Building Muscle: A Practical Guide to Maximizing Muscle Growth

Standing overhead press for bigger shoulders


Building a stronger, more muscular physique is a common goal for fitness enthusiasts, athletes, and those seeking better health. In the world of exercise, resistance training (RT) takes the spotlight as a powerful tool to foster strength and stimulate muscle hypertrophy—the process of muscle growth. 

For individuals who have mastered the fundamentals of weightlifting and are seeking more significant muscle growth, incorporating advanced training techniques can provide the necessary stimulus to break through plateaus and achieve new gains.

As we dive into the findings of an in-depth review on maximizing muscle hypertrophy through advanced resistance training techniques, we’ll unravel the complexities and present practical insights for beginners and seasoned fitness enthusiasts. 

The Basics of Muscle Growth

Before we dive into fancy techniques, let’s recap the essentials. Muscle growth, or hypertrophy, happens when two factors come together:

  • Mechanical tension: This is the stress you put on your muscles when you lift weights. The heavier the weight, the more tension. The heavier you lift, the heavier the mechanical tension is.
  • Metabolic stress: This is the burning sensation you feel in your muscles during a workout. It’s caused by a build-up of metabolic byproducts like lactate, hydrogen ions, etc. 

So, the ideal workout program should hit both factors right on the sweet spot. Most hypertrophy-focused programs involve 3-6 sets of 6-12 repetitions with moderate weight (60-80% of your one-rep max) and short rest periods (60 seconds). Then, as you progress, you gradually increase the volume (total number of sets) to keep challenging your muscles.

Now, let’s delve into the world of advanced resistance training techniques supported by research:

#1 Tempo Eccentric Technique:

Before getting into the details of this technique, let’s first understand the four different movement phases while performing any exercise.

  • Eccentric phase: This is where the muscle lengthens while it generates force, often called the lowering phase. For example, when lowering yourself in a squat or bringing the weight down in a bicep curl.
  • Transition phase: It is the brief moment between the end of the eccentric phase and the beginning of the concentric phase. 
  • Concentric phase: It is also known as the “lifting” or “pushing” phase, where your muscles shorten to generate force and move the weight. For example, standing up from a squat or lifting the weight in a bicep curl.
  • Transition phase: Similar to the transition phase between eccentric and concentric phases, this is another brief pause or change in direction between the concentric and eccentric phases. 

In exercise, tempo refers to the speed at which you perform each movement phase. It’s usually represented by a series of numbers, such as 2/0/1/0, corresponding to the duration (in seconds) of particular phases of movement (eccentric, transition, concentric, transition). 

Now, let us dive into the Tempo Eccentric Technique!

What is Tempo Eccentric Technique? 

It involves slowing down the tempo during the eccentric or the lowering part of the movement. 

How does it work? 

Varying movement tempo can impact the number of repetitions and time under tension, influencing muscle hypertrophy. Research suggests that faster tempos lead to more reps. In comparison, slower tempos, especially during the lowering phase, result in fewer reps but more time under tension, influencing muscle hypertrophy.

Studies indicate that a wide range of manipulation of the duration of the eccentric phase of movement can be employed if the primary goal of training is to maximize muscle hypertrophy. Employing a controlled duration of the eccentric phase (~2s) may allow for a high time efficiency of training and prevent the excessive time of training sessions. 

#2 Accentuated Eccentric Loading (AEL)

What is it? 

It involves overloading the muscles during the eccentric phase of the movement. Weight releasers are employed to increase the load during the eccentric phase, followed by unloading weight during the transition to the concentric phase. 

How does it work? 

High loads during eccentric movements are linked to significant exercise-induced muscle damage and mechanical tension, both associated with muscle growth. Some studies suggest that eccentric-only contractions result in greater muscle mass gains than concentric-only actions. However, recent research indicates that when training volume is matched, both AEL and high-load resistance training yield similar muscle growth responses in strength-trained individuals.

Despite this, variations in muscle architecture adaptations are observed, with concentric-only training leading to muscle growth primarily by adding sarcomeres in parallel. At the same time, eccentric-only contractions result in the addition of sarcomeres in series. Additionally, due to the greater mechanical tension, AEL may offer an added stimulus for muscle growth. 

#3 Low-Load Resistance Training Under Blood Flow Restriction (BFR):

What is it? 

Traditional training methods include either high-load training to create mechanical tension or low-load training, which often requires many repetitions until the muscles are exhausted, which causes metabolic stress. Low-load resistance training under BFR involves combining low-load RT with a restrictive device to enhance metabolic stress. 

How does it work? 

In blood flow restriction training, straps or cuffs are applied to the limbs, typically arms or legs, to partially restrict blood flow to the muscles while exercising. This restriction creates a unique environment where, even with lighter weights, the muscles still experience fatigue and stress, similar to what would be achieved with heavier weights or high-repetition training. So, this method offers a way to stimulate muscle growth and strength gains without using heavy weights or doing a high volume of repetitions.

#4 Cluster Sets:

What is it? 

Typically, in regular sets, you do a group of exercises one after the other with a long rest between sets. But with cluster sets, you take short breaks (about 20-60 seconds) between smaller sets of exercises. 

How does it work? 

While findings related to muscle hypertrophy are limited, using these short breaks lets you do more reps with the heavyweight in less time. However, it should be noted that cluster sets induce less metabolic stress. Still, greater emphasis is placed on mechanical stress due to higher training intensities of effort than traditional sets.

#5 Supersets and Pre-exhaustion Technique

What is it?

Supersets usually involve performing two exercises consecutively without rest for the same or opposite muscles or alternating between upper and lower body exercises. For instance, you might do a flat bench press immediately followed by an inclined bench press to work for the same muscle groups, perform a leg extension followed by hamstring curls to target opposing muscle groups or combine push-ups with squats to engage both upper and lower body muscles.

Pre-exhaustion means doing a single-joint exercise before a multi-joint exercise for the same muscles, for example, performing leg extensions before a leg press. 

How does it work? 

Studies have indicated that supersets lead to a significantly higher training volume and are time-efficient compared to traditional exercise orders, which helps in muscle hypertrophy. This advantage is seen for the supersets involving opposite muscle groups and upper and lower body muscle groups. However, studies found that the supersets involving the same muscle group had a significantly lower training volume than a traditional exercise order. Whereas performing supersets on opposite muscle groups, or upper and lower body, led to a significantly higher training volume when compared to a traditional exercise order.

The pre-exhaustion technique aims to fatigue the target muscle independently via single joint exercise. It places greater stress on the target muscle increasing its activation during subsequent multi-joint exercises, potentially enhancing muscle growth. 

Suppose you are looking to maximize your training volume and intensity. In that case, it might be beneficial to incorporate supersets, particularly those involving agonist-antagonist pairs or upper-lower body exercises, into your resistance training routines. These exercise sequences offer greater time efficiency than traditional methods, which is particularly advantageous when time constraints are a factor in planning training sessions.

#6 Drop Sets and Sarcoplasma Stimulating Training (SST):

What is it? 

Drop sets involve lifting weights until you’re exhausted, then quickly reducing the weight (e.g., ~20%) and lifting again until you’re tired once more. This method is aimed at causing a lot of stress on your muscles because you’re doing many repetitions with short breaks in between. Drop sets involve reducing the load after reaching fatigue, promoting high metabolic stress. 

Like drop sets, sarcoplasm stimulating training (SST) involves doing exercises until you’re exhausted, typically lifting weights at 70–80% of 1RM until you can’t do any more repetitions. Then, you take short breaks of about 20 seconds before repeating this process two more times. Next, you decrease the weight by 20% and do another set of exercises with a 4/0/1/0 tempo; following a 20 s rest interval, 20% of the external load is reduced again, and a set with 4/0/1/0 tempo is completed to volitional fatigue.

In the last set, the load is further decreased by 20%, and after its completion, following a 20 s rest interval, a static hold is performed. Another variation of SST involves doing eight sets of exercises at 70-80% 1RM but with different rest intervals (45, 30, 15, 5, 5, 15, 30, and 45 s) between each set without reducing the weight.

How does it work? 

Both drop sets and sarcoplasm stimulating training (SST) aim to induce high metabolic stress by performing many repetitions with short rest intervals. Drop sets have resulted in thicker muscles than regular weightlifting routines, particularly in less experienced individuals. However, in well-trained individuals, drop sets may offer little benefit for lower body muscle growth when training volume is equalized.

On the other hand, SST has demonstrated more significant acute increases in muscle thickness in trained individuals, even with lower training volume than traditional routines. While drop sets and SST show promise for acute muscle growth, research on their long-term effects, especially with SST, still needs to be done.

Choosing the Right Technique

With so many options, picking the right one can be overwhelming. Here are some tips:

  • Consider your experience level: Beginners should learn the basics before diving into advanced techniques.
  • Consider your goals: Are you seeking pure muscle mass or a mix of muscle and strength? Some techniques (AEL) might be better for one than the other.
  • Listen to your body: Don’t push yourself too hard or overdo it with advanced techniques. You risk injury and burnout.
  • Talk to your trainer: They can help you design a program incorporating advanced techniques safely and effectively.


While these advanced techniques offer exciting possibilities for muscle growth, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Muscle growth requires a thoughtful combination of mechanical tension and metabolic stress. Tailoring your approach to personal goals, considering factors like time efficiency and individual preferences, is crucial.

Always remember that consistency in training and maintaining a balanced diet are essential for sustainable, long-term muscle growth and overall fitness. No fancy technique can magically build muscle if you don’t put in the work. But by adding these advanced methods to your toolbox, you can keep your workouts exciting, challenge your muscles in new ways, and smash those plateaus to reach your muscle-building goals.


  • Choenfeld, Brad J., et al. (2020). Maximizing Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review of Advanced Resistance Training Techniques and Methods. Journal of Sports Medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), vol. 51, no. 8, pp. 751-764. Available at: [Accessed 9 Feb. 2024].

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