Happy New Year! We are officially in 2020 and I’m sure you are attacking those “new year new me” goals by now. Whether you’re a general fitness enthusiast or an athlete looking to improve performance, there is a good chance that putting on muscle is one of your goals in 2020.
In this blog post, I want to share some tips to hopefully help you become a little “thicker”. Let’s get right into it!
1. Up that Training Volume!
First off what is total training volume? Total training volume is simply the total weight lifted, calculated by sets x reps x load. For example, you perform a back squat for 3 sets, with 10 reps per sets, with 100 pounds on the bar for all three sets. The equation would then be 3 x 10 x 100 which would give you a total volume of 3000 pounds for that lift.
Now that being said, it’s important that you meet a certain threshold of volume each week to maximize your muscle growth. A great place to start is to aim for a minimum of 10 sets per muscle group or movement pattern (however you want to think of it) each week. This would be the low end of the spectrum and would gradually increase this week to week.
“Well can’t I just make sure I do 10 sets on the same day and keep doing the bro split” quick answer… no.
Let me ask you this question:
If you were trying to drink 2 L of water in the span of the day, would you consume it all in 20 minutes? I would hope not since doing that would not be advantageous for your health nor feel very comfortable.
You most likely get your daily water intake over the course of the day in small doses! We can apply that rule to your training volume over the course of the week. Don’t “drown” yourself with a ridiculous amount of training volume in one session.
Note from Sam: we can see this in the literature as well when they compare set volume per day and how it affects muscle growth. Two papers that highlight this are:
Schoenfeld BJ et al. Dose-response relationship between weekly resistance training volume and increases in muscle mass: A systematic review and meta-analysis.
Barbalho M et al. Evidence of a Ceiling Effect for Training Volume in Muscle Hypertrophy and Strength in Trained Men – Less is More?
These papers support that when we have a high set volume on one day, it doesn’t bode well, but if we distribute it, there is a good dose-response for progressing volume for growth.
A better strategy is to simply up the frequency to 2-4 times per week for each muscle group. This will allow you to raise training volume in each week easier.
There’s also a better chance you will stave off feeling like you got hit by a baseball bat the next day as well.
Consistency reigns king and if you wake up every day feeling like a semi-truck just rocked your world, you’re going to have a hard time staying motivated to go to the gym. That means you need to…
2. Train Smart, Don’t Be Such a Meathead
It is not necessary to train to failure each set to elicit muscle growth. This is a negative for a few reasons.
Remember, more volume is good for hypertrophy, and if you’re going to failure each set there is a good chance you will lower your training volume.
The technique could break down and possible lead to compensation strategies taking away from the working muscle groups.
Going to failure each set could open yourself up to potential training injuries. Hypertrophy will be damn hard if you are sidelined with an injury.
Note from Sam: we don’t actually know that training to failure increases risk of injury, but we do know that fatigue does. Generally hitting failure more often will lead to higher fatigue, which would predispose you to higher risk of injury.
A better strategy is to consistently focus on good technique while getting close enough to failure each set. A good way to achieve this is to use the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE).
A general rule to follow is the higher intensity, regards to the percentage of 1RM, it’s okay to be a little farther away from failure. Lower intensity sets are the opposite. For example, 6 reps of a barbell bench press you would want to have enough load on the bar where it could feel like you could do a couple more reps at the end of each set, RPE 7-8. If you were doing 30 reps of a band pull apart, you should feel like you could do maybe 0.5 -1 rep more by the last rep, RPE 9-10.
3. Sprinkle In Some Strength and Power Work.
When I was a young athlete and in school, it was hammered into me that hypertrophy was achieved by staying in the 8-12 rep range. This is highly ambiguous and there are more variables to consider when programming for hypertrophy.
You do not need to stay in the bubble of 8-12 reps, hypertrophy will be better achieved with a variety of rep-ranges, tempo changes, schemes and the tools/modalities selected.
Just like in football, you can have a solid pass game that gets the job done the majority of the time, but if the team consistently uses the same plays, the defense is going to catch on and it’s going to have less effect. Switching up and having some runs will keep you moving forward without the defense being able to know exactly what’s coming.
It can be beneficial to utilize power (1-4 rep range moving weight fast) and strength schemes (1-5 rep range lifting heavyweight) with higher intensities.
They should not be where you spend a majority of your time if hypertrophy is the goal, but sprinkling them in can help increase your absolute strength and neurological efficiency.
More easily said, if you have more absolute strength (Higher 1RM’s), you will be able to accumulate a higher volume in rep ranges of 6-30. There is also something to be said about having fun in your programs, and I think getting better at throwing around heavy weight is pretty fun.
4. Use Some Variety In Your Training Programs.
Quickly let’s get this out of the way, I do not mean variety in the sense of “muscle confusion.” If you do a new workout every session it will become a nightmare to track, progressively load effectively, and will also leave you extremely sore and beat up. Get on a program and stick with it for weeks before switching things up too much.
What I mean is utilizing different rep ranges, manipulating time under tension (TUT), and implementing intelligent supersets to better target muscular tension, muscular damage and metabolic stress. Here are a few different protocols you can easily add into your current program.
Note*: Some of these should be utilized more often and some less often, but all can serve as beneficial.
Supersets and Giant Sets (Use More Often): Supersets are a great way to improve your training economy. You can get a lot done in a much shorter period of time.
I don’t know about you, but I barely have enough time to train for an hour, so supersets and giant sets are a go-to for me. A properly designed superset or giant set utilizes opposing muscle groups or non-competing muscle groups.
Minimal rest is taken between the selected exercises and a longer break is usually taken after each round, depending on how the set is designed for the goal.
Example: A1) Squat Variation 4 sets x 8 reps
A2) Row Variation 4 sets x 8 reps
Rest: 30-60 seconds between exercises.
Cluster/ Rest-Pause Sets(Use Less Often): Cluster and rest-pause sets are a good option to sprinkle in from time to time. These protocols use rest within the set to accomplish a lot of reps. They are a humbling way to increase total volume and elicit some very nasty pumps.
Cluster sets will utilize a higher intensity and rest-pause will utilize lower intensity. Clusters are good to execute after the main lift or as part of an accessory lift, the volume goal would be between 20-25 reps.
Rest-pause style sets are best utilized, I find, as a finisher with a target volume of 50-100 reps.
Example Cluster: A1) Chest Supported DB Row 3 sets x 10 reps
B1) Chest Supported DB Row 1 set x 25 reps
Execution: Drop 10% from your last working weight and perform as many quality reps as possible. Take 15 seconds of rest then start again, repeat until all reps are finished.
Example Rest-Pause: D1) Band Resisted Glute Bridge 1 x 100
Execution: Perform as many quality reps as possible, rest 15 seconds when needed, repeat until all reps are finished.
Note for both Clusters and Rest-Pause: Make sure to stop short of failure on each bout.
Note from Sam: With the growing research on effective reps, techniques like clusters and rest-pause may be very beneficial to optimize growth – but shouldn’t be used too frequently due to inducing a high fatigue.
Submaximal Eccentric Sets(Use More Often): Manipulating the time under tension on the eccentric portion of an exercise is a good way to increase time under tension and increase muscle microtrauma which could be beneficial when trying to pack some muscle on. It can also be beneficial for technique mastery.
If your technique is better, you can hit the target muscles better, and more importantly, stay safer under heavy load.
Example: A1) Goblet Squat 4 sets x 6 reps
Tempo: 6 seconds down, 1 second at the bottom, 1 second up.
Manipulate Movement Patterns and Angles(Use Less Often): Make sure you are hitting a variety of movement patterns and angles from program to program.
For example, don’t just do a flat bench press or a standing DB bicep curl in every program. It’s a good thing to mix it up a little and hit an incline bench press or a TRX bicep curl in different training blocks, ensuring you are challenging the working muscles from all angles.
5. Don’t Fall In Love With Feeling Sore the Next Day.
Have you ever started a new program or learned a new exercise, then the following day you can barely get dressed in the morning because of the soreness that has taken over your soul? But then you do the same session the following week and you’re barely sore?
That’s the repeated bout effect in action. It’s the phenomena that occur after performing a given exercise in a single session, muscle damage and DOM’s are reduced in future session or bouts.
While muscle damage is one of the proposed mechanisms for hypertrophy, if it’s what you spend a majority of your time on, you are going to be sore all the time and recover less efficiently.
I know I am being a broken record here, sacrificed volume, which is probably a more important factor to target. Let’s look at how to implement this into a new training block with an emphasis on hypertrophy.
Remember, 10 sets split between 2 sessions per week, per muscle group is a good starting point for most.
First week can be thought of as the “intro week” where you are hitting those criteria while finding your working loads, utilizing RPE (discussed in tip 1).
You might be a little sore, but not as bad if you put your meathead hat on and crushed out 20 sets of everything.
Each week you would gradually increase volume by adding more load and sets, once again not going from 10 sets to 20 in week 1 to 2.
As long as you are practicing good recovery strategies, you should notice that you are not as sore as the previous weeks as you move through the program.
As a bonus tip, on the last week before your deload, you can push it a little more. This is where you can add some fun variety like, cluster’s, or push it a little closer to failure on more sets.
If you deload properly, you should have no problem recovering and ‘catching up’ during the following week.
Now finally the last tip….
6. Recover Like a Superhero.
This tip is short and sweet but easily the most important of all. If you want to build muscle you need to make sure you are practicing proper recovery strategies.
No, I do not mean hopping into an ice-cold tub after every workout or crushing a fortune’s worth of supplements before and after each workout.
You just need to make sure that the lifestyle you are living is in line with your goals.
If you’re busting your ass in the gym, but then partying like it’s New Years Eve 1999 three times a week, it’s going to be hard to obtain the goals you’re after.
Start by making sure you are getting a quality 7-8 hours of sleep each night, make sure you are consistently hitting your calorie and protein goals, limit alcohol intake, and find strategies that work for you to cut down your stress.
I hope this blog post will help get you to get your ticket to the gain train in 2020. Remember to stay patient, stay consistent, and stay positive. Play the long game and train healthy and hard for life. Good luck!
By Nathan Obrigewitsch @hoopstrengthkelowna on Instagram
Nathan is a former collegiate basketball player and current strength and conditioning coach based in Kelowna British Columbia. During his time in post-secondary basketball, he began to realize that his true passion lived in strength and conditioning. He now strives to provide effective movement and performance coaching to help as many athletes prepare, feel, and perform at their best.