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Training for Hypertrophy: How to Manipulate the Mechanisms of Muscle Growth

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hypterOn the surface, building that sweet, sweet muscle seems pretty simple, right?

Lift a bunch of heavy-ass weight, eat a bunch of food, and BOOM: you’re an instant beast.

While this basic approach may work for some, particularly beginners, it certainly doesn’t take into account everything that goes into a successful hypertrophy program.

In fact, the more and more advanced of a lifter you become, the harder it is to build muscle.

The biggest reason for this is that, as humans, we have a genetic ceiling to the amount of muscle we can add naturally. The closer we get to this ceiling, the more important it becomes to understand the factors involved in packing on slabs of lean muscle.

The 3 Mechanisms of Muscle Growth and How to Use Them 

There are three main factors that are involved in hypertrophy:

  1. Muscle Tension
  2. Metabolic Stress
  3. Muscle Damage

Let’s cover each in detail, and look at how you can use these to your advantage.

Muscle Tension 

I wrote an entire article on muscle tension that you can check out, but the gist of it is that you can think of muscle tension as how efficiently you lift the weight.

For example, take the bench press: most people typically bounce the bar off their chest and lock their elbows out at the top of the movement. While this may be the common way that most people bench, that doesn’t make it right.

When you bench like this, the tension on the muscles is reduced at the top and bottom of the movement. 

You never want your muscles to take a break during the lift.

The best way to accomplish this is to employ constant tension, where you stop your lift just short of the top and bottom of the movement. This keeps the tension on the muscles constant through the entire lift.

Think of it as only using 90% range of motion.

For most people, understanding muscle tension is difficult, but it’s important because it actually helps to drive metabolic stress and muscle damage.

Metabolic Stress

Metabolic stress is typically referred to as “the pump”, and it’s the feeling you get when your muscles become exhausted. What happens is your muscles aren’t receiving as much oxygen as they’re used to, combined with a build-up of blood and lactic acid.

This is critical and triggers a process that ends with your muscle cells being activated and consequently primed for growth.

Muscle Damage

Muscle damage sounds bad, but this is the good kind and exactly what we’re looking to do.

The process of creating muscle damage forces muscle fibers to repair themselves, and when they do that, they come back bigger, stronger, and denser. Because of this, we need to keep finding ways to induce muscle damage.

The simplest way to do this is by lifting heavier and heavier weights. This can’t be done forever without employing new methods to increase muscle damage.

These are the three factors involved in muscle growth. Now, let’s talk about the strategies we need to use to manipulate them to our advantage. 

Advanced Strategies for Manipulating Muscle Growth 

Time Under Tension (TUT)

TUT is the amount of time you spend lifting a weight, typical prescribed as a tempo like 3-1-2-0, wherein 3 is the amount of time you spend in the eccentric (or lowering) portion of the lift, 1 is the pause at the bottom, 2 is the time spent in the concentric (or raising) portion of the lift, and 0 is the pause at the top.

While the weights used here are typically lighter, the increased muscle tension increases both metabolic stress and muscle damage.

Another way to manipulate TUT is by using negatives. Negatives are similar to tempo reps, except the eccentric (lowering) portion of the lift is the only portion with a count.

An example of this would be a pull-up where you lift yourself up like you normally would during the concentric (raising) portion, but slowly lower yourself (2-4 seconds) during the eccentric portion.

Pause Reps

Pause reps are a variation on increasing TUT, but they do much more for muscle damage than metabolic stress; the reason being you typically don’t perform pause reps in high numbers.

Pause reps are done when you pause (typically for 1-2 seconds) between the eccentric and concentric portion of a lift. Here, the muscle is in the stretched position, and the pause essentially removes all your ability to cheat when moving the weight back up, thus increasing strength in the muscle itself.

Pause reps are a fantastic way to increase muscle tension and muscle damage.

Cheat Reps 

From preventing cheating to encouraging it…what the hell is going on?

First off, I’m not recommending you start cheating all of your reps just to move more weight. That’s a quick way to injure yourself.

What I am saying however, is that after you have the basics down, you can start using cheat reps as a way to encourage more muscle growth.

Cheat reps allow you to use more weight, or perform more reps past failure, by utilizing things like a knee-bend or body English to help move the weight.

Strategically placed cheat reps are a great way to help increase muscle damage at lower reps, and metabolic stress at higher reps.

Technique Variations

There are a number of ways you can vary your technique to help manipulate muscle growth, such as training from different angles, varying your grip position, using different implements, and so on.

For example, using a fat bar or Fat Gripz increases the thickness of the implement you’re using, and is great for increasing metabolic stress

Another example would be training at different angles and utilizing gravity to increase metabolic stress and muscle tension. A great example of this is a seated or standing dumbbell curl vs. an incline dumbbell curl. The incline dumbbell curl places more tension on the biceps because it eliminates the use of the delts and traps as stabilizers.

Compound Sets, Tri-Sets, Giant Sets, Drop Sets

Anytime you perform two or more exercises back-to-back targeting the same muscle group, you’re going to produce a lot of tension, damage, and stress on your muscles. That’s why these techniques work so well for muscle growth.

And they work especially well when used with isolation exercises for creating tension and stress in smaller muscle groups that don’t get hit as hard with the bigger, compound lifts.

Density

Another fantastic way to manipulate tension, stress, and damage is by increasing your training density.

Density is defined as the amount of work (volume) you do in a given time. You can increase your training density a number of ways, but the best are doing more work in the same amount of time, doing the same amount of work in less time, or doing more work in less time.

All Aboard the Gains Train

As you can see, there are a lot of great techniques for manipulating muscle growth. The problem is though, it can be hard to know which ones you should employ, and in what situation.

This is where making sure you have the right program in place becomes vitally important.

Luckily, I have just that program: Mass Made Easy, a 12-week hypertrophy program that lets you choose your own area of specialization. That means that whatever body part you want to work on, there’s a workout for it.

But that’s not even the best part.

Mass Made Easy takes all the guesswork out of building muscle. No more wondering if you’re doing enough volume, the right exercises, reps, or techniques.

The program utilizes the techniques we talked about above to get you the gains you’ve always wanted.

OK, I said that was the best part, but I lied.

The best part is that, in honor of its launch, Mass Made Easy is on sale for over 50% off all of this week.

Click here to get your copy of Mass Made Easy, and get ready to take your grains to the next level. 

About the Author

Jorden is a Wisconsin native and sports aficionado. When he's not rooting for the Green Bay Packers, watching Game of Thrones, or lifting all ze weights, he's writing articles and training clients through his website. Jorden believes deadlifts cure all things and ice cream should be a regular part of a successful diet. For more info, check out Jorden's website here.

  • Kyle J

    Boom. Great article. People make this stuff out to be rocket science but you’ve made easy to understand and easy to implement. Using tempo for your lifts to manipulate TUT is a great way to ensure adequate stimulation for growth and decrease the risk of injury. Also, I’m a big fan of density training. I feel it helps get leaner as well. Thanks for sharing.

    • Jorden Pagel

      Thanks Kyle, glad you enjoyed it.

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