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7 Proven Tips & Techniques to Boost Muscle Growth

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Are you looking to take your training to the next level and boost muscle growth? Let me do the dirty work for you; I’ve trawled through all of the research and tested these methods for years in the gym with hundreds of clients.

In this article, I break down three simple categories – training principles, supplementation and advanced training variables which you can use to boost muscle growth.

Now’s the time to use a blend of science and practical application to make your body grow. So here we go…

 

Training Principles to Boost Muscle Growth

Volume

Training volume is essentially the amount of work you’re putting your muscles through. It can be quantified as Sets X Reps X Weight lifted. Many refer to volume as a key factor driving muscle growth.

For example: if you are doing 5 sets of bench press for 10 reps at 200lbs your volume for that exercise will be 5 X 10 X 200 = 10,000lbs.

The amount of volume that you need to maximize muscle growth depends on your training status. For beginners, research shows that as little as 3 sets per exercise will increase muscle growth to a greater degree compared to 1 set [1].

It appears that there is a dose response between volume and muscle growth, meaning the more sets you perform the more you are going to stimulate muscle growth. Recent research also shows that 10 sets per muscle group a week leads to greater gains compared to 5 sets [2].

So how do you use volume to your advantage when training? The answer is very carefully; while more volume leads to more muscle growth, too much can be very taxing and needs to be monitored properly. In other words, there’s a cut-off point, where extra volume doesn’t provide any greater benefit and can even be negative in some cases (e.g. over training etc.).

Factors such as your training status, recovery capabilities, hormones, diet, sleep, gender and current volume will all determine where is best to start.

If you aren’t training that much, focus on a low to moderate volume (3-5 sets per muscle group) and then gradually increase your training volume on a weekly basis. If you currently train with a high volume per session, maybe look into another variable such as frequency (discussed below) which may have you even reduce the total volume per session but train more often, increasing the total volume per week.

Frequency

Training frequency is the amount of times you train a muscle in a given week. The typical bro split consists of training each muscle group 1x a week; while this may allow for a high training volume within the session, periods of high frequency may provide a new stimulus or help you maximize muscle growth and strength.

At the biological level every time you work out, you stimulate Muscle Protein Synthesis (MPS). When MPS is elevated your cells lay down new muscle fibers and, over time, this results in muscle growth. A high frequency may help because the post-workout rise in MPS does not last forever. In fact, one study showed in untrained individuals it may last for 2-3 days; however for trained individuals it may only last for 12-24 hours [3].

Also, MPS and muscle growth is not systemic, which means it does not affect the whole body. In essence, when you work out the resulting boost in MPS and all the other mechanisms of growth will only affect the muscles you train that given day.

Now taking all of this into account if you train your chest 1x a week, your chest may only be growing for 12-24 hours out of the entire week! One way to combat this is by increasing your training frequency, giving each muscle 2 or even 3 stimuli every 7 days.

Linked to above, to apply training frequency properly you’re going to need to lower the volume of your individual training sessions. For instance, performing 8 sets per workout instead of 15-20 sets (however, remember the total for the week will be equal or even more).

Example High Frequency Training Plan (Training each muscle 2x per week).

Monday: Push (Chest, Triceps, Shoulders)
Tuesday: Pull (Back, Biceps)

Wednesday: Legs (Quads, Hamstrings, Calves)

Thursday: Push (Chest, Triceps, Shoulders)
Friday: Pull (Back, Biceps)

Saturday: Legs (Quads, Hamstrings, Calves)
Sunday: Rest

Rest intervals

Rest intervals refers to the amount of time you take in-between sets. Rest time can have a huge impact on the intensity and overall outcome of your workouts.

There are two main schools of thought when it comes to optimizing rest intervals.

  1. Short Rest intervals (30s) will burn more calories, increase metabolic stress and cell swelling while acutely increasing muscle building hormones such as growth hormone, IGF-1, and Testosterone [4].
  2. Long rest intervals (60-90s) will allow for improved recovery between sets and allow you to work at a higher training volume [5].

So the question then becomes which one is optimal for muscle growth (remember, it’s always context and goal dependent)?

The answer is probably a combination of both.

Two of the primary mechanisms for muscle growth are metabolic stress, and mechanical tension. Metabolic stress is suggested to be activated through short rest intervals whereas mechanical tensions can be applied through long rest intervals [6].

While the effectiveness of acute rises in hormones post workout is up for debate (read more on this in a full article here) some studies have shown you can achieve similar gains in muscle from both short and long rest intervals [7][8].

The big problem, however, with short rest intervals is that it may reduce your total volume and strength. For this reason, a combination of both, possibly with heavier and intense work at the start of the workout, which utilizes 90-180 seconds followed by some more metabolic sets near the end (using perhaps 45-90 seconds rest), can help you achieve potential benefits of both.

 

Variation of Exercises and Rep Ranges

Varying your exercises and rep ranges is also a potential method to overcome plateaus, weak areas and boost overall muscle growth.

Our body is constantly striving to stay in homeostasis (meaning it wants to stay the same or balanced). So, when you apply a new stimulus such as a leg exercise it will try to get better at that exercise by adapting, increasing strength and size.

However, over time if you do the same leg exercises or do not vary your exercise selection, your body will adapt to that particular movement pattern, potentially overloading one specific muscle within a group or area (and not overloading other muscles or muscle groups).

Therefore, varying your exercises changes the angle and biomechanics, targeting different portions of the muscle and strength curve. This can help you maximize overall muscular development; one good example is your quadriceps muscles. Although it’s often described as one muscle, it has 4 muscles that all have different functions and origins/insertions [6][9].

Previous research has investigated the effects of varying the exercise selection of lower body exercises compared to constant exercise selection. The results demonstrated greater total growth in all four heads of the quadriceps muscle in the varying group compared to the constant group [10].

Along with varying your exercises, varying your rep ranges follows the same principle and may be beneficial. By switching your rep ranges frequently, you can keep your body adapting and work different muscle fiber types and stimulate growth via different mechanisms.

Although it is still early days in this research, one study showed that individuals who trained with rep ranges of 2-4RM, 8-12RM and 20-30RM in the same week saw slightly greater increases in muscle thickness compared to those who trained at a constant rep range [11].

As you can see, to boost muscle growth you may want to alter your rep ranges and exercise selection, especially if you’ve been on the exact same plan for a while!

 

Supplements to Boost Muscle Growth

Creatine

Creatine monohydrate is one of the most extensively researched supplements on the market with lots of strong research showing it can increase lean mass, power, and strength!

In fact, adding in some creatine may be the quickest and most efficient way to increase lean mass. Research has shown that, when paired with resistance training, creatine supplementation can increase lean body mass up to 4.4lbs in a short period of time! [12]

Unlike anabolics or other muscle building supplements, creatine is also very safe and has an immense amount of benefits spanning over several different populations … yes, even your grandma should probably be taking creatine! [13].

To benefit as quickly as possible start with 20g a day (split into 4x 5g servings) for 5 days followed by 5 grams a day (it can be taken anytime of the day or pre/post workout).

Whey protein

We all know that a high protein diet is key for muscle growth and your physique. Based on this, several studies have shown whey protein can boost muscle growth when used daily to boost total protein intake or around the workout (pre/post).

As you may also know, research suggests that whey protein results in greater increases in MPS compared to soy and casein; so it is likely the best choice, especially around the workout because of its high Essential Amino Acid (EAA) content and digestion rates [14].

One study found greater increases in muscle mass when supplementing with protein PRE and POST workout when compared to the same doses taken in the morning or late evening. Based on a mixture of research, although you don’t need to drink you whey shake the minute you finish, more protein around the workout seems to beneficial! [15]

As a minimum you want to aim for 2.7 grams of the anabolic amino acid leucine per serving which is roughly 25-30 grams of high quality whey protein, depending on the brand of protein, of course.

Interestingly, for years most people thought that there was no added benefit to having over 25grams of protein per serving. However, new research now shows a greater rise in MPS following a full body workout with 40g of protein compared to 20g. So, although we need more research, more may equal better in certain conditions! [16]

 

Advanced Training Variables

Blood Flow Restriction

Low intensity exercise in combination with blood flow restriction training is a unique advanced training variable that has been shown to increase muscle size without increasing muscle damage or stressing your joints/body (i.e. when injured or recovering). [17]

Blood flow restriction originally came from Japan where it was first used (and still is very commonly used) as a therapy modality for people coming out of ACL surgery. By applying a tourniquet, (think of a blood pressure cuff they use in the doctor’s office) to their upper thigh, hospitalized patients were able to maintain muscle mass without even walking! [18]

Blood flow restriction results in cell swelling and a buildup of metabolites that drive MPS and can be used as a novel tool to potentially increase muscle size. It is worth noting that this shouldn’t be used to replace your workout; however, it can be used as a tool when injured, short of time, travelling with limited equipment, de-loading or just at the end of a session as an added pump up.

Here’s how you can apply it:

  1. Wrap a tourniquet on the upper area of the desired limb, either your upper leg or just below the shoulder
  2. Tighten the tourniquet to a tightness level of 5-7 out of 10, if your fingers or toes start to tingle or go numb you’ve wrapped to tight! Simply release the pressure and try again.
  3. Select an exercise that allows for a good ‘pump’ and continuous time under tension. For this example we are going to use a cable bicep curl.
  4. Pick a weight around 20-30% one rep max.
  5. Set 1 – 30 reps, Set 2- 15 reps, Set 3- 15 reps, set 4- 15 reps
  6. Rest 30 seconds in between each set and remove the tourniquet after all 4 sets.

If you aren’t used to bodybuilding workouts or drop/supersets then be prepared for an intense burn!

 

Wrapping it all up

Well there you have it : 7 proven tips and techniques to boost muscle growth.

  • Track your volume to establish a baseline and make edits to your training volume or frequency.
  • If you only train once per week, try training more frequently by bitting each muscle 2-3x per week.
  • If you don’t already, try adding in both short and long rest periods to work different mechanisms of hypertrophy.
  • Vary your exercise selection to hit every muscle fiber possible and target different areas of the strength curve.
  • If you don’t already, improve your supplement stack immediately by adding in the most researched supplements on the market such as creatine monohydrate and whey protein.
  • Try adding in an advanced training technique to your workouts or increase training frequency by adding in blood flow restriction at the end of a workout or on a rest.

 

References

  1. Burd, N. A., Holwerda, A. M., Selby, K. C., West, D. W., Staples, A. W., Cain, N. E., … & Phillips, S. M. (2010). Resistance exercise volume affects myofibrillar protein synthesis and anabolic signalling molecule phosphorylation in young men. The Journal of physiology, 588(16), 3119-3130.
  2. Schoenfeld, B. J., Ogborn, D., & Krieger, J. W. (2016). Dose-response relationship between weekly resistance training volume and increases in muscle mass: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Sports Sciences, 1-10.
  3. MacDougall, J. D., Gibala, M. J., Tarnopolsky, M. A., MacDonald, J. R., Interisano, S. A., & Yarasheski, K. E. (1995). The time course for elevated muscle protein synthesis following heavy resistance exercise. Canadian journal of applied physiology, 20(4), 480-486.
  4. Goto, K. A. Z. U. S. H. I. G. E., Ishii, N. A. O. K. A. T. A., Kizuka, T. O. M. O. H. I. R. O., & Takamatsu, K. A. O. R. U. (2005). The impact of metabolic stress on hormonal responses and muscular adaptations. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 37(6), 955-63.
  5. Buresh, R., Berg, K., & French, J. (2009). The effect of resistive exercise rest interval on hormonal response, strength, and hypertrophy with training. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 23(1), 62-71.
  6. Schoenfeld, B. J. (2010). The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 24(10), 2857-2872.
  7. West, D. W., & Phillips, S. M. (2010). Anabolic processes in human skeletal muscle: restoring the identities of growth hormone and testosterone. The Physician and sportsmedicine, 38(3), 97-104.
  8. Fink, J. E., Schoenfeld, B. J., Kikuchi, N., & Nakazato, K. (2016). Acute and Long-term Responses to Different Rest Intervals in Low-load Resistance Training. International Journal of Sports Medicine.
  9. Bloomer, R. J., & Ives, J. C. (2000). Varying Neural and Hypertrophic Influences in a Strength Program. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 22(2), 30.
  10. Fonseca, R. M., Roschel, H., Tricoli, V., de Souza, E. O., Wilson, J. M., Laurentino, G. C., … & Ugrinowitsch, C. (2014). Changes in exercises are more effective than in loading schemes to improve muscle strength. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 28(11), 3085-3092
  11. Schoenfeld, B. J., Contreras, B., Ogborn, D., Galpin, A., Krieger, J., & Sonmez, G. T. (2016). Effects of Varied Versus Constant Loading Zones on Muscular Adaptations in Trained Men. International journal of sports medicine, 37(06), 442-447.
  12. Kreider, R. B. (2003). Effects of creatine supplementation on performance and training adaptations. Molecular and cellular biochemistry, 244(1-2), 89-94.
  13. Kreider, R. B., Wilborn, C. D., Taylor, L., Campbell, B., Almada, A. L., Collins, R., … & Kerksick, C. M. (2010). ISSN exercise & sport nutrition review: research & recommendations. J Int Soc Sports Nutr, 7(7), 2-43.
  14. Tang, J. E., Moore, D. R., Kujbida, G. W., Tarnopolsky, M. A., & Phillips, S. M. (2009). Ingestion of whey hydrolysate, casein, or soy protein isolate: effects on mixed muscle protein synthesis at
  15. Cribb, P. J., & Hayes, A. (2006). Effects of supplement-timing and resistance exercise on skeletal muscle hypertrophy. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 38(11), 1918-1925
  16. Macnaughton, L. S., Wardle, S. L., Witard, O. C., McGlory, C., Hamilton, D. L., Jeromson, S., … & Tipton, K. D. (2016). The response of muscle protein synthesis following whole‐body resistance exercise is greater following 40 g than 20 g of ingested whey protein. Physiological Reports, 4(15), e12893.
  17. Wilson, J. M., Lowery, R. P., Joy, J. M., Loenneke, J. P., & Naimo, M. A. (2013). Practical blood flow restriction training increases acute determinants of hypertrophy without increasing indices of muscle damage. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 27(11), 3068-3075.
  18. Takarada, Y., Takazawa, H., & Ishii, N. A. O. K. A. T. A. (2000). Applications of vascular occlusions diminish disuse atrophy of knee extensor muscles. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 32(12), 2035-2039.

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About Rudy Mawer
Rudy Mawer

Rudy Mawer is human performance researcher and a certified Sports Nutritionist from the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN). He has a first class bachelor's degree in Exercise, Nutrition and Health and a Master's degree in Exercise and Nutrition Science. Rudy has worked as a sports nutritionist and trainer for 7 years, and has helped...[Continue]

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