So last week I was hanging out with some friends on July 4th and like all good barbecues, we started talking about getting jacked.
Well, the conversation turned that way when someone pulled out old training videos of Dorian Yates because he has a new documentary coming out called The Original Mass Monster.
And I don’t know about you, but I can’t look at someone like Dorian Yates without wondering what’s going on underneath the hood. Obviously there’s some exogenous pharmaceutical aid, but from a practical standpoint, how do you go about filling your skin suit with muscle? How do you get jacked and look like a real-life superhero?
While we jammed on this topic around the grill (to the chagrin of our girlfriends, fiance’s, and wives) I realized that people need an easier way to think about hypertrophy.
Yes, you can make it really complicated and get lost in the weeds of cellular mechanisms, but from a practical standpoint, is that really helpful? Does better understanding mTOR (which no one actually understands) help you and/or your athletes get more jacked?
I don’t think it does…
From a sets, reps, and protocol standpoint, we know what works but I find people are still lost and confused when it comes time to EXECUTE and put a plan into ACTION.
And that’s what really matters here → results.
But if you can’t see the forest through the trees, then you will get lost in the minutia and never put a concrete plan into action. You’ll keep spinning your wheels worrying about details that need to be left to scientists in the world of research.
So, how can you make hypertrophy and getting jacked “simple”? What are the major variables you need to control in order to look like Thor and perform like a middle linebacker?
I’ve written this post to take you behind the scenes on the proven 6 step process that I’ve used for years to help athletes get jacked. No more overthinking and overanalyzing your training. Just results. And it all comes down to this simple hypertrophy equation:
Hypertrophy = (mechanical tension)+(metabolic stress)+(does it suck)+(volume accumulation)+(eat your food)+(weekly split)+(daily layout)
In this post, I’ll walk you through each variable going over what is and how to manage it for maximal results.
By the end of this article, you’ll have a complete roadmap for getting jacked and having to order new jeans.
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We’re going to cover a lot of ground in this post (it comes in at over 2600 words), so I’ve put together a free package of resources that will help you implement everything you are about to learn. Be sure to grab it before you leave!
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There are two key variables you need to control for hypertrophy:
And here’s how to think about them:
To dial-up mechanical tension, you must increase the load, decrease the reps, and increase the rest time. For metabolic stress, you must decrease load, increase the reps, and decrease the rest time.
For reps, anything from 3-20 can do the trick. Let’s place those on a bell curve to help visualize it:
You obviously have a lot of room to play with, so what’s optimal?
Well…just look at the bell curve. What part of the curve has the most area under it? Because that’s there where you should spend most of your time. It’s not the 3 and definitely not the 20. They lie at the extremes. What lies in the middle is the sweet spot, and classically it’s thought to be 8-12 reps, but we can honestly say it’s more like 6-15
So, 6-15 reps are your bread and butter range, and you can extend off of that in either direction depending on if you want to dial up more metabolic stress or mechanical tension. As you do, be sure to respect what must happen to rest time and load as displayed previously. Let’s go ahead and fill those in to capture the whole picture:
Note that “optimal” will be impacted by the type of movement you are performing. For example, think about a squat vs. a chest supported dumbbell reverse fly. How effective will a “heavy” set of 5 be for a chest supported dumbbell reverse fly? The answer is it won’t. The exercise is inherently self-limiting because you don’t have a large range of loads.
It’s a safe bet to assume you will shift toward the metabolic stress side of the figure ? as the size and number of muscle(s) involved decreases (think rear delt isolation vs. lat isolation vs. full body squat).
If you’re feeling a little lost, this is a good graphic to help summarize and visualize the rep story adapted from Greg Nuckols and the folks over at Stronger by Science:
Photo Credit: Stronger by Science
Now that we’ve laid the foundation for metabolic stress, mechanical tension, rep ranges, load, and rest, let’s talk about the “secret sauce” of hypertrophy training: it has to suck.
Yep, you read that right. To drive hypertrophy, whatever you are doing must suck, but this should make plenty of sense from an evolutionary standpoint. Carrying around excessive muscle mass is inefficient, unnecessary, and expensive, so you need to go hard as hell to convince your body that it’s necessary. It doesn’t matter if you are doing 3 reps or 20 reps, it has to suck. And we can quantify suck using your rating of perceived exertion (RPE).
Here’s a handy table for that:
The magic number you care about here is 7.5. You need to be at a 7.5 or above to drive hypertrophy. You can manipulate reps, load, and rest as much you like, but if it never sucks (aka. reaches a 7.5 RPE), then you aren’t creating change at the muscle.
Training volume is the number one predictor of muscular hypertrophy and should increase over a given periodized cycle. Here’s how you calculate it:
Sets x reps x load = volume
And here’s what you are looking to do over the course of a training cycle:
Notice how total training volume increases week over week. This is the hallmark of a hypertrophy block. You accumulate volume over time as opposed to intensity (which occurs in strength blocks).
Ultimately, as long as you are working at an 7.5 RPE and volume is increasing over time, you will crush it.
There’s no slabbing on muscle and getting cockdiesel if you don’t eat your food. Period.
Fortunately, we can make this really easy. You can find a more detailed post on performance nutrition here.
*If you’ve never done this before, 1 gram of protein contains 4 calories, 1 gram of carbs contains 4 calories and 1 gram of fat contains 9 calories. So all you have to do is some simple math. Multiply out to get your calories coming from protein and fat (since those are set) and then subtract to get calories coming from carbs. Once you have calories coming from carbs, you divide that number by 4 to get grams of carbs. There’s an example below if you’re totally lost.
If you’re confused by any of that, let’s walk through an example using myself.
Here’s what I plugged into the harris-benedict calculator:
And here’s what my total calories came out to:
Now all that’s left to do is divy up those calories into macros:
If you don’t like math, you can look at using an app like the RP Diet App from our friends over at Renaissance Periodization.
I’ve lectured on this concept before, but weekly training splits are how you align your training program with your goals.
For example, if you want to be a total package freak athlete, then I recommend rocking a 3-3 training split (3 lift days - 3 conditioning days).
If you care more about your endurance and building a big engine, then I recommend using a 2-4 training split (2 lift days - 4 conditioning days).
When your primary goal is to get jacked and turn those pea shooters into bazookas, then you want to use a 4-2 (4 lift days - 2 conditioning days) or 5-1 split (5 lift days - 1 conditioning day). And the reason for that is simple: maximize training volume.
Here’s what that will look like:
The entire thought process behind weekly training splits is to appropriately distribute your stress load. This ensures you show up to the gym with enough money in the bank account to buy whatever adaptation you are chasing.
Unfortunately, a lot of people miss the boat on this and the #1 place where you may mess it up in the above hypertrophy training splits are the light aerobic conditioning days.
The keyword here is “light.” These sessions should be easy. I’m talking a 6 or 7 RPE where you can breathe through your nose the entire time and carry on a conversation comfortably.
When you decide to prioritize getting jacked over everything else, you are throwing hard conditioning sessions out the door. There is no place for them in the above training splits. If you try to put them in, you will rob from your lift days and not get as much out of them.
Because training is a game of give and take. You cannot add without also subtracting. By having 4 or 5 lift days each week, you leave no room for hard track sessions or metcons. If this rubs you the wrong way, then you aren’t being honest about what your goals are.
*Want a done for you program that follows all the guidelines in this post and will turn you into the hulk? Then check out:
The last variable to consider is your daily training template.
Think of the daily training template as the scaffolding you use to construct lift days. This is similar to how writers approach writing. They don’t wing it on a blank sheet of paper. Rather, they have a structure/template to guide them.
Your lift day template serves the same purpose and you have two options:
Option 1: The Jacked Athlete Template - use this if you want to stay as athletic as possible while dialing up the muscle.
Option 2: Swole Soldier Template - use this if you don’t care about athleticism and just want to get huge.
Next up, let’s pivot to tempo training. Tempo refers to the pace of a lift or how long it takes to go through the eccentric and concentric portion of a lift.
Let’s use a bench press as an example. I can prescribe a 3 second eccentric, a 1-second pause on the chest, and an explosive concentric. Or I can prescribe a 3 seconds eccentric and 3 seconds concentric with no pausing or stopping (this is referred to as the statodynamic method). Or I can prescribe no tempo and tell the athlete to just go.
Tempo is a powerful weapon for hypertrophy because you can manipulate metabolic stress and time under tension. The slower the tempo, such as in the statodynamic method, the greater the metabolic stress gets. And it works via occlusion.
Constant muscle tension blocks arterial inflow and limits venous outflow. This means you limit 1) the delivery of fresh oxygen and nutrients and 2) the removal of metabolic byproducts like lactate, carbonic acid, and protons.
But remember, this is a balancing act. Hypertrophy is the love child of metabolic stress and mechanical tension, and you need both present to make magic happen. Slower tempos turn up metabolic stress, but also turn down mechanical tension.
This is the constant game we play. Everything operates on ranges and spectrums, and you should spend the majority of your time and effort on the fat part of the bell curve. Don’t get lost in the extremes. Just learn to utilize them in an effective way.
For example, understanding tempos gives you a way to “progress” a movement that might otherwise be stuck. Maybe you are struggling to increase load further on something like a decline pec fly and already have reps at the high end of the range with 20 and rest at the low end of the range at 45 seconds. Well, now you can utilize/leverage tempos to make it suck more and drive progress.
Whenever I write a blog post, my hope is that you walk away feeling empowered with knowledge.
The art of good strength and conditioning is a complex world, but it isn’t rocket science and I believe that most people can pick this stuff up.
What I’ve laid out for you is nearly everything you need to know from a practical standpoint about how to get jacked.
Will this guide turn you into a world-class bodybuilder? Absolutely not. If you want to step on stage and compete, then you need to go deeper than I’ve gone today and I recommend my friends at N1 training if that’s your goal. But if you want to look like Thor and perform like a middle linebacker, then you should have all the ammo you need.
To help make this as actionable as possible for you, I’ve created a bonus bundle that has the following resources:
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Now it’s your turn to get jacked. And if you have any questions, feel free to post them in our free community forum here.
James Cerbie is the founder and head coach at Rebel Performance. He can be found lifting, drinking coffee, roaming in the mountains, reading research, or watching superhero movies. He occasionally posts on Instagram as well.