We have two men in our gym, both of them have the same bench press 1RM.
The other day in our gym, one man did 9 reps, the other did 5 reps.
What does this mean?
Case in point:
In conclusion, the results of this study indicate that high-intensity (3–5 RM), low-volume resistance training program utilizing a long rest interval (3 min) is more advantageous than a moderate intensity, high-volume (10–12 RM) program utilizing a short rest interval (1 min) for stimulating upper body strength gains and muscle hypertrophy in resistance-trained men during an 8-week study. (link)
Controversy continues to exist as to how much volume is needed to maximize muscle hypertrophy. The American College of Sports Medicine position stand recommends that novice individuals perform 1–3 sets per exercise of 8–12 repetitions with a moderate load (70–85% 1RM) while advanced individuals should perform 3–6 sets per exercise of 1–12 repetitions with a loading range of 70–100% 1RMWith respect to advanced trainees, the wide loading range was recommended to target both mechanical and metabolic (hypoxic) stimuli to maximize muscle growth in a periodized fashion. These guidelines are consistent with a recent survey of 127 competitive bodybuilders, which found that more than 95% of respondents used 3–6 sets per exercise in their training programsDespite this apparent congruity between science and practice, some fitness professionals have challenged current opinion, claiming that a single set, when taken to muscular failure, is as effective as higher RT volumes. For example, a recent review attempted to make the case that training volume was unrelated to muscular gains, postulating the performance of a single set per exercise is sufficient to maximize hypertrophy more efficiently than higher volume routines (link)
To determine your optimal sets for growth using a practical based method takes time and patience. Let’s face it, gaining strength and size takes patience; therefore, if you are hellbent on being impatient about this you are in the wrong hobby.
It is generally agreed upon that 10 sets per week is a good starting point for hypertrophy volume (link), but you will most likely need more. How much more is highly individualized. Start with ten sets a week, not a day, a week. Using higher frequency training (link) is ideal for this as you can lay it out like this:
If you look at this on paper, it seems disorganized, but if you put it into context in a training layout, it will look something like this:
You have 5 exercises a day with no more than 23 sets per day of focused work.
From this layout you can adjust volume up or down as needed within the parameters of what science says.
A day 5 can be added for extra volume for shoulders and arms as those smaller groups tend to recovery quickly and respond well to a higher frequency of training.
This is where you start to utilize common sense in your training and start to deviate from the framework of science with how you lay your program out.
Squats – 3RM to 20 reps per set – growth factors for squat vary in individuals greatly
Leg Press – 10 to 20 reps per set – leg press is not a strength exercise despite what YouTube says
Leg Extension – use a single joint machine to ease the joints and 12 to 25/30 reps a set.
Deadlift – 2RM to 8/10 reps per set – primarily a strength movement and a poorer muscle builder but the base building potential warrants its inclusion
DB RDL – 10 to 15 reps per set
Prone Leg Curl – balance out the hip focused hamstring movements with a knee flexion hamstring movement using 12 to 20 reps per set
Seated or Standing Calf Raises – 8 to 20 reps per set.
Barbell Row – 8 to 15 reps per set. Your back is primarily made up of Type 1 muscle fibers (link) so using reps, control, and good execution will reap benefits greater than a heavy 3 to 5 reps of lawnrower ego rowing.
Single Arm DB Row – 8 to 25+ reps per set.
Chin-ups – 5 to 10+ reps per set
Barbell Bench Press – 3RM to 20 reps per set. Similar to the squat
DB Incline Bench Press – 8 to 20 reps per set.
Machine Chest Fly – 12 to 25 reps per set. The actual function of the pec is moving your arms in the exact way this exercise forces you to do.
Face Pulls – 12 to 25 reps per set.
Bent Over Rear Delt Fly – 12 to 20 reps per set.
Incline Prone Rear Delt Fly – 12 to 20 reps per set.
Standing Barbell Press – 3RM to 20 reps per set
Seated DB Shoulder Press – 8 to 20 reps per set
DB Lateral Raises – 12 to 20 reps per set
Barbell Curls – 10 to 15 reps per set
Hammer Curls – 10 to 15 reps per set
Cable Curls – 10 to 20 reps per set
Close Grip Bench Press – 6 to 12 reps per set
Rope Pushdowns – 10 to 20 reps per set
Overhead Extensions – 10 to 15 reps per set
Your basic framework of exercise selection should be simple, from a variety of humerus and femur positions relative to your body, hand positions (supinate, pronate, neutral grip), and rep ranges.
You can run with these exercises for a long time, using them systematically to track volume, progress, intensity, and experiment with tempos and loading parameters.
After 8 to 10 weeks of following the basic layout, reassess what is growing, what is getting stronger, and what needs more work. Add 1 extra set per week to bodyparts that need improvement. Allow it time to develop before you add more work or reassess exercises.
You will stick to the plan for weeks at a time, using your own physique as a metric of what type of rep ranges work best, what the OTS is, and what exercises elicit the greatest muscular response.
You may love squatting but find out leg pressing helps your quads grow larger. That is not a death sentence to your ego, rather it is telling you hit squats harder for strength work and focus on leg pressing for hypertrophy.
Once you start to develop your OTS, you have learned what the art of strength training is. You took scientific principles and adapted them to your personal needs. You will not learn that by reading until you can quote studies verbatim, you will learn this by taking basic knowledge and applying it to the ultimate canvas; your effort and your body.
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