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12-Week Hypertrophy Program: Building Muscle and Combat Readiness

Updated: May 8

I started the 12-week hypertrophy program after my trip back to Thailand this winter for a visit with my old training partners in MMA and Muay Thai. They commented on my weight gain (35 lbs to be exact) since the last time they saw me before the pandemic.I was occupied with caring for my son and dealing with the stresses of my new leadership position for my fire crew. Still, I continued to eat like I was training for fights, and suddenly, I became aware that I had let myself go. This last trip to Thailand reignited my desire to take charge of my fitness again. During my quest for a solution, I noticed that one of my best friends and long-time sparring partners had joined the Army Special Forces a few years ago and started developing an impressive physique. I watched his transformation from a skinny white boy to a super soldier, and I reached out to him to ask what training regimen he was using. He recommended the 12-week hypertrophy program designed by Jeff Nichols CSCSD, TSACD Exercise Physiologist.

As someone who hikes with weight on his back for work on the fireline as a wildland firefighter and still trains in Jiu-Jitsu competitively, I knew this program would benefit me and my fitness goals, which are geared towards being prepared for the arduous work assignments in my career and combat readiness needed in martial arts.

What is Hypertrophy? Hypertrophy is the enlargement of an organ or tissue from an increase in the size of its cells. In fitness, hypertrophy training is a type of strength training that involves lifting weights with high volume and moderate intensity, leading to muscle growth and improved endurance.

The 12-Week Hypertrophy Program Before starting the 12-week hypertrophy program, it is essential to establish your 5 rep maxes for the deadlift, back squat, and bench press. Here are the steps to find your 5 rep maxes:

  1. Warm-up: Begin with a general warm-up, such as light cardio or dynamic stretching, to increase blood flow and prepare your body for exercise.

  2. Estimate your 5-rep max: Start with a weight you can lift comfortably for 10 reps. Rest for 2-3 minutes, then add weight and lift for 8 reps. Rest for 2-3 minutes, then add more weight and lift for 6 reps. Continue this pattern, adding weight and decreasing reps until you reach a weight you can lift for 5 reps with good form and technique.

  3. Test your 5 rep max: Once you have estimated your 5 rep max, rest for 2-3 minutes, then attempt to lift the weight for 5 reps with good form and technique. If you are successful, rest for 2-3 minutes, then add more weight and repeat the process until you can no longer lift the weight for 5 reps with good form and technique.

The program focuses on muscle enlargement and includes six training blocks. Rest periods are not always defined, so it's essential to take breaks when needed to avoid injury. The program can also be used as a recovery day in between intense strength and power days.

Where it says 30s on 30s off, this is just a traditional circuit makeup using time and not reps. If the percentages are so high that you can’t average 10 plus reps each set, then you are better off dropping the percentages. The volume is far more valuable than the mass. Rest periods are not always clearly defined. If you are unable to complete the reps and sets with the weight that is chosen, then take a little extra time in between each rotation. This program can be used if your goal is to drop mass. If you need to drop weight, I would suggest seeing a registered dietitian or sports dietitian to manage body composition.

There are six training blocks in the 12-week hypertrophy program, and it's important to note that there is no specific calendar day associated with any one block. This

means that if you take an off day, you can just complete the next training block, rather than skipping past any training block.


By following the 12-week hypertrophy program and establishing your 5 rep maxes for deadlift, back squat, and bench press, you can increase muscle size and endurance, improve overall physical fitness, and develop the skills and qualities necessary for combat readiness during emergencies. This program is designed to help individuals prepare for the physical demands of combat situations, making it an ideal training regimen for wildland firefighters, martial artists, and anyone looking to build a strong and resilient body.

As someone who has been following the program, I can attest to the significant amount of muscle mass gained in my shoulders and legs and the decrease in body fat. I started the program at 225 lbs and am currently at 217, halfway through the program. Now at the end of the program, I am down to 212, and I am pleased with the results.

If your goal is to be constantly combat-ready during emergencies, it's never too late to start preparing. By following the 12-week hypertrophy program, you can build the physical and mental toughness needed to defend yourself, provide emergency response services, and build stronger and more resilient communities.

For those interested in trying out the program, you can find it on Performance First's website at the following link:

Don't wait any longer to start building the strength and endurance needed to tackle life's challenges head-on. Begin your 12-week hypertrophy program today and take the first step towards a healthier and more combat-ready you.

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