Hypertrophy training is a technique used by personal trainers for clients who want to increase their strength and power, and/or to bulk up by encouraging muscle growth (see our blog on Hypertrophy Training).
Historically, most hypertrophy techniques have focused on high-volume training, but today we are looking at an alternative to this: intensity-based hypertrophy training.
What is high-volume training?
This is measured by the number of exercises carried out, times the number of sets and reps, multiplied by the weight lifted in kilos for each set.
e.g. 3 sets of 10 on 50Kg = 1500 Kg
This kind of approach is normally associated with a split programme, where different parts of the body are trained on different days.
A typical programme might be:
- Monday: chest and triceps
- Tuesday: back and biceps
- Thursday: legs
- Friday: shoulders and core
A high number of exercises (three to six) would be performed on the same muscle group for a high number of sets (three to 10) and a high number of reps (eight to 12). Some people might also use high-volume training methods as part of this programme, for example German Volume Training.
The aim of this type of training is to overload a specific muscle group to promote adaptation. However, one consequence of this is developing DOMs (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) in those muscle groups for around three to five days afterwards. This means that they may only get trained once a week; in other words, over the course of four weeks, each muscle only gets trained four times.
How does intensity-based training differ from high-volume training?
An alternative approach to high-volume hypertrophy training is intensity-based training. This system is not new and has been used historically, but has attracted a smaller following.
The theory is that during training, an individual will reap the novice benefits of adaptation but will then reach a plateau. At this point, the main stimulus that the body requires to achieve overload – and therefore adaptation – is intensity.
An intensity-based approach involves training muscle parts several times a week using lower volume but higher intensity. This method would produce less metabolic stress, which would mean reduced DOMs, a quicker recovery and an ability to train these muscle groups two to three times a week instead of one. This represents a significant increase from four times in four weeks to eight to 12 times in four weeks.
An example of a four-day layout could be:
- Monday: push exercises, quads and core
- Tuesday: pull exercises, biceps and hamstrings
- Thursday: push exercises, triceps and quads
- Friday: pull exercises, hamstrings and core
With this technique, a personal trainer would programme one or two exercises for each muscle group and ask the client to perform one or two “working sets”, ensuring that they go to complete failure and beyond, using techniques such as forced, reps, negatives, drop sets and rest pause techniques. The typical rep range would still be between eight and 12.
Any negatives to intensity-based training?
A potential downside to this system is neural overload. To train this intensely, going to failure in every session can be very draining on the body and could potentially lead to overtraining, burn out and/or injury.
Any fitness professional using this technique with a client should ensure that correct periodisation and careful monitoring is used.
No two people are the same and there is no one way to achieve a goal, but if your personal training clients have reached a plateau, intensity-based training could provide the solution to help them progress further.