Extreme Diversity for Extreme Muscle Growth!
Hypertrophy training can be a complex task. There are so many different schools of thought that I cringe when I think about a newbie trying to sort through all the different theories. Well, guess what? I'm going to make things even more confusing! Trust me though, you'll be ecstatic if you incorporate these methods into your next mass phase.
One of the most imperative aspects of hypertrophy training I've learned over the years is the necessity of diversity in your training plan. I'm not talking about exercise diversity; I'm talking about training method diversity. Exercise diversity can be a powerful tool, but in my experiences, training method diversity is much more important. For instance, many times a lifter will blame his lack of progress on a certain exercise, when in reality, the method is what needs to change. Let me follow my normal path and get straight to the point. For hypertrophy purposes, the more diverse your next training session is, the better!
Let's say you're in a mad rush to increase the size of a particular muscle group. If your first workout of the week consists of eight sets of five repetitions with a relatively large load (~80% of 1RM), the next session, two days later, should consist of completely different parameters. In fact, the more different, the better! How different you ask? Here are the parameters for a breakdown that I've had huge success with over the years:
Sets per muscle group: 8
Load: ~80% of 1RM (one rep max)
Rest: 60 seconds between sets
Workout 2 for same muscle group (two days later)
Sets per muscle group: 2
Load: very light!
Rest: 180 seconds between sets
Is that diverse enough for ya? Are you ready to call me crazy yet? If you are, get ready to be dumfounded by your progress!
Why You Should Attempt Such a Crazy Scheme
Most trainees understand the importance of keeping things fresh and interesting in their workout plans for optimum progress, but the problem I keep seeing is the limited amount of variables that a trainee will use in any given training cycle.
There are many tried and true hypertrophy methods ranging from 5 x 5, 5 x 10, GVT, etc., but they're all based on the same principle that each workout should consist of non-changing variables until the phase is completed. My friends, this is a big mistake. The more diverse a workout plan can be, the more hypertrophy and increased performance you'll achieve.
Here are some basic guidelines so you can incorporate this method into any program:
Diversity for Hypertrophy Guidelines
1) Choose a strength training method for your first workout of the week. The sets should range between 8 to 12 per muscle group.
2) Choose a rep scheme that ranges from 1 to 5 per set for this first workout.
3) Rest 60 seconds between each set.
4) Add up the total reps for the strength training workout (the first workout of the week). For example, if you chose to perform the 8 x 5 method, the total reps for the given muscle group would equal 40 (eight sets of five reps = 40 total reps).
5) Take the number of reps from Guideline #4 and double it (80 reps in my example).
6) Break up the reps from Guideline #5 into two sets. This would equate to two sets of 40 repetitions for this example. This is what you'll use for the second workout of the week for that muscle group.
7) Rest 180 seconds between sets for this second workout. You can superset these with an opposing exercise and 90 second rest periods (this technique is recommended).
A week's training for a particular muscle group may look like this:
Monday: strength session, 8 x 5
Wednesday: light session, 2 x 40
Friday: same as Monday
Sunday: same as Wednesday
Note: This is for any lagging body part that needs to be drastically improved in a short amount of time. I'm keeping the information simple and limited to one body part for this article.
The first strength training workout of the week will target the fast-twitch Type IIB fibers that have the greatest potential for muscle growth. We'll get around the "strength training methods don't build muscle" issue by upping the number of sets so the volume is sufficient for growth.
The short (60 second) rest periods are also an integral part of the hypertrophy equation with any hypertrophy/strength training method. If I'd prescribe a three to five minute rest period between sets like so many "gurus" have mandated, the hypertrophy effect would be much less. This is due to the fact that less lactic acid accumulation would take place with each subsequent set, therefore decreasing the anabolic response. (There are many other factors; this is just one). Also, it's imperative for athletes to train their bodies to clear lactic acid at an accelerated rate. This is only accomplished by forcing the muscles to work with less recovery time between sets.
The second, high-repetition workout two days later will serve many purposes. First and foremost, it will be dramatically different enough to keep the body from getting burned out on only one method. If you train a muscle that's still sore or fatigued from a given method with the same method, overtraining will be right around the corner. But if you train a sore/fatigued muscle with a completely different method, overtraining can be avoided much easier. The fact that the second session will activate a different pool of motor units (Type I and IIA) will help keep overtraining in check.
Second, a huge amount of blood flow (pump) will flood the muscles with blood and accelerate recovery. An increase in blood flow to the muscles that are trying to recover is the quickest route to faster recovery. This is due to the exchange of nutrients and removal of wastes that accompanies an increase in perfusion at the capillary level (the greater the blood flow, the greater the perfusion).
Third, the rest periods of this high rep scheme should allow for complete recovery. A famous strength trainer once devised a continuum of reps and rest periods. Basically, the higher the reps, the shorter the rest periods and vice versa. I've found this to be completely opposite for maximum results!
Have you ever executed a twenty rep maximum set of full squats? If so, you surely remember your heart feeling like it was going to shoot across the gym and, most likely, nausea was your new "closest" friend for the next few minutes. Well, according to this continuum, the next set should be executed within 60 seconds! You must be kidding me! Under that same "rule," a two-rep max set should be followed by five minutes of rest. Huh? I don't think so.
I know this advice was devised with recovery of the nervous system in mind, but I think these strength coaches neglected the extremely important cardiovascular component of this equation. The bottom line is, with hypertrophy training, higher rep sets mandate longer rest periods, and low rep sets can be successfully executed with shorter rest periods.
Also, it's imperative to avoid failure on your second, low-set, high-repetition workout. Use a load that allows you to complete the prescribed repetitions with one to two reps in "reserve." This will keep your nervous system from becoming overly fatigued and allow for frequent training sessions (the key to lightning quick hypertrophy and performance increases).
Now, anyone who's executing the German Volume Training method (basically ten sets of ten reps) will probably read my guidelines in disbelief. If this technique is used with GVT, the second high-repetition workout would consist of two sets of 100 reps! Yep, that's right. But wouldn't this 200 repetition workout surely lead to overtraining? No way!
GVT breaks down an enormous amount of muscle tissue. Therefore, even longer periods of increased blood flow to the muscles are necessary for recovery. Also, in order to execute two sets of 100 reps, the load must be extremely light. This offsets the nervous system fatigue many lifters experience on the program since the load of the second workout is so light.
A program with eight sets of five reps only mandates a second high repetition workout of 80 total reps. This is due to the fact that less muscle tissue is damaged, therefore fewer reps (less total blood flow time) is necessary to accelerate recovery.
By utilizing the aforementioned guidelines, you should be able to use this method with any training scheme you could ever devise. With this method, you can hit a muscle group every 48 hours instead of waiting around for five to seven days while all your buddies are passing you up in the gym and buying new wardrobes.
Good luck and use diversity as your new hypertrophy-inducing secret weapon!