I mostly do this as I'm a big fan of comedy. After all, most of what they're telling their clients makes me piss myself laughing. In all seriousness, when a conversation occurs between trainers and clients about hypertrophy training it usually goes something like this...
"Low rep training will build strength but if you want to get big I suggest you do three sets of ten as its proven to elicit the highest muscle gains."
| Hypertrophy Vs. Hyperplasia
Hypertrophy refers to an increase in muscle size, due to the enlargement of the size of the cells, as opposed to an increase in the number of cells (by cell division, a.k.a. Hyperplasia). Hypertrophy is most commonly seen in muscle that has been actively stimulated, the most well-known method being exercise.
Whilst I try to resist the urge to strangle the sh*tty trainer, I usually hear another gem such as, "You want a bigger chest? Let me show you our new pec dec!"
While I want to pummel most of the myopic, industry-brainwashed gits, I have to admit that part of what they are saying is true; however, they are missing out significantly on the benefits of straining with maximal weights.
The reason that training with moderate reps, such as eight to twelve in the sixty to eighty percentage intensity range, is seen as optimal for hypertrophy can best be explained by the energetic hypothesis as detailed in Vladimir Zatsiorsky's text, Science and Practice of Strength Training.
He basically states that the hypertrophic response from resistance training relates to the total amount of protein degradation caused.
The initial factor in the rate of protein degradation is the intensity - the higher the intensity, the higher the rate of protein degradation. However, the total protein degradation is a resultant of both intensity and volume.
Whilst the higher the intensity the greater the protein degradation, the volume is inversely related with higher intensities. When you lift a maximal weight (high intensity), you cannot perform many reps with it.
The final result with this is high-intensity Maximal Effort (ME) training, and has a resultant protein degradation that is low to moderate (high rate of protein degradation multiplied by a low mechanical workload) and similarly low intensity (<60%) repletion effort method training is the same (low rate of protein degradation multiplied by a high mechanical workload).
In this respect, the trainer was right. The total amount of protein degradation is highest with moderate repletion effort method style training such as three sets of ten (moderately high protein degradation multiplied by moderately high mechanical workload).
However, I still want to wipe that smarmy grin off the trainer because, as I said before, this is a myopic view of the total training effect. The type of biomotor ability being trained with the repetition effort method is strength endurance. This is the ability to repetitiously move weights that are in the 60-85% range of a person's maximal ability - and this is the key term - 60-85% of the person's maximum!
Surely it is clear that if a person has a higher maximum strength they will lift heavier weights when working in a percentage range of that maximum.
Absolute strength forms the basis for all other force-related biomotor abilities - by increasing absolute strength, you will be able to display greater reactive, explosive, starting, and endurance strength.
By implementing a single max effort method exercise into your hypertrophy training you will become stronger both chronically and acutely, due to factors such as post-tetanic potentiation (PTP) and disinhibition of antagonistic IPSP.
In addition, it was noted that a higher intensity caused the greatest protein degradation per lift which would increase the total degradation per workout and cause greater stimulus for hypertrophy.
Ways & Means Of Implementing ME Into A Bodybuilder's Training
The max effort method (ME method) basically aims at developing maximal tension within a muscle by synchronizing and recruiting all available fibers through a maximal contraction against maximal loads.
This can be accomplished in several ways, many of which are beyond the scope of this article, but in its most basic format, the ME method can be defined as lifting weights in the 85-100% range of an individual's maximum for somewhere between five reps and one rep, and this is usually performed for several sets.
Before all you HIT enthusiasts get all uppity, go back and read the definition of the energetic hypothesis - protein degradation is the result of both intensity-derived protein degradation times the mechanical workload.
The quickest way of increasing mechanical workload whilst maintaining high intensities is through increasing the number of sets. This leaves the question of how to stick the ME method into your workouts, and there are a few ways.
Alternating Method (Intensification & Accumulation Blocks)
This method basically involves breaking your workout into either an intensification phase or an accumulation phase and alternating between the two phases. Each phase can be of any length in duration but experience has shown that three to six week blocks allow the benefits of strength training, but doesn't negate effects of the time spent with hypertrophy training.
The accumulation phase consists of your typical hypertrophy training with an emphasis on developing structural adaptations such as myofibril and sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. The intensity range is usually between 60-85% of an individual's maximum and the reps are usually in the range of 6-20.
The intensification phase focuses upon functional adaptations such as neurological adaptations. The rep ranges are usually between 1-5 and the intensity range is between 85-100% of the individual's maximum.
This involves manipulating the intensities from workout to workout so as to cause an undulation of volume and intensity. An example would simply be:
|Example Undulation Cycle.|
This sequence would be repeated, but with heavier weights, each time the same intensity range was executed. This could be done so as the intensity fluctuates from session to session for whole body training and all the intensity ranges are trained in one week.
For split routines, the intensity ranges would be trained once every third week if training a body part. This method works well when there is an attempt to increase the frequencies of training a bodypart or movement as you will be training different motor abilities each session even though you are hitting a bodypart more often and will less likely lead to overtraining and injury.
- Squat - building up to a set of a 3 rep max (Max Effort method)
- Leg Press - 3-4 sets x 8-12 reps (Repetition Effort method)
- Romanian Deadlifts 3-4 x 8-12 (Repetition Effort method)
- Calf Raises 3-4 x 15-20 (Repetition Effort method)
This involves training both structural (hypertrophy) type protocols and functional (neurological) protocols together in the same workout. This is fairly simple to achieve and just requires the implantation of a heavy movement at the beginning of a workout before you move on to your regular exercises.
You may wish to cut some of the volume from your other exercise to accommodate this. As an example, a leg workout could comprise of the following:
What About Linear Periodization?
Typically in the West, there is a tendency to lean towards linear periodization or the structuring of training so as to build phases of training (typically up to twelve weeks in length), with each phase using a progressively higher intensity than the last and would typically go in the sequence of:
For athletic development this has limitations which are beyond the discussion of this article, but for hypertrophy training it's pointless.
If you are going to introduce either maximal effort methods or even dynamic effort method type training into your attempts to get bigger, then you want these training modalities to facilitate your hypertrophy training, which linear periodization fails to do.
View More Hypertrophy-Specific Training Articles, Here.
If you aim to increase muscle mass, then I suggest that you strain under weights above 90% of your maximum at least once a month. In finishing, I will say that to get bigger you need to get stronger, and the fastest way of getting stronger is with the Max Effort (ME) method!