Everything you didn’t want to hear about hypertrophy for powerlifting

Now that Christmas is over, I don’t feel so bad smashing a few of your previously held incorrect beliefs (don’t worry, I won’t tell you that Santa isn’t real…oops!). Well, to be honest, at one time I also believed that Santa was real and likewise I once believed that going on a hypertrophy protocol for powerlifting was a good thing to do. But…it’s really not. Here is why:

It’s not Zumba, it’s weight training

Your body is going to build muscle in response to resistance training, regardless of what title you decide to put on header of your excel sheet. Hypertrophy occurs as the result of three different stimuli: mechanical tension, metabolic stress, and muscle protein breakdown. In layman’s terms, your body builds muscle in response to weight training. Have you ever seen a high level competitive lifter in any iron sport (powerlifting, olympic lifting, strongman, CrossFit) that didn’t have a decent level of muscularity? Body fat levels aside, all strength training builds muscularity. That doesn’t mean that you’ll put it on as symmetrically as you would with a more bodybuilding type program but if you’re lifting weight you’re going to put on muscle, period. To put on muscle there are three things that must occur.

You eat like a 5 year old

The first being that you must be in a positive nitrogen balance which means you must be in a positive caloric intake with more amino acids being assimilated into muscle tissue than amino acids being broken down. This basically means you have to be taking in more calories than you are burning AND you need to have an adequate supply of amino acids to not only replenish those that are being broken down but to assimilate into new muscle tissue. In layman’s terms you have to be eating to gain muscle. This looks a little different for everybody but for the most part it’s pretty simple. You eat multiple meals throughout the day, each with plenty of lean protein, healthy fats, and carbs in adequate amounts to fuel your training and your recovery. What it doesn’t look like is skipping meals or consistently making poor food choices based on your emotional needs. Now, to all the ladies out there who claim they put on muscle too quickly…

You don’t gain muscle easily, you just get fat really quickly

The second key ingredient for muscle growth to occur is the correct hormonal signaling. Hormones control most of your body’s processes and if their isn’t an anabolic hormonal signal telling your body to build it just isn’t going to build. Most people who say they put on muscle really easily have never stood beside a professional male or female bodybuilder and seen what someone who really has great genetics for muscle growth looks like. The hierarchy for muscle growth goes like so:

  1. Males on anabolic steroids
  2. Males with good natural testosterone levels
  3. Females on anabolic steroids
  4. Females with good natural testosterone level/Males with poor natural testosterone levels (I’m going to say these are a tie)
  5. Females with poor natural testosterone levels

Like it or not, that’s the truth. If you expect to look like your “MCM” or “WCW” who’s been on drugs, training, and eating right for the last 10 years and expect to do it all natural over a 4 week hypertrophy phase, you’re in for a rude awakening. And if you fall in that category of not having very good natural testosterone levels, you’re running an uphill race. When you’re in a caloric surplus your body will either take those extra calories and convert them into energy/heat, convert them into lean tissue, or convert them into fat tissue. Genetics and hormones are going to determine which of those the body is going to lean towards and if you wonder why you “bulk so easily” every time you decide to add a dozen donuts to your Saturday routine, it’s because your body does an excellent job of converting that jelly filling into your very own visceral jelly filling behind your belly button. The truth is that, no matter what, you’re running some type of long distance race because hypertrophy takes time.

You’ve been training seriously for a couple years now? That’s cute, holler me at a decade

The final piece of the hypertrophy equation is a consistent environmental stress over A LONG PERIOD OF TIME. Hypertrophy occurs over years and is measured in decades. That doesn’t mean you can’t make progress over shorter periods but more so points out the need to view your training stimulus using a wide angle lens instead of the blinders that come with focusing on just the 4-8 week block. Hypertrophy will occur from all iron sport training IF you’re eating correctly AND your hormones don’t suck AND you do it for a long enough period of time. So if you’re looking in the mirror thinking you could use a little more lean tissue on your frame, make sure you have your I’s dotted and your T’s crossed and are willing to go in for the long haul. Add some higher volume, isolation movements to your training, get your nutrition on point (or hire a nutrition coach if you need to) and keep on grinding. Your body will adapt to look the part. Now go on and get too it, Easter is just around the corner and I don’t want to have to tell you the Easter bunny isn’t real…oops!


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