A Common Sense Approach to Adding Lean Muscle Tissue

A common sense approach


Muscle Gain of hypertrophy can be categorised into two types: sarcoplasmic and myofibrillar hypertrophy.

The later refers to the growth of the contractile parts of the muscle, typically seen within ‘strength’ type rep ranges of 1-6 reps; sessions are generally much lower in volume with longer rest periods. Little regard to speed of movement, with focus primarily being getting as much weight as possible (safely) from A-B.


The former however refers to the growth of plasma, and rep ranges will typically differ and be that of 8 -15 reps but may be as high as 20 + for well-experienced and advanced lifters with shorter rest periods and work sets in excess of 30 seconds plus.


Both however contribute towards the same outcome - The increase in lean muscle tissue.


Nutritional factors to consider


It’s impossible to discuss hypertrophy without energy balance also, and nutritional strategies. Although all nutrients differ in their rates of digestion, absorption and contribute to recovery in different ways, an energy surplus is an energy surplus of which a consequential certainty is an increase in body mass – How much of this increase is lean tissue, and how much is body fat which will affect body composition is largely dependent on an individuals’ body’s ability to partition nutrients and respond to stimulus placed upon it. That is, consistently consume more calories than you physically burn for a prolonged period (with reference to gaining lean tissue) and you categorically WILL increase your body mass.


Intensity of said workouts will be largely dependent on rest periods, total volume of the session and rep and set parameters within. The effectiveness of carbohydrate feeding, for example within, will be largely dependent on the aforementioned and cellular fatigue. That is, time to fatigue within a highly volumous and lengthy weight training session will depend on muscle glycogen availability pre training and whether or not additional feeding is required within sessions. Astute perimeter nutritional strategies and additions, for example could be PhD Nutrition’s BCAA+, Recovery 2:1 within a workout and towards recovery PhD Nutrition’s new Tricellar Whey post workout.


Physiological factors to consider


Consider strength and hypertrophy as separate entities, both of which however should have the same performance outcome – improve and progress. Whether that be one extra kilogram lifted or an extra rep performed, progress is progress. Focus should primarily be around compound movements and efficiently and effectively concentrating on ‘intent’ and forcefully contracting muscles within the movement. Which leads on to my next point……


Log your workouts – It’s all very well memorising your top working weight used from your last workout, but being to able to visually reflect on your last session with the number one priority being that of increasing weight, reps or both, will spur you on to improve.


You should grow increasingly fearful of what you are capable of, knowing in the back of your mind the last time you performed a certain exercise that was then your absolute maximum you were capable of – you’ve got more in there! Get comfortable being uncomfortable. This becomes mind over matter.


Set rep parameters rather than a definitive number. If you set yourself the target of achieving 10 reps of a certain weight for 3 sets, you will likely use a weight you are able to manage for said reps/sets. By setting ranges e.g. 8-10 you will strive to attain the lower number, and any extra towards the upper end as a ‘bonus’. Once upper end of the rep parameters has consistently been achieved whilst safely and effectively maintaining the movement, now is the time to increase the weight and again strive toward the lowest number within the rep range. Progression, progression, progression. Stick with a training program long enough to see some marked improvements.


Rest and recovery – I’m yet to meet anyone who isn’t a high performing professional athlete that has overtrained. This is instead a case of under recovery in my opinion. If you find your workouts are hindered through lethargy or you have the ability to push yourself to lift weights for numerous consecutive days – Quite frankly, you are not pushing yourself enough! The body is a wonderful thing, it’s built to survive and will evolve and adapt based on the stresses placed upon it – without enough stress there is no need to adapt, however, insufficient recovery and it is unable to recover, adapt, respond and grow. This will vary individual to individual.


Psychological considerations


Within the realms of muscle hypertrophy, addressing the physiological and nutritional factors are commonplace, but what about the psychological elements??


It is a physiological certainty that a sustained energy/caloric surplus WILL result in a weight (mass) increase, and along with that, whether it is acutely or predominantly, a degree of fat mass also. The same can be said for fat loss, in that a prolonged caloric deficit will result in the loss of lean muscle tissue as well as body fat.


If you are a naturally lean individual, can you deal with the fact that you WILL gain body fat with muscle?? There is of course a point where the increase in body fat negates the bodies ability to add lean tissue but can you be patient enough with the process and apply the same dedication and consistency that losing body fat takes??


How much of the above is hugely influenced by inter-individual variables such as training history, age, gender, hereditary factors and lifestyle factors, etc., but to summarise here are my top 10 tips to follow:

1. The body needs enough stimulus/stress to respond and grow – Train hard and outside of your comfort zone.

2. Address both strength and volume training rep/set/rest parameters. Strive to improve performance in some capacity every session.

3. Initially address compound movements (think push, e.g. bench, pull, e.g. deadlift, etc.) and work in supplementary movements around those more ‘important’ movements.

4.Consume more calories than your body burns through day-to-day activity and exercise.

5.Rest and recover – Inability to recover will hinder any physiological changes and potential growth.

6. Supplement smart – If your workout is particularly strenuous, make sure you give it quality, nutrient dense yet easily digestible supplements in and around the training perimeter. PhD’s Intra BCAA+ for example will contribute not only to increasing performance and prolonging time to fatigue but also aid in the recovery process

7. Psychologically prepare yourself for an adjustment in body composition. With lean tissue comes an increase in fat mass also.

8. Consistency is key – Practice makes permanent, not perfect. Strive to adhere to a well structured training and nutrition plan, although this may be a roll of the dice in the first instance, it sets certain benchmark foundations upon which you can build. Mistakes will happen- learn from them and move on.

9. Be patient with your endeavors in adding lean muscle tissue. This is not an overnight process and there is no risk of getting ‘too’ big, in fact many dedicate their lives to the pursuit.

10. Embrace the process – Yes it will be time consuming and energy demanding and results will not always be instantly observed but embrace and revel in the changes no matter how small they are.

About the Author

An experienced personal trainer, strength and conditioning coach. Dan’s training philosophy “Assisting individuals in reaching their goals through specific and effective training practices. Education and empowerment are key outcomes of my training interventions, giving you the tools needed to take control of your own physique and performance goals”

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