The New Hypertrophy Program

Here's another "redux" of an article I wrote a couple years ago for Planet Muscle magazine.  (For even more of my articles for them, check out their new, "upgraded" website.)


The New Hypertrophy Program
Constructing A New Breed of Mass-Building Workouts

     Based on some of the latest “innovations” in mass-building workouts, and what I have learned over years of training powerlifters and other strength athletes, what follows are the “keys” that I believe unleash the most potential for both building muscle mass and inducing strength and power at the same time.  These are the ground rules—the secrets if you will—that unlock the sacred door of muscle growth.  While these keys aren’t set in stone (bodybuilding rules—like all rules—were made to be broken, after all) they represent what I would call the best parameters now available.  Strap on your mass-inducing engine—its time for some serious muscle growth.
Key #1: Full Body Training
     All of these keys are important, but if I had to call one numero uno this would be it—hence its place on our list.
     Full body training is “the bomb” for several reasons.  First, training the whole body seems to promote overall growth better than “split” training.  It acts as an anabolic catalyst, so to speak, triggering growth everywhere, even if only a few exercises are performed.
     Second, full body workouts allow you to train each bodypart more frequently.  Yep, you just read that correctly.  Frequent is good.  Recently, it has become almost a fad to train infrequently and irregularly.  The rationale has been that increased rest between workouts will aid recovery, and therefore growth and strength.  It sounds simple, it sounds like it will work, but unfortunately for many that have tried it, it just doesn’t.
     While it’s true that you can’t train heavy more than once-per-week (at least until you become very advanced) you can train several times each week using light and medium workouts.
     If you look at all of the good systems of training over the last thirty years—from Bill Starr’s full body 5x5 workouts to Louie Simmons’s Westside Barbell system, to the full-body powerlifting methods of Russian coach extraordinaire Boris Sheiko, to the “grease the groove” training of Pavel Tsatsouline—the one thing these workouts all have in common is they train the major lifts frequently.
     Consider this quote by the great Russian strength coach and current director of the biomechanics laboratory at Penn State University, Vladimir Zatsiorsky: “You need to train as often as possible while being as fresh as possible.”
     And if that isn’t enough, I’ll give you one more reason to give full body workouts a try: Marvin Eder, pound for pound the greatest strength athlete/bodybuilder to ever walk the planet.  In the 1950s, Eder had 19-inch arms at a bodyweight of 198 pounds.  He could squat 550 pounds for 10 reps, bench press 510 for a single, and do standing overhead presses with 365.  In addition, he once did the mind-boggling feat of cranking out 1,000 dips in 17 minutes.  And he built his physique using whole body workouts, training three days each week.
Key #2: Multiple Sets of Low Reps
     You can either perform a low number of sets for a moderate number of reps (usually the favorite approach) or you can perform a high number of sets for low repetitions.  You can’t do both—multiple sets of multiple reps will quickly burn out your central nervous system, something you want to avoid like the plague when packing on mass.
     Of course, most bodybuilders take the low set, high rep approach.  I think this is a mistake.  Actually, I think it’s a huge, colossal mistake.  Why?  Mull over this quote by one of the best strength coaches around today, Charles Staley: “Muscle growth is a function of how much mechanical work is performed per unit of time.”1  What exactly does this quote mean?  Let’s take the squat as an example, and let’s say that you usually use 225 pounds for 3 sets of 8 reps, a total of 24 repetitions.  Now, what if I told you it would be better to get 315 pounds for 24 reps; you’d probably agree, right?  But how would you do it?  What if you reversed your typical set/rep sequence, doing 8 sets of 3 reps instead?  Not only would more weight be used, but every rep of every set would be strong and powerful, in other words more mechanical work would be performed per unit of time.
     Below are two tables that further get across the point I am trying to make.  The first table is indicative of the typical full-body programs recommended in most bodybuilding magazines.  The second table represents the kind of program recommended here.
Table 1: Low Set, High Rep Workout
Squats: 225lbsx2setsx10reps
Bench Presses: 175lbsx2setsx12reps
Close-grip Chins: bodyweight (180lbs)x2setsx10reps
Barbell Curls: 70lbsx2setsx12reps
Dips: bodyweight (180lbs)x2setsx8reps
Total Workload (weight lifted x sets x reps): 16860
Table 2: Multiple Set, Low Rep Workout
Squats: 315lbsx8setsx3reps
Bench Presses: 225lbsx8setsx3reps
Close-grip Chins: bodyweight(180lbs) plus 45 lb platex8setsx2reps
Barbell Curls: 135lbsx6setsx4reps
Dips: bodyweight (180lbs) plus 45 lb platex6setsx4reps
Total Workload: 25200
     Almost 10,000 more pounds are lifted in the second workout.  Not only that, every rep throughout the session should be strong and powerful.  (The workout shouldn’t take much longer than the first one, either.  You can actually move through the program pretty fast since none of the sets will be taken to failure.)  If you don’t believe this kind of training session works, just try it for a few weeks and you’ll be absolutely sold.  Not only will you be bigger and stronger, but you’ll also look thicker and feel more powerful.
Key #3: Big, Compound Movements for the Lower Body and Back
     Big, compound exercises that use a lot of muscle groups are another key to packing on the muscle size.  Like full body workouts, they act as a hypertrophy-inducing trigger that can add size to muscles other than just the lower body and back.
     The squat is usually picked as the premier compound, lower body movement for packing on the mass, but I got a few others that I think are equally as good.  The first is the sumo deadlift while standing on a platform—“platform deads” for short.  Not only does it work the leg muscles hard, but it fries the entire back—from lower back to traps—and it does wonders for the forearm and for grip strength.
     Another great exercise is the wide-grip deadlift (sometimes called the “snatch-grip” deadlift).  For these, take a grip with your pinky finger on the power rings.  This works your back harder than conventional deadlifts, really forcing you to give it your best.  Of course, conventional deadlifts and regular sumo deadlifts are also great compound movements for the lower body and all of the muscles on the rear of your physique.
     Here’s a list of big, compound movements for your entire body that you might want to rotate into your workouts: squats, deadlifts, sumo deadlifts, platform deadlifts, box squats, olympic-style squats, wide-stance squats, bottom-position squats, rack deadlifts (from varying heights), power cleans, overhead squats, overhead presses, push presses, snatches, clean and jerks, and stiff-legged deadlifts.
Key #4: Conjugate Training
     There’s one problem with training with heavy weights for a low number of reps; you will burn out if you are always using the same exercise.  This is where “conjugate” training comes into play.
     In the 1970s, coaches for the Dynamo Club in the Soviet Union discovered that if their lifters were constantly using the same exercises—and training heavy—their lifts would go up for a few weeks when they started using a new exercise, and then steadily decline after that.  To allow the lifters to continually train heavy year in and year out, the Dynamo Club came up with a system of training where their lifters rotated between 20-45 different exercises in order to improve their Olympic lifts.  Each workout consisted of 2-4 exercises, which were rotated from on a regular basis (every 1 to 3 weeks).  As their strength on such exercises as good mornings (performed in various manners), front squats, Olympic squats, and various pulls (utilizing different grips) improved, so did their snatches and their clean and jerks.
     When you combine conjugate training with the other forms of muscle building presented in this article, you have a very formidable weapon for long-term mass gains.  So, what would a typical week of training look like incorporating all of these methods?  Below is an example—and remember, this is just an example—of what a week of training could consist of using your new cutting edge tactics.
Week One
     Monday is the “heavy” day of the week.  And by heavy I mean that the first session of the week has the most “workload”—you move more total weight on Monday than on the other days.
Squats: 8 sets of 2 reps (80-90% of your one rep maximum).  For this exercise, warm up with 2 to 4 ascending sets (number of warm up sets needed will depend on your strength level) before proceeding to perform your 8 “work” sets.
Bench Presses: 8 sets of 3 reps (80-90% of your one rep maximum).  As with the squats, warm up with 2 to 4 ascending sets before proceeding to your “work” sets.
Platform Deadlifts: 5 sets of 3 reps (80-85% of your one rep maximum).  Since we have already performed 8 sets of 2 reps on squats, we are going to cut the sets down to 5, but up the reps to 3 to make sure our workload for this exercise is high enough.  Do a couple of warm-up sets before your 5 “work” sets.
Barbell Curls: 5 sets of 3 reps (80-85% of your one rep maximum).  Once again, warm up here with 2 to 3 sets before beginning your 5 work sets.
Ab work.  Abdominal work doesn’t have to follow the same format as the rest of your workouts.  Two to 3 sets of 15-25 reps on an exercise of your choice should be enough.
     Wednesday is the “light” day.  Your workload for this day should be lower than the other two days.  Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s going to feel light.
Bottom Position Squats: 6 sets of 2 reps (80-90% of your one rep maximum).  If you’ve never tried bottom position squats be prepared for a killer.  To do this one, set the pins in the power rack so that you will begin the movement from the bottom position—no cheating here; always begin with your hips below your knees.  Get under the bar with the bar placed in the same position from Monday’s workout.  Perform 2 to 3 warm up sets before your 6 work sets.
Incline Dumbbell Bench Presses: 5 sets of 3 reps (80-85% of your one rep maximum).
Dumbbell Curls: 8 sets of 3 reps (each arm; using 80-85% of your one rep maximum).  Do these standing instead of seated.  Warm up over 2 to 4 sets (depending on your strength level) until you reach your “working” weight.
Ab work.  Perform 2 to 3 sets of 15-25 reps, using a different exercise from your Monday workout.
     Friday is your “medium” day.  Your workload for this day should be higher than Wednesday’s workout, but lower than Monday’s.
Squats: 8 sets of 2 reps (approximately 80% of your one rep maximum).  Perform these the same as on Monday, however use a weight on your work sets that is a little lighter from what was used on Monday’s work sets.
Weighted Dips: 7 sets of 3 reps (80-90% of your one rep maximum).  Warm up over 2 to 3 sets before reaching your work set weight.
Good Morning Squats: 5 sets of 3 reps (80-90% of your one rep maximum).  Little known among bodybuilders, this exercise is awesome for adding muscle to the entire rear of your body, in addition to being a great way to bring up the numbers in your squat and deadlift.  Begin the movement in the squat rack, using the same bar placement and stance that you use on your squats.  Start the exercise as if it is a good morning, bending over at the waist while keeping your back arched.  Once your body reaches roughly parallel to the ground, squat down as deep as possible.  Return to the starting position by squatting upward as you raise your upper body at the same time.  Be sure to warm up well with 2 to 5 sets of warm up sets before you reach your work sets.
E-Z Bar Curls: 5 sets of 3 reps (80-85% of your one rep maximum).  Warm up over 2 to 4 work sets before you begin your 5 work sets.
Ab work.  Once again, perform 2 to 3 sets of 15-25 reps.
     Here are a few tips to get the most out of this program, and any other program that you might design afterward using our “4 keys”:
·      You don’t have to be too “scientific” about your percentages of one-rep maximums.  The primary thing is to train heavy, while not taking your sets to momentary muscular failure.
·      If you are not accustomed to training with full body workouts, you will be sore your first week.  That’s okay.  Train through the soreness the first week or two.  Your body will adapt.
·      Make sure that you are eating plenty of protein and calories, and getting enough rest every night for proper recovery.
·      Always do what you enjoy in the weight room.  If you find that this kind of training brings you good results, but you prefer more traditional forms of bodybuilding training, use this program as a change of pace.  Perform these kinds of workouts for 6 to 8 weeks before returning to your normal training.
·      When training in this manner, take a week off from training every 6 to 8 weeks.
     There you have it: 4 simple, direct keys for packing on the mass.  Give these keys a try—even if they’re not what you are accustomed to doing.  You, and your muscles, might just be ecstatic that you did.

1 Staley, C., A Thinking Man’s Guide to Sets and Reps (2000) Testosterone Magazine


  1. What is the rest time between exercises and sets??


  2. Jeremy,

    If you read over my articles, you'll notice one thing: I almost never prescribe rest periods between sets. To be honest, I think that strength coaches who prescribe rest periods simply aren't very good coaches. (Rest periods between sets almost annoy me as much as timed sets, but I digress...)

    Having said that, I often DO give out suggestions for rest periods - and that's the only thing that coaches should do. The reason for this is because each lifter has a unique body type. Some simply recover faster than others - no matter HOW long the lifter has been training.

    Generally, the less reps that are in a set, the less rest you will need between sets.

    Also, you only want to rest long enough to recover your oxygen debt. And if you are interested solely in gaining muscle mass without strength (necessarily), you should probably begin your set slightly before recovery of your oxygen debt.

    Let's take our heavy squats on day one of this program as an example. On the 8 "working" sets of 2 reps, some people may need only a minute rest - just long enough that the oxygen debt hasn't fully recovered. And some people may need 2 and a 1/2 minutes to recover the exact same oxygen debt.

    Listen to your body. And keep this in mind: you are trying to build muscle mass, NOT get in "shape" by taking a very limited amount of recovery between sets.

    Hope this helps.


Post a Comment

Feel free to leave us some feedback on the article or any topics you would like us to cover in the future! Much Appreciated!

Popular Posts