Lean about the principles of hypertrophy training and why they matter
It’s important to get into the why behind a lot of what makes the world work. You can teach a man to fish but if that man couldn’t grasp hunger (the why), he would just starve to death, much less learn to fish. Luckily hunger has an innate “why” and doesn’t need to be taught to us humans — unlike our training.
A coach or trainer can craft you a training program, but unless you know the “why”, you can waste a lot of your time blindly following something that goes against your goals. Also, understanding the principles we will learn can help you take better advantage of your program and coach you are currently working with. Knowing what to ask and how to ask it, will help your coach do a better job in addressing your concerns and questions in a way that better benefits you.
As far as weight-training goes, hypertrophy refers to the growth of muscle cells. It’s really that simple. It follows that hypertrophy training refers to the kind of training that prioritizes said muscle growth. Amazing!
“Wait,” some of you might be asking, “isn’t the purpose of all weight lifting — to grow muscle?”
No, in fact as we will discuss next, there are approaches to training that do not have the specific goal of building muscle. Understanding their goals and applications will help us to better understand the goals and applications of hypertrophy training.
“Hey! This post is about hypertrophy training, what’s this strength training nonsense?”
It’s worth creating a distinction between strength training and hypertrophy in order to contextualizes the training principles that will work for our goals. We are here to build muscle, so lets pressure test the competition (strength training).
A common newbie concern with which training style to choose goes something like this — “With hypertrophy, do you grow without getting stronger?” and “With strength training, do you get stronger without putting on any muscle — or get FAT even?”
For both questions the answer is no, but there is, of course, some nuance. Across a large enough window of training, strength and muscle gains are found in both. In the case of hypertrophy training, the bigger you grow the stronger you become and conversely with strength training, the stronger you become, muscle growth is not too far behind.
The image below does a very rudimentary job displaying this.
The core distinction lies with how much a person wants to bias and prioritize one over the other. Want to get super strong as fast as possible, strength training it is! Want to get as aesthetic as possible, as fast as possible? My friend, let me introduce you to hypertrophy training. The essence of this distinction lies with the loading differences..
Loading differences (rep ranges) are how we distinguish each training strategy.
Loading for hypertrophy: 5-30 rep range
Loading for strength: 3-6 rep range
SIDE BAR: Notice there is an overlap in the 5-6 rep range labeled UNSUSTAINABLE. This distinction is made because training in this range for the purposes of either goal will only be feasible for so long before fatigue accumulates at the behest of both goals.
Does this mean you can’t train in these rep ranges? No. I encourage you to see for yourself how you manage and make adjustments as you go. Just make sure to notice the buildup or lack-there-of of fatigue. Do not mindlessly shift strategies. This speaks to the importance of tracking your workouts and taking good notes.
In the coming weeks we will dig into the principles of hypertrophy in depth. For now, a brief overview of the importance of each principle.
Depending on your goals, how you train will matter a whole lot. Are your goals antagonistic or complimentary to one another? Specificity addresses these concerns. If you want to grow your chest, does running 10 miles per day make the most sense towards that goal? No, you would need a more chest specific weight-training approach.
What is your strategy to improve performance, our training needs to be challenging enough to progressively stimulate muscle growth (adaptation)? We will learn the different ways to apply hypertrophic stimulus and how we can direct it in our training. We will go over loading, rep, set progression as well as progressing with other modalities than straight sets.
The main takeaway being, how to apply more stimulus over time.
Recovery & Adaptation
If your goal is to build muscle, your muscles need to both recover and adapt to training stimulus. The strategies in this section will cover best recovery practices including managing fatigue to optimize adaptation of the muscles. We will go over the “session-rest-session paradigm” and learn about optimal recovery strategies to best promote muscle growth.
Variation not just in exercise selection but exercise number, order, movement tempo and velocity, loading, volume, and modalities (straight sets, drop sets, etc.)
How we improve across our training across training periods play a big roll in our muscle building development. We want to continue to improve and this section will go over how we strategize training period to training period.