It was my second year of university and I was writing an exam for what turned out to be the toughest class I would take over the four years – human physiology.
This class single-handedly made my decision not to pursue medicine any further as I had been considering it up to that point.
So, here I am getting ready to going this midterm and I’m nervous as hell. The professors had caught some slack the year before as the average on their midterm was something abysmal like 33%.
I was still relatively new to the university scene as well, so nervous doesn’t even begin to describe it.
I gripped my pencils tight as they herded us into the exam room.
There were three different test booklets – A, B and C.
All of the questions were multiple choice, but they were those multiple choice that just messed with your head.
Is it this? Is it that? Is it that but not that? Is it this and that?
What is this a psychology test?
Anyway, I sat down in front of test booklet C and anxiously awaited the administrator’s word to open the booklet.
When we got the word, everyone furiously opened the booklets and off we went.
As I opened mine to the first page of questions, I noticed something odd.
There were three questions on that page and one of the multiple choice answers to each question was highlighted in bold.
For a fleeting moment, I thought, “maybe those are all the right answers.”
As I read through the first question and its accompanying answers, I began to realize that my fleeting thoughts were true. The highlighted answer was the most likely one.
I quickly filled in my bubble sheet and moved on to question number two. This time I only read the question and the highlighted answer.
Holy shit… the right answer was highlighted!
At this point, I stopped reading the questions and just started filling out my bubble sheet with correct answers that had been highlighted. I knew this reign of terror would end soon and I wanted to have as many right answers on that sheet as I could.
Anyway, some idiot decided to tell the professor that all the answers were highlighted on Exam Booklet C about five minutes later and they took away all our booklets.
When they graded them later, they realized that everyone with Booklet C had a massive advantage and made us either rewrite the exam or take our entire grade foremother exams. I decided on the latter.
So, the question I beg with this story is, was I cheating?
Was this simply a case of me being a bad student, or was I just taking advantage of an option I had been afforded to improve my score and possibly get away with it?
Is there a way we can do this with our workouts and get away with it?
We’ll come back to that…
For the past 5 or so years, my main training focus had always been pure strength. Always looking to toss more weight on the bar and taking much needed two to three-minute rest breaks.
More recently, I had been adding in more conditioning and circuit-style training to help cut any unwanted fat that would show up in a photo shoot if I wasn’t careful.
This was also around the time that a couple clients of mine had mentioned how excited they were for Jen Sinkler and Kourtney Thomas’ Bigness Project to be released – a 14-week hypertrophy blast designed to pack on muscle.
I had actually seen Jen in person right after she finished doing the program herself and the results were ridiculous.
When a client mentioned to me she was going to buy it before the initial release sale was over, I told her to let me do it and run her through the program.
It was a perfect opportunity for me to start a new program, challenge myself with something I’d never really done in earnest before and have a program made by someone else (I often build my programs around things I like).
While I plan on writing a more full-bodied article on how strength and hypertrophy-focused training are vastly different; today I want to share one tidbit I’ve picked up through training in this new way.
What is Hypertrophy Training?
First, we should define muscle hypertrophy for y’all; because this gets thrown around pretty loosely and is associated very closely with muscle strength.
Muscle hypertrophy is a term for growth and increase in the size of muscle cells.
Hypertrophy training, therefore, is geared towards the methods that induce said gains in the size of muscle cells.
Some (but not all) of the main tenets of hypertrophy training include volume and time under tension. Rather than consistently trying to slap more weight on the bar, the goal is to be under tension for longer, more often.
How Do You Add More Volume?
Volume can be defined simply as the amount of work you do.
There are several ways to add volume, other than just cranking the volume knob when Dr. Dre comes on your playlist.
I just finished stating how different strength and hypertrophy training can be, then I come out here and toss the number one strength recommendation at ya.
To be honest, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention putting more weight on the bar as an option for any type of weight training. This is always an option, but probably shouldn’t be the first option in a hypertrophy program.
Unless you’re being a little bitch and not lifting enough in the first place. If you can hit the prescribed reps with no burn, up that shit.
Increase Density/Decrease Rest
A very popular training method for those trying to gain muscle AND those trying to lose fat (John Romaniello is a HUGE fan of density sets for fat loss).
Essentially, you’re taxing the muscles then resting just enough to tax them again. We’re not shooting for any personal records here, just trying to get the prescribed reps in.
What this does for hypertrophy is, when you’re taxing the same muscle groups (i.e. doing sets of dumbbell bench press back to back with only a minute rest; you’re exhausting the muscle fibres that do most of the heavy lifting and stimulating the weaker ones (the lazy asses that don’t do any work) to wake up. These have a massive potential for growth with even a small stimuli.
Increase Reps and/or Sets
Probably the simplest and most well-known method for increasing volume is to add reps or sets to certain exercises.
Although this can be a time suck, if you’re sticking to the short rest periods above, it isn’t as bad as you think.
Remember, packing on size is all about getting those muscles under tension for longer.
Drop Sets and/or Supersets
This is something employed by many bodybuilders in the hypertrophy phase as it’s time-efficient and incredibly challenging. I’ve done this before and it is brutal.
Very similar to decreasing rest, we can just pair exercises back to back in a superset that hits the same muscle groups and make people generally hate life but get jacked at the same time.
Drop sets use the same principle but allow you to finish a set of an exercise – let’s use bicep curls, then drop the weight and complete more reps to failure. If you’re a real psychopath, you can drop the weight again for another massacre.
All in the name of muscle growth.
Okay, the moment you’ve all been waiting for. I teased the fact that you could cheat on your workout and get away with it, so here it is.
I wanted to add volume but stick within the paradigm of the Bigness Project program. They program straight sets (at least for the first seven weeks, that’s as far as I’ve seen) with no frills.
Jen and Kourtney increase volume each week by adding a set to all the lifts after week one, then adding another set to the main lifts after week three and another after week five.
They also decrease your rest option as the training program moves on from two minutes between sets all the way down to a measly 60 seconds.
But they always give you a rep range to hit.
For me, this is dangerous because – coming from a strength training mindset; I constantly want to stop at the lowest rep listed, especially if the reps are outrageous like “12-15” (who does that shit?).
So, I figured out a way to trick myself.
Once I feel like I’m “done”, I add in some “cheater reps”, especially on the last set of an exercise for that day.
There are two ways to do this.
I’ll give you two examples here. First, the dreaded pull-up that I flat out suck at in relation to my overall strength. I blame it on the long-ass arms but that’s besides the point.
Once I’m done hitting perfect reps (i.e. I know I’ll just be cheating for the rest of the set), I drop to eccentric reps. Here’ I’ll jump up above the bar and lower myself down as slow as humanly possible, focusing on perfect form and really feeling it in the lats.
Remember, the goal is fatiguing the hell out of the target muscle group and stimulating new growth.
Now, let’s take a unilateral exercise such as single leg calf raises.
I’ll finish as many reps as I can with perfect form, then use my other leg to assist (as little as possible) and allow me to complete more reps.
The burn here is intense and causes all sorts of disgusting faces and sounds on my part, but man does it work.
Decrease Range of Motion
On exercises where doing only the eccentric or adding in assistance with the other limb are impossible without a spotter or some sort of contraption, I like to finish with some decreased range of motion reps. Well, I don’t necessarily like to, but I do it.
For example, the dumbbell bench press is one of my weakest lifts. No matter what, I can’t seem to improve on it. I think I need to keep working on shoulder stability, but that’s beside the point.
Once I’ve tapped out on full range reps, I simply don’t go down as far but keep hitting reps. Although I’m not getting the full benefit of the stretch and extended time under tension, I’m getting more than I would if I just finished the set right there.
Win-win for me.
So, let’s go back to the beginning of our story. Is it ALWAYS cheating when you simply take an advantage that you’ve been handed and use it?
Do you have to be the guy who runs up to the professor and tells him that one of the exams he worked so hard to prepare may just have all the answers printed directly on it?
Or can you be the guy like me who’s so busy trying to mark down and remember all the answers that they can barely grab the test from in front of you?
I’d say use the advantage.
I’d say cheat a little and squeeze as much out of every workout, every set and every rep as you can. If you want to put on size, then you better because there’s no other way to do it.
To your morals… or lack thereof,
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