Building muscle can seem complicated and overwhelming at times, with so many philosophies and programs on the web promising 2 inches to your biceps in 2 weeks. Fortunately, Brad Schoenfeld, PH.D, C.S.C.S., and fitness expert on body composition training has brought some clarity to the topic after years of research. He has concluded that there are essentially 3 major mechanisms that lead to muscle hypertrophy. By the end of this article you should have all the information you need to build your own muscle building program instead of paying for a bogus one from a famous Instagram model with a fake butt.

  1. Metabolic Stress

In layman’s terms, metabolic stress refers to the “pump.” High rep sets with minimal rest can lead to cellular swelling inside the target muscle which gives that “burning feeling” that hurts so good.  If you only lift heavy in low rep ranges and never develop a solid “mind-muscle connection” with lighter weights, you will definitely be leaving some gains on the table. This is why most bodybuilders appear more muscular than powerlifters.

  • Try it: Complete “21s” with goblet squats or bicep curls. Start with 7 reps in the bottom range of motion, then do 7 reps in the top range of motion, and end with 7 reps with a full range of motion. Complete 3 sets with 30 seconds rest to maximize metabolic stress!


  1. Muscle Damage

Muscle damage refers to the tearing of muscle fibers that can lead to delayed onset muscle soreness. According to the fluid accumulation theory, muscle hypertrophy can occur from muscle damage that increases fluid and plasma protein accumulation in the muscle, which triggers muscle swelling and forces the muscle to adapt via protein synthesis. So how do we maximize muscle damage?

        – Exaggerate the eccentric (lowering) component of the exercise.

        – Take exercises through a full range of motion and focus on the stretch.

  • Try it: Complete 4 second eccentrics with a pause on the contraction for your rows and hip thrusts. Complete 3 sets of 8 with 90-120 seconds rest to maximize muscle damage!

  1. Mechanical Tension

In my opinion, this is the most important of the three factors that influence muscle growth. Mechanical tension basically refers to the amount of resistance or tension that is being placed on the muscle. If you want to get bigger, you need to get stronger by gradually increasing your load over time. In the famous words of Ronnie Coleman, “Everybody wanna be a bodybuilder, but nobody wanna lift no heavy ass weight.” So make sure your form is on point and focus on progressive overload.

  • Try it: Complete 5 sets of 5 back squats with 75-80% of your 1 rep max. Try to add 1 rep, 1 set, or 5lbs each week!

The Wrap Up

If you want to maximize your muscle growth potential, develop a solid mind-muscle connection, prioritize strength in your compound lifts, create some muscle damage by using slow and controlled tempos, and don’t forget about the pump!