Beginner’s Series Part 5: Getting Bigger Muscle

So you read part 4 and thought, “I don’t care about being strong, I care about getting jacked.” Well, fortunately for you, I know a bit about that too. Getting jacked is actually not as complicated as some people make it seem. In fact, the most complicated part of getting big is the nutrition involved in doing it. For now we’re going to focus on the workout mechanics that stimulate muscle growth. First, some definitions:

Protein Catabolism – the breakdown of proteins in a muscle. This is the effect that begins the prompting for muscle growth.

Repeated and Sub-Maximal Effort Method –
These are two methods for hypertrophy. The difference between the two of them is the number of reps performed. The repeated effort method uses 5-7 reps with fast rest periods. The sub-maximal effort method uses 10-12 reps, lifting to technical failure.

Technical Failure – when you are unable to complete a lift without compensation such as thrusting your body to complete a curl.

RM – Repetition Max; the max amount of repetitions performed as a certain weight, i.e. an 80 lbs 8RM means that you can perform a maximum number of 8 reps at 80 lbs.

If you want to get bigger, you need to train like it. There’s two ways that work with relative similarity in results. You can lift moderate weights (8RM to 10RM) and lift it for 5 to 7 reps with short rests (repeated effort method), or you can lift lighter weights (12RM) to technical failure (sub-maximal effort method). Without getting too technical, the goal is to stress your muscles in order to force an adaptation. The stress in this case is to recruit a maximal amount of motor units (the more fatigued your muscles become, the more motor units are recruited.) The adaptation your body makes is to create more muscle from which it can create more motor units. Thus, the goal of lifting is to fatigue your muscles enough to produce this adaptation. This is why you can’t lift light weights for few reps with long rest periods. At that point, it wouldn’t matter if you did 3 sets or 300 sets: if no significant stress is applied to the muscle, no significant adaptation will occur.

If your goal is hypertrophy, there are some simple rules to follow:

Repeated Effort Method:

Make your sets consist of 5-7 reps at a weight of your 8RM. Do not let yourself fully recover from the previous set. This generally means a short rest time of 45 to 90 seconds depending on the person. Each set should be noticeably more difficult than the last, with the final set likely resulting in failure. This way, you will gradually work up to full motor unit recruitment, and eventually fatiguing those motor units. This can require anywhere from 3 to 5 sets.

Sub-Maximal Effort Method:

Your sets should consist of 10-12 reps at a weight of your 12RM. The goal here is lifting to failure in each set, resulting in max motor unit recruitment in each set. Rest periods are less important here due to the recruitment of motor units not being gradual as it is in the repeated effort method. This method is perhaps more time efficient, as you only need 2 to 3 sets to adequately fatigue the muscle.

Muscle gain is truly that simple. There might be more precise ways to maximize muscle growth, but the return on time investment has severe diminishing returns. Major in the basic principles and don’t worry about the latest fad in Men’s Health or wherever they’re coming from.

Information contained here is referenced from “Science and Practice of Strength Training, 2nd Edition” by Vladimir M. Zatsiorsky & William J. Kraemer.

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