Listen on Apple Podcasts | Listen on Spotify | Listen on YouTube
If you want to get into great shape and stay that way, this is the last exercise advice you’ll ever need.
In this podcast, I’m giving you the ultimate strength training plan for men. You’re going to learn about volume and intensity, what drives muscle growth, progressive overload, and what you need to focus on to keep gaining muscle and strength. I also offer a “magic” formula you can use for your own training programming.
This podcast is the final installment in which I’m sharing an excerpt from the audiobook version of the latest fourth edition of my bestselling book, Bigger Leaner Stronger. In case you’re not familiar with it, Bigger Leaner Stronger is a fitness book for men who want to gain muscle, lose fat, and get healthy faster than they ever thought possible. In this episode, I’m sharing chapter 12, which is all about creating the best strength training plan possible.
And if you like what you hear in this selection, you’re sure to enjoy the rest of the audiobook.
Let’s get to it!
0:00 – Get the BLS audiobook: https://geni.us/AefbLX
4:24 – The Ultimate Strength Training Plan for Men
Mentioned on the Show:
Bigger Leaner Stronger Audiobook: https://geni.us/AefbLX
BLS eBook: https://legionathletics.com/products/books/bigger-leaner-stronger/
What did you think of this episode? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!
Hey, hey, and welcome to another episode of Muscle for Life. I am your host, Mike Matthews. Thank you for joining me today for the third and final feature from the audiobook of my new fourth edition of my number one bestselling book, bigger, leaner, stronger, which is a fitness book for men. A lot of the information applies equally to women, but that book is specifically for men.
And I have a book specifically for women called Thinner, leaner, stronger, which is a lot of the same information but tailored specifically to women. All the examples are women, and there are some things in bigger, leaner, stronger that don’t really apply to women or that women don’t care about, and so that material is not in thinner, lean, or stronger.
And then there’s stuff that is specifically for women that has nothing to do with men or that men don’t care about. And of course, you’ll find that material in thinly or stronger. And then the workouts are a bit different. The programming is more similar than different, but there are some key differences in the bigger linear, stronger program and the thinly or stronger program.
And so again, today’s episode is a feature from the fourth edition, the newest edition that I released a couple of months ago of bigger, leaner, strong. And if you are a woman, you can listen to this episode and learn as well because the fundamental principles apply equally to you as they do to men. In my book, bigger or Stronger, there is a chapter that’s similar, but some of the practical details are a little bit different.
However, in this episode, which is called the Ultimate Strength Training Plan for Men, you’re going to learn about what drives muscle growth, like what are the mechanical drivers of muscle growth, what do you need to focus on in your training to continue gaining muscle and strength? And then I give a a formula of sorts that I tease.
As a cryptic numeric sequence, three to five, nine to 12, nine to 12, 75 to 85, 1 to three, two to four, and eight. That formula is basically the 80 24 programming. It’s the 20% that gives you 80% or more of the potential results. In fact, if you are like most people, if your fitness goals are to get into great shape, but not necessarily to get as jacked as possible or to look like a bodybuilder, you know, for guys, it’s usually gaining anywhere from 20 to 30 pounds of muscle.
For gals, it’s usually gaining. 10 to 15 pounds, maybe 20 pounds of muscle, and then getting your body fat percentage down to where you want it to be. But of course, that’s a, that’s mostly a function of diet, definitely not strength training. So if your fitness goals are like most people, just get into great shape and stay that way.
There really isn’t much more than you need to know about at least the fundamentals of effective strength training programming than what you will learn in today’s episode. You do need to know a bit more to put together workouts and workout routines. But as far as the core of an effective strength training program, this episode is gonna give you that.
And if you like this episode, then you probably will like the rest of the book. And if you want to know how to take this information that you’re going to learn and turn it into effective workouts and an effective workout routine, definitely check out bigger Than or Stronger. The new fourth edition.
Again, the ebook and the audiobook are live. The hard copy is still the third edition because I have to sell through my stock of three point ohs before I can offer the four point ohs. But that should be accomplished in the next month or two, and then the 4.0 hard copies will be live. And I also have a fourth edition of Thinner, leaner, stronger coming as well.
I’m working on that. That will also be featured here on the podcast. Well, actually, my work is done, but the audiobook recorder narrator, he’s finishing it up. And then I have an illustrator who needs to produce two more illustrations, so then I can wrap up the production or get the InDesign expert to wrap up the production of the ebook and the hard copy.
And so that means that probably within the next four to six weeks, I will have the TLS 4.0 ebook and audiobook Done, uploaded Live. And then I will feature a few of the chapters here on the podcast to announce it to everybody. Chapter 12, the Ultimate Strength Training Plan for Men. The big ideas, one, use an effective mix of intensity, volume, and frequency.
Two, achieve progressive overload. Three, used proper form. See thunk a man diligent in his business. He shall stand before Kings Proverbs 2229.
By the end of the second World War military hospitals were overrun with soldiers who had sustained serious orthopedic injuries like bone fractures, breaks, and muscle tendon and ligament tears. The situation was grim. There simply weren’t enough physicians to treat everyone in a timely manner and their moldy rehabilitation protocol of rest, heat, and gentle exercise put patients on a long road to.
Up to six to nine months was common in 1945, however, an army doctor named Thomas Delore began experimenting with a new rehab technique to help servicemen heal faster. One that had transformed his own health as a child. Delore was stricken with rheumatic fever, a serious disease that often killed children and caused permanent heart damage in those who survived.
After four months of enforced bedrest, doctors told Dior that his heart was now too weak for him to ever do any strenuous activity again, I was determined to prove the medico’s wrong. Delorme later said, and immediately upon leaving my sick bed, I started a comeback. That campaign was strength training and it not only helped Delorme turn the corner and conquer the aftermath of his illness, but it also won him modest recognition as a strength athlete.
His competition highlights include a 250 pound clean and jerk 240 pound bent, press 160 pound curl, and 503 pound deadlift. Although World War II Dashed alarms, Olympian ambitions, he continued with his strength training routine while serving his country. Unusual in medical circles at the time because most physicians agreed that extreme effort of any kind was unhealthy, particularly for the heart Delore, however knew otherwise, and when he wanted to figure out how to help injured servicemen heal faster, he hypothesized that strength training could bear fruit.
After an inaugural success with a patient recovering from knee surgery, Delore knew he was on the right track. He designed a new rehab regimen that consisted of multiple sets of strength training exercises with weights that the patient could lift for 10 reps. Once they could complete several 10 reps sets for a time, it was seven.
With a given weight, they’d increase the load and repeat the process. Delore called his system heavy resistance exercise and it worked wonders consistently restoring strength and function to men who had completed traditional physical therapy and resigned themselves to permanent disability. The good news spread quickly and Dior’s breakthrough became the standard of care for both military and civilian physical therapy.
Delore continued his research into the curative effects of strength training, refined his training programs, and published multiple academic texts on the science of resistance training, including the seminal book, progressive Resistance Exercise Technic and Medical Application works widely read by other medical professionals that legitimized strength training as a healthy and effective form of exercise.
This tale illustrates one of the laws of muscle and strength gain. To get bigger and stronger muscles, you must gradually increase the amount of tension they can produce. Technically. This refers to one of the three primary triggers or pathways for muscle growth. One mechanical tension force produced in muscle fibers by stretching and contracting.
There are two types of mechanical tension, passive and active tension. Passive tension occurs when your muscles are stretching during a resistance exercise, and active tension occurs when they’re contracting two muscle damage, microscopic damage to muscle fibers caused by high levels of tension. Whether muscle damage directly causes muscle growth or is just a byproduct of mechanical tension is unclear, but at this time it belongs on the list.
Three, cellular fatigue, a number of chemical changes that occur in and around muscle fibers as they contract repeatedly. When you take a set to muscular failure, the point where you can no longer move the weight despite giving maximal effort or close to it, this causes high amounts of cellular fatigue.
Out of these three drivers of muscle growth studies show that mechanical tension is the most important, meaning that it produces a stronger muscle building stimulus than muscle damage and cellular fatigue. Thus, for strength training to be maximally productive, it must underline mechanical tension more than muscular damage and cellular fatigue.
To do that, we need to consider something that scientists call the strength endurance continuum, which works like this. Working with heavy resistance produces a larger amount of mechanical tension and muscle damage, and a smaller amount of cellular fatigue. Working with Lida resistance produces a smaller amount of mechanical tension and muscle damage, and a larger amount of cellular fatigue.
Based on this model, what do you think is more effective for gaining muscle and strength training with heavier or lighter loads? That’s right. Heavier loads, which produce more mechanical tension than lighter ones, and thus activate more muscle growth, which leads to more strength. You can find plenty of evidence of this in the scientific literature.
For example, in a study conducted at the University of Central Florida, scientists separated 33 resistance trained men into two groups. One group one did four workouts per week, consisting of four sets per exercise. In the 10 to 12 rep range, the recommended number of reps per set with 70% of one rep max or the amount of weight they could lift for just one rep.
Two, group two did four workouts per week consisting of four sets per exercise in the three to five rep range with 90% of one rep max. Both groups did the same exercises, which included the bench press, barbell squat, deadlift, and seated shoulder press, and both were instructed to maintain their normal eating habits After eight weeks of training, researchers found that the second group gained significantly more muscle and strength than the first group.
The scientists suggested two main reasons for why the heavier training beat out the lighter and not only strength gain, not surprising, but muscle gain as well. One higher amounts of mechanical tension in the muscles. The lighter training, on the other hand, caused higher amounts of cellular fatigue. Two greater activation of muscle fibers.
This results in greater muscle growth across a larger percentage of the muscle tissue. Merely lifting heavy weights isn’t enough to keep driving muscle growth, though. To do that, we must steadily increase mechanical tension levels in the muscles over time. Progressive overload. This explains why Dior’s methods were so effective week by week, month by month and year by year.
His patients handled heavier and heavier loads that generated more and more mechanical tension in their muscles in bigger, leaner, stronger. I’ll have you do the same. And as you learned in the last chapter, we’ll concentrate on three types of movements that have been strength training staples for over a century now.
One pushing two pull. Three squatting. Let’s learn about each and why they’re so vital for building an exceptional body. Pushing against resistance like you do with a pushup. Dumbbell bench press and barbell bench press is a fantastic way to gain muscle and strength in your upper body because it engages some of the largest muscle groups above the waist, including your pectorals chest, deltoids shoulders, and triceps arms.
Pulling against resistance is another one of the best ways to develop upper body strength and muscularity pulling something toward your body. Like with the pull-up dumbbell row and barbell row recruits the largest muscle group in your torso, the back muscles, as well as your biceps arms. Squatting against resistance is the absolute best way to develop a strong and powerful lower body.
When you squat, you activate the largest muscle groups in your entire body. The quadriceps, along with every other muscle below the waist, including the hip muscles, hip flexors, butt, muscles, glutes, hamstrings, and calves. In fact, the squat is nearly a whole body exercise because it also trains your core muscles, abs, and obliques, as well as your back muscles, especially your erector spin eye.
Everything except your chest, arms, and shoulders. Basically this push pulls squat paradigm embodies an important part of the bigger, leaner, stronger philosophy. We don’t want to just do things that work in the. We want to do what works best. In other words, we want to spend our time and effort on the exercises and training techniques that produce the most results and avoid those that offer less.
If this strategy sounds familiar, it’s probably because you’ve heard it before, the principle named after the economist, Alfredo Pareto. This principle states that in many realms, roughly 20% of the causes generate roughly 80% of the effects. We can observe this axiom in operation all around us. About 20% of criminals commit 80% of crime.
Around 20% of patients are responsible for 80% of healthcare spending, and 15% of baseball players deliver 85% of wins. The Pareto principle also applies to training Out of the thousands of fitness maxims and methods you can follow. Just a few of them produce a bucket full of gains, and the rest are either unproductive or unnecessary unless you’re nudging your genetic ceiling.
For muscularity and strength, bigger, leaner, stronger epitomizes These paramount principles and its system can be expressed as a simple formula. 3 5 9 12 9 12 75, 85, 1 3, 2, 4, 8. No, that isn’t a secret code you have to break. It’s the secret to building the body you’ve always wanted. Here’s what it means. Do three to five strength training workouts per week.
Do nine to 12 hard sets per major muscle group per week. Do nine to 12 hard sets per workout. Use 75 to 85% of one RET max end most sets one to three reps shy of muscular failure. Rest two to four minutes in between hard sets. Take it easy every eight weeks. Let’s review those directions one at a time and learn how to combine them into a strength training workout routine that really works.
Three, five. Do three to five strength training workouts per week. The next time you’re chasing the wind on delete your Instagram. Search the hashtag, hashtag no days off, and you’ll meet countless fit. People preening themselves on their dog and determination. Their effort is often commendable but not prudent.
Intense training, six or seven days per week is a high road to injury and burnout, especially when cutting, when people tend to be most gung-ho. Strength training is hard. It batters your joints, tendons, and muscles. It redlines your nervous system. It hammers your bones. These effects are healthy and necessary for forcing the body to get fitter, but they also heap up fatigue that reduces strength, power, and focus.
A phenomenon known as overreach.
Research suggests this response to training may partially be a mental or emotional state rather than a purely physical one, but it’s real and you need to know how to manage it. If you ignore your body’s warnings and press on overreaching can spiral toward over training, and you can develop symptoms like persistent soreness, fatigue and weakness, trouble sleeping, loss of appetite, unintended weight loss, and not in the good way.
Irritability, anxiety and restlessness, abnormal heart rate, inability to focus, depression. To avoid this abyss, I recommend three to five strength training workouts per week, which is enough to achieve even the loftiest fitness ambitions without flaming. This is why I’ll give you three bigger, leaner, stronger routines to choose from, a three day per week, four day per week, and five day per week.
A caution. Once you’re on the program and seeing results, you’ll probably start to feel that your rest days are missed opportunities to gain a little more muscle and strength. Remember, however, that rest and relaxation are vital components of the program. Because muscle isn’t built in the gym, that’s where you give it the signal to grow.
It’s only during downtime that your body can recover from your training and become fitter and stronger than before. Nine 12. Do nine to 12 hard sets per major muscle group per week. Many people think that training frequency, how often you train a major muscle group is a major factor in muscle building.
More important than volume. The total amount of time your muscles spend contracting as measured in different ways for different reasons, including total reps, hard sets and wait times, reps, and intensity. The degree of tension your muscles produce in each rep, to them it’s black and white. More frequency is always better, and if you’re not training each major muscle group at least two to three or more times per week, you’re not going to get very far.
This makes for good social media snippets, but it’s too broad of a brush. How frequently you can and should train muscle groups depends on several things. Your fitness goals, your workout schedule, your workout intensity, your workout volume. For instance, if you can lift weights three days per week and are more interested in developing your upper body than your lower body, it doesn’t make sense to do three whole body workouts per week.
Instead, you’ll want to focus on your upper body muscles. The relationship between intensity, volume and frequency is fairly complicated and there are many viable ways to calibrate these variables. However, there’s also a universal rule that governs the results. As volume and intensity go up in individual workouts, the frequency of those workouts must go down.
In other words, while you can squat or bench press three times per week, you can’t do 10 hard sets. Sets taken close to muscular failure per workout. What’s more research shows the training frequency isn’t nearly as important for gaining muscle and strength as intensity and volume. In fact, frequency can be viewed simply as a tool for providing our muscles with enough weekly volume to stimulate growth.
A target that varies widely based on training, experience, fitness level, and genetics. According to a recent study published in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, optimal volume for gaining muscle appears to be in the range of 10 to 20 hard sets per major muscle group per week, with moderately heavy weights, 60% of one RET max or higher, an adequate rest in between sets.
With the lower number of sets being suitable for beginners and the higher end for advanced weightlifters. Practically, that means that someone new to strength training doesn’t need to do more than nine to 12 hard sets per major muscle group per week to make significant gains. Whereas intermediate and advanced weightlifters may need to do upward of 15 to 20 hard sets for a major muscle group per week to continue making progress.
Curiously, studies also show that when novices increase their volume from the lower end of the 10 to 20 set range to the higher end, they don’t gain muscle and strength any faster because their bodies simply can’t build muscle any faster. Additional volume then results in heavily diminished returns or even backsliding.
Thus, as the bigger, leaner, stronger program is intended for men who have yet to gain their first 20 to 30 pounds of muscle. It entails nine to 12 hard sets per major muscle group per week, the appropriate amount of volume for that goal. Eventually, however, that’s not enough volume to keep progressing, which is why in the sequel to this book, beyond Bigger Leaners, stronger Intended for Intermediate and Advanced Weightlifters, the volume increases to around 15 hard sets per major muscle group per week.
Nine 12, do nine to 12 hard sets per workout, just as there’s a point of diminishing returns for weekly volume per muscle group. There’s also one for volume in an individual workout. Research shows that this threshold is likely between eight and 10 hard sets per muscle group, depending on how heavy the resistance is and how fit you are.
This limitation helps us understand why frequency becomes more important as you get bigger and stronger. If you have to do, say, 15 hard sets for your chest per week to add muscle and strength without doing more than 10 hard sets in an individual workout, you have to split that volume up into at least two workouts and bigger, leaner, stronger.
Though you’ll warm up and do nine to 12 hard sets per workout, which may sound suspicious to you. That’s all. How can that work when many other body building programs call for 15 to 20 or more sets per workout? A couple of reasons. First, mini body building routines use special techniques like super sets, drop sets, giant sets and whatnot that greatly increase volume.
While such devices can be effectively incorporated into a training routine, they’re not necessary, especially for beginners, nor as generally effective for gaining muscle and strength as straight sets. Traditional weightlifting sets as bigger, leaner, stronger workouts only use straight sets. They have less volume than programs with different types of sets.
Second, unless you’re a seasoned weightlifter, you only need to do nine to 12 hard sets per major muscle group per week to maximize muscle growth. And when programmed correctly, nine to 12 hard sets per workout is enough to accomplish this. Third and most importantly, most body building programs use lighter weights and higher rep ranges.
This approach allows for large amounts of volume, but as you learned in the previous chapter, it’s not optimal for naturally gaining muscle and strength with steroids. However, the rules change and a lot more than the average drug user would care to admit. 75 85 use 75 to 85% of one rep max in bigger lean or stronger.
You’ll use two different loads in your workouts on primary exercises, which you’ll learn about in the next chapter. Around 80 to 85% of one rep max, four to six reps per set, and on accessory exercises around 75 to 80% of one rep max. Six to eight reps percent. Why these particular loads and rep ranges?
Why not the more common prescription of lighter weights and more reps, or the coming trend of heavier weights in just a few reps? Contrary to what you might expect, it’s not because the bigger, leaner, stronger way is fundamentally superior for gaining muscle than those other styles. In fact, research shows that a breadth of rep ranges can produce significant amounts of muscle growth.
For example, in a study conducted by Lehman College and Victoria University scientists reviewed 21 studies and compared training with heavier weights, 60% of one rep max and lower reps versus lighter weights, less than 60% of one rep max and higher reps. They found that men and women gained about the same amount of muscle regardless of what rep range and weights they used, so long as they took each set close to muscular failure.
The point at which they could no longer lift the weight despite exerting maximum effort. Other studies have also found no difference in muscle growth when using 10 versus 30 reps per set, eight to 12 versus 20 to 25 reps, eight to 12 versus two to six reps, or three versus seven reps. And so while there are a few exceptions to this rule, sets of one with very heavy weights and sets of 30 plus reps with very lightweights aren’t effective for building muscle.
Anything between four and 20 reps per set can produce about the same amount of muscle growth. Notice, however, that we’ve been speaking hypothetically about the utility of different rep ranges. Technically a variety of rep ranges can work equally well for building muscle, so long as they’re taken close to muscular failure.
But in practice, some rep ranges are more equal than others. For instance, go do a 15 or 20 rep set of barbell squats that ends a reper two shy of muscular failure. And then imagine having to do a couple more sets like that, plus a few 15 to 20 rep sets of a few more exercises like the leg press and dumbbell lunch.
I do not like this workout, Sam. I am the affliction of higher rep Training isn’t just physical either, because such workouts also require a lot of time. Sets of more reps take longer to complete, of course, but they also cause high levels of fatigue forcing you to rest longer between sets to catch your breath.
This approach to training then is like trying to dig a well with a spoon. Why make our job more difficult than it needs to be? Another reason I want you to do between four and eight reps per set is research shows that using heavier weights for fewer reps is better for gaining strength than using lighter weights for more reps.
And well, this is bigger, leaner, stronger after all. Moreover, as you move from a novice to an intermediate trainee and beyond, the most reliable way to get bigger is to get stronger. So attuning yourself physically and psychologically to this style of training will pay big dividends now and even more later.
But wait, you might be thinking if strength eventually drives growth, why not train with even heavier weights like a power lifter? A good question with a simple answer, because that style of training often doesn’t provide sufficient volume to maximize muscle gain. A dramatic example of this is a study conducted by scientists at the University of Mississippi, which found that squatting as much weight as possible for five sets of a single rep twice per week caused zero leg muscle growth after 10 weeks.
And even when there’s enough volume for hypertrophy growth training with near maximal weights, batters your joints, and a masses fatigue. For instance, a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that seven sets of three reps per workout and three sets of 10 reps with each set taken close to failure or equally effective for muscle building.
But after eight weeks, the participants in the former group were experiencing symptoms of over-training, joint pain and fatigue, whereas those in the latter group reported no such problems and were eager to continue training. Thus, when choosing rep ranges, we must consider both the theoretical validity and the practicality and sustainability of different approaches.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering why I’m calling for four to six reps with some exercises and six to eight reps with others, it’s mostly because many exercises lend themselves better to lower or higher rep ranges. For example, a set of 10 reps for the barbell deadlift that ends close to muscular failure is murderous, but a set of six reps isn’t, and similarly, a tough set of six reps of say, the dumbbell side race can be all sorts of awkward, but a set of 10 reps isn’t.
Also, if you’re finding all this talk of one rep, maxes and rep ranges daunting. Fear not. No math will be required for figuring out your training weights. Instead, I’ll show you how to easily and quickly determine your starting weights for the program and then how to increase them as you get stronger.
One three end most hard sets, one to three reps. Shy of muscular failure. According to many hard body hardos. If you’re not training insane by regularly pushing to muscular failure, you’ll remain the same. This is dippy. Taking sets to muscular failure is better for gaining muscle and strength than breezing through your workouts, but it also places a lot of strain on the body, especially with primary exercises and invites injury.
Hey there. If you are hearing this, you are still listening, which is awesome. Thank you. And if you are enjoying this podcast, or if you just like my podcast in general and you are getting at least something out of it, would you mind sharing it with a friend or a loved one or a not so loved one even who might want to learn something new?
Word of mouth helps really bigly in growing the show. So if you think of someone who might like this episode or another one, please do tell them about it. What about training close to muscular failure, though? How does that compare to going all the way? Research shows that it appears to be just as effective in a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 32, untrained Men were split into two groups.
One group. One was to take each set to muscular failure. Two. Group two was to take each set to volitional fatigue, the point where a set becomes uncomfortable, usually a few reps short of muscular failure. Both groups performed three sets of leg extensions at 80% of one max twice a week for 12 weeks. By the end of the study, the data showed that while Group one experienced higher levels of muscle activation, both groups gained almost exactly the same amount of strength and muscle.
A similar outcome was also seen in another study with untrained women and bicep curls. But why? Why didn’t the additional muscle activation result in more muscle or strength? One plausible explanation is that all of the subjects were new to resistance training. Thanks to the newbie Gaines phenomenon that you learned about in chapter 11.
It’s possible that volitional fatigue was enough to whip muscle building into overdrive, and that the extra muscle activation was superfluous, like watering your grass after a rainstorm. What happens with more experienced lifters though? Can they benefit from training to muscular failure? Scientists at East Tennessee State University investigated this when a group of experienced weightlifters did three workouts of 12 sets per week, taking all sets to muscular failure.
They performed worse in every way versus a similar group of weightlifters who ended each set a couple of reps short of muscular failure. There are two reasons for this. One, taking a set to muscular failure isn’t any more anabolic promoting tissue building than ending close to muscular failure. When you push a muscle cell close to its limits, it triggers a cascade of signals that lead to more muscle endurance, strength, and often size.
Thus, the last few reps of a set influence muscle growth more than the first few when the weight moves quickly. But there’s little difference between the stimulus produced by the very last and second, or third last reps. Two. Training to muscular failure causes disproportionately more fatigue, soreness, and wear and tear than to near muscular failure.
The more often you train to muscular failure, the less likely you are to fully recover from your training, especially with a program like Bigger, leaner, stronger, which involves heavy weights and a moderate amount of volume. So while it’s fine to push to muscular failure periodically, if you’re feeling lusty, especially on isolation exercises, virtually all of your training should only verge on it.
Most sets of primary exercises should end with one to two good reps still in the tank, and most sets of accessory exercises with zero to one good reps remaining. Surprisingly, knowing how to manage the difficulty of hard sets is one of the greatest unsung secrets of successful strength training. Many people don’t even get close to muscular failure in their workouts and wonder why nothing changes.
And many others meet failure far too often and wonder why everything always hurts. You now understand how to thread this needle. Two, four, rest, two to four minutes in between hard sets. People often keep rest periods in between sets short, or even skip them because they’re in the gym to move and sweat, not dilly dally.
This works if you’re there to burn calories, but if you want to gain muscle and strength, it’s a mistake. In strength training, you should push your body to the limit and then back off. And if you don’t rest enough in between sets, you won’t be able to give maximum effort in your workouts. Several studies make this clear.
In a review of 35 strength training studies, scientists at the State University of Rio de Janeiro found that three to five minutes of rest between sets allowed for more reps over multiple sets and produced more strength gain. In another study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, the researchers concluded the following.
The findings of the present study indicate that large squat strength gains can be achieved with a minimum of two minutes. Rest between sets and little additional gains are derived from resting four minutes between sets. Here’s what I’d like you to do. Rest around two minutes slightly more is okay if your heart’s still beating quickly or you don’t feel ready for your next set.
In between hard sets for smaller muscle groups like the shoulders, triceps and biceps isolation exercises usually, and around three minutes. Again, a little more is fine if necessary. Between hard sets. For larger muscle groups like your back and legs, generally compound exercises. If you haven’t trained like this before, it’ll likely feel weird or even wrong at first, like you’re sitting around more than you’re working out.
Remind yourself that the lulls are part of the process though, and rest easy. Literally knowing that it’s helping you get more out of your training, not less. Also, make sure that you actually rest in between sets so your muscles are ready for another go. That means loitering, not doing plyometrics, isometrics, or even light cardio.
You should also watch your time. The timer or stopwatch on your phone works well for this, so you don’t accidentally rest too little or too much. Otherwise, suit yourself while you rest, but you’ll probably enjoy your training more if you stay off the internet, social media and email. And instead, focus on how your workout is going, how you’re feeling, and how you’d like your next set to turn out.
Studies show that picturing a successful set can enhance performance. Eight, take it easy every eight weeks. In many ways, building a strong and fit body is just like building anything else worthwhile. The more you put into it, the more you get out of it to a point you have to train hard to get the body you want, but piss and vinegar alone won’t bring it off.
Train too intensely, too often with too few breaks, and your wages will include plateaus, overuse injuries, and soggy workouts. This makes plain why top level athletes of all stripes, from hockey players to cyclists to power lifters include planned periods of extra rest and recovery in their training schedules.
In fact, they place great importance on recuperation because the consequences of neglecting it are too severe. Chronic underperformance, nagging injuries, career ending catastrophes, et cetera. The weight given to recovery is based on research on how the body deals with physical stress. Here’s the basic outline.
One, you provide a stimulus. Two, you remove the stimulus. Three, your body adapts in strength training. The muscle is in the first step training, but the magic is in the third step. Adaptation, also known as Gaines and Jim Goer Argot. It’s the adaptation response to the training stimulus that makes us bigger and stronger, not the stimulus itself.
Hence the body building adage that muscles don’t grow in the gym. They grow after the workouts when your body heals and improves, if you give it the chance with enough of number two, removing the stimulus. With strength training, just as it’s necessary to only do so much in each workout and each week.
It’s also smart to ease up every four to 10 weeks, depending on various factors, including your age, training, experience, training, intensity, overall stress levels, sleep hygiene, and more. By doing this, you avoid constipating or even canceling adaptation by demanding more of your body than it can deal with, and bigger, leaner, stronger.
You’ll do this by deloading every eight weeks, a technical term for a periodic reduction in workout intensity or volume or both. Now that we’ve gone through the bigger, leaner, stronger formula for effective strength training, let’s discuss other aspects of the program that are vital to making it work.
How to achieve progressive overload. A couple of chapters ago, you learned that progressive tension overload is the primary mechanical driver of muscle growth. No matter what exercises you do, how often you train, how heavy the weights are, or any other factor related to workout programming, you must achieve progressive tension overload to make gains.
There are a few workable ways to implement progressive tension overload in a strength training routine, and one of the best methods is known as double progression. With double progression, you work in a certain rep range, four to six, for example, and once you hit the top of that rep range for a certain number of sets and the same workout one, two, or three, usually you increase the.
Normally by five or 10 pounds. Then if you can at least hit the bottom of your rep range with the new heavier weight, you work with it until you reach the progression. Target number of top rep sets, again, increase the weight again and so forth. As you may have gathered, it’s called double progression because you strive to first increase reps volume and then cash in that progress to increase weight intensity.
To see how this works in action, let’s say you’re doing a bigger, leaner, stronger workout that calls for three sets of barbell bench pressing in the four to six rep range. On your first set, you get six reps with 135 pounds, which is the progression target for the program. One top rep set, so it’s time to increase the weight.
You add 10 pounds to the bar, 145 pounds. Rest a few minutes and get four reps on your next two sets of the exercise and that workout because you’re still within your target rep range, four to six reps with 145 pounds. You’d keep working with it until you get six reps for one set and then you’d increase the weight to 155 pounds.
Here’s how this could look over the course of four weeks. Week one set one one hundred and thirty five times four. Set two one hundred and thirty five times four. Set three one hundred and thirty five times five. Week two set, one one hundred and thirty five times six. Target set, two, one hundred and forty five times four increase.
Set three one hundred and forty five times four. Week three set one one hundred and forty five times four. Set two one hundred and forty five times five. Set three one hundred and forty five times five. Week four set one one hundred and forty five times six. Target set two, one hundred and fifty five times four.
Increase set three one hundred and fifty five times four. And what if you can’t reach the bottom of your rep range with the new heavier weight? For example, what if you moved up to 145 pounds on the barbell bench press and only got two or three reps You’ll find out in the next chapter along with directions for dealing with other eventual.
How to use a proper range of motion. Range of motion refers to how much you flex, bend, and extend straighten your joints when you do an exercise, for example, when you curl a dumbbell. Flexion occurs when you raise the dumbbells, bending your elbows, and then extension occurs when you lower them.
Straightening your elbows with strength training exercises. There’s a limit to how much you can safely and comfortably flex and extend your joints like your knees and hips. In the squat and deadlift, and your elbows in the bench press a proper range of motion in a strength training Exercise then is one that moves the affected joints through their full and normal range of flexion and extension beyond which you can cause injury.
For example, with the barbell bench press, a full range of motion requires that you lower the bar until it touches your chest, full elbow flexion, and then press it upward until your arms are straight, full elbow extension, and with the chin up. You should lift yourself until your chin is above the bar, full elbow flexion, and then lower yourself until your arms are straight.
Full elbow extension when strength training, using a full range of motion is important because it’s more effective for gaining muscle and strength than a shorter range of motion because it makes your muscles work harder, and it also can reduce the risk of joint pain and injury by distributing the stress produced by the exercise over the entirety of your joints.
For instance, the first several inches of a squat places a large amount of stress on the tendons below your knees. But as you keep moving downward, the load shifts to other tissues. In the next chapter, I’ll introduce you to all of the exercises you’ll be doing in your bigger, leaner, stronger workouts and show and explain a full range of motion for each of them.
How to use proper form exercise form refers to how well you execute the movement. And while using a full range of motion is an important component of proper form, you also need to do it in a specific and controlled manner with any type of deadlift and squat. For example, you want the bar or dumbbell to move straight up and down.
You don’t want it to sway toward or away from you. And with a standing biceps curl, it’s important that your back remains more or less motionless as opposed to swinging forward and backward. You should also always feel that your muscles are actively working to produce motion, not just using gravity or momentum when squatting.
Instead of relaxing your quadriceps and allowing your torso to drop toward the floor, you want to keep your lower body muscles tight as you lower yourself. Similarly with the pull up, instead of swinging your knees and torso to help on the way up, and then free falling down as many CrossFitters. Do you want to keep your legs still as you smoothly pull yourself up and lower yourself down.
An important prerequisite to using proper form is using the proper amount of weight. Enough to effectively challenge your muscles, but not so much that it forces you to sacrifice your form. I’ll explain how to establish your training weights later in this section of the book at Bottom, proper form consists of moving the right amount of weight through the right range of motion with the right technique.
And again, I’ll spell it all out for every exercise in the program. In the next chapter,
how hard your hard sets should be.
You learned earlier in this chapter that you should end most hard sets, one to three reps shy of muscular failure. Here’s exactly what to do. End all hard sets of body weight exercises. One rep shy of muscular failure. Zero good reps left in the tank. And all hard sets of primary exercises. Two to three reps shy of muscular failure, one to two good reps left and bigger, leaner, stronger.
The primary exercises are those that train the most muscle mass and allow you to use the most weight as you’d expect. They’re mostly compound exercises. End all hard sets of accessory exercises, one to two reps shy of muscular failure, zero to one reps left in the tank. Accessory exercises are those used to further train muscle groups.
Bring up stubborn muscles and help prevent and correct muscle and balances or weaknesses that may limit your progress on your primary exercises. They’re usually isolation exercises. With body weight and accessory exercises, you can work close to muscular failure because it’s less taxing and risky than with primary exercises.
If your workout calls for dumbbell side raises, you’d end each hard set at the point where you feel you can’t complete another rep without compromising your form, swinging your hips forward, raising the dumbbells only halfway, et cetera. And with, let’s say the military press, you’d work in each hard set until you feel you could do one or two more good reps before your technique skids.
And how do you know how close you are to muscular failure in a set? It’s mostly a matter of cut and try, but it doesn’t take long to learn as an easy way to get attuned faster. Try this. As a set starts to feel hard, ask yourself, if I absolutely had to, how many more reps could I get with good formm? Your intuitive answer will usually be accurate, especially as you gain experience how to use a proper rep tempo.
There are two schools of thought about how fast you should perform strength training exercises fairly slowly and fairly quickly. People in the slow training camp often say their style is superior, cuz it increases the amount of time muscles remain under tension. However, while time under tension does contribute to muscle growth, you still need to create high levels of tension by using heavy weights.
And this is where slow tempo training miscarries. To slow down your rep tempo and remain in the right rep range, you have to use less weight. This is why studies consistently show that using a faster rep tempo produces better results than using a slow rep tempo. So that’s what I’ll recommend.
Specifically a 1 0 1 rep Tempo works well, which has you complete the first part of a rep in about one second, one 1000. Pause momentarily, and then go back to the starting position in about one second. In a biceps curl, for example, you’d curl the weight up in one second, pause briefly, and then lower the weight down in one second.
Don’t fret about following this tempo perfectly, so long as you’re moving through each rep in a swift but controlled manner. You’re doing it right. How to avoid injury. Many people believe that most strength training injuries are caused by overdoing it in a single set or workout. But this isn’t true. The most common cause of injury is more insidious.
It’s failing to fully recover from previous workouts. An everyday scenario might be that your elbow feels stiff the day after an upper body workout, but you brush it aside and keep training. A few weeks later, your elbow is hurting during and after bench pressing. No pain, no gain. You think and keep plugging away a few more weeks and well now your elbow always hurts these repetitive stress injuries.
RSIs are the scourge of athletes every. Because they’re not severe enough to sideline you but can significantly sour your performance. Fortunately, resolving RSIs generally requires nothing more than a bit of rest. Indeed, that’s the only way to heal an rsi. Once it is taken root, you must stop doing whatever caused it and we’ll continue to irritate it as well as anything else that bothers the affected area.
This normally means staying away from an exercise or type of movement pattern for a week or two, but sometimes you have to stop training a muscle group entirely until the pain is gone. Strength training isn’t dangerous, but it’s a demanding physical activity, and if you do enough of it, you’re bound to develop an RSI here and.
Especially as you get stronger and the weights get heavier, you can take simple precautions to prevent them, however, and touch wood completely ward off more serious problems. If it feels bad, don’t do it. If you feel sharp pain when you’re doing an exercise, end the set immediately. I’m not referring to residual muscle soreness from your last workout or the burn you feel as you approach failure, but something that makes you wince at least a little.
This is a warning that something is wrong. Don’t ignore it. The same goes for strange feelings during an exercise. The initial stage of an RSI doesn’t always involve. Instead, your knee feels weird on the last couple of reps of squatting, or your elbow feels funny, or your shoulder tight when pressing sensations like these aren’t always dangerous signals, but it’s better to be careful with them than cavalier.
So consider pain or strange feelings as warnings and pay attention. Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether the discomfort you feel is normal or not. Though asking yourself the following two questions can help. One is the pain or strange sensation on one or both sides of my body when you’re doing a bilateral exercise, one that trains both sides of the body simultaneously properly.
One side shouldn’t hurt more than the. If that’s the case, it’s more likely a sign to stop rather than muscle fatigue. Two, is the pain in a joint or other specific spot in my body? These are the pain or strange feeling issues your most likely to experience, not muscle, eggs or stiffness. Localized pain will suddenly strike in a joint or tendon when a feeling of pain or something strange strikes.
Stop training. Rest for a couple of minutes and try the exercise again. If there’s no improvement, do another exercise that feels okay and come back to the original one and your next workout. If it’s still problematic, stay away from it until you’re in the clear progress gradually. Soldiers have a slogan that goes like this.
Slow is smooth. Smooth is fast. This mindset is essential for succeeding in strength training as well. One of the easiest ways to get hurt is through overwork. You feel particularly strong one day or want to turn heads in the gym or set a PR so you ignore the plan and load the bar with more weight than ever before.
This is almost always a mistake because it can lead to compromised form, place, an inordinate amount of strain on your joints, tendons and ligaments, and impair recovery. Slower progress, however, is smooth and smooth. Progress is fast. For instance, if you’re new to strength training, you’ll probably be able to add weight to most exercises every week or two for the first few months after you’ve been added for a year or so.
However, adding weight to the most difficult exercises once or twice per month is commendable. A winning benchmark for strength training is progress, is progress. Sometimes you’ll race ahead and sometimes you’ll crawl, but if you’re moving forward, you’re doing well. Maintain good form. Everyone knows they should use proper form, but it can be tempting to cut corners when you want to get that extra reper.
Two, the occasional infraction on an isolation exercise is accept. A sloppy final rep on a biceps curl or shoulder raise, for example. But regular violations aren’t. The substance of strength training is methodically moving heavy loads through full ranges of motion with proper technique, not haphazardly heaving as much weight as possible.
Don’t rob Peter to pay Paul by cheating on your form. Learn proper technique and always strive to maintain it. You can study strength training and muscle building for hundreds of hours and barely scrape the surface. The mechanics are complex and involve hundreds of factors and functions, but fortunately, you don’t need an advanced degree to understand what to do in the gym to get strong and fit.
In fact, you now possess a powerful plan for long-term fitness success. A moderate dose of moderately difficult strength training workouts that are tough enough to produce results, but not so rough that you feel agonized, exhausted, or burned out. The strength training strategy I’ve just shared with you has enough horsepower to radically change your body and health and enough versatility to satisfy just about any circumstances and preferences.
So if you’ve had a falling out or five with fitness, I hope to help you fall in love with it again. And if this is your first foray, you’re going to have a lot of fun to get started. However, you’ll need to know the grammar of strength training, exercise selection, contained in the next chapter. Key takeaways.
The three primary triggers or pathways for muscle growth are mechanical tension, muscle damage, and cellular fatigue. Mechanical tension is the most important driver of muscle growth, and thus, for strength training to be maximally productive, it must underline mechanical tension more than muscle damage and cellular fatigue.
Training with heavier loads produces more mechanical tension than lighter ones, and thus activates more muscle growth, which leads to more strength. To keep driving muscle growth, we must steadily increase mechanical tension levels in the muscles over time. Progressive overload three to five strength training workouts per week is enough to achieve even the loftiest fitness ambitions without flaming.
Unless you’re a seasoned weightlifter, you only need to do nine to 12 hard sets per major muscle group per week to maximize muscle growth. Rest around two minutes in between hard sets for smaller muscle groups like the shoulders, triceps, and biceps, and around three minutes between hard sets. For larger muscle groups like your back and legs, take a D load, a technical term for a periodic reduction in workout intensity or volume, or both.
Every eight weeks with double progression, you work in a certain rep range, and once you hit the top of that range for a certain number of sets in the same workout, you increase the weight. Then if you can at least hit the bottom of your rep range with the new heavier weight, you work with it until you reach the progression target again.
Increase the weight again and so forth when strength training. Using a full range of motion is important because it’s more effective for gaining muscle and strength than a shorter range of motion, and it also can reduce the risk of joint pain and injury by distributing the stress produced by the exercise over the entirety of your joints.
Proper form consists of moving the right amount of weight through the right range of motion with the right technique. End all hard sets of body weight exercises. One rep shy of muscular failure, zero good reps left in the tank. End all hard sets of primary exercises, two to three reps, shy of muscular failure.
One to two good reps. And end all hard sets of accessory exercises. One to two reps shy of muscular failure, zero to one reps left in the tank. A faster rep tempo of 1 0 1 produces better results than using a slow rep tempo to resolve a repetitive stress injury. Stop doing whatever caused it and will continue to irritate it as well as anything else that bothers the affected area until the pain is gone.
If you feel sharp pain when you’re doing an exercise, end the set immediately. This is a warning that something is wrong. Don’t ignore it. A winning benchmark for strength training is progress, is progress. Sometimes you’ll race ahead and sometimes you’ll crawl, but if you’re moving forward, you’re doing well.
Well, I hope you liked this episode. I hope you found it helpful, and if you did subscribe to the show because it makes sure that you don’t miss new episodes. And it also helps me because it increases the rankings of the show a little bit, which of course then makes it a little bit more easily found by other people who may like it just as much as you.
And if you didn’t like something about this episode or about the show in general, or if you have, uh, ideas or suggestions or just feedback to share, shoot me an email, mike muscle for life.com, muscle f o r life.com, and let me know what I could do better or just, uh, what your thoughts are about maybe what you’d like to see me do in the future.
I read everything myself. I’m always looking for new ideas and constructive feedback. So thanks again for listening to this episode, and I hope to hear from you soon.