What increments to use

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Quoting bryan - "Is there something magical about using 5-10 pound weight increments each workout? No. The idea is that the weight must steadily increase over time, or no further growth will occur. Go ahead and use the same weight twice, it's no big deal. If your starting weights are too small, use fewer increments and start with more weight.

The smaller the muscle group, the smaller the increment. It's all relative. Using percentages of your max for each exercise will manifest the relative nature of increments. For example, if you decide to use 5% increase in weight each workout. For curls I would increase the weight 5lbs if my max was 100lbs. However, for squats a 5% increase would dictate that I increase the weight 15lbs if my max was 300lbs. So its relative to your max, which in turn reflects the the size of the muscle group.

To simplify things, I just use 5-10lbs (~2.25-4.5kgs) for upper body, and 10-20lbs (~4.5-9kgs) for legs.

Larger increments will tend to cause greater microtrauma, and by extension hypertrophy. Lower increments will be more conducive towards strength increases (and not so much hypertrophy). The reason is that you want the workout to be traumatic to the muscle tissue each and every workout. Therefore, the weight load has to exceed the muscles ability to structurally adapt from workout to workout. If the increments are too small, the workout won’t really be that much different from the previous workout, and as a result, will not cause much trauma to the tissue.

Once again, smaller increments are generally more effective at developing “strength”.

Here are the factors involved when establishing increments:
1) The minimum amount of effective (for hypertrophy) weight to start with.
2) The difference between the minimum effective weight, and your max
3) The number of workouts to go from the minimum amount of effective weight, to your max.

Keep in mind that the above factors aren’t “constant”. Meaning, they are in turn effected by your level of conditioning, and your level of strength. The lower the level of conditioning, and the higher the level of “native”, or untrained strength, the larger the increments can be, and in turn, the more effective the cycle will be.

Using smaller increments would indeed allow you to add workouts before reaching your max. Whether this hurts, or helps your particular gains depends on many factors that you couldn't predict. This is because "progressive load" is not an all or none principle. As with the other physiological principles of hypertrophy, it is a matter of degrees.

The afore mentioned interaction between the Repeated Bout Effect and Progressive Load can be summarized in the following HST principle:
- Muscle tissue is sensitive to both the “absolute”, as well as the “relative increase” in load.

The “absolute” load is determined by the minimum effective load (which varies according to length of SD), and the “relative load” is determined by the size of increment you choose.

How much the "minimum" load is, depends on the condition of the muscle at the time you impose the load. If you are an astronaut and have been weightless (extreme deconditioning)
for 2 months, just the force of gravity on your limbs will induce hypertrophy. Also refer to the thread on Strategic Deconditioning for further discussion."
From ThinkMuscle Newsletter 23

Hi. How do I decide how big an increment (i.e. weight increase) to use from workout to workout? I hear some people say to just use tiny increases (i.e. small percentages) in weight and others advising bigger increments. I'm not
interested in strength so much as I am in size, so what should I do if I want to put on as much size as possible?


It is important not to get too caught up in small percentages. In other words, no need to split hairs when you don't actually have a view of the hairs you're trying to split. We cannot predict exactly how much weight to use at any given time because we simply can't see into the muscle tissue itself. Therefore we work our way along by finding an advantageous starting point and then keeping track of where we've most recently been.

The Principles Involved:

Your muscle, depending on the size of the muscle group, will not likely be able to sense a small increases in load, such as 2.5 pounds or 1 kilo. Your CNS won't really know the difference either. It doesn't get direct feedback from your muscle tissue about actual tension levels (aside from golgi tendon organs and to a lesser extent muscle spindles). The CNS is more sensitive to the degree of exhaustion, or a given level of output for a given duration. You will, however, because you know what you loaded on the bar last time and you know that you're putting 1 kilo more weight on this time. So aside from a mind game we play with ourselves, we need to try to make each workout a relatively more severe structural challenge to our muscle tissue. The challenge to our CNS and to ourselves is secondary to this. This is and important element that distinguishes Hypertrophy-Specific Training from other methods of training done for other reasons.

Speaking short term, what your muscles are responding to from workout to workout (~48 hours later) is the "repeated" structural challenge. The frequency that this occurs is also important. This will be true for about 3-4 weeks. The more
frequent the load, and the more sensitive your tissue is to that loading, the longer you can get away with no increase in load. You heard me correctly. Until your tissue has finished building up its resistance to the current level of abuse you're putting it through (Repeated Bout Effect), it will continue to respond (i.e. grow) to the workouts even if the weight has not increased.

Depending on the absolute amount of weight used, and the level of conditioning the tissue had when you started, this can work for anywhere from 3-4 weeks. However, there is a definite curve of diminishing returns during those weeks. The last workout won't be near as productive as the 2nd or 3rd workout.

Despite this short term efficacy of constant or static weight loads, increasing the load from workout to workout does serve a obvious purpose. It helps to cause adequate physical trauma to the tissue more consistently, thereby more consistantly activating important hypertrophic pathways like satellite cell activity and internal mechanotransduction pathways. Too little or no damage due to imperceptibly small increments means your muscle's ability to resist trauma will soon catch up to you and growth will stop. Too much damage from huge increments means you're headed for injury, extreme DOMS, and possibly fiber necrosis and an increase in fibrous connective tissue (not good).

The Application of those Principles:

So how do we apply the principles we just discussed? After all, just knowing that something works a certain way, doesn't mean you know how to make it do what you want it to. So lets summarize this first. You want the tissue to be traumatized more than just on the first workout. So, considering the tissue's ability to rapidly protect itself from
further trauma (growing resistant to the tension itself), you have to continually increase the weight in order to stay ahead of the tissue's physical adaptation to the last workout (RBE). This is fundamentally contrary to ALL other programs before HST which preach full recovery before hitting the muscle again. Anybody serious about hypertrophy will need to train again before the muscle is recovered.

So we know that the load must be continually increased in order to grow consistantly. However, this poses a problem to us because we are only so strong. Unlike Superman, there is only so much weight that we can lift. So our well-validated strategy to continually increase the weight is only a temporary solution. Here we come to another juncture that is fundamentally different from other programs. Some programs, unable to understand why growth stops, would have you change exercises to confuse the muscle. After all, don't all our organs grow in response to confusion...? Just think if this were true, people with blond hair would have HUGE brains. (Just kidding ;) ). Others would have you
simply train harder, do more sets, do forced reps, decrease the rest period, or whatever they can think of to make the same weight loads feel more difficult. They call it upping the intensity. Why? Because they don't really understand why they have stopped growing. If you don't know why you've stopped growing, you are going to have a very hard time fixing the problem.

So back to our dilemma, we deal with the problem of limited strength with Strategic Deconditioning (SD), which then allows us to use the minimum possible weight that will still produce hypertrophy when we start training. This is the only reason using submax weights during an HST cycle works. After SD you have effectively decreased the amount of weight required to stimulate growth. And at the same time you have given yourself some headroom to increase the weight each and every workout for a decent length of time before you max out your strength.

Even when using SD properly, we still end up with certain limitations, or boundaries, that we must work within. The lower boundary is that we still have to start with a good amount of weight to cause hypertrophy, regardless of how weak we are. The upper boundary is due to the fact that we are only so strong, so we can't increase the weight forever. The difference between the lower boundary (minimum amount of starting weight) and the upper boundary (max strength) will differ from one person to another. Sure, these boundaries change over time. We get stronger over time and we also tend to be more or less conditioned when we start. So both boundaries can move up or down over time.

Here is the key to understanding the answer to your question about increments. The smaller the difference between your required starting weight and your max strength will determine what kind of increments you will use. This is not
complicated, nor does it need to be. On average you should be able to make 6 increments between your minimum effective weight and your repetition max. It is not uncommon, however, that people will need to reduce the number of increments and repeat a few poundages to accommodate small muscle groups such as shoulders (lateral raises etc). All in all you will end up increasing the weight 18 -20 times over the course of 6-8 weeks. This consistent increase in load and Strategic Deconditioning has a great deal to do with the effectiveness of HST.

In the end it isn't necessary to focus on how big of an increment to make.What will determine your success is more dependent upon how wide the range is between your effective starting poundages during the 15s and your ending poundages used for 5s or negatives. So your goal for continued success, cycle after cycle, is to increase that range - by either decreasing the effective starting weight and/or increasing the finishing weight of the cycle.
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