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Training for Maximum Muscle Growth Explained

We all want bigger muscles, and in order to build bigger muscles, we need to get stronger – much stronger. Gaining strength through progressive overload ensures that we continue to place more tension on the muscles over time, forcing them to adapt by growing larger. Heavier weights equals greater tension which equals bigger muscles. Got it? Great!


However, heavier weights alone will not build the biggest muscles. Powerlifters lift heavier weight than bodybuilders, thereby placing greater tension on their musculature compared to bodybuilders. Yet despite this greater tension, bodybuilders are still bigger. If tension were the be-all-end-all, powerlifters would out-muscle bodybuilders. We can’t say it’s just the drugs. Think about it – both types of lifters take anabolic steroids, natural bodybuilders are still bigger than natural powerlifters, and when powerlifters want to build more muscle, they borrow methodology from bodybuilders by employing higher-rep assistance lifts with shorter rest times in between sets.

A couple of years ago, my colleague Brad Schoenfeld and I wrote a comprehensive article describing the mechanisms through which bodybuilders are more muscular than powerlifters. The article was titled, Why Bodybuilders are More Jacked than Powerlifters, and if you haven’t read it yet, I recommend you check it out. In this article, I’d like to expound upon the previous article.


In Brad’s legendary review article, The Mechanisms of Muscular Hypertrophy, he informs us that there are three primary mechanisms to growing muscles:

  1. Mechanical tension
  2. Metabolic stress
  3. Muscle damage

To many lifters, these mechanisms make good sense as it jives with personal experience. However, to many other lifters, the list is a bit abstract and nebulous. Allow me to explain these mechanisms in plain and simple language.

Mechanical Tension

Sometimes you might feel like a muscle is about to rip off of a bone when you’re lifting heavy weights. This, my friend, is mechanical tension. If you place tension on a muscle by stretching it passively (without letting it contract), the source of tension is called passive elastic tension. If you place tension on a muscle by flexing it as hard as possible via an isometric contraction, the source of tension is known as active tension. When you lift weights through a full range of motion, the muscles are placed under a combination of passive and active tension since they are stretched while being activated. Research shows that dynamic movements are superior to both stretching and isometrics for hypertrophic gains, so tension alone won’t deliver maximum muscle growth. Tension through a full range of motion is what builds maximum muscle.

hip thrust

Furthermore, time under tension (TUT) is another important factor to consider. Performing one maximal contraction once every two weeks will not yield maximal hypertrophic gains – it’s just not enough of a stimulus to optimize anabolic processes. The muscles need ample signaling to grow larger.

Metabolic Stress

Think about the feeling you get when you know you’re really targeting a muscle – the burning sensation you elicit and the pump that you achieve. These are two mechanisms that fall under the umbrella of metabolic stress. Metabolic stress is brought about by several factors, including:

  1. The occlusion of veins by persistent muscle contractions, which prevents blood from escaping,
  2. The hypoxia or lack of oxygen supply in the muscles due to the trapping of blood,
  3. The build-up of metabolic byproducts such as lactate and the increased hormonal surge, and
  4. The cell swelling or “pump” of the muscles, also due to the pooling of blood.

These factors aid in building muscle and are synergistic with tension and progressive overload. These factors also help explain why Kaatsu (occlusion) training is highly effective at inducing hypertrophy despite the lower levels of muscle tension compared to traditional resistance training.

Muscular Damage

Approximately two days following a strenuous bout of exercise, your soreness will likely reach it’s peak, and this soreness is somewhat indicative of muscular damage. Damage is created by either doing something that is unfamiliar, by accentuating the eccentric component to an exercise, or by stretching a muscle while it’s being activated, thereby inducing high amounts of strain. Therefore, variety is an important component to muscle damage as it ensures the targeting of different subdivisions and motor units of muscles.

The Interrelationship of Tension, Metabolic Stress, and Damage

This part will be a bit sciencey, but stick with me. Mechanical tension, metabolic stress, and muscle damage are interrelated, and they signal hypertrophic responses through multiple, redundant pathways. For example, a high magnitude of active tension at longer muscle lengths creates the greatest muscle damage. In other words, tension is very effective at damaging fibers as long as the muscle is stretched while being activated. Here’s another example. High tension through a full ROM is very effective at producing metabolic stress due to the prolonged muscle contractions which occludes the veins, which leaves no time for blood to escape the muscles. In other words, constant tension and greater TUT are very effective at inducing metabolic stress, assuming muscle activation is high enough to occlude the veins. I’ll continue with the examples. A pump actually places the myocytes under tension due to a swelling effect exerted on the muscle cell membranes, which is theorized to lead to greater muscle growth due to the perceived threat on the cells’ ultrastructures. In other words, metabolic stress is effective at creating tension from the inside out in the individual muscle cells. As a matter of fact, fiber damage can induce cell swelling just as the pump can, and this swelling can last for several days. Therefore, muscle damage is also effective at creating tension on the individual muscle cells. All three mechanisms can increase satellite cell (muscle stem cells) activation as well as activation of the important mTOR pathway. As you can see, the three mechanisms are highly interrelated.

Practical Applications

Many coaches argue that progressive overload via low rep training on the basic barbell lifts is sufficient for building maximal hypertrophy. The reason why this advice is so effective is because many individuals don’t quite grasp the importance of gaining strength as it relates to muscle growth. However, it alone is not sufficient for maximal gains. As Brad and I detailed in our previous article, there are many neural (non-hypertrophic) mechanisms through which a muscle can grow stronger without getting larger. This is a key facet of powerlifting, whereby lifters learn how to maximize strength via gains in nervous system efficiency and coordination. If your goal is to build maximum muscle, you don’t just want to rely solely on neural improvements for strength gains; you want your hypertrophic gains to mimic your strength gains. Therefore, be sure to rotate lifts, incorporate variety, and get strong in low, medium, and higher rep ranges.

Pick the Right Tool for the Trade

Some exercises are better than others at eliciting a pump, some exercises are better than others at creating tension in a muscle or a particular subdivision of a muscle, and some exercises are better than others at damaging fibers.

In general, performing squats, deadlifts, hip thrusts, bench presses, military presses, chins, and rows will ensure that you’re maximizing mechanical tension across the various muscle groups. However, one exercise alone will not maximize tension on the entire spectrum of fibers within a muscle. Exercises such as incline presses, dips, curls, shrugs, delt raises, leg presses, and glute ham raises can and should be employed for maximum muscle growth since they target unique fibers compared to the big basic movements. Furthermore, variations of the big lifts such as front squats, sumo deadlifts, close grip bench press, and pull-ups can and should be performed as well.


Movements that either place constant tension on a muscle or place the greatest tension on a muscle at shorter muscle lengths (in a contracted position) are best suited for creating a pump. For this reason, exercises like the pec deck, pullover machine, leg extension, leg curl, back extension, barbell glute bridge, lateral raise, concentration curl, and rope tricep extension are valuable. When done for medium to high reps with short rest periods and multiple sets, they can produce a skin-splitting pump. Bands and chains can be used as well to keep more constant loading on the muscle throughout the repetition, depending on the exercise’s strength curve.

Movements that place the greatest tension at long muscle lengths (in a stretched position) are best suited for creating muscle damage. For this reason, exercises like chest flies, pullovers, lunges, RDLs, good mornings, incline db curls, and overhead cable tricep extensions are valuable. Dumbbells can be used for pressing or rowing movements to place a greater stretch on the muscles, and full squats or deficit deadlifts can be performed to increase the joint ROM. Finally, eccentrics or eccentric-accentuated movements can be performed to target muscle damage. However, there’s a fine line between optimal damage and excessive damage. Damage is overrated and can easily do more harm than good if it interferes with strength gains and training frequency. Feeling a bit of soreness the following day or two is fine, but barely being able to sit down, or feeling like a muscle is going to pull from a simple activity, is overkill. Stimulate, don’t annihilate.


Wrapping Things Up

Ronnie Coleman said it best: Everybody wanna be a bodybuilder, but nobody wanna lift no heavy ass weight. Getting a pump and feeling the burn are easy, but getting stronger year in and year out is hard work. Very hard! Setting PR’s requires focus, determination, and consistency.

For this reason, reserve most of your mental energy for getting stronger. After you’ve warmed up and have begun your training session, start off with your heavy compound movements and try to set PR’s. Rest fully in between sets and psyche yourself up appropriately.

After the heavy work is done, now it’s time to have some fun. Choose some targeted movements and seek the pump and burn. Don’t work yourself up too much mentally, just bust out some medium to high rep sets with short rest periods. Don’t be overly concerned with setting PR’s during pump work. Focus on feeling the targeted muscle taking on the brunt of the work and fully fatiguing the fibers.

The majority of your mental energy should be focused on gaining strength via the big basics such as squats, deadlifts, hip thrusts, bench press, and chins. However, some of your mental energy should be focused on muscle activation and inducing metabolic stress. Becoming freakishly strong at the big basics through a variety of rep ranges might be the source of 80% of your hypertrophy gains over time. But if strength alone is your sole endeavor, you’ll likely leave 20% of room on the table for maximum muscularity. The increased satellite cell fusion, hypoxia, occlusion, and cell swelling that accompanies pump and burn type training provides the icing on the cake, and this adds up over time. Sticking to solely heavy work or solely high-rep work won’t build the optimal physique – you need the best of both styles of training if you want to reach your maximum muscular potential.


Muscles don’t just respond to tension. They respond to tension, metabolic stress, and damage. A sweet-spot of these factors likely exists that maximizes hypertrophy, and the ideal combination might differ between individuals. Until future research sheds light on the precise formula, bust out your heavy compound work first during your workouts and then choose some lighter, targeted movements and focus on inducing metabolic stress. If you’ve been ignoring these factors, I bet that you’ll notice favorable hypertrophic adaptations within a few months of adding in pump and burn methodology. Bodybuilders do this for a reason, and so should you! Don’t chase excessive soreness – it’s counterproductive to strength gains and will occur naturally with good training anyway.


  • Nia Shanks says:

    Excellent article, Bret. This is a valuable resource for anyone wanting to boost muscle growth for sure. It’s surprisingly simple, just not easy. 😉

    • Bret says:

      Thanks Nia! Glad you liked it.

      • Gresia Bratton says:

        Hey Brett, it would be amazing to watch just a pure video of a hip thrust training program for medium- advanced. Just hammering the glutes, high rep, high weight. Sort of a high training style for growth like Mike Rashid style. I need it bad. Thanks.

    • Prince samuel says:

      Thats a very valuable and well explained article .
      Thank you Bret for your great work over time

  • Fred Berman says:

    In your article you mention that longer muscle length actions impose more muscle damage and shorter length or contraction causes more metabolic effects. From what I have read in the past, longer muscle length imposes more metabolic demand than shorter and has a greater influence overall. As a example-

    Also, from my past readings, isometric/static contractions influence on hypertrophy, may be related to how they are utilized. Longer timed contractions, which produce more chronic intramuscular pressures-local ischemia, suggest they could be useful in the hypertrophy training model.

    • Bret says:

      Hi Fred, great questions, and thanks for the link. I glanced through the article (it’s an excellent study!) and I’d like to point out that they’re referring to full ROM versus partials, and I completely agree with their claims. What I was referring to is full range of motion exercises that stress short versus long muscle lengths (exercises with torque-angle curves that peak at smaller joint angles versus larger joint angles). This is different.

      While I agree about the increased oxygen consumption at longer lengths having to do with decreased moment arm (and therefore increased muscular effort), this isn’t always the case with other exercises. In general, at longer lengths, you get greater passive force due to stretch and less active force due to less sarcomere overlap. But the level of activation and the moment arm length depends on the muscle and joint in question.

      For example, adductor moment arms decrease from hip flexion to extension, but gluteus maximus moment arms increase (hammies pretty much stay the same). Moreover, activation doesn’t always increase at longer lengths as it did in their study with the quads – the glutes activate higher at shorter lengths, so the applicability doesn’t carry over to all exercise. So their claims apply to leg extensions and quads but not necessarily other joints/movements.

      They’re spot on about their claims about iso’s in long versus short lengths – long length always trump short in training adaptations. And as to what you’re saying about iso’s, sure longer contraction times will be more effective, but I don’t believe better than dynamic exercise. This doesn’t mean that they aren’t useful, just that they shouldn’t be the #1 priority. Again, great questions! And cool study.

    • Will Arias says:

      Fred, you might agree in the fact that intramuscular stimulus based in continued tension (such as isolation drills for the erector spine) can contribute to the the improvement of inter muscular or compound exercises (such as deadliest).
      However, based on my own experience i can tell you that isometric contraction provides more endurance strength, while, at its best, eccentric strength is stimulated by tempo under tension; and, concentric strength increases when improving starting, explosive and acceleration speed. As you well educated opinion revealed, you might be familiar with numerous scientific protocols that back up such conclusion.
      For instance, Hypertrophy of the abdominal musculature, as it happens with muscle groups in general, can be stimulated by performing sit-ups on a swiss-ball while holding a heavy load under continued but alternated extension /flexion of the spine. However, isometric contraction under continued compression, while performing drills without joint movement, such as the plank, will provide extraordinaire endurance strength but poor hypertrophy (isometric contraction can increase muscle mass within rehabilitation scenarios but squeezing their lats while posing down was not what gave Yates, Haney or Coleman all that gigantic mass… By the way, as much as the 1’20” plank world record established by George Hood is a remarkable effect, it reveals a massive extensive endurance strength but far away from increasing muscle mass).

      Nevertheless, early Dec 2011, i was lucky enough to be introduced to the RKC plank by Bret Contreras in person (he actually posted a video about RCK planks recently, featuring Kellie Davis. Strong lady, by the way). Well, the RCK plank proved to me that the more recruitment of muscular groups makes more challenging, by far, the traditional plank. Now, last year, after being able to hold the RCK for more than 60 seconds, I decided trying my own progression of the Bret’s RCK by adding loading a weight equivalent to my own bodyweight on my gluteus, while maintaining posterior pelvic tilt and keeping my hips properly aligned by drawing a imaginary horizontal line with the scapula -which means, avoiding to look like a seal, at all cost, as Mike Boyle would say-. Obviously, i must admit that my personal “lab-research” reduced the capability of holding the resistance with good form, in terms of time under isometric contraction, “thanks” to the discs on top of my gluteus. The following two days, I felt that laughing, coughing or sneezing became a potential torture for my abdominal area. Such was the level of the DOMS. Only after a 4 weeks period, I started to make serious progress in terms of prolonging the amount of time under isometric contraction while performing RCK loaded planks for longer periods of time and keeping legit body alignment. I can tell you that my strength endurance improved, for sure. However, it doesn’t mean that I packed additional muscle mass as it usually happens when performing properly prescribed joint mobility drills under tension. Thanks to all for reading. Will

  • Dan Ogborn says:

    Great stuff Bret, definitely good to see someone highlighting the interrelationships between the variables.

    I’d also add that there is likely another link between metabolic stress and muscle damage. Impaired EC coupling consequent to metabolic stress would impair force production, resulting in an inability to resist lengthening and preserve membrane integrity via DGC/costameres.

    This may be similar to the muscle damage encountered in Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, although they lack the coupling (dystrophin) between the sarcomere and the sarcolemmal membrane and ECM, whereas fatigue impairs the force. Similar problem, different (but related) mechanism.

    I also think this may, at least partially, explain the potential growth advantage of the type II fibre with higher training intensities. Their low fatigue resistance may actually give them a hypertrophic advantage in this case.

    • Derrick Blanton says:

      Hey Dan, great to see you weighing in! You are an INCREDIBLY smart guy!

      Dan and Bret, (and other science-y types out there), what are your thoughts on why large folk generally have such hypertrophied calves when they likely do not even approach “fatigue” in the metabolic sense (lactic acid, muscular failure, etc.), a high stretch position, or a high tension ballerina-like position. 0-for-3, and yet rarely, if ever will you see a large person with small calves.

      If the answer is “genetics”, then are we not opening up a window where all muscular adaptations are “genetic”? Which may be why some people get jacked lats from loads of pull ups, and others perform 50-rep sets, and look unremarkable.

      This is a fertile topic which I could go completely overboard with, but I’m going to try and control myself here, :)…

      • Drew Stearns says:

        Derrick, I think the explanation for why many people can’t seem to grow certain body parts is fiber distribution, simple as it sounds. The more a muscle group is composed of slower-twitch fibers, the less it will grow.

        Also, the normal-looking people who can knock out 50-rep sets of pull ups? I think the same explanation applies: their lats are more slow- than fast-twitch, so they can perform a larger volume of work at a higher percentage of their 1RM.

        • Derrick Blanton says:

          Hi Drew, that would have been my initial theory as well.

          And yet, my calves were never bigger than when I was running 30-40 miles a week. I have gone through phases of calf training where I would lift the stack, and do heavy sets of unilateral calf raises with dumbbells.

          But strangely, my “slow twitch” calves did hypertrophy with mind numbing, repetitive (and partial ROM) volume that countless running “reps” provided, moreso than “fast twitch”, or metabolic training. Relative to body size, you may see the same effect with cyclists and soccer players, as well.

          So here we have a slow twitch body part growing as a result of ultra-high volume low intensity training. Taking that logic to the pull up champ: shouldn’t his slow twitch lats be hypertrophied much like the runner’s calves? But the slow twitch/fast twitch hypertrophy model doesn’t seem to hold up across muscle groups.

          On the other side of the equation, I remember reading somewhere about a bodybuilder who said that he quit training calves, and his father had bigger calves than he did, lol!

          “Train 8×3! Hit the Type 2-B’s!” “No, train to failure!” “No, train Super Slow, maximize time under tension!” “No, train ultra-high volume!” “High frequency!” “Train the antagonistic muscle group since the body won’t allow further growth without balance!”

          And every theory makes sense, until you start peeling back the layers of the onion, and looking into the pesky exceptions to the rule.

          When you consider variables that contribute to hypertrophy, you are entering a world of wide individual variance, and wide variance across muscle groups.

          (So much for controlling myself…sigh.)

          • Derrick Blanton says:

            Further, look anecdotally at Herschel Walker, and perhaps Bo Jackson?, who got pretty jacked doing loads of push ups in volume. Now I wasn’t there, but I gather that Herschel wasn’t loading his push ups with a 100-lb. weight vest, or a human being, and doing 10-sets of 5. From what I gather, he was banging out hundreds of garden variety, good old fashioned, push ups.

            Why would this happen? Push ups are a low intensity exercise.

            “Well, they hypertrophied their slow twitch fibers with volume, just like the calf example….”

            Great, so we believe that slow twitch fibers grow with ultra high volume right? So that guy on YouTube doing 200 push ups that looks like wiry and thin, what happened to our theory there?

            Recently, my upper back is starting to grow. Not really by design, just a byproduct. The only thing I started doing differently was doing lots of face pulls, with a high intensity hold and squeeze isometric at the point of maximal contraction.

            Do I think that maximal tension, hold and squeeze isometrics are the key to muscular growth across all body parts, and all humanity?

            No, I don’t. No, I don’t.

  • Kevin Stock says:

    TSD – Tension Stress Damage – Bret you just nailed it with this article – Importance of Strength + Necessity of “Hypertrophy” Style Training to maximize Hypertrophy, all put together in an easy to read article. Sharing with the MuscleScience Community if you don’t mind!

  • Fred Berman says:

    My interest is in promoting hypertrophy through the use of lower loads. Techniques that make the lesser loads more challenging and stimulate muscle growth is the area of research that I follow.

    The use of isometric contractions/static holds to promote hypertrophy may be determined by “where” the action is conducted during the movement. Within a range of motion, certain positions may be advantageous to develop vascular compression. Perhaps the plank does develop endurance and strength but does not promote sufficient local intramuscular pressure/ischemia to assist in developing the environment for hypertrophy?

    Using the squat as example, training to promote intramuscular pressure/ischemia stimulus of the quadriceps, from personal experience, a static hold near the bottom of the movement has a much stronger effect than performing the hold near the top of the movement.

  • Rajat says:

    Hi Bret,
    I hadn’t read many of your articles before this one. If they are all as good as this one, I will be inhabiting your archives for a long time! As a PhD student, I find the absence of fluff and confounding principles to be extremely refreshing. Keep up the good work.

  • nathan says:

    I really liked this article. Articulate, concise, and succinct, it covers the fundamentals greatly.

    Question. I’ve always had one problem grasping a certain aspect of training where it melds into “improved neurological pathways = strength adaptation but not hypertrophy.”

    I can understand the well established proof that low reps cause the body to ‘learn’ to recruit more fibers, thus increasing strength.

    But if you recruit more fibers in a lift then isn’t that more fibers that are being exposed to stress and thus damaged, and thus able to overcompensate (causing hypertrophy). If I stress 600 fibers at a 200lbs bench then next week stress 650 at a 225lbs bench isn’t that 50 more fibers that are exposed to growth producing stress?

  • Adam O'Brien says:

    Excellent article Brad, I have one question. All the research that I have read pertaining to activating the mTOR pathway says that limiting metabolic stress during a workout session is important as it will interfere with the activation of the pathway. Obviously I agree as you stated above that metabolic stress is need to induce hypertrophy. Just curious as to your opinion here.

  • Marc says:

    What training frequency for muscle groups is usually best for hypertrophy?



  • Fred Berman says:

    Adam, hasn’t the research from McMaster University, where they used low load, higher repetition training, which would have developed high metabolic cost, shown positive mTor reactions?

  • Great article! It’s nice to know that training both strength and hypertrophy combined is essentially the best way to progress in either.

    • Primož says:

      I agree with you. I have been mixing up my workouts a bit in the past three months, and results were great so far.
      As always, great article Bret.

  • Rob Panariello says:

    Nice article Bret.

    We certainly need to apply stress to the organism (body) for adaptation to take place (see Hans Selye’s work). The muscle damage that occurs with training is necessary for muscular repair and growth as well as to prepare the organism for a heavy stress to be repeatedly applied over time. IMO excessive damage to a muscle is far more often a result of excessive programmed exercise volume of exercise and not exercise load. To keep things simple remembering the following may be helpful:

    1. The nervous system plays a key role in muscle development i.e. this is one reason why during the initial stages of strength training the athlete will become stronger yet have no/little muscular hypertrophy.

    2. When appropriate, full ROM should occur during exercise performance as among other things, this will ensure that work is performed throughout the strength curve including the ROM where the greatest muscle activity occurs.

    3. Ensure a number of exercises (especially exercises incorporating mass muscle groups working together) are incorporated in the training process as variety is an important factor for continued training success.

    4. Remember the obvious, low intensity = higher exercise volume, high intensity = lower exercise volume

    5. In addition to #4 above, during my time in the Soviet Union we were informed of a squat study that had athletes perform the following different exercise tempo’s (TUT) during squat training. 6 different tempos were performed over a 10 week training period. The tempo’s were (a) Very Slow, (b) Slow, (c) Medium, (d) Fast, and (e) Very Fast, and (f) A combination of all the above. After 10 weeks of training the “Combo” group (group f) made the greatest strength gains (increased squat performance by 22 Kg’s).

    So what is the easiest way to ensure that a various tempo (TUT) occurs during exercise performance? Just be sure during each exercise performance the athlete moves the applied intensity as fast as possible. Lighter intensities (i.e. 60% 1 RM) will move at higher velocities when compared to higher intensities (i.e. 90% 1 RM). By changing the load (variety) the speed of exercise performance (i.e. TUT) is also altered as this will occur naturally.

    6. Following an “intense” training day with a light workout the following day. This will result in the athlete feeling less sore on day 2 after the intense workout day compared to the level of soreness that will occur day 2 if the athlete does nothing at all the day after intense training.

    These simple guidelines will cover a lot of the bases discussed in your article.

    Rob Panariello

  • Talking training frequency…does the uber popular 5×5 training protocol provide the best blend of heavy lifting and volume? Or do you prefer doubles/triples and then high reps (8<) assistance exercise splits?

    Great stuff! Now I'm off to spend some time under tension and create massive stress.

  • Martin says:

    Hi Bret

    judging from the amount of comments, this looks like a “hot topic” that you may consider addressing further.

    I have had a look at the two articles you referenced in this post and it is great to see opinion based on science. The recommendations and conclusions from yourself and Brad is consistent with the papers that are considered. I am also a fan of Bryan Haycock’s work at thinkmucle. In fact, much of the scientific evidence he offers is similar to what you and Brad offer, and there seems to be little difference between you as to the stimulus for hypertrophy.

    However Bryan addresses in greater detail the question of the frequency of the stimulus. He suggests that heightened protein synthesis continues in the muscle only for about 36hrs after the application of the stimulus, therefore the muscle should be trained 3x/week and the volume per session should low to moderate, to accommodate training 3x/week.

    Secondly, he suggests that progressive overload is critical much as you and Brad do. He advocates increasing weight but decreasing reps per set to accommodate the increasing weight on the bar.

    He also advocates a period of deconditioning as he suggests the muscle becomes adapted to the stimulus and needs to “unadapt”.

    From your own research, what is your take on these concepts? Again, thanks for the science and logic.


  • Vytautas says:

    Great article it’s so really everything explained for everyone to understand what we should do to gain so much muscle mass. Really great tips for ensuring your muscles from injury.

  • Chrisdock says:

    Man I want to build muscles faster than possible, is it possible in 3 weeks.

  • David says:

    It’s better for men to have a coach or trainer who will always push men to do workouts because when I try to do it myself I sometimes stop frequently, more resting and less workout.

  • Matt Dragon says:

    I really enjoyed this post.

    This helps explain why some people find doggcrapp training is so effective and why some of John Meadows training methods are so effective.

  • Harris Scott says:

    I must said that i love to read your this post specially your this line “Damage is overrated and can easily do more harm than good if it interferes with strength gains and training frequency.” Its very much interesting line for me. Thank You

  • Alex says:

    I just started mixing my workouts – glad to find this post. Good information – thanks.

  • I really liked this Article Bret. I have trained in a variety of Discipline’s over the years.
    When I was in my Teens and Twenties, I Power-lifted in the AAU (198 lb class).
    As I’ve gotten older, I’ve had to change style’s due to Injuries (Laminectomy, and Degenerative Hip Disease).
    Now at 61 in 2 days, I Body-build, and I ‘am hoping to compete in early Summer as an Amateur in a NABBA meet.
    I really like the fact that you Emphasize the Lower Body in a lot of your Article’s.
    A lot of people don’t realize.
    A good body starts from the Bottom UP.
    Please keep up the very good work.

  • Robert Cooney, MD says:

    So, in an otherwise very interesting and informative article, you have five pictures accompanying. Three of well-known AS users and two of guys who have completely uninspiring physiques. This is discordant with the content, yes?

  • Alex C says:

    your articles are amazing, I wish I had found them earlier in life. Thanks so much for your contributions to the fitness community.

    Toronto, Ontario

  • Luke says:

    Hey Bret

    Huge fan of all of your work and your work with Brad I actually posted this on his site as well. I value both of your opinions to a high regard. Is the metabolic stress from say a 15-20 rep set the same as doing a drop set with a heavier load or even doing isometric holds at the end of the set?

    I guess I’m just confused whether the metabolic stress is induced more from the muscle contraction itself or the length of time the muscle is under tension.

    I also think it’s interesting to think that once you reach a threshold is it necessary to keep pushing it. Like once you stretch out the balloon with a certain amount of water that same amount of water won’t stretch out the balloon any further. So having multiple “pumps” may not be as important to just achieving the pump once until the next workout where you’ll be able to progress deeper and fill your “balloon” with more water. Just a thought but I obviously don’t understand the mechanisms as much as you.

    I figured if my ideas were correct then theoretically you could keep the load at a decent weight not compromising the weight, doing a isometric hold or a drop set to induce the metabolic stress and get the pump and the mechanical tension. This way you don’t have to compromise one or the other or go in excess compromising recovery or doing extra work then needed.

    I was born with one arm and am quite the extreme fitness enthusiast. The gym is my religion. Rather then counting sheep I count reps to help me fall asleep although I rarely fall asleep because I’m too busy reading and theorizing about this stuff. The reason why I mention my arm is because I’m in a very unique situation. Part of my body is very overdeveloped. The other parts not so much. I make great strength gains with my “bad” arm but the hypertrophy lacks which I find interesting. It gives me the benefit of experimenting with BFR, Isometric holds, and other various stressors to evoke hypertrophy giving real world feedback.

    Again, huge fan, you’re carrying out all the research I want to do!

  • Charles Nankin says:

    Thanks Bret. in your wrap-up, you only mention Tension and Stress exercises. How/where would you fit in the Damage exercises? I gather that these are the least important, and that some Damage is already achieved when doing Tension. But you do list some specific Damage exercises. So I guess you just throw one or two of these in in between Tension and Stress. And I imagine they are low reps but done very safely so maybe low-medium.

    Looking at it a bit simplistically, I imagine that Damage is provided by Tension exercises for quads and hams (full ROM Squats) and for glutes (low-rep Hip Thrusts) and to a certain extent for pecs (bench press esp decline). So its mainly for lats, shoulders, bis and tris etc we could throw in something for Damage.

    I think I got it!

  • Amit says:

    Hello Bret! Happy new year!
    *In regards to promoting hypertrophy via the different means…is there any difference how long you enjoy the gains you get via the different means?
    Hypothetically – let’s say a person employs only progressive overload on compound exercises versus another who uses only the pump method – and they both get equal results. So if they have to lay off training for a while which of those two are most likely tonhold onto their gains?

    *Rectus Abdiminus: this is kind of unrelated to the main post. Do the upper and lower part of the RA have different nerves to innvervate them? Hence …upper and lower abs ?

    Thank you

  • mehdi says:

    Hi dear Bred. this article really was marvelous. I made most of it and reached to a significant results

  • Bárbara says:

    Hi Bret 🙂 I’m currently trying to build my glutes (aren’t we all?) I have a really hard time activating them and I still struggle to feel them while doing hip thrusts and such.. my question is, in time, will my glutes activate easier/faster as they get stronger? or will I always struggle with this issue? thank you!

  • Joanna says:

    Hi Bret
    I’m your huge fun! I just have one question.
    Hoe often i can work my glutes. Sometimes people saying 2 times per week its enough, muscle need rest. Other people saying: you can work glutes 5 times per week, glutes dont need so much to rest, those muscle use to hard work so often. What do u think? And if I can work them 5 times per week, hom many exercise then I can do per workout aand what kind of? ps. i have big quads 😉

  • Simon says:

    Hi Bret! Awesome article, i just had a quick question if that’s ok.

    Does it matter what order the sequence is performed in? To me it would make sense to do the mechanical tension first as one is fresh, but i was wondering moreso about the last two phases, would one do muscle damage exercise next, then metabolic stress? Seems like metabolic stress should be last due to its fatiguing nature…

    And also, I’m assuming one progresses in weight for the mechanical tension and muscle damage exercise over time, but does one keep the weight the same pretty much for the metabolic stress exercise? As the main aim of that part is to increase lactic acid/metabolic byproducts/cell swelling etc, it wouldn’t make sense to progree it in weights… Could one therefore change up the metabolic stress exercise (using exercises which emphasise the fully shortened muscle) every session, as we only need to aim for the pump?

    Thanks heaps 🙂


  • Mitch says:

    A great article on building muscles. A combination on low reps and high reps is needed, to shock and pump muscles to grow.

  • Sergio says:

    good article , it is clear that not everything is invented , and are not always trained in the best way

  • Kevin says:

    This is an excellent article on muscle growth. Truly enjoyed it and learned a lot. Keep up the good work.

    All the best

  • Mitch says:

    Its really true. Mixing strength and hypertrophy is the key and fundamentals for building a better body.

  • Epic post and blog Bret. I’ll feature this in our weekly bodybuilding science review (going out tomorrow). It’s at (feel free to edit out the link). Cheers!

  • John says:

    Thanks for the great article! After suffering through over a decade of muscle mags and T-nation type sites, it’s great to see such consistent quality with a scientific approach. This stuff is a game changer.

  • Angelo says:

    Lately I have been more doing more strength training. However, I tried myself, although for a few months only, slow protocols like the Big 5 protocol from Body by Science or Mike Mentzer protocols (4s excentric, 4 concentric). I understand that they may cause a big metabolic response and muscle damage, perhaps bigger than regular reps. On the other hand, the muscle tension is long, but not as extreme as in strength oriented training (fast reps, up to five) . I wonder what would be the effect of a training were you have the big lifts as tension stimulus done first and a slow rep as a metabolic stimulus. Like pairing 3 x 5 Squats with 1 single set of Leg press plus leg curls and back extensions in slow reps to failure or almost. I really felt a different kind of stimulus when doing a single set of slow reps to failure (around 90s for the whole set), a pump that lasted for almost 4 days. have you ever tried this kind of sets? What is your opinion about it? Both things seem to work very well, for a while.

    • Angelo says:

      I meant, 3 x 5 squats powerlifting style, regular reps to give a tension stimulus, followed by slow tempo reps to failure, still with a fairly heavy load to reach failure in around 90s. After all, slow reps work, for a while, until you lack strength to move weithgs through the sticking point in the ROM. Strength training before hand would, in a long run) be the strategy to overcome that. In other hands, doing you strength sets, followed by 1 set of slow reps to failure as back off sets in movements that are safe to do so.

  • Mitch says:

    An excellent article Bret. I think it is good to mix body building and power lifting together has a means of training for maximum growth.

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