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How To Overload Muscle And Grow!

In one of my recent articles I talked about how to ‘flip the growth switch’ for new muscle gains.

Imagine applying pressure to a light switch with your finger. Up to a certain amount of pressure the switch won’t flip. However, once a very precise amount of pressure is applied, the switch flips and triggers the electrical current that illuminates the bulb.

As far as igniting muscular hypertrophy, this exact amount of pressure is what is termed ‘Overload’.

An definition used in the fitness world is…

“Overload simply means that the stress must be above the normal, or habitual, level in order to get a subsequent change. [In terms of weight lifting]…the weight must be above a certain threshold or the adaptation will not occur.”

Crossing that threshold is ‘Overloading’ a muscle. Overload is therefore necessary for producing growth.

How To Overload A Muscle

There are different ways to overload a muscle depending on the goal of the trainee. Some are therefore not applicable or optimal when GROWTH is your goal. They are:

  • Increasing Intensity
  • Changing Duration
  • Changing Type/Mode Of Exercise
  • Changing Frequency Of Exercise

I contend that overloading a muscle when optimizing for growth is a matter of increasing reps and/or load over time i.e. increasing the INTENSITY.

Changing the frequency is also important and this feeds into my thinking on what I’ve coined as the ‘Peak Overcompensation Point‘ or P.O.P. for short <- click on the link and read that article if you haven’t already done so.

By virtue of the fact that larger muscles have more of a ‘metabolic appetite’ than smaller ones, you need longer to recover and grow as you get bigger. Advanced, natural trainees will see their P.O.P. take longer to occur as time goes by. This means that in order to make continual gains you need a longer lay-off period between workouts.

Of course we see the very OPPOSITE in the real world. Guys that have been training for a few years head to the gym more and more often to “force out new gains”. Some even go twice a day thinking that’s what’s necessary because of their advanced status. Not so. Recovery takes LONGER for larger muscles, not shorter, so the thinking is flawed. Flip that growth switch then rest and allow the adaptation to occur.

The following sentence may be the most important one you ever read in terms of gaining an intelligent, scientific understanding of the nature of increasing your muscle mass. Read it and memorize it if you can!

“Sufficient rest or recovery between stresses, or training sessions, must be allowed for adaptation to occur. Adaptation will only occur during the inter-training recovery periods.”

I found it while flicking through a text book during research for Total Anabolism 3.0, coming your way soon (free of charge of course).

So adaptation will ONLY occur during inter-training recovery periods. If you bring the stimulus back to the muscle before it has had adequate time to create the adaptation, you short-circuit any gain you were about to have, NEVER forget that.

If larger muscles take longer to recover, the inter-training periods must become longer to ensure that the muscles continue to grow. Overtraining is therefore one of the main reasons why intermediate and advanced trainees make little or no progress.

How Building Muscle Is Like Digging A Hole

The late Mike Mentzer had a great analogy for this…

He would say that working out was like digging a hole as far as making an inroad into your recovery ability is concerned. Larger muscles make a deeper hole. In order to grow you must fill the hole back in (recover) and then add a little mound on top (overcompensate).

In my own terms I would say that this bi-phasic process must be FULLY completed, i.e. you’ve reached your P.O.P., before you train again.

Man I just realized I spent WAY too long explaining manipulating training frequency. Let’s get back on topic. So far I’ve said that altering intensity and frequency ARE important in terms of OVERLOADING a muscle for a hypertrophic adaptation.

The other 2 points are ‘duration’ and ‘mode’. Stimulating growth takes a certain amount of time. Trying to decrease it will not speed up results. Increasing it implies more and more work which makes that hole we just talked about so much deeper. Remember that it’s the ever-increasing intensity that counts as far as generating growth is concerned, not ever-increasing volume or DURATION. So the duration of the workout will remain fairly constant while, over time, we seek ways to increase the intensity.

Altering mode or type is not relevant here either. As long as the specificity of the adaptation does not move away from the training goal, the mode should remain the same.

Simply put, if your goal is to increase the size of your muscle mass, and this goal DOESN’T change, there’s no need to start doing your chest flies on a stability ball as a form of ‘periodizing’ or ‘progressing’ your workouts. Actually, if the trainer at your local gym ever recommends something like this to you, remind him that your goal is the same as it always was. If he persists, slap him upside the head and tell him I sent ya!!

Like I said in a previous article:

A certain type of stimulus produces a certain type of adaptation.

If the type of adaptation desired remains the same, the type (sometimes called mode) of training remains the same. It’s the most obvious thing in the world but some trainers act like it doesn’t count. Unfortunately a qualification isn’t always a good marker for intelligence 😉 .

Best Exercises For Max. Fiber recruitment -> Failure -> Progressive Overload -> P.O.P. -> Muscle Growth

Train Intelligently!


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Mark McManus
Mark McManus
Mark is now available for 1-on-1 consultations to help you take your results to the next level. Click here for more details.
Mark McManus is a trainer & author from Ireland. His work has been featured in major publications all over the world. He is the creator of the free growth-promoting workout Targeted Hypertrophy Training' (THT) and author of the NEW fat-torching system Total Six Pack Abs.
He has also created the BREAKTHROUGH arm and chest maximizer programs The Arms Blast' and 'Chest Blast' workouts.
And if you're a fan of delicious high-protein recipes to fuel your muscle growth, check out his cook book 'Buff Baking' here.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Krooy March 23, 2010, 11:13 pm

    Another article to my data base! thanx Mark..

  • matt March 24, 2010, 12:19 am

    top stuff! Quick question off-topic regarding GLAD. you control the amount of carbs (max 10GLS per meal), however my lean musle mass is 90kg how do i get the required amount of calories through the calculations you provided whilst restricting the carbs and keeping fat content down? surely wont get the calories from the extra protein required? thanks in advance…. matt

  • XeroReality March 24, 2010, 2:19 am

    Good info. Can’t wait for Total Anabolism 3.0!

  • XeroReality March 24, 2010, 2:22 am

    Sorry, I forgot to add in, but wouldn’t a 3 or 4-day split maybe more effective because it provides an extra day(or 2) of rest. It seems like it’s not worth going to the gym just to work Chest for like 20 minutes.

  • Leettus March 24, 2010, 8:50 am

    Hi Mark,
    I know you don’t work out for strength, but do you know if the same applies for strength training? What i mean is, if you work reps that will promote strength gain, will you need the same amount of recovery time? eg. the 5×5 program seems to work while doing squats 3x/week, but while starting the 5×5 myself i feel fatigued every time, though your program made me a lot more sore. 😉


  • Adam March 24, 2010, 3:22 pm

    Another epic article. Great stuff Mark!

  • dave March 24, 2010, 6:21 pm

    so a quick question for you: what’s the ideal ‘rest period’ for a normal-size guy? i work out and stay very lean/muscular, 5’7, 150-152lbs, so i usually do my sets (50-70 minutes of free weights with abs) every other day (monday/wednesday/friday, so 3x weekly, not literally every other day continuously through calendar days)

    is that 48ish hours appropriate? should i be going 72 and mix up the routines instead?

    any thoughts or opinions welcomed from you or others…

  • jason March 25, 2010, 11:10 am

    Great tips on how to build muscle. I will definitely use the tips you included here.

  • Rob March 25, 2010, 12:24 pm

    Hi Mark, thanks for another great article and the rest of your blog and great videos – the best online (I’m similarly obsessed with the scientific fact and avoidance of b******t)

    I know you’re working on T.A. 3.0 and more info on P.O.P. but I’ve seen a few questions now that match mine: Can you give a quick idea of how to find my P.O.P. for a muscle?

    Been strictly following M.A.N.S. diet and THT over 5-days (1-2 bodyparts per day, 2 days rest) and your supplement regime (L-Glut, Creatine Mono, Protein Iso). Each muscle is typically sore for around 3 days after its workout day and its 7-days before I hit it again. Does this sound about right?

  • Rob March 25, 2010, 4:54 pm

    @Dave I’ve asked Mark in a comment elsewhere if, until another article/e-book is available with more on P.O.P., if he can give brief indication as to how to work out the right rest period, but if everything in his free e-book Total Anabolism 2.0 still holds true (and it’s working well for me!) better to concentrate on a couple of bodyparts a day on five days allowing 2 days complete rest (at weekends in my case) and 7-days rest between instances of ripping up any particular set of muscles (of course they may still get a little work on other days rom the inevitable compound nature of some exercises).

  • Raw March 25, 2010, 5:45 pm

    You just stirred up a controversial issue. Alot of people are really against Mike’s theory for some reason.

    Im not sure why ethier

  • Sunil March 27, 2010, 1:34 pm

    Sir below is the 3day workout,pls let me know is it OK




    No problem na if i do biceps with triceps?

  • Jerry March 27, 2010, 6:23 pm

    What is the connection, if any, between muscle hypertrophy and muscle soreness? Does hypertrophy always cause some soreness? Conversely, does muscle soreness (one or two days after working out) usually indicate that muscle hypertrophy has occurred? I’m asking to find out if soreness usually means that my workouts were successful in producing hypertrophy. I have been told that it is not advisable to work out a muscle that is still sore.

  • Jonathan March 27, 2010, 8:32 pm

    I know you’ve recommended cables, but I’m tight on cash and have been wondering what do you think of using resistance bands. For preacher curls, the tricep extension you shown, etc

  • Mark McManus March 29, 2010, 10:16 pm

    @Matt. GLAD is a relatively high carb diet (in grams). Don’t get GL confused with carb count. You may need to read the GLAD article again for a thorough understanding.
    @XeroReality. Yes. You’ll see in TA3 that I cover that. It’s a different workout now.
    @Leettus. Yes the same applies. However, everyone’s recovery time/ability is different. Prescribing 3 x week to everyone is not the way to go.
    @Dave and Rob. POP is an individual thing. First and foremost, if your strength has increased from 1 workout to the next, you’ve overcompensated, so that is the main marker to experiment and find YOUR pop. @Rob. Yes that’s quite typical.
    @Jerry. No-one knows unfortunately. You don’t need DOMS to grow but at the same time, DOMS would indicate that damage has occurred that will be repaired. Don’t depend on it is all I would say at this time.
    @Jonathan. I’m not a big fan, stick to free weights in the meantime.