Free shipping & returns on all US orders
Shopping Cart ()
Have a question? Call us now: 888-908-4258

The Definitive (and Practical) Guide to Muscle Hypertrophy

Written by:
The Definitive (and Practical) Guide to Muscle Hypertrophy

If you want to know what muscle hypertrophy is, how it works, and how to stimulate it best, then you want to read this article.

Key Takeaways

  1. Muscle hypertrophy is the technical term for muscle growth, and it refers to an increase in the size of your muscle cells.
  2. Regardless of your genetics, muscle fiber type, or number of muscle cells, you can significantly increase muscle hypertrophy if you train and eat correctly.
  3. The best way to increase muscle hypertrophy is to get as strong as possible on the big compounds lifts like the bench and overhead press, squat, and deadlift, and eat slightly more calories than you burn.

Muscle hypertrophy is a confusing subject.

Hell, it’s a confusing word. How do you even say it?


And what does it mean, exactly?

(It’s the technical term for muscle growth.)

Some people say that the best way to stimulate muscle hypertrophy is to use different rep ranges to develop different kinds of muscle fibers.

Some say that there are different kinds of muscle hypertrophy—”myofibrillar” and “sarcoplasmic”—and if you aren’t emphasizing both in your training then you’re leaving gains on the table.

If you want bigger muscles, you’re told, you want to maximize sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, and you do that by training with light weights and high reps, supersets, and so forth.

And if you want stronger muscles, you want to maximize myofibrillar hypertrophy, and you do that by training with heavy weights and low reps.

Then, others say that muscle hypertrophy is almost entirely genetic. They say your DNA determines whether you can build a lot of muscle or not, and how you train isn’t going to make much of a difference one way or another.

Then, of course, almost everyone says that cardio is horrible for muscle hypertrophy.

And there you are in the middle of all of this, feeling like …

… and I understand. I was in your shoes at one point, too.

When I started working out, I was your average tall, skinny dude, and for the first one and a half years, I followed run-of-the-mill bodybuilding magazine workouts.

It kinda worked. By the end of this period I was, uh, a little less skinny? (I won’t even Photoshop the zit out):

Fast forward about five and a half years, and while I had gained a fair amount of muscle along the way, it wasn’t exactly what I would have expected for seven years of dedicated weightlifting:

Soon after that picture was taken, though, I decided to educate myself on the real science of muscle and strength gain and implement what I had learned, and here’s where it got me:

And in this article, I’m going to share with you the key lessons I’ve learned so you can follow in my footsteps.

Let’s get to it.

Would you rather listen to this article? Click the play button below!

Want to listen to more stuff like this? Check out my podcast!

What Is Muscle Hypertrophy?

Muscle hypertrophy is the technical term for an increase in muscle size.

Hyper means “over or more,” and trophy means “growth,” so muscle hypertrophy literally means the growth of muscle cells.

To understand what causes muscle hypertrophy and how it works, you first need to understand what muscles are comprised of.

Muscle tissue is a complex structure, with bundles of long strands of muscle cells sheathed in a thick band of connective tissue known as the perimysium.

Here’s how it looks:

structure of skeletal muscle

The three main components of muscle tissue are:

  1. Water, which makes up about 60 to 80% of muscle tissue by weight. (Want to be creeped out? Read how they figured this out.)
  2. Glycogen, which is a form of stored carbohydrate that can make up anywhere from ~0 to 5% of muscle tissue by weight.
  3. Protein, which makes up about 20% of muscle tissue by weight.

To cause muscle hypertrophy, you need to increase the amount of water, glycogen, or protein in a muscle cell.

Simple enough so far, right?

Recommended Reading:

What Every Weightlifter Should Know About Glycogen

The Two Kinds of Muscle Hypertrophy

When people say “muscle hypertrophy,” they’re generally referring to an increase in the amount of protein in the muscle.

This is known as myofibrillar hypertrophy, which refers to an increase in the amount of protein contained in individual muscle cells.

It’s called “myofibrillar” hypertrophy because myo means “muscle,” and a fibril is a threadlike cellular structure.

There’s another kind of hypertrophy, though, known as sarcoplasmic hypertrophy.

Sarco means “flesh” and plasmic refers to plasma, which is a gel-like material in a cell containing various important particles for life.

Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, then, is an increase in the volume of the fluid and non-contractile components of the muscle (glycogen, water, minerals, etc.).

Here’s a simple visual of how it works:

sarcoplasmic and myofibrillar hypertrophy

It’s obvious that the sarcoplasmic elements of muscle cells (necessarily) expand as myofibrillar growth occurs, and that you can temporarily increase sarcoplasmic volume by doing things like getting a pump or loading creatine or carbs.

What isn’t so obvious, though, is this:

  • Can the sarcoplasm expand at a rate significantly faster than the myofibrils expand?
  • If so, can this expansion result in long-term increases in muscle size?

That is, is there more to sarcoplasmic hypertrophy than a temporary “pump”? Can it contribute significantly to total muscle size and gain over time?

Some people say the answer is obviously yes.

“How can a 170-pound powerlifter out-squat a 250-pound bodybuilder?” they ask.

Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy would seem to answer this question. The bodybuilder, in his quest to build the biggest muscles possible, has (apparently) developed muscles with more sarcoplasm, but less contractile protein than the powerlifter.

There’s a more likely explanation, though:

Strength athletes squat, deadlift, and bench press far more frequently than bodybuilders, and the more you do something, the better you get at it.

Thus, powerlifters are probably just better at those key exercises than bodybuilders, who perform them much less frequently. This is why you can find many examples of bodybuilders that switch to powerlifting and gain strength very quickly, as they improve their technique.

That said, it actually does appear that sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is indeed more than merely a side effect of working out.

The reason why revolves around something known as “cellular swelling.”

Every time a muscle contracts, metabolic byproducts like lactic acid build up in and around the cells. Your body then pumps more blood into your muscles to carry these compounds away, which makes your muscle cells swell.

These compounds also pull water into the muscle cells, making them swell even larger, and this reduces the amount of blood that’s able to escape, causing still more swelling.

We experience cellular swelling as a pump, of course, and there’s strong evidence that this increases protein synthesis, which is is the creation of new muscle proteins and the process that drives myofibrillar hypertrophy.

In other words, while sarcoplasmic hypertrophy in and of itself doesn’t contribute to overall muscle size as directly as myofibrillar hypertrophy, it does seem to stimulate more myofibrillar hypertrophy, thereby helping you get jacked faster.

This is why it’s a good idea for intermediate and advanced weightlifters to include some higher-rep work in their workout routines, which maximizes sarcoplasmic hypertrophy.

In my opinion, beginners don’t need to worry about “periodizing” their training like this. If they just spend their first couple of years focusing on increasing whole-body strength with a lot of heavy, compound weightlifting, they’ll gain more or less all the muscle they possibly can in that period.

Recommended Reading:

→ How to Create the Ultimate Muscle Building Workout

Use this workout and flexible dieting program to lose up to 10 pounds of fat and build muscle in just 30 days…without starving yourself or living in the gym.

Can You Grow New Muscle Cells?

muscle hypertrophy reps

Another idea that’s been kicking around the bodybuilding space for years now is muscle hyperplasia.

This is a technical term that means the formation of new muscle cells (plasia means “the development of cells”), and there’s an ongoing debate as to whether it’s actually possible or not.

Some say that both muscle hypertrophy and hyperplasia contribute to overall muscle growth, whereas others say that muscle hyperplasia doesn’t occur at all in humans, and any increase in muscle size is solely due to the two types of muscle hypertrophy we’ve already discussed.

Who’s right?

If you flip open a physiology textbook, you’ll read that there’s nothing we can do to increase or decrease the number of muscle cells in our bodies—that we can only grow or shrink their size.

And by and large, most studies show that’s the case.

That said, though, most of these studies were conducted on sedentary people, and there’s some evidence that we may be able to add new muscle cells with enough years of hard training.

The first line of evidence comes from animal research, which found that hyperplasia can occur if you use a sufficiently brutal training protocol.

For example, scientists from the University of Texas found that they could cause a 24% increase in muscle size due to hyperplasia when they attached a weight to a bird’s wing for 30 days.

Although it’s not practical, other research has shown that you can cause hyperplasia in rats by cutting them open and partially destroying the muscles.

The second line of evidence is more convincing.  

A few studies have shown that bodybuilders have more total muscle cells than their nonlifting counterparts, which has led some to conclude that their years of hard training must have caused muscle hyperplasia.

There are three problems with these studies, though:

1. We have no idea how many muscle cells everyone had before the study.

It’s possible that the bodybuilders in these studies were just born with more muscle cells than the sedentary people.

2. The studies didn’t directly measure or demonstrate muscle hyperplasia.

Instead, they just found a correlation between bigger muscles and more muscle cells. Muscle hyperplasia may or may not have caused this to occur.

3. Most other studies have found that bodybuilders and sedentary people have the same number of muscle cells.

This would indicate that most bodybuilders have bigger muscles through growing their existing muscle cells, not adding new ones.

Another possible way to induce muscle hyperplasia in humans is steroids.

For example, in a study conducted by a team of researchers from Umeå University, muscle samples were taken from two groups of powerlifters:

  1. Those who had used large doses anabolic steroids for several years.
  2. Those who had never taken steroids.

After analyzing the muscle tissues, researchers found that the steroid users had significantly more muscle cells than the natties, so it’s possible that getting on some #dedication is a good way to cause muscle hyperplasia.

This might also help explain why people who’ve used steroids tend to keep at least some of their chemically enhanced gains years after they stop taking drugs.

Recommended Reading:

6 Things You’ve Always Wanted to Know About Steroids

How Can You Increase Muscle Hypertrophy?

There are several factors that affect how much and how quickly you can stimulate muscle hypertrophy.

This also leads to a lot of confusion as to the “best” way of going about it.

Some people say you just need to stick to the basics—heavy weights, progressive overload, moderate volume, etc.—whereas others believe you should make things much more complex.

For example, you’ve probably heard that you should …

And some people say none of any of the above matters as much as your DNA—that most of your progress (or lack thereof) will come down to your genetics.

Let’s unpack this and see what the current weight of the scientific evidence says.

How Muscle Fiber Type Affects Muscle Hypertrophy

muscle hypertrophy muscle fiber type

A muscle fiber is a muscle cell (the terms are interchangeable), and not all are the same.

Some muscle fibers are better suited for endurance activities and others are more suited for strength and power.

The former are referred to as type I muscle fibers, and the latter as type II.

Type I fibers are also known as “slow-twitch” muscle fibers, and they’re dense with capillaries, rich in mitochondria and myoglobin, and very efficient at absorbing oxygen from the blood, which makes them very resistant to fatigue.

This is why they can contract repeatedly for long periods of time.

They also, however, have about half the potential for growth and power output as type II muscle fibers.

Type II fibers are also known as “fast-twitch” muscle fibers, and their structure and physiology make them better suited for generating strength and power.

They also grow larger than type I fibers and contract faster as well, but fatigue much faster, making them less suited to endurance activities.

Because of these differences, bodybuilders have claimed for years that you can (and even should) selectively target these fiber types with different styles of training techniques.

The most common one talked about is using higher reps and lower weights to maximally stimulate the type I muscle fibers, and using higher weight and lower reps to activate the type ll fibers. This way, you can gain muscle as quickly as possible.

The theory behind this approach may sound reasonable, but when you look beneath the hood, it starts to get messy.

First of all, the idea that different kinds of strength training preferentially stimulate different muscle fibers isn’t true.

Whether or not a muscle fiber type activates during your set depends more on how close you are to failure than what rep range you use.

That is, as long as you finish your sets relatively close to failure, both heavy and light weights can stimulate both type I and type II muscle fibers equally well.

Dr. Brad Schoenfeld made this clear in one of the most comprehensive reviews on muscle growth to date, published in 2010 in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. “… a fiber-type prescription with respect to repetition range has not been borne out by research,” he concluded.

Second, not all muscle fibers fit neatly into these “type I” and “type ll” classifications.

A large proportion of our muscle fibers share properties of both type I and type ll cells, and these “hybrid” fibers can adapt well to both strength and endurance activities.

This makes it more or less impossible to only target your type I or type ll muscle fibers with different kinds of training or rep ranges.

The last problem with this idea of “targeted muscle fiber type training” is that most of the muscles in your body have a roughly even mix of type I, type ll, and hybrid muscle fibers. The calves are a notable exception, which tend to be about 60 to 90% type l muscle fiber, but most muscles have around 50% type I and type II muscle fibers.

What this means, then, is even if you could target type I or II muscle fibers with different rep ranges, you’d still want to use both high and low reps on all major muscle groups to emphasize both fiber types.

You may have also heard that through certain types of training techniques, you can transform some of your low-growth type I muscle fibers into high-growth type II fibers.

Science shows that’s basically impossible.

With enough training, you may be able to slightly shift your hybrid muscle fibers about 10% toward the “type l” or “type ll” ends of the spectrum, but that’s it.

Your “pure” type l and type ll muscle fibers, however, don’t seem to change at all regardless of how you train them or how long.

An instructive example of this comes from a study conducted by a team of researchers at The University of Memphis, which looked at the muscle fiber type of high-level powerlifters and people who had never lifted weights.

And when I say “high-level,” I mean it—the average bench press in the group was almost 400 pounds, and their average squat and deadlift were both over 600 pounds.

The result?

Both the powerlifters and the untrained people had the same proportion of type l and type ll muscle fibers.

In other words, it looked like the powerlifters’ years of heavy lifting hadn’t resulted in more type II muscle fiber.

The practical takeaway, then, is this:

So long as you’re using relatively heavy weights, training in the rep range of about 4 to 12 reps, and pushing yourself to 1 to 2 reps shy of failure in most of your sets, you’re going to experience plenty of type I and II muscle fiber growth.

Recommended Reading:

→ What 30 Studies Say About Your Muscle Fiber Type and Muscle Growth

How Strength Training Affects Muscle Hypertrophy

muscle hypertrophy training

To understand how strength training affects muscle hypertrophy, you need to understand the three primary “triggers” for muscle growth:

  1. Mechanical tension
  2. Muscle damage
  3. Cellular fatigue

Mechanical tension refers to the amount of force produced in muscle fibers.

When you lift weights, you produce two types of mechanical tension in your muscles: “passive” and “active” tension. Passive tension occurs when your muscles are stretching, and active tension occurs when they’re contracting.

Muscle damage refers to microscopic damage caused to the muscle fibers by high levels of tension. 

This damage requires repair, and if the body is provided with proper nutrition and rest, it will make the muscle fibers larger and stronger to better deal with future bouts of tension.

(It’s still not entirely clear whether muscle damage directly stimulates muscle growth or whether it’s just a side effect of mechanical tension, but as of now, it deserves a place on the list.)

Cellular fatigue refers to a host of chemical changes that occur inside and outside muscle fibers when they contract repeatedly.

Research shows that mechanical tension is the most important of these three pathways for muscle growth. In other words, mechanical tension produces a stronger muscle-building stimulus than muscle damage and cellular fatigue.

These three “pathways” to muscle growth also relate to what scientists call the “strength-endurance continuum,” which works like this:

  • Heavy, lower-rep weightlifting primarily increases muscle strength and results in higher amounts of mechanical tension and muscle damage, but less cellular fatigue.
  • Lighter, higher-rep weightlifting primarily increases muscle endurance and results in lower amounts of mechanical tension and muscle damage, but more cellular fatigue.

Given what you just learned, which style of training do you think generally results in more muscle gain?

That’s right—heavy, lower-rep work, because it will produce higher amounts of mechanical tension and muscle damage than lighter, lower-rep work.

This has been demonstrated in a number of studies. For example, in a study conducted by scientists at the University of Central Florida,  33 physically active, resistance-trained men were separated into two groups:

  1. A high-volume, moderate-intensity group that did four workouts per week consisting of four sets per exercise in the 10-to-12-rep range (70% of 1RM).
  2. A moderate-volume, high-intensity group that did four workouts per week consisting of four sets per exercise in the 3-to-5-rep range (90% of 1RM).

Both groups did the same exercises (which included the bench press, back squat, deadlift, and seated shoulder press), and both were instructed to maintain their normal eating habits and keep food diaries.

After eight weeks of training, scientists found that the high-intensity group gained significantly more muscle and strength than the high-volume group.

Researchers cited two main reasons for why the heavier training beat out the lighter in not only strength gain (not surprising), but muscle gain as well:

1. Higher amounts of mechanical stress imposed on the muscles.

The high-volume training, on the other hand, caused higher amounts of metabolic stress.

2. Greater activation of muscle fibers.

And this, in turn, results in greater muscle hypertrophy across a larger percentage of the muscle tissue.

This is why your primary goal as a natural weightlifter is to get stronger, and especially on key compound exercises like the squatdeadlift, and bench and overhead press.

In other words, the more weight you can push, pull, and squat, the more muscular you’re generally going to be.

That’s why my Bigger Leaner Stronger (men) and Thinner Leaner Stronger (women) programs focus on heavy, compound weightlifting, and that’s one of the reasons those programs are so effective.

Recommended Reading:

Is Getting Stronger Really the Best Way to Gain Muscle?

How Diet Affects Muscle Hypertrophy

muscle hypertrophy diet

You probably know that you need to eat enough protein to build muscle effectively.

Specifically, 0.8 to 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day works well for most people and circumstances.

What you may not know, though, is that you need to eat enough calories as well.

Technically speaking, a calorie is “the amount of energy required to heat 1 kg of water 1 degree Celsius at one atmosphere of pressure,” and the relationship between the amount of calories you eat and burn is known as energy balance.

Energy balance greatly impacts both your body weight and composition.

For example, if you feed your body less energy than it burns, you’ve created an energy (or calorie) deficit that will result in weight loss if sustained for a period of time.

It will also impair your body’s ability to create muscle proteins, however, which slows down (or even halts) muscle growth.

The physiology in play is fairly complex, but the long story short is when you restrict your body’s energy intake, it shifts to an “energy conservation” mode wherein certain bodily functions are given priority over others.

Building bigger muscles isn’t vital for survival and requires quite a bit of energy, so it’s rather low on the list.

Furthermore, a calorie deficit can reduce anabolic and increase catabolic hormone levels, causing a systemic shift away from muscle gain and toward muscle degradation.

Finally, cutting calories almost always entails reducing your carbohydrate intake, which is going to result in a decline in performance in the gym.

All this is why it’s commonly believed that you can’t build muscle and lose fat at the same time.

That’s not entirely accurate—if you’re new to proper strength training and dieting or coming back to the gym after a layoff, you can achieve the holy grail of fitness: “body recomposition.”

What is true, though, is that you’ll never gain as much muscle in a calorie deficit as you would when you’re in a calorie surplus. And if you’re an intermediate or advanced weightlifter, you probably can’t gain any muscle to speak of while dieting.

So, when we want to build muscle as quickly as possible, what do we have to ensure regarding our calorie intake?

You got it—we have to ensure we’re not in a calorie deficit, and this is true regardless of our dietary protocol.

Regardless of what type of diet we follow—low-carb, intermittent fasting, carb cycling, flexible dieting, veganism, or whatever else—if we’re in a calorie deficit more often than not, we’re going to struggle to gain muscle and strength.

On the other hand, if we ensure we’re in a slight calorie surplus more often than not, we’re going have a much easier time of it.

Recommended Reading:

The Ultimate Guide to Bulking Up (Without Just Getting Fat)

How Genetics Affect Muscle Hypertrophy

For many people, “genetics” is an unpalatable word.

It’s often associated with things you want to change but can’t, and the bad news is muscle hypertrophy is one of those things.

We all have hard limits as to how much muscle we can gain.

That said, unless you want to be a top-tier bodybuilder or fitness competitor, you can gain more than enough muscle to look and perform the way that you want.

Just how much muscle can you gain, you’re wondering?

Well, there are many physiological variables in play here, but you can get a fairly accurate estimate of your muscle-building potential by analyzing your bone structure.

Research shows that people with larger bones tend to be more muscular than people with smaller frames. Furthermore, they also tend to have higher testosterone levels and gain muscle faster when they start lifting weights.

What this means, then, is “big-boned” people have more genetic potential for strength and size than smaller-boned folk.

What qualifies as “big boned,” though, and how do you measure up?

Well, two of the best indicators of your overall bone structure are the circumferences of your wrists and ankles. Height being equal, people who have wider wrists and ankles tend to be naturally more muscular and have a higher potential for muscle growth than those with narrower ones.

If you’re like me and you don’t even need to measure anything to know you have slender bones, take heart.

Everyone can gain a significant amount of muscle if they eat and train correctly, and you don’t have to gain as much muscle as you might think to have a body you can be proud of.

Most guys only need to gain about 15 to 20 pounds of muscle to build an impressive physique, and for most women it’s closer to 10 or 15 pounds (or less).

After that, developing more muscle definition comes down to simply reducing your body fat percentage.

If you’d like learn more about how much muscle you can build naturally, check out this article:

How Much Muscle Can You Build Naturally? (With a Calculator)

How Cardio Affects Muscle Hypertrophy

muscle hypertrophy cardio

Spend enough time in the fitness racket and you’re going to hear this at some point:

If you want to be small, weak, and frail, then do more cardio.

There’s truth here—cardio does indeed interfere with muscle hypertrophy—but it’s not that cut-and-dried.

Cardio hinders muscle growth in two ways:

  1. In the short-term, cardio can interfere with strength and muscle gain by increasing general fatigue levels, making it harder to progress in your weightlifting.
  2. In the long-term, cardio can interfere with strength and muscle gain by disrupting cell signaling related to muscle hypertrophy.

Good evidence of the first point can be found in a study conducted by scientists at the University of São Paulo.

To see how doing cardio before heavy strength training affected muscle growth, the researchers split 10 men into 3 groups:

  1. The first group did four sets of half squats for as many reps as possible with 80% of one-rep max (1RM).
  2. The second group did 30 minutes of HIIT cycling (one minute of easy pedaling followed by one minute of all-out effort), followed by the same leg workout.
  3. The third group did 30 minutes of HIIT running (same protocol), followed by the same lower body workout.

After each workout, the researchers tallied up the total weightlifting volume of each group and found the first group (no cardio) performed better than the other two groups.

This study didn’t measure muscle growth, but due much of what we’ve discussed in this article, it’s reasonable to assume the first group would also gain significantly more muscle and strength if this experiment were played out over a longer period of time.

As to the second point—the disruption of cell signaling—working out produces a cascade of cellular, genetic, and hormonal changes to repair the damaged muscle fibers and make your muscles bigger, stronger, and better able to deal with future bouts of training (tension).

Cardio, though, triggers a very different set of cellular adaptations that cause muscle cells to become smaller and more resistant to fatigue instead of larger and stronger.

The exact mechanisms in play here are beyond the scope of this article, but the long story short is this:

Doing too much cardio suppresses the normal levels of anabolic signals triggered by resistance training, which reduces muscle and strength gain over time.

In other words, the more cardio you do, the harder it becomes to get bigger and stronger. Furthermore, the longer your cardio sessions are, the more pronounced this “interference effect” is in each session.

It would be wrong to say that cardio has no place in your workout plan, though.

First of all, cardio provides some health benefits that you probably can’t get with strength training alone.

Second, there’s some evidence that doing regular cardiovascular exercise can help you recover faster between each set of your weightlifting workouts, which you could turn into more work done per workout.

Third, doing cardio while lean bulking could make it easier to lose fat during your post-bulk cut.

The good news is that research shows you can minimize or even eliminate the negative effects of cardio on muscle hypertrophy by …

  • Keeping your cardio workouts relatively short (30 to 60 minutes at most).
  • Doing cardio relatively infrequently (three to four times per week at most).
  • Using low-impact forms of cardio like cycling, swimming, and rowing instead of running.
  • Doing your cardio after your strength workouts.
  • Doing your strength and cardio workouts on separate days (or at least several hours apart).

Stick to that plan and you should have no trouble building muscle while including cardio in your workout routine.

Recommended Reading:

Dr. Eric Helms Answers: What’s the Best Way to Combine Cardio and Weightlifting?

The Best Way to Stimulate Muscle Hypertrophy

science of muscle hypertrophy

While muscle hypertrophy is tremendously complex and scientists are still investigating its many nooks and crannies (and will be for a long time), we do know enough to say this:

If you do the following five things, you can gain plenty of muscle and strength:

  1. Do lots of heavy, compound strength training.
  2. Do a small amount of cardio.
  3. Maintain a slight calorie surplus of about 10%.
  4. Follow a high-protein, high-carb diet.
  5. Take supplements proven to accelerate muscle gain.

Let’s go over each step in turn.

Step 1

Do lots of heavy, compound strength training.

There are many ways to train your muscles, and when the goal is gaining size and strength as quickly as possible, but nothing beats heavy compound weightlifting.

It’s better than workout machines, “pump” classes, bodyweight exercises, Yoga, Pilates, and everything else you can do to develop muscle definition.

What do I mean by “heavy compound” lifting, though?

By “heavy,” I mean that you should work primarily with weights in the range of 75 to 85% of your one-rep max (1RM), which generally means working in rep range of 4 to 12 reps.

And by “compound,” I mean that you should focus your efforts on exercises that train several major muscle groups, like the squat, deadlift, and bench press.

There are a lot of strength training programs that check off these boxes, but I recommend you start with a proven classic like the push pull legs (PPL) routine.

Or, you can follow one of the programs in my books for men and women.

Recommended Reading:

→ The Definitive Guide to the “Push Pull Legs” Routine

Step 2

Do a small amount of cardio.

You don’t need to do cardio when lean bulking, but including small amounts can benefit your recovery, health, and body composition.

Personally, when I’m lean bulking, I do this:

  • I walk my dog 4 to 5 times per week for about 15 minutes per walk (he’s a little guy).
  • I do two 25-minute cycling sessions on an upright bike in my basement.
  • I participate in other hobbies that keep me active, like golf, hiking, and exploring museums.

If you aren’t sure what kind or how much cardio you want to do, start with two hours of walking per week.

That’s all it takes to get the benefits of cardio without interfering with muscle growth.

Step 3

Maintain a slight calorie surplus of about 10%.

This is enough to maximize muscle growth without having to deal with unnecessary fat gain.

This should allow you to gain 0.5 to 1 pound per week, which is your goal if you’re a man. Women should shoot for half of that.

If you’re new to weightlifting, you can easily double those numbers for your first three to six months, but you should see them settle into this range.

If you want to learn how many calories you should eat, check out this article:

How Many Calories You Should Eat (with a Calculator)

Step 4

Follow a high-protein and high-carb diet.

Aside from water, the main component of muscle tissue is protein.

Therefore, for muscle hypertrophy to occur, you need to provide enough of the raw material (protein) for your muscles to grow larger and stronger.

How much exactly, though?

Well, one gram per pound of body weight per day is what most research shows is optimal for most people in most circumstances.

Despite what you might have heard in the gym locker room or read in the bodybuilding magazines, there’s no need to eat more than this while bulking.

After protein intake, your next priority when trying to build muscle as quickly as possible is your carbohydrate intake.

You can read this article to learn why, but the bottom line is you’re going to have a much easier time gaining muscle and strength on a high-carb diet than a moderate- or low-carb one.

That’s why I recommend you start with two grams of carbs per pound of bodyweight per day when lean bulking, and work up from there if (when) you need to increase your calories to continue gaining weight and size.

If you want to learn more about how to set up your diet to gain muscle effectively, then you want to check out this article:

→ The Best Way to Gain Muscle Without Getting Fat

Step 5

Take supplements proven to accelerate muscle gain.

I saved this for last because, quite frankly, it’s far less important than proper diet and training.

You see, supplements don’t build great physiques–dedication to proper training and nutrition does.

Unfortunately, the workout supplement industry is plagued by pseudoscience, ridiculous hype, misleading advertising and endorsements, products full of junk ingredients, underdosing key ingredients, and many other shenanigans.

Most supplement companies produce cheap, junk products and try to dazzle you with ridiculous marketing claims, high-profile (and very expensive) endorsements, pseudo-scientific babble, fancy-sounding proprietary blends, and flashy packaging.

So, while workout supplements don’t play a vital role in building muscle and losing fat, and many are a complete waste of money…the right ones can help.

The truth of the matter is there are safe, natural substances that have been scientifically proven to deliver benefits such as increased strength, muscle endurance and growth, fat loss, and more.

As a part of my work, it’s been my job to know what these substances are, and find products with them that I can use myself and recommend to others.

Finding high-quality, effective, and fairly priced products has always been a struggle, though.

That’s why I took matters into my own hands and decided to create my own supplements. And not just another line of “me too” supplements–the exact formulations I myself have always wanted and wished others would create.

I won’t go into a whole spiel here though. If you want to learn more about my supplement line, check this out.

For the purpose of this article, let’s just quickly review the supplements that are going to help you get the most out of your efforts to build muscle and lose fat.


Creatine is a substance found naturally in the body and in foods like red meat. It’s perhaps the most researched molecule in the world of sport supplements–the subject of hundreds of studies–and the consensus is very clear:

Supplementation with creatine helps…

You may have heard that creatine is bad for your kidneys, but these claims have been categorically and repeatedly disproven. In healthy subjects, creatine has been shown to have no harmful side effects, in both short- or long-term usage. People with kidney disease are not advised to supplement with creatine, however.

If you have healthy kidneys, I highly recommend that you supplement with creatine. It’s safe, cheap, and effective.

In terms of specific products, I use my own, of course, which is called RECHARGE.


RECHARGE is 100% naturally sweetened and flavored and each serving contains:

  • 5 grams of creatine monohydrate
  • 2100 milligrams of L-carnitine L-tartrate
  • 10.8 milligrams of corosolic acid

This gives you the proven strength, size, and recovery benefits of creatine monohydrate plus the muscle repair and insulin sensitivity benefits of L-carnitine L-tartrate and corosolic acid.

Protein Powder

You don’t need protein supplements to gain muscle, but, considering how much protein you need to eat every day to maximize muscle growth, getting all your protein from whole food can be impractical.

That’s the main reason I created (and use) a whey protein supplement. (There’s also evidence that whey protein is particularly good for your post-workout nutrition.)


WHEY+ is 100% naturally sweetened and flavored whey isolate that is made from milk sourced from small dairy farms in Ireland, which are known for their exceptionally high-quality dairy.

I can confidently say that this is the creamiest, tastiest, healthiest all-natural whey protein powder you can find.

PHOENIX Fat Burner

With the weight loss market valued at a staggering $60.5 billion and more than one-third of U.S. adults obese, it’s no surprise that there’s a glut of “fat burners” for sale these days.

And for the same reasons it’s also no surprise that fat burners are some of the most expensive supplements on the shelves and feature some of the loudest marketing claims, often making big promises of “scientifically proven” rapid fat loss.

The reality is most “fat burners” are junk but there are a handful of natural, safe substances that have been scientifically proven to accelerate fat loss. And that’s why I created PHOENIX.

PHOENIX’s caffeine-free formulation is helps you burn fat faster in three different ways:

  • It dramatically increases metabolic speed.
  • It amplifies the power of fat-burning chemicals produced by your body.
  • It increases the feeling of fullness from food.

It accomplishes this through clinically effective dosages of several ingredients, including…

Through these mechanisms, naringin also works synergistically with synephrine and hesperidin to further accelerate the basal metabolic rate.

Research has show that supplementation with forskolin accelerates fat loss and increases testosterone levels.

  • And more…

The bottom line is if you want to lose fat faster without pumping yourself full of stimulants or other potentially harmful chemicals…then you want to try PHOENIX.


Pre-Workout Drink

There’s no question that a pre-workout supplement can get you fired up to get to work in the gym. There are downsides and potential risks, however.

Many pre-workout drinks are stuffed full of ineffective ingredients and/or minuscule dosages of otherwise good ingredients, making them little more than a few cheap stimulants with some “pixie dust” sprinkled in to make for a pretty label and convincing ad copy.

Many others don’t even have stimulants going for them and are just complete duds.

Others still are downright dangerous, like USPLabs’ popular pre-workout “Jack3d,”which contained a powerful (and now banned) stimulant known as DMAA.

Even worse was the popular pre-workout supplement “Craze,” which contained a chemical similar to methamphetamine.

The reality is it’s very hard to find a pre-workout supplement that’s light on stimulants but heavy on natural, safe, performance-enhancing ingredients like beta-alanine, betaine, and citrulline.

And that’s why I made my own pre-workout supplement. It’s called PULSE and it contains 6 of the most effective performance-enhancing ingredients available:

And what you won’t find in PULSE is equally special:

  • No artificial sweeteners or flavors..
  • No artificial food dyes.
  • No unnecessary fillers, carbohydrate powders, or junk ingredients.

The bottom line is if you want to know what a pre-workout is supposed to feel like…if you want to experience the type of energy rush and performance boost that only clinically effective dosages of scientifically validated ingredients can deliver…then you want to try PULSE.


The Bottom Line on Muscle Hypertrophy

You can spend hundreds of hours studying muscle hypertrophy and barely scratch the surface.

It’s an extremely complex process that involves scores of physiological functions and adaptations.

Fortunately, you don’t need to be a scientist to have a working understanding of the research, and to use it to build muscle quickly and efficiently.

Here are the key takeaways:

  1. So long as you train with heavy loads and a moderate volume, and so long as you come close to failure in most of your heavy sets, you’re going to stimulate both myofibrillar and sarcoplasmic hypertrophy.
  2. You may or may not be able to grow new muscle fibers (muscle hyperplasia) after years of strength training. Regardless, almost all of your gains are going to come from increasing the size of your existing muscle fibers, not adding new ones.
  3. You don’t need to use different training methods to target different muscle fiber types.
  4. Heavy, compound strength training is the best way to stimulate muscle hypertrophy.
  5. You need to regularly eat more calories than you burn over time to maximize muscle growth.
  6. How much muscle you can build naturally is limited by your genetics, but chances are you can gain more than enough to look the way you want to look.

And here’s the 5-step process you need to follow to put all of this into practice and build as much muscle as possible:

  1. Do lots of heavy, compound strength training.
  2. Do a small amount of cardio.
  3. Maintain a slight calorie surplus of about 10%.
  4. Follow a high-protein and high-carb diet.
  5. Take supplements proven to accelerate muscle gain.

Do those things, and you’ll have no trouble building muscle like clockwork.

Happy (clean) bulking!

If you liked this article, please share it on Facebook, Twitter, or wherever you like to hang out online! 🙂

What’s your take on muscle hypertrophy? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!

I'm Mike and I'm the creator of Muscle for Life and Legion Athletics, and I believe that EVERYONE can achieve the body of their dreams.

If you like what I have to say, sign up for my free newsletter and every week I'll send you awesome, science-based health and fitness tips, delicious "diet-friendly" recipes, motivational musings, and more.


If you want a "paint-by-numbers," step-by-step blueprint for building a muscular, lean, strong body...faster than you ever thought possible...then you want to check out my bestselling books.

Here's a little sneak peek of what you'll learn inside...

  • The 7 biggest muscle building myths & mistakes that keep guys small, weak, and frustrated. (These BS lies are pushed by all the big magazines and even by many trainers.)
  • How to build meal plans that allow you to build muscle, lose fat, and get healthy with ease…eating foods you love (yes, including those deemed “unclean” by certain “gurus”)…and never feeling starved, deprived, or like you’re “on a diet.”
  • The 5 biggest fat loss myths & mistakes that keep women overweight, disappointed, and confused. (These BS lies are pushed by all the big magazines and even by many trainers.)
  • An all-in-one training system that delivers MAXIMUM results for your efforts…spending no more than 3 to 6 hours in the gym every week…doing workouts that energize you, not wipe you out.
  • A no-BS guide to supplements that will save you hundreds if not THOUSANDS of dollars each year that you would’ve wasted on products that are nothing more than bunk science and marketing hype.
  • And a whole lot more!

The bottom line is you CAN achieve that “Hollywood body" without having your life revolve around it. No long hours in the gym, no starving yourself, and no grueling cardio that turns your stomach.

My book will show you how. Get it today and let’s build a body you can be proud of.

Bigger Leaner Stronger

Bigger Leaner Stronger

Thinner Leaner Stronger

Thinner Leaner Stronger

If you enjoyed this article, get updates. It's free.

100% Privacy. We don't rent or share our email lists.
Leave a Comment!

More from Muscle For Life

Sign in to Muscle For Life
or use your MFL Account