The Fitness Zone

Prepping for hypertrophy: M.A.X. Metabolic Phase

May 02, 2022 | by Network

By delaying the build-up of lactic acid in muscles, and increasing both glycogen storage capacity and capillary density, metabolic training conditions the body for greater hypertrophy, writes Brad Schoenfeld in this excerpt from The M.A.X. Muscle Plan 2.0.

The metabolic phase is a preparatory phase that conditions your body for hypertrophy training. The goal here is to optimise training efficiency by packing more exercise into less time, i.e. increasing training density. This is accomplished by training with a combination of high repetitions (15-30 reps per set) and short rest intervals (approximately 30 seconds or less). Rest intervals progressively decrease over the course of the cycle to bring about the desired metabolic adaptations.

The goal here is to optimise training efficiency by packing more exercise into less time

Lactate threshold

Although the hypertrophic benefits of metabolic training may not be readily apparent, it indeed can have positive effects on muscle development. First and foremost, metabolic training increases your lactate threshold, the point at which lactic acid begins to rapidly accumulate in working muscles.

From a muscle-building standpoint, lactic acid is a double-edged sword. On one hand, there is evidence that it serves to stimulate hypertrophy, at least in animal models. Although the mechanisms are not entirely clear, lactate conceivably may function as a signaling agent that turns on intracellular anabolic pathways. On the other hand, excessive buildup of lactic acid (specifically the hydrogen ions) can interfere with muscle contraction, thus reducing the number of reps you can perform in a set.

Here’s where metabolic training comes into play. Adaptations associated with metabolic training include an increase in the number of capillaries (tiny blood vessels that facilitate the exchange of nutrients and metabolic waste) and an improved muscle-buffering capacity, both of which help delay lactic buildup. The upshot is that you’re able to maintain greater time under tension at a given workload without compromising the proposed hypertrophy-related benefits of lactate accumulation. In addition, you develop a greater tolerance for higher volumes of work – an important component of maximising hypertrophy.

If you aspire to maximise muscular gains, sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is your ally.

Glycogen storage

Metabolic training also improves glycogen storage capacity. Glycogen is the term for stored carbohydrate. The majority of glycogen is stored in muscle tissue, with the balance deposited in liver cells. Here’s the kicker: Each gram of stored glycogen attracts 3 grams of water into the muscle. Increase muscle glycogen stores and you increase overall muscle size, a phenomenon called sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. Although sarcoplasmic hypertrophy does not meaningfully contribute to strength capacity, it does enhance muscular aesthetics, improving the overall shape of your physique. If you aspire to maximise muscular gains, sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is your ally.

Enhanced recovery

In addition, metabolic training boosts your recovery ability. As mentioned, training in a metabolic fashion increases the network of capillaries that deliver nutrients and other substances (such as oxygen, hormones, and so on) to body tissues. A greater capillary density allows for greater nutrient transfer to your muscles. This facilitates better recovery after an intense workout in that it supplies damaged muscles with the necessary materials for remodeling.

Slow-twitch muscle

Finally, metabolic training may help to fully stimulate the growth of slow-twitch (i.e. type I) muscle fibres. Research remains inconclusive on the topic, but there is some evidence that these fibres might respond better to higher rep ranges given their endurance-oriented nature. Although slow-twitch fibres are often dismissed as inconsequential from a muscle-building standpoint, don’t discount their importance to overall muscle development. Superior slow-twitch fibre hypertrophy is one of the hypothesised reasons bodybuilders display greater muscularity compared with powerlifters. To maximise muscle size, it is necessary to maximally stimulate the full spectrum of fibres, including slow-twitch fibres.

This type of training is intended to set the stage for muscle development, not to maximise hypertrophy

Before you conclude that including extended cycles of metabolic conditioning in a hypertrophy program is beneficial, remember that this type of training is intended to set the stage for muscle development, not to maximise hypertrophy. In fact, metabolic training potentially can negatively affect strength gains made in the previous phase if carried out over a prolonged time frame. Thus, limit metabolic cycles to relatively short time periods (i.e. four weeks) to avoid any detrimental impact on force-producing capacity.

Moreover, the weights used in this phase are comparatively light, but that doesn’t mean the workouts will be a walk in the park. Quite the contrary. Metabolic training can be even more physically and mentally demanding than heavy weight training. Pushing past the intense burn that continues to build up during a high-rep set requires a high tolerance for discomfort and lots of resolve. It’s definitely not for the weak of mind!

Excerpted from The M.A.X. Muscle Plan 2.0. ©Human Kinetics, 2022. Save an additional 10% on the already discounted price of this book when you use code AFN2020 and purchase it from Booktopia here.

Brad Schoenfeld

Professor Brad Schoenfeld is widely regarded as one of the world’s leading experts in the field of muscle hypertrophy. His textbook, The Science and Development of Muscle Hypertrophy, 2nd edition, has set the standard and benchmark for the most highly regarded scientific text on the subject.

Network is an education subscription service that offers a broad range of upskilling courses for fitness and wellness professionals. Established in 1987, Network has played a pivotal role in the continual evolution of the fitness industry.

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