When the goal of exercise is hypertrophy (muscle building), workouts should establish a correlative relationship between the time devoted to exercise and the increase of training volume.
That means as workouts progress, the training regime should also incorporate an increased load. In essence, every consecutive training period (week, month, or year) should be structured to gradually increase load in order to promote gains.
Working out at the gym or at home for hypertrophy?
When you train in a gym environment, there are a number of things you need to consider:
- How many people are using the facilities
- What kind of equipment they have
- Is the gym safe and clean
Training at home can be a double-edged sword – you have the freedom to train when you want and how you want but you need to be motivated and disciplined. Check out the packages section on our site to get a head start with the equipment you need.
Creating a training plan for hypertrophy
Any plan you create should be focused on progressive overload. In order to achieve positive results – strength improvements, muscle growth or endurance – you must continue to increase the training load otherwise you will simply plateau.
Make volume the focus of you plan
The amount of work you do per workout is known as the training volume. This can be tracked with a simple equation:
Sets x Reps x Load
You can use this to measure improvement throughout a mesocycle. To equate intensity between mesocycles where various movements are used (for example, back squats in mesocycle 1 and front squats in mesocycle 2), keep track of the number of working sets done on each group of muscles.
Though hypertrophy training has both an intensity (as a percentage of 1 rep max) and a volume aspect, volume tends to be the predominant factor. It seems that volume is the most significant determinant of performance when it comes to gaining muscle mass, assuming a strength level of >60 percent of 1 rep max is met. According to studies, muscle growth can be achieved across a very wide intensity spectrum, meaning that muscle building does not require necessarily lifting additional weights, and is, in fact, discouraged.
What Research Shows
While researchers are not sure why increasing multiple sets that result in a higher number than the previous instances correlate to a 40% larger impact than a single set, it is generally agreed upon by experts in the field that higher intensity exercise is more successful than low volume training when the tensile force is applied to the muscle for a prolonged period of time. Increased tension time raises the risk of microdamage and the tendency for fatigue to overtake the entire muscle-based system. Adaptation becomes more likely when harder functioning muscles experience more disruption in standard exercise patterns.
More Is (Usually) Better
Training harder and doing more is unquestionably better to promote hypertrophy. This common belief is adopted by people who train by pushing their former limits constantly, trying to eclipse their previous achievements. This, however, has its limitation. While it is an admirable mindset, doing far too much can cause the body to deplete its ability to recover. Once such an ability is lost, continuing the patterns of progressive increases gets stifled, undermining the whole muscle-building process.
The key is to establish a smart program that pushes clients beyond their former achievements, but not excessively so. More overload is better, but that alone is a bit of a misguided aim. A far more effective methodology is by going for what is more effective than what is far harder to achieve. Boosting training volumes is too far higher than previous ones is the key to hypertrophy, but overdoing it will come with diminishing returns at best, setbacks at worst.
It’s A Marathon, Not A Race
There is no especially expedited route to achieving hypertrophy. It is a process that demands patience, with gradual training volume increases. Chasing too much too soon will lead only to unhealthy overexertion and setbacks. The correct way is to incrementally supplement onto past performances over the long term, yielding better end results.
Essentially, overtraining in the short term leaves very little growth to happen in the long term. In practical terms, someone who trains for three hours a day, every day of the week is going to have a hard time finding any more time and energy to do more Since there will be no room for progressive incrementation, the ability to build muscle will be dramatically limited moving forward.
If just 4, hour-long sessions per week are showing results, that is the way to go. This allows to ability to add more volume, such as expanding the sessions to 5 or more times per week or expanding the hour to 75 – 90 minutes. As long as gains are made, then the hypertrophy achievement approach is working and it should be adhered to.
Let’s face it: one can only build so much muscle in a month, so getting everything out of it without going overboard is the key to the strategy. If the muscle-building potential is overblown, it leaves little advancement opportunity in the future.
Keep it simple, have a plan
Increasing volume can be as simple as:
- Adding more reps to the same weight
- Adding an extra set
- Adding more weight but doing the same reps
While these are pretty simple concepts, let’s just lay it out there for the visual learners:
- Week 1: 3 sets X 10 reps
- Week 2: 3 sets X 11 reps
- Weeks3: 3 sets X 12 reps
- Week 1: 3 sets
- Week 2: 4 sets
- Week 3: 5 sets
- Week 1: 210 lbs X 10 reps
- Week 2: 215 lbs X 10 reps
- Week 3: 220 lbs X 10 reps
Each of those is a good strategy, but none of them lasts forever. Eventually, a plateau period sets in. So a more practical approach would be called for. Here is a method that would increase the training over a mesocycle:
- Determine 1 to 3 exercises for each body part being worked out.
- Exercise each of the selected muscle groups 2 or 3 times a week (bigger muscle groups should probably be twice a week)
- Start at about 40 reps per muscle group per training session, and gradually increase to up to 70 reps.
- Performs 2 to 3 sets (per exercise). For exercises involving multiple muscles, work toward 3 sets, while isolated muscles should get 2.
- Choose the number of reps that will be done (best to start with 6-8 or even 8-10)
- Starting at a lower end of the rep range, decide what is a doable weight for the exercise session.
- Once the trainee can complete the sets with the higher end of the rep spectrum, increase the weight (not excessively).
- After every 1 to 3 weeks, add a set for training an additional muscle group or body part to the regimen.
- It is nearly inevitable that progress will begin to plateau at some point. Once this begins to happen, decrease the overload load for 1 week, then start to gradually increasing the training volume until it is at or exceeding the previously achieved maximums.