When it comes to hypertrophy, one can discuss motor units, muscle protein synthesis, mitochondria, signaling pathways, and so on. But do you really need to know all this in order to build muscle? Not. There are enough practical recommendations available, which are based on research and proven in practice in the halls. So why not just learn the most effective muscle-building workout strategies?
Here are these simple answers to the most important bodybuilding questions.
6 Terms of a Decent Muscle-Building Workout
Have a read of our fundamental material – How to Build Muscle With Scientific Approach
Mechanical stress stimulates hypertrophy. Studies show that when working to failure with a small load, muscles grow in the same way as when working with a large one .
Scientific evidence suggests that there is no one particularly magical rep range for hypertrophy. You can build muscles with both heavy, low-repetitions (1-5 reps per approach) and multi-repetitions (15-20 +) with the appropriate weights.
For most people who do not want to strain with too heavy equipment or die in endless sets, the golden mean is suitable – a range of 6-8 repetitions.
If you still want to lift more, think about this: for hypertrophy, quality of movement is important. Something like rumbling with an overloaded barbell (to get more attention) is not the most effective way to gain muscle mass.
Here’s what happens when the working weight is too heavy:
- Reduced time under (mechanical) stress, because you are forced to resort to cheating,
- You are not able to lower the weight slowly and under control, which further reduces the time under (mechanical) stress,
- Other muscle groups are recruited to work, which reduces the cumulative metabolic stress in the target muscles.
To achieve maximum hypertrophy, it is not enough just to move the weight from one point to another, as in a strength sport. You have to control it over the entire range of motion. Each repetition must be performed efficiently, avoiding cheating and connecting non-target groups.
See more: Fast Reps vs. Slow Reps: Scientific Verdict.
Perform the concentric phase (lifting weights) at normal speed, but stretch the eccentric (lowering) phase for at least 3 seconds in each repetition.
It is necessary to control the weight during the entire movement, but the slowed-down negative will bring more muscles.
If you weakly allow gravity to lower the weight, then you are robbing yourself. For example, a 4-second negative when performing arm curls results in greater growth than a 1-second one . And this is logical – a slow lowering creates more mechanical stress in the working muscles than a short eccentric phase.
Returning to the previous point, if you are not able to control the weight while lowering slowly, then you have taken too much weight and overload the ligaments and tendons. And trauma does not contribute to hypertrophy.
See also: How to Prevent Injuries in Sports.
Therefore, to maximize muscle growth, increase the time under load by doing the exercise with super-tight technique and stretching the eccentric phase for 3-5 seconds.
Naturally, it depends on the intended repetition range. Choose a load that you can’t do more repetitions than your workout program suggests (no jerking, cheating, or other muscle groups).
When 3 sets of 8-12 reps are prescribed, the weight should be such that you can master at least 8 reps and no more than 12.
If you work with the same weight in all sets, then the number of repetitions may decrease (in the first set 12, in the second – 11, in the third – 10) due to the accumulated fatigue. Or, you can decrease the weight with each set to gain the required number of repetitions. Both methods are effective.
See more: How to Choose Weights for Workout Correctly.
Number of Muscle-Building Workout Sets
Oftentimes, people formulate a “balanced” program in which overtaking and lagging muscles are assigned roughly the same number of workouts, exercises, and working sets/reps. If your goal is balanced muscles, then you need to pay special attention to the lagging muscle groups.
Evidence-Based Consensus – for hypertrophy, 12-20 work sets per muscle group per week should be performed. So if some of your muscles are lagging behind, then calculate whether you are working them out at least 12 sets per week. If not, then you need to increase the training volume for them by adding additional sets.
Muscle-Building Workout Splits
The best type of muscle-building workout split is determined by how many times a week you want to go to the gym.
If you have only a couple of workouts, then it is more effective to work out the whole body on each.
If you are ready to go to the gym 4 times, then it is better to swing up and down in a muscle-building workout split, for example:
- Monday – the muscles of the upper half of the body,
- Tuesday – the muscles of the lower half of the body,
- Thursday – upper body,
- Friday or Saturday – lower body.
We’ve already compared these two types here – Full Body vs. Split Workout According to Science.
If you live in the gym and want to “kill yourself” more often, then you should switch to split body parts, which will maximize stimulation and allow enough time for each muscle group to recover.
A typical three-day-on, one-day-off rotation split is:
- Chest, Shoulders, Triceps
- Lower Body and Abs
- Back, Biceps
For a four-day-on, one-day-off split, here a two of my favorites:
- Workout 1 – Chest, Shoulders, Triceps
- Workout 2 – Quads, Calves, Abs
- Workout 3 – Back, Biceps
- Workout 4 – Hamstrings, Glutes, Abs
- Workout 1 – Chest and Back
- Workout 2 – Quads, Calves, Abs
- Workout 3 – Arms and Shoulders;
- Workout 4 – Glutes, Hamstrings, Abs
Whichever split you choose, you can always add a set or two for a lagging muscle group (not on their day) to increase the overall training volume for that muscle group.
More info: How Often to Workout Each Muscle Group
A review of research has shown that resting between sets of 3-5 minutes is optimal to increase strength. This allows you to develop more effort in several approaches than pauses of 1 minute .
Longer rest intervals do not increase productivity, and who can be in the gym all day?
To save time, I prefer to alternate exercise approaches for different muscle groups, both close and distant from each other: chest and back, arms and shoulders, legs and abs.
Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with doing one-group working sets consistently. It just takes longer.
And training with alternating exercises both saves time and can be more effective . Working muscles rest longer when alternating exercises and can cope with more stress in each set.
More info: How long should you rest between sets
Does hypertrophy need more calories?
As we will never tire of repeating, a calorie deficit is essential for fat loss. But is a surplus really necessary to gain muscle? Not always. The fact is that stored fat is stored energy, and the body can use this energy as fuel for muscle growth.
Yes, yes, to date, several studies are showing that it is possible to build muscle and lose fat at the same time. This was demonstrated in different groups of participants: sedentary overweight men , elderly men and women , physically active, healthy men , young women .
Please note that our body does not “pump” fat into muscles. Adipose tissue is adipose tissue, and muscle tissue is muscle tissue.
But if you are a little overweight, then the body can use the stored energy (fat) when there are not enough calories from food to building muscle.
So what is the best diet for hypertrophy? It depends on what shape you are in now and what you want to achieve.
Regardless of deficit or surplus, always make sure you get enough protein. This is a top nutritional tip when looking to gain muscle mass. A classic bodybuilding rule of thumb is one gram of protein per pound of weight (2.2 g / kg).
Q: When building muscle, how much protein to eat?
A: Recommendations for protein for building muscle from reputable organizations – on average in the range of 1.6-2 g / kg of body weight per day).
Additional material: Best Protein Powder for Lean Muscles – Choosing Guide
- Mitchell CJ, Churchward-Venne TA, West DWD, et al. Resistance exercise load does not determine training-mediated hypertrophic gains in young men. J Appl Physiol. 2012;113(1):71-7.
- Pereira PE, Motoyama Y, Esteves G, Carlos Quinelato W, Botter L, Tanaka K, Azevedo P. Resistance training with slow speed of movement is better for hypertrophy and muscle strength gains than fast speed of movement. Int J Appl Exerc Physiol. 2016;5:37-43.
- De Salles BF, et al. Rest interval between sets in strength training. Sports Med. 2009;39(9):765- 77.
- Robbins, D. W., Young, W. B., & Behm, D. G. (2010). The effect of an upper-body agonist-antagonist resistance training protocol on volume load and efficiency. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 24(10), 2632-2640.
- Wallace MB, et al. Effects of cross-training on markers of insulin resistance/hyperinsulinemia. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1997 Sep;29(9):1170-5.
- Iglay HB, et al. Resistance training and dietary protein: effects on glucose tolerance and contents of skeletal muscle insulin signaling proteins in older persons. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Apr;85(4):1005-13.
- Dolezal B, Potteiger J. Concurrent resistance and endurance training influence basal metabolic rate in nondieting individuals. Journal Appl Physiol (1985). 1998;85:695-700. doi:10.1152/ jappl.19188.8.131.525
- Josse AR, et al. Body composition and strength changes in women with milk and resistance exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2010 Jun;42(6):1122-30.
More about this topic:
- How to Lose Weight Fast — In-Depth Guide
- Sports Supplements for Muscle Growth
- The Most Effective Muscle-Building Workout Strategies | T-NATION
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