A beginner hypertrophy program is a sure-fire way to put on 15 pounds of mass in just 6 weeks and other than yesterday or last year, the best time to start is today.
So instead of making excuses and watching time fly by, simply follow the protocol outlined below that provides everything you need to know to hit the gym in an intelligent manner, eat for size and get the most out of your beginner phase.
The Fundamentals of Beginner Hypertrophy Programs
Building muscle takes time and dedication. When starting a weightlifting program, there are basics that beginners should adhere to in order to achieve the best possible results. Here are some fundamentals of a beginner hypertrophy program that novice lifters need to get started on the right foot!
What is Muscle Hypertrophy?
Hypertrophy is the scientific term for muscle growth. It occurs when the size and number of muscle cells increase in response to mechanical tension and metabolic stress.1 When you lift weights, you are causing tiny tears in your muscle fibers. In response to this damage, your body repairs and strengthens the muscles, resulting in increased size and strength.
According to research, the human body will naturally undergo muscle hypertrophy if the muscles are under stress (e.g., lifting weights) or repeatedly used in a particular type of activity.2 Generally, muscle hypertrophy occurs when muscle cells are subjected to resistance training exercises.
This means that anyone willing to grow their muscles should exercise them regularly to trigger the process. Over time, this training leads to increased strength and endurance, as well as increased size in the target muscles.
There are two types of hypertrophy:
Myofibrillar hypertrophy is an increase in the size and number of muscle fibers. This type of hypertrophy leads to a more substantial increase in muscle size and is more common in experienced lifters.
Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is an increase in the amount of non-contractile tissue in the muscle. Sarcoplasm is the fluid part of muscles that surrounds the myofibrils, and it contains glycogen (the energy source for muscle tissues). This type of hypertrophy results in a small increase in muscle size and is more common in beginner lifters.
Designing a Beginner Hypertrophy Program
There are a few key things to keep in mind when undertaking a beginner hypertrophy program:
- Use compound exercises. These are exercises that work for multiple muscle groups at the same time, such as squats, deadlifts, and presses. These exercises are more efficient than isolation exercises (which only work one muscle group at a time) and will help you build muscle faster.
- Start with basic lifts. These are the most effective exercises for building muscle and should be the foundation of your program. Examples of basic lifts include squats, deadlifts, presses, rows, and chin-ups.
- Get enough protein and be in a caloric surplus. Protein is the building block of muscle and zero gains will be made if you’re not eating 200-500 calories above your maintenance calories. Thus, beginners need to ensure they’re consuming enough protein and calories to support their goals.
- Fatigue management. To see results, a beginner must allow their muscles to recover from the workouts. This means getting enough rest between workout sessions, getting enough sleep (7-8 hours), and eating a balanced diet.
- Stay consistent. The most important thing you can do is to be consistent with your workouts and nutrition. If you consistently skip workouts or don’t eat enough protein, you won’t see the results you want.
- Progressive overload. For a beginner to see gains in muscle size, the muscles must be overloaded with a weight greater than what they are accustomed to lifting. They can accomplish this by slowly increasing the amount of weight lifted over time or by using advanced training techniques such as drop sets, supersets, and rest-pause sets.
Determining if You’re a Beginner Weightlifter
There are three levels of weightlifting: beginner, intermediate, and advanced level. So, before taking a beginner hypertrophy mass routine, it is vital for a weightlifter to ascertain if they’re really at the beginner level. If a lifter is aware of their level, they can:
- Choose a workout plan that best fits their level.
- Set realistic goals for their workout plan.
- Know what results to expect and when to expect them.
There is a conventional method of telling a lifter’s level of weightlifting based on the question: For how long have you been lifting?
Signs of Being a Beginner, Intermediate, or Advance Lifter
Typically people judge themselves or others experience based on physique, strength, or muscularly size but truth be told, a combination of all three should be considered when debating where someone is at in their lifting journey.
Beginner lifter: A weightlifter is at the beginner level if they can train hard and consistently and make significant gains. The muscle gains just happen automatically without much thought on taking a training program or adjusting their nutrition.
This is because the body is adapting to the new stress of lifting weights and is making changes in order to better handle that stress. In addition, a beginner is likely to gain strength even when they are losing weight.3 In general, if someone has been lifting weight for 0-2 years, they are typically at the beginner level.
Intermediate lifter: A weightlifter is at the intermediate level if they have to think and plan their workout routines and diet to get significant muscle growth. This level more especially manifests when the lifter hits the first plateau and is struggling to make gains.4 At this point, muscle gains are not automatic anymore.
The muscles have adapted to the weight, and the lifter needs to overload them progressively in order to continue to see meaningful gains. That means that you will need to lift more weight or do more reps in order to continue getting stronger. The lifter has to start strategizing their progression and manage fatigue prudently if they’re to gain any muscles. At this level, the intermediate will gain very little strength when losing weight at this level. Usually, if a lifter has been training for strength and muscle gain for 2-6 years, they are assumed to be in the intermediate level of weightlifting.
Advanced lifter: A lifter is at the advanced level of weightlifting if they have to plan everything from exercise to diet to make significant gains. Any slight mistake in technique or diet leads to no gains, or they can lose a bit. As such, the lifter has to tick all the boxes right and always pay attention to the finer details of the proper weightlifting technique.3 At this stage, the lifter will maintain their strength during weight loss – or lose a little bit of rep strength. I most cases, advance lifters have been at it for 7 years or more.
However, these methods are not the best because they ignore important aspects that could help a lifter better understand their weightlifting level. The truth is, if someone has been lifting for a decade but never focused on perfecting technique or getting stronger, they might still be considered a beginner.
Again, gauging a lifter’s experience on how strong they’re is inappropriate. The thing is, they are training for hypertrophy but not professional powerlifting. As such, their prior training might not have been keen on strength training.
In addition, these traditional methods ignore other growth factors like genetics and lifestyle. Some people are naturally strong and will begin training benching e.g 225 lbs, but does that make them intermediate or advanced lifters? Of course not!
The 4-Week Full Body Beginner Hypertrophy Program
The following is a 4-week beginner hypertrophy program designed to help newbies build muscle mass in just four weeks. By using compound exercises and gradually increasing the amount of weight, beginners can easily achieve their muscle growth goals.
The best way to adopt this 3x per week program is to use it on alternate days. For example, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, with Saturday and Sunday being rest days. Therefore, each exercise should be done on M-W-F and the rep and set schemed should be adjusted with each week.
As reps per set decrease weekly, the lifter should increase the weight. So if back squats on week one are 3×10 120 kg, then week two should be something like 3×8 125kg. Also, the lifter should ensure that the weight selected is heavy enough to make the last reps a real struggle.5
See the table for the 4 week full body program:
|Exercise for M-W-F||Rest||Week 1||Week 2||Week 3||Week 4|
|Back squat||1-2 mins||3×10||3×8||3×6||3×10|
|Bench press||1-2 mins||3×10||3×8||3×6||3×10|
|Side plank||1 min||3×25 seconds||3×30 seconds||3×35 seconds||3×25 seconds|
|Seated Dumbbell Press||1-2 mins||3×10||3×8||3×6||3×10|
|Barbell row||1-2 mins||3×10||3×8||3×6||3×10|
|Barbell Curls||1-2 mins||3×10||3×8||3×6||3×10|
Basically, this beginner hypertrophy program is built on compound exercises. Full body training exercises are ideal for hypertrophy beginners because they recruit multiple muscles at once.2 Consequently, these exercises stimulate muscle growth and strength building from different parts of the body, such as the upper and lower back, hips, chest, hands, and legs.
The upside of using compound exercises is building muscles and gaining strength within a short period of time. Obviously, this approach is much more important than using isolation exercises to train one group of muscles at a time.
Though beginners should mainly focus on compound exercises when starting out, they may want to incorporate some isolation exercises for optimal results as they progress. Isolation exercises are movements that focus on one muscle group rather than multiple. They are great for targeting specific muscle groups that a beginner wants to build while resetting others. As such, they can help them achieve the desired hypertrophy outcomes. Plus, isolation exercises can help the lifter achieve a stronger mind-muscle connection since the emphasis is on one specific muscle group.
Here are some optional isolation exercises to add to the beginner program:
- For quads – leg extension
- For biceps – standing barbell curl
- For hamstrings – hamstring leg curls
- For glutes – glute kickback
- For lats – straight-arm pull-down
- Posterior or rear delts – rear delt flys
For better results, beginners should just make sure to pick one or two isolation exercises to focus on per lift day. Also, they should do as many reps as possible while listening to their body to make sure they’re still recovering properly from your compound exercises.
The best thing is that any activity done during the program at the beginner level will cause the body to react to the exercise training, stimulating muscle growth and even fat loss.
Core Concepts to Optimize Hypertrophy Workouts for Newcomers & Experts Alike
Anyone looking to build muscle mass can benefit from hypertrophy workouts. These workouts are designed to promote the growth of muscle tissue, making them ideal for both beginners and experienced lifters alike.
However, there are a few core concepts that are essential for optimizing hypertrophy workouts. By understanding the principles of hypertrophy training, any lift can optimize a workout program that meets their individual needs.
Best Rep Range for the Most Muscular Growth
The number of reps you perform during a set has a direct impact on the amount of muscle growth you can expect to see and this is especially true with beginner hypertrophy programs. In general, the best rep range for promoting hypertrophy and strength is somewhere around 6 reps, but beginners should strive to stay between 8 and 12 reps per set.
This rep range allows you to lift a heavy enough weight to stimulate muscle growth, high enough where it’s nowhere close to your 1RM (one rep maximum), while still performing enough reps to fatigue the muscles.
Set Range for Maximum Size
In addition to the number of reps you perform, the number of sets you do per exercise also plays a role in muscle growth. In general, the more the sets, the more muscle a beginner builds.
However, there is a point of diminishing returns where doing too many sets can actually have a negative impact on your results. For most people, the ideal number of sets per exercise is 3-5. This allows you to perform enough sets to stimulate muscle growth without overworking the muscles.
Training Frequency & Intensity
The frequency with which you train each muscle group also plays a role in muscle growth. In general, you should aim to train each muscle group 2-3 times per week. This will give your muscles enough time to recover between workouts while still providing them with enough work to stimulate growth.
When it comes to intensity, you should aim to train each muscle group with a heavy enough weight that you can only perform 8-12 reps per set. This will ensure that you are working your muscles hard enough to stimulate growth.6
Exercises & Specificity
Some of the best exercises for promoting muscle growth include squats, deadlift workouts, presses, rows, and chin-ups. These exercises target multiple muscle groups and can be performed with a heavy enough weight to stimulate growth.
In addition to using compound exercises, beginners should also focus on specific exercises that target the muscles they want to grow. For example, if you want to grow your chest, you should focus on exercises like the bench press and incline bench press. If you want to grow your legs, you should focus on exercises like the squat and deadlift.
By targeting specific muscle groups with exercises that allow you to use a heavy weight, you can maximally stimulate growth.
Mind Muscle (Neuromuscular) Connection
The mind-muscle connection is the connection between your brain and muscles. This connection allows you to control your muscles and direct them to grow.
To maximize the mind-muscle connection, you need to focus on contracting the muscle you want to grow during each rep. For example, if you are doing a biceps curl, you should focus on contracting your biceps throughout the entire rep. This will ensure that you are maximally stimulating the muscle.
The mind-muscle connection is an important concept for any newbie lifter to understand. By focusing on contracting the muscle they want to grow, lifters can maximize the amount of growth they see.
There are a variety of intensity techniques that can be used to stimulate muscle growth in beginners. These techniques include drop sets, supersets, and pyramid sets.8
Drop sets – involve performing a set of an exercise until failure and then immediately reducing the weight and continuing to perform reps until failure again. This technique is effective for stimulating muscle growth because it allows you to keep the muscles working even when they are fatigued.
Supersets – involve performing two sets of an exercise back-to-back with no rest in between. This technique is effective for stimulating muscle growth because it keeps the muscles working for a longer period of time.
Pyramid sets – involve performing a set of an exercise and then immediately increasing the weight and performing another set. This technique is effective for stimulating muscle growth because it allows you to increase the intensity of your workout.
Periodization is the process of planned training cycles that vary in intensity and volume (the number of reps, sets, and weight). This approach to training allows you to avoid plateaus and continue making progress.
Periodization is an important concept for any lifter to understand. By varying the intensity and volume of your workouts, you can keep your muscles guessing and prevent them from adapting to your training.
While muscular hypertrophy can be achieved through weightlifting, there are some growth factors that affect the rate of muscle growth. One such factor is genetics. Some people are just naturally predisposed to grow muscle more easily than others and will see greater returns on a beginner hypertrophy program. This means that some people will be able to build muscle with less effort than others.
Effective hypertrophy training requires more than just lifting heavy weights. And this is where nutrition comes into play. Resistance training of the body through weight lifting causes mechanical tension and metabolic stress on muscle tissues.
In response, growth factors trigger the growth of new tissues to repair or replace the worn-out ones – the recovery phase. According to research, Hormone-like growth factors that stimulate muscle gains following mechanical tension and metabolic stress include:
- The growth hormone
- Hepatocyte growth factor (HGF)
- Fibroblast growth factor (FGF)
- insulin-like growth factor-I and –II (IGFs)9
But growth doesn’t happen anywhere. The body’s muscle tissues are largely made up of proteins. As such, muscle tissue repair and growth requires these macronutrients to happen. That means that the body essentially needs enough proteins to build muscle tissue and achieve muscular hypertrophy goals.10 As such, any beginner or expert weightlifter seeking to build muscle mass must incorporate adequate proteins in their diet.11
While you can’t change your genetics, you can change your diet and training program to promote muscle growth. By following a high-protein, low-fat diet and using an intensity-based training program, you can maximize your muscle growth potential.
When Should You Start Hypertrophy Programs or Strength Programs? (Lifting for Size vs. Strength)
Any experienced weightlifter will tell you that there’s a big difference between lifting for size and lifting for strength. There’s also a lot of debate among lifters about whether hypertrophy programs or strength programs are more effective and which ones should come first.
The truth is, it depends on your goals. In general, hypertrophy programs are designed to build muscle mass, while strength programs are focused on increasing your overall strength. So, when should you start a hypertrophy program or a strength program?
If your goal is to build muscle, then starting a hypertrophy program is the way to go. Hypertrophy programs typically involve lifting heavier weights for fewer reps, with the goal of stimulating muscle growth.12 However, if your goal is simply to get stronger, then starting a strength program may be a better option. Strength programs often involve lifting lighter weights for more reps, with the goal of gradually increasing your overall strength.
Of course, there’s no hard and fast rule about when to start a hypertrophy program or a starting strength routine. However, it is recommended for beginners to focus on hypertrophy when starting out a workout routine and apply the principle of progressive overload as they continue training.
It’s often said that you can’t have one without the other – that is, you can’t have muscle size without also having strength. And while there is certainly a correlation between muscle growth and strength, beginners may be better off focusing on hypertrophy at first.13
Once they’ve reached the first plateau in their gains, then they may want to tweak the exercise variables to focus more on strength-based training. This means using lighter weights and doing more reps. In the end, by following a well-designed workout program, beginners can ensure they are on the right track to achieving their fitness goals.
If not sure which type of program is right for you, beginners can consult with an experienced trainer or coach who can help develop a plan that’s tailored to specific goals.
Tried & True Hypertrophy Programs for Beginners & Intermediates
If a beginner is looking to add some serious muscle mass, the program above is a great place to start. But for those who complete the program or think they may be intermediates, there are a variety of tried and true programs that can help them make significant gains.
No matter what the goals are, there is a hypertrophy program to help achieve them. So without further ado, here are some of the best hypertrophy programs for beginners and intermediates alike:
- Beginner powerlifting programs
- Intermediate powerlifting programs
- Powerbuilding programs
- Lift-specific powerlifting routines
- powerlifting hypertrophy program
Ultimately, this beginner program is a perfect option for any amateur who wants to build muscle fast by working out effectively. It helps build a solid foundation of muscle in just six short weeks which can bring along 15 pounds of mass if the above is followed and a calorie surplus is maintained.
As a beginner, focus on getting the proper form down, focusing on compound exercises that work multiple muscles at once, and getting enough protein and calories. So don’t try to make any more excuses and do this now by putting this beginner hypertrophy program into action and reap the sweet, sweet, reward of being jacked.
Is 5×5 Enough Volume for Hypertrophy?
The 5×5 routine is a great place to start, but if you’re looking for more growth, the 6-reps protocol is ideal. This is a more effective way of getting stronger and increasing muscle mass simultaneously.
How Long Does Hypertrophy Take to Start?
Muscle growth doesn’t start overnight. However, with the right workout program, technique, consistency, and nutrition, hypertrophy can start within the first few weeks of training.
1Chertoff, J. (2019, February 26). Muscular Hypertrophy: The Science and Steps for Building Muscle. Healthline. Retrieved August 4, 2022, from <https://www.healthline.com/health/muscular-hypertrophy>
2Krzysztofik, M., Wilk, M., Wojdała, G., & Gołaś, A. (2019, December 4). Maximizing Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review of Advanced Resistance Training Techniques and Methods. MDPI. Retrieved August 4, 2022, from <https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph16244897>
3Renaissance Periodization. (2020, August 18). Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced Hypertrophy | Hypertrophy Made Simple #12. YouTube. Retrieved August 4, 2022, from <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a5Yzg5K5EPE>
4Renaissance Periodization. (2020, July 15). Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced Hypertrophy Training Differences. YouTube. Retrieved August 4, 2022, from <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2aYrGSPZmpk>
5Bernárdez-Vázquez, R., Raya-González, J., Castillo, D., & Beato, M. (2022, July 4). Resistance Training Variables for Optimization of Muscle Hypertrophy: An Umbrella Review. PubMed. Retrieved August 4, 2022, from <https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35873210/>
6Giessing, J., Eichmann, B., Steele, J., & Fisher, J. (2016, May 10). A comparison of low volume ‘high-intensity-training’ and high volume traditional resistance training methods on muscular performance, body composition, and subjective assessments of training. NCBI. Retrieved August 4, 2022, from <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4993139/>
7Baker, J. S., McCormick, M. C., & Robergs, R. A. (2010, December 6). Interaction among Skeletal Muscle Metabolic Energy Systems during Intense Exercise. NCBI. Retrieved August 4, 2022, from <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3005844/>
8Renaissance Periodization. (2020, August 19). When Should You Use Intensity Techniques? YouTube. Retrieved August 4, 2022, from <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D1BPilPATuA>
9Chargé, S. B. P., & Rudnicki, M. A. (2004, January). Cellular and molecular regulation of muscle regeneration. PubMed. Retrieved August 4, 2022, from <https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14715915/>
10Bubnis, D. (2021, April 12). How Long Does It Take to Build Muscle? Healthline. Retrieved August 4, 2022, from <https://www.healthline.com/health/how-long-does-it-take-to-build-muscle#resistance-vs-reps>
11Stokes, T., Hector, A. J., Morton, R. W., McGlory, C., & Phillips, S. M. (2018, February 7). Recent Perspectives Regarding the Role of Dietary Protein for the Promotion of Muscle Hypertrophy with Resistance Exercise Training. NCBI. Retrieved August 4, 2022, from <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5852756/>
12Schoenfeld, B. J., Contreras, B., Krieger, J., Grgic, J., Delcastillo, K., Belliard, R., & Alto, A. (2019, January). Resistance Training Volume Enhances Muscle Hypertrophy but Not Strength in Trained Men. PubMed. Retrieved August 4, 2022, from <https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30153194/>
13Reggiani, C., & Schiaffino, S. (2020, September 9). Muscle hypertrophy and muscle strength: dependent or independent variables? A provocative review. NCBI. Retrieved August 8, 2022, from <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7582410/>