Lifting weights is, as countless research shows, is a phenomenal way to get stronger, build muscle, burn fat, increase endurance, relieve stress as well as improve a variety of health markers. However, the term “lifting weights” covers all manner of sins — there are many ways to do it.
A large percentage of us are using resistance training and also trying to get stronger. For example, you’re lifting “X” amount of resistance for a total of “Y” number of repetitions and over “Z” number of sets. Good for you – if this exercise plan is working for you.
If it isn’t working, ask yourself the following questions about your resistance training plan:
- Is it based on the underlying principles of overload-recovery-progression?
- Is it an easy system?
- Does it show you progression on a routine basis?
- Is it truly creating muscle overload successfully?
Why Is Rep Range Is the Essence of Progressive Training?
Dependent on your answers, it may be time to streamline your plan to something which is more direct, simple, and based on established science. You cannot wander away too far from the principles of muscle overload, adequate recovery time as well as progressive (more demanding) training, so why not use a system which is the essence of it?
Fitness lore prescribes that the rep range which you choose determines the outcome for your body. Working in sets of three to seven reps is how to build strength. Eight to 12 is the ballpark for hypertrophy (muscle growth), and 12 or more is endurance training or toning.
Of course, the rep range you choose requires scaling your weights: You can lift heavier weights if you’re doing fewer reps.
To Build Muscle You Must Get Stronger
When you get stronger, you will be able to lift heavier weights, in the 8-12 rep range, for more reps. This creates a greater training response to trigger muscle growth. Then, you can use lighter-rep exercises more effectively to cap off your physique. Mechanical tension, such as lifting a heavy load with a full range of motion, is a key component to muscle growth
To cap off your training, sprinkle in higher rep training. Do one exercise with 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps with short rest periods to maximise metabolic stress. Additionally, you can use one exercise to failure. This exercise must be an isolation exercise, like a biceps curl or leg extension instead of a squat. A recent study found when it comes to muscle growth, the same growth came from using three sets to failure with 30% max as 3 sets of 80%.
This means that regardless of how heavy the weight is, training to failure maximises muscle fibre recruitment and stimulates growth, even with lighter weight. This both saves your joints and preserves your nervous system while maximising gains.
Applied to your training, you can train to failure but use isolation exercises. Keep the weight light and focus on technique. When your technique breaks down you’ve reached failure. Rest and repeat for 2-3 sets and call it a day.
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