How much protein is optimal? How many sets get the best results? What's the most effective split for muscle gain?
Putting on muscle can get confusing with all of the information floating around the Internet. Success often hides in the details, and knowing what specifics to focus on can be overwhelming. This simple eight-tip countdown covers the basic ingredients of a successful hypertrophy plan for muscle gain. Use it as a starting point and as a base to add more complexity as you progress. The checklist for serious muscle starts right here:
Eight Hours of Sleep
In 2011, Cheri Mah, a researcher with the Stanford Sleep Disorders Clinic and Research Laboratory, studied men's basketball players and found that several weeks of sleep extension improved reaction time, mood, levels of day-time sleepiness, and specific indicators of athletic performance (including free throws, 3-point field goals, and sprint time). These findings suggest that sleep duration is an important component of peak performance.
Learn the secrets of better, muscle-building sleep.
Research has shown that seven to eight reps develop the larger Type 2 muscle fibers responsible for size and strength through hypertrophy training. This is not absolute and should be varied over time. Bodybuilder hypertrophy has been shown to optimize around the 8-12 rep range. But for athletes, seven to eight reps is a great place to gain size and strength. Think of this as the sweet spot where muscle size and strength gains can overlap.
Six Protein-Rich Servings Per Day
You tear down in the gym and rebuild in the kitchen. Hard lifting with inadequate protein is like running out of bricks while building a house. Nutrition guru John Berardi recommends that men eat two servings of lean, complete protein (40-60g) with each meal every few hours, and women eat one serving of lean, complete protein (20-30g) with each meal every few hours.
Charles Poliquin is well known for popularizing the science behind tempo in the North American strength and conditioning world. He points out studies that show protein synthesis is greatest after eccentric enhanced lifting. His recommendation for building more muscle is to use a 4- to 6-second eccentric motion with an explosive or 1-second concentric motion. For example, on a Pull-Up, go slow on the way down and fast on the way up.
Four Compound/Multi-Joint Exercises Per Body Part Per Week
Research confirms that exercise volume may be more important than exercise intensity for stimulating and maximizing the duration of the muscle protein synthesis (MPS) response. To achieve this size-increasing response, studies show that at a minimum you need to hit six sets per body part per workout. The upper end of volume per body part should be roughly 10 sets per workout when hypertrophy is the goal. This would establish a range of 12-20 sets per body part per week if you hit it twice.
For example during the workouts that include legs:
- 3 Sets Squats
- 3 Sets Dumbbell Lateral Step-Ups
- 3 Sets Bulgarian Split Squats
- 3 Sets Trap Bar Deadlifts
Total volume: 12 sets per week
Three Sets Per Exercise
A study in the Strength and Conditioning Journal found that multiple sets (two to three) were associated with 40 percent greater hypertrophy than one set, in both trained and untrained subjects. In addition, there was no significant difference in muscle size between two to three sets per exercise and four to six sets per exercise. For elite lifters and body builders, higher sets may be beneficial, but as a standard starting point, go with three sets.
Two Times Per Week You Need to Hit Each Muscle Group
A recent study showed trained individuals experience maximal gains by training each muscle group two days per week. An example of this could be a four-day split like this:
- Day 1: Upper Body
- Day 2: Lower Body
- Day 3: Off
- Day 4: Upper Body
- Day 5: Lower Body
- Day 6: Off
- Day 7: Off
One-Minute Rest Periods
According to the authors of the NSCA Essentials of Strength and Conditioning, 3rd Edition, the optimal rest period for hypertrophy training is between 30 and 90 seconds. For moderate loads where seven to eight reps are generated, 60 to 90 seconds can be used to take advantage of the muscle's recovery curve by re-stressing it prior to full recovery.
Learn more about the importance of rest intervals.
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