Hypertrophy Specific Training
How to make muscles grow
There's more than enough on the web about bodybuilding and weight training yet science has had little to say in the field of muscle growth or hypertrophy but it has had it's say none the less and that is exactly what I'm going to present to you in this lens.
What is Hypertrophy Specific Training?
HST in a Nutshell
There are basically two parts to weight training. There is the traditional which is based on results and here-say and there is HST based on results and science.
HST is firstly a dramatic correction to the traditional methods of weight training for muscle growth and addresses specific problems endemic to the old way. Secondly it is the most comprehensive method to stimulate hypertrophy (muscle growth) that will do three things for you. It will make your muscles grow quicker. It will do it consistently and it will do it efficiently using no more time and energy than is necessary and safe.
The problems with the old
There are a few walls that every single bodybuilder will face, provided they are not permanently on steroids or inherently gifted with a lineage from Hercules himself. These obstacles are:
- Stagnation. No matter what method you use, if you're just starting out with your weight training, it is a fact that you will grow. The problem is if you don't change your method very much and are not already using the HST method, you will reach what every bodybuilder knows from personal experience as a plateau or a ceiling. Your muscles simply get stubborn for no apparent reason and refuse to grow no matter how much harder you push. In biological terms this is also what is known simply as adaptation. This becomes clear once you realize there are many guns in the bodies arsenal to cope with an assault on the integrity of a muscle other than simply making the muscle bigger. The body is just allot smarter than we sometimes like to think. The traditional way makes a good attempt to solves this and somewhat successfully with the use of changing cycles but HST takes it full circle and throws in what is called strategic de-conditioning, not only solving the problem of stagnation but maintaining a constant environment of growth and sometimes accelerating it, a by product of something called muscle memory combined with strategic de-conditioning.
- Over-training. Usually as a result of the first problem of stagnation, the ever increasing work load of your training sessions from an attempt to break through that ceiling often leads to another called over-training. Your body can't keep up anymore with the constant assault placed on it and it begins to give in. In severe cases growth after stopping begins to go in reverse. You contract mild illnesses much more readily and take longer to re cooperate. Even your mind takes a downward turn and everything begins to simply feel not quite right, or just plain wrong. A bit like full blown AIDS. At this point the individual might simply stop altogether and find another hobby salvaging what little health he or she can, just like I did.
- Injury. Although not the biggest problem, a problem none the less and one that can be addressed, though more as a by product of the sublime method of HST rather than an actual attempt to solve it in the design.
- Work Load Unless you're saturated with testosterone and love burning calories in the gym, normal people will find the work load, that being the time and energy spent in the gym, to be quite an expense if the effort is directed towards serious muscle gain. You will see how this is addressed with HST.
The components of HST and how to put them all together
The foundation of HST comprises seven basic principles. Understanding these seven principles alone will most likely ensure greater muscle gains regardless of what specific method or routine you choose to follow after reading this lens.
2 Set Rule
Training to Failure
Rule 1: Mechanical Load - ...or hitting the weights
Mechanical Load is something all methods of weight training have in common. It is simply the technical term for "pumping iron". Basically in order to stimulate growth, you have lift weights. That's it. As obvious as it is we mention it anyway just to be thorough.
Rule 2: Frequency - Creating an environment for muscle hypertrophy
This is all about adaptation. The easiest way to understand why training frequency is important is to think of the body as an organism that reacts to a change in environment and adapts accordingly. Training a specific muscle once a week will not do. That would be an acute stimuli as apposed to chronic stimuli. Packing on muscle is not something the body likes to do. It's expensive in biological terms(think protein). It's taxing in that it has to be maintained because it adds weight and consumes glycogen and oxygen. It increases your metabolism which shortens your life span. Etcetera etcetera. Think of it like adding another engine in the back of your car. It may make it more powerful in a drag race but how do you think the fuel economy of the vehicle will be effected, not the mention the labor and cost of getting it in the first place. So in order to convince your body to pack on that meat it has to have no other choice. It has to be under attack and you do that by increasing the frequency of your training to at least three times a weak for every muscle thereby creating a chronic environment that your body recognizes as a threat and responds to. The perceived problem with this is that it will lead to over training, but this is taken care of which brings me to my next point.
Rule 3: The 2 set rule - So why only two sets and not five or seven like Arnie and the other guys?
Well because Arnold Schwarzenegger was a bodybuilding champion way before the some guys at MIT decided to do some tests in the laboratory about what makes a muscle grow. It has been found in the lab, amongst other things, that any sets beyond the first two sets do very little other than burn calories. Useful if you're trying to lose weight but counter productive if your trying to build. Reducing the number or working sets (excluding warm ups) for each exercise to just two per session will ensure that you don't over train while taking care of hypertrophy effectively.
Rule 4: Progressive Load - Brick by brick, or plate by plate in this case.
Progressive load is the core of the HST method. To explain in the simplest way possible, your muscle knows how much you are lifting even if you don't. It knows that the weight you are lifting today has increased by one kilogram from yesterday, regardless of whether you consciously recognize it, and by the way one kilogram can be noticeable depending on how much your lifting. Anyways if this thing, this method was a car then progressive load would be the accelerator. This is the part where where growth is really switched on. What it refers to is the slight increments in load during every workout regardless of the number of repetitions and sets. So basically the most important thing in a workout is not how many sets you are doing or how many reps or whether or not you trained to failure or whether you're using compounds or not. As important as all these factors are in their own right, the most important thing is whether or not the weight in your hand is heavier than the day before. Oh and as for progressive load during a workout, that being lifting 20 kilos, resting for five minutes and then lifting 25 and then 30 and so on not what I'm talking about, Throw that idea away. It came very close conceptually to the effect of progressive load but for obvious reasons it's not quite the same thing. In HST you do two sets and lift the same weight for those two sets, this is aside from the warm up sets which we don't count but don't neglect those either.
Rule 5: Compound Exercises - They're hard because they work
Compound exercises are encouraged in the HST method to gain muscle. This doesn't require much affirmation from a nerd in a lab suit since most bodybuilders are already in agreement from their own experience that compound exercises are good for mass. What it basically does is instead of targeting a few specific muscle groups which you can probably name, the compounds get right in the corners and gutters and call on as many muscles as possible to work together to handle the load. Remember there are approximately 640 skeletal muscles. Enough said right?
Rule 6: Training to Failure - Save it for the quarter mile
You do not train to failure on every workout. I won't just leave you at taking my word on it but will explain briefly. Firstly training to failure from the beginning of your cycle will only ensure that you body becomes conditioned even faster. This is all centered around what we call the central nervous system or CNS. Conditioning if you have been paying attention is the enemy here. Secondly if persistent it is damaging to the central nervous system. While the effect of conditioning employs to a large degree the CNS and how it functions, if you push it too hard it takes much longer to recover and it is this that is at the core of over training and it's many symptoms. So it's not just about being safe, it's about combating the conditioning effect to keep those muscles growing at full speed through many cycles.
Rule 7: Strategic Deconditioning - The easy part
So you've put in the work. You've kept those sets down to two despite your mind and training partners telling you otherwise. You've become a regular at your gym and have been paying closer attention to numbers on those plates. You've even been lifting like a girl and saving your failure sets for the last week of your cycle. Now it's time for one last heretical move. Doing nothing.
Resting for an entire week might seem like a waste of time but it's probably the most beneficial change you will make to your training cycle and it's not exclusive to just the HST method. Many other training methods also suggest a rest period. Strategic de-conditioning is the last card you pull to fool your body into believing that the threat has disappeared and all those changes it has made to your physiology revert back to and unconditioned and normal state during this one week without going so far as to trigger catabolism. It's the fun part for most so enjoy it, because after those seven days another cycle of hypertrophy starts once again... and again and again.
Putting it all together
My Training Regime
This is the routine I currently use. As for rep ranges, if you go according to plan, during the first week you will stay mostly on or above 20 reps per exercise focusing on feeling a burn and pumping out that lactic acid. On the second you will start at 16 and by day three you may be only able to do 14 reps or less without going to failure. On The third week if all goes well you will start pushing 12 reps to failure and end up somewhere on 8 or even 6 reps on your last day. As long as you keep stacking on a little more weight each workout, don't be too worried about rep ranges and weight increments not balancing out like like an equation. The rep ranges are more of a guide and if you have the resources to incorporate negative sets safely then use those on your last day or even you last week.
1 Month Cycle
12 reps to failure
Upper/lower body split routine for the three weeks of training during my cycle
- Upper Body Regime