Optimal hypertrophy – sets, reps, rest & frequency

A lot of guys want to get buff at some point in their life… And after the beginner gains they might find that their progress has slowed down remarkably, or that it’s even stalled completely.

Fortunately there are guidelines on how to optimize hypertrophy and prevent hypertrophy stalling.

First off, let’s have a look at the different types of hypertrophy that there are.

Myofibrillated hypertrophy occurs when training between 80 to 90% of your 1RM, which is about 1-6 reps. This is when contractile proteins increase in number. Powerlifters tend to favor this approach.

Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy occurs when training around the 8 to 12 rep range. This hypertrophy occurs when sarcoplasmic fluid (which contains glucose and oxygen) in the muscle cells increase. Bodybuilders tend to favor this approach.

It would be wise to not only focus on one approach, but to combine both in your training.

Here are the guideline for sets x reps x rest x frequency that you need on how to train to optimize hypertrophy.

 

Sets

Multiple sets are associated with far greater hypertrophy than doing just 1 set. So the more sets you do, the greater the volume is for that exercise and muscle group.

Lets look at the studies:

This study shows that 4-6 sets per exercise are greater than 2-3 sets per exercise in trained and untrained individuals. Confirmed by these studies that more sets are greater for hypertrophy than fewer sets (1, 2, 3, 4)

Individuals who did three sets vs 1 set had 11% greater increase in strength. (5) Increase in strength means, increase in myofibrillated hypertrophy.

For strength trained athletes, up to 8 sets for a muscle group, twice a week would result in the best strength gains. (6)

In this study, three groups of untrained men participated in a training program doing 1 set, 3 sets and 5 sets. The 5 set group showed significant greater increase in strength and hypertrophy than the other two groups.

 

Reps

When looking at the following studies the rep ranges for hypertrophy seem a bit conflicting.

Lets look at these studies:

This study shows that maximal hypertrophy occurs between 80-95% of 1RM. Which is between 8 – 3 reps.

However, this study shows that equal hypertrophy is gained by doing 3-5 reps or by doing 9-11 reps, but not when doing 20-28 reps over 8 weeks.

IMO I wouldn’t go higher than 15 reps for hypertrophy. This study also shows that much greater hypertrophy was obtained when doing 8-12 reps than doing 25-35 reps after 8 weeks.

Following a power-lifting program (7 sets x 3 reps) or a hypertrophy based program (3 sets of 10 reps) for an 8 week period results in the same hypertrophy, although low reps are greater for strength (7).

Downside of the study: The hypertrophy based program only performed 3 sets while the power-lifting program performed 7 sets. There might have been a difference in hypertrophy if both groups performed with the same amount of sets.

However, this similar study shows two groups of resistant trained men who participated in two different training programs… The one group followed a training program with 4 sets of 3 – 5 reps with 3 min rest, and the other group followed a training program of 4 sets of 10 reps with 1 min rest for 8 weeks. The group who followed the training program of 4 sets of 3 – 5 reps with 3 min rest, resulted in double the upper arm hypertrophy than the other group, despite the fact that growth hormone levels were greater in the latter protocol.

This study shows that combining high intensity (low reps such as 3 – 5 reps) and low intensity (high reps such as 8 – 12 reps) training protocols is superior for hypertrophy, rather than focusing just on one style alone.

 

Rest

Rest between sets gives your body time to remove some of the accumulated lactate. It also provides new nutrients and oxygen to the muscles and replenishes ATP (energy) stores, which then prepares you for the next set. The longer the rest, the more ATP your muscles can regenerate and the more lactate it can remove. The shorter the rest, the greater the growth hormone release.

As seen in this study, two groups of individuals participated in a resistance training program. One group rested 2.5 min and the other group only rested for 1 min. Testosterone levels were more than double in the short rest group than in the long rest group after week one… However, the arm hypertrophy in the long rest group was almost double that of the short rest group after 10 weeks. Downside of the study: the body adapts to the training regiment, and after 10 weeks the hormonal response is the same as well as the hypertrophy.

In this study it shows that after a 6 month training program, with either short rest (2 min) or long rest (5 min), basal hormonal concentration and acute hormonal response to exercise was the same as well as muscle mass gained.

This study shows that hypertrophy is the same with short rest compared with long rest, despite that greater growth hormone release from the shorter rest.

Here it shows that by changing the rest intervals in short term training (of 8 weeks),  from 2 min – week 1 to 30 sec by week 8, showed 1% greater increase in hypertrophy than when constantly resting 2 min throughout the 8 week training program.

 

Frequency

Frequency is about how many times a week one should train a certain muscle group. Most athletes train a certain body group more than once a week, while others only train it once a week or even less. Well, what should you do?…

Look at the studies, and then consider what you think would work best for you.

This study shows that greater training volume for a muscle group (3 times a week) results in greater hypertrophy than training a muscle group only once a week.

In this study, it is advised to train major muscle groups at least twice a week for maximal hypertrophy.

Here they compared two groups of people. One group trained twice a week and the other group thrice a week. Both groups showed equal increase in hypertrophy and strength.

This study shows minor hypertrophy increase in a group that trained a muscle group twice a week than another that only trained the same muscle group once a week.

Here a group did a 5×5 on bench press and was recovered after 48 hours. The study claims that one should only rest for 48 hours to maximize strength. Which then enables you to train chest three times a week if desired.

Whereas this study shows that when strength trained men completed a workout of 5×10 leg press and 4×10 squats, they were only fully recovered after 6 days. Remember, hypertrophy only occurs in the absence of muscle damage.

 

Conclusion

To put this altogether, lets look at what is optimal for optimal hypertrophy.

Multiple sets: 4-6 < (per muscle group)

Reps: 3-12

Rest: 1 – 3 min

Frequency: train major muscle groups 2 times a week.

And two most important factors for hypertrophy:

  • Alternate exercises and intensity to ensure the body doesn’t adapt to the training protocol
  • Be consistent

8 thoughts on “Optimal hypertrophy – sets, reps, rest & frequency

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