How Can We Maximize Muscle Growth? Part 1
The Best Recommendations for Building Muscle – Maximize Muscle Growth!
Recently, the International Universities Strength and Conditioning Association released a massive report that summarizes over 240 studies on various practices to maximize hypertrophy (muscle growth) in athletes. These studies cover everything from load, volume, frequency, exercise selection, set end points, rest intervals, and advanced training techniques.
So, what are the best recommendations for building muscle? Luckily, I’m here to summarize the summary and help you achieve your muscle building goals.
The paper defines loads within the context of maximum repetitions (RM), where 1RM would be your one-rep max and 10RM would be your 10-rep max or the heaviest weight with which you could perform 10 reps.
You may be aware that most bodybuilders tend to focus their training on RMs that fall between 8-12 reps, and the assumption most of us might make is that’s the best rep range for muscle growth. However, the research actually seems to indicate that hypertrophy is comparable at both low loads (>15RM) and high loads (<8RM), and that there may be a hypertrophic benefit to using a variety of different loads.
The research shows that there are practical benefits to keeping loads in the moderate range usually performed by bodybuilders, such as fewer injuries, less stress on the joints, and improved time efficiency.
Volume is defined as the amount of work performed for a given exercise during a training session, and for the purpose of this paper, volume means the number of sets performed (as opposed to number of repetitions or total training load).
It seems that >10 sets per week is a minimum for optimizing hypertrophy, although some individuals may see big increases at lower volumes.
The evidence shows that higher volumes do have a hypertrophic benefit, which could be important in helping weaker muscle chains or groups.
Although evidence is preliminary, there does seem to be a muscle building benefit to increasing volume over a training period and that the volume increase should be limited to roughly 20% of the previous period’s volume.
Frequency is defined as the number of times a given muscle group is trained per week. This is related to volume, but not the same.
There doesn’t seem to be any hypertrophic benefit to increased frequency if volume is held equal, i.e., Training a muscle group once per week for ten total sets seems to produce a similar benefit as training that muscle group five times a week for ten total sets (in both cases, ten sets are being performed that week).
However, it is likely beneficial to increase frequency in higher volume programs. So, if you’re training a given muscle group for 20 sets per week, it might be beneficial to divide that volume up over two or three training sessions because there does seem to be a limit to muscle protein synthesis within a single session. More work needs to be done to optimize the recommendation, but the authors believe that ten sets per muscle group, per session is an optimal range for that muscle group.
Rest Interval is defined as the period in between sets of a given exercise, or between sets of different exercises
The report recommends that rest intervals be at least 2 minutes in duration, though shorter rest periods may be used for single joint and certain machine exercises.
Interestingly, the literature does suggest that the body can adapt to shorter rest periods. Bodybuilders were shown to have been able to perform higher percentages of their 1RM across multiple sets as opposed to Powerlifters. Bodybuilders generally employ shorter rest periods, so this does seem to indicate that the body can adapt to shorter rest period.
That summarizes the findings of the report of Load, Volume, Frequency, and Rest Intervals. Stay tuned for Part 2, where we go over Exercise Selection, Set End Point, and Advanced Training Methods.
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.