Greg Nuckols Interview: The Role Genetics Play in Gaining Strength, Top 5 Things Everyone Should Know About Squatting, and the Most Common Mistakes Made in Strength Programming

Author: Jared Bichler


First off, thank you for taking time out of your schedule to do this interview, it’s much appreciated! To begin, why don’t you let the readers know a bit about yourself and what it is you do.


My name's Greg.  I'm a coach, writer, and powerlifter.




Would you say genetics play as much of a role in gaining strength as they do in gaining muscle? And what are some things low-responders can do to get the most out of their training?


Certainly in the long run, though at least in the early stages of training, low responders gain about the same amount of strength because in the early phases of training, strength gains primarily come from peripheral factors (i.e. increased Ca+ concentrations in the muscle) and neural factors (increased motor unit recruitment and firing rate).  However, once you've tapped out those gains and muscle size becomes the factor bottlenecking progress, low responders start lagging behind.


The most effective thing they could do is go back in time and pick better parents.  Since that's not a viable option at the moment, self-experimentation is the best option.  Not only do some people respond better or worse to training in general, but there's also evidence that people respond better or worse to different styles of training.  If your current program isn't producing good results for you, even if it's proven to be effective for a lot of other people, it's worth making a some adjustments to see if you'll respond better to another style of training (i.e. higher or lower volume, higher or lower intensity, etc.)




If you had to distill down your advice on how to squat effectively, what are the top 5 things you would want someone to know?


1) Don't let your spine flex (much; a tiny bit of lumbar flexion is actually normal in deep squats, but it shouldn't be excessive. If you think this is a problem for you, there's a good chance it is).

2) Squat as deep as you comfortably and safely can.

3) Don't let your knees cave in.

4) Accelerate every rep as fast as possible

5) If your legs aren't getting bigger and you aren't getting stronger, increase the training volume.




How do you recommend people approach their training after coming off an injury? Specifically those who have gone weeks without any sort of training stimulus. 


Just play it conservatively.  Start back 5-10% lighter than you think you "could" go, and do 1-3 fewer sets per exercise than you think you "should" do.  Don't increase intensity more than 5% per week, and don't increase total training volume more than about 10% per week.  That should get you back to your old levels of volume and intensity in about 3-6 weeks, depending on how long the layoff was, and how light you needed to start back.




What do you feel are good ways for those with more physique related goals to integrate strength training into their programming? 


The biggest thing is just to not chase numbers for their own sake, and to keep prioritizing range of motion.  i.e. if you generally squat super deep, then if you increase your 5rm or 10rm, there's a damn good chance your legs will get bigger.  If you start changing technique or limiting range of motion to let you lift more weight, then simply being able to load more weight on the bar won't necessarily mean you're getting bigger.  If you decrease training volume while increasing intensity to taper and peak, you'll probably also be able to lift more weight without also adding size.  However, as long as technique stays consistent and you don't compromise training volume in a short-term pursuit for PRs, strength gains and size gains should go hand-in-hand.




Do you think someone can maximize their muscle building potential without squatting, benching, or deadlifting?


Sure!  There are plenty of other great exercises to train the same muscles.




How often would you recommend someone with strength-oriented goals test their 1RM, assuming they do not compete in powerlifting?


It depends on how much testing interferes with training.  If someone can test without compromising the rest of their training plan, they can test more frequently.  If testing negatively impacts their other training, they should test less frequently.  For example, testing my 1rm bench, high bar squat, or front squat doesn't really impact the rest of my training – I can test at the start of a session, still hit the prescribed volume/intensity afterward, and I'm not noticeably more fatigued than I would have been without testing, so the rest of the training week isn't compromised, so I test those lifts more frequently.  My low bar squat (especially with wraps) and deadlift, on the other hand, take a lot more out of me when I go over 90% – testing wrecks the rest of that training session, and I'll probably be worn down enough for the next few days that the rest of my training week suffers, so I test them less frequently.




In your opinion, what are the most common mistakes made in programming for strength training?


Making changes when they shouldn't and not making changes when they should.  If you're making progress and everything is going smoothly, there's no reason to make adjustments, even if your favorite lifter trains a different way, and even if you read an exciting new article saying you should train a different way – yet many people get away from training programs that are working for them.  On the flip side, a lot of people also stick with training programs way too long when they aren't working.




You’re on your death bed, and you’ve been notified that all of the content you’ve ever created has been erased, and no one will be able to access it again. On top of this, you’re only able to leave behind 3 pieces of fitness-related advice for people. What are your 3 pieces of advice?


- If you love it, you'll stick with it.  Don't worry too much about "optimal" until you have competitive aspirations and are sure to not wash out.

- Find good training partners.

- 9 times out of 10, "training harder" is the definition of "training smarter"



Add on: What if the 3 pieces of advice are related to living a better life in general?


- You should probably sleep more

- You should probably read more

- You should probably spend more time with the people who matter the most to you






To contact Greg and/or view his work: