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If you’re looking to pack on some muscle, improve your athletic performance by getting stronger or tone up for the summer season ahead, then this blog post is for you!
Should you do high reps? Low reps? Lots of sets?
The truth is, as to methods there are many, but principles few. And the three main principles we’re going to focus on for building muscle are:
Not to worry if you don’t understand any of the above fancy terms or what they mean. In this blog post, I’ll explain how you can use the above principles to your advantage so you can stimulate muscle growth and reach your muscle-building potential!
1. Mechanical Tension
Put simply, mechanical tension means lifting heavy weights! You’ll be lifting weights upwards of 80% of your 1 Rep Max (1RM) which places your body under intense stress. Because the weights you’ll be lifting will be heavy, the number of reps you’ll be doing will be in the 1-5 rep range.
However, because the number of reps you’re doing is going to be low, you’ll likely be doing multiple sets to ensure you get enough of a training stimulus. For example, performing a deadlift for 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps.
I like to some form of heavy lifting in my clients programming using the bigger compound lifts (such as your traditional squat, bench press, deadlift, chin ups etc.) because going heavy does recruit your faster twitch muscle fibers. That being said, although lifting heavy helps build muscle, it is not solely responsible for making gainz!
Think of a powerlifter for example. Upwards of 80% of their training can be spent lifting in the 1-5 rep range which is specific to their sport and rightly so.
However, as strong and all as powerlifters are, they usually don’t have as well rounded of physiques as say an athlete because they don’t spend as much time focusing on the other two principles of building muscle – muscular damage and metabolic stress.
2. Muscular Damage
If you’ve ever woken up the day after (or often two days after is worse) a leg session and found it a struggle to get out of bed, this is as a result of muscular damage!
How do you create muscular damage? By emphasising the lowering (or lengthening portion of a movement). For example, imagine you were to take a basic movement such as a squat and lower yourself down to the bottom position in a 3-5 second count before exploding out of the ‘hole’ quickly and repeating this.
If you performed 6-12 reps in this manner, it wouldn’t be long before your mind would start crying out for you to give in!
Depending on some of my clients training history and their training goals, I will program certain exercises where we focus on adding lots of tempo and slow lowering reps to ensure they “feel the muscle!” as much as possible and experience the maximum amount of growth!
A personal favourite of mine for my clients who want bulging biceps is to perform 2-3 reps of chin ups with a 6-10s lowering before moving on to a set of curls!
A not so favourite amongst some of my clients is when they see the dreaded Rear Foot Elevated Split Squats (RFESS) programmed with a 3s lowering!
Controlling the lowering (or negative reps) is the second way we can pack on muscle to our frame. The final way being metabolic stress.
3. Metabolic Stress
Commonly referred to as “the pump”, metabolic stress is that burning sensation you get as you reach failure or near failure of one of your working sets.
Metabolic stress emphasis lots of time under tension with shorter rest periods (60-75s). The more reps you do, the more blood that will flow to the working muscles which gives them that swollen look.
Sometimes, these can be single-joint exercises such as different bicep curl variations. The benefits of including some single-joint exercises are it allows you to focus on working under-developed muscles.
A personal favourite of my clients is when I program one of my many different “shoulder shocker” variations. I try hit the front, medial and rear delts when I program them and the pump you get off them is insane! I regularly post different shoulder shockers on my Instagram page.
How Many Sets and Reps?
The number of sets and reps you perform is going to be dictated by load - i.e. the percentage of your 1RM (1 Rep Max).
The lower the rep range, the higher the intensity. The higher the rep range, the lower the intensity. For example, if you’re doing a deadlift for 3 total reps, you’ll likely be lifting a weight that’s around 90% of your 1RM. This would be at a higher intensity if you were to lift your 10 Rep Max at 75% of your 1RM.
As the intensity (amount of weight) increases, so too do the rest periods (follow on point). This might sound counterintuitive but the less reps you do (assuming you are lifting at the right training intensity) requires more rest. If you’re doing a barbell back squat for 5 reps at 85% of your 1 RM, you may need upwards of 2-3 minutes whereas if you were to do a Goblet Squat for 10 Reps with 75% of your 1RM, you may only need to take 60-75s rest.
When it comes to focusing on packing on some muscle, there is prevailing belief that a moderate rep range of 6-12 reps is most optimal. This rep range helps emphasise more time under tension on the muscle without using a weight that is too light or not challenging enough.
References: Schoenfield, B: 2010. “The Mechanisms of Muscle Hypertrophy and Their Application to Resistance Training”
Muscle building (or hypertrophy) occurs as a result of three main variables:
What To Do Next
If you found this post beneficial, then join my Free Facebook Group for more training tips.
If you’d like a coach to help put all of the above in operation for you, then book your free consultation call today to see if you’d be a good fit for my Online Coaching.
Having something the structure and accountability you need to get the results you’ve always desired will make your journey much easier and quicker.
What’s the purpose of the consultation call?
To deep dive into your health & exercise history, your goals and current struggles and from there decide if we’d be able to work together (note – I am not the right coach for everyone which is why I have consultation calls with potential clients of mine).
If we are a good fit, we can get working on your personalised program so you can finally make the changes you’ve always wanted.
Adrian McDonnell -
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