I know your story, I’ve heard it a thousand times, and it drives me crazy. “I saw this girl on (insert social media platform here) and she looked like in real good shape and she said she does 8 rounds of 60 lunges, 286 squats, 88 sit ups, run a mile sprint on the elliptical, for her bubble butt and flat abs.” Thank God for good genetics, a camera phone, and a passion for fitness. I love the enthusiasm out there, I really do. But some information can be just misleading. Don’t get me wrong, high reps could be good for some sort of cardiovascular conditioning, but not for strength gains or hypertrohpy, aka gainscity, aka getting swoll, aka bubble buttastic. Sure, you may see some gains in strength, any sedentary person in the gym for their first month are going to make gains in every lift, eventually you plateau and that is when science kicks in. Now that I got that off of my chest, lets take a real basic look at how to make some strength gains. My strength training focuses on 3 main points;
- What are your goals?
- Plan to get there through proper rep count and resistance
- Quality of rep
1)When designing a program you must first look at what you are trying to achieve; A) I want to get strong. B) I want to get bigger/more defined C) I want to fine tune my central nervous system to break through a plateau. D) I want to waste my time cranking out reps at a low resistance and hope that somebody attractive recognizes my hard work and comes talk to me. If you find yourself stuck on D, I’m sure you are doing great and happy, but I think your time will be better served reading about Brews and BBQ.
2) How is your program going to take you there? You need to understand how the amount of repetitions you perform and “effort”, or force applied, effects your muscular growth. I have learned over the years that different repetition ranges and force applied have a strong correlation to muscular growth. In the most basic sense, mechanical stress to muscle tissue is what causes muscular growth. With that being said adequate amounts of stress must occur during your set to break down muscle tissue so that it repairs itself to become stronger. Yes, sets are important too but that is not what this write up is about, generally I like to keep my total amount of reps around 25. Below is a little guide to help you decide where you want to go with your repetitions and %effort;
- 1-3 reps at 85-100% of max effort will stress mostly your central nervous system (CNS). There are simply not enough repetitions to breakdown muscle tissue, but in order to move at this high of a resistance the neuromuscular system must recruit as many muscle fibers as possible. Essentially “fine tuning” your neuromuscular system
- 4-7 reps at 90-75% max effort will cause myofibrilated hypertrophy. In a basic sense this weight and rep range is will break down your muscle tissue and promote strength gains, but will not primarily increase the “girth” or size of your muscle. Big weights= Big strength
- 8-12 reps at 75-50% max effort will cause sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. In other words we will grow the muscle volume. The workload itself is not enough to cause big gains in strength, but the growth is due to an increase of plasma, organelles, and non-contractile proteins.
- 12 or more reps at too light of a weight, all Crossfit jokes aside, if you are able to do more than 12 reps at a given weight than it is too light to create any mechanical stress on the muscle tissue. Sure you may “feel the burn, bro” but that is purely just accumulation of lactate in the muscles. This will help your muscular endurance and create “tone”. But let’s get this “tone” rant over with now. Definition of muscle tone is residual muscle tension, thank you ACSM handbook. So it doesn’t boost metabolism, it doesn’t build muscle or burn fat. So just stop. (to the haters: we will cover metabolic conditioning another day, this is strength, not conditioning)
3) Last but not least I CANNOT stress enough the importance of rep quality. You are better off having 4 great reps than 7 that look like hell. So what does a good rep look like?
- Controlling the weight: Movement control is essential, it doesn’t matter how strong you are if you cannot control movement.
- Eccentric phase: This is the muscle lengthening under tension phase. As hard as it is to believe, study after study will tell you that this is where you make your gains. We won’t get into it but physics backs this up, can’t argue with that. Want to get strong or finally get a pull up? Look up something called “negatives”
- Explosive concentric: This is the “action phase” if you will, where the muscle contracts to create a force. While maintaining control of the weight, push, pull, squat or curl against that resistance as fast/controlled as you can.
Daily dose of haterade: I hope you now have a basic understanding of what you are looking for in a strength basic strength program. Don’t be deceived by the nonsense because somebody has 100k likes and half of their pictures are of them shirtless in front of the mirror sporting the latest workout gear (I can’t wait until my Insta’ hits that point). But Master Andrew, you didn’t even cover Mesocycle periodization, or microcycles, or even rest! Now now, relax young Grasshoppers, for we shall cover that another time.
Our biggest take away from this article is to know that quality reps cause the most mechanical stress, mechanical stress can cause muscle growth, and big weight equals big strength. Please leave a comment on what you learned or what you want to learn more about.
Now where is my beer… Is it the weekend yet?