What do you get when you ask some of the world's top strength coaches and nutrition gurus to share their most powerful tips for dramatic physique changes? You get one hell of an article series!
In this first installment, Chad Waterbury lays outs his ten most effective tips for boosting muscle gains. If you want to see some jaw-dropping, holy-cow changes in your body in the next few months, then you better listen up!
The Top 10 Hypertrophy Boosters
When I think of a good mass booster, I usually think of a hot, hell-raisin' blond bombshell with a Southern drawl. But most of you don't have the luxury of walking around the University of Arizona campus on a sunny afternoon to view the lovely gals sent from above. So, for those who prefer your mass to be erected on other parts of your body, I've compiled the following list of hypertrophy boosters.
1. Perform Compound Movements!
There's a damn good reason why my training programs revolve around compound, multi-joint exercises: they work! Anyone who tells you the short route to mass is through isolation exercises is delusional, at best.
When training for mass, it's best to choose exercises that allow for the greatest load for each given body part. When you train a compound movement with a large load, you'll get the greatest recruitment of mass-inducing motor units. In addition, you'll be forced to use many extra muscle groups that aren't taxed with isolation exercises.
I'll make this easy on you and give you the list of exercises you should perform for each set of primary movers and shakers:
Chest: Incline, flat and decline bench presses; wide-grip dips.
Back: Upright, horizontal and bent-over rows; chin-ups and pull-ups.
Delts: Standing and seated military presses with traditional, reverse or semi-supinated grips.
Triceps: Dips and close-grip bench presses (lockouts included).
Biceps: Chin-ups along with supinated and semi-supinated grip rows.
Quads: High-bar, full squats; front squats; hack squats; lunges; step-ups.
Lower Back/Hamstrings: Traditional and sumo-style deadlifts; good mornings; back extensions and glute-ham raises. (Technically, back extensions and glute-ham raises aren't compound exercises since only one joint is moving, but they're too damn good to leave off the list!)
2. Perform Full-Body Workouts!
Training all of the major muscle groups in a single session has too many benefits to list, but I can tell you that it's one of the most important pieces of a hypertrophy puzzle!
Bill Starr's The Strongest Shall Survive was based on this idea, but even before Starr learned to write, old-time strongmen were challenging their entire body with every damn training session throughout the week, and they were some big, strong sumbitches! I took note and you should too.
Not only will you be able to minimize your trips to the gym, but you'll be frequently exposing your major muscle groups to a much greater level of stimulus. This is combined with the fact that the androgen response increases when many major muscle groups are being taxed in a single session.
Just remember to keep isolation exercises to a minimum because you want to be in and out of the gym in less than an hour. If not, overtraining will probably ensue.
3. Train Frequently!
The more often you can train a set of muscles, the more hypertrophy you'll achieve. As a rule of thumb, you should train all of the major muscle groups at least twice each week. But, you'd be much better off training every major muscle group three or four times each week!
The tricky part is introducing a "once a weeker" to multiple total body sessions without initially burning out the trainee. Here's how you should periodize your total-body routines with each previous training method. If you've been training each body part once-a-week, then do the following:
Week 1 and Week 2: Train each major muscle group twice.
Week 3 and Week 4: Train each major muscle group three times.
If you've been training each major body part twice-a-week, just add one workout to each of the aforementioned weeks. Need a complete guide to frequent training and a full program to follow? Check out my Quattro Dynamo program.
4. Train Multiple Strength Qualities Simultaneously!
In order to withstand multiple, total-body sessions each week, you must learn to rotate different strength training methods. Constantly manipulating the load and volume of each workout will recruit multiple sets of motor units that weren't previously taxed, and, by default, it'll allow you to use a range of lifting tempos (more on this later).
Training multiple strength qualities throughout the week wasn't my idea, I just paid closer attention to this type of training than most coaches. Whether your periodization parameters are based on conjugate or undulating techniques, you'll benefit. Here's a breakdown for either three or four total body sessions each week:
3 Total-Body Sessions Each Week:
Day 1: 6 x 3 with a 5RM* (Maximal Strength)
Day 2: Off
Day 3: 3 x 8 with a 10RM (Hypertrophy Strength)
Day 4: Off
Day 5: 8 x 3 with an 18RM (Explosive Strength)
Day 6: Off
Day 7: Off
* Reps Max
4 Total-Body Sessions Each Week:
Day 1: 6 x 3 with a 5RM (Maximal Strength)
Day 2: 2 x 20 with a 24RM (Endurance Strength)
Day 3: Off
Day 4: 3 x 8 with a 10RM (Hypertrophy Strength)
Day 5: Off
Day 6: 8 x 3 with an 18RM (Explosive Strength)
These are just two of many examples that'll work. I've had huge success with each method!
5. Use Short Rest Periods!
I define short rest periods as any time less than two minutes between sets. The antiquated 3-5 minute rest periods recommended in every shitty newsstand muscle mag made me incredulous. As it turned out, my instincts were right on target.
My empirical evidence has shown that short rest periods will lead to a great hypertrophy response. In other words, five sets of ten reps with 60 second rest periods will induce more hypertrophy than five sets of ten reps with three minute rest periods. An even better option is to utilize short rest periods with low-rep (1-5 repetition) training parameters. This is precisely what 50% of my ABBH program is based on.
If you keep the rest periods short, you'll stay more focused. In addition, you'll keep the nervous system revved up, and you'll get out of the gym quicker. For certain trainees who only seek maximal strength increases, shorter rest periods are still possible by alternating between opposing muscle groups (antagonist training).
Bottom line: If you seek hypertrophy, keep your rest periods under two minutes. It's preferable to utilize a 60-90 second range when training more than six sets at a load greater than 80% of your 1RM.
6. Employ Active Recovery Sessions!
When embarking on a new training program that forces you to perform a frequency greater than your nervous system is accustomed to, active recovery sessions are a godsend. These sessions consist of an extremely light load (~25-50% of 1RM) in order to increase blood flow perfusion and nutrient transfer.
This performs like a champ to help lagging muscle groups recover between workouts and induce sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. I covered this topic at length in my 100 Reps to Bigger Muscles article.
7. Perform Twice-a-Day Sessions!
For those of you who have the luxury, twice-a-day training sessions are unbeatable. In order to keep cortisol levels in check and maintain a fresh nervous system, twice-a-day training works exceptionally well. In addition, you'll get the added benefit of two anabolic responses instead of just one.
Many trainees are confused by twice-a-day training because they feel they can simply perform their original workout twice in the same day–nope! You have two choices with this type of training:
1) Split your original workout. You can simply cut your original workout in half. Perform one half in the first part of the day, then wait 6-8 hours before performing the other half.
2) Use different parameters. If you're trying to perform as many sets as possible in a single day, then you should have each session consist of completely different parameters. For instance, perform 6 x 3 (maximal strength) parameters for your first workout, followed by 3 x 8 (hypertrophy strength) for your second workout.
Another option is to perform 5 x 5 (maximal/hypertrophy strength) parameters for your first workout, followed by 8 x 3 (explosive strength) parameters for your second workout.
8. Keep Intensity in Check!
Training to failure and multiple training sessions throughout the week mix about as well as Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush. You can't train to failure on every set and expect to recover within 48-72 hours. Minimize any failure training to the last rep of the last set of each exercise (not each set). Even then, it should only be performed for maximal and hypertrophy strength parameters.
You should never approach failure when training for explosive strength: it's counterproductive. If you seek a "sure thing," then stay away from failure training altogether.
9. Perform Fast Concentric Tempos!
Of all the variables I've mentioned up to this point, you're probably most surprised by this recommendation. Fast concentric tempos (the lifting portion of the movement) activate high-threshold motor units quicker than slow training. In fact, a trainee can achieve extremely high levels of tension within a muscle utilizing a very light load, if the speed of execution is fast enough. For further info on this statement, refer to Science and Practice of Strength Training by Vladimir Zatsiorsky.
Here's a statement that I've learned to make with utmost confidence: I hate Super Slow training. Our bodies weren't designed to perform slowly, so I don't train it that way. I feel the future of training lies within extremely fast tempos.
But don't read too much between the lines. I recommend that trainees execute tempos at varying speeds. Even though I usually prescribe a tempo as fast as possible, each load will mandate a different tempo. For instance, if I tell a trainee to lift a 3RM load as fast as possible, it'll be slow. If I tell a trainee to lift a 20RM load as fast as possible, it'll be very fast. Viola! One recommendation leads to different responses. Pretty cool, huh?
Bottom line: Perform concentric actions as fast as possible, and keep eccentric (negative) phases under control (1-3 seconds of lowering).
10. Embrace Breakfast and Post-Workout Nutrition!
I couldn't compile a list of hypertrophy tips without including nutrition, mainly, breakfast and post-workout nutrition. Without adequate carbs and protein during these times, muscle growth is unlikely to occur at any appreciable rate.
When so-called "hardgainers" hire me to increase their muscle mass, I'm always sure to load them up on high-quality protein and carbs during breakfast and the post-workout feeding. I usually shoot for a carb/protein ratio of 2:1 during these times. I like to have my clients consume 0.5 gram protein for each pound of lean body mass. Carbs should be 1 gram per pound of lean body mass.
Here's a sample breakfast for a 155 pound trainee with 10% body fat who's looking to put on mass:
Mix in water in a blender:
2 scoops Grow!
1 cup low-fat cottage cheese
1 cup whole uncooked oats
2.5 to 5 grams creatine
Here's a sample workout and post-workout feeding for the same trainee:
Half serving Surge during workout and half serving Surge immediately post-workout with 5 grams creatine.
Wait 45-60 minutes and consume the following:
1 Serving of Surge
Wait 30-45 minutes before consuming:
70 grams of carbs from cereal and/or bagels with a banana*
35 grams of high-quality protein powder such as Grow!
*For those of you who don't prefer this option, it can be replaced with the same amount of maltodextrin powder. But why not indulge a little, without supercharging lipogenesis?
That's a Wrap
If you incorporate all of these tips into your workout plan, you'll achieve mass quicker than a sleazy politician in a cheap hotel. Try them out!