By Elliot Fisher MS, ATC, CSCS, PES
Many gym goers workout with the intention of changing their physique. This involves building muscle and losing fat. Resistance training is the exercise modality that people use in order to build muscle. Most people do not know what they need to do in order to build muscle in the most efficient way. In this article, we will cover the basics of resistance training in order to maximize muscular hypertrophy.
Range of Motion
Range of motion is the distance a weight is lifted through space, or the total degree of movement around a joint. When resistance training, either full range of motion can be performed or partial range of motion. When using full range of motion, a light weight has to be used because the exercise will be more difficult. The opposite is true for partial range of motion; you can use more weight because the decreased amount of work. When trying to build as much muscle as possible, full range of motion has been shown in research to be superior to partial range of motion.(1) This is likely because at different ranges of motion there are different motor units being recruited. If you use partial range of motion you will not be getting the most out of the workout. In the previously cited study, this is even true despite using lighter weights at the full range of motion.
There are a couple of mechanisms of hypertrophy, the main one being mechanical tension applied to the muscle.(2) Mechanical tension is best measured by the volume of exercise being performed. This can be done in a couple of ways such as multiplying sets by repetitions by weight. The way I prefer to measure volume is through sets at an approximate percentage of 1 repetition maximum. For example, if I perform the back squat for 9 sets at 75% of my 1 repetition maximum on Monday, 5 sets at the same intensity on Tuesday, and 5 sets on Thursday, that is 19 sets of squat volume for the week.
When trying to maximize hypertrophy, there is only so much volume you can do. A diet and training company called Renaissance Periodization coined the term Maximum Recoverable Volume (MRV) as a way to describe the most volume you can train with and still recover for another period of training. To maximize hypertrophy, you should try to push the total amount of volume you do to your MRV. This ensures you will get the most progress possible. You also need to be a little cautious with high volume resistance training because if you do too much and exceed your MRV you can begin to lose progress and injury risk will start to rise. The average MRV for any muscle group or movement is on average between 15-30 sets at an intensity of 60-80%.(3)
In order to continue gaining muscle, workouts will have to continue to get harder. Progressive overload is a way to ensure that you are always working towards making progress by making your workouts more and more difficult. This can be done in a couple of ways:
Adding volume, either by increasing reps or sets
Lifting closer to failure
Taking less breaks between sets
Using more strict technique with the same weights
There are other ways you can make your workouts more difficult week to week, but these are the most common. Of these, the two I focus on the most are adding volume (usually by adding a couple of sets each week) and by adding weight to each workout.
Intensity refers to the difficulty of the exercise. When considering muscular hypertrophy, we can look at this in two ways. First, that the intensity is sufficient to make changes, usually around 60% of your 1 repetition maximum.(4) Secondly, that each set is tough or close to failure.(5) When training close to failure, it is likely a good idea to stop a rep or two away from failure most of the time then to failure at the end of a training block as too much training to failure will interfere with overall progress.(6)
Pinto, R. S., Gomes, N., Radaelli, R., Botton, C. E., Brown, L. E., & Bottaro, M. (2012). Effect of range of motion on muscle strength and thickness. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 26(8), 2140-2145.
Schoenfeld, B. (2016). Science and Development of Muscle Hypertrophy. Human Kinetics.
Israetel M, Hoffman J, Smith C. The Scientific Principles of Strength Training.Renaissance Periodization.
Haff, G. Gregory, and N. Travis Triplett, eds. Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning 4th Edition. Human kinetics, 2015.
Schoenfeld, B. J., Grgic, J., Ogborn, D., & Krieger, J. W. (2017). Strength and hypertrophy adaptations between low-vs. high-load resistance training: a systematic review and meta-analysis. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 31(12), 3508-3523.
Willardson, J. M. (2007). The application of training to failure in periodized multiple-set resistance exercise programs. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 21(2), 628-631.