3 Science-Based Training Strategies That Help You Build Muscle Faster

in Bodybuilding Science

3 Science-Based Training Strategies That Help You Build Muscle Faster

If you liked this presentation, and you want to build muscle faster with science automatically, you may like our new workout app Dr. Muscle (get early access).

Dr. Muscle is like a personal trainer in your phone. It tells you what to do when you work out to build muscle faster. It uses AI to learn from your last workouts and apply the best bodybuilding science automatically, so you can focus on lifting heavy and getting jacked.

To learn more about the science behind the app, keep reading. The strategies outlined here will help you build muscle faster.

To build muscle faster, try these 3 science-based training strategies:

  1. Use “Daily Undulating Periodization” And Change Reps Every Workout To Build Strength And Muscle Faster
  2. Finish Strong With A “Plus Set” To Find Out How Much Heavier You Should Lift To Keep Building Muscle Fast
  3. Add New Exercises As You Max Out Old Ones To Hypertrophy More Muscle Fibres
  4. Bonus: A New Workout App That Helps You Build Muscle Faster

1. Use “Daily Undulating Periodization” And Change Reps Every Workout To Build Strength And Muscle Faster

With daily undulating periodization (DUP), you vary your load and reps every workout. This loading strategy has been shown to eliciting greater strength gains than regular training.

In 2002, Dr. Matt Rhea and his team over at Arizona State University published a scientific study in The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research (Rhea et al. 2002). They wanted to compare normal training and DUP.

In that study:

  • 20 young men were randomly assigned to normal training or DUP training
  • They all trained bench press and leg press 3 days a week
  • Guys in the normal training group did:
    • Sets of 8 during 4 weeks
    • Sets of 6 during 4 weeks
    • Sets of 4 during 4 weeks
    • Total: 12 weeks
  • Guys in the DUP group did:
    • Sets of 8 on Monday
    • Sets of 6 on Wednesday
    • Sets of 4 on Friday
    • During all 12 weeks of the study

So, basically, they were doing the same number of reps, but one group did the same reps for 4 weeks at a time, while the other group changed reps every training day. That’s why this method is called daily undulating periodization (reps undulate every day).

After 12 weeks of training…

  • Guys who did DUP had double the strength gains (yes, twice ’em gainz!)
  • They improved bench press 29% (vs. 14% for guys who did normal training)
  • They improved leg press 55% (vs. 26% for guys who did normal training)

Size and strength are related. According to Nuckols (2016), this is especially true in experienced lifters, where gains in muscle mass may explain up to 65% of the variability in strength gains.

The stronger you get, the more muscular you become. So, if you get stronger faster with DUP, chances are, you’ll build muscle faster too.

In the next section, you’ll find a 3-day-a-week template you can follow to apply DUP to your own training and build muscle faster.

How To Apply Daily Undulating Periodization To Your Own Training To Build Muscle Faster

Rhea et al. (2003) have carried out a meta-analysis to determine the best ways to build strength. They’ve found that:

  • If you’ve been working out for less than a year, you should train each exercise 3 times a week
  • If you’ve been working out for 1 year or more, you should train each exercise 2 times a week

Most good strength coaches agree with this recommendation.

So, here’s a 3-day-a-week template you can follow to apply DUP to your own training and build muscle faster:

Week 1:

  • Monday: 12 reps
  • Wednesday: 6 reps
  • Friday: 9 reps

Week 2:

  • Monday: 11 reps
  • Wednesday: 5 reps
  • Friday: 8 reps

Week 3:

  • Monday: 10 reps
  • Wednesday: 4 reps
  • Friday: 7 reps

When you reach week 4, repeat weeks 1-3.

A few remarks on this template:

  • You’ll always perform between 4 and 12 reps. Most bodybuilding coaches agree this is the best rep range to build muscle
  • You’ll perform fewer reps on Wednesday. This enhances recovery and may be the best DUP pattern (Zourdos et al. 2016)

This is the 3-day-a-week template we use for people who have been training for less than a year in our bodybuilding workout app Dr. Muscle. For people who have been training for 1 year or more, we use a similar 2-day-a-week template on an A/B split (not shown here).

2. Finish Strong With A “Plus Set” To Find Out How Much Heavier You Should Lift To Keep Building Muscle Fast

In 2010, Dr. Bryan Mann and his team over at the University of Missouri published a scientific study in the The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research (Mann et al. 2010).

They found that if you increase the weight you lift by a set amount each week (like most guys who work out), you may be shooting yourself in the foot.

Instead, you should determine how much weight you add to the bar by using a novel strategy they called autoregulatory progressive resistance exercise (also called “plus sets”). In their study, they had 23 collegiate football players train using two different strategies for progression:

  • Plus sets
  • Increase weights by a set amount each week (for the squat: 3 sets of 8 reps @ 70% 1RM during week 1, 4 sets of 6 reps @ 75% 1RM during week 2, 4 sets of 5 reps @ 80% 1RM during week 3, and 4 sets of 5 reps @ 85% 1RM during week 4)

After 6 weeks of training, the plus set strategy proved superior:

  • Bench press 1RM increased by 93.4 N (vs. -0.40 N for guys who did normal training)
  • Estimated squat 1RM increased by 192.7 N (vs. 37.2 N for guys who did normal training)
  • 225-lb bench press reps to fatigue increased by 3.13 (vs. -0.9 for guys who did normal training)

Bottom line, guys who used the plus set strategy got stronger faster. They were also able to bench press 225 lbs for 3 extra reps after just 6 weeks of training (whereas guys who did normal training weren’t able to do even 1 extra rep).

Why was this strategy superior? The authors explain that it…

Allows adaptation of a particular workout by the individual athlete based on their abilities for that particular day (Mann et al. 2010).

In other words, this strategy makes sure you push yourself every workout, and helps you pick just the right weight to keep building strength and muscle fast.

How to Do a Plus Set To Build Strength (And Muscle) Faster

For a set of 6RM, Dr. Mann et al. (2010) provide the following guidelines:

  • Set 1: do 10 reps at 50% of the anticipated 6RM
  • Set 2: do 6 repetitions at 75% of the anticipated 6RM
  • Set 3: do as many repetitions as you can with 100% of your anticipated 6RM (this is your plus set)
  • Set 4: adjust based on your results from the previous set

How much weight should you add to the bar after your plus set?

  • If you did 5-7 reps, keep weight the same
  • If you did 8-12 reps, add 5-10 lbs
  • If you did >13 reps, add 10-15 lbs

Plus Set Guidelines Relative To Your Own Strength Level

Adding 5 lbs to the bar won’t feel the same if you squat 100 or 1,000 lbs.

So, it makes sense to follow relative guidelines when applying this strategy. I got this tip from Dr. Mike Zourdos on podcasts with Jovanovic (2015) and Iraki (2016).

A big advantage is these guidelines will apply to most exercises, even if they inherently let you lift light weights (e.g. biceps curls) or very heavy weights (e.g. leg press).

I’ve combined Dr. Mann’s and Dr. Zourdos’ guidelines to make the following guidelines for plus sets:

  • Set 1: do 10 reps at 50% of the anticipated 6RM
  • Set 2: do 6 repetitions at 75% of the anticipated 6RM
  • Set 3: do as many repetitions as you can with 100% of your anticipated 6RM
    • If you did 5-7 reps, keep weight the same
    • If you did 8-10 reps, add 1%
    • If you did 10-12 reps, add 2.5%
    • If you did >13 reps, add 4%
  • Set 4: do as many reps as you can with your new weight

Do your plus set at the end of the week (or microcycle). Start your next week (or microcycle) with the new weight you used on your 4th set. Grind that weight all week, and finish the week strong again with a plus set. Rince, repeat. Get strong and big.

Plus sets let you start every week with just the right weight to keep building strength and muscle fast:

  • If you can do lots of extra reps on your plus set, you’ll add more weight, and you’ll keep progressing fast.
  • If you can’t do extra reps on your plus set, you’ll know you need another week with the same weight. You avoid overtraining and even perhaps injuries.

Either way, plus sets help you pick just the right weight to keep building muscle fast in a safe way.

We built in plus sets in our new bodybuilding workout app Dr. Muscle. It automatically prompts you to do a plus set. It logs your results, and it automatically adjusts your weights accordingly. [Note: this feature is next on the list and hasn’t been implemented yet.]

3. Add New Exercises As You Max Out Old Ones To Hypertrophy More Muscle Fibres

Every exercise you do targets some parts of your muscles more than others. So, when you max out an exercise, it makes sense to add a new one to your routine to hypertrophy your muscles fully.

Imagine you work out your chest. Let’s say you do:

  • Incline bench press (targets the clavicular head of your pectoralis major)
  • Decline bench press (targets the sternocostal head of your pectoralis major)

By doing 3 sets of each, you hypertrophy your chest in full—more than you would have if you had done 6 sets of incline bench only.

Exercise scientists call this regional muscle hypertrophy (Antonio 2010). Beardsley (2016) reviewed the science on regional hypertrophy and noted:

Regional hypertrophy may occur because some parts of a muscle are sufficiently activated during an exercise, while others are not. Wakahara et al. (2012; 2013) measured the regional differences in post-exercise muscle activation during a single training session, using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, as well as the regional hypertrophy following a long-term training intervention for the triceps brachii. They found that differences in regional activation in certain parts of a muscle were correlated with increases in muscular size in the same parts of the muscle.

In other words, if you want to hypertrophy your muscles in full, you should do multiple exercises that stimulate growth in different regions of your muscles.

When Should You Add New Exercises To Your Routine?

We’ve just established that should you do multiple exercises to hypertrophy your muscles in full. But if you’re just starting out, there’s no way you can perform 5 exercises for each muscle group. So what should you do? You should add new exercises to your routine as you max out old ones.

Let’s return to our example for the bench press. Imagine you start training the incline bench press. You can expect to progress fast during the first few weeks. But then, progress slows down. A typical progression for an average lifter may be:

  • Day 1: 45 lbs (just the bar)
  • After 2 weeks: 95 lbs (50 lbs increase)
  • After 4 weeks: 115 lbs (20 lbs increase)
  • After 6 weeks: 125 lbs (10 lbs increase)
  • After 8 weeks: 130 lbs (5 lbs increase)

From that point on, your incline press has more or less stalled. It’s almost maxed out. You’ve already gained most of your strength for that exercise. Now that you’re strong and you lift heavy, this exercise stimulates parts of your muscles hard. It has become a good driver for hypertrophy. But this hypertrophy is specific to your upper pectorals.

Instead of (almost) wasting your time training the incline bench press again and again, you would do well to train another (related) exercise to hypertrophy another region of your pectorals. The decline bench press would be perfect in this example, because it targets the bottom of your pectorals.

So, when you should add a new exercise to your routine? The answer is: when your previous exercise for that muscle group has maxed out.

Adding New Exercises In Rotation

Let’s recap. You work out your chest. You start with the incline press. At first, you train the incline press every time you train your chest, because you’re still making progress fast. Your routine looks like this:

  • Day 1: incline press
  • Day 2: incline press
  • Day 3: incline press

After 8 weeks, you’ve maxed out the incline press. You add in the decline press. Your routine now looks like this:

  • Day 1: incline press
  • Day 2: decline press
  • Day 3: incline press
  • Day 4: decline press

This lets you maintain (or even slightly improve) your incline press, while also bringing up your decline press. You train for another 8 weeks, and now you’ve also maxed out your decline press. You add the flat bench press to your rotation. Your routine now looks like this:

  • Day 1: incline press
  • Day 2: decline press
  • Day 3: flat bench press
  • Day 4: decline press
  • Day 5: incline press
  • Day 6: flat bench press

Once again, this routine lets you maintain your incline and decline bench press, while you bring up your flat bench press. You’re now training 3 exercises for your chest, and you hypertrophy your pectorals in full.

This is how you add in new exercises in rotation to your routine. With this strategy, you can get strong and hypertrophy all regions of your muscles. We’ve automated that process in Dr. Muscle with workout plans that progress automatically. As soon as you’ve maxed out the exercises for your level, the app recommends you switch to more advanced workouts that include new exercises in rotation.

You then train both exercises (the old and the new) in rotation, until you’ve maxed both. Following the same logic, the app then recommends you advance to the next level, and so on. With Dr. Muscle, you can hypertrophy your entire muscles, and the process is 100% automated.

A New Workout App That Helps You Build Muscle Faster

Dr. Muscle is like a personal trainer in your phone that helps you build muscle faster. It automates all the training strategies outlined in this article.

  • It’s the world’s first workout app that helps you build muscle faster using daily undulating periodization
  • It automatically and accurately selects your next weights, reps, and sets for you based on your last workouts

Get information about early access to Dr. Muscle today to start building muscle faster.

References

Antonio J. Nonuniform Response of Skeletal Muscle to Heavy Resistance Training: Can Bodybuilders Induce Regional Muscle Hypertrophy? The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 2000;14(1):102-113.

Beardsley C. Regional hypertrophy. Strengthandconditioningresearch.com. Viewed Dec 2016.

Iraki J. Podcast with Dr. Michael Zourdos. Irakinutrition.com. 2016 Sep.

Jovanovic M. Podcast #2: Mike Zourdos on Strength Training. Complementarytraining.net. 2015 Sep.

Nuckols G. Size vs. Strength: How Important is Muscle Growth For Strength Gains? 2016 Nov. Strengtheory.com.

Mann JB, Thyfault JP, Ivey PA, Sayers SP. The effect of autoregulatory progressive resistance exercise vs. linear periodization on strength improvement in college athletes. J Strength Cond Res. 2010 Jul;24(7):1718-23.

Rhea MR, Alvar BA, Burkett LN, Ball SD. A meta-analysis to determine the dose response for strength development. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2003 Mar;35(3):456-64.

Rhea MR, Ball SD, Phillips WT, Burkett LN. A comparison of linear and daily undulating periodized programs with equated volume and intensity for strength. J Strength Cond Res. 2002 May;16(2):250-5.

Zourdos MC, Jo E, Khamoui AV, Lee SR, Park BS, Ormsbee MJ, Panton LB, Contreras RJ, Kim JS. Modified Daily Undulating Periodization Model Produces Greater Performance Than a Traditional Configuration in Powerlifters. J Strength Cond Res. 2016 Mar;30(3):784-91.

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