Training for Muscle Hypertrophy

So in a previous post, I covered training for maximum strength. Training for maximum strength is not the same as training for muscle size. Different training goals require different types of workouts. So if your goal is to get stronger, why would you ever do hypertrophy training? At some point, recruitment (maximum strength) training has diminishing returns. When the body is able to recruit a very high percentage of the muscle for work, continuing to train for maximum strength will be counter productive. At this point, in order to get stronger, we must increase the size of the muscle, thus increasing the total amount of muscle fibers. Having more muscle fibers available will make training for maximum strength effective again. A nice bonus is your muscles get bigger, and hey, who doesn't want big muscles?

So how do we train for muscle hypertrophy? Its actually quite easy. This workout is not extremely physically demanding, and does not take a long time to perform. Muscles trained will be very spent immediately following the workout, and will probably be very sore about 14 - 30 hours after the workout.

The sweet spot for muscle hypertrophy is 9-12 reps to failure. This means you must fail between the 9th and 12th repetition of one set. Additionally, the rest between sets must be between one and two minutes long, preferably closer to one minute. I recommend to do three or four sets per exercise, and to do three to four exercises per workout. What happens with this workout is your muscle doesn't use all its fibers for any one repetition, rather it uses the "first available" muscle fibers. When these fibers get tired, other muscle fibers start to do work. This pattern continues until all muscle fibers are spent. At this point the muscle burns, and you know you've done a good hypertrophy workout. The body will adapt by building more muscle fibers, making the muscle larger, and increasing the total number of muscle fibers available for work.

I recommend to train a given muscle group for two to three weeks with hypertrophy, then to consolidate those gains with maximum strength training. With maximum strength training I feel its better to do compound exercises, that utilize lots of different muscles. With hypertrophy training I feel it is more appropriate and effective to do exercises that target muscles more specifically.

A workout might go like this:

* warm up
* dumb bell chest press - 50x12, 50x11, 50x9, 45x12
* dumb bell one arm triceps extension - 20x12, 20x11, 20x11, 20x9
* cable chest flies - 45x12, 45x11, 45x10
* stretch

I feel that stretching out is important with this type of workout, as lactic acid build up in the muscles is extreme. Stretching will help to circulate some of that lactic acid throughout the body, helping to metabolize it more quickly, which speeds recovery. Lactic acid is toxic for the body, and is ironically counter-productive for muscle growth. Another great way to speed recovery is to do an aerobic workout (jogging, swimming, etc) after the hypertrophy workout, either immediately or within the next twelve hours or so. This also helps to circulate the lactic acid throughout the body.

So we've covered two of the most important types of workouts - maximum strength and hypertrophy. What we haven't discussed is how often these workouts should be done, and how to structure a training program to see optimal benefits from the training. In the next few posts I'll cover recovery, diet, and some guidelines for putting together a training program.


  1. Lora, here's your man arms workout-

    * warmup
    * standing barbell biceps curl - 30x10, 20x12, 20x12
    * lying barbell triceps extension - 30x10, 20x12, 20x12
    * sitting one arm dumbbell biceps curl - 15x10, 12.5x11, 12.5x11
    * sitting one arm dumbbell triceps extension overhead - 15x12, 15x11, 15x10


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