DPT-404- Exercise Prescription: Muscular Endurance & Hypertrophy

You must first complete DPT-403- Exercise Prescription: Aerobic Fitness before viewing this Lesson

In this chapter, the key concepts and principles of programme design will be revised as discussed in Level 2, as well as introducing and discussing the various training systems available to the personal trainer (PT).

Stages of Programme Design

The following step-by-step guide will introduce how the trainer should proceed from the initial consultation, through to the design of the resistance programme itself.

Stage 1 – information gathering:

The following information will need to be obtained during the consultation process:

  • lifestyle considerations
  • occupation – hours, manual or sedentary, postures adopted 
  • leisure activities – active or inactive, postures adopted
  • activity levels – sedentary, limited, moderately or highly active,  frequency 
  • nutritional habits – types of food and drinks, frequency of consumption
  • alcohol consumption – estimated amounts and frequencies
  • smoking habits – smoker or non-smoker, amounts, how long etc
  • sleeping habits – amount of hours of sleep per night
  • time available
  • training status
    • length of (recent) regular participation in previous training programmes
    • type of training programme (resistance, plyometric, sprint etc)
    • level of intensity involved in previous training programmes
    • degree of exercise technique experience (i.e. the knowledge and skill to perform resistance training exercises correctly)
    • training age
  • environment and equipment
  • gym
  • studio
  • home
  • outdoors
  • freeweights
  • fixed path resistance machines
  • bands
  • manual resistance
  • stability equipment (BOSU’s, stability balls, wobble boards and core boards)
  • likes and dislikes
  • what does the client enjoy?
  • what do they dislike and why?
  • focus on areas of weakness


The following are a range of common client objectives. Resistance training exercises will be included in the training programmes that are designed to meet these objectives, although some are clearly far more resistance-based than others: 

  • muscular strength
  • muscle size (hypertrophy)
  • muscular endurance
  • fat loss
  • health
  • hypertrophy
  • posture
  • aerobic conditioning
  • anaerobic conditioning

Collation of this information allows the PT to move on to the next stage of programme design, i.e. selecting set and rep schemes, recovery periods and workout frequency.

Stage 2 – planning to meet the objective:

  • programming for different objectives

The table below provides the various programme objective guidelines. Once the objectives of the client have been ascertained the appropriate intensities, set and rep schemes, recoveries and frequencies can be selected.

When selecting a weekly workout frequency, the trainer should consider the training age of the client. The table on the next page (Baechle and Earle, 2000provides a simple illustration of how the trainer can manipulate the variable of frequency as the client’s training age / experience increases.

Training statusFrequency guidelines (sessions / week)

Total sessions per week for different training ages

It should be noted that these frequencies are based on resistance training sessions per week (not aerobic, flexibility sessions etc), and that these are guidelines only. Exceeding the maximum recommended frequency on a regular basis would be inadvisable however, as the client’s ability to recover from the load would be compromised.

Stage 3 –  programme rules and workout construction:

Key programme design rules include:

  • promote muscular balance
  • train large muscles first
  • complex and high skill exercises first
  • synergists and fixators last

Resistance Training for Beginners


Beginner clients require a logical and structured introduction into the world of resistance training. This will allow them to ‘walk before they can run’, and develop a solid foundation that can be built upon as they progress. The deconditioned beginner will often present with the following general issues:

  • poor technique
  • poor proprioception
  • lack of muscular strength and endurance
  • poor aerobic conditioning
  • low tissue tolerance
  • weak connective tissue
  • poor posture
  • poor core strength

The PT should appreciate these issues and programme accordingly so the client can make improvements and safely progress towards their objectives.  

Programme aims for beginners:

A resistance-based programme designed for a deconditioned novice client should meet certain criteria. On a basic level the trainer should ensure that the programme adheres to the programme design rules. The programme should also meet and achieve the following objectives:

  • improve proprioception
  • improve posture
  • increase tissue tolerance for exercise
  • improve core strength
  • enhance function
  • provide variety
  • provide a sense of achievement

The need for progression:

Each individual has a genetic potential that defines how far their fitness could progress if training, nutrition and recovery were optimised. The deconditioned novice has a large adaptation potential because they are starting from a point far below their genetic limits. Consequently, Fleck and Kraemer (1997) contend that almost any programme will work for an untrained individual, as they have a great adaptation potential and are unfamiliar with any exercise stimulus. It is as a result of this adaptation potential that novice clients tend to make rapid progress initially once exposed to the exercise stimulus.

The initial gains made by the novice client are relatively short lived, and gains will start to slow down. It is important that the PT appreciates that a new stimulus needs to be introduced at this point, and structures an appropriate response to keep progress moving in a positive direction. 

Once the client’s physiology has adapted to the workout stimulus, the onus is on the PT to make appropriate programme modifications. If appropriate modifications are not made the client’s progress is likely to plateau. In the medium to long term, progress stagnation is likely to cause dissatisfaction and lead to problems with exercise adherence and client retention. Programme modifications should be progressive and designed to build on the foundation of the previous training phase, thus enabling the client to make further progress.

Overexposure to the same stimulus

Programme variables:

When the time comes to change a resistance training programme, the PT can manipulate a wide variety of variables. These include:

  • number of exercises
  • number of sets
  • target repetition range
  • recovery periods between sets
  • workout frequency
  • movement speed – slow to fast
  • different exercises
  • stable to unstable
  • simple to complex
  • split routines

Basic resistance progression:

In order to physically progress a client over a prolonged period of time it is important that the trainer develops a long term training plan. Adopting a logical approach to planning promotes a structured and progressive approach to exercise that can facilitate long term development, promote variety, structure adequate rest periods and minimise the likelihood of overtraining. Long term planning also allows the client to see how they are going to progress from their current fitness levels towards their overall objective.When planning to take a client from novice level through to the more advanced and intensive forms of resistance training, the following basic progression pyramid should be adhered to

A thorough examination of the client’s previous exercise experience, training routines and adherence patterns will provide an indication of their suitability to perform certain types of resistance training. The novice client should be allowed time to develop sufficient connective tissue strength, anaerobic conditioning and tissue tolerance to be able to safely perform the training load required to achieve higher intensity objectives.  

The basic pyramid approach to resistance training progression over time will only apply if the client’s goals include training towards strength and or hypertrophy. Many clients will not want to focus on these aspects of muscular fitness, in which case the pyramid approach may not be applicable. If this is the case, then the trainer has various options. Firstly, there is scope for intensity progression within each training objective. For example, if a client wants to focus predominantly on muscular endurance, the guideline of 12+ repetitions per set can be subdivided into smaller repetition ranges. Successive training phases might progress from 18-20, 15-18, 12-15 reps per set. This would provide small increments in intensity while still remaining within the muscular endurance repetition range. A second option would be to keep the repetition range the same, but amend other programme variables (see previous list). Increasing the movement complexity from phase to phase while working with the same endurance repetition range is one of many possible options. 


Many clients will ultimately wish to progress to a programme where aesthetics are the main goal and begin to gravitate towards training for hypertrophy. This type of training should only be embarked upon once a solid foundation of technique, posture, basic cardiovascular fitness and flexibility has been built.

Hypertrophy physiology

As with many of the physiological functions of the body, the precise mechanism by which muscles increase in size is not yet completely understood. There are many competing theories attempting to explain the adaptations that take place at a cellular level, but no one theory has been universally accepted as yet. 

Robergs & Roberts (1997) define hypertrophy as the increase in size of skeletal muscle resulting from the increased size of individual muscle fibres. McArdle et al (2001) suggest that the primary driving force that initiates skeletal muscle hypertrophy is increased muscular tension, typically generated through resistance exercise. It has been reported that the fast-twitch fibres of weight lifters are on average 45% larger than those of sedentary individuals and aerobic athletes (McArdle et al, 2001). 

Siff (2003) contends that two distinct types of hypertrophy may occur: sarcoplasmic hypertrophy and sarcomere hypertrophy. In sarcoplasmic hypertrophy there are increases in levels of both non-contractile protein and inter-fibre plasma. This would lead to a significant increase in the cross-sectional area of muscle without significant increases in force production (strength). By contrast, sarcomere hypertrophy is characterised by an increase in the contractile protein content of muscle fibres (actin and myosin). This type of hypertrophy would significantly increase the force production potential of the fibres contained within a skeletal muscle. Siff (2003) examines the current research and suggests that longer and more strenuous sub-maximal loading (high volume training) may increase muscle size through sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. This notion may be of benefit to bodybuilders seeking to increase muscle cross-sectional area with little or no concern for athletic performance enhancement. 

Training to significantly increase muscular size is not particularly easy. Convincing the human body to synthesise and sustain higher levels of muscle mass than it would ordinarily support requires planning, application and sustained effort. Individuals wanting to increase in size need to carefully consider the training stimulus, ensure appropriate nutrition and plan adequate recovery. There are three key variables that need to be considered.

Hypertrophy training should not just be considered the domain of bodybuilders and young males wanting to ‘get big.’ Phases of hypertrophy training can be utilised by all individuals that participate in a wide variety of sports and athletic events. A moderate amount of hypertrophy training, for example, may be beneficial to individuals that compete in power orientated sports, such as sprinting, jumping and throwing events. Newton and Kraemer (1994) contend that hypertrophy training can prove highly beneficial to power athletes, provided that they also include dedicated power exercises and do not exceed the ideal optimal muscle mass for their sport or event (especially if power to weight ratio is a key consideration).

When planning a hypertrophy training phase for a client with an overall sporting objective, it is worth considering the key muscles and movement patterns that are required to successfully compete in that sport. The bodybuilding mentality of training for overall aesthetic balance and proportion may prove counterproductive if training for a sport in which certain muscle groups dominate. Consider the example of sprint track cycling; the majority of work performed during this sport is done by the musculature of the hips and thighs. Employing a generic hypertrophy routine for this sport may overdevelop the non-performance enhancing upper body muscle groups. This will essentially add non-functional (for the sport of cycling) weight that the cyclist will have to propel around the track. The addition of muscle not required for sporting performance could potentially negate any force production gains derived through resistance training. 

The PT that is charged by a client to help them achieve hypertrophy has a challenging task ahead. The trainer must first understand what type of training stimulus will promote hypertrophy. The PT must also be able to plan suitable recovery periods into the long term training schedule, and have the knowledge to provide advice on the nutritional aspects of working towards hypertrophy.

Hormonal responses (anabolic / catabolic):

Hormones can by divided into two general categories: 

  • anabolic
  • catabolic

Anabolic hormones promote the building of structures within the body. With the aim of a hypertrophy training phase being the building of skeletal muscle, it would be prudent to maximise the effects of the anabolic hormones. The characteristic male sex hormone testosterone is known for its anabolic properties. Testosterone plays an important role in muscle growth due to its role in protein synthesis. Males exhibit approximately ten times greater testosterone concentrations than females (Hedrick, 1995). This is one reason why males are able to achieve significantly greater levels of hypertrophy than females. Hedrick (1995) suggests that exercise guidelines for maximising an anabolic response are as follows:

  • select exercises that involve a large amount of muscle mass (e.g. squats, deadlifts etc.)
  • utilise a relatively heavy resistance (~85% 1RM)
  • use a moderate to high volume of training (multiple sets)
  • emphasise short rest periods between sets (~1 minute)

Catabolic hormones break structures down within the body. Chronically high levels of catabolic hormones within the body would be counterproductive to the objective of hypertrophy. Cortisol is one of the most catabolic hormones found within the human body. One of the major roles of cortisol involves the conversion of stored protein (muscle) into glucose and glycogen. As well as catabolising existing protein, cortisol decreases protein synthesis, thereby inhibiting muscular gain (Jalali, 2003). 

Jalali (2003) suggests the following tips for controlling cortisol levels:

  • ensure that an adequate quantity and variety of nutrients is consumed on a regular basis
  • avoid overtraining. Do not train 3 or more days in a row without a break, and keep workout duration under one hour
  • avoid stress. Practice relaxation techniques
  • try to sleep at least 8 hours each night
  • spike insulin levels after a workout. Insulin levels may enhance post-workout cortisol clearance, promoting the switch to anabolism. Consumption of a high glycaemic index carbohydrate drink or snack will generate an insulin spike  

Changing the stimulus:

Approximately every 4-8 weeks the PT should look to modify the programme variables in such a way as to generate a new exercise stimulus for the client. If planned correctly, this practice should help ensure physical progress as well as minimising the risk of retention problems through boredom. Care should be taken to ensure that the progressions in volume and intensity from one programme to the next are both progressive and manageable e.g. conducting a strength endurance phase in between endurance and full-on hypertrophy phases.

Hypertrophy guidelines:

As the client moves from muscular endurance to hypertrophy the training programmes change significantly. The general guideline for muscular endurance programmes is to perform whole body routines built around compound exercises. When training for endurance it is not uncommon to repeat the same workout two to three times per week. When training for hypertrophy the number of sets performed per muscle group is far greater than for muscular endurance. Baechle et al (2000) suggest that multiple exercises (i.e. 3 or more per muscle group) is the most effective strategy for increasing hypertrophy. The training intensity (expressed as % of 1RM) is also significantly higher for hypertrophy than it is for muscular endurance. It can therefore, be stated that a key feature of hypertrophy training is high volume combined with moderate to high exercise intensities.

Load as % of 1RM<67%67-85%
Suggested rep range12+6-12
Rest between sets30-60 seconds1-2 mins
Sets per exercise2-33-6
Frequency per muscle2-3 x per week1-2 x per week
Workout typeWhole bodySplit routine

Comparison between endurance and hypertrophy guidelines

Split routines:

Inevitably, when progressing from the initial use of whole body routines towards hypertrophy there will come a time when the trainer cannot fit the volume of work required into the time available. The vast majority of clients do not have the time, or the physical resilience to train for hours on end, and so a different approach to resistance training needs to be employed.

The split routine is a system employed by bodybuilders, strength athletes and recreational trainers the world over. Split routines involve moving away from the whole body approach by splitting the body up in to two or more groups of muscles. These groups of muscles can then be trained on separate days in a cyclical fashion.

The following are examples of popular hypertrophy training splits:

Option A – the 2-way split
Lower Body Upper Body Lower Body  

Option A (above) splits the body into two distinct areas: upper body and lower body. These areas are worked separately over two alternating workouts. The sequence depicted above would be reversed during the second week of the training phase, so that each workout is repeated three times every two weeks.

Option B – the 2-way split (increased frequency)
Lower BodyUpper Body Lower BodyUpper Body  

Option B takes the 2-way split concept from option A and progresses it by increasing the frequency of the workouts from three times every two weeks to twice per week. 

 Option C(a) – the 3-way split
Back & Biceps Legs & Deltoids Chest & Triceps  
Option C(b) – the 3-way split
Chest & Biceps Legs & Deltoids Back & Triceps  

C (a) + C (b) above are two examples of 3-way splits. The splitting of the major muscle groups (the musculature of the chest, back and legs) is identical for both examples. This split is a very popular way to divide the key areas of the body. The way in which the smaller muscle groups are divided is very much a case of personal preference.

In option C(a) the smaller muscle groups of the upper arms are worked on the same day as the major muscles they act synergistically with. For example, the triceps brachii are involved in all pressing movements. As many of the popular pectoralis major exercises involve pressing actions (e.g. bench press), the triceps brachii would receive stimulation from the chest workout. Training the triceps after the chest would rapidly fatigue the triceps muscles that have already been involved synergistically in the workout.

In option C(b) the upper arm muscles have been deliberately placed with major upper body muscle groups that they do not tend to work synergistically with. The rationale for this approach is twofold. Firstly, the upper arm muscles essentially get trained twice a week by using this approach: once directly and once indirectly while acting as a synergist for a larger upper body muscle group trained on a separate day. Secondly, many individuals perceive that they can train the upper arm musculature more effectively if it has not been pre-fatigued through synergistic involvement in other exercises.   

Option D – the 4-way split
Vertical Push & pull e.g. shoulders and back (lats)& bicepsLegs – Hip dominante.g. Deadlift & leg curls HorizontalPush & pull e.g. Chest & upper back & tricepsLegs – Quad dominante.g. Squats and leg extension  

Once a client has progressed through various 3 way split routines and desires an increase in exercise volume and workout frequency, it may be appropriate to adopt a 4 way split routine. This frequency of workout requires that the client has good recovery strategies, is experienced and is prepared to commit more time to training. The advantages of the above split include increased frequency of lower body training, which is often an area neglected in recreational bodybuilders, and balancing of the upper body musculature which should negate some of the typical postural abnormalities normally associated with typical bodybuilding routines.  

The previous examples of training splits provide the trainer with some ideas as to how to arrange resistance training workouts. It is however, important that the trainer understands why workouts are sequenced in a certain way in order to allow them to create their own weekly schedules.

Planning criteria for split routines:

  • the planned schedule meets the requirements of the client in terms of time available 
  • the frequency at which workouts are repeated does not exceed the maximum recommended for each training goal
  • the workout planned for any given day is not adversely affected by the previous day’s session
  • adequate recovery is planned into the weekly cycle (usually at least 2 days off for each body part or muscle group)

Disadvantages of split routines:

Changing to a split routine also has some potential disadvantages that the trainer and client should be aware of:

  • a greater workout frequency is required
  • increased workout frequency may lead  to overtraining
  • missing one workout will potentially unbalance the whole training week
  • split routines require intelligent planning and forethought


Exercise selection:

When choosing exercises to train for hypertrophy, it is important to remember that stimulating and fatiguing as many fibres as possible is the primary objective. 

When selecting exercises to include in hypertrophy workouts the trainer should include a variety of the following:

  • free weight compound exercises
  • free weight isolation exercises
  • machine and cable-based exercises

When selecting fixed path resistance machines to incorporate into the hypertrophy programme, the trainer should apply common sense and have a critical eye. One of the major criticisms of fixed path machines is that they are not always adjustable enough to suit all body types, shapes and sizes. As a result of this, a machine that works well for one individual may be considered inappropriate for another. The PT should strive to appreciate when this is the case and be prepared to offer suitable alternatives.  

Putting the workouts together:

A simple step-by-step formula can be followed in order to produce safe and effective resistance training sessions. This formula is depicted below:

  1. Identify the training objective (e.g. hypertrophy).
  2. Design a weekly split based on the objective and time available to the client (which muscles are grouped together on which days?).
  3. Pick set and rep schemes appropriate to the client’s current physical ability.
  4. Select exercises for each muscle (exercises should suit the objective).
  5. Order the exercises to be performed on each day following the basic programme design rules.

Check that the volume of work will fit into the time available for each session.

Student Task 

Design a training programme for a 26 year old male client that has the long-term objective of hypertrophy. The programme should include a weekly split pattern (either two or three way), with each workout within the split detailed in the tables below. 
____________ way split
ExerciseSets x RepsRecovery
ExerciseSets x RepsRecovery
ExerciseSets x RepsRecovery
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