I have been waiting to address this question for a long time. You hear a lot about muscle confusion, particularly in TV ads for programs you can purchase on. You also see it in magazines and periodicals.

The theory is that your muscles become accustomed to any given workout and to keep progressing either in physical size or fitness you need to keep your muscles “confused” by changing the workout at regular interval.

Let’s answer this by starting out with a lesson in human physiology. When you begin a new routine of any kind, your body makes certain neuromuscular adjustments or adaptations. Your body does two things: it gets stronger by accommodating to the actual exercise movement or “groove”. You realize this when after two or three workouts you find the actual groove for the movement and  you can push a little bit more weight. This Relates to your body actually learning the  plane of motion. Secondly , your body adapts to heavier weight by increasing muscle size so the muscles can contract with greater force becoming stronger.

Here in lies the problem. The term muscle confusion is used as a reason that this or that program works. In reality, there’s really no truths to this.

 Let me explain. First, let’s look at what really improves your fitness level. Exercise intensity measured by heart rate and duration are the only two factors involved in improving internal or cardiovascular fitness. Simply changing what you do has almost nothing to do with it.

Now let’s look at muscular strength. In this case, if you measure muscular strength by any specific movement e.g bench press, the muscle confusion theory does not apply because when you change from a bench press to some other chest exercise, you lose the bodies focus on the exact bench press movement. For example; let’s say you do bench presses twice a week for four weeks increasing in strength each workout. Now you want to exercise this muscle confusion principal so you do cable crossovers and decline dumbbell presses for three weeks and then come back and try to measure your bench strength. You will inevitably find out that your strength level on the bench press is now less or at the very least, certainly not more.

The truth is, your body thrives on consistency in your workout for a time period of between three and six weeks depending on the type of work out you’re doing. When you plateau and you will, you need to change the workout and begin again at a lower work load and increasing over time

Arnold

This blog is the second part of the series on reps and sets for maximum muscular growth.

Let’s start with an example. Look at marathon runners. They are all extremely thin, almost to the point of looking anorexic. Do you think they want to look like this? The answer is no. Their physique is simply a result of the body’s response to type of training. Running great distances requires no upper body size or strength. As a matter of fact, any weight or thickness in the upper body is extra baggage that the body has to carry over these distances. It represents tissue that must be oxygenated and maintained by your internal physiology.

Running, at this level requires a lot of oxygen to course through the system and this upper body “baggage” is part of the system so upper body mass actually decreases the runner’s efficiency.

Now let’s look at bodybuilders. Building muscular size is an anaerobic activity as opposed to an aerobic activity like marathon running. Anaerobic activities do not require large amounts of oxygen coursing through the system.

This brings us to our comparison of repetitions. The marathon runner does thousands of repetitions (steps) in one set to carry him 26 miles. The reps are light and numerous.

On the other hand, bodybuilders do many less reps per set and get a completely different physiological response. The muscles grow in size to accommodate the heavier and less repetitive resistance.

Now let’s get to the heart of the matter. That is, the specific number of reps per set required to gain maximum size. We will examine the range of one rep to 15 reps. Doing one to five reps generally creates more densely packed harder muscle like you see in a typical power lifter. Doing 10 to 15 reps tends to create longer muscles like you would see in a “conditioned” athlete.

The ideal number of reps for maximum size is between six and eight. And believe it or not, there is a huge difference between 6 to 8 and 10 the 15 reps in the body’s response. The key is to train your muscles to accommodate to doing six to eight reps. For some reason we have this mindset of having to do 10 to 15 reps per set to get the best results.

If you are currently on a program doing 10 to 12 to 15 reps per set, simply try this. It will take two or three workouts to accustom your body to less reps when you have been doing more. However, by the fourth or fifth workout, you will begin to see and feel a difference. You will be able to use more weight and consequently gain more size.

Arnold

Let me preface my suggestions with a little bit of personal history. I started training with weights when I was 15 years old and I’m now 59 years old. That’s over 44 years of total time. At the peak of my career I placed fifth in my class at the Mr. America as well as sixth in the Mr. Universe competition.

I am by definition a hard gainer with much less genetic potential than most.  After the first 10-15 years of beating myself to death with fast-paced, high rep, high-intensity workouts I begin to learn what it really takes to gain the most size.

Before I go any further, I want you to know that I realize my suggestions may seem somewhat controversial, but I assure you that if you follow this pattern, you will not only succeed now, but you’ll also be laying the groundwork for continued  growth to some degree for many years.

I’m going to divide the following information into two separate blogs (rest between sets and reps per set).

 In this blog I will talk about the rest increments between sets.  As an example let’s take a typical four set exercise. Between your first and second set which are warm-ups the rest time should be between 1 and 2 minutes. Between your heavy sets the rest should be between 3 and 4 min. If you’re rest period between sets are shorter than this you will fatigue because you’re out of oxygen, not because the weight was too heavy. If you fatigue because you’re out of oxygen your body will respond by improving the efficiency of oxygen use, not improving strength and size. This is crucial.

Most of us have been brainwashed to think that we must work hard and fast to get results. That may be the case in some sports, but is not true in bodybuilding or strength training. In order to gain size you have to apply a resistance to the muscle that is not accustomed to while giving the muscle group as well as the system plenty of time to re-oxygenate.

The body’s physiological response to resistance training at the right reps (between six and 10) and rest increments is to create larger muscles. A good rule of thumb to follow this: rest 1 to 2 min. longer than you think you should.

If you don’t believe it just try it. Next time you workout add a minute or two to your rest periods between sets and see if you can handle more weight. We all know that if you can handle more weight you will get bigger and stronger.  

In my next blog I will cover number of reps per set that is ideal for creating size and or strength.

No Pain No Gain, is this Really True?

NO pain, NO gain

 

If you’ve been lifting weights for any length of time, certainly you have heard this statement. It is true that you have to work hard to get results. However, this pain gain axiom can be carried to the extreme and is not true in all cases all the time.

As an example, I am going to track a typical beginning weightlifter going through the first 4 years of training. We all know that when you first start working out with weights you can, for example increase your bench press by 5 pounds a week. After the second or third month of training for some reason to increase your bench press now by 5 pounds it takes two or three weeks. After the fourth or fifth month of training no matter what you do or how you train that same increase takes 4 to 5 weeks.

Can you see the pattern here? We all would like to increase 5 pounds per week, but we can’t. Let’s track it now. On the first day of working out you can bench press 150 pounds and for the next 52 weeks  you increased by 5 pounds per week. Doing some simple math 5×52 is a 260 pound increase in the first year. Now, your best bench is  260+150 or 410 pounds. Continuing for another year you would add another 260 pounds for a best bench of 670 pounds. If you add one more year to your tenure you would bench press 740 pounds. And finally, by the end of your 4th you would be able to bench press 1000 pounds. Of course no one can do that. The question is, why? Lots of people train way more than four years in a lifetime.

The answer lies in the fact that our bodies respond to resistance training a lot at first. We are designed to respond quickly to any given physical challenge as a survival mechanism.

So how does the no pain no gain statement come into play? The answer is sort of complicated, but here goes. Let’s say you’re in your fourth month of weight training. Your bench press has not increased in three weeks. What’s the first thing you do? You train harder, right? This is because you have been told to get bigger and stronger you need to work harder. This is where this axiom becomes less valid.

Working to failure and gains in strength and size go together. Yes, that’s true, but it changes as you go through years of training. The more time you put into training in terms of months or years the less often you should work out to the level of failure. This is a very hard concept to understand. It is, however, absolutely true.

The way to continue to increase  strength and size over time is to work to failure less often relative to number of years of training. If you don’t do this you will quickly see that you’re not getting stronger and bigger because you are overtraining. This is often the key determinant of longevity. Most weight trainers get to this point, and can’t process the logic here. Therefore, their gains cease, they give up and stop training.