M.A.S.S. Training Part 1: The 5 principles of skeletal muscle hypertrophy

workout-routine

Have you ever looked for various training programs online? Asked someone you thought was more knowledgeable to help you out with your exercise selection or write you a program ? Thumbed through magazines to see what exercise split the pro’s use? Or worse: paid good money for someone to provide you with a program? And did none of those things ever give you the edge in the gym you were hoping for? Well join the club. Just about 99% of physical culturists and fitness enthusiasts go through this exact cycle of events and come up empty. That’s because the industry has perpetuated the notion that the exercises you do and when you do them are what make the difference in the gym. In truth they only contribute about 10-15% of the whole, and usually don’t become key determinants in your success until you have attained a certain level first.

Let’s look at it briefly from the other side. How many different training programs are out there right now ? A hundred thousand ? A Million? All I know is there are new ones every day, and almost every single one has its protagonists claiming it’s the best way to train. It’s been that way for a long time, dating back to the days Arnold propagated the Weider high volume principle and Mentzer propagated Jones’ HIT style training. To this day people think its relevant to discuss which of the two was better in the 1980 Mr.Olympia. But all you can say is despite such a different training style and such great genetics, both men looked pretty damn good. Fact is, since then science has progressed, and the number of people trying to benefit from the fitness industry financially has boomed, and with them the number of opinions, the number of people trying to sell you their own unique brand of something, and the general sense of disinformation prevailing among the consumer base.

The simple truth is that despite many years, and certainly not for lack of trying, science hasn’t even come close to elucidating what constitutes the best type of training program, what the best exercises are, what the optimal training split is. And the real world results seem to confirm, in the end, the difference may be negligible. If you go to any gym and look at the people who are most successful at what they do (or compare two people at the top of the game), you’ll find that very often they have a quite different approach to volume, exercise selection and other things that make up the average training program. Do you then believe it’s feasible that you will be successful simply by copying their program if you failed to be successful previously ? First you need to consider there are other factors like nutrition, rest, genetics and possible drug use (two of which you can fix just as well, and two who shouldn’t be used as an excuse to justify a lack of progress), but all those being equal, some people simply are more successful than others, based solely on their training. Want to know the secret to their success?

Stop looking at WHAT they are doing, start looking at HOW they are doing it!

Training properly

It’s perfectly possible if you go up to these people and ask them what the secret to their success is, they may not even know. Some people just naturally train the right way and as a result have more success. For some people there is an instinct, an ability to feel what they do, which for most of us takes years to develop. But that is the take-away message: It can be developed. What’s more, if you know what you are doing, and don’t have to find out everything by trial-and-error, you can probably achieve it in a relatively short period of time and be on your way to continuous growth. I’m not selling you on some insane new method of being successful here, none of what I’m about to tell you is going to make you have to work any less hard, or magically sprout muscle by looking at a barbell, but it will, I guarantee you, ensure you aren’t wasting your time in the gym. Every training session is a new opportunity to get the most out of your body in a relatively brief time, and walking away from each one knowing you did all you could, is simply the most efficient way to reach your goals.

All those other things, like which exercises you do, how many times you train, when you train, how many sets and reps you use, are going to become quite important down the road, and they will make up the lengthy content of the next installments of this series. But chances are your current program (whether it’s a cookie-cutter from your local gym, or something you picked up on an obscure website) already has the necessary basics to do what you need it to do. But just to make sure we should probably establish that a training program consists of 4-6 working days per week, lasting 40-60 minutes per session, training 1-2 body-parts per day, with multiple sets (3-8) per exercise and 6-12 reps per set. The how and why of those things and how to narrow it down to a more optimal ranges for you will be discussed at a later time. Suffice it to say if your current program meets those requirements and contains as many as possible basic lifts that stimulate a lot of muscle fiber, it will do just fine as you learn the following principles. In fact, following these principles will demonstrate that the difference between training programs is minimal, especially until you reach a certain level of strength and muscle mass.

I’ve broken this down in a few paragraphs to discuss each part individually and will discuss how to best apply these things in the conclusion. For the duration, as long as it takes to unlearn bad training and relearn proper training, this is really all you should focus on.

Principle #1: Failure is success

I get quite lyrical on this subject. Bodybuilding is NEVER a success story. If you’ve observed any of the pro’s on their way to the Olympia from 1977’s Pumping Iron to next year’s release of Generation Iron you will see these men are notoriously unsatisfied with their current level. They know that however good they are now, it’s never good enough. Some call it a disease, and perhaps to some extent it is, the same way an anorexic girl feels she is never thin enough. But the truth of the matter is they KNOW that all the guys standing next to them on stage will be doing their best to be bigger, better, leaner and more symmetrical by the next year, and even if they walked away victorious now, the bar will always be set higher, and that being the best now is no guarantee to be the best next year. Why am I rambling on about this ? Well because this lies at the very core of our sport. It’s the only sport where failure is your guarantee for the greatest success.

Bodybuilding is the only sport where failure is your guarantee for the greatest success.

In a way we are the biggest losers. A lot of us take up training because we feel like losers. But in the end, this feeling at our core is what makes us stay with the sport and excel at it. Training is all about failure. It’s failing today, so you can fail bigger tomorrow. It’s not about the weight you can successfully lift, it’s about the weight you just failed to lift. If you have followed the bodybuilding community AT ALL, you will be familiar with the words “training to failure”. But are you familiar with the actual concept of it ? In spite of the amount of work or scientific value certain training programs have, I have seen many stand and fall with the ability of their author to properly convey what training to failure means. To start, I’m going to give you the usual lecture, because it’s relevant to the rest. A muscle doesn’t grow by itself. It has no ambition, it doesn’t strive to be greater than it is, it strives to be as good as it has to be. That means if you don’t make it feel that it’s simply not good enough, that it HAS to grow to cope, it won’t. This is where failure comes in. When you perform an exercise in a certain rep range, let say 8-10 for the purpose of this example, it does not imply that you can pick any weight, knock off 8 repetitions and grow. The rep range is there to indicate you should do your 10 reps and be ABSOLUTELY INCAPABLE of doing an 11th rep. This isn’t even complete failure, this is what we call “concentric failure” (more on that in principle #2). When using your 8-10 rep range, if you can do 11 reps with your current weight, it means you need a heavier weight. If you fail to reach 8 reps, it means you need a lighter weight.

Most of all this principle requires honesty. The question “could I have done more ?” should be the one you ask yourself most often. The mind will all too often fail before the body does. Having a training partner to spot you can help alleviate some of the fear associated with that (especially on lifts like Bench press and squat, which entail a certain risk), but simply not being afraid of the pain helps a lot too. I’m not entirely sure I was able to aptly convey the importance of this principle to you. I hope I was, and like I said, the ability to convey this properly is often the first key to success, so all I can hope is that you will take the time to read this paragraph again and ask yourself if you truly understand it.

Principle #2: Be more negative

When talking of muscle contraction we will often use the terms concentric (also called the positive part of the rep), eccentric (or negative part of the rep) and isometric (static hold). When performing any common exercise you will have a concentric portion, which shortens the muscle. This is usually the part that corresponds with “flexing” the muscle or bringing it in a state of full contraction. And the exercise will have an eccentric portion, which lengthens the muscle. This would be the part where the fully contracted muscle returns to a fully lengthened state. Research has repeatedly shown that eccentric work results in greater protein synthesis (1) and resulting hypertrophy. You’ll often hear it stated that this is because eccentric work causes more muscle damage, but that isn’t exactly true. As I will discuss at length in a detailed, better referenced piece at a later date, muscle damage may be required for growth, but it should be minimal. Greater damage is usually associated with endurance training and injury, and all the factors associated with it (IGF-1, IL-15, increased myocnuclear density, increased satellite cell activation, greater level of protein synthesis) are usually more abundant in endurance trained or injured muscle, and neither of those states leads to greater hypertrophy. On the contrary. Endurance training, and the greater muscle damage associated with it, causes a shift in muscle fiber type from the more hypertrophy responsive TypeIIb fibers to the more oxidative Type IIa and Type I fibers, who are forcibly kept small by your body to conserve energy to feed its higher respiratory state and greater protein turnover.

Initially it’s good to focus on the negative by counting it out, using about 4 seconds to lower the weight back to the starting position.

Let it suffice for now to say that eccentric exercise causes greater growth because it helps us reach the optimal state for growth induction better. A muscle is much stronger in the eccentric portion than the concentric portion. This is an evolutionary conserved safety protocol, because we simply wouldn’t survive very long if we could lift a heavy object and were unable to place it back down safely. True eccentric exercise is actually failing to stop the progression of a weight pressing against the direction of your working muscle (again, “failure”, see how ingrained it is in our lifestyle ?) but simply returning a weight back to its initial position in a controlled fashion is already considered an eccentric effort. In order to maximize growth potential we will therefore increase the time we spend on the eccentric portion of our reps to make sure we spend the majority of the time performing eccentric work. In practice that means you will want to execute an explosive (1-2 seconds, depending on level of fatigue) positive, followed by a controlled negative (3-5 seconds).Initially it’s good to focus on the negative by counting it out, using about 4 seconds to lower the weight back to the starting position.Once you get the hang of it though, you’ll have a good grasp of what a “controlled negative” means and depending on the exercise you could do 3 or 5 seconds instead, without necessarily counting it out.

Principle #3: Increased Time under Tension

Sorry, couldn’t come up with a cute wordplay for this title. Most of you deeply entrenched in the industry’s literature and propaganda are probably familiar with the term Time under Tension or TUT for short, even though it’s, compared to the previous two principles, a more novel concept. The most recent literature seems to consistently report, keeping minimal load (see principle #5) in mind, that an increased amount of time a muscle spends under tension leads to increased growth (2). This is believed to be due to the metabolic stress caused by the glycolytic depletion of the fast-twitch muscle, you can call it the pinnacle of fatigue for fast-twitch muscle. When a muscle runs out of energy for anaerobic exercise (glucose and creatine phosphate depletion) it will have no choice but to recruit more fiber to complete the exercise, and when that too fails, the result is that the muscle has no choice but to increase its size and storage capacity long term to prevent such an event from occurring again.

There is a limit to this factor however that has everything to do with a minimal load that is needed to induce hypertrophy. Using a lighter load leads to aerobic exercise, which can be sustained considerably longer via adequate supply of oxygen and outside nutrients (fat), while the very nature of resistance exercise is explicitly anaerobic, causing a state of transient hypoxia (prolonged hypoxia is in fact catabolic). Performing exercise of an aerobic nature leads to muscular adaptation that improves oxidative capacity and restricts the size of the muscle. This is where our rep range of 6-12 reps originates from, it forms the perfect intersection between optimal load (principle #5) and optimal TUT (principle #3). More on that in part two of this series.

In order to maximize your time under tension you need to stop looking at a set as a collection of repetitions, and instead perceive it as a continuous flowing motion. It basically means you don’t “lock out” or pause at the top or bottom of a repetition, but commence your next repetition as soon as the last one ends. When you “lock out” you place the weight in a mechanically advantageous position that is easier to maintain and reduces the tension in the working muscle. The only time you should (temporarily) employ a brief pause, is when you have certain exercises where you need to eliminate momentum (given that momentum also reduces tension on the muscle). When you perform one rep with a 1-2 second positive and 3-4 second negative you will spend ~5 seconds under tension, which is already significantly better than the 3 seconds (1.5 second up and down) you would instinctively spend on a repetition. If you pause after each rep, you will spend 6-12 x5 seconds Time under Tension, allowing the muscle to replenish its ATP in between reps. When you don’t pause and see the set as a whole you will be spending 30-60 seconds on end under tension, a drastic improvement.

Principle #4: Anything worth doing is worth doing right

The biggest ailment across gyms worldwide is poor execution on exercises. It not only increases the risk of injury because people are using heavier weights than they can safely handle, it also decreases the amount of work the muscle you are attempting to train actually does. In order to lift more weight than a single muscle can handle, the body has to find other ways to get the weight up, and it typically does this by A) enlisting the help of other muscles and B) changing the body’s position in space to place the weight in the middle of the range of motion, where your muscle is strongest. As an example, when you are bench pressing, you will start recruiting more shoulder and triceps mass in an effort to heave the weight, and procentually less pectoral muscle fiber. That in itself isn’t so detrimental (unless you hate large triceps and shoulders), but in order to do that, it will also contort the body (for instance arching the back off the bench) in order to place those muscles in a more advantageous position to help, and at the same time reducing the range of motion for the pectoral muscles. You’ll see similar things when you perform leg extensions and your butt comes off the seat, or you perform bicep curls and you heave the weight to get your elbows under the weight where your biceps are stronger. To confound matters, you will start employing momentum, which is basically just getting gravity to help you, and places no tension on any muscle at all.

The best way to ruin your chances of getting where you want to be is to only train your muscles where they are already strongest, in the middle of the range of motion. It eventually creates a bottle neck at the top and bottom of every range of motion, and as the saying would have it, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and the result is you hit a plateau that you seemingly can’t overcome. While training with proper form across a full range of motion will force you to use a lower weight, it also forces you to strengthen the weakest parts of your muscle, so that it gets stronger as a whole, and progress will be much more linear.

The importance of a proper and full range of motion to train a muscle is, despite how logical it seems, not universally accepted as a necessity for complete growth of the muscle. The reasoning is that the muscle is like a cord, and in physics, when you tighten a cord along its length by exerting a force on both sides, the force is distributed evenly across the cord. As such, some believe it’s not possible to accentuate a different part of the same muscle across its length. This is of course true to an extent, since muscle fibers do typically stretch the full length of the muscle and any force exerted on it will be felt across the length of the fiber, so there is no such thing as true isolation in the length of a muscle. There are however various factors that make training along the full range of motion a necessity to fully develop a muscle. First of all even if one treats the muscle as an actual rope, the attachments aren’t lined up in the same plane very often, and on top of that, for a lot of muscle, other structures like other muscles, tendons, bone etc, will prevent them from being tightened across their length, creating additional forces. This alone will already affect force distribution to some extent. But more importantly, one can’t treat a muscle like a rope. A muscle is comprised of fibers that are both in parallel and in sequence, but those fibers in turn are made up of sarcomeres in parallel or in sequence (for more information see here). When a muscle contracts in the midpoint of the range, in all the sarcomeres, the myosin will travel the same length of the actin. However, we know that the Z-disk is the most mechanically sensitive part of the sarcomere, and the Z-disk will be placed under the most strain when the sarcomere is either fully contracting and attempting to retain that position, and when its fully lengthened and attempting to retain that position. On top of that, a sarcomere is mechanically at a disadvantage when in fully lengthened condition, because less of the myosin can be used to contract across the actin filaments. This is why extreme forceful lengthening in itself is considered an anabolic factor, and is known to increase the number of sarcomeres in series, and all this data taken together emphasizes the importance of utilizing a full range of motion to maximize tension on a muscle in fully stretched and fully contracted positions. Lastly, as discussed at length, certain parts of the range of motion become mechanically less advantageous because assisting and stabilizing muscles are no longer in as good a position to assist in the motion, placing more of the weight on the working muscle, leading to greater recruitment of fibers in parallel as well.

So in short, while we are fairly limited in the amount of manipulation we can place in isolating parts of a muscle across their length, the importance of a full range of motion in heavy exercises, as well as the usefulness of more isolating movements focusing on maximal stretch and/or contraction of the muscle should not be underestimated.

 

This concept again is not a novel one, but a tricky one nonetheless. As you were reading these last lines, many of you probably thought “well duh, I already know I have to use proper form and I do”. But there is a distinct difference between thinking you use proper form simply because you attempt to use proper form and actually using proper form. The latter requires the actual knowledge of knowing what full range of motion and proper form is for each and every exercise. Obviously that sort of detail is beyond the scope of this article, and hopefully fodder for a whole series of articles yet to come, where you can learn this stuff by heart or check it when needed, but in the meantime a willingness to learn some very basic anatomy can go a long way towards figuring these things out for yourself. A wide array of textbooks and websites can fill you in on the individual muscles including origin, insertion and function. The first two are tricky, since you will need to know the various bumps and dips on the skeleton to locate them properly, but if you do, you can do something as simple as take a piece of thread and place it on the origin and insertion (on your own body, someone elses body, or best of all, if you have one at your disposal, an actual skeleton) now move the joint across the direction of the thread and the farthest stretch and contraction you can pull off should give you the outer ends of your range of motion. Of course, you have to be willing to place yourself in those positions as well. For instance a bicep isn’t fully stretched until the arm is fully stretched, and an arm isn’t fully stretched until you tense the tricep. So next time you do curls, try tensing your triceps  at the bottom and getting the best possible contraction at the top. Likewise knowing the function of a muscle often reveals some simple things most people aren’t aware of. For instance we all know that the bicep is one of the prime flexors of the forearm, that’s why we do a ton of curls to train it. The slightly more inquisitive among you will know this muscle also spans the shoulder and that slight forward flexion of the shoulder when doing cable curls (doesn’t work with barbells since this motion reduces tension in the muscle due to a mechanically advantageous position) will increase contraction even more. The true students of the game will also know that in fact, a very large portion of the bicep is considered the prime forearm supinator (turning the hand up) whenever the arm isn’t completely stretched. But how many of you know how to employ that information in your weak point training, knowing that you can work the middle of the bicep very well by doing at least one variation of alternate curls starting from a hammer position by your side to a supine grip by the time you reach halfway through the range of motion, and that you can even finish off the inside bicep by holding a dumbbell in a hammer position and the arm flexed in a 45 degree angle with no weight on the top side of the dumbell and simply supinate the hand. All this is very simple information, and easy to come by, if you are just willing to spend 10 minutes learning common anatomical terms like supination, pronation, adduction, abduction, transversal, medial, lateral, flexion, extension, etc.

But proper form also means minimizing motion in joints that aren’t directly moved by the muscle, restricting momentum, proper placement of the body to place the weight directly on the working muscle etc. Keep in mind at all times that when you are working your biceps, there is no reason WHATSOEVER your back should be moving, let alone your legs. Although it will FORCE you to use a more apt weight, don’t let your ego get in the way of doing several movement that restrict your movement and help you maintain proper form. The aim is not to lift the biggest weight any way you can, the aim is to let EVERY FIBER in the WORKING MUSCLE use ITS biggest weight. And that’s logically going to be considerably less than your maximal weight you can handle. But those other muscles, they have their own day. So when, for instance, its shoulder day, your shoulders should be fatigued, lifting THEIR maximal weight. No one is going to remember what weight you lifted that day. But everyone will see your progress in a year if you are willing to train correctly.

One small tip to aid you on your way to better form is to form a better mind-muscle connection. The phrase itself is vague and elusive, but let me try and explain the concept to you as best I can. When you know where a muscle is located and what it does, you should be able to feel it work. Aside from that, if you have some muscle at all, you usually perform a motion placing one hand on the muscle to FEEL where it contracts more. Both of these techniques should help you a lot in visualizing the muscle, even when there isn’t a whole lot to see in the mirror (either due to lack of muscle or due to excess fat, or simply because you can’t view the muscle properly at all, like the back). When you visualize the muscle when you are working it, you need to really visualize the optimal stretch and contraction points. Feel free to exaggerate here and place yourself in the body of a ripped pro or some other person whose physique you admire, it lends a sense of purpose to your training. Now, whenever you lift a weight on the (explosive) positive think “squeeze” or “contract” and try to really feel that muscle. I recently picked this technique up myself watching a training video of Kai Greene. It makes a lot of sense. When you concentrate only on lifting the weight, you make the movement all about lifting the weight. Lifting weight is what weightlifters do, and it’s a process that is made to find the easiest and most efficient way to move an object from point A to point B. Bodybuilding, however, is all about maximally taxing the muscle you are working, recruiting the most muscle fiber within that muscle, and making it as hard as possible to lift the weight in order to fully deplete that muscle of its energy and strength. So don’t focus on LIFTING the WEIGHT, focus on CONTRACTING the MUSCLE. A ton of exercises are about subtle nuances, a certain intention in the movement. Those nuances become almost instinctive if your mind is continuously on the muscle you are working, trying as hard as you can to feel the muscle as you are trying to move the weight.

Principle #5: Take a load off (proper intensity)

The intensity principle is directly related to load. In order to achieve hypertrophy you both need a minimal load to make sure you are taxing the muscle and training in an anaerobic, glycolytic range, but also a progressive increase in load to continuously stimulate the muscle to grow. This principle is well known and understood by most people who work out, and that’s really all there is to say about it. The reason I listed this principle last, even though it is likely the most critical and single most important factor,  is actually to stress that it shouldn’t become the full focus of your workout. The load has to be a function of the previous 4 principles, and be adapted to be the MAXIMAL amount of weight that lets you reach concentric failure in your rep range using proper form and range of motion. If someone is telling you that you need to be pushing 80% of your 1RM for 8 reps, and obeying all the above, you simply can’t do that, don’t be afraid to use 70%. At the lower end of your rep range, the weight you use when obeying these principles will always be the right weight for you, and they should be the prime determinant of your load/intensity. In fact the very concept of 1RM is flawed since the fiber-type make-up will skew any mathematical attempt to calculate a generalized 1 RM, and as a bodybuilder you really have no business factually performing 1RM’s. They simply do not contribute to your growth, only to your risk of getting injured.

Please remember that strength is in how you define it. Muscle size correlates VERY well with strength. When you see a strength athlete, you will notice he is typically smaller than the average bodybuilder. But you forget that a strength athlete uses momentum, mechanically advantageous positioning and practice in a particular motion to heave a large weight up in a fraction, stumbles for a few seconds to give a panel of judges the impression he is controlling the weight, only to hurl it back down. If that is your definition of strength so be it. But comparing one muscle to another directly, the bigger muscle is the stronger muscle. These 5 principles serve one purpose only : making sure the muscle you want to work is actually doing the most work it possibly can. And your average weightlifter will simply fail to lift the same weight in many of these exercises when performed the same way as the average amateur bodybuilder. The term “weightlifting” is just an excuse for people to look worse than they should, to do the work in the gym, but not have to do the work that comes the rest of the day, eating and resting, let alone dieting, evaluation, and adapting for symmetry.

Applying these principles

As I stated at the beginning of this piece, it’s very likely your current workout is more than fine to learn and apply these principles and stir yourself to new growth. As are most of the available programs today, unless they are completely absurd and go against the basic principles of muscle growth. So for now, don’t concern yourself too much with your program, we will discuss ways to optimize that in the next parts of this series. Instead, take however much time as you need to apply these principles one by one, and stick to just one at a time until you master it and it becomes a second nature. For instance, starting immediately focus immensely on making sure your last two working sets of each exercise your perform are performed to concentric failure. Make sure you cannot possibly lift another rep, and if that takes you out of your rep range, adjust the weight up or down as needed to make sure the next set falls back in your rep range, still reaching concentric failure. When this has become a second nature, try and focus on a controlled negative. Each time you lower a weight back down, count to 4. Then perform an explosive motion to contract the muscle again, and slowly lower it again in 4 counts. You will notice as you do this, you will need to focus again the last 2 reps to make sure you absolutely go to failure since focusing on one thing, invariably makes it harder to focus on something else. When that too becomes more or less instinctive, try focusing on avoiding pauses at the top and bottom of the rep, making the whole set one fluent motion that keeps continuous tension on the working muscle. These three alone should probably occupy you for a good month before they become a second nature.

All the while your load should be in function of the three first principles, selected perfectly to reach concentric failure while performing controlled negatives and maximal time under tension. But after you master the first three principles, attempt to occasionally slightly increase the weight for your second or third set of an exercise. If you are successful in pushing that set into your designated rep range, stick with that weight from now on. If you fail, revert to your old weight and attempt it again on the second or third set next time you work the same muscle. Muscle gets stronger in increments, and especially in the early stages those increments won’t always amount to an extra 5 lbs each time. That doesn’t mean you should patiently wait it out every time, feel free to attempt a slightly higher weight once in a while to see how you do, your strength may have progressed further than you think.

Lastly, starting with those muscles that are most lagging, you need to start carefully examining proper form and range of motion for your exercises. I hope to provide you with detailed information on how to do that in the very near future, but in the mean time, heed the information in Principle #4, and you can probably go quite a ways yourself in figuring a lot of this stuff out. Remember that the aim isn’t for you to come here, read this, and follow it like you would just another program you found in a magazine. Instead the aim should be to get you thinking about each and every one of these  things and find solutions to YOUR problems. The best program for you, is the one tailored to you. And no one can make it better than you, if you are willing to take the time to learn how it all works.

Safety

As an aside, a side effect of these 5 principles of optimal muscle growth is that they enhance your safety. When you stick to a proper rep range of 6-12 reps using TUT and a controlled negative, you should always be in perfect control of the weights you are handling, and proper form and execution will only enhance that. As such it would be a rare occurrence to injure yourself if you train properly.

Conclusions

Some people seem to keep making improvements in the gym, where others seem to remain at a standstill for months or even years, trying to wrap their head around what that first group of people is doing that is making them more successful. The excessive focus this industry has placed on the importance of performing certain exercises or routine. Most people simply don’t understand that exercises, splits and routines only contribute minimally in your success in increasing overall growth. Those things are increasingly important in shaping a balanced physique and maximizing results in accomplished lifters but when it comes to actually putting on overall size it comes down to nutrion, rest, and training properly. And that last one can be summarized in the 5 principles above and applied to the majority of routines out there. Some routines will certainly be better than others, but when you seem to have difficulty putting on size and increasing strength despite having your ducks in a row with concerns to nutrition and rest, then copying Ronnie Coleman’s routine, succumbing to the latest training hype or shelling out cash for the latest workout book or training program will likely not be the answer for you. People have developed amazing physiques over time, with less access to current knowledge and equipment, and despite varying wildly in terms of diet, routine, split and approach, and the reason isn’t so much because of WHAT they were doing, but HOW they were doing it.

Many successful bodybuilders and strength athletes fail to grasp, let alone explain, why they are better. And surely some of it will be genetics. But truth is such people just naturally seem to find the right way to train without having to think about it. As a smart trainer you should pay close attention to how those people train, and you will find that regardless of what they tell you, they apply the principles above frequently to their training, oft without thinking about it. I’m not one of these people. It has been a long and arduous journey for me, not just in realizing the above, but applying it. It isn’t easy to accept that you aren’t on the right path. It’s even harder to take a step back to unlearn bad behaviours and learn new ones, but well worth it in the long run. Unless your sole aim is to impress people you hardly know at the gym, there is really no excuse that prevents you from applying these 5 principles. They work with pretty much any routine or split, for lifters of any age or level of experience, and will be of critical importance on your way to your actual goals. There is no room for ego in this game. I’m not selling you anything or telling you about the latest exotic research. This is what has worked for decades and continues to prove true now (and being corroborated scientifically time after time). There’s no shiny label here or training secret of the pro’s. Just a willingness to look at the core of everything and see it like it is.

Part 2 will take an in-depth look at what we know about Workout duration, exercise selection, rep range, training splits, rest pauses and all the variables that make up a training program. Most likely a lot more interesting to all of you, but I have to stress again, that all of that will be as pointless as copying routines from a magazine if you aren’t willing to be honest about yourself in regards to what was written in this piece. Honesty is key. So don’t be afraid to challenge yourself. Only in accepting your flaws now do you eliminate them later. Whatever your goal is, it doesn’t stop at your current level. So why stop improving ?

 

References :
  1. Eliasson J, Elfegoun T, Nilsson J, Köhnke R, Ekblom B, Blomstrand E. Maximal lengthening contractions increase p70 S6 kinase phosphorylation in human skeletal muscle in the absence of nutritional supply. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2006 Dec;291(6):E1197-205.
  2. Scott CB. The effect of time-under-tension and weight lifting cadence on aerobic, anaerobic, and recovery energy expenditures: 3 submaximal sets. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2012 Apr;37(2):252-6.

3 thoughts on “M.A.S.S. Training Part 1: The 5 principles of skeletal muscle hypertrophy

  • Toph says:

    Excellent article again! Been experimenten with tut lately, after having trained for 1,5 years with mainly focussing on the concentric part. Hopefully I can reap the benefits of it!

  • Miraculously says:

    Great article! I’ve learned some new things I can, and I will, apply in my training . Would love to see the second part of this series.

  • Piet says:

    Great article, very informational and well explained!

    I do have one question tho.. How does this relate to the research quoted by Brian Haycock in the HST guide and FAQ? I see a lot of simularities but also some deviations. (especially about the full body/2 muscle groups split)

    I also think it’s not quite accurate to qoute pro’s as example of adaptation as almost all of them are on steroids, IGF-1 and insulin. I have been training too long to believe they do it without. Time and time again you will find evidence they use.

    I saw a post by Peter on the Dutch bodybuildig forum where he says to respect Bryan as a researcher but also says his principals are not right. In the process of gathering complete information I’m looking what is not correct in his research.

    Greetings

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