Do you feel you’re being left behind by your mates at the gym? Or that you can’t pick up that girl(or guy) at the local bar? WELL! Look no further than this blog because I’m about to outline the keys to success of building more muscle on your frame.
I’m Coach (Exercise Physiologist) Richo and I get it, I know what it feels like being that guy that looks like he belongs out on a farm scaring away crows. The most important thing to remember is that you don’t have to look that way, you’re in control of your appearance and can make the right decisions to reach your goals.
This blog will outline the mechanisms behind building muscle, training parameters, nutritional considerations, and the little things that make a BIG difference.
What is Muscle Hypertrophy?
Put simply muscle hypertrophy relates to growth of the muscle belly; hypertrophy = increase in size.
How do muscles actually grow?
There are two types of stresses which we’re going to discuss that muscles respond to:
So you know when you get a “pump” in the gym? Well this actually promotes an environment which causes an increase in hypertrophic response within the muscle cell! Basically what that means is it creates an environment rich with everything the muscles need to grow. So when you’re on your 100th repetition of bicep curls and you feel your skin is about to split you know you’re doing your coach proud.
Mechanical stress relates to the tension applied to the muscle belly which causes micro disruptions or tears in the skeletal muscle and associated tendon. These tears result in the mechano-chemically transduced responses causing muscle hypertrophy.
Proper manipulation of training variables is essential to maximise muscle hypertrophy. The training parameters that we will be discussing today are frequency, intensity, volume, progressive overload, rest intervals and exercise selection.
For clarity, the below paragraph provides an understanding of each of the key FITT principles.
The FITT principle stands for
Frequency - number of sessions in a training week
Intensity - the load (represented as kg’s or % of 1 repetition max)
Time or Volume - the duration or the volume (sets x reps)
Type - the type of exercise completed (i.e. resistance training)
Frequency relates to the amount of times a given muscle group is trained in the given week or mesocycle. From the research clear recommendations have been given which report that training a given muscle group 2x a week has significantly great hypertrophic response compared to once a week. Therefore, in order to maximise muscle hypertrophy one should train each muscle group at least twice per week.
Monday - Pull (Back and Biceps)
Tuesday - Push (Chest, Shoulder, Triceps)
Wednesdays - Lower Body (Glutes, Quads, Hamstrings, Calves)
Thursday - Upper - Chest, Back, Shoulders, Biceps,Triceps)
Friday - Lower Body (Glutes, Quads, Hamstrings, Calves)
Each Muscle group is trained twice per training week.
Intensity (i.e. load) has been shown by the research to greatly influence muscle hypertrophy and is arguably the most important parameter. Intensity is often represented as % of one repetition maximum (%1RM), or number of repetitions remaining before failure (rating of perceived exertion RPE). For example, if 100kg Bench Press was my maximum amount of weight lifted for Bench Press for one rep, then 80% of my 1RM would be 80kg. For RPE, if I completed a set of Xkg and I could only do 2 more reps before reaching fatigue then my RPE would be 8; if I could do three more reps then my RPE would be 7. Intensity of a given exercise typically equates to a desired repetition range: low (1-5 reps), moderate (6-12) or high (12+). Each of these repetition ranges will impact the two primary forms of inducing hypertrophy to a different degree.
For example, if I was to complete a heavy set of Bench Press at 90% of my 1RM I would only be able to do 2-4 repetitions before not being able to continue the set. The higher the 90% of 1RM the lower the reps in that set. Vise versa the lower the 1RM the more reps that can be completed in a given set i.e. 60% 1RM completing 15 reps per set.
The moderate range rep scheme has been attributed to hypertrophy superiority due to factors associated with increased metabolic stress with large amounts of mechanical stress and microtrauma to the muscle belly and tendons.
Volume can relate to repetitions completed without rest in a designated set and exercise volume which is the product of repetitions, sets and load performed in a training session. From the research it’s been shown that higher volume training with multi-set protocols (completing multiple sets of the same muscle group each workout) have been associated with increased muscle hypertrophy over single-set or low volume training programs.
It’s unclear whether the hypertrophic stimulus of the higher volume training sessions is the product of greater mechanical stress, metabolic stress or muscle damage, or a combination of these factors.
Progressive overload relates to the increase in intensity or training volume each week to provide new physiological stimuli to increase the hypertrophic response to exercise. This is one of the most important aspects when considering your training program. Albert Einstein is credited in saying “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” So imagine heading into the gym but using the same weight, sets and reps every workout expecting a different result… doesn’t make sense does it.
All of these program parameters must be adhered to if you want to maximise muscle growth at the gym.
Time taken between sets is referred to as the rest intervals. Rest intervals can vary in length and can be classified into 3 broad categories: short (30 seconds or less), moderate (60-90 seconds), and long (3 minutes or more). The use of these three different categories has distinct effects on metabolite buildup and strength capacity, greatly impacting the hypertrophic response.
When altering the factors to increase metabolic stress to a given muscle group, reducing rest times between sets or adding on drop-sets (completing a subsequent set of the same exercise but with lighter load) or supersets (two different exercises completed without rest inbetween) of the same muscle group are a fantastic way to induce greater metabolic stress and subsequently induce hypertrophy.
Below is a table summarising the benefits and negative effects of short, moderate and long rest intervals.
As you can see different rest intervals will cause greater or reduced response to metabolic stress or mechanical tension. Typically the shorter rest intervals will increase metabolic stress but reduce the ability for an individual to lift higher intensities due to increased fatigue caused by a buildup of metabolites. The opposite occurs when a longer rest interval is used, the individual can lift heavy loads as their bodies have had time to clear the metabolites and replenish the phosphocreatine stores within the muscle belly.
The research indicates that one should include both longer and shorter rest periods to one’s program to incorporate both high metabolic stress and higher mechanical stress induced responses to muscle hypertrophy.
When choosing exercises to incorporate into your program there are a number of different methodologies that one can use. If you’re just starting out or still understanding the principles of programming I suggest performing your multi-joint compound exercises at the start of your program, utilising longer rests and higher intensity to induce greater mechanical stress. After performing compound exercises of different angles of pull move on to your single joint exercises and try utilizing shorter rest periods and less load to induce greater metabolic stress.
Lat Pull Down 4 x 8 80% with 2mins rest
Cable Row 4 x 12 70% 90 secs rest
Lat Pull Over 3 x 15 60% 60 secs rest
Barbell Bicep Curl 3 x 8-10 70% 90 secs rest
Dumbbell Hammer Curls 3 x 12-15 60% 60secs rest
There are more advanced methods that can be introduced into your program to add another level of program variability but this blog is designed to prioritise arming oneself with the knowledge and know-how to adjust programming variables to get the best value-for-effort of each workout.
As Bruce Lee once said “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”
Time to get jacked and juicy.
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