Tis’ the season to accumulate massive amounts of lean muscle. To accomplish such great feats requires more than just a massive caloric surplus though. Ingesting loads of calories without methodical training isn’t a “bulk” it’s just hibernation. We don’t want hibernation, we want transmutation by hypertrophy (muscle growth). 

The problem most people have when training for size is they focus too much on eating, but fail to fix their workouts. 

If you really want to gain the most muscle possible during the season of hypertrophy, then you must effectively apply the three primary mechanisms responsible for muscle growth. By the time you finish reading, you will gain the knowledge for how to do just that — achieve hypertrophy & make gainz. 

What Is Hypertrophy?

Most of you probably already know what hypertrophy is, and how it works, but let’s do a quick recap for those of you who don’t. 

During resistance training, muscles are induced with micro-tears. These damaged muscle fibers go through a cellular process…

Muscle fibers fuse together to make new muscle protein fibers or strands, similar to weaving several strands together to form a thicker, stronger rope. Then, these repaired muscle fibers increase in number and thickness. And it’s this end result that mostly defines hypertrophy—i.e. muscle growth.

What are the Three Primary Mechanisms that drive hypertrophy?

If you need more gainz, the three mechanisms for muscle growth you need to understand are…

  • Mechanical Tension
  • Muscle Damage
  • Metabolic Stress

In this article, I will define each mechanism; don’t worry, I’ll simplify the science behind their importance to spare you from scientists’ often mind-numbingly boring lexicon, because I care and perhaps more accurately, easy-to-understand lessons tend to be, well, easier to understand. And therefore, easier to apply.

Speaking of application, once you have a firm grasp on the mechanisms of muscle growth, I’ll throw in what really matters — techniques you can use to get the most out of your workouts, and of course get those well-deserved gainz.

Mechanical Tension for Muscle Strength & Size

Heavy lifter proponents will love this one. Mechanical tension is created by using a heavy load, and performing exercises through the optimal range of motion for a period of time. 

To put it simply, mechanical tension is any force that attempts to stretch muscle fibers. Typically, a muscle must perform some form of contraction to experience mechanical tension. Most of you probably know the three types of contractions but for those that don’t:

  • Eccentric: positive, shortening muscle — e.g. pressing the barbell to starting position
  • Isometric: static hold — e.g. squeezing the biceps at the top of a cable curl
  • Concentric: negative, lengthening portion of a given repetition — e.g. the descent on a squat 

Mechanical tension can be activated by any of the three types of contractions. However, when a load’s being lifted through all three types of contractions (while repping), researchers have found that it’s the concentric contraction that usually activates mechanical tension most significantly. 

Why is mechanical tension important for muscle growth?

Over time, human bodies have evolved with the constant strain of gravity (not to be confused with how the mind evolves under the strain of your regrets). As a result, our muscle cells developed these things called mechanoreceptors. 

Mechanoreceptors work by detecting changes in tension. Therefore, if we’re constantly overloading our muscles with tension (i.e. lifting heavy things), aforementioned mechanoreceptors signal increased levels of stress, which leads to long term adaptations — i.e. hypertrophy. 

Mechanical Tension: Metaphor to simplify all that sciencey lingo

Let’s revisit the metaphor of the rope for a minute. This time, we’re referring specifically to one of those ropes you’d find in the climactic moment of a movie, where it’s taking on more load than it can carry. 

The rope frays under the load, starts tearing. When you release the load (because the muscles can’t handle it any longer), the muscle begin rebuilding so that the next time such a load is placed on them they can handle the weight and save the protagonist from meeting an untimely demise. And when that adaptation strengthens your muscle fibers, it also enlarges them — i.e. hypertrophy.

Applying Mechanical Tension for Hypertrophy

You want to put the working muscle under as much weight as possible in a controlled manner, through the most effective range of motion. 

It’s not just the weight that triggers hypertrophy though, it’s also the time your muscles spend under the tension of the external load (barbell, dumbbells, etc.). So, for anyone that thought I was suggesting simply go for your 1RM to gain size…no dice. 

There’s a sweet spot. You want to find a weight that’s about 90% of your 1RM, then shoot for the optimal rep range. Experts typically recommend rep ranges between 3-8 (personally, I’ve found the most results with 4-6).

For Optimization, dedicate at least some of any given workout to Negative training. 

You can use several methods to maximize the concentric type of a muscle contraction. But I don’t wanna give you decision fatigue so I’m gonna focus on one specific method. 

On the desired exercise, start by selecting a heavier load (90% of 1RM). Begin the lift, powering through the eccentric, squeezing on the isometric, then slowly lowering through the concentric. For example:

Triceps Cable Pushdown: Suggested Tempo 

  • Eccentric: 1‒2 seconds
  • Isometric: 1‒2 seconds
  • Concentric: 4‒10 seconds

Author’s Tip: if you’re intermediate or advanced, you can employ heavier loads by performing cheat reps on the eccentric portion of the exercise, then go super slow on the concentric.  

(Disclaimer for Beginners: those who aren’t as versed in proper form should avoid cheat reps. Seriously. I don’t care who’s watching, if you don’t have at least 365 workouts under your belt, for the love of gainz, learn the fundamentals of form. Your insatiable ego might be a little sad, but trust me, that same ego will thank you further down the yellow brick road — i.e. Gainz Street.). 

These Three Supplements Maximize Benefits of Mechanical Tension

  • Six Point Creatine: Perhaps the most clinically studied, proven effective, supplement ever, creatine is critical. Six Point Creatine has six different types of creatine, making it the one supplement to rule them all—yes, that’s a LOTR reference, and yes, we have an article explaining why Sauron himself would give his searing stamp of approval. Read more. 
  • PUMP-OCALYPSE: Probably the only caffeine-free pre-workout enhancer supplement that promotes stupid epic pumps, as well as encourages maximal strength gains over time. Discover how here
  • All Bulk No Bloat: If we were a used bookstore with face-out Staff Picks at the register, this supplement would be calling out to you from its shelf above my nametag. But we’re not so…promotes: (1) mitochondrial function, (2) hormone health, (3) muscle recovery, (4) nutrient utilization, (5) peak performance, and (6) uncanny hypertrophy. Take my word for it here, or read this article — prepare to be convinced why you should have just taken my word for it in the first place.
Muscle Damage for Muscle Metamorphosis

All right failure fanboys (and females), this one’s for you. Muscle damage is another essential component of hypertrophy. In resistance training, muscle damage occurs when a working muscle is taken to (and/or beyond) absolute muscle failure. 

When we take an exercise to failure during an exercise, there are resulting micro-tears in the muscle fibers. These micro-tears occur as a result of muscle damage. And now…for what happens next.

The Results of (positive) Muscle Damage

As caused by muscle damage, that correlated effect triggers a pretty dope process. Which goes, as follows:

  • The positive damage triggers mTor pathways,
  • The mtor pathways activate protein synthesis
  • Ingested proteins repair and rebuild the damaged muscle 
  • The repaired muscles are rebuilt stronger and larger

And voila, we have hypertrophy. 

(Note: muscle failure is not to be confused with form failure, nor is it to be confused with muscle fatigue, and now that I think about it, such distinctions probably warrant an entire article, but that’s for future ‘me’ to lose sleep over.

Application of the Muscle Damage Method

As with mechanical tension, there are also several methods we can apply to our lifts to induce greater muscle damage. In fact, going to muscle failure and—methodically—beyond is this humble author’s favorite way to train (it’s the method we at Hero Mode Academy most frequently have our students employ for growth, partially because it’s the method lifters most often struggle to master).

One common intensity technique you can incorporate into your workout routines to induce effective muscle damage are Drop Sets. 

A drop set consists of lifting a starting weight (typically around 80% of your 1RM) to muscle failure, decreasing the poundage by a non-specific percentage, then without resting, lifting the —technically—lighter load, again until muscle failure. This “drop” can be performed as little as once per exercise. Or, for my gluttons of pain out there, as many times as, well…until you’re shamelessly sobbing your way through five pound hammer curls, hoping no one’s watching even though everyone is because you probably stole all the dumbbells but that’s neither here nor there, and man oh man, this tangent’s getting really long, so before my sentence starts running-on like it’s forest gump breaking out of his braces, here’s an example of a drop set:

Dumbbell Hammer Curls: Weight x Approximate Reps

  1. 45lbs x 6-8
  2. 35lbs x 8-12
  3. 25lbs x 10-15
  4. 15lbs x 12-30

Please be aware, if you haven’t performed drop sets before, they will burn. In the best of ways. That being said, if your primary goal is gaining muscle mass, I’d advise against performing more than 3-4 drop sets on any given muscle group per workout.

For shredding down, you can add more. It’s just important to understand that overusing this technique can lead to diminishing returns (recovery and all that jazz).  

Top Three Supplements to Accelerate Muscle Repair for Growth

  • All Bulk No Bloat: I could get all redundant and go into another long description about why you need this ZERO CALORIE LEAN MASS GAINER, I could brag about how it’s my favorite supplement of all time, but that would take an entire article. Oh wait…learn more
  • Buck Feed Grass-Fed Whey: I don’t know who needs to hear this, but the best macronutrient for hypertrophy is the one that’s primary function is tissue repair (hint: that’s protein, and most of us don’t get anywhere near enough, but hey, if you’re a vegan that still thinks pea protein will suffice, or you’re into keto and somehow think fats can replace every other macronutrient [because you’re a biohacking baconator], then read this article, for your sake). 
  • STAG/DOE Full Spectrum Multivitamin: Have you ever wondered what happens if you build a house on sand, without a foundation? Keep lifting without a multivitamin and find out. Or, you know, allocate some of that aesthetic ambition to the pesky part of muscle growth — health.
Metabolic Stress: Pumped On Hypertrophy

You ready? Because this one’s for you my fellow disciples of the way. For too long, zealots disguised as labcoat-wearing scientists called us heretics. They deemed our methods as “broscience” without any supportive evidence. They basically saw disciples of the PUMP the way relatively sane individuals see flat earthers. 

But the benefits of the pump in regards to hypertrophy are not the same as believing the earth is flat.

For multiple reasons, of course, but most specifically, our claims are…you know… hold actual merit. In particular, the PUMP has proven itself a tool worthy of using for those seeking muscle growth. 

The Process of Metabolic Stress

As touched on earlier, the traditional thought is that when we lift weights, hypertrophy occurs through increases in muscle fiber size with an increase in myofibrillar proteins. And when this happens, there’s an expansion in muscle fiber cross sectional area, due to the predominantly increased myosin and actin. This process occurs similarly in both of the previously mentioned training methods (mechanical tension, muscle damage).

However, the way hypertrophy occurs during metabolic stress training is quite different.

When we perform sets of barbell curls, for example, blood gets pumped into the muscles by the arteries, and those steady muscular contractions prevent the veins from letting blood escape, resulting in high levels of metabolic stress and cell swelling—aka the pump.

What happens as a result of this cell swelling? 

Things get complicated, that’s what. Kidding. Kind of. There are some things science has come to a conclusion on, but there’s still more research needed. That being said, we do know that hypertrophy occurs…

Data from recent studies suggest that short-term high volume resistance training can accomplish a number of feats. For one, in spite of reducing muscle fiber actin and myosin protein concentrations, metabolic stress training increases muscle fCSA (fiber cross sectional area). Additionally, the high volume triggers a sacroplasmic expansion with an up-regulation of sarcoplasmic proteins. And these effects can persist up to eight days following. 

This type of hypertrophy is called sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, which has been defined as “…an increase in the volume of the sarcolemma and/or sarcoplasm accompanied by an increase in the volume of mitochondria, sarcoplasmic reticulum, t-tubules, and/or sarcoplasmic enzyme or substrate content.” – [Haunt et al., 2019]

In other words, sarcoplasmic hypertrophy increases muscle size without adding myofibrillar proteins like actin and myosin (both of which get increased during our other two muscle growth methods). 

So, to sum that up, yes. Metabolic stress training does deserve a place in your workout routine. It’s a hell of a lot of fun. It’s challenging. Bodybuilders since time memoriam have proven it can provide serious benefits (we’ll be using one such bodybuilder as an example in the application section).

The only thing that might cause some individuals skepticism is that long-term sarcoplasmic hypertrophy isn’t quite as clinically studied as its counterparts, so you just might wanna keep that in mind.

Applying Metabolic Stress Methodology for Sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy 

The key is to keep constant tension on the muscles by maintaining a continuous cadence (no rest between reps) and reversing direction just short of lockout or just before bottoming out, depending on the exercise’s strength curve.

This also includes less rest taken between sets. For this one, I’ll pull a routine from arguably one of the most aesthetic bodybuilders of all time (inarguably, the most aesthetic bodybuilder without an Olympia title). I’m talking, of course, about the high-volume king, Serge Nubret. 

He routinely trained a muscle group two times a week. To make sure you’re getting the full picture of his exercise selection and what not, here are both Chest-Quad sessions (yeah, you read that right. He trained chest and quads on the same day). 

Monday: Chest & Quads (rest time between sets is 20-30 seconds)

Exercise Sets + Reps
Bench Press 8 x 12-20
Flat Bench Flyes 6 x 12-20
Dumbbell Pullovers 6 x 12-20
Squats 8 x 12-20
Leg Extensions 6 x 12-20

Thursday: Chest & Quads (rest time between sets is 20-30 seconds)

Exercise Sets + Reps
Incline Bench Press 8 x 12-20
Incline Flyes 6 x 12-20
Dumbbell Pullovers 6 x 12-20
Leg Press 8 x 12-20
Leg Extensions 6 x 12-20

 

Although this is the most commonly known set and rep scheme Serge used, there are also reports of him doing as many as twenty sets for one exercise. Which is obviously bats*** insane. In light of his brilliant insanity, I’d advise you to keep two things in mind: 

  1. Serge Nubret didn’t just jump right from doing three sets to twenty; instead, he worked his way up to that amount of volume—i.e. progressive overload.
  2. He was also a freak—beyond the confines—of nature.  

Top Three Supplements to Enhance Metabolic Stress Benefits

    • WOKE AF — Bucked Up Non Stim Combo: you might not know this, but caffeine can actually constrict blood vessels, thereby making it harder to achieve an optimal pump. That being said, numerous studies suggest caffeine can help you perform more repetitions on a given exercise. I’ve devised what I believe to be the perfect compromise.
      • WOKE AF (half-scoop): Because WOKE AF has 333mg of caffeine, we can cut the scoop down in half and still get 166.5mg of caffeine running through our system. Additionally, because WOKE AF delivers two bonus high-powered stimulants in Dendrobium and Synephrine, we can shed that other 166.5mg without seeing any significant drop offs in performable reps.
      • Bucked Up Non-Stim (½-1 scoop): Obviously there’s more to a pre-workout than just the stimulants. You have the ingredients like beta-alanine and actigin® for increased performance and muscle endurance, along with citrulline malate and astragin® for enhanced blood flow (needed for maximal metabolic stress). By adding in a half (or full) scoop of the caffeine-free Bucked Up, we save ourselves the misery of missing out on all the muscle growth potentiates found within pre-workout.  
  • PUMP-OCALYPSE: Three ingredients for blood flow and two ingredients for maximal cellular hydration to super-swell cells for sarcoplasmic gainz. Bonus ingredients to maximize benefits in muscle damage and mechanical tension.
  • All Bulk No Bloat: I don’t want to be overzealous (is there really any other type of zealotry?) but All Bulk No Bloat gets a nod in all three sections— for maximizing hypertrophy mechanisms—for a reason. Think of your supplement stack as MCU’s Infinity Gauntlet. In terms of muscle growth, All Bulk No Bloat thrums with the power to defy space and time. Forge your Hypertrophy Gauntlet accordingly here.

 

Hypertrophy Mechanisms Arms Day Workout

(Author’s note: RIR stands for “Reps In Reserve”. Defined as: how many reps remaining in the proverbial tank at the end of every set — i.e. how many reps short of muscle failure to take.)

 

TRICEPS:

 

Exercise Sets + Reps (RIR) Intensity Technique Rest Time
Skullcrushers 2 x 6-8 (RIR: 3-4)

1 x 4-6 (RIR: 1-2)

1 x 4-6 (RIR: 0-1)

Simple: slow control 2-3 minutes
French Press 3 x 10-15 (RIR: 00) Triple drop set 1-2 minutes
Rope Pressdown 7 x 12-20 (RIR: 4-6) Hold contractions 20 seconds

 

BICEPS:

 

Exercise Sets + Reps (RIR) Intensity Technique Rest Time
Barbell Curls 2 x 6-8 (RIR: 3-4)

1 x 4-6 (RIR: 1-2)

1 x 4-6 (RIR: 0-1)

Simple: slow control 2-3 minutes
Alternating DB Curls 3 x 10-15 (RIR: 00) Triple drop set 1-2 minutes
Machine Preacher Curls 7 x 12-20 (RIR: 4-6) Hold contractions 20 seconds

 

FOREARMS:

 

Exercise Sets + Reps (RIR) Intensity Technique Rest Time
Reverse Grip Preacher 2 x 6-8 (RIR: 3-4)

1 x 4-6 (RIR: 1-2)

1 x 4-6 (RIR: 0-1)

Simple: slow control 2-3 minutes
Cable Rope Curl 3 x 10-15 (RIR: 00) Triple drop set 1-2 minutes
Standing wrist curl 7 x 12-20 (RIR: 4-6) Hold contractions 20 seconds

 

Logan Peterson

Logan Peterson is an avid writer and an unprofessional, non-competitive bodybuilder. Logan has several degrees, all of which he made up to sound more credible (for obvious reasons, Legal said he can’t list them). In truth, he simply has an insatiable curiosity. After eleven years of obsessive research, he knows too much about fitness, nutrition, and supplementation for his own good. Despite all appearances, he’s fiercely nerdy. Outside of fitness, his passions are reading and writing; his genre interests run the gamut from litrpg to satire. Due to ADHD, he’s currently working on several novels, and will likely publish all of them at once. And yes, he wrote his own bio...in third person.

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