Updated: Apr 7
I'm gonna say this right now, not even going to wait a couple of paragraphs: Sorry, I've totally click-bait you...THERE IS NO SECRET TO BUILDING MUSCLE!!
But wait, don't leave just yet. I know you are probably attracted to that guy that looks jacked and has an Instagram bio similar to:
"Helping people achieving their dream body without giving up the food you love and spending zero time in the gym".
Surely he knows something me and you don't know! The truth you don't want to hear is no, he doesn't. He's gonna get your money, waste your time and give you no results at all.
There is however one thing you need to master and understand in order to maximise our muscles gains, especially if we are beginners.
And that thing is HYPERTROPHY.
There is a lot of research around hypertrophy and a lot to talk about but I will keep it very very simple here, giving you just enough information so that you can make better decisions about how you train or would like to train. If you want to know more I'm more than happy to start a conversation and go into more details. Just leave a comment on this post.
Let's start by reviewing the 3 ways we can induce Hypertrophy:
Mechanical tension: created by using a heavy load and performing exercises through a full range of motion for a period of time. The time the muscle spends under tension provided by the external load (barbell, dumbbell etc) creates Mechanical Tension in the muscle.
Metabolic stress: a physiological process that occurs during exercise in response to low energy that leads to metabolite accumulation [lactate, phosphate inorganic (Pi) and ions of hydrogen (H+)] in muscle cells.
Muscle damage: resistance training induces muscle damage, especially in the initial phase of training when unaccustomed eccentric actions are performed. Muscle damage is best indicated by loss of muscle strength and range of motion, and delayed onset muscle soreness does not necessarily reflect the magnitude of muscle damage.
So far i think the concept is pretty clear: lifting heavy=building muscles (as long as protein intake is adequate). And if you pay attention you will notice that the biggest guy in your gym is, or has at some point been, the strongest guy in the gym.
I'm aware this goes against the current trend. Most trainers advocate high volume over high loads and all athletes you see on social media follow a similar training method. What you don't see about those guys on Instagram is how they got to where they are today! You are now seeing their maintenance routines, they are at a level where specific body parts need to be prioritized. Their training routine is not optimised for muscle building, is optimised to achieve perfection and maintain mass. Trainers follow along because it's easier to sell a service when you are following a trend rather than going your own way.
And this is not just my interpretation, research from the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public health (here is the link Maximizing Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review ... - MDPI www.mdpi.com) has demonstrated that both low load RT and Hight load RT elicit a significant increase in muscle hypertrophy, however following the low load approach requires a volume that is 3 times higher. Also, to achieve the same results, volatile fatigue (failure) must be reached.
But, I hear you saying, the research shows similar results so why should we favour load over volume? That comes down to the capability of maintaining intensity and recovery time.
Let's create a scenario to better explain.
Mark is an intermediate lifter. He trains legs 2 a week. This is his log from last week
Hack squat 100kg, 15-15-12-10
Leg Extension 40kg, 10-10-8-6
Hamstring curls 50kg, 12-12-12-12
Leg press 150kg, 10-10-9-8
Matthew trains a full body split, on alternative days. He's at the same level as Mark. He alternates between heavy lower/light upper and heavy upper/light lower.
Hack Squat 160kg, 10-10
Leg Extension 50kg, 10-8
Hamstring curls 65kg, 9-9
Leg press 200kg, 7-7
Hack squat 100kg, 18
Leg extension 40kg, 12
Hamstring curl 50kg, 15
Leg press 150kg, 12
If you do the math, in a week Mark has moved 29000kg and Matthew 26000kg. The amount of overall work done is very similar. What is different is that Matthew doesn't need very long to recover from his sessions and after 2 sleeps is ready to attack his workout again, keeping training intensity high at a very high frequency. This is a perfect recipe for muscle growth.
On the other hand, Mark has fatigued way more and the DOMS are most likely going to impair the intensity of his very next leg session.
Additionally, Matthew has subjected his muscles to a higher mechanical tension. By training in this fashion, Matthew will be able to increase the load on a weekly basis and will most likely perform more work than Mark within 3 or 4 weeks from starting the program.
Mentally this will also benefit you. We don't have it within us to attack set 4 or 5 with the same aggressiveness as in set 1. It takes years of training to develop that sort of mental strength. But knowing that we have only 1 or 2 sets to go through will give us the confidence to load that bar up and give it everything we've got (please always warm up properly and be safe).
If you feel like you haven't progressed very much in your training it's probably time to try something new and go back to basics. Sometimes less is more.
Keep in mind that for it to work you will have to go heavy and your working set will have to be always performed at maximum intensity!
I'd also like to remind you that adherence to both training and diet are a staple for progressing, we should never forget that.
Hope you've found the information in this article useful. If you have any questions you can leave a comment and I'll get back to you asap.