Guys, I think we can all agree that at one point we all decided we wanted to be the next Arnold Schwarzenegger. Go on…admit it!

Whether we actually put the work in to make those steps or not is another story. The point is, for men there seems to be an innate desire at one point or another to bulk up and increase muscular size. This is also known as muscle hypertrophy.

Gaining muscle size is much more complicated than just lifting big weights


A common misconception is that if you want to gain size, you lift big weights for small repetitions or reps, and if you want strength you lift small weights for many reps. Now, results will be seen (simply because you are exercising), but that does not mean that is an ideal motto to live by. Incorporating some simple science and questions can drastically improve your end game.

Simple science… does that even exist? Surprisingly enough it does! The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) made it easy and set up guidelines for how to lift depending on what your goals are.

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Now, although in this article we are isolating hypertrophy, other aspects of weightlifting can also be seen in this table such as endurance and power and each has their own specific set of guidelines. For hypertrophy however, the general recommendations are to lift between 67 and 85 percent of your one rep max.

Your one rep max (1RM) is exactly what it sounds like; the maximum amount of weight you can lift one time. Reviewing the guidelines, the best way to gain hypertrophy is to lift 67-85% of your 1RM 6-12 times of 3-6 sets with a rest period of 30-90 seconds between each set. Let’s say that your 1RM is 150 pounds. 67-85% of that is approximately 100 to 130 lbs or about 45 to 60 kg. That means that you should only be working between those to weights depending on how many sets and reps you decide to do.

A simple beginning hypertrophy program to go by is 3 sets of 8 reps at 70% of your 1RM with 90 seconds of rest in between. As you start to get stronger, the sets, reps and percentage can increase, or the rest period can decrease as long as you stay within the limits. It is for this reason that these numbers are called GUIDELINES.

NOTE: No matter what guidelines you follow, whether it be the muscular endurance, hypertrophy or power, you will gain a little of each of these different kinds of strengths. The guidelines have been proven to isolate the PRIMARY result.

In saying that, many exercises are impractical to max out so you can figure out your percentages. For instance, let’s say I want bigger arms. Should I really max out bicep curls and triceps extensions so I can be exactly accurate? Absolutely not. Trying to determine the 1RM of exercises such as those are impractical as well as dangerous due to the increased risk of injury.

Stick to the main exercises that are ‘easy’ to max in; bench, squat, deadlift, etc. If you are into some of the Olympic lifts such as snatch and cleans, those are a green light to max as well.

Functional vs. Non-Functional

Now that the science is out of the way, we can ask ourselves a few important questions that do influence how hypertrophy will be achieved.

One such question is ‘why do I want hypertrophy?’ Very open question, and yet every answer can be divided into two categories. The first category is the population that need to be strong as well as big, (such as American football players) and the second population are the people that the main goal is aesthetics (such as body builders). Each goal will have different training techniques that will improve the individual results.

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In a two part article, I expand a little more on functional vs. non-functional hypertrophy and what the differences are.

Another important aspect to remember is that every single person will gain muscle mass differently. For some it might be only a few short weeks and they have already increased in size, and for others it might take twice as long to see the same results!

Genetics play a huge role in any type of exercise program and hypertrophy is no different

The important thing is to stick with a program, always be looking for tips from others that know what they’re doing, and to enjoy pushing your body and breaking through what limits you thought you had!

Connect here with WatchFit expert Jon Kilian


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