Have you heard about the MASS (Monthly Applications in Strength Sport) research review yet?
MASS is a relatively new monthly research review publication. What that means is that the authors review current research in exercise science, breaking it down in ways that are readable and understandable even for the average non-scientist. As the name suggests, they focus primarily on strength and muscle.
A huge part of success, as I’ve talked about before in this blog, is deliberate practice - minimizing the amount of time you spend training things that won’t help you continue to improve, while learning to focus on the ones that will.
This is commonly known as the Pareto principle, which says that you get 80% of your results from 20% of your work (and vice versa). The problem is about figuring out what work is most beneficial and productive, and this is the part where most beginners to any new skill (exercise included) get bored and lose interest. Hiring a coach is usually the best way to do things - a coach can challenge and push you in new directions, and knows from experience what kind of stuff you should focus on to improve.
The Benefits of a Research Review
Likewise, I’ve talked a lot before about how most people don’t really understand science, and how it’s actually quite hard to really know what a study is saying if you’re not a scientist and don’t understand its context within the larger body of scientific data. This leads a lot of people to think that they know a lot more than they do, thanks to shocking headlines and “the jacked guy at the gym told me” and so on.
The huge benefit of a research review is that it saves time. A proper scientist does all the hard work of understanding it for you, and then you just have to read their interpretation.
Of course, this only works well if you find a good scientist running a review publication, since biased scientists can be highly selective and push false narratives not supported by the evidence. So who are the authors of MASS?
- Greg Nuckols is a world record powerlifter and founder of the site Stronger By Science, which is the best source for info on the science of getting stronger. The massive popularity of his site is a testament to his genius, as well as his numerous well-written articles diving into the research of training.
- Eric Helms is a renowned natural bodybuilding coach known for co-authoring the Muscle and Strength Pyramids, one of the best books I’ve ever read on the general topics of building muscle and getting stronger. Eric has coached numerous amazing athletes and is well-known for his highly scientific approach.
- Mike Zourdos is a PHD in exercise physiology and an assistant professor in exercise science at Florida Atlantic University, as well as the director of their research lab and a powerlifting coach and competitor. Mike is known for doing a lot of research into DUP (daily undulating periodization), a form of strength training which is currently quite popular (and which I tend to swear by).
So, we’ve definitely got some, well, "mass" behind MASS. But how does it work? How good is it? What topics does it cover?
How Does MASS Work?
MASS is run on a subscription format at a monthly billing rate. You can cancel at any time, and you’re only paying each month for the current month’s publication.
One cool note - as of right now, if you sign up you immediately get access to all previous issues (6 as of writing) as well as the current month’s issue, so even subscribing for just a single month is a huge value. However, I hear that this may be changing in the future, so I can’t be certain that this deal will always stick around.
MASS is run through a members only site - as long as your subscription is active, you can log into the site and examine all available issues. You can also download PDF copies of the magazine in case you wanted to save it for later or read it without access to the internet. Some of the articles are in video and audio format, so it's not all text. You get monthly emails with reminders of the new publication and links to download, so you can remember to check it out.
The organization of the materials is solid and well-put-together. Graphs and other graphics are used to convey study data that the authors are reviewing. The entire thing is well-designed and well-formatted, so reading is easy and enjoyable.
Each issue of MASS is divided into seven articles and two videos. The articles each review a specific study which is either new and relevant to a particular topic, or maybe a bit older, but which does a good job of summarizing the entire body of research.
The authors break down what the study says, what it doesn’t say, potential problems with the research, overall findings, and how this study should be interpreted. You’re also given helpful bullet points with important points and takeaways.
At the end of the article, a “next steps” section suggests ways that future research can potentially help us get a better picture of what the data is telling us. Of course, each article is chock full of references to other reviews that can help you get an idea of the bigger picture of the data.
Here’s an example of the kinds of topics in the first issue of MASS:
- Is it better to combine lifting with high intensity or traditional cardio?
- Does the configuration of weekly training session order matter for strength?
- Is muscle damage related to hypertrophy?
- When the whole is less than the sum of its parts. (Note - this is about a phenomenon called the bilateral deficit, in which tests show that individual legs/arms are capable of producing more individual force when working alone than when working together.)
- More volume is not always better.
- Pushing it to the limit: gauging how far we are from failure.
- Can you improve your lifting technique by intentionally screwing up?
- VIDEO: The real effects of pre-exercise stretching.
- VIDEO: Structuring flexible dieting, part 1. (Note - this video is the first part in a series that continues in issue 2.)
You can also pick up the 1st issue of MASS for free here if you want to test it out.
The two videos are typically dedicated to more general topics like overall dietary and training structure, and are intended to give a simple overview of important training topics - this can be awesome if you need something to help you tie everything together, or don’t have much of an exercise research background and are looking for more general than specific info. The videos also come with audio-only versions since they’re generally spoken lectures anyway.
I can say from my personal reading that the info contained in this review is of amazingly high quality, and is also more readable than you might expect. I’ve subscribed to other research reviews in the past, but this is generally the most easily understood of any of the ones I’ve subscribed to.
I will admit that some sections of the text (especially detailed discussions of methods used) may drag on a bit at some times. I’m not specifically a scientist and slogging through heavy data isn’t really my thing (which is precisely why I read research reviews!) so I’ll admit that sometimes I do struggle with it a bit, especially if it’s a topic I’m not too interested in.
However, I will say that the authors do all that they can to simplify these complex topics while retaining the nuance of the original studies - which is really the best anyone can do. I can’t fault them for digging through data not being my cup of tea, and after all that’s what the review is for.
So who is this review good for?
Well, it’s great for you if you’re interested in learning the real deal science behind training. No BS. No smoke and mirrors. Minimal bias. It’s amazing if you want to learn about building muscle and strength.
However, it may not be your cup of tea if you’re a runner or other type of exerciser that doesn’t rely much on lifting weights. It might also not be your cup of tea if you enjoy not getting bigger or stronger, or learning more about training. Ha!
I will also admit, on a more serious note, that if you’re looking for a “complete solution” that tells you exactly everything you have to do, you won’t find it here. The videos do a good job of summarizing a lot of important topics, but you may not get as complete a picture as a general training book like Muscle and Strength Pyramids or The Scientific Principles of Strength Training.
If you’re looking to understand the nuances of training and why training works, put your money in MASS. If you’re just looking to be told what to do (and have expert guidance), one of the other books mentioned above, or a good coach, will be a much better approach.
Finally, if you’re not someone who enjoys learning by reading, you might have a bit of a hard time, since each issue of MASS is about 100 pages of text. You can still get use out of the videos, but these are just a small chunk of the overall publication. Like I’ve mentioned, the authors do their best to make the text accessible (and they do the best job of any research review I’ve seen) but it does tackle complex subjects and some degree of complexity is still going to be baked right in.
Remember that when you sign up, you gain immediate access to all past issues - at this point, there’s six months of issues to look through, so chances are that there’s already something in there just for you. If nothing else, trying this publication out for at least a couple months is a huge deal.
If you’re interested in picking it up, you can subscribe to MASS research review here. I can assure you, you won't be disappointed.
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