Hypertrophy: The Art of Adding Muscle Size

Most people know strength training is very different from training for a marathon.  But did you know adding muscle size requires a training stimulus very different from that of increasing muscle strength or power?  The art of adding muscle size is called Hypertrophy, and that’s what we’ll be focusing on in our newly added Hypertrophy class for men (non-members price is $155).

Adding lean muscle is one of the two most common goals out there. Unfortunately, most people do almost the exact opposite of what they should be doing to get bigger. 

Exercises for Hypertrophy

The most important thing to focus on in the gym when training for hypertrophy is triggering the release of growth hormones and testosterone.  That means engaging as much muscle as possible with compound lifts, especially for the lower body.  Skipping leg day is the worst thing you can do for adding size…even to your upper body.

Each session should start with 1-3 of the classic compound lifts (this list is not exhaustive):

  • Squat Variations
  • Deadlift Variations
  • Clean Variations
  • Lunge Variations
  • Upper Body Pull Variations
  • Horizontal Press Variations
  • Vertical Press Variations

These movements are classics for a reason, they’re not flashy but they work wonders.  Multi-joint movements allow you to engage way more muscle than isolation exercises leading to more muscular damage and hormone production.

Once we’ve fatigued our central nervous system and gotten a big dump of HGH with compound lifts we can transition to more focused isolation exercises to develop symmetry and the smaller muscle groups.  I recommend choosing 2-4 of these isolations to round out your training session.  Some solid options are:

  • Bicep Curls
  • Tricep Extensions
  • Ab Work
  • Calf Raises
  • Delt raises
  • Shrugs 
  • Back Extensions

If you were to put together a varied program with just the exercises above you’d see progress for years, especially if you’re a beginner or intermediate athlete.  There’s no need to reinvent the wheel.

Coach Jay Back Squatting.

Sets, Reps, and Rest

The second most important part of hypertrophy training is volume, AKA how many total reps you’re doing of each exercise and how those reps are organized into sets.  Hypertrophy training requires high volume and large sets to cause muscular damage and metabolic fatigue (pushing close to failure).

The sweet spot for hypertrophy is generally sets in the 8-15 rep range. The number of sets will be dependent on the full training plan for the day, though 3-5 sets is generally a good rule of thumb.

Remember that no matter what rep scheme you choose you MUST choose a weight that causes metabolic stress.  That means when you finish your set you should feel like you could only do another rep or two and the weight felt heavy.

Adding Variance

Making sure your lifting program is constantly changing is important to prevent plateaus.  Muscles begin to acclimate to routine and progress will slow if the training stimulus isn’t tweaked on a regular basis.  You can add variance by:

  • Changing exercises (duh)
  • Playing with your set and rep schemes.  6 sets of 10 will feel MUCH different than 3 sets of 20 and it will also cause a different adaptation in your body
  • Performing isometrics and eccentrics
  • Doing BFR (Blood Flow Restriction) work
  • Tempo training

This list is nowhere near exhaustive and is just the tip of the iceberg.  You’re really only limited here by your imagination.  If you need help coming up with some fresh routines book an appointment with one of our personal trainers.

Nutrition for Hypertrophy

You can workout twice a day seven days a week following all the guidelines I laid out, but if you’re not eating to support the work you’re doing in the gym you’ll never see any progress.  If your goal is a change in your aesthetic 80%+ of your attention needs to be on the fuel you’re providing your body.  If you don’t have the building blocks of muscle available your body has no way to grow.  That would be like asking a carpenter to build a house without providing any wood.

10 Nutrition Tips for Hypertrophy:

  1. In order to gain weight, you must consume a surplus of calories, meaning eat more calories than you burn. To gain muscle while maintaining weight, you must consume maintenance calories (eat what you burn) and prioritize protein. To gain muscle while losing weight, you need to be in a caloric deficit and again, prioritize protein!
  2. Keep in mind that the further along you get in your training, the harder it becomes to gain muscle and lose body fat simultaneously.
  3. Eat 1g of protein per pound of lean body mass (reference your InBody scan).
  4. Eat more starchy carbs than usual: rice (white or brown), potatoes (sweet or white), quinoa, oatmeal etc.  
  5. Eat a LOT of healthy fats! They are calorie dense and full of nutrients. Avoid industrial oils (high in omega 6) such as canola oil, vegetable oil, and most seed oils. Opt for olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil etc.
  6. 1-3 hours pre-workout, eat some starchy carbohydrates such as toast (Dave’s Killer Bread), rice, or oatmeal.  Also eat some good lean protein such as egg whites, chicken breast, or pork tenderloin. This will drastically increase the effectiveness of your workout.
  7. After your workout, drink a protein shake (not optional), have a piece of fruit and a few fat free fig newtons or some other higher glycemic carb.
  8. Eat another meal as close to your workout recovery meal as possible. Load up on carbs and protein; try to limit fat around workouts.
  9. As you get further from your workout, you should be eating fewer carbs and more and more fat.  Meaning meals close to your workout are carb-loaded and meals farther from your workout time should be fatty and delicious, with fewer carbs.
  10. If you struggle to gain weight, you need to eat until you feel like you’re going to explode.

Hypertrophy Series for Men

If you’d like to give hypertrophy training a shot but aren’t sure what to do on your own, we can help! Our Hypertrophy class will launch December 1st – BUT, we’ll be hosting a FREE class on Monday, November 29th at 7:30am to give you a sneak peek at what that class will entail. Just to give you an idea- each day, we’ll hit a couple main lifts, followed by a whole bunch of isolation exercises to force muscle growth. We’ll also get more in depth on nutrition for gaining mass.

Come have a couple mornings a week with the BOYS!


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