Two Simple Ways to Gain Muscle Mass

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When it comes to building muscle mass, I get two types of clients:

– Client A wants to gain a bit of muscle but doesn’t want to “get too big.” Looking like a linebacker is definitely not on their bucket list.

– Client B would like to get as big as house and doesn’t care how they do it. They often slap a picture of the Hulk on my desk and say “make me look like that.”

So who is right and who is in the wrong? Well, neither actually. Besides the point that everyone is entitled to their opinion, both clients are actually discussing the science behind building muscle without even realizing it. See, if you want to gain muscle mass, you have one of two choices: focus on sarcoplasmic hyptertrophy or try and apply myoffibrillar hypertrophy to your training.  If you’re asking yourself what the heck I just spat out on this article, read on for a more practical definition of the two.

Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy usually applies to a bodybuilder. This is the type of muscle building in which the volume of fluid in the muscle increases. This results in that “puffy” muscle look: almost like the muscles are swelled up after a workout. Some of the ways to achieve this leans towards the more extreme methods of training, i.e., pounding a muscle until it begs for mercy. You may be familiar with the following techniques:

-Drop sets

-Giant Sets

-Time Under Tension

-“Running the Rack”

-20 rep squats

You’ll definitely gain size with his approach as you’ll pretty much only be limited by your ability to recover and genetics. However, there are cons to this approach, and in some cases (not all) you can become “all show and no go.” Because the training isn’t considered with movements and load there isn’t much carryover into real world application. There are always exceptions to the rule, but you may come across a guy who is jacked with muscle but struggles to do a one arm kettlebell press.

On the other hand, you can focus you’re training on myofibrillar hypertrophy, sometimes known as functional hypertrophy. In this case, strength is a component because you’re training focuses on increasing the size of the actual proteins inside a muscle. People who have this look have very dense muscles; it almost looks like they could absorb bullets Man of Steel style (just don’t actually try that).  You won’t look as big, but your training will focus on load and speed of movement.

In this case, repetitions are very low, very rarely going over 6 reps. However, muscle growth occurs because of the sheer volume of work; in fact, Russia’s own Pavel Tsatsouline is a huge proponent of this approach, often advocating 10-20 sets of 3-5 reps! You’re training is primarily made up of compound moves like squats, deadlifts, chins, and pulls. Bicep curls and lateral raises aren’t going to find their way in a training program like this. With that being said, if you’re an athlete, you can apply your training to your sport year round and just crank up the volume during an off-season.

Which technique is best? Like I said earlier, it depends on your individual preferences. Either way, you’ll build muscle as long as your diet and recovery methods are in order. Many times though, trainees tend to try and combine techniques to sub-par results. I’ve attached a simple chart below so you can pick what training method works best for you and ultimately, what look you want to achieve.

Sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy Myofibrillar Hypertrophy
“Look” Large size, puffed up muscles Hard and dense
Typical Split Body part split Full Body, Push/Pull
Ideal Reps 8-10, 20 rep squats 3-6
Sets 4 per movement 10+
Movements Compound and isolation Compound, Olympic Pulls and Lift Variations
Style Muscle failure, chronic tension Speed of contraction


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