STOP USING 10 REPS PER SET
How often have you read your fitness magazine, or spoken to your gym instructor and they have said: “Right, let’s do 3 sets of 10 reps” regardless of the exercise performed and/or the weight that is handed to you?
Current research suggests that for muscle growth (AKA Hypertrophy). You should be aiming for around anywhere between 8-12 reps per set. Naturally this allows for some flexibility, and variety for your training, allowing you to go heavier for 8 reps, and slightly lighter for 12 reps. Not only do this keep your muscles stimulated for growth, but it helps you become stronger as a result.
TIME UNDER TENSION
Time Under Tension (TUT) is possibly the most undervalued technique used in the gym…just because the burn it creates is just SUPER intense!
TUT is where you perform a set of any particular exercise, often with a lighter weight than you would usually lift for 8-12 reps, but slowing the tempo down. For example, the vast majority of people will be able to perform a set of 10 press ups in around 20-30 seconds; an average of 2 seconds per rep. However, TUT increases that time to around 4-5 seconds per rep (3 to lower, 1 to pause, 2 to push up). With this, muscles are placed under more stress for an increased period of time – the end result is huge lactate build up and new stimulus for growth.
VOLUME = MASS!
Touching on the first point of this post, just performing 3 sets of an exercise will stimulate growth if it is A) intense enough, and B) if you are a beginner to weight training. For those that are well seasoned in the weights section of the gym, more volume can spur you on to gaining more size.
Using the standard 3 x 10 reps analogy, if we increased this to 4-5 x 10 it will only improve muscle growth because we have asked the body to do an extra 10-20 reps at the same load, with the same rest time. This is something worth trying with bigger lifts such as squats, deadlifts, and bench press as they use more than just one muscle group, so they are more likely to cope with this increase in demand rather than bicep curls where you can easily burnout very quickly.
On a separate note, there can be fantastic results found in Arnold Schwarzeneggar’s German Volume Training; whereby you perform 10 sets of 10 reps! However, be prepared to struggle for a few days following this routine, and only use it for one exercise per workout.
GOING LIGHT ISN’T GO TO GET YOU “BIG”
One of the most common mistakes for many people wanting to increase muscle mass is that they have been lifting weights that are WAY too light for them.
To rectify this, the general rule I would use is that if you are wanting perform a challenging set of 12 reps: perform your warm up set, then determine how many more reps you could do at that weight. If the figure is 5 or more reps, the weight needs to increase to develop the right stimulus.
For example: Perform a set of deadlifts using 50KG for 10 reps. If you feel that you could have done 15+ reps in total, then the weight should increase by 5KG or more. Vice versa for if the weight is too heavy; if you can only do 6 reps, naturally the load would drop by 5KG or more.
This has worked wonderfully for patients in the past that needed to get stronger, but felt they weren’t getting anywhere, only to find that they haven’t progressed their training. I distinctly remember one tennis player that wanted to increase muscle mass, but was doing sets of deadlifts for 20 reps with 60KG…we rectified this by getting him deadlift over double that for 10 reps, still with perfect technique. The end result? His strength FLEW through the roof!
SUPER CHARGE YOUR HORMONES
Hormones pretty much run our bodies: from what emotions we feel, to how we sleep, to how we develop, grow and repair! Therefore, tapping into them is a VERY good way to get more out of your strength sessions.
From both personal and professional experience, achieving good muscle growth is by utilising as many LARGE muscle groups in one go..and lifting heavy!
Also, by performing these exercises when you are fresh and free from fatigue means that you’ll get a huge surge of testosterone and Human Growth Hormone – which are your body’s natural muscle building hormones. As such, not only will you develop some great muscle size, but the added benefit will be a surge in fat loss, and moreover, when performing small, isolation exercises such as biceps curls, lateral raises etc. You will optimise the growth potential in these areas too…#WINNING!
USE A VARIETY OF METHODS TO STIMULATE GROWTH
In the principles of training, variance is one understated part of muscle building exercise. Varying the way you structure your workout can not only prevent boredom, but also stimulate your body to respond to a new, challenging way of working out. Try these different methods to mix it up a little:
Supersets – Perform two opposing muscle groups e.g. bench press paired with a dumbbell row. Back to back with as little rest of possible.
Drop Sets – Perform your last set of each exercise, then once you reach failure. Drop the weight by 5KG and then do as many reps as you can until you reach failure again.
Pyramid Sets – Perform 5 sets of 12, 10, 8, and 6 reps, Increasing the load each set.
Partial Rep Sets – Once you reach the end of each set, perform a small burst of half reps. This will surprise you how quickly you fatigue!
EAT FOR YOUR MUSCLE
When it comes to other aspects of muscle growth, it can be a very simplistic approach: muscles need energy, in particular, protein and carbohydrates…and lots of them!
There is a reason why Eddie Hall has to take on over 10,000 calories a day to maintain the size and strength that he has!
Therefore it is necessary to eat good quality food. Your protein should come from lean sources of meat: beef, chicken, fish. Then you’re carbohydrates should come from good quality sources such as: sweet potatoes, porridge oats, wholewheat pasta and rice. Lots of people will make the mistake that they can pump themselves full of protein shakes, bars, and eating junk food…this won’t support healthy, lean muscle growth. It’ll only promote growth in the realms of fat mass!
SUPPLEMENT YOUR WORKOUTS
This may contradict the previous point, but there is a place for supplements in supporting muscle growth. The following supplements have been shown to improve gym performance and/or support muscle growth:
Creatine – Comes in pill or powder form. It’s main role is to provide your body with explosive energy stores, which is ideal for heavy workouts. Also, it can speed up recovery between sets. Therefore improving your ability to shift heavy weights, for longer.
Magnesium – Research proven to improve quality of sleep and increasing testosterone levels. The two combined together leads to a much more efficient muscle building process.
TRAIN HARD, RECOVER HARDER
For the majority of this article, the emphasis has been on what is done in the gym. However, it is ESSENTIAL that the recovery process when training is vital to a) prevent burnout and b) to enhance the effects of your hard work!
Nutrition – Eating and drinking for muscle mass is a must. Don’t shy away from carbs, they should be equally as important as protein when trying to add size as all your muscles will soak up any carbs It can to replenish glycogen (energy) stores for recovery and repair. Stay hydrated, and stick to lean sources of protein, plenty of veg, and good quality sources of carbohydrates such as: sweet potato, wholegrain foods etc.
Sleep – When you are asleep, your body goes into repair mode. Getting good quality sleep is very important. Aim to get between 6-8 hours if you can, and ditch the smart phone by your bedsides: the blue light has been shown to stimulate hormones that keep us awake, putting it out of reach will help avoid the temptation and vastly improve your 40 winks!
Massage/Stretching – Flexibility and soft tissue quality are very important when it comes to muscle growth. Stiffer muscles that lack range of motion to work through, ultimately become at increased risk of injury and/or lack of development. Using a foam roller, going to a yoga class, or investing in a good sports massage will undoubtedly help you in this respect.
Rest Days – Rest is vital. Yep, that’s right, not lifting day in, day out will allow you to build much greater mass. This is under the presumption that you’ll be sore enough from your workouts that the thought of doing a squat, or bicep curl will make you wince with DOMS! In short, resting is great to maintain a high quality, high intensity training schedule.
TAKE MEASUREMENTS AND SET GOALS!
If you don’t track your progress, you’ll never know where you once started and you won’t appreciate the smaller differences you’ll see as time goes by. If gaining muscle size is your goal, you do the following things to measure your progress:
- Take before/after photos 6-8 weeks apart.
- Record your 1 Rep Max scores for squat, deadlift, bench press and try to improve them.
- Take girth measurements of your chest, arms, thighs, waist and hips. You may find this fluctuates somewhat, but in general, if you’re adding muscle mass you should find these numbers go up.
- If you can find a professional to do it, have your skinfolds measured. This will allow for more accurate results in regards to adding muscle size and keeping body fat down.
All these methods are great ways of tracking your progress, and setting realistic goals. Remember to set smaller, short term ones as well as your longer term goals that may last a year or so. It will keep you focussed and prevent your training from veering away from where you want to be.
In summary, this post should provide you with food for thought if your goals is getting bigger in 2018. All in all, a mixture of all the above points should help get you to where you want to be. But if you've stagnated with your training, some ideas in this post should push you through to a new level...it might be uncomfortable, but the results will ALWAYS be worth it!