Hypertrophy Periodization and Programming - Programming Variables - Part 2 Posted on 9 Jun 16:00

Hypertrophy Periodization and Programming Variables Part 1 outlined the parameters of

(1.) Volume

(2.) Effort (relative intensity)

(3.) Load (absolute intensity)

(4.) Frequency 

It is necessary to develop a foundational understanding of the resistance training variables in part one to maximize the application of the training variables in part two.

(5.)  Exercise Choice

(6.) Exercise Order

(7.) Tempo

(8.) Rest Interval

(9.) Type of Muscle Action

(10.) Range of Motion (ROM)


Why is it necessary to develop a foundational understanding of the resistance training variables in part one before moving on to part two?


Inappropriate volume, effort, load, or frequency could potentially nullify the benefits of the proper application of any of the variables in part two. For example, if an exercise or training session or microcycle is designed with inadequate volume, then the exercise or training session or microcycle of inadequate volume will render the perfect muscle-centric exercise choices useless.  If an individual completes the exercise or training session with inferior effort, then the lackluster effort will neutralize any hypertrophy benefits provided by a perfectly chosen exercise or planned training session. It may sound extreme to deem a training session useless or give the impression that any potential positive benefits could be nullified. But if the goal of the training session or workout is to maximize skeletal muscle hypertrophy, classifying it as useless in relation to the specific goal is not extreme. These sessions are not easily recognizable (by most individuals), but they are prevalent in gyms and training facilities.  To adequately describe this type of training to my clients and explain the difference between maintaining muscle and gaining muscle, I use the term "Null Training Sessions" or "Null Workouts." 


What are "Null Training Sessions"?


I associate the term null with having no value. In my opinion, null is worse than zero because zero has an acknowledged value, the value of zero. Null sessions have the distinctive quality of not accomplishing the specific goal of an individual. For example, if an individual is a competitive bodybuilder with the goal of increasing muscle mass and has competed at the same ~ 175 pounds of lean stage weight in 2016 and 2019, then the individual has performed three years of poorly periodized and programmed training sessions ("Null Training Sessions") in relation to muscle hypertrophy.  


It is important to acknowledge two caveats of my example. 


Firstly, nutrition, sleep, supplementation (over the counter and Rx), and genetics play a significant role in responding to the hypertrophic stimulus provided by training to maximize skeletal muscle hypertrophy. Secondly, I used the specific example of a competitive bodybuilder for a reason. If an individual is a competitive bodybuilder, then potentially they live a satisfactory bodybuilding lifestyle (nutrition, supplements, sleep) at least 80% of the time, and the other 20% is within proximity of the minimum requirements to synthesize new muscle tissue (if training is providing the appropriate hypertrophic stimulus).  


Living a lifestyle that meets the minimum requirements for muscle growth 80% of the time is typically enough to produce noticeable muscle growth in three years (Unless the individual is a top-ranked IFBB professional bodybuilder, then they may have to live a lifestyle that meets the minimum requirements 95% of the time for any measurable muscle growth). What is noticeable muscle growth? In my anecdotal experience, competitive bodybuilders can typically gain three to four pounds of muscle per year, throughout the intermediate and early-advanced stages of training experience. If an individual gains the minimal three to four pounds of muscle per year, then in three years, the individual should be nine to twelve pounds heavier at the same body fat levels or less. Sadly, many competitive bodybuilders (and coaches) lack an in-depth understanding of the mechanisms behind skeletal muscle hypertrophy. The scientific incompetence prevents individuals from assessing and evaluating their training. Often, the individuals that fail to gain muscle tissue over-simplify training and think doing more work or working harder (whatever that means) is the answer. Attempting to do more work or working harder typically leads to ridiculously high volume or high-intensity training accompanied by an overcompensation of nutrition and supplementation (over-the-counter and Rx) in hopes of increasing muscle tissue. Regrettably, the lack of cognitive capacity required to construct a properly periodized program for hypertrophy reflects with their non-progressing physique.  


What is the easiest way to know if an individual is performing or prescribing null training?

The easiest way is to evaluate several months (minimum of three to six months) of the hypertrophic progress with two questions.

  • Was the individual living a lifestyle (nutrition, supplementation, sleep) that met the minimum requirements to gain muscle 80% of the time? 
  • If the lifestyle met the requirements 80% of the time, did the individual gain a minimal amount of three to four pounds of competitive muscle tissue per year? 

If the individual did not gain a minimum of three to four pounds of competitive muscle per year, then they were performed null training sessions (if the goal was hypertrophy).


The years of witnessing numerous individuals fail to increase their competitive skeletal muscle tissue motivated this series of articles about periodization and programming for hypertrophy. The thought of an individual living a bodybuilder lifestyle by eating four to six meals per day, taking supplements, and training hard for three years (completing over 700 training sessions), then competing in the same weight class or within ~ 5 pounds is depressing. The example of an individual attempting bodybuilding for three years, consuming thousands of pounds of the food, spending thousands of dollars on supplements, lifting thousands of pounds in training sessions, and possibly only gaining a couple of pounds of muscle tissue represents the importance of understanding the foundational information of hypertrophy training for bodybuilding. The inability to form a perception of the requisite stimulus and stressors required to trigger the anabolic pathways and adaptive processes can completely halt progress and limit the hypertrophic potential.


Removing the "U" from Null Training.


Unfortunately, most individuals don't realize their training is not optimal for stimulating a hypertrophic response. The average bodybuilder or individual chasing the hypertrophic glory thinks they are training appropriately to maximize muscle mass. Typically, it takes a year or more for an individual not progressing to realize their training isn't providing the hypertrophic stimulus required to elicit the desired adaptations.  


How does an individual know if their training isn't providing an appropriate hypertrophic stimulus?  

First, they need to eliminate other factors in the hypertrophic equation. 

The abbreviated checklist below:



Do I consume enough calories?

Do I consume enough protein?

Do I consume adequate amounts of energy macronutrients (carbs and fats) to fuel adaptations?

Do I consume adequate micronutrients, vitamins, minerals, etc.?



Do I sleep 7 to 8 hours per night?



Do I consume adequate amounts of over-the-counter supplements and prescription supplements to support hypertrophy?



Have I reached my genetic or enhanced potential?


If an individual is eating appropriate macronutrients in a calorie surplus, taking required supplements, getting adequate amounts of sleep each night, and not gaining muscle tissue, perhaps training is the problem. A more simplified version would be two questions. Am I eating and supplementing enough to grow muscle? Am I sleeping enough to build muscle? If an individual is eating, supplementing, and sleeping enough to grow muscle, then perhaps training is the problem.  


Ok, It sounds like my training is subpar. I read the hypertrophy programming part one article and I have developed a good base of information regarding volume, effort, load, and frequency, but I don't know where to start on exercise selection. Can you help me decide what exercises to choose for hypertrophy?


First, it is vital to understand that choosing exercises is an individualized process guided by the specific goals of an individual. In the question above, an individual has asked, "Can you help me decide what exercises to choose for hypertrophy?". The ability to make an informed decision when choosing exercises for hypertrophy is multi-faceted and complex. Of course, I can provide a fundamental approach for hypertrophy training and general recommendation of getting strong as possible in moderate rep ranges (6 to 15 reps) for multiple sets (6 to 8 sets per session, 2 to 4 times per week), using basic barbell and dumbbell compound lifts through a full ROM with technical proficiency to provide local homeostatic disruption to the target musculature.  


But I don't think anyone is reading this article for shallow answers. Most of the information provided in fitness guru eBooks and insta-famous celebs social media accounts is equivalent to learning to swim in a bathtub. Individuals won't drown, but they definitely won't learn to swim in the bathtub. Once they are tired of splashing water on the bathroom floor and decide to try the swimming pool, the best-case scenario is treading water before sinking to the bottom and jumping up for a brief breathe of air a few times before exhaustion and eventually drowning. Performing workouts that do not result in getting closer to a goal is equivalent to trying to swim in a bathtub and making a mess. Sure, it may have been fun to splash around in a bathtub, but the amount of time wasted to fill the tub with water before and clean up the mess after nullifies any significant fun that may have happened. 


If training knowledge and performance are equivalent to the swimming knowledge learned in a bathtub, they are then attempting to train hard or progress will at best result in no benefit (treading water) before eventually overtraining and injury (bobbing up and down for air, then drowning). Unfortunately, not many of the fitness guru coaches or insta-celebs venture out of their bathtubs and continue to splash a worthless mess of information on the internet. Continually swimming in their bathtubs and repeating the same uneducated information over and over again. I prefer to explore the uncharted territory of the knowledge ocean and dive deep into the depths of information. Studying, reading, and learning about the how and why behind the mechanisms of every hypertrophic stimulus, sensor, and pathway.  


Unfortunately, the general recommendation and fundamental approach for hypertrophy training (listed above) becomes worthless to majority bodybuilders. How could quality information become worthless? Because some bodybuilders get loose and sloppy with form in an attempt to lift as much weight as possible. When the idea of using a full ROM with technical proficiency disappears, it takes the hypertrophic stimulus with it. Exercise selection and exercise order are entirely irrelevant factors in periodization and programming if the exercises performed are inaccurate and inconsistent.  


When choosing appropriate training exercises, the first step for an individual is to identify the specific goals of the training program and training session. Creating general goals should be relatively easy, but creating specific goals for the training program and training session may be slightly more complicated. For example, the general goal in the question above is hypertrophy. Is there a specific aspect of the hypertrophy goal? 

Does the individual want to prioritize a lagging body part, or does the individual have any prior injuries? I don't know. The individual did not mention in the question, so we must operate off the definition of general hypertrophy. The next step of evaluating, contrasting, and comparing exercises, is slightly more complicated.  


The individual's anatomy, biomechanics, movement patterns, and previous injury history dictates exercise selection. Hypertrophy training doesn't require an individual to be married to specific lifts like powerlifting (bench, squat, deadlift) or Olympic lifting (snatch, clean, and jerk). But it does require individuals to be precise with exercise selection based on their desired physique outcomes. Performing specific movement patterns with basic compound exercises that adequately target the desired muscle group and getting stronger in moderate rep ranges of those basic compound exercises is an excellent way to evaluate hypertrophy. If we know getting stronger in moderate rep ranges (full ROM and technically proficient) of specific movement patterns increases hypertrophy, it may be valuable to consider training to get stronger in the moderate rep ranges of those movement patterns. If we apply the idea of specificity to exercise selection and movement patterns, then we consider the most efficient way to improve the strength of a specific exercise or movement pattern is to perform the specific exercise or movement pattern consistently. (Ref 1.) (Ref 2.) (Ref 3.) 

For example, if the goal is to promote hypertrophy in the chest muscles, then performing a program with specific movement patterns associated with stimulating the target tissue should result in a positive outcome.


Week 1:

(1A.) 2 x 5 to 8 reps (2RIR to 3RIR) 15° incline barbell incline bench press (Monday), 

(1B.) 2 x 12 to 15 reps (2RIR to 3RIR) 0° Flat dumbbell bench press (Wednesday), 

(1C.) 2 x 8 to 12 reps (2RIR to 3RIR) 15° incline dumbbell bench press (Friday), 


Week 2:

(1A.) 3 x 5 to 8 reps (2RIR to 3RIR) maintain reps , add load OR add reps , maintain load

(1B.) 3 x 12 to 15 reps (2RIR to 3RIR) maintain reps , add load OR add reps , maintain load

(1C.) 3 x 8 to 12 reps (2RIR to 3RIR) maintain reps , add load OR 

add reps , maintain load


Week 3:

(1A.) 4 x 5 to 8 reps (1RIR to 2RIR) maintain reps , add load OR add reps , maintain load

(1B.) 4 x 12 to 15 reps (1RIR to 2RIR) maintain reps , add load OR add reps , maintain load

(1C.) 4 x 8 to 12 reps (1RIR to 2RIR) maintain reps , add load OR 

add reps , maintain load


Week 4:

(1A.) 4 x 5 to 8 reps (0RIR to 1RIR) maintain reps , add load OR add reps , maintain load

(1B.) 4 x 12 to 15 reps (0RIR to 1RIR) maintain reps , add load OR add reps , maintain load

(1C.) 4 x 8 to 12 reps (0RIR to 1RIR) maintain reps , add load OR 

add reps , maintain load


Week 5: (Deload if necessary or restart four week set progression with increased weight)

(1A.) 2 x 5 to 8 reps (2RIR to 3RIR) maintain reps , add load OR add reps , maintain load

(1B.) 2 x 12 to 15 reps (2RIR to 3RIR) maintain reps , add load OR add reps , maintain load

(1C.) 2 x 8 to 12 reps (2RIR to 3RIR) maintain reps , add load OR 

add reps , maintain load


The five-week example is not an exact program. The partial program written is a three day per week (Monday, Wednesday, Friday) with one chest pressing exercise. Obviously, that isn't an entire workout program. The example provides a visual aid to help understand the idea of increasing volume and strength in specific compound movement patterns over time and how it likely results in hypertrophy (as long as the full ROM and technical proficiency are held constant). 

I have credited getting stronger in specific movement patterns (in specific rep ranges, full ROM, technical proficiency) as quality hypertrophy training information, and that may sprout a question or comment about "muscle confusion" and "heavy weight vs. light weight." 

I will attempt to answer the question and reply to the potential comment on those two topics in advance.


"Muscle Confusion"

Hypertrophic exercise selection needs to proper periodization and programming to maximize muscular potential. The ridiculous training method referred to as "muscle confusion" has been used to justify poor exercise selection choices throughout bodybuilding history. 

(Typically, by the same bro that frequented the phrase, "it's all about time-under-tension" to defend their absurd range-of-motion and half-rep form of bench press, rack deadlifts, or leg press to add nonsensical load to the exercise. But we will address range of motion later)


"Muscle confusion" is not possible. The amount of coordination and simultaneous processes that take place as an individual walks across the gym is astonishing. Using moronic exercise variation will only confuse the individual trying to rationalize not having a plan and training by instinct. 

Consistently and accurately performing appropriate exercises develops neuromuscular adaptations of movement skills related to the task and improves the individual's ability to progressively load to further stimulate hypertrophy. (Ref 4.) (Ref 5.) 


Heavy Weight vs. Light Weight

Olympic lifters, powerlifters, and bodybuilders share the goal of becoming an expert at the exercises they select, but the way they express their expertise is slightly different. 

I have heard other trainers and coaches use the example, Olympic lifters and powerlifters train to make heavy weights feel as light as possible and Bodybuilders train to make lighter weights feel as heavy as possible. I partially agree with Olympic lifters and powerlifters wanting to make a heavy weight feel light, but I don't agree with the statement of a bodybuilder training to make a lighter weight feel heavy. Why do I only partially agree with the idea of Olympic lifters and powerlifters making a heavy weight feel light? Because I prefer to use the terminology of potentiation or peaking in relation to Olympic and powerlifting competition strength. In general, I recommend getting stronger instead of making a heavy weight feel lighter. 

When an individual gets stronger, the previously heavy weight will feel lighter. If an individual is peaking for a meet and uses potentiation strategy in training or competition, then the increase in nervous system response will aide in strength performance (the weight is the weight, it isn't lighter or heavier). Also, the amount of weight that is considered light or heavy is relative to the individual performing the lift. Why would anyone want to purposely make a light weight feel heavy, and what does that even mean? Two-Hundred pounds is always two hundred pounds. If an individual is trying to make two-hundred pounds feel heavier by modifying the form, then they are not making two-hundred pounds heavier. They are performing a variation upon the form of exercise, and in that variation, two-hundred pounds feels heavier to the individual. Again, two-hundred pounds will always be two-hundred pounds, and any technical form modification enough to make the weight feel "heavy" or "light" is, in all likelihood, an exercise variation.  

The nuances in those statements may seem pedantic, but in the context of hypertrophy training, an individual must realize there is no such thing as making a light weight feel heavy (unless you change gravity). If an individual has to use "light weight" to perform an exercise with correct form and feel the stimulus in a target tissue, that doesn't mean they are using "light weight." It means the individual is using an appropriate weight for their current strength level in that specific exercise to induce a hypertrophic stimulus. If the individual previously used a "heavier weight" on that particular exercise, then they were most likely performing it incorrectly or potentially performing a different variation of the exercise.  


On the topic of exercise selection to increase skeletal muscle hypertrophy, the concept of getting stronger in fundamental movement patterns with technical proficiency on a consistent basis is encouraged. It can be beneficial to instill thought processes for interpreting each exercise's calculated weight as a means of monitoring progression (in the specific exercise) instead of the calculated weight being light or heavy and judging yourself as being strong or weak.  

The calculated weight of a barbell squat, plate loaded bench press machine, and seated cable row is not light weight, or heavy weight is the calculated weight of the exercise and can be used to observe and check progress over time. It is vital to understand that the terminology of "light weight" vs. "heavy weight" is relative to the individual's strength and the specific variation of exercise being performed. If an individual can embrace the idea of viewing the calculated weight as means of monitoring progress of the particular exercise, they will be able to intelligently increase the load as necessary to maintain the effort required to elicit a hypertrophic stimulus in the desired rep range.  


Ok, you highlighted a few mistakes that I made in the past, I am tired of treading water and competing in the same weight class. 

I want to gain muscle and progress. 

So far, I have learned that exercise selection can be affected by individual genetic anatomical and biomechanical factors. It can also be affected by the movement restrictions (from a previous injury, etc.) and current movement patterns. If I want to gain muscle, I need to choose exercises of specific movement patterns that I can sense in the target muscle and perform safely, consistently, and accurately. Performing the specific movement patterns through full ROM with technical proficiency and progressively add load as a means of maintaining the effort levels required to produce a hypertrophic stimulus. I understand that heavy weight and light weight are relative to the individual performing the exercise and the specific variation of that exercise. I don't need to get distracted by the moronic images or videos insta-celebs performing attention-grabbing feats of strength, and I know better than to listen to the individuals who advertise muscle confusion or unstructured randomized programming. I am feeling more confident in my abilities to choose an appropriate exercise, but I am still unclear on understanding the order of specific exercises, how often to rotate specific exercises, and how to sequence the exercises. Can you shine some light on these issues for me? 


Exercise selection for hypertrophy is not exercise selection for strength, performance, or sports training. It can be individualized to the degree that is not possible in other types of training. 

When considering potential exercises for a hypertrophy training program, it is best to view the exercises on a continuum (many shades of light grey to dark grey) and not through a binary lens (white or black, yes or no, right or wrong). In creating a hypertrophic exercise continuum, the two main elements are recovery cost vs. hypertrophic benefit. Then the continuum needs to consider the exercise's effects of fatigue or potentiation on the next exercise of the current session and following sessions. 

The continuums mentioned above are related to the exercise's effectiveness, but we can't neglect the efficiency of exercise choice and order. Exercise efficiency can be summarized as the relationship between each exercise's hypertrophic stimulus and the amount of time required for that specific exercise to be performed. An individual can view each exercise continuum as an exercise bank, create a variety of continuums (bank accounts) and dedicate one continuum (bank account) per movement pattern, muscle, muscle group, or specific goal. Then the exercises are readily available to be programmed for their particular purposes. 


For example:

I will provide a model with three exercises per movement with a description of the exercise order and purpose. The exercises are ranked in order of the most preferred exercise for robust hypertrophic stimulus as (1.), then descending to a second option (2.) that is very close to my first choice (typically fatigue is higher with the more stimulating exercises, but the structure and biomechanics of the individual could make either exercise more fatigable), finally to the third option (3.) of the continuum, this exercise may have a little less of a hypertrophic stimulus potential, but it may offer value in through lower fatigue ratings.


I prefer to periodize and program with a "Pull A, Push A, Legs A, Off, Pull B, Push B, Legs B, Off" plan. In this example, I'll outline Push A, to give an example of exercise continuums in practice.


** Push A **


Exercise 1, Primary Muscle – Isolation exercise with peak contraction in the shortened range. 

Focusing on getting a massive pump in the 10 to 15 rep range, warm-up the muscle and establish a solid mind-muscle connection through a full ROM before the primary compound movement. 

(1.) Prime®️ Pec Deck at Strength Curve Cam Setting #4

(2.) Life Fitness Pec Deck Machine 

(3.) Standing Cable Fly 


Exercise 2, Primary Movement – Compound exercise with peak contraction in the mid-range. 

We are focusing on progressively loading in the low rep-range of 4 to 8 and getting stronger through full ROM with technical proficiency each week. The load is autoregulated by using weight or reps to maintain effort levels, and volume (sets) is increased throughout the mesocycle. Fully recover between sets, 3 to 5 minutes.

(1.) Dumbbell Incline Bench

(2.) Barbell Incline Bench 

(3.) Smith-Machine Incline Bench 


Exercise 3, Primary Muscle (If needed) – Muscle-Centric machine-based exercise with peak contraction in the lengthened range. The individual chooses the machine that places the most tension in the target tissues with as little joint discomfort as possible—progressively loading in the mid-rep range of 8 to 15 throughout the mesocycle.

(1.) Prime®️ Flat Bench Press (Loaded 50% at Strength Curve #1 and 50% at Strength Curve #3)

(2.) Prime®️ Incline Bench Press (Loaded 50% at Strength Curve #1 and 50% at Strength Curve #3)

(3.) Hammer Strength MTS Chest Press


Exercise 4, Secondary Muscle – Isolation exercise targeted at deltoid muscles and creating extreme metabolic stress with clustered rest-pause set protocol. Specific clustered rest-pause sets are typically used on this exercise. Sets, Reps, Load, Tempo, Rest-Intervals are dependent on which cluster I prescribe. 

(Note: The time efficiency improves drastically if clustered rest-pause sets are used correctly.)

(1.) CMB or Fat-Bell or Dumbbell Side Laterals (Seated perpendicular on a flat bench, with CMB resting on the bench, between clusters)

(2.) Standing Side Lateral Raise Machine

(3.) Standing Resistance Band Side Laterals 


Exercise 5, Tertiary Muscle – Isolation free weight exercise performed in the moderate rep range themed for progressive loading over the mesocycle. This is the first exercise for the tertiary muscle group, and it may be necessary to do 2 or 3 warm-up/work-up sets before performing high effort sets. The goal of this exercise is to progressively load and get stronger in the moderate rep range of "8 to 12" or "10 to 15" throughout the mesocycle. Progression is autoregulated by using load or reps to maintain appropriate effort levels as volume (sets) are increased throughout the mesocycle.

(1.) E-Z Bar Lying Tricep Extensions (for stability – perform on floor or wide bench/plyobox) with one mini-band on each end, attached to rack or band anchors to provide secondary resistance for all heads of the tricep to fully engage. The bar/weights provide elbow extension resistance, and the band provides shoulder extension resistance with a slight additive to elbow extension at near end range.

(2.) DB Lying Tricep Extensions (with no band)

(3.) Lying Cable Tricep Extensions


Exercise 6, Tertiary Muscle (Optional, If needed) – Isolation exercise performed in a cluster-set rest-pause fashion. The athlete's experience and depth into the mesocycle will determine the specific type of clustered rest-pause set. I have various types of clustered rest-pause sets that I rotate throughout the mesocycle. Sets, Reps, Load, Tempo, and Rest-Intervals are dependent on the specific cluster protocol method I prescribe. (Note: The time efficiency improves drastically if clustered rest-pause sets are used correctly.) 

(1.) Tricep Pressdown with Prime®️ Spreader Bar

(2.) Tricep Pressdown with E-Z Curl Bar or V-Bar

(3.) Tricep Pressdown with Straight Bar


Hopefully, the example workout above communicated how to form exercise continuums or rankings of a few exercises per movement category or muscle group. It may be more beneficial for individuals that travel to have a free weight (barbell, dumbbell, kettlebell) list and a machine list if they are unable to perform the same exercises microcycle to microcycle (week to week). The most important factor for individuals that travel is to find a way to progressively load the exercises and monitor progress throughout each mesocycle. 

Variation and novelty can be great, but it can also prevent neural and structural adaptations necessary to create a maximal hypertrophic stimulus. I included a mini-description with each exercise to help facilitate an understanding of why I structured the exercises in that specific order for the hypertrophic push/press training session. Over the last twenty years of creating and monitoring training programs, I have repeatedly observed anecdotal benefits related to exercise selection and exercise order for hypertrophy that is not fully explained in the literature.  


Research has demonstrated several benefits to exercise choice, exercise order, tempo, rest intervals, muscle action, and range of motion. One of the main findings in research of exercise choice and exercise order is related to the SAID principle (Specific Adaptations for Imposed Demands). (6.) (7.) Mattocks et al. 2017, and Nunes, Ribeiro, Schoenfeld, and Cyrino, 2018, findings indicated that the largest strength increase was on the exercise that was sequenced first in the training session. The ability to use higher loads on the first exercise enhanced the strength gains of the first exercise compared to the strength gains of the other exercises. This is a prime example of the principle of specificity. If an individual wants to prioritize strength on a given movement, then they should perform that exercise first in their training session. In 2012, Simalo et al., published a much-needed review article to analyze and discuss the importance of exercise sequence in relation to acute training performance and chronic adaptations in strength and hypertrophy. (8.) The article recommends that the movement patterns in need of the most improvement should be prioritized, and the targeted muscle groups should be sequenced early in the training session. It is important to understand that a majority of the research on exercise order is studying rep max strength testing on specific exercises (included in the training programs), and there are only a few studies that directly measure hypertrophy. There have been a few studies comparing multi-joint lat pulldown vs. single-joint bicep curl and the effect on the biceps muscle thickness. (9.), (10.), (11.) These studies indicate that similar hypertrophy can occur in multi-joint to single-joint and single-joint to multi-joint sequenced exercise programs. Only one of the three studied the exercise order of multi-joint (leg-press) first and single-joint (knee-extension) second, compared to the single-joint (knee-extension) first and multi-joint (leg-press) second on mid-thigh quadriceps hypertrophy. (9.) The results were similar to the other studies finding similar hypertrophy in both groups. A recent systematic review and meta-analysis in the February 2020 European Journal of Sport Science summarized that exercise order "multi-joint to single-joint" and "single-joint to multi-joint" may produce similar hypertrophic results. (12.) 



Anecdotally, I have seen success in a multitude of exercise choices and sequences in practice since the 1990s. In general, if the exercises are performed through a full range of motion (ROM) with an appropriate tempo controlling the eccentric and concentric muscle actions to momentary muscular failure (or volitional failure), with enough recovery during the rest interval to continue performing at a high degree of effort, then a sufficient stimulus for hypertrophy will be provided. In a nourished, hydrated, and hormonally optimal state, the skeletal muscle will respond to the hypertrophic stimulus to the specific degree at which it was imposed.  


Exercise choice and exercise order are important goal-related factors in periodization and programming for hypertrophy. The selection of exercises becomes especially crucial during specialization mesocycles, and the order of exercises can significantly enhance the results of the strength mesocycle of a hypertrophy block. 


Understanding exercise choice and order provides a better idea of how to outline my program. But I am not convinced on ROM, because I have seen numerous huge bodybuilders doing half reps. I have also seen bodybuilders with massive muscles that completely ignore tempo and pump reps anyway necessary to complete the set. Some individuals that I know seem to think that ROM and tempo are pointless as long as they lift heavy weights. The individuals that I am referring to are not the sharpest tools in the shed, but they are jacked. I understand that appropriate rest times between sets are necessary.  But do I have to worry about ROM, tempo, and muscle actions? 


First, I need to address one of the most repetitive logical fallacies in the fitness or physique industry.  


Bodybuilder "X" has massive muscles, and "X" doesn't concern himself with ROM or tempo. "X" trains hardcore and lifts heavy weight by any means necessary. If "X" is the most muscular individual that I know, why wouldn't I want to copy what "X" is doing?  


As a young impressionable adolescent, I understand that it can be easy to get distracted by the overwhelming results displayed in massive muscular physiques. But as an adult, we should be able to think logically and not allow casual or correlational fallacies to manipulate our ability to recognize the errors in reason. If we apply thought to the statement above, then we will quickly identify the errors in reason. If "X" has a great physique, trains hardcore, and doesn't worry about ROM or tempo, then would "X" have an even better physique with appropriate ROM and tempo. 

I don't know. Theoretically, it is possible that "X" would be smaller with appropriate ROM and tempo, but highly unlikely. If an individual currently ignores the resistance training principles, that doesn't mean they have always ignored the resistance training principles. 


Attaining a muscular physique takes a significant amount of time, and it is difficult to attribute "X" 's current physique to the current training style. If "X" uses super-supplement (Rx compounds), then the anabolic stimulus provided via enhancement protocol may be enough to cause a hypertrophic adaptation to the resistance training. The numerous logical fallacies that are continually spread in the fitness industry can have a devastating effect on your results if you allow yourself to be convinced. In a future article, I will discuss some of the most reoccurring logical fallacies in the fitness industry.  




Range of motion (ROM) has been the topic of many conversations and arguments. To clarify, ROM of a joint and ROM of a muscle is not the same as ROM of an exercise. ROM of an exercise is the degree of movement created by the exercise on specific joints and muscles involved. (13.) In general strength and conditioning, performing a full range of motion is necessary to receive each exercise's full benefits. (14.) The clinical literature is limited on the effects of ROM vs. partial ROM for hypertrophic adaptations, and there is no clear-cut answer to apply to each exercise and program. The studies comparing full ROM vs. partial ROM on lower body exercises produced more favorable hypertrophic results for full ROM over partial ROM. (15.), (16.), (17.) Two studies comparing full ROM vs. partial ROM on upper body exercises produced limiting and conflicting results. (18.), (19.) Goto et al., observed greater triceps growth on partial ROM vs. full ROM, but this could be due to the type of program that was followed in the study. 

The subjects trained triceps three days per week for eight weeks. They performed three sets of tricep extensions with a sixty-second intra-set rest and used loads equivalent to their 8RM for all nine sets each week. (18.) 

Pinto et al. observed greater biceps growth in full ROM vs. partial ROM. The subjects trained biceps two days per week. They performed a periodized program for ten weeks of two to four sets of bicep elbow flexion for eight to twenty reps. (19.) I haven't seen anyone else extract the potential benefits in the contrasting results of these two upper body ROM studies.  


One study demonstrates the benefits of having a properly periodized program for the upper body musculature. Training a muscle group twice a week allows for sufficient recovery. In an effort to provide progression throughout the mesocycle, the training volume increased from two sets twice per week (4 sets total) to four sets twice per week (8 sets total). It is possible that the subjects could have continued to make progress if training volume further increased. This progression in training volume over a mesocycle supports my views for maximizing hypertrophy. The other study favored the results of a partial ROM vs. a full ROM, training the triceps three days per week and only providing the sixty-second rest between sets. 

In my opinion, the frequency, partial ROM, and short rest-interval are what increased the hypertrophy in triceps. 

Performing a modified range of motion, 45 to 90, created an occlusion effect in the muscle and trapped an excessive number of metabolites in the muscle. The subjects used an 8RM load, which is very difficult to recover from in two to three minutes, but the researchers only provided sixty seconds, further increasing the number of metabolites in the muscle. I attribute the partial ROM results vs. the full ROM in that study to the benefits of occlusion training. We have seen the benefits of blood flow restriction (BFR) or occlusion training demonstrated numerous times in the literature. In summary, perform exercises in the largest active ROM possible to maximally activate motor units throughout the entire muscle and potentially add the partial rep (occlusion style) of training as a type of intensification technique for specific muscle groups and during specialization cycles.  




To prevent confusion in the explanation of tempo, I will describe tempo and muscle actions within the same section. The tempo is the cadence of the exercise. Each exercise has four segments (Yes, I said four), and the tempo of each exercise is written numerically to represent the time, in seconds, of each movement segment. 


For example (A.), Tempo: 3 : 0 : 1 : 0

In example (A.), the first number "3" represents the time in seconds dedicated to the negative/eccentric muscle action, the second number "0" represents the amount of time dedicated to a pause/iso-hold/iso-metric at the transition or change of direction of the lift, the third number "1" represents the time in seconds dedicated to the positive/concentric muscle action, and the last number "0" represents the amount of time dedicated to an iso-hold/iso-metric/iso-flex at the end range of the lift.


For example (B.), Tempo: 2 : 1 : X : 0

In example (B.), the first number "2" designates a two-second negative/eccentric muscle action, the second number "1" designates a one-second pause or iso-hold at the transition or change of direction of the lift, the third number/letter "X" (easy to remember as "X-plode") designates to explode up as hard/fast as possible on the positive/concentric muscle action, and the last number "0" represents the amount of time dedicated to an iso-hold/iso-metric/iso-flex at the end range of the lift.

Tempo is a variable of resistance training that doesn't get much attention. Some studies have resulted in similar hypertrophy findings between self-controlled tempo vs. clinically prescribed tempo. (20.) Other studies have provided the conclusion that as long as the exercise is performed to concentric muscle failure and the rep duration is in the range of 0.5 seconds to 8 seconds per rep, then an adequate hypertrophic stimulus will be provided. (21.) , (22.) In my opinion, tempo provides its most significant benefits through increasing the accuracy of tracking progression and motivating individuals to maintain proper form. I have found a correlation between creating periodized programs with prescribed tempo and a higher percentage of skeletal muscle hypertrophy. Perhaps, the tempo provided allows beginners, intermediate, and advanced individuals to develop an internal focus to the muscles executing the exercise. If an individual is silently counting (eccentric) 1 , 2 , 3 - - (iso-hold) 1 - - (concentric) X-plode-Up - - 0 (end range) and repeat, then they are less likely to be psychologically, emotionally, and physically distracted. I was taught the importance of the "mind-to-muscle" connection at a very young age, and I have encouraged my clients to constantly assess their connection to the active muscle groups during each session. Individuals that have trained with me or witnessed me train others know how much I value feedback for constant evaluation and auto-regulation. Tempo can enhance signals for auto-regulatory feedback.  


For example, 

Does the form being performed on exercise "Y" provide tension in the target muscle tissue? If an individual doesn't know the specific angle or motion that provides the most robust stimulus to the target tissue, then performing exercise "Y" with a tempo of [ 3 : 1 : 2 : 1 ] will slow the rep speed enough to allow the mental connection and the thought processes to occur to evaluate the form of the exercise. If the weight is roughly equivalent to the individuals ~ 20 RM, then they can perform ~ 10 reps and slightly change the hand placement, foot placement, angle of movement, rotation of movement and direction of movement every two or three reps, until the tension stimulus is felt in the target tissue, without fearing the accumulation of junk volume and non-hypertrophic fatigue. 


Tempo is also beneficial for enhancing the specific muscle action of an exercise. Learning and understanding the muscle actions provides unique benefits in hypertrophy periodization and programming. "Muscle Action is the neuromuscular activation of muscles that contributes to movement or stabilization of the musculoskeletal system." (23.) The three types of mechanical forces applied to the muscles during each repetition are eccentric, concentric, and isometric. Typically, in exercise programming, the primary emphasis is placed on the muscle actions eccentric and concentric, with isometric and static isoholds playing a secondary role. (24.) There is evidence to suggest that each muscle action provides a unique stimulus for enhancing functional and/or morphological adaptations to skeletal muscle.  




Isometrics and isoholds performed in isolation may not provide a significant hypertrophic stimulus for well-trained individuals. But isometrics offer unique benefits when used in conjunction with other dynamic movements. The principle of specificity is strongly represented with isometrics. The specific angle trained with an isometric is the angle of the largest increases in neuromuscular function and performance. (25.), (26.), (27.) If an individual is trying to develop as much muscle tissue as possible, then appropriately using isometrics and static isoholds as a method of targeting specific angles of weakness may enhance the mind-to-muscle connection and neuromuscular activation for the following repetitions or exercise. Isometrics performed at long muscle lengths seem to produce more hypertrophy than at short muscle lengths. Alegre et al. studied the effects of isometrics performed at long muscle length vs. isometrics performed at short muscle length for the quadriceps. 

Their subjects performed leg extensions three days a week for six weeks. The training protocol was five sets of five reps, and each rep was a five-second isometric (static isohold). The inter-repetition rest interval was five seconds, and the inter-set rest interval was one minute. The researchers used MRI scans to assess the CSA (cross-sectional area) of the muscle for pre and post-testing. The group training quadriceps with isometrics at long muscle lengths displayed significant hypertrophy in the vastus lateralis (6.3%), vastus medialis (4.8%), and rectus femoris (8.2%). But the group training at short muscle lengths did not display significant hypertrophy. (28.) 

This study is an example of how the use of isometrics may or may not help increase muscular development. 

Multiple studies have shown similar favorable hypertrophic results for performing isometrics at long muscle lengths vs. short muscle lengths. In my opinion, there are a few factors related to the increased hypertrophic results of isometrics at long muscle lengths. Isoholds at long muscle lengths is part of a technique that I use with a specific clustered rest-pause sets in a protocol to increase the metabolite build-up and create an occlusion effect. (29.) It also seems that performing static isoholds at long muscle lengths creates a lengthening tension, and this specific type of tension may cause enough muscle damage to produce a hypertrophic stimulus. (30.) 

In summary, isometrics can be beneficial for hypertrophy, when programmed to increase the overall neuromuscular functional capacities of the muscle's actions. (31.)




The eccentric muscle action is also referred to as the negative part of a repetition. This is the action of the exercise that is bastardized by most bodybuilders. Unfortunately, I witness this on a daily basis in my facility. Actually, as I am typing this article, I can hear individuals slamming pin-select machine weight stacks and completely ignoring the benefits provided through the eccentric component of exercise. I understand that most individuals did not pursue a college education in anything related to human anatomy, physiology, or biomechanics. 

But I have never been able to understand the logic behind using a pin-select machine to enhance the muscle-centric focus of an exercise, then completely ignoring the eccentric (negative) portion of the movement. When I hear or see an individual on a pin-select or cable machine banging the weight stack between reps and/or dropping the last rep with zero control, I know I have an individual who doesn't understand the underlying mechanisms of muscle actions within the human body related to exercise and training. 

Usually, I can quickly explain the advantage of using a muscle-centric pin-select or cable machine and how to execute the movement in such a way for the individual to maximize their results. 

Not everyone wants to improve their physiques, and I completely understand that training is not solely dedicated to increasing muscle mass, but the idea possibly wanting to gain muscle and deliberately performing an exercise incorrectly is perplexing, to say the least.  

Eccentric muscle actions produce greater force than concentric muscle actions and have the ability to significantly increase the magnitude of intracellular anabolic signaling. Research has demonstrated the power of eccentrics by displaying the effects provided by only four sets of six maximal eccentrics. The relatively low effort training session of four sets of six reps fully activated p70S6k and increased the phosphorylation of the ribosomal protein S6. (32.) In a comparison of eccentric training vs. concentric training, eccentric training provides a faster elevation of myofibrillar protein synthesis and increases the amount of time under the myofibrillar protein fractional synthetic curve than concentric training. (33.) I have attended hundreds of bodybuilding shows in my lifetime, and I have been an NPC Judge since 2007. The opportunity to observe the architecture of an individual's muscles in a bodybuilding competition condition provides a unique perception. In the early 2000s, I began to notice specific trends at bodybuilding shows. As the competitors got older, it became significantly more difficult for them to develop or maintain quadriceps and hamstring muscle mass. More specifically, the legs seem to maintain some size proximally (near the hip) and significantly decrease in size distally (near the knee). I heard people attribute that odd development to numerous quirky illogical ideas, but after noticing a similar trend at various ages, I hypothesized that it was due to their inability to exert sufficient effort through a full ROM in all the muscle actions. Anecdotally, the bodybuilders that I observed train with half-reps, excessive body movement on free-weight exercises, and banging the weight stacks on machines seem to develop shorter and flatter muscle bellies. Especially if they could not perform the full range of motion exercises due to an injury or insecurity, then adapted to the new shortened ROM for extended periods of time. Research has mentioned the effect of eccentrics on increasing fascicle length and providing the stimulus to promote the addition of sarcomeres in series. (34.) I think the impact of eccentrics on fascicle length is only part of the equation. I am constantly digging through the research and comparing my anecdotes to try and form a better understanding of how specific muscle actions affect the architectural integrity of a muscle and possibly dictate the fullness and thickness of the muscle's hypertrophy from origin to insertion. I conclude these thoughts on the eccentric muscle action, with a couple of exercise science facts and a noteworthy question. The relationship between the length and tension of a muscle is such that maximum eccentric activity is stronger than maximum isometric activity, which is stronger than maximum concentric activity. If research suggests that individuals are ~ 20% to ~ 60% stronger in an eccentric muscle action vs. concentric muscle action (35.), (36.), (37.), then why would an individual not be able to control the eccentric portion of a pin-select or cable machine?




Concentric muscle action is the active shortening of a muscle. The concentric muscle action is the most common muscle action associated with training. An exercise's positive range of motion is difficult to perform wrong. That doesn't mean performing the exercise with technical proficiency is easy. It means that individuals can perform the exercise using various velocities and tempos for the concentric muscle action and accurately create the desired training effects. 

Since this article is related to hypertrophy, I will not diverge into the literature about strength or speed training. If the concentric muscle action can be performed with technical proficiency and through a full range of motion (without joint or connective tissue pain), then it can be executed with a range of velocities and various tempos for hypertrophy. Some exercises provide better hypertrophic stimulus when performed at slightly slower tempos, but other exercises may provide a unique benefit when performed explosively. Performing the concentric muscle action with an explosive effort, until momentary muscular failure causes the drastic slowing of the concentric muscle action, will result in optimal rate coding and maximal fiber recruitment. Initially established by Henneman (38.) and supported throughout literature, the size principle explains how muscle fiber activation occurs due to the motor units being recruited in an orderly fashion, from smaller (low-threshold) to larger (high-threshold) as needed by the force demands of the task. (39.), (40.), (41.), (42.), (43.) The factors responsible for increased muscle activation are the effort required to exert a sufficient force through the concentric action and the rate of force development produced during the movement. In hypertrophy training, there are specific reasons for an individual to perform deliberately slow concentric muscle actions. An individual may benefit from performing non-explosive concentric muscle actions, if they have poor mechanics, inadequate joint workspace and control throughout articulating movements, recovering from an injury, or learning a new form of exercise. If an individual has zero joint or connective tissue pain and solid form, then performing explosive reps (under control) through a full ROM may increase the number of motor units activated early in the set. I have always programmed a minimum of one exercise per workout capable of training to momentary muscular failure (or volitional failure) for at least one set, to ensure the maximal recruitment of the muscle fibers. Maximally activating the muscle fibers through a high degree of effort and translating that effort through a progressive loading strategy with movements that provide a significant hypertrophic stimulus will create an encouraging environment for muscle growth.


Anecdotally, every bodybuilder that I have seen not gain two to four pounds of competitive muscle per year of their career (or one pound of muscle per year in the late stages of development), always thinks they train hardcore or high volume or whatever, but when I observe their sessions, it is none of the above.  

Is training hardcore and intense, if the movements are performed improperly?  

Is it high volume, if a majority of the workout contains sets with zero eccentric control and lacks the volume from eccentric muscle action? 

Is it progressively loading, if the form adopts strange body momentum to complete the lift?  

The lack of ability to perform a controlled full ROM concentric muscle action to momentary muscular failure (maybe they can do some type of strange half rep with momentum) with adequate control of the eccentric (negative) muscle actions is required to improve upon the initial novice gains. Reduced ROM, uncontrolled tempo, and lack of muscle action understanding are why most individuals never surpass the initial ~ 20 pounds of competitive stage muscle gained in the first three to five years of training. Most individuals justify not gaining muscle after the initial few years of a forty-year bodybuilding hobby or career (ranging from the early to mid-twenties through the sixties) with numerous logical fallacies to support their non-progressing physique. Eventually, we all have to fight father time, and the mechanisms involved in human aging limit the theoretical lifelong progression provided by an intelligent approach to periodization and programming. If we know that gaining muscle tissue at an older age with be more difficult, then we need to take advantage of the time allotted and gain a minimum of two to four pounds of muscle tissue for as many years as possible throughout the competitive career. Gaining two to four pounds of muscle per year requires a logical, rational, and skeptical view of the physique's progression with a critical evaluation of periodization and programming concerning the progress attained. In summary, if an individual is not gaining a minimum of two to four pounds of muscle per year, evaluate the ROM, tempo, and muscle action execution before adding volume or load.


Rest Intervals


The rest interval is a specified amount of time between sets of a specific exercise dedicated to rest and recovery. I have heard numerous arguments between bodybuilders as to why their program's specific rest interval is better than another program's rest interval for hypertrophy. The conversations are filled with ad hominems (logical fallacy that attacks the individual in the discussion, not the subject), appeals to authority (logical fallacy that deems their statements are true because someone they respect with authority says they are true), red herring (logical fallacy that changes the focus to another argument that is irrelevant to draw attention from the conversation), and many other random generalizations that involve no logic or critical thinking. Supporting the idea of short rest-intervals by saying an IFBB Pro Bodybuilder only rests 45 to 60 seconds between each set is not logical. An individual can simply reply with; I know a better IFBB Pro Bodybuilder that rests for three minutes between sets. Then instead of two individuals having an intellectual conversation about their views on rest intervals, there will be an escalation to ad hominem attacks, or both individuals become more confused about their opinion of rest intervals. 

In an effort to prevent more confusion within the bodybuilding or hypertrophy specific training, I will provide a more precise definition of rest intervals and classify them into three categories.


Short rest intervals are 30 seconds or less, moderate rest intervals are 60 to 90 seconds, and long rest intervals are 3 minutes or more. (44.) In research related to hypertrophy training, short rest intervals cause less growth when compared to long rest intervals. Buresh et at., performed a study comparing 60-second rest intervals vs. 150-second rest intervals, and the group performing 150 rest intervals had significantly greater muscle growth in the upper body and a trend for greater hypertrophy in the lower body. (45.) Schoenfeld et al., performed an eight-week study comparing 1-minute rest intervals vs. 3 minutes rest intervals, and the long rest intervals have significantly greater muscle growth in the lower body and a trend for greater hypertrophy in the upper body. (46.) 

Could the longer rest intervals result in more hypertrophy because of increased muscle protein synthesis (MPS) or anabolic signaling? In 2019 Damas et al., performed a study compared the effects of 2-minute rest interval vs. 4-minute rest interval. They used a within-subject design (to remove the genetic variability) to perform four sets of leg press (unilateral) and four sets of leg extension (unilateral) with 2-minute rest interval on one leg vs. four sets of leg press (unilateral) and four sets of leg extension (unilateral) with 4-minute rest interval on the other leg. They did not observe a significant difference in MPS between the 2-minute vs. 4-minute rest interval. (47.) But this could be because 2-minutes is above the moderate rest interval category of 60 to 90 seconds and slightly below the long rest interval category of 3 minutes or more. Technically, this study compared an above moderate rest interval of 2-minutes vs. a long rest interval of 4 minutes. Also, I mentioned the exercises on purpose. They used leg press (unilateral) and leg extension (unilateral) for the study. In my opinion, these leg exercises are not as taxing to the cardiovascular and central nervous system as basic compound free weight leg exercises (squat and deadlift). Therefore the 2-minute rest was most likely providing as full of a recovery as the 4-minute rest. McKendry and colleagues performed a study comparing 1-minute rest intervals vs. 5-minute rest intervals. The subjects performed four sets of leg press and four sets of leg extension using 75% 1-RM load to momentary muscular failure, followed by the ingestion of 25 grams of whey protein. They observed MPS 4-hours post-workout, and the group performing 5-minute rests had almost doubled the magnitude in response to the 1-minute group. At 24-hours, the MPS comparison slightly favored the long rest intervals, but it was no longer significantly different. The researchers also performed measurements on intracellular anabolic signaling, and the long rest group had a 4.2 fold increase, but the anabolic signaling was not elevated in the short rest interval group. (48.) Looking at both studies simultaneously helps formulate an answer supporting longer rest intervals. But that does not mean rest intervals have to be 5-minutes. If we consider the underlying processes involved in recovery between sets, then we can understand that short rest intervals of 60 seconds or less may not provide enough recovery for those processes. 

Sufficient recovery allows an individual to exert a high amount of effort through mechanical loading to stimulate hypertrophy.  


Mechanical tension is the primary driver of muscle hypertrophy, but the secondary mechanism of metabolic stress has been theorized to play a significant role in stimulating hypertrophy. (49.) Using shorter 30-second rest intervals is a strategy for increasing hypertrophy through metabolic stress pathways, but it needs to be used appropriately. The short rest intervals have been found to reduce training volume by more than 50% when using a 10-RM load for five sets, due to increases in metabolite accumulation. (50.) Volume is directly related to skeletal muscle hypertrophy, and training with 50% less volume will likely not be beneficial. This supports the idea that if an individual is going to use short 30-second rest intervals for metabolite accumulation, it needs to be programmed not to affect the primary mechanical tension and progressive loading of the training cycle. Medeiros et al., demonstrated that if individuals are performing sets with a load equivalent to an 8-RM to 12-RM and only resting 60-seconds between sets, then a 5% to 10% reduction in load is required to maintain performance within the specified range. (51.) This is another example supporting the idea that if an individual is going to implement a series of shorter rest interval sets to cause a novel metabolic stress hypertrophic response, then it needs to be strategically programmed not to reduce requisite stimulus provided by progressive tension loading. Using the strategy of metabolic stress alone is not enough to be the primary stimulate muscle growth. Still, it may provide a secondary effect through increasing muscle activation through auxiliary anabolic processes, recruiting high-threshold motor units, and provoking the production of myokines and reactive oxygen species. (49.), (52.), (53.)  


Hopefully, this information will reach the gym bros/contest gurus, and they will stop wasting time attempting to emulate the rest interval routines of a super sports supplement enhanced genetically elite professional athlete. Rest intervals must be individualized per person and autoregulated per session. They should also categorize in relation to the overall goal of the workout and modified to maximize the specific purposes within the workout. Once exercises are selected and organized to fit the workout's particular objectives, rest interval continuums are assigned per exercise. The key to optimizing the rest interval within the continuum per exercise is to understand how to autoregulate your rest times to elicit the desired adaptation. I will conclude the introduction to rest times with an example of how I program rest times for my client's training programs and give a description of how to autoregulate rest times based on your fatigue and recovery between sets.


Example Workout and Rest Time Continuums per Exercise


Exercise 1: 

Primary Muscle

Exercise Goal: Priming Exercise = Muscle Activation, Pump, Mental Connection

Sets: 2 sets (Work Sets) on microcycle 1 and increase 1 work set every other microcycle

For example: Microcycle 1 and 2 (Week 1 and Week 2) = 2 sets. Microcycle 3 and 4 (Week 3 and Week 4) = 3 sets. Microcycle 5 and 6 (Week 5 and 6) = 4 sets.

Rep Range: 10 to 15 reps

Rest Interval: 2 Minutes (Work Sets) 


Choose an exercise that creates peak tension in the shortened range. 

For example: Pec Deck Machine.

Perform 1 set of CARS (Controlled Articular Rotations) for active joints between each set of exercise 1.


Exercise 2: 

Primary Muscle

Exercise Goal: Progressive Loading (Progressive Overload)

Sets: 2 sets (Work Sets) on microcycle 1 and increase 1 work set every other microcycle

Rep Range: 4 to 8 reps

Rest Interval: 3 to 5 Minutes (Work Sets) 


Choose a compound exercise that creates peak tension in the mid-range. 

For example: DB or BB Bench Press or Plate Loaded Machine Bench Press.

Autoregulatory Feedback Questions for Rest Intervals:

Autoregulate rest time as needed to allow for sufficient recovery on this exercise. The goal is the get stronger by adding load (to stay within rep range) or adding reps (with the same load, to stay within rep range) each week. 

Each set should be performed as recovered as possible. There various methods for autoregulating rest times used throughout the industry. There is a compilation of autoregulatory feedback questions for assessing your recovery between sets listed below exercise 6.


Exercise 3: Primary Muscle (if needed)

Exercise Goal: Stimulate Sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy, Cell Swelling, Metabolic Stress


Choose a single joint or machine movement that places stress directly on the target muscle and has the least joint/connective tissue discomfort. 

Also, choose an exercise or machine that is easy to rack and un-rack during the brief intra-set rests.

Rep Range: Set 1 = 10 to 20 , Set 2 = 8 to 15 , Set 3 = 5 to 10 , Set 4 = 5 to 10 , Set 5 = 4 to 8

Rest Interval: 10 to 15 seconds

Sets: 5

This is a clustered rest-pause set. The individual will use a weight that is ~12 to 15 Rep Max. They will perform each set to as close to concentric momentary muscular failure as possible without failing. ~ 0 RIR to ~ 1 RIR. I instruct the individual to not fail on the set but also do not leave 2 or 3 reps in the tank. Perform set 1, then take five deep breathes (10 to 15-second rest), perform set 2, repeat rest, and sets until finished. Do not drop the load.


Exercise 4: 

Second Muscle 

Exercise Goal: Progressive Loading (Progressive Overload)

Sets: 2 sets (Work Sets) on microcycle 1 and increase 1 work set every other microcycle

Rep Range: 8 to 12 reps

Rest Interval: 2 to 3 Minutes (Work Sets) 

Perform 1 set of CARS (Controlled Articular Rotations) for active joints between each set of exercise 1.


Choose an exercise that can be progressively loaded without causing joint/connective tissue pain.

For Example, Upright Row, Lat Pulldown, Plate Loaded Machine Row, Rear Delt Row


Exercise 5: 

Third Muscle

Exercise Goal: Progressive Loading (Progressive Overload)

Sets: 2 sets (Work Sets) on microcycle 1 and increase 1 work set every other microcycle

Rep Range: 8 to 12 reps

Rest Interval: 2 to 3 Minutes (Work Sets) 

Perform 1 set of CARS (Controlled Articular Rotations) for active joints between each set of exercise 1.


Choose an exercise that can be progressively loaded by adding reps or weight without causing joint/connective tissue pain.

For Example, Supine Tricep Extensions, DB Hammer Curl, Any Machine


Exercise 6:

Optional for Second or Third Muscle. Choose the muscle that needs more work.  

If they are both in equal need of work, rotate each time this workout is performed.  

Microcycle 1 = perform Second Muscle Group on Exercise 4 and 6. Microcycle 2 = perform Third Muscle on Exercise 5 and 6.

Exercise Goal: Stimulate Sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy, Cell Swelling, Metabolic Stress


Choose a single joint or machine movement that places stress directly on the target muscle and has the least amount of joint/connective tissue discomfort as possible. 

Also, choose an exercise or machine that is easy to rack and un-rack during the brief intra-set rests.

Rep Range: Set 1 = 10 to 20 , Set 2 = 8 to 15 , Set 3 = 5 to 10 , Set 4 = 5 to 10 , Set 5 = 4 to 8

Rest Interval: 10 to 15 seconds

Sets: 5

This is a clustered rest-pause set. The individual will use a weight that is ~12 to 15 Rep Max. They will perform each set to as close to concentric momentary muscular failure as possible without failing. ~ 0 RIR to ~ 1 RIR. I instruct the individual to not fail on the set but also do not leave 2 or 3 reps in the tank. Perform set 1, then take five deep breathes (10 to 15-second rest), perform set 2, repeat rest, and sets until finished. Do not drop the load.


This is a compilation of six autoregulatory feedback questions. These can be used to evaluate recovery between sets and help an individual decide if he or she is ready to perform their next set.


(1.) Is the primary muscle group recovered for the next set? If it is still burning with lactic acid, then wait longer to recover. The goal is to be able to perform the next set within the prescribed rep range with the same load as last week or more. Can I perform the same load as last week or more within the specified rep range? If yes, then this autoregulatory question can be checked off the list for this set.


(2.) Is the cardiorespiratory system recovered? Am I still out of breath? Is my heart rate still elevated beyond the normal pre-set range? If yes, then wait longer for the respiratory system to recover and heart rate to lower enough to hit the prescribed rep and loading parameters of the set. Once the cardiorespiratory system has recovered, check this autoregulatory question off the list for this set.


(3.) Are any secondary, synergist, spinal, and stabilizer muscles fatigued enough to affect my next set performance? The goal is to provide a progressive loading stimulus to the target muscle, and if another muscle limits me, then I need to rest longer. 

For example, if training back, will my grip, forearms, or biceps be the limiting factor in my next set? Is my lower back tight and pumped enough to limit my next set of squats or deadlifts, if yes, then rest longer. 

Remember, the goal is to perform the same load as last week or more within the prescribed rep range? This autoregulatory question must be checked off the list for maximal performance on the next set.


(4.) Psychological and emotional recovery. Am I mentally ready to attack the next set with ferocious intent and progress as I know I have to for hypertrophy to occur? If yes, then this autoregulatory question can be checked off the list. 


(5.) Hydration Status. Am I adequately hydrated to perform the next set? Am I craving fluids, or Am I overly bloated and sloshing around fluid in my gut from drinking too much liquid? If craving fluids, take a sip, wait for 10 to 15 seconds, then prepare for the exercise. 

If bloated and sloshing fluid around, walk around for an additional 60 to 120 seconds, perform CARS or Isometrics to stay warm. Do not begin the exercise with gastrointestinal discomfort and potentially vomit much needed anabolic nutrients into the trash can. 


(6.) Nutrition Status. Do I have adequate essential amino acids and glucose in my bloodstream? 

If not, then I need to consume a small amount 2 to 4 oz. of fluid with amino acids, and effective carbohydrate source with (if needed electrolytes, vitamins, trace minerals, micronutrients, etc.) additional nitric oxide/cell swelling supplements to enhance the uptake into cells and potentially provide an additional anabolic stimulus. As long as there is zero gastrointestinal distress, consuming specific ratios of peptides, amino acids, carbs, and supplements in water during training (while excessive blood and fluid are pumped into the muscles) can have a potentially beneficial effect on hypertrophy.



The example workout outline above can be used for a press or pull session. The sets, reps, and rest intervals are provided. Once the choice is made between the press or pull session, select appropriate exercises to fit the exercise order's goal. Then perform the workout with a high degree of effort and autoregulate the rest times between work sets using the six quick questions listed at the end of the workout description.



Wrapping it up

In this article, I described the benefits of appropriate exercise choice and order throughout a hypertrophic mesocycle.  I also provided examples from clinical literature and anecdotal experience about range of motion, tempo and muscle actions effect on skeletal muscle hypertrophy.  In my opinion, training to maximize hypertrophy needs an autoregulatory component and progression.  I included an example of an autoregulatory checklist for rest intervals.  The questions can be adjusted as necessary to meet the demands or style of training.  In essence the information provided in “Hypertrophy Periodization and Programming – Program Variables – Part 1” and “Hypertrophy Periodization and Programming – Program Variables – Part 2” (well over 20,000 words with almost 100 references) should be enough to help any coach, trainer, or athlete construct a sold hypertrophy program.


Training Variables – Practical Application for Hypertrophy:


  • Exercise Choice
    • Create continuums of exercises per movement category or body part.
    • Rank exercises on their perspective continuums based on the “Hypertrophic Benefit Provided” vs. “Recovery Cost Required” with consideration to the following:
      • Genetic Anatomical and Biomechanical Factors.
      • Movement Restrictions and Movement Patterns.
      • Mind-to-Muscle Connection.
      • Joint and Connective Tissue Stress.
      • Time Efficiency
    • Consider the type of hypertrophic stimulus provided by the exercise choice.
      • Mechanical Tension
      • Metabolic Stress and Metabolites
      • Cell Swelling
      • Muscle Damage
    • If necessary, for travel create free-weight continuums and machine continuums or specific exercise continuums per available gym.


  • Exercise Order
    • Individualize exercise order based on specific goal of the training session.
    • Exercises earlier in the session can affect exercises later in the session.
    • Begin sessions with exercises of primary importance.
    • Exercise one can be used as an isolation “Primer” or “Pump Exercise” to increase the mind-to-muscle connection or warm-up for compound movements as long as it doesn’t overly fatigue the prime movers.


  • Range of Motion
    • Performing exercises throughout the full range of motion helps stimulate all the muscle fibers in the target muscle.
    • Performing the exercise through a full range of motion may not be the same as taking a joint though its full range of motion.
    • Creating strength and control through a full range of motion helps develop full and thick muscle bellies.
    • Do not use weight to force movement beyond its passive capacities. Perform whatever range of motion is currently available and utilize controlled articular rotations, progressive angular isometric loading, and regressive angular isometric loading between sets to create new workspace to explore in future sessions.


  • Tempo
    • Tempo is four numbers in sequence to describe the amount of time in seconds for each phase of the movement.
    • (3 : 1 : X : 0)
      • 3 = Eccentric Phase
      • 1 = Isohold at the Transition Phase of the Rep
      • X = Concentric Phase (X-plode)
      • 0 = Isohold at End of Rep


  • Muscle Actions
    • Muscle Actions are also referred to as Muscle Contractions. But since the word contraction is related to shortening, we use the word action, because muscles are not shortening in Eccentric or Isometric Actions.
    • Each Muscle Action provides a different stimulus to the muscle.
      • Eccentric = Negative
        • Individuals are 20% to 60% stronger Eccentrically
        • Eccentrics provide a distal stimulus to the muscle.
      • Concentric = Positive
        • Concentrics provide a more mid-belly to proximal stimulus to the muscle.
      • Isometric = Static Isohold
        • Isometrics and Static Isohold Actions provide a joint angle specific stimulus to the muscle.
        • The stimulus may be relevant for 10º to 15º above and below the isometric action.


  • Rest Intervals
    • Hypertrophic Rest Intervals need to allow for sufficient recovery between sets.
    • Performing the next set too early will decrease the chances of providing a robust hypertrophic stimulus.
    • Using a Rest-Interval Recovery and Fatigue Autoregulatory Checklist can help determine if an individual is ready to perform their next set or not.
      • Is the primary muscle group recovered enough to perform the next set in the specified rep range?
      • Is the cardiovascular system recovered enough to perform the next set in the specified rep range?
      • Are the spinal, synergist, and secondary muscles recovered enough to perform the next set in the specified rep range?
      • Is the psychological and emotional integrity recovered enough to perform the next set in the specified rep range?
      • Is the individual hydrated enough to perform the next set in the specified rep range?
      • Is the individual nourished enough to perform the next set in the specified rep range?
    • Short Rest Intervals can be used in cluster set and rest-pause set protocols.




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