements with documented effects, and I make an effort to share my passion and experience with people via coaching, seminars, articles and my blog.
Let’s talk about training. I remember you initially as the guy who helped make HST accessible for the masses. Is this still a method you follow closely with your clients?
Well, I don’t use the program per se anymore, but the basic principles of progressive resistance, a high training frequency and a controlled training volume have various implementations in the programs I set up. Over the years I’ve gravitated towards a more controlled and strategic variation depending on individual needs and goals. I might use a frequency of every muscle group/lift 3-4x/week for a while, varying rep ranges up and down (nonlinear periodization) and then switch to lower frequency and higher volume, all the way down to a typical bodybuilding-type 1x/week high volume program for a certain duration. I believe the body is capable of adapting to a variety of stimuli and we need to use a directed and focused approach to bring up the weakest quality while maintaining the strongest quality, then switch gears once that weak quality is a strong quality. The chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
What are Myo-Reps and who are they appropriate for?
Myo-reps is a rest-pause method, further developed and refined into an auto-regulated method with various small tweaks to make it more effective. With Myo-reps the purpose is to achieve a high fiber recruitment, and then get in a lot of work in a short amount of time. This provides a strong stimulus for muscle growth and strength gains. You start off with a “regular” set working close to failure (leaving 1 rep in the tank is a good idea) – this is the Activation Set where you reach a high fiber recruitment. You rerack the weight, take a short rest (5-10 deep breaths which is about 10-30secs), then unrack and do e.g. 4 more reps (depending on what load you’re using). Keep doing this until you can’t do any more sets of 4 reps. This is the auto-regulation part. So on a good day you might get 12 +4+4+4+4+4+3 on a bad day you might get 9 +4+3 with the same load. And this is fine, by working within your current recuperative and neural capacity you will come back stronger the next time.
Myo-reps is used from around 8RM and upwards to 20-30RM loads, heavier loads have maximum fiber recruitment from the first rep so you don’t really need Myo-reps – and I use other auto-regulation techniques with “normal” rest periods instead. You should also strive to keep constant tension on the muscle (avoiding overstretching or locking out) to achieve occlusion and a hypoxic condition, this serves to keep fiber recruitment at a maximum level. Use caution on exercises where technique breakdown has a high injury potential, such as squats, deadlifts and bent rows. Pressing exercises with dumbbells require a lot of energy to get the weights into position and stabilize them, so I generally use these for higher rep ranges.
Do you believe in training differently for size versus dieting, or is it merely a case of adjusting volume?
Well, I still manipulate frequency and load as mentioned above, and volume takes care of itself by using auto-regulation. I see so many lifters letting their ambitions take over and increase training load and volume on a diet, and then complain that they feel tired and lethargic dropping strength in all lifts. It makes absolutely no sense to add work when you don’t have the nutrients to support it, and as bodyfat drops you don’t have the energy buffer to support the deficit either. With auto-regulation I tend to have people increasing strength or at the very least maintaining it throughout the diet. There are days with less work, and days with more – it depends on how you feel that day, and when you think about it a good coach would tell you to go home when you’re not capable of putting in quality work or to push harder if you’re perky and overflowing with energy. Auto-regulation is just a set of rules telling you what a coach would tell you when you’re in the gym. But in general, yes – with more calories to support growth you can also tolerate and probably benefit from higher volume if size is the ultimate goal.
I spoke to Layne Norton recently and he is a big fan of high volume training. I know a recent study showed the superiority of 8 sets over 4 or 1 set for strength gains. What is your view on the optimum level of volume for training?
I believe “optimum” is something that changes dynamically and individually. I agree up to a certain point, but there’s a difference between the genetic freak doing nothing but sleeping, training and eating – and the regular Joe with 3 kids and a 60hr workweek having McD’s for lunch. The study you mention was a 6 week volume phase followed by a 4 week phase of standardized training, so we don’t know what would happen had they done 10-12 weeks of high volume (I can take a pretty good guess, though). I play around with variables depending on what we want to accomplish, and I do use high volume phases of 15-20 sets for a muscle group - but I follow it up with a phase of lower volume (and usually more neural/strength focus) to avoid overreaching and realize gains. Whether there’s validity to the delayed transformation concept or not, this is what works empirically and is known under many umbrellas – accumulation/intensificiation, volume/intensity-blocks or what have you.
Are you saying that when you hit a strength phase you typically reduce sets, and reps at the same time as this is contrary to what I see most strength phases being (where sets tend to go up while volume and reps drop)?
No, not necessarily. With auto-regulation, working up to a top set, dropping a preset % then doing as many sets as it takes to reach the prescribed RPE (rating of perceived effort), you can get anywhere from 4-8 sets for an exercise. Also remember that frequency typically increases from 1-2x/week to 3-4x/week so the total set count for the week is at least equal to, if not higher than before.
One of HST’s core principles was to try to hit each bodypart 3 x a week based on a 48hr recovery pattern for muscles. Do you see a lack of frequency as one of the major issues holding natural bodybuilders back?
Definitely. Don’t get married to one training method, and don’t get married to one training frequency. When you stagnate on low frequency, there’s rarely anything to be gained from just increasing volume. Some of the most rapid and impressive gains in the literature has been seen with high frequency training, but thes are also short-term studies and sooner or later you will stagnate on frequency, too. I’m able to keep progress going in natural bodybuilders by strategically varying all variables, including volume. The simples advice is this: if you’re stagnating on 1x/week frequency, increase to 2x and then 3-4x on some select muscle groups. If you’ve been doing high frequency training usch as HST, drop frequency and increase volume for a while.
I know it sounds like you should “just use variety” or “confuse your muscles” but that’s a little imprecise. It’s better to think of the body as a system, and to evaluate what system might be holding you back. Maybe you’re very neutrally efficient and can grind out pretty heavy weights, but try to do dropsets of more sets with that load and your rep performance or weights drop off dramatically. You have a bad volume tolerance, so a phase of higher reps and more sets will improve cardiovascular conditioning, nutrient delivery via capillarization and enzymatic upregulation, increase glycogen stores and energy substrates. Your muscle will swell up and you have more contractile machinery to improve strength once you drop volume and increase loads again.
The converse is true for the typical bodybuilder doing nothing but high volume training, the top end strength is horrible and just a minor load increase drops off reps dramatically. A phase with lower reps and heavier loads and/or a higher frequency will increase neural efficiency and coordination, teaching the muscle mass to contract harder and stronger. Going back to high volume training you can use the newfound strength to impose more mechanical demand and thus hypertrophy.
I take your point although as trainees advance there does seem to be an ongoing trend in sport lately for an increase in both volume and frequency. Is this something you think people can train to adapt to or are there definite limits for natural trainees, although some, such as Layne Norton, do well on both high volume and high frequency routines?
Well, I think John Broz opened up our eyes there, doing daily maxes on a regular basis. We also did a Norwegian experiment last year called the frequency project where advanced lifters were divided between 3x/week training and 6x/week training, and the latter far surpassed the lower frequency group. It’s kinda like when Roger Bannister broke the 4-minute mile barrier, once people realized it could be done several runners copied his feat. Now, keep in mind that it takes a long time to build up your volume tolerance so it’s not something you can jump right into – I think that’s the mistake most lifters do. Take your time and follow my earlier advice of periodizing and fluctuating your volume and frequency in a strategic manner. Watch for signs of overreaching, but don’t be afraid to push through some of those harder days – it takes a long time to overtrain so one bad workout isn’t a sign of much of anything, two is something to watch out for, three-four bad workouts in a row and it’s time to take preventive measures. Now consider that some people keep pushing hard for weeks and even months without gains, and still think their program is perfect – the Weider and Muscletech ads are telling them to buy supplements and train hard, just like the pros – so that must be the problem, right? It’s like banging your head against a wall, thinking that if you just bang harder or faster your head will stop hurting. But I digress.
Do you use cardio with your clients at all?
Yes, pretty much always. It’s part of the system level programming I’ve talked about above – the heart, lungs, mitochondria and oxidative capacity play an important role both in optimal hypertrophy, strength and obviously body composition. I use different types of cardio, though and it’s never 2hr treadmill sessions or 30min HIIT sessions to the exclusion of everything else. People get married to methods or programs and lose perspective in the hunt for “optimal”, so they read that HIIT is great and add 3-4 days of intervals to an already exhaustive high volume bodybuilding program and wonder why their legs feel like limp noodles. Or they get so eager to get in shape for the contest that they walk away their hard-earned muscle mass on double daily treadmill or stepmill sessions. Some cardio is good, but a lot of cardio sends an inhibitory and opposing signal to the muscle (get smaller and more efficient) vs. strength and hypertrophy training (get bigger and stronger). To give you an idea, most of my clients alternate between interval work of various intensity and duration and regular low-moderate intensity walking or elliptical, the average is about 3 weekly sessions of 20-30mins – for contest prep up to 4-5 weekly sessions but rarely do I go above 30mins for intervals or 45mins for LISS.
What is the biggest hinderance stopping most natural people getting bigger in your view?
Getting married to one training program or method is probably the most significant one. Whenever you have adapted to a given volume, frequency and intensity – it is time to make some alterations if you want to keep the momentum going. On the nutrient side of things, natural bodybuilder diets seem to gravitate towards two camps - both of them being too extreme and hindering gains. The first camp is paranoid of gaining bodyfat so they always undereat or use complicated fasting/feeding and recomp diets where they keep going 1 step forward 1 step back and spinning their wheels for months and years. Then you have the bulk/cut people who overeat in the offseason and just end up gaining too much fat, destroying their insulin sensitivity and nutrient portioning in the process – followed by overly restrictive dieting to get lean where they lose all the muscle they gained in the first place.
You recently wrote about a new style of eating which we discussed on our Facebook page. Can you elighten those who missed that conversation, what brought you to this realisation?
It’s called the Biorhythm Diet and draws upon several lines of research on circadian rhythms and how it effects nutrient partitioning. Basically, fat intake early in the day have a higher chance of being oxidized or stored intramuscularly (IMTG) and sets the tone for higher fat burning the rest of the day. Carb intake early in the day will limit the so-called metabolic flexibility and set the tone for carb oxidation (and less fat oxidation), whereas eating it later in the day and in the post-workout period will shuttle those carbs with a higher preference for muscle glycogen, increase nocturnal leptin and GH levels, and make you sleepy for a good night’s sleep and recovery. It takes advantage of both low-carb diets and IF patterns as well as the higher carb, low fat diets favoured by bodybuilders – it just integrates them and times them at the most opportune parts of the day. The results have been fantastic, people are more energetic during the day, sleep better at night (and wake up without alarm clocks early in the morning), have better workouts, lose fat and gain muscle more rapidly. I know it sounds like magic, but it really isn’t and it makes both logical and evolutionary sense. There are other and similar ways of eating, such as the Modified Warrior Diet and Carb-backloading, my approach is just a little more flexible and balanced since you can have some carbs during the day and you’re not supposed to overeat on junk at night - fats are kept low in the evening as they are more easily stored at that time.
What do you think of the increasing popularity of intermittent fasting which has really grown rapidly in the last year or two?
Right now it’s a bandwagon “everyone” wants to ride and profit or gain reputation from. I’ve done IF and tried it with a lot of my clients, some of them still follow it but a majority didn’t get anything from it or outright felt horrible on it. I see it as nothing more than a convenient lifestyle and eating pattern, the good thing is that it has made people stop obsessing over eating meals every 2-3hrs in paranoid fear of their muscles shrivelling up. Periods of fasting and a lower meal frequency improves adherence and that’s obviously a major benefit, but other than that there’s not really any conclusive scientific or practical evidence that it’s way superior to more moderate approaches. In my experience there’s a lot of people who never realize the purported benefits of hunger reduction or more energy on it, but their negative feedback is just drowned out in all the noise from those who evangelize and worship it. I know Martin Berkhan didn’t intend it to be this way, since he’s been making fun of other “religious” diet groups such as the Paleo or low-carb/LCHF zealots, but I see the IF’ers acting the same way. I guess people just want to believe in something, that what they’re doing is superior to what anyone else is doing, and thus conformational bias is hard to avoid. I’ve done it all throughout the years, so trust me when I say this - the Biorhythm Diet pattern has a much higher success ratio and with a few adjustments it can in fact be very similar to a Leangains IF diet. Since I created it it’s obviously hard to be completely unbiased, I won’t be a hypocrite so let’s just leave it at that. For muscle gains the research is indicating a higher meal frequency of a minimum protein intake at every meal as being optimal. See Layne Norton BCAA research and ideas on this topic, I consider the idea of having a meal of about 30-50g of protein every 3-5hrs being as close to optimal as you can get so intermittent fasting is not something I would recommend if you want to gain as much muscle mass as possible.
That is very interesting. I am familiar with Layne’s work as well as that of others. I think the basic gist of the research you refer to is that we need to hit 10g of EAA’s to maximise protein synthesis and you need to wait a few hours between meals for the body to become sensitive again to the infusion of amino acids and that simply keeping amino acid levels elevated does not mean protein synthesis is occurring. I know the IF crowd will argue that eating 100-200g of protein in a meal leads to amino acids still being released into the body 10 hrs after a meal, but the key point being made by those advocating a higher meal frequency is that protein synthesis becomes refractory after two hours. Is that a fair summary for the thinking behind why you feel IF is not as conducive as muscle gain as the Biorythm Diet? Could an IF’er get around this potential weakness by incorporating BCAA aminos during their fasted period?
That’s exactly my point, yes – and adding BCAAs or EAAs during the fast is a vast improvement. I also think a large protein feeding as the last meal makes sense, or having a casein or other slow release protein source pre-bedtime in order to keep the amino acid levels from dropping too much during the night. Disrupting your sleep to get up for a protein shake is a bit overkill, in my opinion.
How much protein do you recommend we should be aiming for? How would it differ if someone is chemically assisted?
I think the a range of 0.8-1.5g/lbs of bodyweight (2-3g/kg) is pretty much optimal for most intents and purposes, even if you’re chemically assisted. Drugs just increases the efficiency of muscle growth (more synthesis, less breakdown) so I’m fairly certain the 2g/lbs+ (4-5g/kg) is way excessive and will only put extra stress on your digestive system and kidneys.
Biggest nutrition myth?
Oh boy, where to start. All of them? No, but seriously, I could easily make a list of 10 and still barely scratch the surface. But I would probably say the idea of bulking and cutting – meaning excessive diet manipulations and being over-ambitious. People are just too impatient. I prefer long-term strategies where we constantly monitor various physical and mental indicators and adjust things to keep progress going in the right direction. If bodyfat measurements increase too fast, we drop down calories. If you lose weight too fast and we don’t see a proportional reduction in bodyfat, we increase calories. When people want me to tell them “when do we increase or reduce calories or change things”, I just say: I’m not psychic so it depends, we’ll have to see what happens. Only when we have a preset contest date do I take a more structured approach but at no point do I take calories too low or add excessive cardio or training – that just means we should have started the diet sooner.
To what extent do you think nutrient timing matters for optimal results from training?
At this point I’m a little ambivalent, it’s a huge topic of interest for me but the literature isn’t very impressive. The research indicates advantages of placing a higher nutrient load around training and that’s what intuitively makes sense, too. But then again, an effective training session will increase the sensitivity of the protein synthesis machinery for 24-48hrs following a training session so what you eat the rest of the day still matters. We still don’t have any good long-term studies showing the same results as the short-term and acute studies where we measure fractional synthesis rates and signals on a molecular level, and until we do - I think it all boils down to finding a good and balanced approach you can stick to consistently and long enough for it to matter.
What supplements would you suggest to your clients (if Norway wasn’t so strict with supplements that is)?
Nothing groundbreaking here. Milk protein powders (whey/casein), creatine, omega-3s, BCAAs, probiotics, ZMA, green tea (I prefer drinking it, though). Those are the basics, anything else is on an individual basis and if you have the money for it. GLA, Q10, beta-alanine, ALCAR, rhodiola rosea – I prefer blood tests to determine if there are any real deficiencies and then cover those instead of a shotgun approach. My mainstay is to have a bottle of Sambucus Nigra extract (brand name Sambucol) in the cupboard for whenever I get symptoms of a cold. A teaspoon every 3-4hrs and it’s usually gone the next day. If I do get sick, I’m up and running (lifting) again in half the time it normally takes.
For people wanting to read more, or purchase your products how can they contact you?
At firstname.lastname@example.org or my website.
Great, thanks for your time, Borge