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By Eric Said - Leader of Learning
on Thursday, 16 February 2017
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Building Mass - Designing high performance hypertrophy training programs


Very little has changed in bodybuilding training principles since my time as Mr Australia.  Besides the development of resistance training equipment and supplementation, the fundamentals are built on the FITT principle including Frequency, Intensity, Time, and Type of training.  Within this includes the rest between sets, cadence of repetitions performed, training split, volume of training load, and order of exercises performed.

I recently conducted a consultation with a client and I was reminded of the magnitude of design-thinking that goes into creating a high performing hypertrophy training program that many people would simply brush over or take for granted when found over the internet.

Below I will outline the four (4) key components you will need to consider when designing your very own hypertrophy training program that is results driven.

  1. Goal & Timeframe

Clearly define your training goals.  This may include how much weight you would like to gain, how much in body composition will include lean muscle mass, body fat, loss of water retention, increase/reduction in girth circumference measurements.

What realistic timeframe would you like to reach your milestones with metrics to follow which may include increase in strength, increased training volume or improved range of motion or form over time.

  1. Training Split

The next step is to design a training split that works best for your lifestyle and availability to train.  I recommend 3:1 ratio of three sessions on with one session off.  This allows you to psychologically train hard for three sessions knowing too well you have a recovery day soon to follow.  Sessions should run for 60 minutes in duration and contain approximately six (6) exercises in each session.

It is important to design a training split that does not align with specific days of the week.  You need to create the variability and resilience to train even the hardest training sessions no matter what day of the week.  For example, training legs on a Friday after a big week at work can be a real test.

I recommend the following training split:

Session 1 – Quadriceps & calves (endurance)

Session 2 – Chest & Biceps

Session 3 – Shoulders & Triceps

Rest Day

Session 4 – Hamstrings & Calves (strength) & Cardio

Session 5 – Back & Shoulder Press

Session 6 – Repeat Session 1

Rest Day

The cycle will continue where Session 6 now becomes session 1.  This allows for the rest day to cycle through each training body part and maintain excitation of muscle fibres and training intensity no matter what the day of the week.

It is very important to separate thighs into quadriceps and hamstrings and calves.  They deserve the focus and energy to build hypertrophy for muscular symmetry and aesthetics to match.

Secondly, it is recommended to train a lower limb followed by an upper limb and torso such as chest and biceps.  However, the reason for session 2 is that it allows you to rest in the seated or laying position while you experience delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) from the previous quadriceps workout.

When designing your training split look out for pre-exhausting muscle fibres that will then be trained in the following training session.  For example, training chest and biceps will ensure that the long head of bicep and front deltoid is activated to ensure that the pectoral muscles are fresh to take the entire load of pre-fatigued stabilisers of the shoulder joint capsule. Another example is training chest prior to triceps between days so that you pre-fatigue the triceps so they are primed 24 hours later for an isolated triceps session which will promote hypertrophy.

The other aspect to take note is posterior-chain versus anterior-chain movement patterns. Session 1, 2 and 3 are predominantly anterior-chain and sessions 4 and 5 are posterior-chain training sessions, which further promotes muscle fatigue and the need for a rest day soon after.

  1. Exercise Selection & Alternative Exercises

Quadriceps & Calves (endurance)

Warm-up: Stationary bike (10 mins)

Training Option A

Training Option B

Leg extension

45oLeg Press (Primary)

BB Squats (Primary)

BB Squats (Secondary)

45oLeg Press (Secondary)

DB Lunges

Hack Squat (plate loaded)

Calf raise (standing)

Calf Raise (seated)


Chest & Biceps

Training Option A

Training Option B

BB Bicep curl (pre-exhaust)

Incline BB bench press

Incline DB bench press

Flat DB bench press

Flat BB Bench Press

Standing Cable Fly (pin loaded)

Incline DB Fly

Seated Pectoral Fly Machine

Seated DB curls (incline)

Cable standing curls (pin loaded)

Seated Machine curls (pin/plate loaded)

BB preacher curls



Shoulders & Triceps

Training Option A

Training Option B

Standing DB rear lateral raise

Standing cable rear lateral raise

Cable face pull w/ rope

BB bent over row (wide grip)

Seated DB lateral raise

Seated lateral raise machine (pin-loaded)

Smith machine upright row

BB upright row

Body weight dips

Standing cable pushdown (straight bar)

Standing cable pushdown (triangle bar)

Cable overhead superset with DB kick backs


Hamstrings & Calves (strength)

Training Option A

Training Option B

Laying hamstring curls

BB stiff-legged deadlifts

Smith machine stiff-legged deadlifts

Calf raise (smith machine)

Calf raise (45o Leg Press)

Cardiovascular – 40 mins incline powerwalk


Back & Shoulder Press

Training Option A

Training Option B

Body weight Pull-ups

Lat Pulldown

Seated cable row (pin-loaded)

BB bent over row

BB deadlift

Seated high row (plate loaded)

DB row (single)

Bodyweight hyper-extension

DB seated shoulder press

Seated shoulder press machine (plate loaded)


  1. Sets & Repetitions

Sets and reps will ultimately distinguish a strength training program to a hypertrophy training program.  You will be required to pyramid up to maximum working sets, followed by drop sets or pyramid negative reps where you flood the target muscle fibres.  This is where microtrauma takes place, which will lead to DOMS and muscle repair, and therefore growth.

When designing high performance hypertrophy training programs I highly recommend that you provide two (2) training options in every session.  This allows you to alternate week to week to promote variation, motivation and attention throughout the entirety of the training program’s lifecycle.

It is important to select one (1) primary lift for the session.  This one exercise demands the attention of 9-10 sets from warm-up through to three working sets, followed by two successive drop sets.

The following exercises would then become a machine of high repetitions 15-20 reps with 4-6 sets which allow you once again flood the muscle.

Linear progressions are effective within a pyramid system.  This allows you to relax the neighbouring joints and focus solely on the full range of motion of the target muscle group.  Your working sets are a time for strength and should be accompanied by 4-6 repetitions and this is why drop sets follow to allow for high repetitions and muscle “burn”.

Spend the time and attention your hypertrophy training deserves no matter what the goals you desire.

Eric Said

Leader of Learning – PT National