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How to Gain Muscle

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Muscle gain is commonly known as hypertrophy, this is the growth and synthesis of the muscle fibres & cells that make up the muscle belly itself. Within the muscle cell, we first have the muscle belly, within these there are lots of ‘bunches’ of muscle fibres, then within these deeper is the myofibrils and then Sarcomeres, which are simply the small components that all work together to create a contraction!! (Move a load or perform a movement). 

When these are pushed with intensity (E.G. Lifting weights) effectively there is microtrauma to the muscle cells, this comes from repeated contractions, depletion of glycogen (Energy) and damage to actin + myosin proteins (These inhibit contractions). 

From this microtrauma the central nervous system will enter the state of repair where the body is repairing and recovery in the aim to handle the stress if you were to impose it on the muscles again, during this recovery time protein synthesis occurs where these actin and myosin elements and sarcomeres are increased slight in size and numbers.

In short, say 5x 8 bench press at 80kg is performed and this is intense, the body is trying to prevent that being as intense for the muscles next time, hence the demand to grow! 

To conclude the basics around hypertrophy, there are 2 types of hypertrophy and they both happen in conjunction but vary in contribution depending on training styles. 

1: Myofibrillar hypertrophy

Myofibrils are made up of proteins that can contract and give us muscle function, it is an increase in the size and number of myofibrils in muscle. This increases the force with which muscles can contract, therefore improving strength/size

2: Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy

This is simply an increased volume of plasma in the muscle belly. The sarcoplasm is the plastic elements of muscle cells, and it includes proteins, glycogen, water, collagen, and other substances. This is almost a temporary hypertrophy, an increase of Glycogen intake, creatine or inflammation from muscle damage or ‘The Pump’. 

We know that when increased fibres and contractile protein occurs the sarcoplasm will increase accommodating this new muscle volume; The 3 main factors to induce hypertrophy are: 

1: Progressive tension overload

This is the increasing tension levels in the muscle fibres due to resisting or moving load, the aim to maximise muscle fibres used. The most effective way to increase this tension and keep overloading is with incremental increases of weight lifted. For example, 4 sets of 8 @80kg in week one followed by 4 sets of 8 at 82-85kg the following week. 

2: Muscle Damage 

This is the microtrauma mentioned above, these microtears are what the body adapts and recovers from to insure you are ‘better equipped’ to deal with this stress again. Although we aim for this we need to focus on insuring we are causing damage that we cant recover from, when building weight weekly you should insure it’s a steady process, along with that progression of reps can also be a factor to insure overload. 

3: Metabolic stress

Metabolic stress is an exhaustion of substrates (Fuel) such as glycogen or ATP (Energy) due to higher rep sets and lighter weight, for example 3 sets of 20 would deliver more metabolic stress and less high levels of tension/high muscular activation (Heavy weight loading). 


The most common thought on how to gain muscle is 12 reps per set, which yes would induce hypertrophy as you are causing levels of muscle damage and mostly metabolic stress. However, you can get more bang for buck meeting in the middle ground, lets use a weightlifter as an example outside of bodybuilding, they all have pretty huge legs, right? 

Reps of 1-3 deliver huge activation of all muscle fibres and very low metabolic stress, this adaption is more central nervous system based and wouldn’t induce lots of hypertrophy but increases in strength can have later Passover.

The stronger you are, the more load you could lift over a certain rep range, increasing recruitment and tension overload than last time, proving the importance of balancing strength and size training together, lining back to weightlifters, they are doing lots of squatting throughout the week so this frequency with heavy load would have hypertrophic effects over time, they also spend dedicated time to reps to focus solely on building muscle (Muscle lifts weights right!) 

Another consideration is the movement, when we look at compound exercises (Squats, deadlift, bench press), they require a large number of muscle groups and are the movements we lift he most weight, therefore a good middle ground to deliver the mechanical tension, muscle damage and moderate levels of metabolic stress is roughly between 3-10, however the lower you go the more you steer to tension/total recruitment and the higher the more metabolic, however both will work in conjunction. 

Here is an example: 

  • Weeks 1-3: 4 sets of 10 back squats @65% (for the 3 weeks add 2.5% and still perform 4×10) 
  • Weeks 4-6: 4 sets of 8 @70% (add 2.5% for 3 weeks) 
  • Weeks 7-9: 5 sets of 6 @75% (add 2.5-5% for 3 weeks) 
  • Weeks 10-12: 5 sets of 4 @80% (add 2.5-5% for 3 weeks) 

Here you an see a template delivering both high tension, muscle damage/depletion which is key for causing microtrauma and adaption to induce protein synthesis, building and growing muscle fibres to handle more load/stress in the future. 

The focus on your compound lifts is moderate volume and moderate to heavy load. Maximising the recruitment and activation of a larger percentage of muscle fibres, thus increasing muscle damage, tension and then an effective dose that you then MUST recover from to keep the progression going. 

Finally, before moving to recovery, isolation movements, for example bicep curls, you wouldn’t apply the same focus on huge load and tension due to the size of the muscle site, if you pushed it the same way the damage and trauma is too much to effectively recover from.

This is where you would focus on smaller tension and more metabolic stress induced damage, for example 3 sets of 10, still moving moderate load (Relative to the muscle size) but progression could be adding a set or reducing rest slightly over a period to increase the stress as opposed to hammering low rep super heavy bicep curls, as this puts far more risk of injury due to the muscle size. 


Now, this is also a MASSIVE part of how you gain muscle. Linking back to my blog on the Structure for Strength, the super compensation model plays a large role in when you would target the same muscle group or movement again, for example, for a squat session like above, the CNS and protein synthesis recovery is between 2-3 days, 3-4 would be more appropriate for the heavier squat days but depends on the individual, you would avoid any heavy squat or leg movement for this period.

As an example you may squat on Mondays, and then wait until Thursday to then hit for example a deadlift and lunge based session before then resting the lower body until the next squat session. If you hit too much volume and don’t allow for the supercompensation (the point where the body exceeds its old best) then you are simply digging the recovery process further down until you would reach a point of overtraining. Give those muscles time to rest and GROW. 

Finally, linking with this recovery is nutrition and rest! 

To gain muscle, you need to be eating in a calorie surplus, you must consume slightly more than you burn to insure adequate amounts of carbohydrates and protein for the restoration of energy stores, protein synthesis and construction of muscle fibres, as they are made up of key proteins!

A guide of protein amount is 2-2.2g per KG of bodyweight, this insures you have adequate amounts for recovery of muscle fibres. Then working out your daily expenditure from rest and exercise combined would give you a rough daily guide, from there around 300-500 calorie more is a great starting point. Insure weight gain is very gradual and only add if after a few weeks if it plateaus. 

Undereating and hypertrophy don’t go together and essentially you must feed the grow if you want to pack on some size, that doesn’t mean you will ‘get fat’. You will in fact boost your metabolism and hormones by lean mass increases. Which results in improved body composition and means, when you change your focus on leaning out you have a better level of muscle mass to do so effectively without losing lots of your hard-gained muscle! 


There is so much to talk about for sleep (New Blog soon!) but for the purpose of muscular hypertrophy there are a few factors you need to keep in mind: 

The body sleeps in 1.5hr cycles where the importance is getting the body through a full sleep cycle, at a minimum you must aim for 5 full cycles (7.5) but if you could reach 6 (9hrs) there is lots of research showing even more recovery benefit! The main reason we need this sleep is the production of hormones that aid in recovering muscle damage and CNS fatigue, this is the only time we are completely shut off during the day! 

The key hormone release Growth hormone, it is protein hormone of about 190 amino acids that is synthesized and secreted by cells called somatotrophs. Linking with hypertrophy, this hormone release will have direct impact wit muscular recovery; it increases amino acid uptake & protein synthesis which in turn accelerates muscular recovery and improves your ability to keep you overload principles within training.

If you lack sleep, the recovery process is hugely disrupted, and not only can you not maintain training quality but the fatigue puts you are risk of injury if you persist with the same training. 

The 4 keys for how to gain muscle: Overload, Structured Training, Nutrition, Sleep! 

If you liked this post check out more of Oli’s blogs on Structure for Strength Training or How to Snatch

How to Snatch

By Training One Comment

The Sport of weightlifting comprises of the Snatch and clean + jerk, the following write up will breakdown its phases, progressions to help improve these positions and how to tackle your snatch training! 

Before we look at the sperate phases lets cover the grip, the snatch is one movement from the floor to overhead and the most optimum hand position to decrease the distance the bar must travel, increase the ability to lock the arms & shoulders overhead and finally get the bar into the hips without excessive bending is with a wide grip. Setting your grip is as simple as finding the position that the bar is inline with the hip pocket when the arms are straight and shoulders blades squeezed back. 

Right, now the grip is sorted let’s talk about the phases. 

Phase 1: 

This phase is getting the barbell to the floor, to the middle of the thigh, As I will explain, the time we start to aim to increase speed and extension is when we pass the knee making this first phase controlled and is focused on ‘setting up for success’. 

-Find your hand width and position, also insure you are using the hook grip (Thumb first, then wrap the fingers) 

-Feet are going to be roughly shoulder width apart, this can be slightly different for everyone as we are all built slightly differently! Weight should be in the mid foot with the heels planted. Toes can be turned slightly out if it aids your torso position. 

-Next, to start insuring the bar is in contact with the shins, from here aim to get the shoulder ABOVE the bar and think about pulling the shoulders back, creating a tense and flat back position, from here think about keeping the hips back, creating tensions in the glutes, hamstrings and quads. 

-To get the bar moving think about pushing into the floor with the legs, slowly pushing the knees back to help keep the bar going in a straight line, during this aim to keep your hips and shoulders rising at the same rate to stop you bending too far over the bar

-At the mid-thigh the chest should be slightly over the bar, eyes and chest up with tension in the back and legs.

Snatch Start Position

Snatch First Phase

Snatch Mid Thigh Position






See our beginner athlete learning to snatch here

Phase 2: 

Now, at the mid-thigh you are tense in the legs, the bar is still close to the body, but the hips are back and therefore this gives you the potential now to exert force from the lower body upwards through the bar. We want this phase to be the change of speed and increase of power on the bar. 

-From this point you need to think about increasing your speed and driving the body upwards like a jump, aim to drive your body towards the ceiling Whilst squeezing your glutes and pushing hard with the legs, the shoulders will be slightly behind the bar giving it room to stay close. 

-As the hips extend the bar should contact the hips but this should NOT be a whack outward but more a brush upwards to insure the bar and force is as vertical as possible. Keep the back and shoulders set and think about the bar meeting the hips (Keep the hips) not chasing the bar with your hips.

-Now the bar is travelling with maximal force through it, to keep the path close you need to drive the elbows high above the bar to guide the path close to the body, imagine you have paint in the middle and you want to paint up your t-shirt. 

-The bar should finish around the sternum and no higher, if its super high you will be slow underneath and the bar may crash on you, we want to build speed to pass over into your heavy snatches so aim to mimic the same position it will be in when going heavy. 

Snatch Mid Thigh Position

Snatch Extension Phase







See one of our experienced lifters lifting here

Phase 3:

Now we have driven tall and the bar has maximal force, we must enter the catch phase of the lift. 

-To start, lets cover the Overhead Squat which is the bottom position we aim to catch the bar at. 

-Feet are now outside the shoulders in your squat stance, in the bottom, the knees are driven out in line with the toes, the torso is upright, and the bar should be in line with the traps, if its too far back or forward the weight shifts away from your midline and you will become unstable. Finally push into the bar and drive the armpits up and out creating a nice locked out position through the arms/shoulders.

-Now we have covered what we look for in the catch, we need to get into that position with SPEED and CONFIDENCE. 

-After executing the drive and extension, the bar is close and almost ‘weightless’ due to the force outputted

-At this point, you need to move the feet out to your squat position, whilst cueing to ‘shrug’ yourself underneath the bar, at this point you need to bring the elbows and arms underneath the bar and PUNCH up into it creating that strong & stable position we want in the overhead squat. 

-Keep driving the knees out over the toes, keep the chest up and push up into the bar throughout. 

-From here keep the bar stable and stand the lift until the hips are extended and you are stood tall with the bar locked out still overhead. 

-As you stand aim to keep the torso up to avoid any movement and instability whilst standing the bar up. 

Snatch Extension Phase

Snatch Catch Position

Snatch Finish Position







There you have the phases of the snatch! the aim is to combine these three stages into one fluid motion! you should always focus on, pushing with the legs, driving upwards, keeping the bar close and catching with speed & confidence!

-Beginners should focus at least 6-12 weeks with super light loads (Training bar – regular bar – +5-10kg), focus on perfect form and making the positions comfortable before thinking about adding any load to the movement. Getting an experienced coach to monitor you will be most beneficial accelerating development. 

-Experienced and intermediate lifters should still never focus on heavy weights all the time, although you are comfortable with the lift, making beneficial progress will be best achieved with consistency, focus on quality between 60-90% in the snatch itself and its variations (Power snatch, Hang snatches & complexes of multiple variations). We want to train one pattern and create good habits for 1RM attempts when they come around. 

Finally, for those who want to focus on certain positions and areas that are weak the following are some examples of movements that will help pass over to the full lift. 

Overhead and Catch Position: 

Tempo Overhead squats keep this super light and control the positions. A good start is 3-5 sets of 5 reps, however complete with the following tempo: 5s down, 5s pause, 5s up, 5s at the top, this is a lot of tension and time so keep it at the empty barbell, this is a great way to teach patterns and develop your positions. 

1St – 2nd Phase:  

Snatch Grip Deadlifts and Snatch Pulls: 

These can be used for both technical focus or a great variation for increasing strength off the floor with heavier loads, for technical development aim to get 5kg discs on or training plates to make sure you are setting up from the floor the same as a regular snatch. from there like the overhead squats focus more of controlled tempos and higher reps (e.g 3 sets of 5 in the warm up) with the aim being feeling and understanding how the movement should feel, film lifts or have a coach watching to give feedback. For heavier loads, you are looking at reps of 1-5 per set and the percentage could range from 80-110%+ for both deadlifts and pulls; this gives overload to the 1-2nd phase in comparison to the main lift increasing strength off the floor whilst also developing the drive and extension of the hips/legs. 

2-3rd Phase. 

Hang snatch from the mid-thigh & the hi-Hang (Hip pocket)

This phase can be difficult for those who tend to rush off the floor almost ‘yanking’ the bar and using this momentum to carry through the rest of the phases. 

Hang snatch from the mid-thigh & the hi-Hang (Hip pocket) are great variations to remove that momentum and teach you to effectively exert force from just above the knee which is going to aid your consistency when full snatching, Sets can vary from 1-3 reps and sets are also dependant on the percentage range, an example session may be as follow: 9 sets Every 90s of 1 Hi-Hang + 1 Hang (Mid-thigh) snatch @65-80% of your 1RM.  You could also go 2-3 sets of 5 on each variation within your snatch warm up. 

The Catch: 

Overhead Squat & Snatch Balance Variations 

The overhead squat is a great starting point to improve the mobility and position itself, however when snatching we need this position with SPEED! So, the next step is the snatch balance. 

The light variation is without a dip, the bar starts on the back and from here, punch yourself down moving the feet out to your squat, punch with the arms and keep the torso up! Again, these can be slotted into your snatch warm ups for sets of 5 to prime that confidence and speed. 

The second variation is with an added dip and drive, however the focus should still be catching the bar within the bottom position with speed, but now the load will increase shifting the focus to developing strength and stability in the bottom position, for this heavy variation keep the reps from 1-3 varying from around 60-100% of your 1RM as a guide, when confidence is built possible reps at slightly above 100% is a good indicator of a stable and strong catch position however remember these variations are tools! You are better off dialling in consistency with the catch and movement than shifting as much weight as possible. 

To conclude here is a little example of a snatch session you might get from one of our coaches if you were focused on weightlifting. 

Empty Barbell warm up: 

  • 2x 5 Snatch Deadlifts 
  • 2×5 Snatch pulls 
  • 2×5 Overhead squats (3s down, 2s pause, fast up)
  • 2×5 Snatch balance (no Dip) 
  • 2x 3 Hi hang snatch 
  • 2x 3 Hang Snatch 
  • 2x 3 Full snatch 

Main Lifts: 

A: 12 sets Going every 2minutes 

1 Hang Snatch + 1 Snatch + 1 Overhead Squat @65-85% 

Focus on dialling in effective speed and positions in the hang to carry over to the full snatch, keep the feet in the same position for the overhead squat as the full snatches to aid consistency of the feet throughout all movements. 

See one of our lifters performing a complex here

B: 5 sets of 3 snatch balance @70% of your 1RM 

Pause in the bottom for 2s on each. 

Focus is catching in the bottom position with speed and control, the added pauses are improving stability in the bottom position.  

OR if the weakness and focus is 1-2nd Phase: 

B: 5 sets of 3 Snatch Pulls on a deficit @80-100% of 1RM snatch 

The deficit will mean the plates won’t touch the floor throughout the 3 reps further increasing the importance of the body position explained in phase 1-2, keeping the hips and shoulder rising together and PUSHING with the legs. 

ENJOY Mastering that snatch!! `

If you enjoyed this blog post, check out our post on Structure for Strength Training

If you want to work with our of our coaches one to one to improve your technique, book in for a personal training session.

Structure for Strength Training Programming

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Structure for Strength Training Programming

There are a lot of elements and areas to consider when strength training. One of the simplest is overload, you must be pushing the body to not just the intensity (Absolute 1RM) but the volume (E.G 5×5 @75% to then 77.5% another week and so on). Then with this comes the need for rest and adaption. A model called supercompensation is the theory behind this adaption, a heavy squat or pull session could be 2-3 days of recovery before you can and should repeat a similar intensity, within this time if you squatted again you would perform worse and just dig the compensation too far and never reach beyond your current state

Along with this maximal strength work you should structure periods of various strength/power protocols: High rep, tempo/paused based training to build stability within a range, control and to challenge strong midline stabilisation. Also, more ballistic based protocols like Box squats or speed squats at submaximal loads, focusing on the rate at which you can produce Max force, this will then help movements such as the phase from the mid-thigh to extension in the snatch and clean.

If you had one competition all these elements can be carefully used and build into one another to bring the athlete in peak shape for that 1 contest, for example a weightlifter. However, in the sport of CrossFit or other sports with sporadic competition calendars the structure and programming comes crucial, balancing these elements based on the individual weakness and their ability to recover and adapt is key to make these mad gains and pull these horrid facials when busting PBs.

Check out our Online Coaching or Personal Training options where you can work with one of our coaches to improve your strength training programme to get dementia gains!!!

Written by Coach OBH