Sunday, September 21, 2014


The lifting world is littered with those who seek the ever elusive goal of hypertrophy.  Their quests and inquiries take many forms.

“How long should I strength train until I start a hypertrophy program?”

“What are the best movements for hypertrophy?”

“If I follow protocol X, can I expect to see some hypertrophy?”

"NO, WAIT!  I need to find out if it's 7 or 8 reps for hypertrophy!"

First, allow me to make a social commentary.  I find it comical how we have demonized the pursuit of getting bigger for the sake of getting bigger, to the point that trainees try so hard to hide behind scientific terms in order to create what appears to be a legitimate pursuit. No one worries about strength, and they simply ask “how do I train to get stronger”, but rarely is the question asked “How do I train to get bigger?”  And when the question is asked, the author is bombarded with critique, for how dare they be vain in their attempt to improve their physique.

But I digress.  The questions go on and on.  The root of all these questions is the same: the idea that somehow, getting bigger is complicated, complex, specific, and hidden from the public.

The sheer fact these questions are being asked is proof enough that the inquirer is missing the honest to goodness key to hypertrophy: effort.  There is no codex that needs to be cracked or secret unlocked or tome uncovered, one simply needs to put in some real gut wrenching, blood vessel bursting, eyeball popping effort.

Despite creating a caloric deficit, this guy is probably going to get some hypertrophy

We need only look at athletes in other sports to understand this reality.  These kids that think that the mysteries of hypertrophy remain only available to those in bodybuilding circles fail to take notice of the upper body development of the gymnast, or the lower body of the cyclist, or even simply the physiques of strongmen, powerlifters, Olympic lifters, etc.  In many cases, we actually witness instances of those who aren’t even TRYING to get more muscular still managing to do so by sheer nature of the needs and demands of their sport, and meanwhile folks at home stare longingly at their biceps wondering why they refuse to grow.  Hell, some of these people compete in weight classes, and have to actually dial down their diets because their training is so intense and effective that, if they aren’t careful, they’ll put on too much muscle and grow into the next class.  What a great problem to have.

May know a thing or two about getting bigger

One needs to place their bodies in a state where growing is the only logical choice to make.  Those who do not actually stress their muscles to any significant degree will never accomplish this, regardless of splits, rest times, rep tempo, frequency, etc.  So much time and energy is fixated on finding out where these “hypertrophy routines” are hidden and how they are structured that the big picture gets lost.  These are the same individuals who critique the “broscience” crowd at their gym for not knowing how to train and then lament the reality that these “idiots” have managed to get bigger than them.

“Strength routines” aren’t responsible for a sudden loss of muscle in the general population, it is instead the people that these routines continue to draw.  The internet is a cycle of beginners advising beginners on how to not be beginners, and in doing so everyone is on the same routine of 3 sets of 5 reps for 3 exercises with this absolute fear of overtraining by including anything else.  These same people stall for months, never push past their limits, and achieve lackluster strength and physiques.  It is from this stalling that the routine is blamed, and in turn a new path is sought.

Missing; The intensity needed to match the amount of intake

For the sadist, examining the process of this beginner in their pursuit can be enjoyable.  We witness them on forums, trying their absolute hardest to craft a question that will eventually result in someone lending some validation to their thought process that SOMEHOW, there must be a different way to do things.  They’ll state “I did strength routines for a while, but didn’t get the physique I like.  What is a good bodybuilder routine?”  They will be given a routine that looks suspiciously like their previous routine, with lots of heavy compound lifts and some higher rep work thrown in.  Where is the all isolation work routine that bodybuilders do?

They’ll try a different approach, claiming “I don’t want to actually look like a bodybuilder, I just want to start a hypertrophy routine.”  When given another identical routine, they’ll assume the issue is on their end, as they are clearly asking the wrong question.  They’ll clarify “I don’t need to get HUGE, I just want to put on a little muscle”, and once again, the same advice is present.  Still no magical all isolation machine routine.  What does it take to get this?!

People have gotten bigger for years by just busting their asses.  Soliders in boot camp, eating a caloric deficit, getting 4 hours of sleep, doing tons of cardio and only bodyweight exercises have put on muscle because they had no other choice.  Inmates, eating a government approved diet of all carbs, lifting pillowcases full of water and squatting their cellmate, have put on muscle because they had the quite literal killer instinct that drove them to push their bodies to the brink of extinction.  High school football players in the 70s with no internet access and no lord and savior in Mark Rippetoe, running 2 a days, smoking pot, and eating whatever mom cooked them put on muscle because the alternative was to lose the game and get crushed on the field. The magic was in the effort, not the program.


  1. Nice article. Its so black and white in my mind but people still think there is a magical pill that will give them muscle. Some secret Bulgarian training protocol that will make their muscles and dicks grow at alarming rates. I tell people when they ask me how to gain muscle the fastest to get stronger with reps. Its the easiest way go from dead lifting and rowing your 5 rep max and turn it into your 12 with good food you will get bigger period. Its simple just requires work and that right there is the problem. Again good article man.

    1. Thanks man. It's good to hear you've had the same experience. It amazes me how much I will see and hear unsuccessful people discuss the most minor of details about training, whereas most the successful people I know quickly run out of things to talk about because it's all about putting in work.

  2. I was looking at videos yesterday of people doing 5 rep sets of deadlifts. Unsurprisingly, the guys who could do 550 for 5 were bigger than those who could only do 450, 350, 250. It seems as if doing whatever it takes to add 100lbs to your deadlift 5RM will probably make you bigger.

    1. Comically enough, we see the same overthinking on the strength side, with so many folks thinking that it must be formulas, and rep ranges and set amounts and rest times and frequency and etc etc that drives progress on the lifts, when in reality it's still the same skull splitting intensity that makes one progress. How many more kids on beginner programs stalling out on a 95lb overhead press is it going to take before we realize that 3x5 or 5x5 matters so little compared to just busting your ass and forcing your body to grow?

      Appreciate the post. Thanks for following me from t-nation.