Hypertrophy, Like You've Never Heard it Before

Never has there been a subject with more misinformation. Common sense and science often go to the wayside when it comes to muscle-building advice.

That's probably because more is understood about the nervous system than muscle soreness, or maybe it's because most of the writers who are only concerned about hypertrophy training are imbeciles who can't even build muscle on themselves. You be the judge.

I never liked bodybuilding until I started contributing to T Nation. Then I realized there are some pretty damn intelligent people out there who like it. I'm not talking about "shaved dudes posing in thongs" bodybuilding, but the good old hypertrophy-inducing strength-training from the days of the past.

Old-time strongmen were the people who truly revolutionized bodybuilding. Unfortunately, their methods have been largely forgotten. In exchange for infrequent, machine-laden, ineffective bodybuilding methods, many great principles have been lost.

Here it is: Hypertrophy and strength training don't have to be two separate entities.

I've never designed a program that was based solely on "hypertrophy" training, yet my clients have gained a ton of muscle over the years.

Muscle growth is mainly controlled through caloric intake. Assuming all is normal with your physiology, even the best hypertrophy program won't build appreciable amounts of muscle if there are insufficient nutrients. Got it?

Let's dig into some real hypertrophy methods so you can apply them to your current program in exchange for more functional muscle. Bodybuilders beware: The following may barbeque a few of your sacred cows!

Dumbbell Overhead Press

1. Train More Often

Drop the notion that a muscle group can only be trained once a week. Strongmen from the past didn't train that way and you shouldn't either. The more frequent the growth-stimulating sessions you can have, the better.

2. Forget Time Under Tension

Don't put so much stock into the assumption that hypertrophy-inducing sets must last from 40 to 70 seconds. (Or is it 20 to 90 seconds? Or 43.5 to 68.7 seconds?)

So that must mean the classic 5 x 5 method doesn't build any muscle since those sets don't last at least 40 seconds. Or maybe everyone who uses the 5 x 5 method is actually using a tempo where each rep takes eight seconds? Nope, sorry.

3. There's a Daily Limit to Muscle Stimulation

To quote a bodybuilding catch-phrase from the 1980's: "Stimulate, don't annihilate!" There's an absolute limit to the amount of hypertrophy-inducing stimuli you can apply on any given day.

4. Don't Train to Failure

You must keep the nervous system from becoming overly fatigued if you want to train frequently. Leave grunting and screaming for the frat boys who have 13" guns and spend their day doing concentration curls and wasting Daddy's money.

5. Train Through Soreness

Initially, you'll probably have constant soreness on this program. That's okay! The soreness will subside once recovery increases and proper adaptation has taken place. Soreness is your body's way of saying, "I need more carbs and protein." So feed your muscles constantly!

Once you're comfortable breaking every "hypertrophy" rule in the book, you can rapidly build muscle with this program. And it's similar to the principles the old-time strongmen used to follow.

Now, let's get to the program that's going to build some serious muscle and increase strength levels! Keep in mind you can pick your own exercises. What's listed are just examples.

Day 1

  • Sets Per Muscle Group: Chest 10, Back 10
  • Movement Plane: Horizontal
  • Examples: Flat Barbell Bench, Barbell Row, Seated Cable Row (both back movements using a pronated grip with the width the exact same as bench press)
  • Reps: 3
  • Load: 80% of 1RM
  • Rest: 60 seconds between supersets (i.e. train chest, rest 60 seconds, train back, rest 60 seconds, train chest, rest 60 seconds, etc.)

Day 2 – Off

Day 3

  • Sets Per Muscle Group: Thighs 5, Abs 5, Calves 5
  • Examples: Barbell Front Squat, Hanging Pike, Standing Calf Raise
  • Reps: 10
  • Load: 60% of 1RM
  • Rest: 60 seconds between giant sets (i.e. train thighs, rest 60 seconds, train abs, rest 60 seconds, train calves, rest 60 seconds, train thighs, rest 60 seconds, etc.)

Day 4 – Off

Day 5

  • Sets Per Muscle Group: Chest 5, Back 5
  • Movement Plane: Vertical
  • Examples: Dip, Chin-up
  • Reps: 10
  • Load: 60% of 1RM
  • Rest: 60 seconds between supersets

Day 6 – Off

Day 7

  • Sets Per Muscle Group: Thighs 10, Abs 10, Calves 10
  • Examples: Deadlift, Decline Sit-Up, Seated Calf Raise (Note that this uses different exercises from Day 3.)
  • Reps: 3
  • Load: 80% of 1RM
  • Rest: 60 seconds between giant sets

Day 8 – Off

Days 9 & 17 *

Same as Day 1 except with 4 & 5 reps per set, respectively (in other words, you'll just do 4 reps for each body part on Day 9 and 5 reps for each body part on Day 17).

Days 11 & 19

Same as Day 3 except with 65% & 70% of 1RM, respectively

Days 13 & 21

Same as Day 5 except with 65% & 70%, respectively

Days 15 & 23

Same as Day 7 except with 4 & 5 reps per set, respectively

* The days that aren't listed are, of course, off days.

Triceps And Traps

Notice, there's no direct arm work in the program. That's because the best increases in upper arm hypertrophy are achieved through compound exercises such as dips, chin-ups, bench presses and rows. Therefore, no direct arm work is prescribed in this program.

It's a strange phenomenon. Every trainee who's been around the iron game for more than a year knows that big arms are built from compound exercises, but people are still convinced they need direct arm work!

So it's your choice. I don't recommend the direct upper-arm work option, but some people will add direct arm work anyway, so do what you want.

Follow the same parameters in the plan, but cut the total sets in half. For example, on the 10 x 3 day at 80% of 1RM (i.e, Day 1), do the following:

  • Preacher Curl, Decline Dumbbell Triceps Extension
  • Superset Sets: 5
  • Reps: 3
  • Load: 80% of 1RM
  • Rest: 60 seconds

On the other upper body day with 60% of 1RM, do the following:

  • Incline Hammer Curl, Tricep Pressdown
  • Superset Sets: 2-3
  • Reps: 10
  • Load: 60% of 1RM
  • Rest: 60 seconds

If maximum hypertrophy is your goal, eat plenty and use advanced workout nutrition. Follow the details of this program and you'll be rewarded with head-turning muscle mass and a better understanding of "real" muscle-building methods.