Want to put on some MUSCLE? Want to LOSE FAT? - Guess what – hypertrophy (building muscle) will do that. The science of building muscle gets more and more refined all the time. With the vast network of fitness professionals all over the world sharing information constantly, we all have access to the best information all the time around training.
So building muscle is no mystery. You have to follow a recipe - and there are 5 evidence-based guidelines that are specifically intended for HYPERTROPHY. The rules start to change when you start looking at building maximal strength, work capacity, or sport-specific skills and fitness. But for the purpose of muscle building, these are the tried and true guidelines.
Cardio Shrinks Bodies - And Hypertrophy Shapes Them
To lose body fat without losing muscle, you want to train in the same fashion. If you burn lots of energy without resistance training such as with lots and lots of running, walking, elliptical, etc., your body will shrink and get smaller if you're on a calorie deficit - but you won't have muscle tone. And you might not feel all that strong either. If you train with the intent to build muscle and combine that with a calorie deficit, you will lose fat, maintain muscle, and look fantastic. You will also likely feel your best and have the best chance at long term success if you focus on hypertrophy for fat loss as opposed to increased cardio and calorie restriction only. More muscle also means a better metabolism, so you can burn more calories at rest - which means you can eat a little more when you get to maintenance mode.
Let's Be Real - There's a Catch One last very important point is that while the following guidelines are clear and relatively simple, building muscle and losing body fat is VERY HARD. The list that I’m going to give you will NEVER replace HARD WORK. To gain muscle or lose your body fat you are likely going to have to work harder than you ever have before. Once you get the body you want and build muscle you can maintain it much easier, but getting there is going to take doing something you’ve never done before.
This is where program design, and the training culture you are a part of plays such an important role. What training program allows you to apply the following guidelines day in and day out for years? Which training culture encourages you to work hard but not overdo things leaving you burnt out or injured? Sure, you can train hard in any setting for a period of time – but if you don’t love it or really enjoy it you wont stick to it long enough to reap the rewards!
Obviously, you can find all these things at 3PC! That’s why we have created the classes the way we have – we hope this article give you the insight and understanding as to why it is we do what we do.
OK, let’s dive in! 5 Science-Backed Ways to Build Muscle
1. Frequency - Train each body part 2x/week. The goal would be to hit each muscle group two different times a week. That would mean chest 2x per week as well as glutes 2x per week. Here at 3PC you’ll notice we usually have one specific day for lower body, one specific day for upper body and one specific full body day. But you’ll also notice that we throw in 1-2 upper body movements on leg day and vice versa – ensuring we are hitting all muscle groups adequately at least 2x per week. Even in our cardio sessions you’ll notice a mixture of exercises ensuring we target all body parts. For example: squats, push ups, thrusters etc!
It would be hard to build muscle in your glutes if you only did a glute exercise 1x per week!
2. Volume - 10-20 Sets/week per Body Part The sweet spot for how much training volume we need is somewhere in the 10-20 set range per body part each week. This is a big range and will depend on your training age. Someone more advanced might need closer to 20 sets a week to see progress and growth. Someone who is new to training may only need 10 sets. That is why our current block of classes focuses on a minimum of 4 sets at each station. Ensuring over the course of the week you are getting the required amount of volume to build muscle.
3. Effort - 1-3 RIR or 8-9/10 RPE You need to work sufficiently hard to get an adequate training stimulus. What experience and research tells us is that you DO NOT need to go to failure. In fact, stopping short of failure is just as effective for building muscle, and in the end will likely be more effective as it will indirectly impact how consistent you can be.
RIR - Reps in Reserve - How many reps did you have left in the tank at the end of a set? We are aiming for 1-3 reps.
RPE - Rate of Perceived Exertion - on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being hardest, we want you to shoot for an 8-9.
FORM FAILURE - going to form failure is the point at which you start to see deviations from perfect optimal form. This is usually right at the ideal RIR/RPE level. Going beyond this point is when we start to hit ABSOLUTE FAILURE and when your safety gets compromised. We always say quality over quantity!
“The funnier the face you make, the higher the RPE”
4. TEMPO - A 2-5 Second Eccentric is Ideal CONTROLLING movement is something we preach all the time. When performing a strength exercise you’ll often hear the coaches yelling out “Slow it down” or “Try to keep it controlled” In order to promote control it is always a good idea to think about your tempo on each lift (how long it takes you to do each rep).
2-5 second eccentrics are the sweet spot and where the bulk of our working sets should aim to sit. (Think of a squat as an example: A 3 second eccentric would mean it takes you 3 seconds to lower down to the bottom of the squat with control rather than just dropping as quick as you can!)
Occasionally we will explore tempos that include pauses and some that slow down the concentric too. These are tools to build better mind muscle connections and positional strength!
5. REP RANGE - How much weight do I need to lift? Loading is a by-product of REP RANGE. If you are trying to achieve FORM FAILURE for 5 reps vs 10 reps you will have different weights on the bar. So what is best?
1-5 Reps - When you hit form failure in this rep range you tend to do a lot of Nervous System damage, which can make it hard to recover and will increase fatigue.
8-15 reps is a sweet spot for hypertrophy that doesn’t cause as much damage and fatigue, allowing you to recover faster and get back to training again.
This rep range tends to promote loads that are ideal to help strengthen tendons (connect bones to muscles).
This is the most common range you’ll see in the 3PC classes! Most exercises will fall between the 8-15 rep range.
BONUS - REST PERIODS How long should you rest between exercises in order to maximize your training benefit? The length varies slightly from exercise to exercise, but the sweet spot is often in the 2-3mins range when we are training for Hypertrophy.
If you need to do a minimum of 10 sets per body part every week as I stated above, then a 3min rest period is going to mean up to 30mins of resting per body part every week. That is a lot of time for someone who wants to be in and out of the gym in less than an hour.
THE SUPERSET SECRET - by utilizing Supersets the way we do in our classes we can get meaningful work done during rest periods. Some ways we get around this:
SuperSet two movements back to back
Perform Giant Sets
Perform Compounding SuperSet
We know people don’t want to stand around for 2-3 minutes after every exercise they do! That is why we superset each exercise allowing you to target one muscle group whilst you recover the other one you just worked. These are some of the basic guidelines we follow in all 3PC classes. If it was just a matter of posting guidelines and following a simple plan then everyone would be JACKED and FUNCTIONAL. The reality is that we see common problems with compliance, longevity, health, and sustainability with training for many people – That is why we do what we do!! Our approach to exercise selection, conditioning, preparation, and the culture of our gym is all very intentional. There are millions of ways to craft a program that uses these above guidelines. But I promise you they are not all going to be equal in the efficiency and approachability for you. If you have any questions relating to hypertrophy training we would love to hear from you! What is still confusing to you? Where do you tend to struggle with your training or lifestyle when you are wanting to build muscle? As always we are here to help.