One of the great things about the Internet is the access it provides to literally thousands of training articles, complete with photos, videos, and of course, workout routines.

While this is great for information junkies infatuated with the "how's and why's" of weight training, all this often conflicting information has led to serious information overload – and as a result, serious paralysis by analysis.

It doesn't need to be this way. Building muscle, losing fat, or increasing strength are all relatively simple endeavors; especially once you've seen it happen a few thousand times. Fact is, most successful coaches, if injected with truth serum, could probably tell you everything you really need to transform your physique in less time than it takes you to scan your favorite fitness websites.

My feeling is this: information is great, provided it helps you reach your goals faster. In this article, I'm going to help you see through all the confusion and conflicting opinions by providing you with what you needto know about building muscle size.

All killer, no filler. Sound good? Here we go!

Hypertrophy Training – This is How We do it!

I'm about to provide you with the exact program design strategies that we use every day at Performance U to help our athletes and bodybuilders gain muscular size (hypertrophy).

That means sets, rep ranges, rest intervals, training splits, and a mother load of program design strategies; everything that we've found to be the absolute best for achieving rapid, scale-tipping gains.

Goals of Hypertrophy Training Phase

  • To get bigger (gain lean body mass)
  • To elevate the metabolism: Muscle tissue requires energy. Put simply, the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn throughout the day. Furthermore, muscle is metabolically active tissue; it's the physical place where fat is burned.
  • To build up weaker/less developed areas of your body: this helps physique athletes achieve the muscle symmetry needed to excel in competition.
  • To help full contact athletes like football/rugby players gain some body-armor to better deal with constant impact.
  • To build tendon strength and muscle tissue density as a precursor to a more intense, heavy lifting "strength" phase. "Some non hypertrophy-related strength increases are possibly due to anatomical changes in connective tissue and angle of muscle fiber attachment to tendon."(Jones & Rutherford; Narici et. al., 1989)
  • To help the male fitness enthusiast look better naked and hopefully get more chicks – hot girls like dudes with big muscles!

Average Duration of a Typical Hypertrophy Cycle

  • The average length of this phase is 4-8 weeks, depending on the individual.
  • With the above in mind, if working with a bodybuilder or someone looking to keep getting bigger, this phase is extended for as long as needed until the athlete has gained their desired amount of lean body mass.
  • Typical template is hard training for three weeks followed by a deloading week.
  • Routines are repeated for 4-6 workouts before switching.
  • Occasionally, after three workouts, the order of exercises is changed (actual exercises remain unchanged). This creates mental variety and slightly changes the physical stimulus, and is an effective way to add a little spice to your workout without drastically changing your program – especially if what you're currently doing is working well.

Training Frequency

  • Anywhere from 3-5 times per week, depending on the client/athlete's availability to train.
  • Each muscle group/body part is trained 1-2 times per week.

Rep Ranges

  • The average rep range we use is 8-15 reps.
  • Some higher rep sets of 20-25 and even up to 50 reps are added in on occasion to increase work volume.
  • In the latter stages of a hypertrophy program or for advanced lifters, we'll use intensity techniques to increase work volume such as drop sets, rest pause sets, and forced reps.

Sets Per Exercise

  • The general set range we follow is 3-4 sets.
  • Usually, volume is increased each week. In the hypertrophy phase, we prefer to add volume versus adding load or reducing rest time.
  • A typical four-week program may progress each week like this: week #1: 3 sets of 8 reps; week #2: 3 sets of 10 reps; week #3: 3 sets of 12 reps; week #4: 3 sets of 14-15 reps.
  • Another four-week style to add volume may involve adding sets and reps: week #1: 3 sets of 8-10 reps, week #2: 3 sets of 12-15 reps, week #3: 4 sets of 8-10 reps and in week #4: 4 sets of 12-15 reps
  • In this phase, we'll also use rep pyramids like this: week #1: 8, 10, 12, 14 reps. In week #2: 14, 12, 10, 8 reps. In week #3: repeat week #1 rep range except with heavier loads. In week #4: repeat week #2 using heavier loads.
  • Wave loading is another method we use in this phase. Here's an example: Week #1: 10, 15, 10, 15 reps. Week #2: 12, 8, 12, 8 reps. In week #3: repeat week #1 rep range except with heavier loads. In week #4: repeat week #2 using heavier loads.

Total Sets Per Body Part/Muscle Group Per Week:

  • 12-20 total sets per week/body part
  • Sets can be all done in one workout per week, or spread in multiple workouts (2-3) throughout the week.
  • Muscle groups that need the most work to "bring up" will be trained multiple times per week.

Rep Tempo

We don't do much tempo training at Performance U, though in the hypertrophy training phase we will use some slower tempos. Shoot for a 3-4 second eccentric phase and a 2-3 second isometric phase. Never slow down the concentric phase – that's always kept the same.

Rest Intervals

  • Rest between sets is kept short to enhance the growth hormone response.
  • The rest intervals betweens sets are kept between 30-60 seconds on average.
  • If a higher rep set (15reps +) is performed, we'll increase the rest time to no more than 90 seconds.

Intensity/Volume

  • The intensity of each set is kept medium to high.
  • Beginner lifters or those in the first few weeks of a new program should keep the intensity of each set in the medium range. Basically, this translates into leaving 1-2 reps left "in the tank" at the end of each set.
  • Advanced level lifters or someone in the later stages of a program should push the sets to muscle fatigue and sometimes even beyond. Occasionally, we'll use the old bodybuilding method of "do as many reps as you can, then do two more" to maximize growth hormone release. "Growth hormone release is related to the magnitude of exertion."(Pyka, 1992)
  • The training volume in this phase is kept high to create a cellular/physiological change (aka: hypertrophy). The volume is really ramped up after the first 2-3 weeks, after the initial neurological change that occurs anytime your body performs new movement patterns has taken place.
  • "When a new exercise or movement pattern has been introduced, the progress for the first few weeks is largely due to neural-motor adaptations." (Komi ,1986)
  • "After this initial 'learning, or re-learning' phase, subsequent strength increases become predominately morphological- muscles fibers increase in size." (Sale, 1988)

The Training Approach

  • In the hypertrophy phase, we use predominantly traditional/ old school training exercises using mostly barbells, dumbbells, and machines.
  • Isolation movements may be performed in this phase.
  • Although free weight (barbells and dumbbells) exercises are preferred, machines may also be used. Machines allow for constant tension on the muscles due to their cam system design. For instance, a biceps curl performed with a dumbbell offers little to zero resistance at the bottom and at the top of the exercise; the resistance is only offered through the mid-range of the action. However, a biceps curl performed on a machine allows for tension to be maintained throughout the ROM; this constant tension can be of great benefit for increasing hypertrophy.
  • In this phase, we predominantly use the single-set method. For example: perform set #1, rest, perform set #2, rest, perform set #3, etc.
  • Super sets can also be used in this phase. If each sets involves different muscle groups, be sure the tempo and rest interval doesn't exceed the 60-90 second recovery window indicated earlier. In other words, if we're performing a push/pull super set using the bench press and bent over rows, make sure the time between each set of bench presses does not exceed 60-90 seconds. The same rule is applied for the bent over rows.
  • If using a unilateral (one-sided) exercise, use the single set method and be sure each side gets no more than 60-90 seconds recovery while the other side is working.
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Sample Performance U Hypertrophy Programs

Here are sample three-day, four-day, and five-day hypertrophy training programs. Keep in mind; these programs are NOT designed for the purposes of improving strength or power. These programs are strictly intended to build serious muscle size.

Three-Day Hypertrophy Workout

Day 1 – Pull

  Exercise Sets Reps
A Chin Up 4 8-12
B1 Wide Grip lat Pull Down 3 8-15
B2 Shoulders Shrug 3 8-15
C Single Arm Bent Over Row 3 8-12
D Hammer Strength High-Low Row 3 10-15
E1 Rear Deltoid Fly 3 10-15
E2 Biceps Curl 3 10-15

Day 2 – Legs/Hips

  Exercise Sets Reps
A Back Squat 4 10-15
B Front Squat 3 8-12
C Reverse Lunge (same side) 3 10-12
D1 Hamstring Curl 3 8-12
D2 Leg Extension 3 8-12
E1 Hip Thrust 3 12-15
E2 Calf Raise 3 12-15

Day 3 – Push

  Exercise Sets Reps
A Dumbbell Bench Press or Free Motion Chest 4 8-12
B Hammer Strength Incline Press 3 8-12
C Dumbbell Overhead Press 4 8-12
D Close-Grip Push Up (hands on med ball) 3 12-15
E1 Shoulder Lateral Raise 3 12-15
E2 Triceps Extension 3 12-15

Four-Day Hypertrophy Workout

Day 1 – Pull/Push

  Exercise Sets Reps
A Wide Grip Lat Pull 4 8-12
B Barbell Bent Over Row 4 8-12
C Seated Row (close grip) 3 8-12
D Dumbbell Chest Press or Free Motion Chest 3 8-12
E Shoulder Overhead Press (single arm) 3 10-15
F1 Biceps Curl 3 8-12
F2 Rear Deltoid Fly 3 10-15

Day 2 – Legs/Hips

  Exercise Sets Reps
A Back Squat 4 10-15
B Front Squat 3 8-12
C Reverse Lunge (same side) 3 10-12
D1 Hamstring Curl 3 8-12
D2 Leg Extension 3 8-12
E Calf Raise 3 12-15

Day 3 – Push/Pull

  Exercise Sets Reps
A Dumbbell Chest Press or Free Motion Chest 3 8-12
B Hammer Strength Incline Press 3 8-12
C Barbell Shoulder Overhead Press 3 10-15
D Seated Row (wide grip) 3 8-12
E Close Grip Lat Pull 4 8-12
F1 Triceps Extension 3 8-12
F2 Lateral Delt Fly 3 10-15

Day 4 – Hips/Legs

  Exercise Sets Reps
A Deadlift 4 8-10
B Bulgarian Split Squat 3 8-12
C Glute/Ham Raise 3 10-12
D1 Hip Thrust 3 12-15
D2 Calf Raise 3 12-15
E Cosgrove Squat Complex 1-2  

Note: Read this article to learn about the Cosgrove Squat Complex.

Five-Day Hypertrophy Workout

The five-day split routine is the same as the three-day split, just with more training days through the week (duh!). Here's how it would look...

Week #1

  • Mon – Pull (A)
  • Tue – Legs/Hips (B)
  • Wed – Push (C)
  • Thu – Rest
  • Fri – Pull (A)
  • Sat – Legs/Hips (B)
  • Sun – Rest

Week #2

  • Mon – Push (C)
  • Tue – Pull (A)
  • Wed – Legs/Hips (B)
  • Thu – Rest
  • Fri – Push (C)
  • Sat – Pull (A)
  • Sun – Rest

Additional Coaching Tips on Hypertrophy Training:

  • Due to the less functional, more physique oriented training in this phase, finish a few workouts during the week with low intensity, total-body and/or rotary exercises to maintain some level of functional (athletic) ability.
  • Throw in any specific abs/core work at the end of the workout.
  • In this phase, it's critical you consume enough calories, protein, and other nutrients to not only allow your body to build muscle, but also to help you recover from the high intensity nature of the workouts.
  • Be sure to get in these supplements on a regular basis: whey protein, BCAA's, creatine monohydrate, and beta-alanine. When used consistently in conjunction with this program, the physique changing effects are dramatic.

Final Thoughts

Ever hear of the expression "giving away the farm?" Well, I've done just that, and thrown in a fleet of John Deere equipment for good measure.

I've just given you the who, what, why, where and how of building muscle size, Performance U style! You now have all the tools you need to successfully get huge, and most importantly – not a single thing you DON'T need.

It's your job now to get in the gym and put these methods & techniques into practice and get after it, cause that's it for my job. (Not literally I hope!)