5 Training Tactics to Increase Muscle Size

graeme squat

Whether you’re an elite athlete or someone who hits the gym on a regular basis - gaining muscle size is often a goal many of us strive for. Certain athletes need the added mass because of the demands of their sport - think defensive lineman trying to hold the line of scrimmage - while you and I might want some extra muscle to...well, you know why we want more muscle. So you’ve all probably heard it before, use moderate loads, perform them at relatively slow tempos, do 6-12 reps and/or train to failure. While these suggestions could work, you may be missing out on a few simple tactics that could massively (pun intended) help accelerate your muscular gains.

1. Use Heavy Loads and Cluster Them

Instead of using moderate loads and aiming for 8 reps, break your sets into 2 cluster sets. You can surely lift heavier for 4 reps then you can for 8 so why not take 30-60 seconds between each cluster and increase the amount of tension (and stimulus for that matter) being placed on your muscles.

Why this works:

Type 2 muscle fibers have a greater capacity to grow than type 1 fibers do (think sprinter vs an endurance runner). You won’t activate your type 2 fibers unless a certain amount of tension is present, usually above 80% of your 1RM or when the speed of your lift is slow (and not on purpose).

2. When Lifting Heavy, Be Explosive

Instead of actively trying to lift slower during the concentric phase - the lifting phase of the squat for example - be explosive from the bottom of the lift. Although this works reasonably well with moderate loads, it works especially well with heavy loads.

Why this works:

Research suggests that when there is intent to move fast through the concentric phase, not only will you be able to lift heavier, because of an increased use of stored elastic energy, you’ll also recruit more high-threshold MUs - these MUs have a bigger influence on type 2 fibers (refer to point 1).

3. Experiment with Drop Sets

While performing reps to failure may be necessary (at times) to optimize hypertrophic gains, constantly training this way could result in overtraining. Drop sets can be a good alternative. Perform your first set at your normal training load and immediately do another set of the same exercise but cut the load by 25-50%.

Why this works:

Using drop sets may enhance metabolic stress - meaning, a greater buildup of metabolites and an increased anabolic (growth of muscle) environment.

4. Don’t be a Vegetable on Rest Days, Use Higher Rep Ranges

Move through a variety of ranges of motion with lower loads and higher rep ranges (between 13-20) on rest days.

Why this works:

Greater than 15 reps doesn’t have the same effect in increasing muscle hypertrophy because lower loads fail to recruit high threshold MUs (remember, these are most important for optimal muscle growth). But higher rep ranges still provide enough metabolic stress to facilitate recovery and working through a full range of motion may limit stiffness the next time you’re in the gym for a tough session.

5. Employ Real Lifts

If you want to have a uniform growth of muscle throughout your body, skip the preacher curl and do some squats, deads and presses. Many of you may not be aware of this but bodybuilders perform these multi-joint exercises all the time. Don’t believe me? Watch Pumping Iron and you’ll see many clips of Schwarzenegger squatting like a champ.

Why this works:

Multi-joint exercises recruit a larger amount of muscles - the squat activates over 200 muscles in the body! This is especially important post-exercise where research has shown elevated levels of growth-hormone and testosterone, further enhancing the anabolic response.

Although these strategies will surely work, hypertrophy shouldn’t be the focus year-round as this type of training could result in significant fatigue. A well designed plan is still vital for long-term health and gains in athletic performance.


Schoenfeld (2010). The Mechanisms of Muscle Hypertrophy and Their Application to Resistance Training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.

Schoenfeld and Contreras (2014). The Muscle Pump: Potential Mechanisms and Applications for Enhancing Hypertrophic Adaptations. Strength & Conditioning Journal.