One of the reasons why the Clean Health Fitness Institute sees so many phenomenal transformations on such a frequent basis at our Sydney CBD and Chatswood gym’s is the ability of our coaches to help our clients build muscle mass. With this in mind today we are sharing 4 variables that are absolutely crucial to maximizing muscle growth:
- Train with an appropriate amount of volume
First let us define what we mean by volume which can be classified as: Volume = Sets x Reps x Weight. In essence, volume refers to the total amount of work done in a session. As you become increasingly advanced as a trainee you will require increasing amounts of volume to make progress.
However, there are also diminishing returns to increasing volume. Therefore past a certain point adding more volume is no longer advantageous and indeed may become disadvantage if we can no longer recovery adequately from the training stimulus. Helms et al (2016) put it best, when they state “we could add sets almost endlessly by taking long rest intervals, quitting our jobs and reducing the weight as needed to keep doing more reps, but that is neither time efficient nor advisable”.
A good rule to remember is this: Do enough to progress, not as much as possible. Increase when plateaued if you are recovering well. In a systematic review by Wernbom et al (2007), they found that 40-60 reps per muscle group, per session to be the range in which the most hypertrophy occurred.
Another recommendation is 12-20 sets per muscle group, per week. Note that this recommendation is based on a weekly basis, rather than volume per session. If you know what the optimal amount of volume is per week, you can distribute it how you like based on how frequently you train different muscle groups (see point 3). You could use an approach whereby you target only a few muscle groups per session and therefore perform a large amount of volume in one session. You could also train muscle groups with a greater frequency and therefore perform less volume per session.
- Train with an appropriate amount of Intensity
Let us define what we mean by here by intensity:
Intensity = % of 1RM
In essence, the more weight you put on the bar the greater the intensity of the lift. Volume and intensity overlap and affect each other greatly. For example, if reps and sets stay the same, but you lift more weight, overall volume will be higher for that session.
Campos et al (2002) found that, when equating for volume, 3-5RM loads and 9-11RM loads elicited the same amount of muscle growth, but 20-28RM loads produced much less muscle growth. So whilst it is true that a greater intensity range can be employed to induce muscle growth, generally speaking the intensity must be substantial enough to create enough tension in the muscle to provide the stimulus for muscle growth.
For optimal muscle growth, a minimal threshold of intensity needs to be reached, which varies depending on training level, but is generally somewhere between 70-90% of your 1RM. As you become more advanced, the higher the average training intensity required to induce muscle growth.
- Train with an appropriate amount of frequency
Given that a greater amount of weekly volume is required as a trainee becomes advanced, this ultimately means a higher training frequency is required to accommodate the extra work required to keep making progress.
It is possible to do too much in one single session. Therefore rather than performing 12 sets on your quads in one session, you could perform 6 sets on two separate days. A person’s schedule will necessarily dictate how frequently one may be able to train. However, if someone is able to train more often, it would be wise to exploit this availability.
Schoenfeld et al’s (2015) study is one of many highlighting the superiority of higher frequency training. This study compared 2 groups training 3 x per week. One group trained with a traditional ‘bro-split’ with Day 1: Chest & Back, Day 2: Lower Body and Day 3: Shoulders & Arms.
The other group trained full body 3 times per week. The exercises, sets and reps, and relative loads were the same across the week in both groups. Significant increases in hypertrophy were observed in the group training full body 3 times per week compared to the group utilizing a traditional training split.
As a general rule, try training each muscle group at least 2-3 times per week.
- Prioritize recovery
To maximize muscle growth, recovery must be prioritized in order to keep making progress. Here are some key tips to improve recovery:
- Sleep 8-9 hours per night
- To improve sleep quality try to go to bed at the same time each night, sleep in a dark, cool room, and avoid exposure to electronic products immediately before bed.
- Consume 8g per kg Bodyweight of protein spread across all meals throughout the day as described in more detail in my other article macronutrients 101: Protein
- Stay well hydrated – aim for at least 3-4 litres of water per day, the larger your body mass the more fluid required.
- Utilize supplementation – consume magnesium, take epsom salt baths, take phenibut for improved sleep and take glucosamine sulphate & chondroitin for joint health.
Your ability to build as much muscle mass as possible is going to be largely dictated by your ability to manipulate volume, intensity and frequency effectively to maintain progression over the long-term whilst still being able to recover adequately between sessions.
Volume, intensity and frequency are all inter-related. This means that you will have to emphasize only two of the three qualities at any one time. For example, utilizing higher intensities and greater training frequencies will result in a need to reduce training volume in order to recover between sessions. Likewise, high volume and high frequency training will likely require a reduced training intensity.
Fortunately, our personal trainers have extensive knowledge of how to manipulate these variables to ensure maximal progress is made by our members. Gaining muscle mass is hard work and requires well thought-out programming that aims to maximize progress, but not at the expense of recovery.
- Campos, G et al, “Muscular Adaptations in Response to Three Different Resistance-Training Regimens: Specificity of Repetition Maximum Training Zones”, European Journal of Applied Physiology, 2002.
- Gonzales-Badillo, J, et al, “Moderate Volume of High Relative Training Intensity Produces Greater Strength Gains Compared with Low and High Volumes in Competitive Weightlifters”, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2006.
- Helms, E, et al, “The Muscle and Strength Pyramid Training”, 2015.
- Schoenfeld, B, et al, “Influence of Resistance Training Frequency On Muscular Adaptations in Well Trained Men”, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2015.
- Wernbom, M, et al, “The Influence of Frequency, Intensity, Volume, and Mode of Strength Training on Whole Muscle Cross-Sectional Area in Humans”, Sports Medicine, 2007.