Physique Transformation Strategies with Scott Abel

When people mention Scott Abel, the first word that comes to mind is success.

Known as ‘The Maker of Champions’, for the last quarter century or so he has been involved at the highest levels of the Fitness, Diet, Training and Bodybuilding Industry.

Not only has he personally participated at the highest levels in bodybuilding (in order to prove he could put into practice all his theories as the best out there) he has trained over 300 bodybuilding and figure champions and coached professional hockey players, football players and wrestlers.

He has also had enormous success with individuals wanting to lose weight, get into shape and get healthy – from teens to seniors, and anywhere in between.

Scott’s methods are both innovative and unique and he will be sharing them with us in 2010 as he becomes a regular contributor to Wannabebig. If you have a training or nutrition question for Scott, please email them to Scott will be selecting questions to answer in his future articles.

Chris Mason: Scott, let’s start with you introducing yourself to our readers.

Scott Albel: As far back as I can remember, I was always interested in athletics.  When I discovered bodybuilding, the individual aspect of the sport appealed to me tremendously.  From the get-go, my fascination with the human body differentiated me from most bodybuilders.  For me, it wasn’t just about the training, it was about researching human physiology to discover ways to go beyond the norm.

This coming January marks the beginning of my 4th decade in the iron game.  During the past three decades, I have pretty much done it all when it comes to physique transformation.  I’ve trained everyone from professional athletes to stay-at-home moms.  I have taken bodybuilders from rote beginners to National Champions and beyond.

My research and personal experience has led to the creation of my highly unique training system.  Different, as they say, is good!  My results, and the results of those I have worked with, far exceed the industry norm.

My training system is unique in that it focuses on the nervous system and its adaptation to resistance training.  I see skeletal muscular adaptation as dependent on the nervous system as opposed to the other way around.  This puts me at odds with most of the “experts”, especially those focused on strength training.

Training for physique transformation must be very different than training merely for power.  My program targets angles of contraction, the anatomical leverages unique to every individual, and work capacity.  I focus on intensity of effort as opposed to brute strength.  My own physique exploded when I finally came to the realization that how I was lifting a weight was infinitely more important than how much I was lifting.  This line of thinking led me to coin the term innervation training to describe my methods.

If you follow my articles on this site, I’ll explain these concepts in more detail over time.

CM: Who are the top five bodybuilders/athletes you have worked with?

SA: Over the years, I have worked with virtually every top name in bodybuilding (you can see a non-comprehensive list on my site in the Success Leaves Clues section).  I have also consulted with professional sports teams.  I worked directly with several NHL teams, and also did pre-season assessment training for the league.  I’ve had numerous opportunities to do one-on-one training with big Hollywood stars, or top level sports athletes, but I have most often refused to do so simply because I have no interest in being a glorified babysitter.

Really, I hate the whole idea of name-dropping as I feel it is most often used as a means of masking one’s deficiencies or lack of talent.  Suffice it to say that I have worked with the best of the best and have helped them to get even better.

I would, however, like to mention one name that really means a lot to me. Bill Pearl, multiple Mr. Universe winner, and considered by many to be one of the greatest bodybuilders ever, made a lasting impression on me early in my career by publicly recognizing me.  At Joe Weider’s Musclecamp, Bill announced to the hundreds of people attending that I was someone that would change the bodybuilding industry.  He went on to explain that he had not spoken about someone in such glowing terms since he predicted Chris Dickerson would be the first black Mr. America.  I can’t tell you how amazing this made me feel and what an incredible impact it had on my career.

CM: You mention work capacity being a cornerstone of your system.  I take this to mean you advocate a high volume of training?

SA: Yes I do, and research backs my thoughts on the matter.  Research clearly shows that it is the duration of time during which the muscles are loaded, and not the absolute amount of the load, that stimulates the adaptive response of hypertrophy.

To illustrate my point, one needs to look no further than gymnasts.  The strength and development of these athletes simply cannot be accounted for with standard training theories.  The volume or duration of time under tension that their muscles experience is what accounts for their impressive development, not training with high percentages of their one repetition maximum as the “load theorists” (as I call them) advocate.

I have never seen high volume training not work with respect to long term adaptive response.  Keep in mind that high volume can come in many forms of application and design…it’s not limited to simply longer workouts.

Scott Abel prefers empirical data gained from real life application vs. research – it’s clear to see why!

CM: Can you tell us a bit more about how you define intensity?

SA: My book, The Abel Approach, goes into this in great detail, but in short, intensity (as I define it) is a measure of effort.  Those following my system train as close to their maximum work capacity as possible as frequently as possible.  We design programs which coax the body to adapt to increasing workloads.

Muscular tissue stress is defined as intensity, and the common paradigm states that increased loads, due to their increased mechanical stress on the musculature, are therefore of higher intensity.  This is only partially true, and totally misleading relative to application.  It leads to a focus on quantitative (numeric) cues.  Trainees are taught to focus on increasing their strength as a signal of muscular progress.   This is simply not valid.  It is a known fact that the higher one’s relative level of development, the less actual weight is required to induce overload.

Training focus should be on qualitative cues such as energy expenditure, oxygen debt, and fatigue.  Using qualitative measures, a 10 rep set can be significantly more intense than a 5 rep set.  Training hard is more productive from a hypertrophy perspective than training heavy, but they need not be mutually exclusive.  In addition, how heavy one can train does not necessarily dictate how heavy one should train.

Another key to optimized training intensity involves muscular inhibition.  The body has many inhibitory mechanisms which are neural in nature.  Retarding or blunting them is an adaptive response, much like the process of a baby learning to walk, and one that must be realized in order to maximize training intensity.

CM: You certainly have a unique approach to resistance training. Does the same hold true for your recommended dietary practices?

SA: Yes, I believe it does.  I have been researching the nervous system relative to training for 20 years, but I must admit that I prefer empirical data gained from real life application vs. research.  To that end, I use the research that I do to come up with new things to try and then validate or invalidate them in the real world with myself and my clients.

As I am sure your readers are aware, the current rage is low or no carb dieting.  This is a mistake much like its predecessor, the low to no fat diet.  The problem with all of these fads is that they claim to be backed by hard science when, in reality, the science is “soft” at best.

Much as with politics, the majority of research put out today is highly subject to interpretation.  Two groups with opposing agendas can come to vastly different conclusions from the same data.

In a nutshell, we have way too many wannabe experts running around with the latest “science”.  These same diet experts have never talked the talk, or walked the walk.  In essence, they are magicians brandishing their wands of science to trick their audiences into believing their point of view.

I’m different, because I have been there and done ALL of that.  I was a hardgainer when I first started, and got nowhere following the common wisdom.  It was not until I realized the rules were subject to question that I was able to make any significant progress.  This brings to mind a quote from Warren Buffet, “Those who follow the herd spend a lot of time scraping their shoes.”  I don’t follow the herd; I observe it and come to my own conclusions.

I create what I call “individually appropriate” diets.  Everyone is unique, and has unique needs when it comes to diet.  Even individually, these needs are constantly in flux.  My system recognizes these facts and is thus customized to the individual.  My clients eat carbs more often than not, and don’t adhere to silly timing schedules and so on.  I will get into more specifics over time with my Q&A column here on  In the interim, your readers can go to my site ( and check out my books and CDs if they want more immediate details.

Funnily enough, even though it was past swimming hours, no one asked Scott to get out of the pool.

CM: What is the one thing you feel every reader of this article can benefit from in terms of training for hypertrophy?

SA: With the advent of the internet, the overabundance of information available has led to the dissemination of misinformation, disinformation, and marketing as information.  Don’t be fooled and follow the beaten path.

There are the rare few genetic freaks for which muscular development comes easy.  For the rest of us, training for a big max is not the key.  You must learn to think differently in the gym, to focus on internal training cues, not the external ones.  You must know that the angles of contraction and planes and ranges of motion are more important than how much you can lift.  Training for development is not training for strength.  Train for development and strength will come, not the other way around.

Natural Bodybuilder Allen Cress – One of Scott’s many trainees

CM: Thanks so much for your thoughts, Scott.  Do you have any parting words for our readers?

SA: I want them to know that coaching is essential to optimal results.  Information does not equal expertise.  There is an incredible amount of information about training and diet available online these days, yet there are more trainers and coaches than ever.

If optimizing physical results was as easy as reading about it online, coaches and trainers would be out of jobs.  Coaching is oversight; it is knowing what an individual needs when they need it.  Like I always say in my seminars, I can have the most fuel efficient and best maintained car on the road, but if my destination is Florida and I head North then it doesn’t matter what the vehicle’s potential is, I will never reach my destination (goal).

Too many trainees think they are heading in the right direction, but aren’t.  If they only understood the value of applied expertise, they could save themselves a lot of time and money with respect to reaching their physical goals.

CM: Great finishing points Scott. I am sure the Wannabebig readers will be looking forward to your next article! Remember, if you have a training or nutrition question for Scott, please email them to Scott will be selecting questions to answer in his future articles.

Written by Chris Mason

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – Physique Transformation Strategies discussion thread

About Scott Abel

Scott Abel is founder of Abel Bodies Fitness and for the last quarter century, Scott Abel has been involved at the highest levels of the Fitness, Diet, Training and Bodybuilding Industry.

Not only has he personally participated at the highest levels in bodybuilding (in order to prove he could put into practice all his theories as the best out there) he has trained over 300 bodybuilding and figure champions.

He has also had enormous success with individuals wanting to lose weight, get into shape and get healthy – from teens to seniors, and anywhere in between.

He’s the author of The Abel Approach and his DVDs include Whole Body Hypertrophy and Five Day Ultimate Figure Program. His latest product is The Truth Audio Series.