How to Build Muscle: The Quick Guide to Hypertrophy Training
Actionable and science-backed principles to build muscle.
If you want to build muscle, this guide will provide the science-backed and easy-to-implement principles of muscle growth to help you achieve your physique and fitness goals.
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30-Second Summary: How to Build Muscle
To train for muscle growth, select exercises based on body part or movement pattern, use a combination of bilateral and unilateral movements, and perform multi-joint compound movements before isolation or single-joint movements.
Aim for 10-25 sets per muscle group per week, 8-30 reps per set, and vary your intensity based on how you feel.
Progression is key, so increase weight, volume, intensity, or frequency regularly.
How to Build Muscle: The Quick Guide to Hypertrophy Training
Hypertrophy is an increase and growth of muscle.
Each modifiable variable of exercise below outlines key principles you can implement immediately in order to stimulate muscle growth.
For power and strength training, exercises should be selected based on movement patterns.
But to build muscle, exercises can be selected based on either body part (chest, back, quads, etc.) or movement pattern (push, pull, rotation). It comes down to your personal preference.
To prevent imbalances and to make your training more functional, use a combination of bilateral and unilateral movements.
Bilateral: bi means two → both sides of your body are moving in sequence (bench press, goblet squat, etc.).
Unilateral: uni means one → one side of your body is performing the majority of the work at once (Bulgarian split squat, one-arm kettlebell swing, pistol squat, etc.).
Whether you use bodyweight, bands, kettlebells, dumbbells, barbells, or machines is completely up to you.
Remember, the exercises you perform do not determine adaptations. How you perform them, as detailed below, does.
How you order exercises in a workout is your choice.
In a sense, hypertrophy training is idiotproof – there is no right or wrong way as long as you do enough total volume each week.
However, I recommend starting with the multi-joint, compound movements first (squats, deadlifts, presses, etc.) and then transitioning to isolation or single-joint movements (bicep curls, leg extensions, etc.) later in your workout.
This strategy enables you to give full focus and energy, both mental and physical, to the most challenging part of your workout.
But you could also do the exact opposite.
The pre-fatigue strategy suggests that you start with the muscle you are most interested in growing.
For example, if you’re doing back and biceps but are most interested in growing your biceps, you could start with an isolated bicep movement as your first exercise and then roll into your pulling movements.
Whether you start with isolation or compound movements is completely up to your goals and preferences as long as you perform enough total volume each week.
Avoid this “Broscience” Training Mistake
Contrary to the popular meathead belief, your legs are not one muscle.
Training a five-day split where four of those days train your upper body and one of them your legs is not balanced or well-rounded.
(Admittedly, I trained like this for a long time.)
Think about your lower body (glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves) like you think about your upper body (chest, back, shoulders, arms, core).
Strong legs are powerful.
Don’t skimp out on training them.
Volume = Sets x Reps
How many sets per week?
Your training status will determine how many sets you need to grow or maintain.
The rule of thumb is 10-25 sets per muscle group per week.
If you’re starting out, you will likely grow with 10-15 sets per muscle group per week.
If you’re moderately trained or advanced, you probably need 10 sets per muscle group just to maintain and somewhere between 15-25 to grow.
Time Saver: Compound Movements and Supersets
To save time, select exercises that target multiple muscles directly and indirectly.
For example, if you do a set of pull-ups and both your back and biceps are pumped up then you can count that as one set towards your weekly total for both your back and biceps.
Supersetting is another great way to save time.
I superset all of my exercises with movements that have minimal interference with each other.
After busting out a set of kettlebell swings, I walk over and do kettlebell overhead press. Supersets save me a ton of time and keep the intensity of my workouts high.
How many reps per set?
For muscle growth, perform anywhere between 8-30 reps per set.
Switch it up. Have some fun.
There’s no method to the madness here. Do whatever you enjoy.
Once you get in the 15+ rep range, you will be targeting both muscle growth and muscular endurance at the same time.
This is another great time saver if you want to increase your muscle size and improve your muscular endurance.
Your volume (sets x reps) will be greatly influenced by your intensity.
If you’re pushing hard, using heavy weights, and short rest intervals, your total volume might be lower compared to days when you go a little lighter and rest a little longer.
I recommend changing the intensity of your workout based on how you feel.
Some days all the right tunes will be playing on shuffle and you’ll be brimming with energy having a great time grinding out heavy weight or reps to failure.
On other days you’ll just be going through the motions. That’s okay too.
Go hard when you’re up to it and go easier when you’re having an off day or when you don’t feel like working out at all.
It’s better to show up and go through the motions than to do nothing at all.
How many days per week you train is up to you.
It comes down to how many days you need to fit in the volume required to grow (10-25 sets per muscle group per week, 8-30 reps per set).
Most people will land between 2-4 days per week.
Progression is one of the four non-negotiable principles of exercise.
If you want to continue to improve, you must progress by:
You could increase in a different area each week. In fact, you will need to.
At some point after increasing weight each week, you won’t be able to progress any further. So, you’ll need to increase one of the other three.
Just keep the principle in mind: to continue to grow, there must be regular progression.
That’s all for this week.
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