Winning the hypertrophy

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Many in the gym seek the hypertrophy. This is not an object like some giant trophy, but a destination. And that destination is the collective objects of your muscles being bigger – essentially turning into giant trophies. So how do you win such prizes?

There are 2 main theories about what games must be played to win the hypertrophy. The first is that the muscle must be exposed to the stimulus of a heavy load, eccentric (lengthening) loading, and high metabolic exertion. In bro terms, this boils down to:

  • Start with heavy compounds (like squat, bench, deadlift, rows, etc.) in a full range of motion and with a controlled tempo (lowering the weights with control on each rep) – this provides the heavy load and eccentric loading.
  • Follow the compound movements up with isolation movements (curls, leg extensions, shoulder raises, calf raises, etc.) until that muscle group gets ‘the pump’ – this ensures high metabolic exertion.

Most people working out in the gym only do 1 of those 2 things. They’ll either lift heavy in the compounds and skip isolation movements (this is me). Or they won’t lift heavy and only do light-medium weight ‘bodybuilding’ routines. For hypertrophy (per this first theory), it’s best to have a little of both.

The second theory is that the only stimulus needed is working a muscle out to volitional failure. Volitional failure is when the muscle is too tired to complete another rep with perfect form. So if you’re doing curls and have to use momentum to get the weight up or you have to do the rep in a partial range, you’ve reach volitional failure. This would seem quicker than the first method because you could just do squats to volitional failure and call it a day for your legs. Except that in a compound movement, there’s always a relatively weak link. So your quads might give out before your hamstrings and glutes, meaning that the quads have reached volitional failure but the rest of your leg muscles didn’t. This results in you having to do several different movements for each muscle group which looks remarkably similar to the routine from the first theory. You might also think that you could just pick a light weight and do isolation exercises until hitting volitional failure for each muscle group, thereby dodging having to lift heavy. But if you want to truly hit volitional failure, you’ll have to actually go to failure. With a light weight this is much more time consuming than using a moderate weight. Also, I consider this a moot point because it’s easy and natural to combine both theories. Here it is!

Step 1: Do compound movements with heavier weight but low reps – like 3 sets of 5 reps with 75% 1RM or 4 sets of 4 reps with 80% 1RM.

  • Perform movements in a full range of motion (not the maximum range of motion possible, just a full range of motion) and with a controlled tempo.
  • Lower body compound movements: squat, lunge, deadlift, clean, kettlebell swing
  • Upper body compound movements: bench press, push-up, pull-up, row

Step 2: Follow up heavy compounds by performing several sets of isolation exercises with a moderate weight until you achieve ‘the pump’ in that muscle group. Do the last set to volitional failure. Select a weight that lets you both get a pump and go to volitional failure within 5 sets of 10-20 reps each.

  • Continue using a full range of motion and controlled tempo with isolation exercises.
  • Muscle groups to address: calves, quads, hamstrings, glute max (butt), glute med/min (outside of hips), lats, upper back, anterior/lateral/posterior delts (shoulders), chest, biceps, triceps, forearms

Step 3: Claim your prize.

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