Functional Hypertrophy Training: The Ultimate Guide!


Functional Hypertrophy Training

“Functional hypertrophy training” means that you are training to increase the size of your fast-twitch muscle fibers.

The fast-twitch muscle fibers are the ones with the most potential to grow bigger and stronger. If you want to build an impressive physique and get freaky strong then functional hypertrophy training is for you!

Introduction

  • Part 1: Fast-Twitch Giant Sets
  • Part 2: Fast-Twitch Drop Sets
  • Part 3: Isometric Training
  • Part 4: Rest-Pause Training
  • Part 5: Eccentric Training

In this comprehensive guide I will teach you exactly how to use these advanced training methods to build slabs of functional hypertrophy all over your body. I think you will be shocked at how effective these training methods are for building size and strength.

Functional hypertrophy is incredibly important for anyone looking to get bigger and stronger. It can easily “make or break” your progress in the gym. Here is what the world-class German strength coach Wolfgang Unsoeld has to say about functional hypertrophy training:

“Functional hypertrophy is the foundation of consistent results as it allows much more continuous progress in training.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself! When I think of functional hypertrophy I think of some of the biggest and strongest bodybuilders, powerlifters and strongmen of all time including Mariusz Pudzianowski, Dorian Yates and Larry Wheels. All three of these men have incredible physiques and are every bit as strong as they look.

Here is the world’s strongest bodybuilder Larry Wheels overhead pressing a mind-boggling 515 pounds:

Incredible! Larry Wheels trains for functional hypertrophy and it shows in his physique and on the powerlifting platform.

If you want to train for functional hypertrophy then you must know the best rep ranges and the best time under tension ranges. According to the Canadian strength coach Charles Poliquin the best way to train for functional hypertrophy is to train in the 4-8 rep range.

Here is a great graph showing the optimal rep ranges for different training goals:

Optimal Rep Ranges For Different Goals

  • Relative Strength: 1-5 Reps Per Set
  • Functional Hypertrophy: 4-8 Reps Per Set
  • Bodybuilding Hypertrophy: 8-20 Reps Per Set
  • Muscular Endurance: 20+ Reps Per Set

As you can see you should train in the 4-8 rep ranges when your goal is functional hypertrophy. When you train in the 4-8 rep range the weights are heavy enough that you tap into the fast-twitch muscle fibers. However, the reps are still high enough that you accumulate enough time under tension per set.

One of the classic functional hypertrophy rep schemes is the classic “5 sets of 5” program although there are many others. It is also very important that you vary your time under tension correctly when training for fast-twitch muscle growth.

Charles Poliquin says that the optimal amount of time under tension is 20-40 seconds per set when you are training for functional hypertrophy. Here is a great graph showing the optimal time under tension ranges for different training goals:

Optimal Time Under Tension Ranges For Different Goals

  • Relative Strength: 1-20 Seconds TUT
  • Functional Hypertrophy: 20-40 Seconds TUT
  • Bodybuilding Hypertrophy: 40-70 Seconds TUT
  • Muscular Endurance: 70+ Seconds TUT

As you can see most of your sets should last 20-40 seconds when you are training for functional hypertrophy. The key to making your sets last this long is to vary your exercise tempos.

If you are not familiar with exercise tempo then here is a great video of Charles Poliquin explaining this concept:

For example let’s say you wanted to perform sets of 6 reps on the bench press to build functional hypertrophy throughout your upper body. In that case a 3/1/X/0 tempo would be a great choice. 3/1/X/0 means you use a 3-second lowering phase, a 1-second pause in the bottom position and an explosive lifting phase.

All together this means that your sets would last (6 reps) x (5 seconds per rep) = 30 seconds of time under tension. This is what you are looking for!

If you are a beginner then you will get great results just by using the right rep ranges and time under tension ranges to build functional hypertrophy. However, if you are more of an advanced trainee then you will need to use more advanced training methods to blast through training plateaus.

Note: if you have trouble reading the training routines in this article then check out this guide on how to read a training program. Now let’s get down to business…

Part 1: Fast-Twitch Giant Sets

Giant sets is a muscle-building training method that was popularized by IFBB pro Milos Sarcev. The basic idea is to perform 4 or more exercises in a row for a body part with only 10 seconds rest in between sets. For example:

Giant Sets Training Protocol

  • Perform exercise #1, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform exercise #2, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform exercise #3, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform exercise #4, rest 2-4 minutes, repeat!

Guys like Milos Sarcev like to perform giant sets with 10-20 reps per set. This is a great way for a bodybuilder to train for hypertrophy as you get a great pump and really get to fatigue the target muscle group. However, giant sets can also be tweaked to work better for building functional hypertrophy. The key is to perform your sets in the 4-8 rep range. I like to call this method “fast-twitch giant sets.”

Fast-twitch giant sets are so effective because you dramatically increase the time under tension of your sets to build size while still lifting heavy enough to target the fast-twitch muscle fibers. They are the best of both worlds!

The bodybuilding coach John Meadows really likes to use fast twitch giant sets with his bodybuilding clients. Here is John demonstrating a fast-twitch giant set for the upper back:

John Meadows Upper Back Giant Set Routine #2

  • A1: Chest supported row (wide / pronated grip), 4 x 8, 1/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Decline DB pullover, 4 x 8, 1/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Machine pulldown (narrow / neutral grip), 4 x 8, 1/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A4: Unilateral DB row, 4 x 8, 1/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest

Here is the training video for this workout:

 

As you can see John uses a variety of exercises to overload all of the different muscle groups in the upper back. John performs every exercise for a hard set of 8 reps which is just heavy enough to tap into the fast-twitch muscle fibers.

Of course it is possible to use giant sets with even fewer reps per set. Here is a fast-twitch giant set that Nick Mitchell designed for bringing up lagging hamstrings. Check it out:

Nick Mitchell’s Hamstrings Giant Set Routine

  • A1: Bilateral lying leg curl (Poliquin method, feet neutral)**, 4 x 6, 4/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: 90 degree back extension (holding DB), 4 x 6, 2/0/1/2, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: 45 Degree back extension (Barbell held in front w/ snatch grip), 4 x 6, 3/0/1/2, 10 seconds rest
  • A4: Bilateral lying leg curls ( Plantar Flexed, Feet Neutral), 4 x 6, 4/0/1/0. 10 seconds rest
  • A5: Stiff-legged deadlift, 4 x 6, 3/1/1/0, 240 seconds rest

**to perform the Poliquin method on leg curls you will dorsiflex your ankles (point your toes towards your shins) on the concentric range and plantar flex your ankles (point your toes away from your shins) on the eccentric range.

Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise A3, exercise A4, exercise A5.

Talk about a brutal hamstrings routine! For each exercise you are going to work up to a hard set of 6 reps. If you think there isn’t enough time under tension to build muscle with this type of routine then think again!

If you are using the correct tempos then each exercise will take you about 30 seconds to complete. This is right in the optimal time under tension range for stimulating functional hypertrophy.

You are also performing 5 hamstrings exercises in a row with short rest periods which means the total time under tension on your hamstrings is more like 2.5 minutes per set! If this routine doesn’t pack some functional muscle mass onto your hamstrings then nothing will!

Another great variation of fast-twitch giant sets is called “mechanical advantage giant sets.” The basic idea is to perform 4 different variations of the same exercise as part of a giant set. You start with the hardest variation and progress to the easiest variation.

The cool thing about mechanical advantage giant sets is you don’t have to change the weight from one exercise to the next and you don’t have to hog multiple pieces of equipment.

Mechanical advantage giant sets can easily be performed in a busy commercial gym to build slabs of functional hypertrophy. Here is a mechanical advantage giant sets routine you can use to overload the fast-twitch muscle fibers of the brachialis muscle. Check it out:

Brachialis Mechanical Advantage Giant Set Routine

  • A1: Preacher ez-bar curl (narrow / pronated grip), 3-4 x 3-4, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Preacher ez-bar curl (wide / pronated grip), 3-4 x AMRAP**, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Preacher ez-bar curl (wide / supinated grip), 3-4 x AMRAP**, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A4: Preacher ez-bar curl (narrow / supinated grip), 3-4 x AMRAP**, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest

**Perform as many reps as you can with the same weight that you used in exercise A1.

Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise A3, exercise A4.

This routine was invented by Charles Poliquin. You start with the hardest variation of preacher ez-bar curls and progress to the easiest variation. The rep ranges are very low but this type of fast-twitch giant set will still let you accumulate plenty of time under tension to stimulate growth.

Make no mistake: fast-twitch giant sets are one of THE best ways to train for functional hypertrophy. They work especially well for bodybuilders and even powerlifters who want to add slabs of functional muscle mass. The key is to train in the 4-8 rep range on each exercise and to make sure that each exercise has no more than 40 seconds of time under tension.

If you know how to manipulate your exercise tempo then this will be no problem for you!

Part 2: Fast-Twitch Drop Sets

Push Pull Legs Muscle

A drop set is a high-intensity training method where you train just shy of muscular failure, then decrease the weight on the exercise and continue performing reps with the lighter weight.

Here is what a typical bodybuilding style drop set looks like:

  • Perform 10-12 reps just shy of failure, then drop the weight by 10%
  • Perform as many reps as you can, then drop the weight by 10%
  • Perform as many reps as you can, done!

Most people think drop sets are only good for bodybuilding style workouts where you are performing high reps and training for the pump. Nothing could be further from the truth!

In reality drop sets are one of the most powerful training methods you can use for building fast-twitch muscle and strength gains. The key is to train in the 1-5 rep range on your first attempt before decreasing the weight.

Fast-twitch drop sets are so effective because they let you recruit AND fatigue the fast-twitch muscle fibers. The initial heavy set of 1-5 reps lets you recruit the fast-twitch muscle fibers and places a ton of mechanical tension on them. On the other hand the extra reps after you drop the weight help you to fatigue the fast-twitch muscle fibers to stimulate growth.

Here is a fast-twitch drop set workout that the former NFL wide receiver David Boston performed to add functional muscle mass to his arms. Check it out:

David Boston Fast-Twitch Drop Set Arm Routine

  • A1: Seated half press in rack, 5 x 3**, 2/2/1/0, 2 minutes rest
  • A2: Preacher ez-bar curl (wide / pronated grip), 5 x 3**, 4/0/1/0, 2 minutes rest
  • B1: One-arm low pulley rope french press, 4 x 2****, 3/1/1/0, 90 seconds rest
  • B2: Standing 2.5 inch bar curl (medium / supinated grip), 4 x 4****, 4/0/1/0, 90 seconds rest

**Performed as a 3/2/1/1 drop set. Perform 3 reps, decrease the weight, perform 2 reps, decrease the weight, perform 1 rep, decrease the weight, perform 1 rep, done!

**Performed as a 4/2/2 drop set. Perform 4 reps, decrease the weight, perform 2 reps, decrease the weight, perform 2 reps, done!

Here are the training videos for this workout: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise B1, exercise B2.

Talk about a brutal arm workout! This routine uses two different types of drop sets: 3/2/1/1 drop sets and 4/2/2 drop sets. The key for both of these drop sets is to pick the correct weights.

For the 3/2/1/1 drop set you want to pick a weight that you can barely get for 3 reps. Then you take just enough weight off the bar so you can get an extra 2 reps. Then you take just enough weight off the bar so you can get 1 extra rep and so on. In other words every single mini-set should be an all-out effort!

This type of routine is very difficult to recover from but it worked like magic for David Boston. One of the big advantages of fast-twitch drop sets is you can get a lot of work done in very little time. David’s arm workout actually has 64 total sets if you count each 3/2/1/1 drop set as 4 sets and each 4/2/2 drop set as 3 sets. Now THAT is a high-volume functional hypertrophy workout!

Another great way to design a fast-twitch drop set workout is to use heavy singles. This was a favorite training method of the legendary bodybuilder Mike Mentzer. Mike says that he got his best results doing drop sets with heavy singles.

Here is Mike’s favorite drop set protocol for building functional muscle mass:

Mike Menter’s Maximal Effort Drop Sets

  • Perform 1 rep, decrease the weight by 2-4%
  • Perform 1 more rep, decrease the weight by 2-4%
  • Perform 1 more rep, decrease the weight by 2-4%
  • Perform 1 more rep, done!

Mike Mentzer says that this training method gave him the best gains of his life. Mike used maximal effort drop sets extensively to prepare for the 1980 Mr. Olympia competition where he placed 3rd right behind Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Here is a Mike Mentzer style maximal effort drop sets chest workout that you can use to build a bigger, stronger chest. Check it out:

Maximal Effort Drop Sets

  • A1: Flat bench press (medium-width grip), 4 x 1**, 2/0/X/0, 4 minutes rest
  • B1: 30 degree incline DB press, 2 x 6-8, 3/0/X/0, 2 minutes rest
  • C1: Flat DB fly, 2 x 6-8, 3/0/1/0, 2 minutes rest

**Performed as a maximal effort drop set. Perform 1 rep, take 2-4% off the bar, perform 1 more single, take 2-4% off the bar, perform 1 more single, take 2-4% off the bar, perform 1 more single, done!

Here are the training videos for this workout:

Exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise B1, exercise B2, exercise C1, exercise C2.

For this workout I recommend you perform 4 total maximal effort drop sets. You would perform your first maximal effort drop set with 4 separate singles, then you would rest 4 minutes and perform your next one. This type of chest routine works awesome for bodybuilders with a large percentage of fast-twitch muscle fibers.

There is one last drop set protocol that I want to teach you for building functional hypertrophy. This method was invented by Charles Poliquin but does not have a name. I like to call it the Doug Hepburn drop set method.

You are going to divide your workout into 2 separate phases:

  • Phase #1: Relative Strength
  • Phase #2: Functional Hypertrophy

During the relative strength phase you are going to perform one large drop set with seven singles and 60 seconds rest in between each single. You would perform your first single with around 95% of your 1-rep max, then take 2-3% off the bar and rest 60 seconds before attempting your next single. You repeat this process until you have performed 7 total singles.

After your drop set you are going to perform 5 sets of 5 reps with the same exercise you used in phase #1. I recommend you use around 70% of your 1-rep max for the 5 sets of 5 reps.

Here is what a Doug Hepburn drop set workout might look like to boost functional hypertrophy on your legs. Check it out:

Doug Hepburn Drop Set Lower Body Workout

  • A1: Front squat (medium stance / heels flat), 7 x 1**, 5/0/X/0, 1 minute rest
  • B1: Front squat (medium stance / heels flat), 5 x 5****, 3/0/1/1, 2 minutes rest
  • B2: Kneeling leg curl (Poliquin method / feet neutral), 5 x 5, 3/0/1/1, 2 minutes rest
  • C1: Barbell good morning, 3 x 6-8, 3/0/2/0, 2 minutes rest

**Performed as one giant drop set. Perform 1 single with 95% of your 1-rep max, then take 2-3% off the bar and rest 60 seconds. Then perform your next single repetition. Repeat until you have performed 7 total repetitions.

****Use about 70% of your 1-rep max. Your goal is to perform 5 reps on all 5 sets with a challenging weight.

Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise B1, exercise B2, exercise C1.

The Doug Hepburn drop set method is unbelievably effective for building functional hypertrophy. Actually this is also true for the original Doug Hepburn training method.

If you are at all interested in building strength or functional muscle mass then I highly recommend you give a Doug Hepburn style program a shot. It is an unbelievably effective way to train.

The bottom line is drop sets are one of the best easy to train your fast-twitch muscle fibers. The key is to train in lower rep ranges so that you can activate the fast-twitch muscles right from the first rep.

If you bust your ass on any of these 3 drop set routines then you will be rewarded with some screaming fast size and strength gains!

Part 3: Isometric Training

Isometric training is one of the most underrated training methods in the world. It is like the red-headed step child of the strength training universe! As you may already know there are three different types of muscular contractions:

  • Concentric muscle contractions
  • Eccentric muscle contractions
  • Isometric muscle contractions

Concentric muscle contractions occur any time you are lifting a weight up or contracting your muscles. For example when you raise your hands up during a biceps curl you are performing a concentric contraction.

Eccentric contractions are the exact opposite: they occur when you are lowering a weight down or lengthening your muscles. For example when you lower the barbell down during a standing barbell curl you are performing an eccentric contraction for your biceps.

Isometric contractions are very different: they occur when your muscles are contracting without moving! For example if you hold the barbell for 5 seconds right in the middle position of a standing barbell curl you are performing an isometric contraction.

Isometric training has many advantages for building your fast-twitch muscle fibers:

  • Increased muscle fiber recruitment
  • Increased muscle fiber damage and fatigue
  • Increased MTOR
  • Increased release of anabolic hormones

In other words isometric training lets you activate and damage more fast-twitch muscle fibers. It also elevates levels of protein synthesis in your target muscles and tells your body to release more anabolic hormones like IGF-1 and Mechanical Growth Factor.

Isometric training is like the world’s best-kept secret for building functional hypertrophy! There are tons of different ways to use isometric training to build your fast-twitch muscle fibers. However, one of the very best methods is called “isometronics.”

Isometronics is a reasonably complicated training method so let’s take a look at a sample isometronics training video first. Check it out:

Isometronics is a combination of two different training methods: partial range of motion reps and all-out isometric contractions. Here is what one set of isometronics looks like:

  • Step #1: Perform 4-6 partial reps in between two pairs of safety pins
  • Step #2: On your last rep perform an all-out isometric contraction against the top pins for 6-8 seconds
  • Step #3: Lower the weight back down to the bottom pins and attempt 1 more partial rep

So you perform step #1, step #2 and step #3 all in a row. This counts as one isometronics set. The original isometronics training protocol as popularized by world-class Olympic Weightlifters in the 1950s consists of 10 total sets:

  • Perform 3 isometronics sets in the bottom third of the range of motion
  • Perform 3 isometronics sets in the middle third of the range of motion
  • Perform 3 isometronics sets in the top third of the range of motion
  • Perform 1 full range of motion set

This is what the athlete demonstrated in the above video. Talk about a brutal workout! Basically you are pre-fatiguing your muscles with the partial range of motion reps. Then you are performing the isometric contraction to absolutely annihilate all of the fast-twitch muscle fibers that have already been pre-fatigued.

Isometronics may look strange but it is one of the best ways to train for functional muscle mass. Here is a sample isometronics workout you may want to try. Check it out:

Isometronics Bench Press Routine

  • A1: Bench press bottom position isometronics (competition grip), 3 x 5**, 1/0/X/1, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Bench press middle position isometronics (competition grip), 3 x 5**, 1/0/X/1, 120 seconds rest
  • C1: Bench press top position isometronics (competition grip), 3 x 5**, 1/0/X/1, 120 seconds rest
  • D1: Bench press (competition grip), 1 x 5, 2/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest
  • E1: Lat pulldown (wide / overhand grip), 3 x 6-8, 3/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • E2: DB floor fly, 3 x 6-8, 2/1/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • F1: Overhead cable rope extension (high pulley), 3 x 6-8, 3/0/1/0, 30 seconds rest
  • F2: Cable external rotation (arm adducted), 3 x 6-8, 3/0/1/0, 30 seconds rest

Here are the training videos for this workout: exercise A1, exercise B1, exercise C1, exercise D1, exercise E1, exercise E2, exercise F1, exercise F2.

As you can see this is a very demanding high-volume workout. Make sure you eat your favorite post-workout recovery meal after a workout like this!

The truth is not everyone can recover from this type of workout or even wants to train this way. I get it – some people would rather take a spear in the leg than perform 10 sets of bench presses in a workout.

Don’t worry – I’ve got you covered. The bodybuilding coach Josh Bryant has a modified version of isometronics that he uses with his bodybuilding clients. Josh calls this method “functional isometrics.” Here is a perfect video demonstration:

For Josh Bryant style functional isometrics you place one pair of safety pins about 1-2 inches below lockout. Here is the exact training protocol:

  • Step #1: Perform 6-8 full range of motion reps touching your chest and the safety pins on each rep
  • Step #2: On your last rep perform an all-out isometric contraction against the safety pins for 6-8 seconds

That’s it! This training method works awesome for bodybuilders who want to increase the size of their fast-twitch muscle fibers without burning out their central nervous system too much. Here is a sample bodybuilding style functional isometrics triceps routine that you may want to try. Check it out:

Functional Isometrics Bodybuilding Routine

  • A1: Dual rope cable pushdown, 3 x 6-8, 2/0/1/1, 2 minutes rest
  • B1: Josh Bryant functional isometrics, 3 x 6-8, 2/0/1/0, 2 minutes rest
  • C1: Standing one-arm cable rope french press, 3 x 6-8, 2/0/2/0, 2 minutes rest

Here are the training videos for this workout: exercise A1, exercise B1, exercise B2.

This is an incredibly effective triceps routine. One of the things that I really like about it is it uses exercises to target all three heads of the triceps and to overload different points in the triceps’ strength curve.

The dual rope cable pushdown does a tremendous job of overloading the lateral and medial heads of the triceps. The bench press functional isometrics is great for targeting the long head and especially the lateral head of the triceps. Finally the standing one-arm cable rope french press really overload the long head of the triceps and puts it in a deep stretched position.

Every fast-twitch muscle fiber in your triceps will be absolutely smoked after this simple 3 exercise routine!

Josh Bryant is pretty much the king of isometric training so let’s look at another one of his favorite isometric routines for building functional hypertrophy. This routine is called “iso-dynamic tri-sets.”

The basic idea is to perform a tri-set with isometric sets and more traditional concentric and eccentric sets. Josh Bryant believes that iso-dynamic tri-sets are especially effective for training fast-twitch muscles like the triceps.

Here is a sample training routine you may want to try. Check it out:

Josh Bryant’s Iso-Dynamic Tri-Set For The Triceps

  • A1: Close grip bench press overcoming isometric***, 3 x 6 second hold, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Close grip bench press against bands, 3 x 6, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Decline DB extension, 3 x 10, 5/0/1/0, 4 minutes rest

***Perform an overcoming isometric with an empty barbell. The pins should be set up 2 inches below lockout in a power rack.

Here is a video of Josh Bryant demonstrating this routine:

Talk about a brutal workout! This routine overloads the triceps in three different ways. First you perform an all-out isometric contraction against the safety pins with an empty 45-pound barbell. Your goal is to press so hard that you break the safety pins in half!

This isometric rep is perfect for recruiting the fast-twitch muscle fibers of the triceps and teaching your body to produce maximal force.

Then you rest 10 seconds and perform a heavy set of 3 reps on the close grip bench press with bands. Josh says that you should be stronger from the isometric rep so don’t be surprised if you can handle more weight than normal.

Finally Josh has you perform a triceps extension variation to accumulate more time under tension on the triceps. This is a brutal routine but it works like magic for building functional hypertrophy on the triceps.

Extreme Stretching

There is one last isometric training strategy that I want to teach you: extreme stretching. Extreme stretching was popularized by John Parillo, Dante Trudel, John Meadows and many other world-class bodybuilding coaches.

An extreme stretch is basically a static stretch performed with extra weight. Your goal is to hold the stretched position of an exercise for 60-90 seconds or for as long as you can tolerate it. Extreme stretching is incredibly painful but it is one of THE best ways to stimulate fast-twitch muscle growth.

Here is Dusty Hanshaw demonstrating a dumbbell fly extreme stretch:

As you can see Dusty Hanshaw is holding the bottom position of a dumbbell fly for as long as he can. This exercise places an enormous amount of muscular tension on the chest and is ideal for stimulating growth at the end of your workout when your chest is pumped full of blood.

Of course you don’t have to perform a DC-style extreme stretch to failure to get the most out of this isometric training method. John Meadows often performs isometric holds in the bottom position of an exercise after repping a set out to failure.

Here is John holding the bottom position of a dumbbell press for 10 seconds with manual overpressure:

As you can see Jeff Nippard is pressing down on the dumbbells to increase the tension on John’s chest even more.

The bottom line is extreme stretching and all of the other types of isometric training are unbelievably effective for building functional hypertrophy. I STRONGLY recommend you experiment with them in your next workout program!

Part 4: Rest-Pause Training

Rest-pause training is a high-intensity training method invented and popularized by the bodybuilding coach Dante Trudel. Dante believes that rest-pause sets are THE fastest way for the serious bodybuilder to build size and strength. This is a bold claim but Dante has a lot of data backing him up.

Here is the exact training protocol for a rest-pause set:

  • Step #1: Train to failure in the 7-10 rep range, then rest 20-30 seconds
  • Step #2: Train to failure again with the same weight, then rest 20-30 seconds
  • Step #3: Train to failure again with the same weight, done!

As you can see a rest-pause set is really just three sets performed to failure with 20-30 seconds rest in between each set. Here is the rest-pause expert Dusty Hanshaw showing us how it’s done:

In this video Dusty Hanshaw incline bench presses 405 pounds for 8 reps on his first attempt, 4 reps on his second attempt and 3 reps on his third attempt. Talk about an impressive incline bench press!

The rest-pause method is so special because it is one of the only training methods that builds size AND strength at the same time.

The initial set of 7-10 reps to failure is great for building muscular size and activating the fast-twitch muscle fibers. Then when you train to failure a second and third time you further fatigue these fast-twitch muscle fibers and really overload your central nervous system.

Rest-pause sets are like functional hypertrophy training on steroids! There are tons of different ways to set up a rest-pause style workout. For example the original DC Training program is one of the most popular rest-pause style workouts.

If you are a more advanced bodybuilder then you can even start using rest-pause sets as part of a regular bodybuilding “bro-split.” Here is the full chest / shoulders rest-pause workout that Dusty Hanshaw performed in the above video. Check it out:

Dusty Hanshaw Chest / Shoulder Workout

  • A1: 30 degree incline bench press, 1 x 7-10**, 1/0/X/0, rest as needed
  • B1: Machine pec dec, 1 x 20-30****, 1/0/X/0, rest as needed
  • C1: Hammer strength overhead press, 1 x 7-10**, 1/0/X/0, rest as needed
  • D1: Machine lateral raise, 1 x 20-30****, 1/0/X/0, rest as needed

**Performed as a DC-style rest-pause set. Train to failure in the 7-10 rep range, rest 20-30 seconds, train to failure a 2nd time, rest 20-30 seconds, train to failure a 3rd time, done!

****Perform one working set to failure.

Don’t let this low-volume chest / shoulder workout fool you: there is more than enough training volume here to stimulate slabs of functional hypertrophy on your upper body. If it is good enough for someone like Dusty Hanshaw then it is good enough for you too!

Of course it is possible to use rest-pause sets as part of a higher-volume bodybuilding workout. This is something that the bodybuilding coach John Meadows likes to do. The key to making this work is to ONLY perform rest-pause sets on your last set for each exercise. For example if you perform 3-4 sets per exercise then you would only use a rest-pause set on the third and final exercise. Here is a Mountain Dog style rest-pause leg workout that you may want to try. Check it out:

Mountain Dog High-Intensity Leg Workout

  • A1: Lying leg curl, 3-4 x 4-12**, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Machine squat, 5-6 x 6-8**, 1/0/X/1, 120 seconds rest
  • C1: Machine hack squat, 3-4 x 6-8**, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • D1: Machine leg extension, 3 x (10, 10, 25***), 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest

Here is the training video for this workout:

John performs some type of rest-pause set for the first three exercises in his routine. For each of these exercises John performs several progressively heavier warm up sets with moderate reps. Then on the final set he busts out the rest-pause method and trains all the way to failure three times in a row.

Normally John would finish his workout with some type of hamstrings exercise like stiff-legged deadlifts but he decided to skip them for this workout.

Dante Trudel’s rest-pause method is so popular that many athletes and coaches have tried to tweak it to make it even better. Most of these attempts to tweak the original rest-pause method completely failed. However, I believe Charles Poliquin invented a new version of the rest-pause method which is just as effective as the original one.

Charles calls his new training method the “5 to 8 method.”

Charles isn’t very good at coming up with names for his routines but who am I to criticize him? I have a fitness website called Revolutionary Program Design for crying out loud! But I digress…

Here is the exact training protocol for the 5 to 8 method:

Poliquin 5 To 8 Method

  • Perform 5 reps with your 5 rep max, then rest 10-20 seconds
  • Perform 1 more rep with the same weight, then rest 10-20 seconds
  • Perform 1 more rep with the same weight, then rest 10-20 seconds
  • Perform 1 more rep with the same weight, done!

Charles Poliquin’s 5 to 8 method is very similar to Dante’s original rest-pause method. However, there are some key differences between these training methods as well. The target rep ranges are obviously much lower and you are not training to failure on any of the attempts. Instead you want your 5th rep and each of the singles to be very hard reps that you can complete with good form.

One of the big advantages of the 5 to 8 method is you can perform multiple sets per exercise to stimulate even more size and strength gains.

Here is a typical 5 to 8 method arm workout that Charles would use with his athletes to build fast-twitch muscle growth. Check it out:

Poliquin 5 To 8 Method Arm Workout

  • A1: Bench press with chains (shoulder-width grip), 3-5 x 5**, 2/0/X/0, 2 minutes rest
  • A2: Preacher ez-bar curl (wide / supinated grip), 3-5 x 5**, 2/0/X/0, 2 minutes rest
  • B1: Overhead cable rope extension (low pulley), 3 x 5-7, 3/1/2/0, 45 seconds rest
  • B2: 45 degree incline DB curl (supinating grip), 3 x 5-7, 3/0/3/0, 45 seconds rest

**Performed as a Charles Poliquin style 5 to 8 method set as describe above.

Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise B1, exercise B2.

This type of workout is ridiculously effective for increasing the size and strength of your arms. It is right up there with the David Boston drop set arm workout covered earlier in this article. If you are at all interested in building functional hypertrophy then you MUST give the 5 to 8 method a shot.

Charles Poliquin called the 5 to 8 method his #2 training method for building functional hypertrophy. If that isn’t enough to convince you to use this training method then I don’t know what is!

Part 5: Eccentric Training

I’ve saved the best for last! Eccentric training is THE single best training method you can use to build functional hypertrophy. That is a bold claim but it’s 100% true. Many world-class strength coaches like Christian Thibadeau would agree with me on this one.

Eccentric training is a training method where you use special training techniques to overload the lowering phase of an exercise rather than the lifting phase.

We know from research that the lowering phase of an exercise places 30% more tension on your muscles than concentric reps. If you can find ways to overload the lowering phase of your exercises then you will be rewarded with slabs of new functional muscle mass.

One of the simplest eccentric training strategies is to use a very slow lowering phase on your exercises. Here is an athlete performing back squats with an 8-second lowering phase. Check it out:

These slow eccentric reps help you to overload the lowering phase of the exercise and to place more tension on your fast-twitch muscle fibers.

This eccentric training strategy works great for beginners and anyone new to the world of eccentric training. However, if you are a more advanced bodybuilder or powerlifter then you need to use more advanced training methods to build as much muscular hypertrophy as possible.

One of the best eccentric training methods for building functional hypertrophy is called the 4+2 method. This method was invented by Charles Poliquin. In fact Charles calls the 4+2 method THE single best training method for boosting functional hypertrophy.

Here is the exact protocol for this training method:

  • Perform 4 reps with your 4-rep max.
  • Then increase the weight by 1-20% and perform 2 eccentric-only reps.

Here is a perfect demonstration of the 4+2 method on concentration curls:

In an ideal world you would perform the 2 eccentric-only reps with an 8-10 second lowering phase to put maximum tension on your muscles. Other than that this is a great demonstration of the 4+2 method.

The challenging part of the 4+2 method is finding a way to safely perform your eccentric-only reps. This can be challenging for exercises like the bench press or back squat. However, if you are creative enough then you will find a way to make it happen.

Here is a sample 4+2 arm workout that you may want to try. Check it out:

4+2 Method Arm Routine

  • A1: V-bar dips (upright torso), 3-5 x 4**, 4/0/X/0, 2 minutes rest
  • A2: Concentration curl, 3-5 x 4**, 4/0/X/0, 2 minutes rest
  • B1: 30 degree incline DB extension, 3-4 x 6-8, 3/0/1/0, 30 seconds rest
  • B2: Standing cable reverse curl, 3-4 x 6-8, 3/0/1/0, 30 seconds rest

**Performed as the 4+2 method as described above.

Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise B1, exercise B2.

The 4+2 method is one of the best eccentric training strategies for increasing the size of your fast-twitch muscle fibers. However, it is not the only good eccentric training strategy. Another one of my favorites is called the 3 then 1 method.

Here is the exact protocol for this training method:

  • Set #1: Perform 3 reps with a weight that is close to your 3-rep max
  • Set #2: Perform 1 eccentric-only single with a heavy weight
  • Set #3: Perform 3 reps with a weight that is close to your 3-rep max
  • Set #4: Perform 1 eccentric-only single with a heavy weight
  • Set #5: Perform 3 reps with a weight that is close to your 3-rep max
  • Set #6: Perform 1 eccentric-only single with a heavy weight

As you can see the 3 then 1 method is an advanced form of contrast set training. You are going to alternate back and forth between a heavy set of 3 reps and an eccentric-only rep with a weight that is more than your regular 1-rep max.

If you perform this training method correctly then you will actually be stronger as you progress through the workout. The eccentric-only single makes your regular set of 3 reps feel super easy and the heavy triple primes your central nervous system for the eccentric-only single.

The eccentric-only singles are most important part of this routine because they are the sets that help you build functional hypertrophy. Charles Poliquin says that these eccentric-only singles help you to recruit your “survival fibers” because your body is doing everything it can to avoid getting crushed by the ultra-heavy weight!

Here is a sample 3 then 1 method back squat routine that you may want to try. Check it out:

3 Then 1 Method Back Squat Routine

  • A1: Back squat (medium stance / heels flat), 3 x 3, 3/0/1/0, 2 minutes rest
  • A2: Kneeling leg curl (Poliquin method / feet pointed out), 3 x 3-4, 2/0/X/1, 2 minutes rest
  • A3: Back squat with weight releasers (medium stance / heels flat), 3 x 1, 10/0/1/0, 2 minutes rest
  • A4: Kneeling leg curl (Poliquin method / feet pointed out), 3 x 3-4, 2/0/X/1, 2 minutes rest
  • B1: Reverse hyperextension, 3-4 x 10-12, 2/0/1/0, 2 minutes rest

Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise A3, exercise A4, exercise B1.

The 3 then 1 method is better suited for powerlifters and other strength athletes than bodybuilders so keep that in mind before you give this routine a whirl.

There is one last eccentric training protocol that I want to teach you: eccentric cluster sets. This training method was invented by the Canadian strength coach Christian Thibadeau and is an unbelievably effective way to train for functional hypertrophy.

Eccentric cluster sets is a hybrid of two awesome training methods:

  • Eccentric Training
  • Cluster Sets Training

Your goal is to perform 5 sets of 5 reps with 30 seconds rest in between each rep. Here is what an eccentric cluster set would look like:

  • Perform rep #1, rest 30 seconds
  • Perform rep #2, rest 30 seconds
  • Perform rep #3, rest 30 seconds
  • Perform rep #4, rest 30 seconds
  • Perform rep #5, rest 30 seconds

All 5 reps count as one single set. Your goal is to perform 5 of these sets in a single workout. Here is one of Christian Thibadeau’s athletes giving a perfect demonstration of eccentric cluster sets on the bench press using weight releasers:

As you can see the athlete re-racks the weight releasers onto the bar during his 30-second rest periods. The eccentric cluster sets protocol is one of the best strategies to use with weight releasers because you have plenty of time to re-rack the weight releasers in between each rep.

Here is a sample eccentric cluster sets workout that you may want to try. Check it out:

Eccentric Cluster Sets Routine

  • A1: Bench press with weight releasers (competition grip)**, 5 x 5****, 10/0/1/0, 12 minutes rest
  • A2: Subscapularis pull ups, 5 x 5, 3/0/X/0, 2 minutes rest
  • B1: 30 degree incline DB fly, 3 x 6-8, 2/0/2/0, 1 minute rest
  • B2: Seated cable rope face pull, 3 x 6-8, 2/0/1/2, 1 minute rest

**The weight on the bar should represent 70% of your 1-rep max. The weight on each of the weight releasers should represent 10-30% of your 1-rep max. Therefore you will be lowering a combined wight of 90-130% of your 1-rep max on each rep.

****Performed as a Poliquin style 5 x 5 cluster sets protocol. Perform 5 sets of 5 reps with 15 second rest breaks in between each repetition.

Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise B1, exercise B2.

The eccentric cluster sets protocol is one of THE most powerful training methods you can use. It works ridiculously well for building both functional hypertrophy AND maximal strength.

If your goal is to get as big and strong as possible then you have to give this training method a shot at some point in your career.

Conclusion

Functional Hypertrophy Training

There are many great ways to train for functional hypertrophy. In this guide we covered 5 of the best advanced functional hypertrophy training protocols including fast-twitch giant sets, drop sets, isometric training, rest-pause training and eccentric training.

If you are stuck in a training rut then you have to give one of these fast-twitch training methods a shot.

Of course there are an endless number of training methods you can use to build functional hypertrophy. Advanced German Volume Training and the Modified Hepburn Method are two “honorable mentions” which didn’t quite make it into this article.

This article is already long enough and I need to stop myself before I end up in the loony bin!

My advice to you is to pick your favorite functional hypertrophy training method from this article and give it a shot in the gym. Remember, a routine is only as good as the time it takes you to adapt to it.

If you want to make progress over the long term then you must be willing to experiment and take on that extra challenge. Only then will you get the results that you desire.

“You have to create a goal for yourself, whatever that may be, a short term goal and long term goal, you have to go after that. And if you do not see if, and if you do not believe it, who else will?”

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck on your strength training journey!

Dr. Mike Jansen, PT, DPT

Thanks for checking out my site! My name is Dr. Mike Jansen and I'm the founder of Revolutionary Program Design. If you want to reach your size and strength goals faster then you've come to the right place. My goal is to make RPD the #1 strength training resource available anywhere in the world. So grab a seat, kick back and relax. There's never been a better time to lift weights or to learn the art and science of strength training program design.

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