Let’s start with our plan to grow muscle mass with a strength mesocycle within a hypertrophy routine…
You will understand why we are going to include a routine to improve our strength. Without any doubt, the base for any sport or athletic program is strength. Either if you are a 400m runner or weightlifter, improving your strength will also affect other faculties positively.
To do so, we are going to use some of the principles of strength training with a simple progression. I am sure that this is going to help you improve considerably.
Of course, there are other types of strength workouts. However, once this macrocycle (strength+hypertrophy) is over, I encourage you to give this method another chance in order to find out how to keep up gaining strength.
Why lift heavy weights?
First of all, we need to understand why we need to lift heavy weights before starting our strength routine.
The answer has to do with improving our neuromuscular connection. If you have never done this type of workout, everything may sound strange to you. In fact, the workout scheme will make you question many things. Obviously, if you have always followed the 10-12 reps pattern or until failure, you will notice that this routine is quite different.
When you do exercise for esthetic purposes, you can experience the congestion (sought by many). However, your objective during a strength workout should be lifting the weight…
This concept refers to the ability to recruit fibers or motor units. But, what is a motor unit? Basically, it is a group of fibers that are activated with an electric impulse caused by an associated neuron. The type of muscle fibers will always have the same composition, being: type I, IIA or IIB fibers, in each motor unit.
Then, in that same order, they will be activated depending on the intensity of the stimulus. It may activate one, two, three or hundreds of motor units. (Raising a glass of water VS Lifting a Z Barbell with 20kg on each side).
Sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy VS Myofibril Hypertrophy
Like I mentioned in the previous entry, although this mesocycle will be a strength routine, it does not mean that there will be no hypertrophy.
Traditionally, people thought that a low rep range with a heavy weight would only improve our strength. In other words, that the balance would fall on myofibril hypertrophy instead of sarcoplasmic hypertrophy.
However, what we are really doing is enhance the neuron adaptations, which do help to improve our strength as well as the hypertrophy.
You cannot separate Sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy from Myofibril Hypertrophy…
The relation between muscle strength and size will come from individual aspects, such as our genetics, the type of diet… Therefore, those who follow a strength workout could gain muscle mass or simply muscle mass but without much strength.
How to produce more hypertrophy?
Despite what we have previously said, it seems that there is no difference between strength and hypertrophy. However, the latter tends to involve specialized techniques that will also change the execution:
Sometimes, we will lose ROM in order to lift weight, or the grip will be different, using angles that cause more isolation. Another common feature of bodybuilders is that they will focus on a specific muscle group. In fact, they think differently in the sense that they look for different exercises for a same muscle group instead of just lifting weights.
The strategies are also more varied, such as the supersets, Rest&Pause, until failure...
Bodybuilders gain more muscle mass than strength when compared to Powerlifters, who else spend a lot of time on specialized work or isolation.
Workout, Objective and Individual Features
Any type of workout or training system has an objective.
In order to achieve said objective, we need to follow a series of premises in order to reach said objective. For instance, this would involve lifting more weight, or the progression principle, constancy, and adjusting the variables proportionally (volume, intensity and frequency).
That way, if the planning is right, the expected results of the individual will match their individual features. Therefore, the strength:size gains will mainly depend on a genetic factor. So, if we are thinking about career (competitions), we will need to consider if we should change the objective towards strength or the path of hypertrophy.
When the objective is improving a specific ability, such as strength, we will follow a scheme that will improve this capacity during the whole season.
Muscle fiber activation order
Before continuing, we are going to briefly describe these muscle fibers:
Type I Fibers
They are also known as “Slow” or “Oxidative Fibers”, which are in charge of supporting the body posture and the skeletal muscle. These fibers are related to endurance activities (the mitochondrial density increases when we exercise this type). Moreover, they also have a high work capacity. Consequently, they can remain active for a long period of time, but they are also the weakest.
In addition, they use fat and carbohydrates better because of their growing dependence on the oxidative metabolism. Type I fibers respond to hypertrophy motivated by the progressive overload principle.
Type II Fibers
These are the strongest fibers which are also divided in two types:
- IIA Fibers, also known as “Fast Twitch Fibers”, are oxidative-glycolytic fibers (OGF), which use both substrates. They have intermediary features between the I and IIB: both use the anaerobic and the oxidative metabolism in order to perform the muscle contraction.
- IIB Fibers are the ones that exclusively use the glycolytic substrate. In addition, they exclusively use the anaerobic metabolism to obtain energy for the muscle contraction. these fibers have a high percentage of glycolytic enzymes and they are the ones that produce more strength. However, they need more stimulus in order to obtain a potential effect. Moreover, they can only support this tension for a brief period of time.
IIB Fibers have the highest potential in terms of growth
What type of fiber will be activated first?
The weight (% regarding the RM) will be the one that activates the fibers. Thus, the type I fibers will go first if we lift a moderate weight that will allow us to activate all fibers before reaching exhaustion. Once we run out of these ones, it will be the turn of the type II fibers, which will support bigger efforts.
Find out your RM
Calculating your RM (Repetition Maximum), will be the first step before starting a Strength Routine.
You will need to know your starting marks for the Basics, which are the exercises that we are going to describe in the next point.
There are several ways of calculating your RM. Here you have one of the ways to do so.
Since there are 7 exercises, we are going to spend a couple of weeks to establish those marks. You can include them at the beginning of our workout, which are tested in non-consecutive days and as separated as possible.
After explaining how our muscle fibers work and why we should use heavy weights, it is time to find out how this strength mesocycle is going to be:
7 Weeks, including discharge
Exercise 3 days a week
3 Frequency. We are going to choose three non-consecutive days to do exercise. The other days we can do other activities, some HIIT, running, row machine, or other types (I and II).
We are going to list the Basics for a strength progression:
- Side and Front Squat, Bench Press and Military Press, Pull ups, weighted Chest Dips and Deadlift.
These will follow the scheme of the Sets and Reps with the % regarding the weight.
About the rest between sets, we suggest doing more than 2 minutes.
In addition, there will also be Accessory or Auxiliary exercises, such as:
- 90º Row, Front Lunges, Triceps Press, Dumbbells Thrusters, Good-mornings, Glute Bridge
We will do these exercise with a range of: 3 sets of 10 reps and breaks of 90-120″, with an intensity that will allow us to make 12 reps (adjust the weight previously). We can increase the weight each week, but without reaching muscle failure.
Here, we can use the RIR or Repetitions in Reserve
Do not forget to warm up before a strength workout, it is actually super important! An example would be:
1×5 [50%] + 1×5 [60%] + 1×3 [70%]
|6th Week (Discharge)||10×5||60%|
|7th Week (TEST)||1×1||100%|
- 1st DAY
- 2nd DAY
- 3rd DAY
|Weighted chest dips|
|Weighted Pull ups|
We will do a discharge on the 6th week, which will consists on reducing the % considerably. This will help us face the RM test the following week. We can use the same procedure that we used to calculate the RM for the first time.
Supplement for Strength Routine
Creatine supplementation is one of the options available that can be quite beneficial in order to improve our strength.
In the HSN guide about how to take Creatine you will find everything you need to know to start taking creatine.