So if you want hypertrophy how do you do it? One thing is for certain; you don’t just double what you are doing overnight and expect to the see “the gains”. The reason is the simple principle of adaptation. In order for your body to adapt you need to build the volume and frequency gradually. How many lifters have you known have jumped on to a high frequency Smolov or Bulgarian method only to announce that either it didn’t work or they subsequently became injured? Research studies are unanimous in showing that launching into huge volume and frequency increases overnight are ineffective and lead to injury2. Therefore staying patient and increasing volume and frequency over weeks and months is the way to go. In order to do this the most important element is to ensure you have a clearly laid out program that utilises the fundamentals of periodization. A simple example would be to not go from squatting 1 x a week to 4 x a week overnight. Using periodization principles means that you may start off by adding an additional set each squat session. Over the period of a month, if you are a once a week squatter, you will have added an additional 4 sets to your regular routine of 5 sets. So now at the end of the month you are completing 9 total sets. Month 2 rolls around and you introduce a second squat day but you lower the volume for each day to a total of 5 sets. That would be 10 total sets for the week. Week 2 of month 2 you add an additional set, so 11 sets a week. By now I’m sure you get the picture.
Beyond the ability just to build more mass think for a moment what this increased volume and frequency will do for your lifting. The Squat, Bench and Deadlift are a skill. In order to get better at a skill, in particular to express your limit strength through the completion of this skill, you need to practice. Kurz3 wrote “Strength in a given movement depends not only on the muscles cross section and ratio of fiber types, (Note – Hypertrophy, muscle mass) but also on neural factors such as the recruitment and synchronization of firing of the appropriate motor units”. (Volume and frequency are ways of improving this synchronization). Increasing your volume and frequency provides additional benefits beyond just inducing hypertrophy; it can also provide additional opportunity for you to master the skill of the 3 powerlifts.
Taking an “off season” from the powerlifting and devoting 3 months to focus on hypertrophy can in the long run be the way to setting a new PR. Following this 3 month hypertrophy phase take another month or two to work into a specific meet prep program, gradually decreasing the number of reps per set. This will ensure you have adapted from what will likely be higher rep sets and high frequency to less frequency and significantly increased intensity (percentage of 1 rep max) culminating in a well prepared lifter on the day of the meet.
Do you remember Arnold in Conan the Barbarian, massively jacked and sitting on his throne, the king of all barbarians? To be the king, increase your volume and construct yourself a throne that will last a lifetime. Just be sure to take your time and increase this volume and frequency in a periodized and methodical manner.
- Wernborn, Augustsson and Thomee: The influence of frequency, intensity, volume and mode of strength training on whole muscle cross sectional area in humans. Sports Medicine 2007
- Fahey T: Strength and Conditioning, 3rd edition. ISSA. 2013
- Kurz, T: Science of Sports Training; How to plan and control training for peak performance 2nd edition 2001