what is hypertrophy training?

What is Hypertrophy Training?

Have you ever wondered what Hypertrophy training actually is?

… and how does this work?

With two or three minor tweaks to your plan you will be getting consistent hypertrophy gains.

Firstly, there are many reasons why you may want to build muscle, such as, for aesthetics, to increase the metabolic rate and to work alongside a weight/fat loss goal.  So, here are two rules for you to consider before getting started on a new hypertrophy training plan:

  1. 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 your gains will be short lived, experiencing injury and fatigue quicker, therefore adherence to the hypertrophy training plan decreases along with the gains.
  2. 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 to truly find the calorie intake to suit the programme at the specific phase.

Right, back to some more science:

Hypertrophy Training 

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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 skeletal muscle size 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).

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Let’s jump into a huge topic, and we will only scratch the surface today:

Hormonal responses

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, travelling, 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, after all that science of hormones; how does this relate to your training style?

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.

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.

Hypertrophy Training Guidelines

When hypertrophy training 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 exercise intensities.

So, with the above insights into hypertrophy training you will be ready to hit the gym and achieve the hypertrophy you are actually looking for.

Choosing Advanced Resistance Training Systems For Hypertrophy

More advanced clients will tolerate higher levels of overload in each session and require more volume. Advanced training systems like:

Drop sets = are a great way of increasing overall volume, as each drop set has 4 points of overload on one muscle.

Pre/Post Exhaust systems = These are a good way of achieving overload on a prime mover twice in each set, by combining isolation and compound exercises on one muscle, without rest.
Find out more about Pre and Post exhaust training systems for hypertrophy here

Forced Repetitions = will be very effective at challenging the load lifted to achieve maximum overload. This is where the trainer assists the client in two additional reps past overload.

Tri sets and Giant sets = These involve multiple points of overload power muscle in each set. This is great for increasing the amount of volume in each session. This is also great for endurance goals as it removes the recovery in between exercises.
Find out more about Tri sets here
Find out more about Giant sets here

There’s not just one Resistance Training System For Hypertrophy

As you can see there are many training systems that are appropriate for hypertrophy, the key is to use the right training variables within the training systems.

There are over 17 resistance training systems that are taught in the Level 3 PT syllabus which can be overwhelming to distinguish which system to use and when. to plan them. Our FIT-Progressions online programme breaks down each of these in detail with clear protocol to follow for each one.

Plus you learn how to periodise your planning of these systems to allow for logical progressive overload so your client can get their goal every time.

>>>> Join us for FIT-Progressions here

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There’s no more self-doubt. There’s no more guessing what to plan or how to get client results. FIT-Progressions has 8 modules and 18 video tutorials that guide you through every stage of your Level 3 Personal Trainer case study, and how to work with clients effectively.

This is for you if you’re…

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Test your knowledge with today’s planning mock questions:

[NOTE: The answers are below the 3rd question]

Q1: What is the ideal rep-range for Hypertrophy goals?

A. 1-7 reps
B. 8-12 reps
C. 13-20 reps
D. 1-5 reps

Q2: What causes hypertrophy?

A. Microtears to the actin and myosin which adapt in recovery to be stronger and more powerful
B. Microtears to the tendon which creates long term injury
C. Microtears to the tendon which adapt in recovery to be bigger and more resilient to volume
D. Microtears to the actin and myosin which adapt in recovery to be bigger in size and more resilient to volume and fatigue

Q3: Which hormones break structures down within the body?
A. Catabolic
B. Anabolic
C. Hypertrophic
D. Hypotrophic

Answers to the mock questions are :

Question 1= B, Question 2 = D, Question 3 = A

If you want more mock questions like this, then you can download more Free Mock Questions: DOWNLOAD NOW

Dedicated to More

Hayley “Hypertrophy Training” Bergman

Parallel Coaching

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