There is a common idea that all strength training is optimal for hypertrophy. When most people consider weight training, they typically associate it with muscle growth.
The truth is, strength training doesn't necessarily lead to muscle growth, as the two differ in several critical ways.
If you're interested in setting up a training program that emphasizes growth, you're in the right place. Below, we'll go over the four crucial components of any hypertrophy program.
- Adequate Training Volume
Research shows that the more work we do, the more growth we experience (1). Of course, this is up to a point. Doing too much can lead to the opposite effect: troubles with recovery and muscle loss.
Most of the literature recommends anywhere from ten to twenty weekly sets per muscle group each week (2). To that, we also need to account for overlapping volume. For instance, how your shoulders and triceps work during the bench press, which is best known as a chest exercise.
A good way to go about volume is to start on the low end and see if that allows you to build muscle over time. If you feel you're stagnating, you can gradually add a set or two each week until you start growing again.
- A Good Training Frequency
You're bound to come across many frequency recommendations for optimal muscle growth - anywhere from once a week to every day.
But research so far seems to point at the idea that training our muscles twice per week is optimal for hypertrophy (3). One reason could be that muscle protein synthesis tends to level off within 36 hours of training (4). By training the same muscle group again, we get to take advantage of that elevation once more inside the week.
- Do The Right Number of Repetitions
There is no perfect repetition zone for muscle growth, but there are more and less optimal intensity ranges. As we discussed in the first point, training volume is a significant factor for muscle growth. Our training should be designed in a way that allows for that to happen.
So, what does that mean? It means we should use intensities that allow us to get enough repetitions across different movements and still cause significant enough mechanical tension and metabolic stress (5, 6).
In a practical sense, it means we should train in a variety of repetition ranges, anywhere from 5 to 25 repetitions across the exercises we do. For instance, training with:
- Higher intensity and doing 5-8 repetitions on compound movements
- Moderate intensity for 8 to 15 repetitions on assisting movements
- Lower intensity for 12 to 25 repetitions on isolation movements
- Not Training to Failure (Most of the Time)
It might come to you as a surprise, but training to failure is mostly not needed for optimal hypertrophy (7). So long as you do enough volume, train frequently enough, pay good attention to your repetition ranges, and train with good form, you will stimulate your muscles to a significant degree.
Research even shows that training to failure prolongs time to recovery, which impacts subsequent sets inside a workout and following workouts inside a training week (8). The result? We can't do as much productive work to cause a high enough disruption.
So, while taking a set to failure might bring temporary satisfaction, consider how it's going to impact your ability to do more effective training later.