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The six best strength training techniques to increase mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy

BY KEVEN ARSENEAULT, AUTHOR OF THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO STRENGTH TRAINING METHODS

MAY 2023

If you want to increase your muscle mass using resistance exercise, you probably already know what to do: You must train well, eat right, consume the right supplements at the right time, sleep like a baby, keep your stress as low as possible, have an optimal hydration status, and so on. But do you know what are the most important things to do when you are training? Doing enough sets? Doing reps until failure? Not really! When you are in the gym, you must stimulate the three primary mechanisms of hypertrophy. I will show you what they are and which strength training techniques will help you to accomplish that kind of stimulation.

1. CREATE A HIGH MECHANICAL TENSION

Mechanical tension is the primary driving force in the hypertrophic response. It has been shown to directly stimulate mTOR, an enzymatic pathway involved in the synthesis of protein. To create high mechanical tension, you must use high loads; the greater the load, the greater the tension on each muscle fiber. This mechanical stimulus on each fiber will create a phenomenon called mechanotransduction, whereby anabolic pathways will be activated. It is the most important muscle stimulus for inducing hypertrophy because of the high degree of responsiveness.

To accomplish good mechanical tension in your workout, you can simply do many sets with 1 to 5 repetitions (high loads). But you can also use other strength training techniques to shock your muscles and induce more gains. Here are two examples:

  • Classic Cluster (technique 50*): Perform only 1 repetition at a time at 87% to 92% of a 3RM load, with a 7- to 12-second rest between each repetition, for a total of 5 reps.

    *All techniques mentioned in this blog come from the book The Complete Guide to Strength Technique Methods.   

  • The Inch Program (technique 44): This method involves performing partial repetitions with a 110% load, gradually increasing the distance to be covered each week by 4 to 5 cm. This method should be combined with full repetitions to ensure you are working through the full range of motion. Typically, you will start with 2 sets of partial reps (110%) followed by 3 sets of full reps (75%-90%). This technique is best used with basic exercises such as the bench press, squat, and deadlift. You will need to use a power rack in order to properly adjust the height of the safety bars to guide your range of motion. On average, you will be able to achieve a 10% increase in strength for that movement over the course of 8 weeks.

2. CREATE A METABOLIC STRESS

The second great mechanism to induce hypertrophy is the metabolic stress. A metabolic stress is an exercise-induced accumulation of metabolites, particularly lactate and H+. (You have approximately 4,000 metabolites in your blood.) A superset is a good example of a metabolic stress. The persistent compression of circulatory flow throughout a longer-duration set results in acute hypoxia, which heightens metabolite buildup. This metabolite accumulation enhances anabolic signaling and myogenesis through increased fiber recruitment, cellular swelling, and elevated hormonal response. (There is strong evidence for a link between lactate production and growth hormone release.)

To accomplish metabolic stress in your workout, you can simply use supersets or drop sets. But there are hundreds of other strength training techniques that create metabolic stress. Here are two of my favorites:

  • Super-Pump Set, Short Version (technique 122): Using a load equal to your 10RM, perform 5 rounds of 4 reps, punctuated by 10 seconds of rest, for 1 set (20 reps in all). The short rest with a heavy weight will create a rapid lactate buildup.

  • Regressive Concentric-Isometric (technique 136): Alternate concentric and isometric reps using a load of 40% to 60%. Do 5 reps, followed by a 5-second isometric hold halfway through the movement, then 4 reps, followed by a 4-second isometric hold halfway through the movement. Continue this pattern until the last isometric hold, which you should maintain until failure. This method traps blood in the muscle for the entire set, thereby creating an accumulation of metabolic acidosis. This causes the release of growth hormone, which helps rebuild muscle, promoting muscle gain.

3. CREATE MUSCLE DAMAGE

The third mechanism to induce hypertrophy is muscle damage. If you create enough muscle damage, you will have decreased force-producing capacity, increased musculoskeletal stiffness and swelling, and delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Also, damaged fibers will need to repair themselves, and satellite cells will be activated to promote tissue repair and regeneration.

Muscle damage is highly influenced by the type of muscular action; eccentric actions have by far the greatest impact. Thus, when you train, try to always keep an eccentric phase for about 2 to 3 seconds. Therefore, if you are doing 10 repetitions, you must accomplish 1 set with a duration between 30 and 40 seconds (2 or 3 seconds down and 1 second up). If you are already doing this, you can use many techniques to increase the time under tension or the load in the eccentric phase of a movement. Here are two fairly simple techniques to increase your muscle damage:

  • 2/1 Technique (technique 171*): This technique involves overloading a unilateral movement. To do this, execute the concentric phase explosively using both limbs, then control the eccentric phase for 3 to 5 seconds using only one limb. This technique is very easy to accomplish with stationary machines.

  • Two-Movement Technique (technique 172): This technique is an alternative to the 2/1 technique for barbell and free weight exercises and involves overloading an isolation movement. You will use a multijoint movement for the concentric phase and an isolation movement for the eccentric phase (3 to 5 seconds). The isolation movement focuses on a muscle group that is involved in the multijoint movement.

CONCLUSION

As you have learned in this blog, three primary mechanisms of hypertrophy need to be stimulated to create different stimuli on your muscle:

  1. Creating high mechanical tension using heavy loads: You activate mTOR.
  2. Creating high metabolic stress with a high time under tension: You increase the GH release.
  3. Creating high muscle damage with an emphasis on eccentric phase: You increase satellite cell activation.

If you want to know how to use hundreds of techniques to help you act on these three mechanisms, I highly suggest my book, The Complete Guide to Strength Technique Methods.