What is The Key to Hypertrophy? Strength? Reps? | Give me the secret, please!

| February 21, 2015 by Truth Seeker |

For many years, I have been trying to find the secret to bigger muscles. In this post, I will share my observations on the most common roads to hypertrophy.

Strength = Muscle size?

Many gurus (e.g., Mark Rippetoe, Lyle McDonald, Pavel Tsatsouline) have been saying for years that more weight on the bar equals bigger muscles when supplemented with a sufficient food intake.

I tried this method. I’ve done my fair share of heavy squats and deadlifts but didn’t gain nearly as much muscle as the gurus said I would.


I remember when I did my first 2.5 BW deadlift – 195kg/429lbs for 2 reps. I felt somewhat happy and went home to take a shower. My back was hurting from top to bottom. Of course, I decided to check how I looked in the mirror, and to my surprise, I looked terrible.

Forget about abs and body fat. I just didn’t have much muscle on me. I remember being alone and thinking about life while trying to remember the faces of the people in the gym who did not believe that a skinny boy like me can lift weights that can shake the floor.

I had no choice but to conclude that the deadlift is not nearly as effective as people think.

I had a similar experience with squats. I am not a good squatter but I put a lot of effort into it. I never got to the magical 2BW squat, though. I tried and the closest I got to was 1.7 BW for a few reps. I expected my legs to become tree trunks from squatting, but they didn’t.

During my quest for a bigger squat and legs, I got an injured hip. It was a nasty overuse injury. My leg was shaking at the top of each rep. Eventually, my whole hip, including the hamstrings insertions got inflamed to the point where walking was painful. I pushed through the pain like a complete moron. I even set a PR with my hip shaking like a vibrating seat. However, at one point it became unbearable, and I went to see a therapist. He was a young man and was obviously lifting.

Here’s our conversation:

“So, you’ve been lifting?”

“Yes. Squats 130 kg.”

“Lol, are you a fucking idiot? Look at my legs.’ {he had big legs, shredded} I never squat with more than 70kg. I also do sprints.”

I felt like an idiot. He was twice my size and did not even lift heavy. Was he on steroids? Maybe, but I really don’t know. I was uninformed at the time and don’t remember the details very well.

The main point is that my efforts in the gym and the kitchen resulted in an injury, skinny fatness and little muscle growth, even though I did everything by the book. I contacted different people online and they told that I need to get even stronger since the weights I was lifting were “pussy weights”. This was quite amusing because the very same people were literally just fat fucks and their pound for pound strength was no better than mine by any means. Squatting 405 lbs. when you are 240 is not spectacular. Sorry.

I contacted different people online, and they told that I have to get even stronger and stop lifting “pussy weights”. Ironically, the very same people were literally fat fucks and their pound for pound strength was not better than mine. Squatting 405 when you are 240 pounds is not spectacular. Sorry.

Moreover, there are many examples of people who are very strong but not muscular. Usually, the strength that they display is the result of low rep work, drugs, and good levers. In the video below, you can see Ivan Ivanov squat 463lbs/210 kg at about 60 kg/130lbs personal bodyweight. Keep in mind that this is a weight that Jay Cutler and the current Mr. Olympia Phil Heath would get buried by.

In the next video, you see Ronnie Coleman front squatting 585lbs while weighing 280lbs. He also has knee wraps and a belt. Ironically, both lifters are/were on steroids.

The logical conclusion is that heavy weights do not equal extremely big muscles by default. You can be very strong for your weight and still look unimpressive/average when it comes to muscle size. Conversely, you can also be big while lifting relatively light weights.

Do reps equal hypertrophy?

Another popular method designed to build a lot of muscle would be the high volume routines. Many people believe that doing a ton of volume will result in extraterrestrial growth. I am sorry but no. Plenty of people follow the high volume routines of Arnold but never get even close to his size. Why? Because not even high volume has the capacity to overcome the limitations that come with natural bodybuilding.

Everyone has a pre-determined natural potential that you can reach by following different paths. You can do low, high or moderate reps. You can do many exercises or only the basics. In all cases, however, your natural potential will remain unchanged.

Neither training nor nutrition can amplify your potential because they don’t affect the growth factors (testosterone levels, insertions, bone size..etc.).

 

Training and nutrition give us the illusion of control and allow the industry to speculate. Whenever you fail to achieve the advertised results, you are labeled as a lazy loser who doesn’t want to work hard.

 

To summarize:

  1. Both high and low reps will take you extremely close to your potential.
  2. Strength training and nutrition don’t have the capacity to break the natural limitation regardless of what the gurus say. Naturals are small not because they train or eat wrong, but becayse they are natural. Natties don’t have the hormonal profile required for the synthesis of protein that could result in extraterestrial muscle mass.

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