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At DC Health Performance, we pride ourselves on giving the best Training, Nutrition and Mindset Coaching possible. So with that in mind we want to talk about building muscle and the principles it requires to get the absolute best results.

This is where lots of people want a program. This is not inherently a bad thing as programs give us structure, guidance and a starting point. They are awesome if you want to get out and go.

However, you aren’t like most people. You want to understand the why behind building muscle so you can do everything in your power to get the best results possible. As an added bonus, when you see the latest program, you will be able to decipher whether it will work or not and what the best programs are.

So without rambling on for much longer, lets get into the 5 main principles which govern effective hypertrophy training.

1. Progressive Overload

This is by far the most important principle of not just hypertrophy training, but all training! It is the principle that all training needs to get harder over time to force the body to create an adaptation. In other words, to get better results you need to do more!

This is a principle that intuitively makes sense to all of us, but is sometimes a little harder to put into practice. This is the exact reason some people go the same group exercise class every week, get good results for 4-6 weeks and then stagnate and fail to get better. There is no progressive overload!

Here are some methods you can use for progressive overload.

  • Increasing range of motion – squatting deeper is a very good candidate here 🙈
  • Lifting the same weight for more reps – more overall volume.
  • Lifting heavier loads – hopefully self explanatory.
  • Lifting the same weights and reps with less rest – this is increasing the density of a workout, more done in less time.
  • Increasing speed and acceleration of load – this is for power training.
  • Doing more sets – increase in volume and probably the most applicable to hypertrophy.
  • Training more frequently – excellent for lagging body parts.

These can also be combined for quite a few combinations. If you get this principle right, you will get results.

2. Frequency

Frequency can be defined as how often you train. As a general rule of thumb, the bigger you get the more often you should train! This is in stark contrast to the advice in many bodybuilding magazines as they will use a Pro bodybuilders routine of training each muscle group once a week. Unfortunately, this may work well for them (they are so big and strong that they can cause enough overload in one session to cause progressive overload and disruption and oh, hey look, anabolics!) but can leave the natural lifter shortchanged and searching for something else.

What we need to look at is what is the optimal frequency for each muscle group to get the best gains. Lucky for us there is a simple rule of thumb that we can follow. The bigger a muscle group or load lifted, the less frequently the muscle of lift can be trained and the smaller the muscle of load lifted, the more frequently it should be trained.

Why is that? Well, if the muscle is the quadriceps and the exercise is a squat, you can lift a hell of a lot of weight squatting! This is a huge impact to your physiology that you need to recover from and thus you need to train it less frequently. If the muscle is the Posterior Deltoid (back of the shoulder), most people can lift barely any weight and it causes barely any disruption requiring more frequent loading to get the best adaptation!

Here is a list of how frequently each muscle can be trained. We have also included some of the best lifts.

Quads – 1 to 2.5 times a week in general.

Novice – 3 hard sessions
Intermediate – 2 hard sessions
Advanced – 1 hard session, 1 easy session
Best Exercises: Squats, Leg Press, Lunges, Hack Squats

Hamstrings – 1 to 2 times a week

Novice – 3 hard sessions
Intermediate – 2 hard sessions
Advanced – 1 hard session, 1 easy session
Deadlifts cause too much fatigue to be useful for most people for gaining muscle.
Best Exercises: Romanian Deadlifts, good mornings, lying leg curls, glute ham raise

The glutes generally get enough stimulation from full range of training in most other leg exercises. However if the 👠if a priority:
Novice – 3 hard sessions
Intermediate – 2 hard sessions
Advanced – 1 hard session, 1 easy session
Best exercises: Walking Lunges, Glute Bridge, Hip Thrust

Front Deltoids – Get enough work from pressing that they rarely need to be prioritised.
Overhead press 1x a week at most.
Lateral and Posterior Deltoid
2-6 times a week – this is because the are small muscles!
Best exercises: Lateral raises, rear delt flyes, upright rows, face pulls
2x a week first mesocycle, 4x a week seconds mesocycle, 6x a week metabolite phase – we will detail this later!


– 1 to 2.5 times a week
Novice – 3 hard sessions
Intermediate – 2 hards
Advanced – 1 hard session, 1 easy session
Best Exercises: Bench Press, Incline Bench Press, Dumbbell Press

2-4 times a week is ideal
Vertical and Horizontal Pulling each time.
1 hard session, 1 easy session. This is because the back muscles are so big, they need recovery.
Best Exercises. Chin ups and variations, pull downs and variations, Bent over rows, seated rows, dumbbell rows


2-4 times a week
Lateral head is lazy and needs heavy loads – partial range of motion – floor presses, pin presses both horizontal and vertical
Long head of the triceps – overhead work, french presses and decline triceps extension. Also work well with chains.
More load the better in general for the best results.

2-6 times a week
2x a week first mesocycle, 4x a week seconds mesocycle, 6x a week metabolite phase
To get the best results you need to train different parts of the strength curve – this means complete Biceps development
Train with arms in front of the body – preacher curls, spider curls
Arms in neutral – biceps curls, hammer curls (brachioradialis)
Arms behind the body (long head) Incline curls
Also not a bad idea to do reverse curls – in other words you can have a bit of fun with arm training and get incredible results.


2-4 times a week depending on recovery. If you are in agony for days after a session – train at a lower frequency.
Agony – 2x a week
Fast recovery – 4x a week
Standing and seated work is necessary.
Need to stretch at bottom – holding the bottom for 4 seconds and the top for 2 will make stubborn calves grow!

3. Physiological Disruption

When we are trying to grow muscle, we need to pick the exercises that cause the most damage to get our body to adapt. As you have probably noticed above, we haven’t included exercises like leg extensions or much cable work. That is because they don’t disrupt your physiology much and are easy to recover from!

In general you want the exercises that you can use the greatest load for and move through the greatest range of motion possible. This means full barbell squats, chin ups to fully locked arms, bench press to the chest and no more half range of motion curls!

In terms of exercise selection, your best options are barbells first, then dumbbells, cables and then machines. This is a really easy rule to remember that will serve you well if you are struggling to pick an exercise.

4. Variety

This is an extremely overrated principle of training for size. How often have you heard you have to “shock the muscle’ or “keep the the body guessing”?

This is a terrible idea for gaining muscle because if you keep changing the stimulus, how do you obey the first principle of progressive overload? The simple answer is you can’t! You need to stick to the same program and get better at it to get results!

With that been said you do need some variety to keep causing new gains but how much is enough? A lot less than you think. To change the stimulus, going from a back squat to a front squat is more than enough. Changing the grip from wide to close on a bench is a great adjustment. You want to keep the main movement very similar, with small adjustments so it is just a little bit different. This will keep results coming and keep the training productive for a long time.

5. Individualisation

This is the most controversial of all the principles. I’m sure you have heard before that everything in the training process needs to be individualised for you and your unique needs and that what works for you is totally different to what works for other people.

I’m sure that on the other hand that you have been told that you need to squat, you need to bench press and dead lift otherwise your program sucks and you will never get big and strong.

So who is right? Do you need a totally individualised program where every little detail is customised to you or do you need to just do the big lifts heavy and well? The answer is a little bit of both!

With an individualised program, the only 2 things you need to individualise are exercise selection (based on your own restrictions and abilities, with you still progressing towards the big lifts) and a concept called your Maximal Recoverable Volume or MRV.

MRV is basically how much training you can do and still recover from. It is extremely important to figure out because it will allow you to figure out if what you are doing is going to get you the best results, is too much or too little for you. This is the most important element to individualise.

How to Find MRV – You start a program with some lower range set numbers and progressively add 1-2 sets per body part per week. This allows you to also respect the principle of progressive overload. From here you note when your strength starts to drop a little. Deload at this point, and then repeat the process starting 1-2 sets higher than the first time. When you find the sets in which performance starts to deteriorate that is approximately the maximum volume you can handle.

This is super important to know because you can figure out how much training you need. For example, someone with a history of cycling may have a very high MRV for the quads and will need a lot of sets to get better, yet their upper body will need comparatively fewer sets to adapt. This is the best way to individualise your program.

So there we have it: the 5 main principles that must be followed to train for optimal hypertrophy. Hopefully now you armed with the knowledge to get bigger in the most intelligent and structured way possible. If you need any help, simply fill in your details and we will be in touch!


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