Nick is a personal trainer and online coach based out of DMV Iron Gym in Alexandria, Virginia. First introduced to fitness through sports, Nick played division I football before entering the coaching scene. Nick has worked as head of strength and conditioning for a private sports performance gym, as a trainer in PT clinics, and now runs his own in person and remote business. Nick believes in a principles based approach to provide results for his clients. You can best contact him on Instagram @nickridpath_
Despite the tremendous amount of “contextual nuance” and clickbait we see on the internet, getting jacked really can be boiled down to a relatively simple premise.
Historically, the three pillars of hypertrophy consisted of muscle damage, metabolic stress, and mechanical tension.
Many of the finer interworking mechanisms of the human body are still somewhat unknown; however, the more we learn the more we have deduced what really matters for stimulating hypertrophy
Muscle damage really serves as a by-product of training – a correlation with hypertrophy, but likely more of a detriment than an aid to growth.
Metabolic stress may have some effect but definitely isn’t the leading driver of hypertrophy, otherwise we could easily strap on occlusion bands or go for a run and never have to move any significant load to grow muscle tissue.
That leaves us with one leading driver of hypertrophy - mechanical tension
“The stress, strain, or degree of difficulty experienced by the muscle attempting to overcome a load.”
In layman's terms - load wins.
Although this sounds simple (and certainly can be simple in application), there are still a lot of problems with using this as an absolute statement. First, what are we loading? Are we loading the desired tissue? Are we choosing effective exercises to do so? Are we loading quality movement, or are we sacrificing quality movement for pushing the log book?
Are we choosing exercises that ensure we can remain moving well in the long run? Are we maintaining demands of end range stability at the shoulder, hip, and spine? Or are we putting ourselves in positions to regress or potentially become injured in the long haul?
The statement “load wins” is absolutely true, these are just questions and factors we need to consider when choosing how we choose to load and program exercises.
Exercise selection certainly matters, as does exercise execution – but hyper vigilance probably has a much smaller margin of error than that of a “less optimal” exercise with a much higher loading capability.
All factors equated, one isn’t always inherently better than the other, but it is something to consider as we sift through the growing pile of captions being produced by the content creators of the industry.
Live training doesn't always play out the way it does on paper.
Shallow has an analogy of keeping ourselves in the strike zone for hypertrophy. This applies both as a way of saying we should train in strong positions for the sake of loadability, but also exercises that load the tissue we want to load well.
Simply put, we should choose exercises that make sense on paper, and that we can load well in application. This will scale down in absolute terms the more isolated a given exercise is.
Something that I believe is much less debatable than the aforementioned items is our ability to achieve and retain movement variability.
Ensuring we have adequate stability at important hubs of movement will not only help to improve output and minimize injury, it will also give us more options in movement.
A lot of bodybuilders can’t access overhead positions .
A lot of trainees cannot train the entire year continuously because they get hurt.
Maintaining variability in movement, training end ranges of shoulder/hip flexion and extension, and challenging unilateral stability, will ultimately give us the most options in movement and the best likelihood of staying healthy in the gym.
One of the best things we can do is keep gym goers, bodybuilders, and athletes in the gym and on the field to give them their best odds at success.
Training exercises that don’t focus on the single objective of hypertrophy can still have a hypertrophic effect. It’s completely fine that certain exercises aren’t biasing any particular muscles considering they are checking an ulterior box.
Split squats don’t have to be a quad or glute bias.
Pull-ups aren’t inherently a “bad” back exercise.
Move well, load movement, and layer in defensive training so that we can keep our momentum.
Don’t be a meme, it comes in layers, get the job done right.