The main reason we train with weights - grinding out reps workout after workout - is to add mass to our physiques. Sure it's great to be in better shape and ripped; but there's nothing like looking in the mirror and seeing more muscle.
Related: The Best Full Body Workout for Building Muscle
But if you don't train properly you will waste your time and effort and have little to show for the hours of sweat you put forth.
Heavy Weights Or Light Weights?This depends on your goals. If you're looking to add mainly strength use low reps. Three to five per set, with very heavy weights.
If looking to add both muscle mass and strength, your sets should fall in the 6-10 range with moderate weights. The exception to this rule is legs. Since they tend to have more of a mixed fiber type, they will need higher rep counts to maximize their growth.
Light weights using rep counts of 15-30 have little use in the development of muscle mass. They stimulate slow twitch fibers and are geared toward endurance development. Slow twitch fibers add some mass to a muscle but no where near the amount fast twitch fibers do.
To build maximum size you need to stimulate fast twitch fibers using moderate to heavy weights. In a future article I will give advice on training slow-twitch fibers for some added size but for now we'll focus on fast twitch fibers.
Level Of IntensityA muscle thrives on exercise and grows when the workload is of sufficient intensity. But what level of effort is ideal?
Many people in the gym focus more on taking selfies and talking with their friends than they do on their training. Others just go through the motions mindlessly, without proper focus on what they're doing.
Research has shown that muscle growth occurs when a muscle receives the proper degree of stimulation. Any excess training just wastes time and precious energy and could lead to overtraining. It has been shown that one hard, quality set of an exercise done with proper intensity is as effective as 3-4 sets of less intensity in growing new muscle.
The goal is to get as close to a 100% intensity level as possible during a set. Unfortunately, there is no gauge or instrument to measure the percentage of exercise intensity. But if one trains until no additional complete reps are possible, the correct amount of intensity level will have been reached.
There are high intensity training variables, as outlined in my collection of books, that allow bodybuilders to increase intensity levels even more by ending sets beyond the level of failure. These include forced reps, negatives and rest-pause sets. Learn how to properly perform these and add them to your training to smash through training plateaus and sticking points.
Proper Exercise SequencingAll exercises will build muscle if proper form, intensity and progressive overload is pursued. But if one desires to maximize development, it's important to organize training sessions so certain exercises are done before others.
A great example would be a leg training workout using the pre-exhaustion principle. Train the quads to failure by doing a set of leg extensions followed immediately by a heavy set of leg presses also to failure.
Since leg extensions are an isolation exercise,they exhaust the quads. Leg presses are a compound exercise that uses hip and other surrounding muscles, which are fresh, to drive the quads past failure. If these exercises were reversed,it would be impossible to execute this pre-exhaust superset.
Other scenarios are doing
Let's give some examples using the high intensity protocol:
- Pec deck flyes - 1x12 + 3 forced reps
- Decline dumbbell bench press - 1x6-8
Chest Compound Focus
- Barbell flat bench press - 1x6 + 2 negatives
- High cable crossovers - 1x10 + 2 forced reps
Chest Power and Strength
- Incline dumbbell bench press - 1x3 + 2 negatives
1 minute rest
- Barbell bench press - 1x5
1 minute rest
- Seated machine dips - 1x5
These three examples are just scratching the surface;there are many more examples of great superset combinations.
Loading And OverloadingAttempt to add weight to the bar or machine at every workout session using small incremental additions. In most cases a 1 1/2 lb increase, accomplished with micro-plates, will go unnoticed by your muscles and allow you to build up a lot of strength over a year's time.
Look at it this way - if you train the bench press once per week and add 1 ½ lbs per session, you will have increased your bench by 78 lbs. In two year's time you will be able to lift 156 more lbs and so on!
Use High Intensity Variables to Stimulate More MuscleUse forced reps, negatives, forced negatives and rest-pause training, to name a few. Forced reps are done with the assistance of a training partner after no more reps are possible at the end of a set. He/she applies just enough force on the bar or machine arm to allow 1-3 additional reps.
Negatives are a great way to subject your muscles to ultra-heavy weights. Load the bar or machine with 140% of the weight normally used in a n exercise.
Have your partner raise the weight and transfer the bar to you. Lower to a count of eight. Forced negatives are similar to standard negatives except your partner applies additional pressure to make the bar heavier during lowering.
Rest-pause training is done using a weight that is equal to your 1RM. Lift the weight once, rest just long enough to reduce the weight one plate,and repeat. Continue until a total of 8 reps have been completed. More information on HIT variables is available in my two books on HIT Variables available at Amazon.
Rest And RecuperationI would be remiss if I didn't stress to you that gains are stimulated in the gym but realized during rest including sleep. There are two types of recuperation, general central nervous and specific muscle.
Train each muscle only as often as is ideal to achieve maximum growth and no more. This is usually once every 7-10 days to allow growth and recuperation to take place. Train 2-3 times per week and no more to allow your overall body systems to fully recover from intense workouts.
David Groscup has authored ten books on the subject of high intensity training, which are available here. You can read his blog on High Intensity Training here.