Different people go to the gym for a vast array of different reasons. For some, going once or twice a week helps them maintain a healthy balance in their lives. Other people, however, want something a bit more intense.
If you’re looking to get stronger so you can lift more then you might want to start strength training. But if you’re wanting to really get the look and increase the size of the tissue that makes up your muscles then you might want to know what Hypertrophy Training is.
What Is Hypertrophy?
“Hypertrophy” refers to an increase in muscular size that is achieved through exercise. By lifting more weights more frequently you can actually spur your muscle cells to grow in size.
This technique is more commonly associated with bodybuilders and long-term weightlifters as the easiest way to perform a hypertrophy training session is to lift weights.
The difference between hypertrophy and simple strength training is that hypertrophy will not only build muscle mass, but will improve your muscular endurance, but fat, and build your strength.
Strength training pretty much only focuses on building and increasing your strength and improving your durability and stamina during load-bearing activities.
The terms are typically differentiated by the goals of each specific person. A bodybuilder, for example, will probably focus on hypertrophy training to gain muscle size and definition.
Whereas a powerlifter or athlete might do strength training to build their endurance.
Though truth be told, you will be able to achieve similar results from doing either training technique, but it will be up to you to determine how you want to continue with your workouts.
However, I would recommend that you talk to a personal trainer at your gym before switching your routines as they will be able to help you find a regime that works the best for you.
The number of sets that you need to perform in order to achieve hypertrophy will be dependant on the training volume, but before we can determine that, we need to know what training volume is, particularly within the context of hypertrophy training.
Simply put, training volume is best defined as the number of challenging sets that you do per muscle per week. When attempting hypertrophy training it doesn’t so much matter how much work you’re doing, just how much muscle growth you’re stimulating.
A challenging set is going to stimulate similar amounts of muscle growth, regardless of the actual weight that you’re lifting (so long as it’s challenging).
And so a better way to calculate your weekly training volume is to simply count the number of hard sets that you do for each area of muscle.
So, for example, if you did 5 sets on a bench press on Monday, 5 sets of push-ups on Wednesday, and then 5 sets of dips on Friday, your weekly training volume for your chest would be 15 sets.
I’ll point out here that there is another definition for training volume and that includes calculating the number of total pounds lifted per exercise, but this is more useful for when you’re trying to improve your weekly work capacity during strength training, and not so helpful for tracking how you build muscle mass.
Calculating Your Training Volume
In order to determine how you’re going to train for hypertrophy will depend on several factors. These include intensity, repetitions, rest period, exercise selection, and sets.
Each of these factors is intricately connected to the others, and affecting one of them will affect whether you’re training for hypertrophy or strength building.
In order for muscular development to occur, all of the muscle fibers that you’re working on need to be strained, fatigued, and even damaged. Different muscles fatigue at different rates and under different conditions.
The intensity with which you train needs to be at a level that is high enough that your muscle fibers are stressed, but not so high as to prevent sufficient repetitions or fatigue.
The intensity that you can handle must be tested on different exercises, as you will be able to withstand a different level of intensity depending on the form and type of exercise. For example, you’ll be able to bench press with higher intensity on a flat bench compared to an inclined one.
Repetitions and intensity work together and need to be considered as a whole - as your intensity goes up, your reps need to go down, or vice versa.
Muscular development occurs at a moderate intensity, tempo, and with a moderate number of repetitions. The suggested range of repetitions should be between 6 and 12, depending on the intensity.
It is important to ensure that you rest in between repetitions as to not cause serious damage to your muscle fibers.
Its difficult to determine how long you need between repetitions, as too long of a rest will reduce the hypertrophic effect that the training can have, but too short of a rest may lead you to be fatigued too early and unable to finish the required sets to achieve hypertrophy.
You will be able to experiment with different rest times and find the one that leaves you challenged but still able to complete the workout.
For muscular development, multijoint exercises are highly recommended. These include movements such as squats, deadlifts, bench presses, and rows.
These are ideal for hypertrophy because they promote uniform growth of muscle tissue, which is essential for maximizing overall muscle girth.
Hypertrophy also requires variety, as muscles have a large variety of different attachment sites with fibers running in many different directions. Therefore, performing the same or similar exercises at different angles will enhance the effect on muscular growth.
Number Of Sets (Finally)
Okay, finally, how many sets should you do in order to prompt hypertrophy? Well, there are a couple of suggestions from different experts, but here’s the rundown.
An ideal training volume for building muscle is around 9-18 sets per muscle per week. This could break down into as few as 3 sets per muscle each workout, and experts say that if you’re a beginner, you’re going to want to start at the lower end of the spectrum.
Trying to go too hard too fast will most likely result in doing some permanent damage and leave you unable to train properly, at least for a little while.
You want to build up your training volume gradually and as needed. Most people will find that maintaining a minimalist approach and doing only a few sets per week will still result in some muscle growth.