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
Historically, most hypertrophy techniques have focused on
high-volume training, but today we are looking at an alternative to this: intensity-based
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
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
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
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
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