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Thread: Hypertrophy Primer

  1. #1
    Player Hater PowerManDL's Avatar
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    Hypertrophy Primer

    This is something I've been working on for another project, and a quick n dirty paraphrase at that, but I figured it'd be a good thing to go on this site considering the insane n00b factor here.

    Muscular Tension

    A muscle grows when it is exposed to a tension that is above and beyond what it is capable of handling.

    Tension is more than simply weight on the bar. It's also how that weight is applied, via biomechanics, and how that tension is generated.

    This means, in laymans terms, that you won't be doing barbell curls for your legs and you won't be doing squats to help your pullups. Muscle specificity, in other words. This isn't a principle most people have trouble grasping, but it's here just in case.

    How tension is generated is another more critical issue. There's three fundamental ways to increase tension in a muscle: maximal effort, repeated effort, and dynamic effort. For the purposes of growing a muscle, the repeated effort should be emphasized, although the other two certainly have a place. Note that this doesn't preclude other types of muscle action, such as isometrics and eccentrics.

    The repeated effort method involves taking a weight to a maximum number of reps in the 5-10 rep range. Note that this does not necessarily mean grinding out reps to failure; leaving a rep or two in the tank is almost always advisable, but the growth stimulus in the repeated effort method comes from near the end of the set, when it becomes difficult.

    There's a range of reps that are found to be optimal for hypertrophy. Classically, 1-5 reps are for strength, 4-6 reps are "intensive" hypertrophy, 5-10 reps are the hypertrophy "sweet spot, 12-15 are "extensive" hypertrophy, and 15+ reps are strength endurance.

    As you can see, there's an overlap between a lot of the rep ranges, and this is where you'll find the use of other methods. For example, the maximal effort method can be used for intensive hypertrophy, where the two ranges overlap.

    The gist of it is this: pick a handful of big exercises, so you're targeting a good portion of muscle, and work on them with sets in the 5-10 range. Push hard, but not necessarily to absolute need-a-spotter failure.

    This is because the muscle sends a variety of biochemical signals to that kind of work, namely mechanical disruption of the fiber, that cause a drastic increase in protein synthesis. Since the contractile proteins of the muscle are what 1) comprise most of the muscle's volume and 2) make you stronger, this is desirable for pretty much everyone.

    Metabolic Work

    Contrary to what the muscle comics say, the pump isn't an indicator of growth or growth potential. The pump is an indicator that the muscle has been metabolically taxed, and thusly blood is flowing into it.

    This can aid in growth assuming the conditions above are met, but does not signal growth in and of itself, certainly not to the same degree.

    The pump is basically a depletion of the muscle fiber's energy stores, which causes a corresponding increase in the volume of those stores.

    So, assuming you've hit the muscle hard with one or two big compound movements, you can then "finish" the muscle with a couple of sets of a "pumping" exercise. This will bring in blood and help with the metabolic adaptations, which do contribute to growth.

    Putting It Into Practice

    This isn't hard. Take a small part, like the chest:

    Bench Press - 5x5, straight weight
    Cable Flye - 2x15

    Or something bigger, like the legs:

    Squat - 5x5, straight weight
    RDL/GM - 2-3x6-8
    Leg Curl/Leg Extension - 1-2x12-15 each

    You see where this is going. Pick a big exercise or two, work the hell out of them, then finish it up with higher-rep work.

    A few bullet-point options:
    • For the big exercise for a given part, you should center on repeated effort work, typically 4-6 sets of 5-10 reps. But you can also choose to occasionally do a maximal set of 5-10, or even dynamic work which would be 3-5 reps done for at least 5-6 sets, as fast as possible and with a lower percentage.
    • The pump exercise should ideally be some foo-foo isolation work, stuff like flyes and leg curls and all that. Keep the reps over 12 on this stuff.
    • A note on frequency. At a bare minimum, most parts should be worked every 5 days, and probably more than that. Smaller, faster-recovering parts, as well as exercises that detrain quickly, can likely benefit from even more than this. This doesn't mean, however, that you can train them to hell and still expect to grow.
    • For volume, 25-50 reps per part per session is about the limit, and on big barbell movements like squats, benches, deads, all that, I'd limit it to 75-100 reps per week.
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  2. #2
    Senior Member Jorge Sanchez's Avatar
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    Good post.

    What do you mean by intensive and extensive hypertrophy range?
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    Nicely encapsulated.

    What was the original project?

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    Player Hater PowerManDL's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jorge Sanchez
    Good post.

    What do you mean by intensive and extensive hypertrophy range?
    Intensive means that it leans more towards an overlap with strength; this will tend to focus more on hypertrophy of the contractile proteins.

    Extensive means that it leans more towards overlap with strength endurance, which creates more metabolic adaptations, the so-called sarcoplasmic hypertrophy.

    To maximize growth, you'd ideally need elements of both, which is where the various rep ranges and methods for applying them come into play.

    Quote Originally Posted by Holto
    What was the original project?
    A pretty comprehensive article I'm doing on the topic of gaining size. The above is just an excerpt and paraphrase of part of it.
    Vin Diesel has a fever.. and the only prescription is more cowbell.

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    Y2A 47: youre smooth as hell
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    Quote Originally Posted by PowerManDL
    A pretty comprehensive article I'm doing on the topic of gaining size. The above is just an excerpt and paraphrase of part of it.
    Something about to be published.

    I know if you put out an e-book I would buy it.

    I'm gonna buy Mason's when it comes out too.

  6. #6
    Not Done Yet ShockBoxer's Avatar
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    Interesting. This primer has my hamster running. I've already thought of a few exercises in my routine (WBB1) that I'll be switching to 12-15 reps. The only day I can't think of an excerise to bump up to that rep range is day one chest and back (bench press, deadlift, incline bench, bent over row, shrug, pull up, dip). The shrugs I already do at 10 so back is covered. How does adding a third set of six for the bench and switching the inclines to two sets of 12 look?
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  7. #7
    Player Hater PowerManDL's Avatar
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    Personally I'd stick to a specific method for each exercise.

    So if you're doing bench as your heavy movement, do all your heavy work there. When you go to another movement, change the stimulus to something else. Be aware that doing more than two exercises for a part generally isn't a good idea unless you're trying to specialize on it. One hard exercise and one light exercise in a session is generally going to be good enough.

    Now, there's lots of ways to program this. You can do things in a conjugate/sequential style, with days devoted towards specific methods/rep ranges. This would entail full body, or at best upper/lower routines; if you're familiar with the UD2.0, that's an example. Or you can do things in a concurrent/parallel style, which would be combining the different methods on the same day. This is where the bodypart splits and in some instances upper/lower routines (Westside as an example) will fall.

    For optimal development, the sequential/conjugate approach seems to work best, although for someone not at an advanced level, I'm thinking it'd really be splitting hairs. So to answer your question, do one exercise heavy, one exercise light, and if you want/need to specialize for whatever reason, add in a medium exercise between them.
    Vin Diesel has a fever.. and the only prescription is more cowbell.

    Budiak: That girl I maced
    Budiak: macked
    Budiak: heh maced
    Budiak: I wish

    ShmrckPmp5: a good thing people can't fire guns through the computer...your ass would have been shot years ago

    Y2A 47: youre smooth as hell
    Y2A 47: thats why you get outta tickets, and into panties

    galileo: you're a fucking beast and I hate you
    galileo: hate

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    Quote Originally Posted by Holto
    Something about to be published.

    I know if you put out an e-book I would buy it.

    I'm gonna buy Mason's when it comes out too.
    Chris Mason is writing a book?
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  9. #9
    Wrecker of Homes d'Anconia's Avatar
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    Ya know Powerman, I wish you would post your own articles up here more often. You know the material a lot better than most users and your posts usually hold very valuable insight.
    When you finish the article will you provide us with a link for it? (Even if it costs $)
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    mrelwooddowd Patz's Avatar
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    Good post, Matt. I like the way you write because although you're being technical, you're very good at making sense. This ability escapes a lot of people that posess a great deal of knowledge, and that's a real shame.
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    Go Heels! MixmasterNash's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by PowerManDL
    [*]The pump exercise should ideally be some foo-foo isolation work, stuff like flyes and leg curls and all that. Keep the reps over 12 on this stuff.
    Do you really think that this will be of any measurable hypertrophy value whatsoever?

    I concur that the number of movements should be kept to a minimum, and that a different (higher) rep range should be used on the 2nd exercise (if performed at all), but why bother with crap like flyes? There are plenty of decent compounds suitable for high rep work.

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  12. #12
    Son of Krypton Majestic's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by fatrb38
    Ya know Powerman, I wish you would post your own articles up here more often. You know the material a lot better than most users and your posts usually hold very valuable insight.
    Agreed.

    When he types, I read. Somestimes his terms are waaaay over my head, but not this time.
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  13. #13
    Just watch me ... Built's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by PowerManDL
    You see where this is going. Pick a big exercise or two, work the hell out of them, then finish it up with higher-rep work.
    Quote Originally Posted by PowerManDL
    Personally I'd stick to a specific method for each exercise.

    So if you're doing bench as your heavy movement, do all your heavy work there. When you go to another movement, change the stimulus to something else. Be aware that doing more than two exercises for a part generally isn't a good idea unless you're trying to specialize on it. One hard exercise and one light exercise in a session is generally going to be good enough.

    Now, there's lots of ways to program this. You can do things in a conjugate/sequential style, with days devoted towards specific methods/rep ranges.
    Quote Originally Posted by PowerManDL
    For optimal development, the sequential/conjugate approach seems to work best, although for someone not at an advanced level, I'm thinking it'd really be splitting hairs. So to answer your question, do one exercise heavy, one exercise light, and if you want/need to specialize for whatever reason, add in a medium exercise between them.
    These are all ideas that are incorporated into BGB - it's set up so there's a heavy compond as 5x5, followed by concentration work in higher rep ranges. Out of boredom, I often vary the concentration work, but I generally leave the heavy compound alone. Other body parts, such as arms, abs, and calves, get hit with heavy compounds, so they don't always need to be worked on directly, although you can on their off days for additional concentration.

    Thanks for posting this Matt. It backs up, with theory, what I've experimentally confirmed works really well.

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    Player Hater PowerManDL's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MixmasterNash
    Do you really think that this will be of any measurable hypertrophy value whatsoever?

    I concur that the number of movements should be kept to a minimum, and that a different (higher) rep range should be used on the 2nd exercise (if performed at all), but why bother with crap like flyes? There are plenty of decent compounds suitable for high rep work.
    Yep.

    Main reason being, sometimes there are just parts that you want to emphasize without having to worry about a compound exercise and the potential weak links that chain could impose.

    In other words, if I'm wanting to work the chest, to use the flye example, why am I going to bother using any other type of press, which by default will include the triceps and delts? True you can manipulate the form to lessen the involvement of those parts, but they're still active regardless. If my goal is to stimulate the chest, why do that when you take into account that you've already gotten the stimulation from compound movement?

    Additionally, just from a practical standpoint, I don't even feel like loading up the bar or picking up dumbells for **** like that. Loading a pin on a machine is a lot easier, and by this point lessening the strain on the system is of importance; the second movement is designed to stress locally, not add to the overall systemic stress.
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    Go Heels! MixmasterNash's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by PowerManDL
    If my goal is to stimulate the chest, why do that when you take into account that you've already gotten the stimulation from compound movement?

    Additionally, just from a practical standpoint, I don't even feel like loading up the bar or picking up dumbells for **** like that. Loading a pin on a machine is a lot easier, and by this point lessening the strain on the system is of importance; the second movement is designed to stress locally, not add to the overall systemic stress.
    Why? Too much work loading weights? Seriously? Fine. Doing a few sets of dips after a few sets of bench press shouldn't be too taxing. And there are a number of benefits from other factors, such as closed chain vs open, that seem to override any potential benefits from isolation pump exercise

    The reasoning you present seems like justification for pre-fatiguing target muscle groups versus working them after a compound, if eliminating other muscle groups from being a factor is so important.

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    Player Hater PowerManDL's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MixmasterNash
    Why? Too much work loading weights? Seriously? Fine. Doing a few sets of dips after a few sets of bench press shouldn't be too taxing. And there are a number of benefits from other factors, such as closed chain vs open, that seem to override any potential benefits from isolation pump exercise
    Factors that are rendered irrelevant by the fact that you've already done one and possibly two compounds with a fairly high volume of work.

    Why add more stress and do something inefficient for the goal at hand, which is namely taxing the metabolic qualities of a specific muscle?

    The reasoning you present seems like justification for pre-fatiguing target muscle groups versus working them after a compound, if eliminating other muscle groups from being a factor is so important.
    Not at all. The point is to tax the metabolic structures of the specific muscle in question, after the relevant strength-related work has been done. It's not that hard a concept to grasp.
    Last edited by PowerManDL; 03-06-2006 at 08:29 PM.
    Vin Diesel has a fever.. and the only prescription is more cowbell.

    Budiak: That girl I maced
    Budiak: macked
    Budiak: heh maced
    Budiak: I wish

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    Y2A 47: youre smooth as hell
    Y2A 47: thats why you get outta tickets, and into panties

    galileo: you're a fucking beast and I hate you
    galileo: hate

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    Interesting, I think you are on to something.

  18. #18
    Go Heels! MixmasterNash's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by PowerManDL
    Why add more stress and do something inefficient for the goal at hand, which is namely taxing the metabolic qualities of a specific muscle?
    ...
    Not at all. The point is to tax the metabolic structures of the specific muscle in question, after the relevant strength-related work has been done. It's not that hard a concept to grasp.
    If the goal is to tax the multiple metabolic systems, then the indication is not for isolation of any sort, but for high rep, low rest work of all of the same muscles as the in the low rep exercises. Why would you want to tax the glycolytic systems of the pecs but not the shoulders or triceps?

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    Player Hater PowerManDL's Avatar
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    You would.

    The point is, you'd want to do so using exercises targeted to those muscles.

    This whole issue is hair-splitting in the first place, since it doesn't matter. I prefer isolation work. If you prefer a compound exercise because you have to be HARDCORE!!! then go for it. But the net effect isn't going to be any different; the neurological benefits of a compound exercise aren't relevant to the work you're doing as long as the muscles in question are getting the work.
    Vin Diesel has a fever.. and the only prescription is more cowbell.

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  20. #20
    Journalist galileo's Avatar
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    What say you of secondary groups like biceps and triceps? They're taxed during your compounds, so a 12-15 set of each after should be sufficient, eh?

  21. #21
    Go Heels! MixmasterNash's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by PowerManDL
    You would.

    The point is, you'd want to do so using exercises targeted to those muscles.

    This whole issue is hair-splitting in the first place, since it doesn't matter. I prefer isolation work. If you prefer a compound exercise because you have to be HARDCORE!!! then go for it. But the net effect isn't going to be any different; the neurological benefits of a compound exercise aren't relevant to the work you're doing as long as the muscles in question are getting the work.
    Well, I'm the farthest from hardcore that there is, but I do like efficiency. So, to achieve improvement in multiple metabolic systems for all muscle groups, it seems clear that the best method to do compounds in both heavy and higher reps schemes. There seems to be no place in maximizing overall growth for isolation exercises -- your statements on hypertrophy are completely correct, but do not suggest isolation work at all.

    If a muscle group is lagging, perhaps aesthetically, then the clear indication is to directly work that muscle group with both heavy and high rep work more frequently, not in isolation after compound exercises. E.g., if your biceps are lagging, then it doesn't make any sense to do some pump exercise after rows or chins; it does make sense to add a bicep specific day with heavy curls and high rep curls.

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  22. #22
    Player Hater PowerManDL's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by xian
    What say you of secondary groups like biceps and triceps? They're taxed during your compounds, so a 12-15 set of each after should be sufficient, eh?
    That'd be fine unless you're trying to specialize.
    Vin Diesel has a fever.. and the only prescription is more cowbell.

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  23. #23
    Player Hater PowerManDL's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MixmasterNash
    Well, I'm the farthest from hardcore that there is, but I do like efficiency. So, to achieve improvement in multiple metabolic systems for all muscle groups, it seems clear that the best method to do compounds in both heavy and higher reps schemes. There seems to be no place in maximizing overall growth for isolation exercises -- your statements on hypertrophy are completely correct, but do not suggest isolation work at all.
    It doesn't suggest anything besides what gets the job done. Again, my preference is isolation work. If you can do the same thing with a compound movement, by all means.

    If you feel that a compound will work better, use a compound. I use isolation work.

    If a muscle group is lagging, perhaps aesthetically, then the clear indication is to directly work that muscle group with both heavy and high rep work more frequently, not in isolation after compound exercises.
    I doubt you mean it this way, but it sounds as if you're somehow trying to establish this as a set parameter. Heavy work is heavy work, and is thusly best accomplished with compounds. High rep work can be whatever gets the job done; frequency is a completely independent variable of this.

    E.g., if your biceps are lagging, then it doesn't make any sense to do some pump exercise after rows or chins; it does make sense to add a bicep specific day with heavy curls and high rep curls.
    Maybe if you want to specialize. If you're not specializing that part, aren't advanced enough to specialize, don't want arm specialization per se, then that may not be an option.

    And again, you're putting words in my mouth. I never said anywhere that it wasn't an option to do so. My thoughts on programming training go far beyond the limited scope you're trying to place upon them.
    Vin Diesel has a fever.. and the only prescription is more cowbell.

    Budiak: That girl I maced
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    Budiak: I wish

    ShmrckPmp5: a good thing people can't fire guns through the computer...your ass would have been shot years ago

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    galileo: you're a fucking beast and I hate you
    galileo: hate

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  24. #24
    Player Hater PowerManDL's Avatar
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    Let me use another example to illustrate: the medial delts

    The obvious compound move for these would be a military press, be it barbell or dumbell.

    Ok, now I personally have an issue using a compound overhead press to specifically target the delts. The front delt, chest, and triceps all add in, and will invariably fatigue before the medial delt.

    So your generic solution would have me doing an exercise that is inherently inefficient for the goal, simply because it's a compound. My solution has me doing side raises in a fashion designed to emphasize the medial delt.

    In this instance, the biomechanics of the situation and the specific goal at hand would mandate an isolation exercise. It's always a matter of context.
    Vin Diesel has a fever.. and the only prescription is more cowbell.

    Budiak: That girl I maced
    Budiak: macked
    Budiak: heh maced
    Budiak: I wish

    ShmrckPmp5: a good thing people can't fire guns through the computer...your ass would have been shot years ago

    Y2A 47: youre smooth as hell
    Y2A 47: thats why you get outta tickets, and into panties

    galileo: you're a fucking beast and I hate you
    galileo: hate

    assgrabbers are never subtile, they will grabb ass whereever they go,public or not, I know the type, because I am one. - Rock

  25. #25
    Senior Member Anthony's Avatar
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    Dec 2000
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    If you could only pick 1-2 movements for growth/strength/whatever, what would you choose and why?

    I think the answer explains why compound > isolation.
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