Hypertrophy Strength Training For Beginners


How do muscles grow

With increased overload, muscle protein is catabolised before protein from food is used in the re-growth of muscle tissue. In the rest period following work, this means there will be an increase in protein density, thus enlarging the muscle fiber. Strength is not just size, it requires several other factors — motor units involved, neural synchronicity, bio mechanical advantages, neural inhibition. The muscles grow not just from muscle tissue but from an increased capillary density and nerve and other cell densities.

Muscle cell components

Myofibrils 20-30%
Mitochondria 15-25%
Sarcoplasm 20-30%
Capillaries 3-5%
Fat deposits 10-15%
Glycogen 2-5%
Connective tissue 2-5%
Other subcellular substances 4-7%

Methods of overload

Myofibrils 6-12 reps
Mitochondria 12-15 reps
Sarcoplasm 6-25 reps
Capillaries 15-25 + reps
Fat deposits rest and diet
Glycogen diet
Connective tissue 6-12 reps
Other subcellular substances 6-25 diet / rest

Training for size requires more varied loads and more varied reps than a typical strength program but heavy enough to elicit failure in the 6-12 rep range. Rest is short to moderate since it is important to start the next set before full recovery is achieved. You may do 12-20 sets on each muscle group. This higher overall training volume coupled with a moderate training intensity, although lower than for training training, appears to be optimal for increases in muscle girth. Despite the recognition of 8-12 reps being the classical rep range, hypertrophy can occur anywhere between 1-50 reps.

Other important factors to consider with training for weight gain.

  • nutritional factors
  • mental psyche
  • body and fiber type
  • access to equipment
  • training age
  • time available


There is a relative lack of individual fiber hypertrophy in bodybuilders who possess fundamental limb girths. This concludes that larger muscles may be caused by an increase in the number of muscle fibers — hyperplasia. Body builders exhibit a larger absolute amount of collagen and other non-contractile connective tissue. Other cross sectional studies have revealed a percentage of type II fibers in bodybuilders lower than that found in other anaerobic athletes and larger number and size of type I fibers.

Biochemical adaptation to hypertrophy training is similar to strength in gaining type II fiber hypertrophy. Research has shown that the results from training for improvements in strength and endurance at the same time are less effective than training each component individually. Abernathy and Quigley suggest the most effective form of training for improvements in both areas would be to periodize the training. This would enable us to improve firstly one then the other allowing for differences in upper and lower limit adaptations to concurrent training

Strength and endurance training

The interference generated when training for both strength and endurance simultaneously has yet to be completely determined through research. A recent study by Hennessy and Watson found that "strength training alone resulted in improvements in strength, vertical jump and speed while maintaining endurance." Strength and endurance training resulted in endurance and upper body strength gains, but it compromised gains in lower body strength "Therefore the needs of the sport would need to be determined prior to setting up the training of both strength and endurance. Abernathy and Quigley state that "it is not yet known what would be the optimal structure for such periodisations". Further research is needed to determine the most effective method.

The current information available suggests that when training for a sport that requires one of the particular qualities more than the other then it is best to train one area of ​​fitness and then maintain it while emphasize the other. However the compatibility of strength training and endurance training depends heavily on the training age of the athlete. Both strength and endurance gains will be noticed in some one with little training experience. In the more experienced trainer it is difficult to phase such workouts in to the training week and still allow full recovery from strength workouts and the more taxing aerobic work. Endurance training will not improve the level of strength gained; strength training has the ability to improve an athlete's endurance.

Integration and interference of strength

Size has a 50% correlation with strength, therefore as a lead up to maximum strength training the athlete may follow a hypertrophy phase to increase lean body mass. If lean body mass is reduced the potential strength level is also reduced. The adaptation that sees a direct increase in maximum strength is mostly a neural one. The intra muscular adaptation decrees the sensitivity in the Golgi tendon organs which increases the net neural and strength output. As the GTO's are desensitized greater strength training is possible and a greater gain in maximum strength is achieved. Increasing the decreasing activity of the supraspinal activity decreases the inhibitory of the muscle which allows greater levels of strength training. A more efficient neural output increases the potential maximum strength level achieved.

The training program should allow for the improvement of both areas. However the principle of specific states that training must relate to the actions and abilities required and integrating the training must be done in a periodised manner.

Two most important factors

  • Tension placed on a muscle
  • Duration of the training stimulus


· High number of reps (eg 300 reps / workout)
· Reps in the 6 — 15 range
· Sets numbering 3 to 6
· Advanced trainers possible rep range (80% of 1 RM Squats — 4 to 6 reps, 80% of 1 RM Leg press — 20 reps), 5 x 10, 4 x 10, 5 x 6, 5 x 10, 5 x 8 , 5 x 6, 5 x 8, 5 x 6, 5 x 5


· Low to moderate
· Significant factor is how much weight you lift in tonnes
· Volume x Intensity of load = Tonnes


· 3 to 4 sec Eccentric, 2 to 3 sec Concentric

Variety of Exercises

· Novice — 8 to 10 exercises, 2 to 3 sets each
· Advanced — 4 to 5 exercises, 3 to 6 sets each


· High training volume requires greater recovery after the workout
· Each muscle only needs 2 workouts per week
· 1 to 3 min recovery between each set or / HR below 100 bpm
· 10 RM + 1 min rest = surge in growth hormone
· 3 RM + 3 min rest = surge in testosterone
· High cortisol levels reduce strength. Cortisol breaks down the muscle tissue to glycogen (glucose). A drink should be taken immediately to decrease cortisol levels and the ratio between cortisol and testosterone is better so that the anabolic process occurs faster than increased levels of testosterone proportionally.

Reps and Sets

Given below is a general acceptance of what the rep range produces in terms of results. However there is also a general rule that training will occur in any rep range outside that which is currently being trained or has been done previously.

3 x 1-4

· Improved strength
· Minimal change on muscle mass
· Neural factors most attributed to change in strength
· Inappropriate for novices
· Stimulation duration critical factor here

3 x 4-8

· Improved neural drive
· Some hypertrophy in upper end of this range — assuming all other factors controlled
· Novices make most gains here

3 x 8-12

· Significant hypertrophy
· Less neural adaptations
· Ideal for developing technique in novices

3 x 12-15

· Some hypertrophy
· Improved muscle endurance
· Weights too light to start maximal strength changes
· Improved coordination

3 x 15-25

· Muscle endurance
· Some hypertrophy but not from contractile tissue

How many sets?

As a general rule you can use the table below as a guide to how many sets a person should complete. In my experience this table can vary significantly and over the past 20 years I have used reps and sets at different times based on the persons ability to progress and develop those skills essential to multiple sets.

Mark McKean