Progression Models in Resistance Training for Healthy Adults

Nicholas A. Ratamess, Ph.D.; Brent A. Alvar, Ph.D.; Tammy K. Evetoch, Ph.D., FACSM; Terry J. Housh, Ph.D., FACSM (Chair); W. Ben Kibler, M.D., FACSM; William J. Kraemer, Ph.D., FACSM; N. Travis Triplett, Ph.D.


March 01, 2010

In This Article

Program Design Recommendations for Increasing Muscle Hypertrophy

Muscle Action

Evidence Statement and Recommendation.Evidence Category A. Similar to strength training,[55,112,131] it is recommended that CON, ECC, and ISOM muscle actions be included for novice, intermediate, and advanced RT.

Loading and Volume

A variety of styles of training have been shown to increase hypertrophy in men and women.[3,49,157,249] In untrained individuals, similar increases in lean body mass have been shown between single- and multiple-set training,[175,228] although there is evidence supporting greater hypertrophy enhancement with multiple-set training.[231] Many of these studies in previously untrained individuals have demonstrated that general, nonspecific program design is effective for increasing hypertrophy in novice to intermediate individuals. Manipulation of acute program variables to optimize both the mechanical and the metabolic factors (using several loading/volume schemes) appears to be the most effective way to optimize hypertrophy during advanced stages of training. RT programs targeting muscle hypertrophy have used moderate to very high loading, relatively high volume, and short rest intervals.[75,157] These programs have been shown to induce a greater acute elevation in testosterone and GH than high-load, low-volume programs with long (3 min) rest periods.[91,151,152] Total work, in combination with mechanical loading, has been implicated for both gains in strength and hypertrophy.[190] This finding has been supported, in part, by greater hypertrophy associated with high-volume, multiple-set programs compared with low-volume, single-set programs in resistance-trained individuals.[149,155,169] Traditional RT (high load, low repetition, and long rest periods) has produced significant hypertrophy;[96,258] however, it has been suggested that the total work involved with traditional RT alone may not maximize hypertrophy. Goto et al.[91] showed that the addition of one set per exercise (to a conventional RT workout) consisting of light loading for 25-35 repetitions led to increased muscle CSA whereas conventional strength training alone (e.g., multiple sets of 3-5 RM) did not increase muscle CSA. The addition of the high-volume sets led to greater acute elevations in GH.[91] However, light loading alone may not be sufficient as Campos et al.[33] have reported that 8 wk of training with two sets of 25-28 RM did not result in Type I or Type II muscle fiber hypertrophy. Thus, it appears that the combination of strength training (emphasizing mechanical loading) and hypertrophy training, that is, moderate loading, high repetitions, short rest intervals, which emphasizes total work (and reliance upon glycolysis and metabolic factors), is most effective for advanced hypertrophy training.

Evidence Statement and Recommendation.Evidence Category A. For novice and intermediate individuals, it is recommended that moderate loading be used (70-85% of 1 RM) for 8-12 repetitions per set for one to three sets per exercise.[3,49,157,175,228,249]

Evidence Category C. For advanced training, it is recommended that a loading range of 70-100% of 1 RM be used for 1-12 repetitions per set for three to six sets per exercise in periodized manner such that the majority of training is devoted to 6-12 RM and less training devoted to 1-6 RM loading.[149,155,169]

Exercise Selection and Order

Both single- and multiple-joint exercises increase hypertrophy, and the complexity of the exercises chosen has been shown to affect the time course of hypertrophy such that multiple-joint exercises require a longer neural adaptive phase than single-joint exercises.[37] Less is understood concerning the effect of exercise order on muscle hypertrophy. Although exceptions exist (e.g., using an opposite sequencing strategy to induce higher levels of fatigue), it appears that the recommended exercise sequencing guidelines for strength training apply for increasing muscle hypertrophy.

Evidence Statement and Recommendation. Evidence Category A. It is recommended that single- and multiple-joint free-weight and machine exercises be included in an RT program in novice, intermediate, and advanced individuals.[30,157,169,172,178,248,249,250,274]

Evidence Category C. For exercise sequencing, an order similar to strength training is recommended.[244,245,256]

Rest Periods

The amount of rest between sets and exercises significantly affects the metabolic[221] and the hormonal[158] responses to an acute bout of resistance exercise. Rest period length significantly affects muscular strength, but less is known concerning hypertrophy. One study reported no significant difference between 30-, 90-, and 180-s rest intervals in muscle girth, skinfolds, or body mass in recreationally trained men over 5 wk.[230] Ahtiainen et al.[3] showed that 3 months of training with 5-min rest intervals produced similar increase in muscle CSA to training with 2-min rest intervals. Short rest periods (1-2 min) coupled with moderate to high intensity and volume have elicited the greatest acute anabolic hormonal response in comparison to programs utilizing very heavy loads with long rest periods.[151,152] The acute hormonal responses have been regarded potentially more important for hypertrophy than chronic changes.[177] It appears a range of rest intervals may be used effectively to target hypertrophy depending on training intensity. In that regard, training for muscular hypertrophy alone may differ from training for strength or power per se because the explicit objective is to produce an anabolic environment.

Evidence Statement and Recommendation.Evidence Category C. It is recommended that 1- to 2-min rest periods be used in novice and intermediate training programs. For advanced training, rest period length should correspond to the goals of each exercise or training phase such that 2- to 3-min rest periods may be used with heavy loading for core exercises and 1-2 min may be used for other exercises of moderate to moderately high intensity.[3,151,152]

Repetition Velocity

Less is known concerning the effect of repetition velocity on hypertrophy. In untrained individuals, fast (1:1) and moderate to slow (3:3) velocities of training produced similar changes in elbow flexor girth after 6 wk of training.[192] However, 8 wk of fast (210°·s−1) ECC isokinetic training produced larger increases in Type II muscle fiber CSA than slow (20°·s−1) training,[241] and 8 wk of fast ECC (180°·s−1) isokinetic training produced greater hypertrophy than slow ECC (30°·s−1), fast and slow CON training.[64] For dynamic constant external RT, it has been suggested that higher velocities of movement pose less of a stimulus for hypertrophy than slow and moderate velocities. However, intentional slow velocities require significant reductions in loading and result in less of a blood lactate response and less metabolic response when total training time is equated.[129] It does appear that the use of different velocities is warranted for long-term improvements in hypertrophy for advanced training.

Evidence Statement and Recommendation.Evidence Category C. It is recommended that slow to moderate velocities be used by novice- and intermediate-trained individuals. For advanced training, it is recommended that slow, moderate, and fast repetition velocities be used depending on the load, the repetition number, and the goals of the particular exercise.[64,192]


The frequency of training depends upon the number of muscle groups trained per workout as well as the volume and intensity. Frequencies of 2-3 d·wk−1 have been effective in novice and intermediate men and women.[34,49,116] Higher frequency of RT has been suggested for advanced hypertrophy training. However, only certain muscle groups are trained per workout with a high frequency.

Evidence Statement and Recommendation.Evidence Category A. It is recommended that a frequency of 2-3 d·wk−1 be used for novice training (when training the total body each workout).[34,49,116]

Evidence Category B. For intermediate training, the recommendation is similar for total-body workouts or 4 d·wk−1 when using an upper/lower body split routine (each major muscle group trained twice per week).

Evidence Category C. For advanced training, a frequency of 4-6 d·wk−1 is recommended. Muscle group split routines (one to three muscle groups trained per workout) are common enabling higher volume per muscle group.