The secret formula for optimal muscle growth
The idea for this article came to me after I heard some guys talking about training frequency. If you know a thing or two about bodybuilding you may already know that the answer to the question – What is the best training frequency for muscle growth? – is twice per week or every 72-96 hours (3-4 days). Or at least this is what most of the experienced lifters and research studies are telling us.
But in fact, frequency is just one factor out of many that determine muscle hypertrophy. Muscle development depends on a lot of factors. If muscle hypertrophy had a mathematical formula it would be based on all the factors below, if not others as well.
I think these are the most important things that affect our ability to grow bigger muscles. The picture above is just a visual representation of what are the most important things we need to look at. As far as I know there is no scientific study that could tell you the exact weight or importance of any of the above factors in the big picture of muscle hypertrophy.
Anyways, even if it existed I don’t see how such a study could be applicable to everyone since we are all different. So, we are left with only one thing to do. Get ourselves in the gym and experiment, trial and error; see what works best for you, never stick with a routine forever, never stick with a set of exercises forever.
Let’s talk very, very briefly about each of the factors above.
It has been scientifically proved that beginners gain muscle very fast, even in a caloric deficit. Muscle growth gets harder and harder over time; therefore it will be very easy for a guy or gal who is training for 1-2 years to achieve muscle hypertrophy, while for a person with 10 years of serious lifting it will be extremely hard to gain anymore size.
About half of all the muscle mass you can possibly gain in a lifetime (considering you are natural) will be gained in the first couple of years of proper training.
Based on the studies conducted so far it has been proved that training once or twice per week influences muscle growth very little for beginners, while training each body part twice per week is more beneficial for intermediate and advanced lifters.
So if you are in your first year of training it is not that important to focus on hitting every muscle twice a week. Just pick a split that allows you to train at least once a week and you will be fine.
The volume you get in on each training session should be adapted to your routine, experience and recovery period. As a general rule, experienced lifters need to do more volume in order to exhaust their muscles, while for beginners low to medium volume is enough to stimulate the muscles.
Personally, I find intensity and progressive overloading to be one of the most important factors in the muscle hypotrophy. Training with heavier weights will promote muscle growth, and strength gains will eventually translate to muscle gains.
I see a lot of people in the gym that have been training for years but they are not progressing because they use the same weights forever. You need to put your muscles under stress continuously, increase the weigh when it gets to easy.
Having good form and working on the mind – muscle connection has an impact on the effectiveness of your training. I noticed it helps to concentrate on the actual muscle when you are exercising rather than thinking of what movie you are going to watch tonight.
When you are in the gym your mind should be in the gym as well. Focus on what you are doing, try to squeeze the muscle on each rep, have proper form and concentrate on what you are doing.
Other than form, there are advanced exercising techniques such as pause reps or constant tension reps which I recommend experimenting with.
Obviously genetics play an important role in how much and how fast one can build muscle. This is not something you can improve, you just need to work with what you’ve been given and try to become the best version of yourself.
If you are a hard gainer, don’t let this get to you, train hard and do the best you possibly can in the gym.
By rest duration I mean the time you allow yourself to rest between the sets. For optimal muscle growth you should have above average rest duration such as a minute or so. This will allow you to do the next set without dropping the weight too much which is good for developing muscle and strength.
I don’t see hitting failure too often as being beneficial for muscle growth because it affects your performance on the rest of your training. Personally I go to failure just at the end of my last set per each body part and on the rest of the sets I am stopping one or two reps short of failure.
Obviously this one will influence muscle development as well. Compound movements are supposed to have a greater impact in muscular development, while isolation movements give you that pump and may target specific areas of the muscle.
Anyways, our muscles are tridimensional and you should hit them from all angles, using a selection of different exercises. So don’t stick only to the flat bench press, through in there some cable flies, some incline and decline bench, some dips….you got the point.
That is it guys and gals. As you noticed there are a lot of things to consider and work on in the gym. Besides all of the above there is also nutrition, but we are going to talk about that in another post.
Over and out,