Training

Best Training Systems for Muscular Hypertrophy

WHAT IS MUSCULAR HYPERTROPHY?

Next to burning body fat away, one of the most popular goals in fitness is building larger muscle mass via muscular hypertrophy. Don’t let the fancy name scare you off. Muscular hypertrophy is the expanded growth of muscle fibres through an enlargement in muscle cells. There are two types of muscular hypertrophy: myofibril and sarcoplasmic.

With sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, the sarcoplasmic fluid increases in volume and allows for some/little gains in strength. In other words, big muscles without the boost in strength. Myofibril hypertrophy will include an increase in muscle mass but the focus is on dense muscle fibres, allowing you to lift more weight. You’ll get some mass but primarily strength gains. For an in-depth breakdown of the two types of hypertrophy, check out my article of hypertrophy.

If you want big muscles, you need a training program that is designed to work on a cellular level. The following training systems are the best for placing the right amount of resistance on your muscles to encourage serious growth.

POPULAR SYSTEMS FOR HYPERTROPHY

Pyramid:

Arrange your sets to repetitions ratio in an ascending or descending format based on your goals. As mentioned below, descending pyramid sets are ideal for lean muscle gains as they activate sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. This is a great system for vein-popping pumps and breaking through plateaus.

Ascending (traditional pyramid sets)

  • Begin with low intensity (load) and high volume (reps)
  • Each subsequent set increases the intensity of the load and decreases the volume of reps
  • Ideal for strength gains

Descending (reverse pyramid training)

  • Begin with high intensity and low volume
  • As you work up, lower the intensity of the load and increase the volume of reps
  • Ideal for building muscle mass

Example of Ascending Pyramid Training

  • Chest Bench Press:
  • Set 1: 12 repetitions at 40 kg
  • Set 2: 10 repetitions at 45 kg
  • Set 3: 8 repetitions at 55 kg
  • Set 4: 6 repetitions at 60 kg

Super Set:

A traditional hypertrophy training system that involves taking two muscles groups (same or opposite) and pairing exercises back to back with no rest in between. Due to the intensity and short rest break, super sets are ideal for maximum fatigue and sarcoplasmic hypertrophy.

Same Muscle Group

  • Shoulders:
  • (A1) Military Press: 1 set of 10 to 12 repetitions immediately followed by
  • (A2) Lateral Raise: 1 set of 12 to 15 repetitions
  • Take a break (90 seconds) after completion of set

Opposing Muscle Groups

  • Chest and Back:
  • (A1) Incline Dumbbell Press: 1 set of 8 to 10 repetitions immediately followed by
  • (A2) Bent Over Barbell Rows: 1 set of 8 to 10 repetitions
  • Take a break (90 seconds) after completion of set

Tri Set:

Much like the Super Set, the Tri Set involves pairing three exercises together that are for similar or opposing muscle groups. Repetitions tend to vary in order to allow for both myofibril and sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. This training method is very useful when you want to burn out the muscle (in a good way).

Same Muscle Group

  • Legs (Quadriceps Dominant):
  • (A1) Front Squats: 1 set of 6 to 8 repetitions immediately followed by
  • (A2) Leg Press (Narrow Stance): 1 set of 8 to 10 repetitions immediately followed by
  • (A3) Leg Extensions: 1 set of 10 to 15 repetitions
  • Take a break (120 seconds) after completion of set

Opposing Muscle Groups

  • Biceps and Triceps:
  • (A1) Barbell Bicep Curl: 1 set of 10 to 15 repetitions immediately followed by
  • (A2) Triceps Dips: 1 set of 10 to 15 repetitions immediately followed by
  • (A3) Cable Rope Hammer Curls: 1 set of 10 to 15 repetitions
  • Take a break (90-120 seconds) after completion of set

Giant Set:

This is the most advanced version of the “set” training category. With Giant Sets, you will be pairing four or more exercises together! It is most common to do this for similar muscle groups, although you can also pair opposing muscle groups together. Giant sets are ideal for breaking through a plateau as the sheer amount of work triggers both myofibril and sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. Giant sets are useful mostly for bodybuilders and people looking to improve their muscular endurance.

Same Muscle Group

  • Back:
  • (A1) Deadlifts: 1 set of 4 to 6 repetitions immediately followed by
  • (A2) Single Arm Rows: 1 set of 8 to 12 repetitions immediately followed by
  • (A3) Pull-ups: 1 set of 10 to 12 repetitions immediately followed by
  • (A4) Straight Pulldowns: 1 set of 10 to 12 repetitions
  • Take a break (1 to 3 minutes) after completion of set

Opposing Muscle Groups

  • Biceps and Triceps:
  • (A1) Ez-bar Bicep Curl: 1 set of 8 to 12 repetitions immediately followed by
  • (A2) Tricep Skull Crushers: 1 set of 8 to 12 repetitions immediately followed by
  • (A3) Chin Ups: 1 set of 8 to 12 repetitions immediately followed by
  • (A4)Triangle Push-ups: 1 set of 8 to 12 repetitions
  • Take a break (1 to 3 minutes) after completion of set

Since you’ll be completing four or more exercises back to back, you can use Giant Sets as a circuit set foundation. For more information on circuit sets and high intensity interval training, check out my article.

Circuit Set (Giant Sets)

  • Full body:
  • Deadlifts: 15 immediately followed by
  • Renegade Rows: 20 immediately followed by
  • Squat Thrusters: 15 immediately followed by
  • Press Ups: 20 immediately followed by
  • Box Jumps: 15 to end
  • Rest for 2 to 4 minutes – Begin again

Negatives:

Negative training focuses on the eccentric, or lowering, phase of the lift. During a hyper controlled lowering of a free weight, micro-tears begin to form. These micro-tears are pivotal in encouraging muscular recovery and growth.

Unassisted (focus on sarcoplasmic hypertrophy)

  • Chest:
  • Bench Press: 4 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions
  • Eccentric (Lowering): 4 seconds to lower the weight
  • Isometric (Pause): 0 to 1 seconds pausing
  • Concentric (Lifting): 1 second lifting the weight

Assisted (focus on myofibril and sarcoplasmic hypertrophy)

  • Chest:
  • Bench Press: 3 sets of 4 to 6 assisted repetitions
  • Use 85% to 100% of your one repetition maximum
  • Have one-two spotters lift the barbell from the rack
  • You will be working to lower the bar only
  • Once you slowly lower the bar, the spotters will return the bar to the starting position so that you can begin to lower it again
  • Eccentric (Lowering): 3 to 5 seconds to lower the weight
  • Isometric (Pause): n/a
  • Concentric (Lifting): n/a

Drop Sets:

This method involves performing a specified amount of repetitions or achieving muscle failure then quickly dropping the weight to perform another set. This activates a high level of sarcoplasmic hypertrophy where many users report a huge swell in the given muscle group. On average, drop sets can involve decreasing the weight and performing another set anywhere from 2 to 4 times. This is a great way to keep the working muscle under tension for a longer time.

  • Biceps
  • Preacher Curls:
  • Set 1: 12 to 15 repetitions at 26 kg – Complete set or reach muscle failure then immediately select the next set of lower weight dumbbells and perform:
  • Set 2: 12 to 15 repetitions (or muscle failure) at 22 kg– Complete set or reach muscle failure then immediately select the next set of lower weight dumbbells and perform:
  • Set 3: 12 to 15 repetitions (or muscle failure) at 18 kg
  • Rest for 60 to 120 seconds

Exhaustion:

This type of training focuses on either pre-exhausting the muscle before larger movements or working the muscle to complete exhaustion following a compound movement. Both methods are ideal for smashing through a plateau and encouraging sarcoplasmic hypertrophy.

Pre-Exhaust (exercises: isolation then compound)

  • Legs (Hamstrings Dominant):
  • (A1) Hamstring Curls: 2-3 sets x 12 to 15 repetitions (65% to 75% of 1RM) immediately followed by:
  • (A2) Romanian Deadlift: 4 sets x 6 to 8 repetitions (75% to 85% of 1RM)

Post-Exhaust (exercises: compound than isolation)

  • Legs (Hamstrings Dominant):
  • (A1) Romanian Deadlift: 4 sets x 6 to 8 repetitions (75% to 85% of 1RM) immediately followed by:
  • (A2) Hamstring Curls: 2-3 sets x 12 to 15 repetitions (65% to 75% of 1RM)

Matrix (21’s): 

Also called Twenty-ones (21s), this type of training is most popular for training the biceps but it can be utilized for most conventional exercises. Maxtrix training involves 21 total repetitions, breaking up the distance of concentric and eccentric movements into chunks.

  • Biceps
  • Barbell Bicep Curls:

First set of 7 repetitions

  • Perform movement from full extension to half way up (elbow flexion: 90 degrees)
  • Immediately followed by:

Second set of 7 repetitions

  • Perform movement from half way up (elbow flexion: 90 degrees) to all the way up (full flexion – up to shoulder)
  • Immediately followed by:

Last set of 7 repetitions

  • Perform a complete full extension to full flexion curl
  • Take a rest break of 60 to 90 seconds

German Volume Training (GVT):

One of the most popular classic hypertrophy training methods, GVT is simple yet very challenging. It involves choosing one exercise per body part and performing 10 sets of 10 repetitions at 50% to 60% of your one-repetition maximum. This is an excellent way to engage sarcoplasmic hypertrophy.

  • Back and Triceps:
  • Deadlifts: 10 x 10 at 60 kg
  • Tricep Dips: 10 x 10 using bodyweight or assisted machine
  • Optional: Super Set the exercises (for a bigger challenge)

CONCLUSION

These training systems have been used by countless bodybuilders in the quest for serious muscle mass. I would recommend cycling through a number of these training systems every 4 to 6 weeks if you want to see real results.

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Nikos Saklabanakis

Nikos Saklabanakis

Being passionate about health and fitness enables me to achieve my all time goal of guiding and supporting people through achieving their personal fitness dreams and being a significant part of dramatically changing their lives for the better.

2 Comments

  1. atish
    June 22, 2015 at 7:35 pm — Reply

    Great article bud!

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