Hypertrophy for Strength Athletes

WHAT IS HYPERTROPHY?

Hypertrophy is the increase, in size, of muscle cells.

The most common way to achieve muscle hypertrophy is by weight/resistance training.

Training-induced hypertrophy is essential for optimal strength adaptation. It stands to reason, that optimal improvements in strength and hypertrophy can only be accomplished through complete motor unit activation by the use of heavy loads.

There are three main things that cause hypertrophy.

  1. Mechanical Tension
  2. Muscle Damage
  3. Metabolic Stress

Mechanical tension is the loading of the muscle (ex. lifting weights).

Muscle damage is the result of lifting weights. As you may know (or may not)… When we workout we are actually breaking down our muscles. But it is for a good cause. Haha. When our bodies experience this muscular damage it triggers an inflammatory reaction. Which then tells our body to start repairing.

*Note: High volumes of training causes more damage than lower volumes of training. You want to start on the lower side of things and work your way up. All while making sure that you are recovering along the way. 

**Another Note: Eccentric training also causes a lot of damage to the muscle. This can be a useful tool to use when trying to grow. Again, just make sure you are recovering from your training. 

Metabolic stress is also known as “pump work.” Also known as swelling of the muscles.

Example of metabolic stress workouts are…

  1. Drop Sets
  2. Super Sets/Giant Sets
  3. Muscle Rounds/Cluster Sets

WHO SHOULD DO HYPERTROPHY TRAINING?

Hypertrophy training is great for anyone who is trying to grow.

I think that just about anyone can build more lean muscle mass. Whether you are 120lbs or 350lbs… There is always room for improvement! The more muscle you have and the bigger your muscles are… The stronger you will be.

(most of the time anyway)

Most think that hypertrophy is just for bodybuilding, but that isn’t the case anymore.

If you take a look at some of the top powerlifters in the world (Stefi Cohen, Larry Wheels, Susan Salazar are just a few)… They are all very muscular. They didn’t get there without some hypertrophy work (and great genetics)!

A lot of people think that you just have to be big to be strong. Which definitely isn’t wrong… But fat isn’t going to lift the weight for you. MUSCLE is what’s going to help you lift more!

In order to gain that muscle, you have to do hypertrophy work.

Everyone can benefit from hypertrophy training. It just depends on what your goals are, and when your next PL meet is. The further you are from the meet, the more hypertrophy you can do. The closer you get to your meet, the less hypertrophy, and the more intensity.

*Friendly Reminder: Even though you are in a hypertrophy phase… It doesn’t mean that you don’t train with intensity! You still want to push yourself & train hard! You are just doing so with more reps and sets. 

BENEFITS OF HYPERTROPHY:

  1. Increase Muscle Fiber Size – Bigger muscles are (normally) stronger muscles!
  2. Increased Work Capacity – During a Hypertrophy phase, you will most likely be doing more sets & reps (maybe even a drop set here and there). This will help improve/increase the amount of work you can do and recover from.
  3. Decrease in Body Fat – In my opinion, the “best” time to start a hypertrophy phase is right after a PL meet. This is also a great time to start trimming down the fat. The reason for this is because the high volume training helps burn extra calories. For most powerlifters… They view sets of 3+ as cardio! LOL. Hypertrophy also helps you build lean muscle mass. The more lean mass you have, the more calories you will burn.
  4. Gives the Body a Break – As much as we would love to be able to lift heavy all the time… We just can’t. So doing a hypertrophy phase in your off-season is a great break from the heavy loads.
  5. Specific Focus – Having different training phases/blocks, you are able to solely focus on hypertrophy (growing) or strength training (making your now bigger muscles stronger).

WHEN TO START A HYPERTROPHY PHASE:

You want to start a hypertrophy phase AWAY from your next powerlifting meet or strength event!!!

I find that a great time is right after your event. It is a beneficial shock to the body after all the heavy lifting and one rep maxes.

Having different training phases/cycles allows the body to become re-sensitized to that stimulus again.

HOW TO DO IT: (incorporating hypertrophy training)

Hypertrophy rep range is 6+

Anything less than 5 reps is great for strength. Very fatiguing because of the HIGH intensity.

Super high rep sets ex. 50-60 reps the weight is normally too light for hypertrophy benefits

5-20 reps is a great zone, maybe 30 reps

You want to work your way up with the volume. Start with the minimum amount that still stimulates growth. And make sure you are able to recover from the volume. Also, make sure that you are thinking about volume as a weekly thing. Not just workout by workout. 

Training frequency is huge. A lot of people think that hypertrophy training is “bodybuilding” training. And then they think they have to train each muscle group once a week. But after about two days your body is normally recovered and stepping further from an anabolic state. Therefore you should try to train each muscle group twice a week (this can be adjusted according to your strengths and weaknesses). A good example of a training schedule is…

Sunday: Lower/Squat/Quad Focus

Monday: Upper/Bench/Chest Focus

Tuesday: Upper/Back Focus

Wednesday: Rest

Thursday: Lower/Deadlift/Hamstring Focus (with some back)

Friday: Upper/Press (Bench or OHP) *different variation than Monday session

Saturday: Rest

When in a hypertrophy phase… You still have to train “heavy” in order to progress. If you stay with the same weight, or too light of weight… Your body will adapt and won’t grow. 

Anything shy of 5 RIR (reps in reserve), you aren’t really getting hypertrophic benefits. You want to train hard “enough.”

RPE (rate of perceived exertion) 8 is (most of the time) the best place to be when training for an optimal hypertrophic effect without extreme fatigue.

With that being said… You still want to get compound movements in (squat, bench, and dead). I would recommend trying a variation of your competition-syle of the lifts.

After the compound/main movements, it is great to do isolation/accessory work. This allows you to work on small muscle groups (possible weaknesses). This also promotes healthy joints and tendons.

When you are in a hypertrophy phase, you still want to de-load about every 6-8 weeks. 

The last week before planned a de-load… You can go to 9-10 RPE. 

 

”We aren’t going to the gym to see what we can get away with.

We are going to the gym to do the best we can.” -Dr. Mike Israetel   

 

Resources:

An old article I wrote on hypertrophy

EliteFTS Article

Bodybuilding.com Article

Jeff Nippard Youtube Video

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Enrique Pasion

    Thank you for this very informative article on hypertrophy and what this is actually all about and why we need to take this seriously.

    1. Tony Montgomery

      Thanks for reading the article and I appreciate your feedback!!

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