Hypertrophy means growth in size. In our case, we are interested in muscle hypertrophy which specifically means growth in muscle cell size. The easiest way to define hypertrophy workouts is to lift from a 6 to 12 rep range or with sets that last 20 to 70 seconds. The latter is actually more important because it is time under tension that dictates which muscle fibers are predominantly worked. The muscle fibers we are primarily interested in are type IIa fibers. They are fast twitch muscle fibers that grow in size after a hard workout. Other fibers will not grow in size as much and since gaining muscle is our goal, you should stick to the 6 to 12 rep range.
#2 Choose lifts that are neurologically demanding
Simply put, the harder the lift, the more muscle you will gain. Your workouts should be centered around deadlifts, squats, bench presses, pull-ups, and rows. These are all very neurologically demanding exercises and take a considerable amount of effort. The intense nature of these exercises will cause a greater increase in growth hormone and testosterone, both powerful hormones that increase muscle mass.
For the novice or beginner lifter, muscle gain will be automatic. The foreign stimulus of consistent weight training will cause the body to adapt quickly resulting in fast gains. After some time however, the body will need excess calories to aid in continual muscle hypertrophy. How many calories is ideal? This depends on many factors, but ultimately you want to shoot for a 150-300 calorie surplus. Meaning you should aim to eat this many calories beyond your maintenance calorie amount. So if you burn on average 3000 calories, then aim for 3150-3300 cals. There is a fine line between gaining muscle and gaining muscle along with fat. In my experience of working with individuals who solely train for hypertrophy, eating more than 300 calories beyond your maintenance level will generally just add more body fat. Again, other factors play into how much you should eat.
Gaining muscle does not occur in the gym, it happens when you are recovering. Sleep is crucial when going for muscle hypertrophy. I have seen lack of sleep completely halt people’s results both in muscle gain or fat loss situations. Most pro athletes (bodybuilders included) will sleep 10-12 hours a day. Intense training requires additional, quality sleep.
Didn’t we just cover sleep? Yes, but it is also important to control stress levels throughout the day. Many people have heard the terms, “Fight or flight” and “Rest and digest”. “Fight or flight” is a catabolic state, “Rest and Digest” is anabolic. We want to be anabolic most of the time. This happens when we are relaxed and require a lesser demand on our body. There are many ways to control stress including, meditation, stretching, reading, talking a walk, etc. Supplements for decreasing stress can also be used during times when relaxation activities are inconvenient. Lastly, reduce unnecessary stimulus like the usage of cell phones, lap tops, and other computer technology when possible.
Even the novice lifter needs basic supplementation. One of my pet peeves is when I hear someone say, “I want to first see what I can do without supplements.” The reality is that they will get less results than if they were on a supplement program. This statement is a result of fear instilled by the media hyping up stories on how some person with serious, previous health conditions took a supplement and died because of it. These cases are rare. Consult a sports supplement practitioner who knows what they are talking about and you will get better results safely with the aid of supplements. I will say that protein powder, amino acids, carb powders, and multivitamins are safe for nearly everyone. Eliminate the irrational fear that the media produces on “dangerous” supplements and become educated on proper supplementation with a qualified practitioner. Any mid to high level athlete needs some kind of supplementation program to achieve maximal performance and results.
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