As a personal trainer in gym or out and about in client’s homes, you get asked how to build muscle on a daily basis.
Generally in a gym setting with so much equipment the answer seems clear but out of the gym not so.
However, do you find the client’s gains are slower than expected regardless of the venue?
With two or three minor tweaks to your plan your clients will be thanking you for a very long time.
Firstly, there are many reasons why your clients want to build muscle, such as, for aesthetics, to increase the metabolic rate and to work alongside a weight/fat loss goal. So let’s jump straight into a couple of quick tips to accelerate these types of client goals:
- Hypertrophy training should only be embarked upon once a solid foundation of technique, posture, basic cardiovascular fitness and flexibility has been built. Without having a foundation to build upon the client’s gains will be short lived, experiencing injury and fatigue quicker, therefore adherence to the training plan decreases along with the gains.
- Chek (1999) reported that 5 pounds of muscle gain had a calorie increase of only 48kcal across a single day. Whilst I agree building muscle increases the metabolic rate, we do not need to increase calories by much to see or maintain any gains. Small tweaks to calories every 7 to 10 days should allow you and the client to truly find the calorie intake to suit the programme at the specific phase.
Right, back to some more science:
As with many of the physiological functions of the body, the precise mechanism by which muscles increase size is not yet completely understood. There are many competing theories attempting to explain the adaptations that take place at a cellular level, but no one theory has been universally accepted as yet.
Robergs and Roberts (1997) define hypertrophy as the increase in size of skeletal muscle resulting from the increased size of individual muscle fibres. McArdle et al (2001) suggest that the primary driving force that initiates skeletal muscle hypertrophy is increased muscular tension, typically generated through resistance exercise. It has been reported that the fast twitch fibres if weight lifters are on average 45% larger than those of sedentary individuals and aerobic athletes.
Training to significantly increase muscle size is not particularly easy. Convincing the human body to synthesise and sustain higher level of muscle mass than it would ordinarily support requires planning, application and sustained effort. Individuals wanting to increase size need to carefully consider the training stimulus, ensure appropriate nutrition and plan adequate recovery. These three variables need to be considered and managed well.
Hypertrophy training should not just be considered the domain of body builders and young males wanting to “get big”. Phases of hypertrophy training can be utilised by all individuals that participate in a wide variety of sports and athletic events. Newton and Kraemer (1994) contend that hypertrophy training can prove highly beneficial to power athletes, provided that they also include dedicated power exercises and do not exceed the ideal optimal muscle mass for the sport or event (especially if power to weight ratio is a key consideration).
Let’s jump into a huge topic, and we will only scratch the surface today:
Hormones can be divided into two general categories:
- # anabolic
- # catabolic
Anabolic hormones promote the building of structures within the body. With the aim of a hypertrophy training phase being the building of skeletal muscle, it would be prudent to maximise the effects of the anabolic hormones. The characteristic male sex hormone testerone is known for its anabolic properties. Testosterone plays an important role in muscle growth due to its role in protein synthesis. Males exhibit approximately ten times greater testosterone than females (Hedick, 1995). This is one reason why males are able to achieve significantly greater levels of hypertrophy than females. Hedick also suggested that exercise guidelines for maximising an anabolic response should include the following:
- ~ select exercises that involve a large amount of muscle mass (compound lifts)
- ~ utilise a relatively heavy resistance (~85% of 1RM)
- ~ use a moderate to high volume of training (multiple sets)
- ~ emphasise short rest periods between sets (~ 1 minute)
Catabolic hormones break structures down within the body. Chronically high level of catabolic hormones within the body would be counterproductive to the objective of hypertrophy. Cortisol is one of the most catabolic hormones found within the human body. One of the major roles of cortisol involves the conversion of stored protein (muscle) into glucose and glycogen. As well as catabolising existing protein, cortisol decreases protein synthesis, thereby inhibiting any muscular gains (Jalali, 2003). Based on the stresses of day to day living, family, work, traveling, finance, food and exercise itself, cortisol levels are exceptionally high. Maybe this is why it seems like; two steps forwards and one step back all the time with clients. What they do outside of your session is key to success and managing cortisol is key.
Jalali (2003) suggests the following tips for controlling cortisol levels:
- ~ ensure that an adequate quality and variety of nutrients is consumed on a regular basis
- ~ Avoid overtraining. Try not to train 3 or more days in a row without a break, and keep workouts under an hour
- ~ Avoid stress. Practice relaxation techniques
- ~ Try to sleep at least 8 hours every night
- ~ spike insulin levels after a workout. Insulin levels may enhance post-workout cortisol clearance, promoting the switch to anabolism. Consumption of high glycaemic carbohydrate drinks or snack will generate an insulin spike
So, next tip after all that science of hormones:
Changing the stimulus
Approximately every 4 – 8 weeks you should look to modify the programme variables in such a way as to generate a new exercise stimulus for the client.
If planned correctly, this practice should help ensure physical progress as well as minimising the risk of retention problems through boredom. Care should be taken to ensure that the progressions in volume and intensity from one programme to the next are both progressive and manageable e.g. conducting a strength endurance phase in between endurance and hypertrophy phases.
These progressions in programme design can be timed with pertinent re-evaluation and review dates.
When training for hypertrophy the number of sets performed per muscle group is far greater than for muscular endurance. Baechle et al (2000) suggests that multiple sets (i.e. 3 or more per muscle group) is the most effective strategy for increasing hypertrophy.
The training intensity (expressed as % of 1RM) is also significantly higher for hypertrophy than it is for muscular endurance. It can therefore, be stated that a key feature of hypertrophy training is high volume combined with moderate to high exercises intensities.
So hopefully the above insight into hypertrophy training has sparked some creativity into your clients programmes. Alongside having a more in-depth scientific understanding of how to build muscle and get the client goal
Until next time,
Neale “The Muscle Builder” Bergman
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