In the relentless quest for the ‘perfect program’ and building a lean, muscular physique – the whole concept of programming and training has become far more complicated than it needs to be.
In spite of all the latest training methodologies currently in circulation, there are only 3 factors or ‘laws’ that need to be manipulated in order to stimulate growth.
1. Hyperaemia & Blood Vessel Occlusion
This one’s simple – and the most commonly used in traditional bodybuilding programs. This is ‘pump’ work. The goal is to increase blood flow to the target area (hyperaemia) and decrease oxygen availability to the target area (occlusion). Usually you’ll see higher rep schemes, lower weight and higher overall volume being prescribed to prioritise this factor. Giant sets and super sets also fall into this category.
Interestingly, you don’t need to use the fancy cuffs on your limbs to perform Occlusion Training – basic constant tension reps with a deliberate squeezing contraction and shortened range will create the same effect – Try a bicep curl with a tempo of 3030, without allowing the elbow to fully extend at the stretch.
2. Muscle Damage
The more you break down a muscle fibre, the more you will stimulate it to grow – provided you give it sufficient nutrients. This law is all about creating as much metabolic stress and tearing down tissue. In short – it hurts. This is where you’ll see a lot of the common high intensity techniques being used – forced reps, negatives, band work, isometric holds, partial reps and forced stretches are just a few of the techniques often employed in intelligent programming to maximise growth via muscle damage.
3. Intra-muscular Tension
The more Tension you place on a muscle, the more it will grow. Now what is Tension? It’s not about squeezing or necessarily thinking about the muscle.
In essence, Tension is a fancy term derived from Physics on how to create maximal Force Output.
Tension/Force = Weight x Acceleration
What we want is maximal Tension. Based on the equation above that means we can manipulate two variables – weight or acceleration (speed).
To maximise tension you need to simply lift a heavy weight – as fast as possible – this creates as much Tension as possible, which then yields a maximal stimulus for growth.
Note, Tension has NOTHING to do with ‘squeezing’ the muscle against the load as typically preached amongst bodybuilding circles.
Being an equation, if you were to decrease the weight lifted, you could then increase the acceleration of the lift – which could then potentially yield just as much, if not more tension. Finding the sweet spot here is the key to maximising this Law, whilst staying injury free.
Do the math yourself, if you move an extremely light weight really fast, or even worse – an extremely light weight really slow – the overall product in the above equation is going to be significantly less no matter how hard you are focusing on contraction and ‘feeling the muscle’ – there simply isn’t enough Tension to stimulate growth. So don’t do it.
On the other hand, there is certainly a lot of reasoning behind moving a moderate weight fast and a just as plausible case for moving, or attempting to move, a heavy weight fast – so do that instead. This will maximise the Tension output on the equation and stimulate growth.
Putting It All Together
Now for the fun part – formulating a program to maximise The 3 Laws of Hypertrophy
A Base Plan would consist of the following
- Heavy work, typically for lower reps with an explosive tempo (Intramuscular Tension)
- Higher rep work, typically with lighter weight and potentially a constant tension tempo (Hyperaemia/Occlusion)
- Pain inducing work, the kind that leaves you questioning your faith in humanity at the end of a set. Typically requiring someone screaming at you with a gun to your head because no person in their right mind would take their body to that point of exertion and muscle damage on their own accord. (Muscle Damage)
Though many people may have a bias to one Law over another, there isn’t necessarily one that is better than the other – it is all contextual. That being said, an intelligent program should be taking all of these variables into consideration and an intelligent coach or athlete will know when to manipulate and use these 3 Laws. Furthermore, these Laws all overlap – a Giant set could easily be performed in a way that stimulates intense muscle damage – whilst also fulfilling the role of hyperaemia/occlusion.
This could be periodised into weekly, fortnightly or monthly microcycles – devoting a certain amount of time to each – how you go about doing this is entirely dependent on yourself and your goals. Alternatively, you can combine them all into a single session.
Here’s a sample Leg routine
Lying Leg Curls
Goals: Primary – Hyperaemia/Occlusion, Secondary – Muscle Damage
Similarly to John Meadows, I like to use Leg Curls early on in a session – for one, it pre-pumps an area that is typically under developed, but it also helps to open up the hips and warm up the knees for squatting.
Perform sets of 15 – incrementing up in weight. Once you reach a top weight for 15, perform an additional 3 sets of max reps – resting for 30-40 seconds between work sets.
Tempo – Explosive concentric, 2 second pause in the contracted position, 4 second controlled negative – stopping short of full knee extension.
High Bar Back Squats
Goal: Primary – Intramuscular Tension
Time for some power based work. This is a bodybuilding based program – we’re not pure strength athletes – so the goal isn’t to necessarily lift the heaviest weight imaginable. Performing these slightly later in a session as opposed to first thing allows us to decrease the required load – being far safer on the joints/lower back while still maximising Tension.
Perform sets of 6 – incrementing up in weight on each set. Instead of 6 constant tempo reps, each repetition is to be done as a ‘maximal single’ – to do this, take a deliberate pause to reset at the top of each rep, inhale forcefully and descend into the next rep. Explosively drive up out of the hole.
Keep incrementing up in weight to an explosive 6 rep maximum with perfect technique. Then perform 2 additional sets of 6. Take longer rests between work sets, allowing for complete ATP and neural recovery.
Constant Tension & Pause Squats – Your choice on positioning (Front, Low Bar, High Bar, Safety Bar, Smith Machine etc) – If your lower back can’t handle so much squatting in a session, opt for a Leg Press.
Goal: Primary – Hyperaemia/Occlusion, Secondary – Intramuscular Tension
Perform 4 sets of 8. On these, you are to perform the first 7 reps constant tension style – controlled eccentrics, no pause at the bottom, controlled concentric and no lock-out at the top. On the 8th rep – you’re going to do a 2 second pause in the hole, then drive up as explosively as possible to full extension.
Bulgarian Split Squats superset with Leg Extensions
Goal: Primary – Muscle Damage, Secondary – Hyperaemia/Occlusion & Sadness
Start with Bulgarian Split Squats – load up with a dumbbell and support yourself in a rack for balance. Perform sets of 10 each side, incrementing weight on every set. Switch the starting leg on each superset to avoid blasting one leg over the other. On the last rep of each set, perform a 10 second iso-hold in the stretched position.
Immediately follow this up with Leg Extensions – perform these with feet dorsi-flexed and your upper torso bent forward. Hold the peak contraction for 3 seconds and control the eccentric. Maintain a constant weight here – one that you can handle for 20 reps on the first set, then go for as many reps as possible on each subsequent round.
Between each superset, take 30 seconds to get each of your quads into a deep stretch. That’s about 60-80 seconds rest total, then start again.
Perform 3 supersets for the prescribed reps. On the final superset, perform a drop set on the Leg Extensions for an additional 10-15 reps.
Dumbbell Stiff Leg Deadlift
Goal: Primary – Hyperaemia/Occlusion
Perform 3 sets of 20 reps – keep these reps slow and controlled. Avoid following through to full extension to keep constant tension on the hamstrings and glutes.
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