So you want to build some muscle mass? It’s easy right… Sign up to the gym, buy some protein shakes, eat lots of chicken and rice, lift something heavy, read Arnold Schwarzenegger’s encyclopaedia to bodybuilding and all of a sudden you’ve got some extra muscle.

Unfortunately it takes a lots more science and planning to achieve increased muscle mass, not everyone who has read Arnold Schwarzenegger’s encyclopaedia to bodybuilding has gone on to win Mr Olympia and have an illustrious career in movies and politics. However, that doesn’t mean it has to be confusing, it will take a lot of hard work but with the right plan anyone can pack on some muscle mass for any sport or goal or event they like.

What is Hypertrophy?

Hypertrophy is the scientific name for building muscle, but what does it actually take to build more muscle and how can you build the most effective training plan to fit into your schedule? Hypertrophy of the muscle occurs after the muscle cells have been broken down through resistance training. This may include exercises with Barbells, Dumbbells, and Machines to name a few. The muscle cells are broken down during the process of resistance training, they recover after adequate nutrition, and recovery protocols have been followed. In the process of recovery, the muscle cells get bigger and stronger creating larger muscles before for the next session. Benefits of increasing muscle include of course, bigger muscles, which is the essential goal in undertaking this type of training. Other benefits include however, greater injury resilience through the increase of the muscle and a greater ability to produce more strength and power. The more muscle mass a person has the higher amount of energy required to keep them going. Meaning that building some muscle will actually speed up your metabolism which is great for reducing body fat mass

So When Should I Train?

Muscle Recovery from a Hypertrophy training session can take between 48 and 96 hours depending on how intense the session was. So what does this mean for training protocols? Many people train just one body part per session leaving seven days between sessions and possibly a missed opportunity to create more growth of that particular muscle group. Unfortunately, there is not one set protocol to follow to set up the best training week but it needs to tie in with your lifestyle and training program. However, you do it, the best way to ensure effective muscle growth is to train each muscle group within the window of 48-96 hours. Below are some examples as to how this may look.

If I train six days per week, I could setup my schedule to look something like this. As you can see each muscle group is being trained, every 72 hours to ensure that there is adequate recovery but also ensuring that the muscle is getting enough work each week.

Day 1 – Chest/Back

Day 2 – Legs/Shoulders

Day 3 – Arms/Abs

Day 4 – Chest/Back

Day 5 – Legs/Shoulders

Day 6 – Arms/Abs

Day 7 – Complete Rest (Remember recovery is just as important as actually being in the gym)

What if I can only train three days per week, I could set up my training to look something like this. In this scenario each muscle group is being trained every 48 hours. Since the sessions, however incorporate more muscle groups than the six-day template above, we are able to hit each of them more frequently to achieve more muscle growth.

Day 1 – Whole Body (Legs/Chest/Back/Shoulder/Arms/Abs)

Day 2 – Rest

Day 3 – Whole Body (Legs/Chest/Back/Shoulder/Arms/Abs)

Day 4 – Rest

Day 5 – Whole Body (Legs/Chest/Back/Shoulder/Arms/Abs)

Day 6 – Rest

Day 7 – Rest or Cardio (I.e. – Walk/Bike/Jog/Climb a mountain etc.)

Lastly, how about four days per week, my training plan could be set up something like this. In this situation, each muscle group is being training every 72 hours. Sessions have a slightly narrower focus meaning that the intensity can be higher per muscle group as opposed to the three-day split.

Day 1 – Upper Body (Chest/Back/Shoulders/Arms)

Day 2 – Lower Body (Legs/Abs)

Day 3 – Rest

Day 4 – Upper Body (Chest/Back/Shoulders/Arms)

Day 5 – Lower Body (Legs/Abs)

Day 6 – Rest

Day 7 – Rest or Cardio (I.e. – Walk/Bike/Jog/Climb a mountain etc.)

What About Sets and Reps?

Again, there is not one set way that is most effective for building muscle but rather than focus on how many reps a set should be we should focus on time under tension. This essentially means the time the muscle spends under load. For effective hypertrophy sets, the time should be between 40 and 60 seconds. This may mean we complete 10 reps focussing on lowering (also known as the eccentric phase) for 4 seconds and raising (also known as concentric phase) for 1 second which would equate to 50 seconds in total. Alternatively, maybe we complete 15 reps where we lower for 1 second, hold a pause for 1 second and raise for 1 second equalling 45 seconds of muscle tension. Either way we do it or any combination of will help breakdown the muscle fibre effectively to lead to new muscle growth.

Training sets will again depend on the individual training plan. For a Whole body day like the second example where we are working six different muscle groups you may only be able to complete 4-5 sets within your workout, of course in this situation the recovery per muscle group will be shorter allowing us to train again the same muscle more frequently. In the first example where we only train two muscle groups per day, we may be able to complete 12-15 sets of 3-5 different exercises. This situation will cause more muscle breakdown meaning we need longer to recover than the three day split.

As mentioned multiple times however, each individual will need to assess their training plan to ensure the effectiveness of their training routine depending on factors including, how long you have been training, your training days, your job, and many others that have an effect on how well you can train and how well you can recover.

How Do I Recover?

All of this talk about lifting weights is making me tired, so we should ensure we put a large focus on recovering from these workouts. This is as important, if not more important that the actual training itself. Let’s keep it simple and focus on three things. Firstly and most importantly you need to get lots of sleep. Believe it or not your parents where correct, we do need lots of sleep. For Adults at least 8 hours a night should do it. Nutrition, yes protein shakes are a good start but we need to emphasise good quality protein sources such as meat and eggs for recovery, quality carbohydrates for energy and good fats for overall health. Plus you better make sure you drink lots of water each day. Finally, time, trying to train hard and ask the body to do more and more work will only get you so far. Ensure you space out your workouts and other activities throughout the week in a manner that allows you to give your body enough time to recover and rebuild. Follow any of the plans outlined above or come and see a professional Coach who can give you further guidance.

Off to the Gym!

Good luck with your training plan. The next step is to combine all of this information together for your new training plan, get into the gym and get growing.

Happy lifting!

– Corey Wolski