Through the craziness that has been my life as of late I have not had much time to write, and for that I am sorry. Now that I have finished my master’s capstone project, and the MSR combine testing is over with I will do my best to get back to the regular once a week post.
Currently in my gym we are in the middle of our hypertrophy phase. This year the phase is broken into three stages – a high rep, high volume phase, a high volume phase, and a heavy set phase. All together the phase will last roughly 12 weeks (with the final 6 being both hypertrophy and strength inclined). With this extended hypertrophy phase, the hope is to see a higher percentage of muscle gain than last year’s much shorter phase produced. However, as we are approaching week 5 of the phase, I have heard some comments that some are not gaining weight, and many are actually losing weight. As this is not the intended affect I’m dedicating this post to help everyone get on the right track and actually gain some weight.
As far as I see it, there are 3 main facets to gaining weight during a hypertrophy phase (or really, during any phase of training).
1) Eating enough
Quite possibly the most important aspect of gaining muscle mass is not about how hard you workout, but how much you are eating. Nutrition is the ultimate factor in determining weight fluctuation, and should not be disregarded. The amount of food consumed is the main piece here. For your body to recover after a workout, it needs to replenish the nutrients that is burned to produce the energy needed to complete the workout. You probably know this as calories. If during a workout, your body uses 500 calories, it’s going to need 500 calories just to replace what it lost during the workout. Add in the extra calories burned from your increased metabolic rate and you need even more than 500. When trying to gain weight, you need to put in more calories than you burn, plain and simple. The best way to do this is to eat, ALOT. The rule of thumb I give to many of my young athletes is – take whatever you eat on a normal day, and double it.
After you’ve successfully increased your daily food intake then its time to think about what you are eating. Eat your fair share of protein, and a large quantity of green vegetables (leafy, zucchini, broccoli, etc). Have this accompany some lower glycemic index carbs such as rice, quinoa, pasta, and potatoes (sweet potatoes are my favorite). Round out your diet with a variety of other fruits and veggies and you are set. Stay away from sugar saturated foods and snack foods that don’t have any value to them, such as chips. Sure, allow yourself to have portions of snack foods and sweets, but don’t make them a staple. If you are eating enough you should see weight gain. If you find yourself still not gaining weight, then chances are you are not eating enough.
2) Lifting the correct loads
Nutrition may be the best way to gain weight, but its important to create the correct stimulus in your body so the weight added is muscle weight. When strength training, the load used is going to vary with the phase of the training, and it may not always be “lift as much as you can for the number of reps required.” Well, during hypertrophy training, that’s exactly what it is. You should not find yourself finishing a set of 8 reps and thinking, “I could probably do two or three more.” If thats the case, increase the weight. Push yourself to make 8 reps almost impossible. This gives your body the kick in the rear that it needs to start producing muscle.
Another helpful piece is tempo. Hypertrophy workouts often use a tempo that is a slow eccentric (down) phase followed by a controlled or fast concentric (upwards) motion. The slow eccentric portion is very important as it increases the force produced by the muscle. As a very basic general rule, more force production, better hypertrophy stimulus. Lift heavy, lift slow, build muscle.
Last but not least, your body does not recover immediately, nor does it produce results immediately. The compounding stress of the workouts week after week will produce the stimulus in your body that in turn tells your body to build muscle. Have patience and let your body work its magic over the course of 6-8 weeks. Just make sure you are eating right and lifting right and your patience will pay off.