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African Man Measuring His Biceps

The foundations of muscle growth (hypertrophy)

Having looked at the three basic laws of physical training, let us now consider the foundations of muscle growth (hypertrophy), which may be summarized as follows:

  • Good biomechanics
  • • Appropriate rest
    • Proper diet
    • Sufficient hydration
    • Specific workouts
    • Appropriate frequency
    • Sufficient intensity
    • Exercise order
    • Progressive overload
    • Exercise variety

We could also add proper warm-up, good breathing, the right choice of exercises, psychological preparation, dietary supplements when necessary, and patience. This long list explains why sometimes it can be so difficult to make progress, whether your objective is muscle growth, weight loss, fitness, or any other goal.

Let us continue this discussion with a brief explanation of some key principles:

Overload principle

Workouts should involve a greater effort than is usual for each individual, in his or her daily life.
In practice, a beginner should start with light exercises, increasing the load little by little as they become easier. This explains why beginners make progress using almost any training program, but also why they give up when they fail to make further gains. It is also for this reason that intermediate and advanced weight trainers need to program their training schedule and diet much more strictly, taking a scientific approach.

Progress principle

This is linked to the overload principle. The body adapts to new exercises, so they must gradually be made more intensive.
In practice, when your goal is to increase workout intensity, the right approach is to first increase the number of repetitions and then increase the weight used (at which point you will again reduce repetitions).
If at the same time you increase the weight used and the number of repetitions (the number of repetitions that you were able to manage with a lighter weight), you are likely to suffer injuries sooner or later. Lifting just few more ounces will be a triumph, and as time passes, gains will be larger.

Reversibility principle

If the stimulus stops, the body will tend to return to its initial condition. When you stop working out, the body atrophies week by week and slips back into its former state.

In practice, physical activity, and muscle training above all, must eventually become a lifestyle. Because if you stop, your body will gradually return go back to its former state. Obviously, the muscle does not turn into “fat,” a common excuse for not even starting exercise.

Specificity and transfer principle

The best way to gain strength is to train for strength. To gain endurance, train for endurance.
In practice, if you want to gain strength, muscle volume or both, you will need to train using a considerable amount of weight. If your aim is to lose weight or “define” your muscles, you will need to concentrate mainly on diet and aerobic exercise.

However, we now know that there is a positive correlation between the majority of physical capabilities: this is known as “transfer.” For example, if you gain strength in your legs, you could be able to run faster, but not by excessive muscular hypertrophy, because it would slow you down again by becoming heavier.

Individuality principle

Every individual reacts differently to the same stimulus or training program. In practice, there is little point in copying what may have worked for someone else without considering your own
physical condition and aptitudes. The basics work for almost everybody, but eventually
you will need to personalize your workouts and training programs.

Continuity principle

It may be defined in terms of regularly planning of your workouts. If they are too spread out over time, the biological adaptation you are looking for will not appear. On the other hand, if your training sessions are too close together, you run the risk of overtraining.

The other “principles” of muscle training, such as pre-exhaustion training, muscular confusion, burn, antagonistic super series and so forth have no scientific value and are little more than a means for bodybuilding gurus to make a name for themselves. Their only real advantage is to prevent boredom.

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