Programming for Hypertrophy

Programming for Hypertrophy

In this, the final installment of our Programming 101 series, we will discuss programming for muscle gain. While the majority of your clients will likely approach you with the goal of training for weight loss, you will probably also encounter some clients who are primarily aiming to add muscle mass to their frame. This is especially true if you work with athletes or with other younger personal training clients. That said, even online personal training clients who are more interested in losing fat can benefit from building muscle mass.

Exercise Selection

When programming for increasing muscle mass it is important to incorporate multi-joint exercises such as the bench press, back squat, bent row and so on in order to stimulate the most muscle fibers and trigger a greater hormonal response to the resistance stimulus. Single joint exercises such as biceps curls or leg extensions can be incorporated as well, but should take a back seat to the multi-joint moves. Program the multi-joint exercises toward the beginning of the workout, while your client is fresh, and then taper in single-joint exercises later in the workout.

Resistance/Rep Range/Rest

While not every set necessarily needs to be taken to failure, enough resistance should be used so as to challenge your client in the 8 to 12 rep range. If your client is able to surpass that range, they are probably not using enough resistance. Conversely, if your client is unable to reach 8 reps, they should lighten the resistance a bit. This 8 to 12 rep range has consistently been shown to break down and subsequently build back up the most muscle fibers of any rep range when combined with the appropriate rest and resistance. Speaking of rest, this will largely depend on your client and the specific exercise that they are performing, but a good starting point should be around 90 seconds of rest between each set.  Longer rest periods may be appropriate for multi-joint exercises while shorter rest periods can likely be used effectively with single joint exercises.


While completing some cardio is always advised, it will be difficult for many clients to gain muscle mass if they consistently complete a large amount of cardio. Have your client continue to complete steady state cardio one or two days per week, but shift the focus of their cardio to high-intensity interval training, which has been shown to increase muscle mass.

Programming for Hypertrophy can be a challenge, but it can also be a lot of fun as you get to experience new milestones along with your clients. So long as you safely incorporate the appropriate exercises along with the optimal set, rep, resistance, and rest schemes, your client should see the gains they’re looking for.

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Matthew Johnson is a fitness writer, personal trainer, strength coach, as well as a former gym owner. Matthew holds an MBA from The University of Memphis and a Master’s in Exercise Science from Middle Tennessee State University. Matthew has also earned the Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist credential from the NSCA. Matthew recently published his first book, 300 30 Minute Workouts for Busy People, and lives in Memphis, TN with his wife, Anna, and their dog Henderson, and cat, Sox.

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