Is It Good To Train For Mass (Hypertrophy)?

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Steve Freides

Staff
Senior Certified Instructor
Elite Certified Instructor
A thread in our Bodyweight exercise forum section prompts the creation of this thread.

The OP there asked for advice about putting together a mass-building program. At least one person questioned the wisdom of gaining mass as a general training goal, and I start this thread to move that discussion here and to open it up to others.

I'd like to begin the discussion by suggesting that there are many things to consider here, and perhaps we can start by talking about specific reasons why one might wish to gain mass and specific reasons why would might _not_ wish to gain mass.

-S-
 

Jim Lauerman

Level 6 Valued Member
It is my understanding that increasing muscle mass increases calorie burn and that would appear to be a good thing. When you actually "run the numbers", however, you find that the increased calorie burn is insignificant compared to simply decreasing consumption. I chased the nonsense of "lose weight by gaining more muscle" for years and my reward for all that effort was injury and obesity. I was majoring in minor things.

Since changing my focus to becoming stronger, whether my neuromuscular improvements or by increased mass I find I am able to lose fat while actually maintaining and slightly increasing lean body mass.

At my age (68) and with my goals, that is the fountain of youth. It helps to be so old that the body building mentality loses its appeal.
 

Jared_G_85

Level 3 Valued Member
I'll chime in the best I can...

I think building mass is going to be beneficial depending on your goals and what you are training for. For a strength athlete having bigger muscles is going to have the potential to move more weight. I would say mass is going to beneficial for a Football (American) player as well since the bigger you are the harder you can hit others as well as be able to take a hit as well and it not completely crush you if you were skin and bones.

In ways mass could be negative is for distance runners and weight class athletes such as fighters etc. The more muscle mass you carry the more weight you carry around which isn't going to be of benefit to the marathon runner. The fighter if he/she gains too much mass he would have to move up into a different weight class and potentially not be as competitive since they would be on the lower end of the class.

In general I think going through a phase of training devoted to building "mass" is a good thing. I personally hate these phases of training since I'm not a fan of higher volume but building muscle mass certainly has it's benefits. I think Dan John wrote somewhere that building muscle mass the older we get is important because as we age we slowly lose muscle over time.

In my personal training I've really enjoyed using Ladders but the 3-5 x 2,3,5 method with short rest periods. This way I can use a bit more weight than I would if I were doing just straight sets of 8-10 reps.
 

the hansenator

Level 6 Valued Member
I think it becomes more important as you get older because of the tendency to lose muscle as you age. I suppose muscle could be maintained by training for strength but I think the idea of getting stronger without bulking up becomes less important.
 

IonRod

Level 5 Valued Member
I used to have mass cultivating goals which were mostly fueled by vanity. Once I started getting more into strength training and especially kettlebells, I did an almost complete 180 and don't want mass beyond what I need for my strength goals. The kind of physique Pavel has is what I came to appreciate - lean, efficient look.

Another thing that I came to realize about big muscle-bound guys is how much maintenance their body needs. When I look at how much my body-building colleague eats (probably needs to eat) every day, I don't envy him.

Then there are issues with huge mass that are similar to fat people - difficult to shop for clothes, uncomfortable during travel.

I also think that I am too lazy to train for mass, since those protocols usually require a lot of reps, pushing to failure and "burn". Pavel made me lazy - I like easy strength :p
 

Steve Freides

Staff
Senior Certified Instructor
Elite Certified Instructor
There are many different approaches out there. Just a few days ago, I was following a link that started on this forum, and then clicked through to a few more things. I ended up reading a long article, filled with descriptions of all different kinds of things one could do, various combinations of limit strength, speed strength, strength-endurance, and others I can't remember, and how to go about each one by using certain percentages, additional things like bands and chains, and precise guidance about implementing all of these things.

The last, or nearly last, sentence of the article was "Don't forget to perfect your form" or words very similar to that. It made me smile - here at StrongFirst, that would have been the focus and not the afterthought.

No one needs to try to find this article, btw - I don't mean to cast aspersions on any person or organization or approach, but reading this did remind me of how different we are from at least some of the things going on in the world of training out there.

-S-
 

Oscar

Level 6 Valued Member
With the exeption of people who compete in sports with weight categories (or distance runners and the like), I havent met anyone who suffered for having too big muscles.

I´m not training for mass at the moment, but I think I would be more functional, healthier and stronger if I carried about 4 additional kg of muscle. I would prefer these muscles to come from training for strength than from training for mass though.
 

pet'

Level 8 Valued Member
Hello,

I do not think this is good or bad to train for mass. There are lots of variables, lots of goals. I am not sure it is possible to be exhaustive related to these reasons.

If we go to "caricature", a climber or a marathoner has to stay relatively light. However, the first one (beyond a good climbing technique mastery), has to be strong as well. The marathoner does not need that much strength.

On the other hand, a "strongman" or weightlifter can train for mass (as long as he above all gain muscle)

Some athletes does not necesarily train for mass, but get to a kind of "optimal ratio" between mass and physical abilities (strength, endurance, power, etc...). In this category, I'd consider gymnasts or MMA fighter (for example) or even crossfitters. A good "ratio" in terms of muscle mass & hypertrophy does not penalize mobility, too much does.

I mainly train as a "prepper", so I aim for general physical preparedness. In this case, having more mass can be beneficial if: I have to fight, I have to carry, if I am in a cold environment. The drawback is that if I have "too much" mass, I will lose endurance if I have to walk, will consume more calories to maintain my body @100% and will be in trouble in hot environment.

Kind regards,

Pet'
 

North Coast Miller

Level 7 Valued Member
Most members of the opposite sex do not care one bit how strong you are. So aside from the metabolic benefits, added cushion against sarcopenia as one ages, and increased high intensity muscular endurance, muscle mass is a sign of vitality both sexes recognize and appreciate to some extent, the length and breadth of the animal kingdom.

Unless one is training for a sport that uses weight classes or strength to weight is an important aspect, I can't think of any reason NOT to train for some mass gains. Or at the least why one would actively avoid periodizing with mass building protocols. If you don't eat more, all that will happen is you gain some of the benefits of a mass protocol without the added mass.

As you get older you will realize how rapidly muscle mass can be lost if not cultivated. Look at the body comp of older folk - normally very short on muscle or very heavy on fat. Almost universally the glutes have all but disappeared. I ain't going out like that without a fight.

FWIW, I have worked physical jobs my entire life, I have never been outworked by someone because they were top end stronger than me, or outworked anyone else because I was top end stronger than them. I have outworked many by having greater high end endurance. Likewise the MA I have studied are not dependent on top end strength either. Strength comes in many forms.

While I no longer actively train for mass gains (mostly because I cannot eat enough to support them for any length of time) I am absolutely convinced of the utility of that type of training whether one is getting huge or not. I cannot imagine ignoring it when planning one's periodizing.


As an anecdote - The hole in the wall gym I used to train at had the usual mix of powerlifters, bodybuilders and an equal contingent of GPP folks, some of whom were extremely strong and swole, using a blend of both methods.

There was a lot of good-natured ribbing between the power lifters and BB folk, good for added encouragement.
One Sunday I showed up for my chest day and the only other serious lifter was one of the powerlifters, so we wound up benching together. He had 20 pounds on me (195 to 175) and also training powerlifting his top end 1 rep/max was over 100lbs more than my BBing 300 lb best.

Still, while working up to our max I hit 250 for over a dozen reps - 15 with a spot on the last two. I stood up he paid me a fantastic compliment - "I didn't realize you were that strong."

Is all good, unless someone is paying you to train a certain way, train what you enjoy. You'll still get a ton of benefit either way.


 

the hansenator

Level 6 Valued Member
As I get older I found that I have to eat less and less to avoid gaining mass around the middle. It was actually kind of a paradigm shift getting used to how little food I need now. Then I consider how much some bodybuilders need to eat to maintain their physiques and I wonder if a good bodybuilding program would allow me to eat more like I used to. Not that I ever ate as much as some of those guys do, but I'm not trying to be as big as they are either.
 

Sean M

Level 6 Valued Member
I used to have mass cultivating goals which were mostly fueled by vanity. Once I started getting more into strength training and especially kettlebells, I did an almost complete 180 and don't want mass beyond what I need for my strength goals. The kind of physique Pavel has is what I came to appreciate - lean, efficient look.

Another thing that I came to realize about big muscle-bound guys is how much maintenance their body needs. When I look at how much my body-building colleague eats (probably needs to eat) every day, I don't envy him.

Then there are issues with huge mass that are similar to fat people - difficult to shop for clothes, uncomfortable during travel.

I also think that I am too lazy to train for mass, since those protocols usually require a lot of reps, pushing to failure and "burn". Pavel made me lazy - I like easy strength :p
Right on. I see many downsides to training (and eating, and in general orienting my life around) to gain and maintain above-average muscle mass.

I just want to be “stronger than average” - for health, longevity, and vitality/anti-frailty - and not have a gut and man boobs - for asthetics. Diet is 80%+ of that, but strength training has a role too.

“Easy strength” and minimalist protocols like S&S deliver that.
 

North Coast Miller

Level 7 Valued Member
As I get older I found that I have to eat less and less to avoid gaining mass around the middle. It was actually kind of a paradigm shift getting used to how little food I need now. Then I consider how much some bodybuilders need to eat to maintain their physiques and I wonder if a good bodybuilding program would allow me to eat more like I used to. Not that I ever ate as much as some of those guys do, but I'm not trying to be as big as they are either.
I recently made a run at bulking up after doing a strength period. My reps went up, began pushing to failure a little more reliably. Added about 800 + extra calories, an entire extra meal. My belt did not go up a single hole and I gained over 16lbs in three months.

I was able to keep up with my workouts but I could not keep up with the food...
Started slacking, the weight came right back off, and I had to reduce volume and intensity. I know there is not a ton of definitive research but anecdotally a powerlifting routine burns more calories than a mass building protocol.

That said, when I train for mass I have a very difficult time maintaining my weight. I suspect if one were to compare total training minutes, the outcome might be different - my workouts tend to be short and intense. In fact when I eat more the first thing I notice is my upper end endurance increases considerably.

Nutrition is probably the biggest reason I DON'T train that way more often, I don't have enough appetite to keep my BW over 185 pounds or so.
 

IonRod

Level 5 Valued Member
Still, while working up to our max I hit 250 for over a dozen reps - 15 with a spot on the last two. I stood up he paid me a fantastic compliment - "I didn't realize you were that strong."
Can you imagine the reverse if you are "swole" and fail at something that others expect you to lift or do based on your looks? Out of politness people might not say it, but they will think it. "Well, he turns out to be weaker than he looks". I like to underpromise and overdeliver.
 

Stuart Elliott

Level 6 Valued Member
I feel better with a bit of muscle on, but that doesn't mean I need to be bulging at each limb. I can get pretty much what I need from something like S&S and Double front squats.
 

MattM

SFG1
Certified Instructor
Can you imagine the reverse if you are "swole" and fail at something that others expect you to lift or do based on your looks? Out of politness people might not say it, but they will think it. "Well, he turns out to be weaker than he looks". I like to underpromise and overdeliver.
I believe that is called "Looks like Tarzan plays like Jane".

And if anyone is looking for something to be offended by, this is not me saying that women are weak.
 

North Coast Miller

Level 7 Valued Member
Can you imagine the reverse if you are "swole" and fail at something that others expect you to lift or do based on your looks? Out of politness people might not say it, but they will think it. "Well, he turns out to be weaker than he looks". I like to underpromise and overdeliver.
Is just an example of strength curves. Imagine me telling him he was weak because he couldn't hit 13 reps at 85% 1RM even tho his max was far above my own. Is he underdelivering or was I overdelivering - or are we both just getting the results we trained for? And keep in mind, at 175-180 lbs I was still pretty dang strong...In fact I don't recall anyone training there who wasn't moving big weight whatever their protocol. This bloated underpowered bodybuilding stereotype is something I have little personal experience of.

The failure to live up to the expectations of some uninformed third party image is not even a consideration. How weak is someone going to be if they reach a high level of mass development? Another angle - would you personally feel any less bad if you publicly attempted some feat of strength you felt you could execute and failed, just because that same uninformed third party didn't expect you to succeed in the first place? Your expectations are the ones that need to be met or exceeded.
 

Antti

Level 9 Valued Member
There clearly are certain sports like cycling, gymnastics, climbing and long distance running, which require the person to have low overall or disproportionate muscle mass. Training for these sports should be specific, and I would avoid hypertrophy training.

In other sports a certain amount of muscle mass is typically beneficial. Prime examples of this are weightlifting and powerlifting. As is fitting, these sports have weight classes. This is because higher weight gives an advantage. Competitive athletes in these sports, apart from the heaviest of classes, have generally rather low percentages of body fat. Therefore, the muscle mass gives a distinct advantage in strength, and therefore the sport. One more thing to consider is that, especially in these sports, one shouldn't necessarily think of weight classes but height classes. Why is this? Because it is rare, that a taller person in a weight class, again apart from the superheavies, is competitive with a shorter one; because the shorter one is more muscular for his height. In some other sports this advantage is obviously not so clearly cut, as we have variables like reach.

Hypertrophy and muscle mass can be also seen as a question of aesthetics. It makes an excellent conversation point, but as aesthetics is a relative matter, we can't find truth per se in the discussion. We all have our own ideas of what pleases our own eyes.

We should also consider muscle mass from the viewpoint of general health. Muscle mass has, for long, been seen as a pretty good indicator of life expectancy. Now, things are not, of course, black and white. There are a multitude of variables, like diseases accelerating sarcopenia, which may lead one to question whether the egg or the chicken came first. In any case, muscle mass is beneficial to one's health, especially as we age. Sadly, many people awake to this truth when they already are older, when they no longer have as much possibilities for the hypertrophy. So, it stands to reason, that one should attempt to build the muscle mass when he can do it the best and with the least effort.

Lastly, there are plenty of wise and experienced athletes and strength coaches who advocate a certain amount of hypertrophy training, in addition to strength training. Tommy Kono is an excellent example of such an athlete; he won two gold medals in the Olympics in weightlifting, and between the competitions two won Mr. Universe contests in bodybuilding. In Easy Strength Dan John and Pavel Tsatsouline speak fondly of hypertrophy training. I think it's wise to heed the advice of such men. If I do it with my strength training; why would I dismiss their advice when it comes to other aspects of my physical well-being?
 
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