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How Can We Maximize Muscle Growth, Part 2

Part 2 of our blog on best practices for to maximize muscle growth.

Best Practices to Maximize Muscle Growth

In my last article, we went over the first half of a recently released report from IUSCA (International University Strength and Conditioning Association) on the best practices for maximizing muscle growth. We discussed what loads to use, what volume and frequency to train at, as well as how long to rest in between sets.

Today, we’ll go over the second half of the report, discussing the recommendations for Exercise Selection, Set End Point, and Advanced Training Techniques.

Exercise Selection:

Exercise selection is exactly what it sounds like, what exercises to include, and what the advantages are of each. We can use free weights, machines, cables, we can use multi joint movements like squats or we can use single joint movements such as leg extensions, we can use different planes of movement and angles of pushing or pulling motions.

Though more research on the topic is needed, it does seem that involving different planes and angles of movement is important for full development of the musculature.

Again, the research is still preliminary, but it also seems that using both single and multi-joint exercises does more to develop the muscles than either, when used in isolation.

Finally, exercises shouldn’t be random, but part of cohesive strategy that targets the entire musculature. That’s why it’s a great idea to talk to a qualified personal trainer and get help selecting the right exercises and training methods for your goals.

Set End Point:

Set end point is how close to failure the athlete is when they complete their set. This is different than repetition max in that repetition max refers to the maximum number of full repetitions that someone can complete. We can also use repetitions in reserve (RIR) or reps until failure (rtf) to describe how many more reps the athlete could complete if they were going to failure.

A number of studies have shown that training to failure does increase muscle growth. However, studies have also found that training to failure negatively influences recovery and can induce signs of overtraining, especially if used frequently.

Beginner lifters can achieve strong muscle growth without training close to failure, but more advanced lifters seem to require a greater intensity of effort to stimulate growth.

The study writers believe that occasional failure training might be helpful for advanced lifters, and that it may be better to take single joint exercises to failure as opposed to multi-joint as this will aid in recovery and reduce the risks of overtraining.

Advanced Training Methods:

Advanced training methods refers to specialized techniques that are designed to enhance the mechanisms by which hypertrophy occurs. Put in more plain language, these techniques intend to produce more effort and heavier targeting of the selected muscles. They include dropsets (stopping at your RM, and then going to your RM at a lighter weight), supersets (doing one exercise immediately after another), heavy negatives (doing the eccentric or lowering portion of the exercise at a weight one cannot do the concentric or lifting portion of exercise with), pre/post exhaustion (exhausting a target muscle before or after doing a heavy exercise utilizing those muscles) forced repetitions (where the spotter helps the lifter continue doing repetitions after he’s reach exhaustion), and others.

This may surprise you, given that an overwhelming majority of bodybuilders use advanced training methods, but the research so far doesn’t show that advanced training methods produce greater hypertrophy than traditional training. That being said, there are a number of limitations to the research so far. For example, the majority of studies have been of relatively short duration. It’s possible that over longer training periods, smaller advantages might be more apparent—and one study on eccentric training over a longer period (12 weeks) did find that the eccentric group had greater relative hypertrophy than the control group.

There’s also a significant amount of evidence that greater intensity of effort produces greater hypertrophy, and since most advanced training methods are designed to increase intensity of effort, the authors admit that it makes logical sense that advanced training methods would increase hypertrophy, even if the science hasn’t proven that yet (full disclosure, the author of this piece uses almost all of the advanced training methods described above)

Finally, though there’s no evidence for increased hypertrophy from dropsets, they do present a time-efficient approach when compared to traditional training.

That concludes my summary of IUSCA’s report on maximizing hypertrophy. Hope you’ve enjoyed and feel informed!

Best of luck hitting your fitness goals!

Written by Kru Chase Degenhardt

Kru Chase Degenhardt is a former champion in multiple combat sports with over fifteen years of experience training combat athletes.

Works Cited