The Big ol’ Muscle Training Primer, Part 3

Whew! We had a two week hiatus from our regular schedule with the CrossFit Games ending and the announcement of our pending move to Mellor Ave. This week we’re back with part 3 in our series “The Big ol’ Muscle Training Primer”. You can read Part 1 and Part 2 if you need to catch up!

Let’s get going!

Training for Hypertrophy and Hyperplasia

In part 2 we spent a lot of time talking about the “what” of hypertrophy (muscles growing in size due to stimulation in training) and hyperplasia (muscle fibers splitting to develop new muscle fibers which can then be trained for hypertrophy). Remember that hypertrophy is a known fact for human muscular development: lifting weights will make your muscles grow in size and definition as they are stimulated and repaired. Hyperplasia, on the other hand, is mostly theoretical in humans but has been shown to occur in smaller mammals like rats. The training regimen for muscular development is the same regardless of the finer details of what’s happening “under the hood”, and we’re going to talk about a few modalities (i.e. training methods).

Low Volume Hypertrophy Training (LVHT)

Pretty simple on the surface with only a little more detail as you drill down. The idea is centered around heavy weights, low overall volume, and constant improvement. You work on a two week split, where you complete three upper body workouts and three lower body workouts throughout the two week period. Each workout uses ONE exercise to target specific areas (chest, shoulders, triceps, quads, back, etc.) on each day. The working sets are of varying reps, where you choose a weight that would normally allow you to complete 6-8 reps while rested, and then do three sets at that weight of max reps with little rest between. Advocates say that this method provides excellent gains with smaller time commitment.

Moderate Volume Hypertrophy Training (MVHT)

This mode has a little more complexity, using 2-3 movements per body area and generally increases overall training time (3-4 days per week). Unlike the fewer reps/sets at higher weight of LVHT, this uses moderate weights where you can complete  upwards of 12 reps for 2-4 sets. You still target specific areas of the body, but many routines will split based on Limbs (arms, legs) and Core (chest, abs, back) for 4 days per week. This is a good mode for people who get bored easily, want some more volume in their workouts, or who want more volume on their arms (since you’ll hit them directly or indirectly with almost every move).

Moderate Volume/Moderate Frequency Hypertrophy Training (MV/MF-HT)

This mode will put you in the gym 3-6 times per week with varying intensity workouts, generally focusing on either full-body workouts every other day OR an upper/lower split six days per week OR a Push/Pull/Legs split six days per week. The idea here is to take advantage of recovery periods in the most economical method possible (48 hours between workouts with the same muscles) and use protein synthesis via diet and supplementation to help keep the volume and pace steady. Many people cannot commit to a 6 day split, so the 3 day option tends to be more popular. Six day options have been seen to have very good results if you have the time to commit and can moderate your volume over that long of a workout schedule.

Auto-Regulation Training

Have you ever been told to “listen to your body”? I know I have and if you’ve trained with me, it’s 99% sure I’ve said it either to you or someone else while you were around to hear it. The idea of Auto-Regulation in training is simply adjusting your daily training to take into account the needs of your body for that day. Those needs will change day to day, week to week, and month to month so that you are constantly adjusting your workouts to get the best results. Great strength programs almost universally use this in some way, shape or form to inform your training and garner the best results.

The best way to Auto-Regulate your workouts is with the assistance of a trained coach who can watch and help you adjust based on your level of exertion set to set and between workouts. Most people don’t have a coach available for just them, so it’s valuable to learn to do this on your own using a quantifier called “Perceived Exertion”. Generally we all do this a little already: “that felt heavy”, “that was a little too light”, “I’m not even close to tired”, etc. To better codify this, you can use a scale, marking down your Perceived Exertion after each set of work completed.

Table: PE Score / Relative Meaning

 PE Score  Qualitative Description of Effort
5 One rep maximal effort
4 Could have down another rep
3 Could have done 2-3 more reps
2 More than 3 reps left. Movement was fast at maximal effort without breaking form.
1 Movement was fast at moderate to light effort without breaking form.

Use the PE Score in your record keeping to determine your relative working level from training session to training session, so you know if the same amount of work is becoming easier, harder, or stagnating. An example would be to mark a session like this: “3 sets at 135#: 10 reps @4, 10 reps @5, 8 reps @5” and then compare it to the same amount of work the following weeks.

Using this method, you take away the need for 1-Rep Max training and instead focus on putting in a specific amount of effort over a specific amount of sets/reps. For example, instead of planning to do 3 sets of 5 reps at 80% 1RM, you can instead plan to complete your top level of work as 5 reps @4 (so just below maxing out your reps). You have no idea how many sets/reps or what weight you may end at, so start at 50-60% of your expected max weight, and work up from there in sets of 5. Record PE Scores for each set until you hit the work you wanted to complete.

One of the great benefits here is that you never really know if it will be a good lifting day until you get in there and get started. With some practice Auto-Regulation training lets you go as hard as you can each day, without pre-determining how hard your 100% effort is going to be that day. This also saves frustration if you fall short of a specific rep/set/weight target you set before you even started the work.


That’s it for this week! Join us next time for some talk about hormones, how they affect your training, and maybe more importantly how your training affects them!