Updated: Feb 15, 2021
I have talked a few times on the theory behind building muscle. The reps, sets, rest, progressive overload.
All of that is hypertrophy 101.
If you haven’t already seen my previous work, please check out the rest of my blog posts on this topic. I have one specifically called How To Build Muscle. So if this is of interest to you, I recommend checking it out.
Hypertrophy is the name given to muscle building training. It is a phase that everyone goes through at some point in their fitness program.
Regardless of your goal. If you are training for strength, endurance, maybe you’re a runner. There should be some form of hypertrophy worked into your routine at some point.
But what if that’s not enough for you?
This is probably aimed at guys that see the monsters of men on social media or on TV and go “Wow!”
Not that I was ever a body builder sort of guy. But I know when I started weight training and I would watch videos of guys that looked more like animals than men.
It’s not everyone’s cuppa tea but the muscle that body builders develop is ridiculous. How they eat and how they train is an art.
So what I’m going to cover is they ways that these monsters of men train to get their muscles that jacked.
This is hypertrophy up a gear.
Couple of disclaimers though first. This is all a bit over the top. You don’t have to go this hard on the paint to build muscle. This is a very high intensity way of doing things. Maybe most famous probably by legendary body builder, Dorian Yates.
If any of you have heard of Yates, you will know that he had one of the greatest physiques ever, especially his back. Though he had slightly different way of training compared to those that came before him and that high intensity weight training is commonly used today.
Another disclaimer, I’m not saying that if you do what I’m saying in terms of building muscle and you’ve the best diet ever, that you are going to look like Mr Universe. Those level of body builder have a lot of “help” from some “special sauce” to help them get that big.
What I’m focusing on is the training they did in the gym which can help you build more muscle.
1) High Intensity Weight Training
Not to be confused with high intensity cardio, this is upping the intensity of your weight training. Specifically using drop sets.
I love using drop sets to build muscle. It’s very tough, it burns, you torture your muscles, but it’s feels so good at the same time.
So for a drop set, you are going to go a certain rep range, usually close to failure if not going to complete failure. Once you’ve hit that, drop the weight or resistance and do more reps with no break.
This can be done as a last set finisher if you like. Or you can do a 1 or 2 warm up sets then 1 drop set.
This would be one set all out to complete failure, then past that until you are completely fatigued. You then wouldn’t do another set until you were back to 100% recovered however long that is. Just one set is needed when going at that intensity.
If you feel you’ve got another set in you, then you didn’t go all out enough. Going all out means properly going all out.
If you are using this method, you are typically going to have less work capacity exercises in your program. Instead you’d have more drop sets and super sets to failure in your program.
This means you are upping the intensity and lowering the volume. This will mean that your overall session will be shorter.
2) Go Big Or Go Home
If you wanna get big, you’ve gotta lift big.
Big compound movements are the way to go for building muscle and strength. The best exercises for build muscles are multi joint compound exercises such as the deadlift, squat, bench press, over head press, pull ups and dips.
As I have said before and I say everyone wanting to build muscle or get stronger, compound movements are the way to go. Your body is designed that everything works together. It’s not meant to work in isolation.
Yes isolation movements have their place to aid in weaker areas, but they should not be the main focus of your training.
Use isolation to top up your compound lifts. For example. Hit your big heavy compound movements, over head pressing for example. Great for building shoulder and triceps and a lot of core involved too.
But a lot of the focus is on the front of the shoulder. Now this is where you would be isolation work on the side of the shoulder. So you’ve trained the big compound movement, now you top it up with isolation.
3) Reps and Weights
Getting the reps and weights right is key to getting the most out of the exercise.
Lifting heavy is great for strength but not the best for building muscle. The best range is 60-75% of your 1 rep max and lifting it until failure is the best way for muscle growth.
Now lifting very heavy still has it’s place. But going lighter and doing more is best for muscle growth.
So yes, it’s still about lifting heavy weights. But it’s not about how strong you are when building muscle.
Now this probably contradicts the "go big or go home" I just talked about. What I mean by that is that you are going to go heavier on compound exercises than you are on isolation. You're not going to do any heavier isolation work for you chest that's heavier than your bench press are you?
This doesn't mean that you've gotta max your bench, it means that 75% of your 1 rep max is still a good weight to build muscle and not the very light weight isolation exercises that some people focus on to build muscle.
So don’t be tempted by you ego to lift heavier cause it’s “cooler” to say how much you lift. For building muscle, just drop is down a bit and get more reps in.
4) Time under tension
The time under tension needed varies depending on what you are training for.
So don’t take time under tension as a one size fits all.
But of course today we are looking at building muscle. Specifically for the way of training that we have been discussing.
Studies have shown that more time under tension is better for muscle growth. This can be down to a few things.
Obviously you are working for longer, thus more work for the muscle. Also you are then paying more attention to all parts of the movement. If you go quick, you will focus more on the concentric contraction and no doubt ignore the isometric hold and the eccentric part of the movement.
Now if you’ve more time under tension, you can control the concentric part, then and isometric squeeze of the muscle. Followed by a much more controlled eccentric motion.
It is also this eccentric motion that is key for building muscle and strength. Probably the most over looked but making sure that there’s some eccentric part to the movement will be very beneficial.
Ah rest and recovery. The enjoyable part where there’s no lifting at all and when your muscles actually grow.
This is also so important if you are training at this sort of intensity. You can’t red line your muscle til failure and then ignore your recovery as proper recovery is what’s going to give you the ability to get back in the gym to train that hard again.
If you don’t recover properly especially with this approach to training, you will over train very quickly and that is the last thing you need as this is when you get sick and get injured from being burnt out.
I highly doubt that this style of training can be maintained for a long period of time. You’ll do well to make to 6 weeks before your body has enough. Which is why it’s a good idea to change it up or cycle this approach.
This is when you’d take a couple of weeks to ease up a bit and stop before failure. So you’re still putting the work in but at less intensity and giving your body a chance to recharge before going hard at it again.
And those are the key points to training like most of the top body builders about.
Like I said, this is a hardcore approach. If hypertrophy is just adding in to help with your running, for example. Then there’s no need for this style of training and basic well structured hypertrophy will be fine.
However, if you are a bit of a gym run and getting big is your main focus, then this could well be for you and is certainly worth trying.