Optimal Load for Hipertrophy


Warm up as you did for 1-RM testing. Adhere to the same schedule as used in the 1-RM testing (i.e., Testing Session 1, 2, 3). Allow 24 hours of rest between individual testing sessions. For each resistance training exercise to be performed in the testing session, follow the procedures below:

Perform 2 warm-up sets of 12 reps using 35% of your pre-determined 1-RM. Rest 1 minute between each set. After resting another minute, select a load that represents 70% of your 1-RM. Perform as many continuous reps as possible through a full range of motion using proper form. Do not rest or pause between reps. If at all possible, have a partner record the time it takes you to complete your set using a stopwatch. This is much preferred to simply counting repetitions.

Write down the load lifted, how long it took you to perform your set, and the number of reps performed. Rest 5 minutes before proceeding to the next exercise in that training session. Allow 24 hours of rest before proceeding to the next testing session.

Once all three 70% of 1-RM testing sessions have been completed, rest 24 hours and repeat the entire cycle for each of 75% of your 1-RM, 80% of your 1-RM, 85% of your 1-RM, and 90% of your 1-RM.

You donít have to use the precise figures I gave above, i.e., 70%, 75%, 80%, etc. However, using loads less than 70% of your 1-RM is likely to be relatively inefficient for stimulating muscle hypertrophy. I base this statement largely on empirical grounds, i.e., observing first-hand what ëworksí, or at least, what appears to work.

Further, the more submaximal loads (i.e., between 70% and 100%) you test, the more precisely you will be able to determine your optimal load for any given exercise. However, it neednít take more than a few tests to get a pretty fair estimate. Hereís an example:

Your 1-RM in the barbell flat bench press is 345 pounds. It takes you 6 seconds to complete one repetition, after which you cannot complete another repetition without resting or reducing the load.

Work = Force times Distance

Work Rate (a.k.a. Power) = Work divided by Time

The ëRep-Poundí: Your Clue to the Optimal Load
Since the distance covered is the same for each rep, we can just multiply the magnitude of the load (e.g., in pounds)(representing the amount of force generated by your muscles) times the number of reps performed (representing distance covered) to get the quantity of work. For your single rep of the bench press with 345 pounds, this yields:

345 * 1 = 345 ërep-poundsí

Now to get your work rate, just divide 345 ërep-lbí by 6 seconds. Thatís 57.5 ërep-lbí/s. This is your work rate for that particular set.

70% of your 1-RM in the bench press is 0.70(345) = 242 lb. You can lift this weight for 18 reps, which takes you 47 seconds. Thatís a work rate of 242*18/47 = 93 ërep-lbí/s.

85% of your 1-RM in the bench press is 0.85(345) = 293 lb. You can lift this weight for 9 reps, which takes you 25 seconds. Thatís a work rate of 293*9/25 = 105.48 ërep-lbí/s.

So far, 85% appears to be your ëoptimalí load in the barbell flat bench press. A few more tests will define it even more precisely.

What makes the optimal load…err…‘optimal’?

To the extent that any workout makes your muscles sustain a maximal product of internal work rate (i.e., how hard the muscle fibers are actually working metabolically) X duration (i.e., for how long), it will cause them to get bigger (hypertrophy). That’s the R.O.B. training concept.

When you lift your ‘optimal’ load as many times as you can, you are satisfying the R.O.B. concept as much as is possible within the context of a single set.