Lift weights, get big.
If only it was that simple, and it is if you’ve never done it before. Beginners can see some impressive gains from pretty much any programme.
However once you’ve gone beyond that initial stage, it helps to know HOW you build muscle beyond just moving heavy stuff around.
So here’s 4 muscle building pillars of information that’l help you maximise your training for more muscle and less time wasted.
I’m going to assume you already do the basic stuff like lifting with full range of motion, proper technique and your following a programme that hit’s every key body part equally, using mainly multi joint exercises.
Volume (or Volume Load) is defined as sets x reps x load. To quote world renown hypertrophy (muscle gain) expert Brad Schoenfeld:
“There is a clear dose-response effect between volume and muscle growth”
So the more volume you lift with, the greater your gains? Up to a point yes.
There is an upper limit to how much volume your body can recover from, if you push beyond that limit, you’l get weaker, lift with less volume and halt your ability to build new muscle.
This is known as your maximal recoverable volume (MRV).
To find out yours, spend a month gradually increasing the amount of sets you do each week until you get to the point where you can’t maintain your performance or you’re getting weaker.
That is your MRV, you now need a rest/deload week!
Following that week, gradually build those sets up again, increasing the volume over time.
So lift with enough volume to stimulate muscle growth, but not too much to compromise your recovery.
2. Rep ranges
So what rep ranges should you lift at? Well if you want to maximise your volume and gain more muscle, generally speaking 6-12 reps is a good place to start.
One group did the traditional 3 sets of 10 bodybuilding style training, the other lifted much heavier loads using 7 sets of 3 reps.
The results? There was actually no difference in muscle gain between the groups.
They lifted the same overall volume.
HOWEVER- the heavy group were ‘fried’ by the end of the study with many complaining of sore joints while the lighter 3 sets of 10 group felt they could have done more.
The lighter session also took a quarter of the time than the heavier one, and got the same results.
So volume is most important factor if you want to gain muscle, but selecting rep ranges which don’t ruin your joints or take up all your time makes the process far easier in the real world.
So based on what I’ve just said, we should just do 3 sets of 10 forever right?
Spending some time lifting heavy and working on your strength, will allow you to lift heavier loads when you go back to 8-12 reps which will then mean you’re lifting with more volume and therefore gaining more muscle.
Not to mention your body is pretty good at adapting to any stimulus you give it, so varying that stimulus through rep ranges is a great way to keep adapting and keep gaining muscle.
Lastly, each muscle is made up of different types of muscle fibers. Some fibers may respond better to heavy loads, others to moderate, others to light (15+ reps).
So to gain muscle optimally, do the majority of your sets in the 8-12 rep range but ocassionally go above or below.
4. Rest periods
If you stick to very short rest periods, you won’t be fully recovered by the time you start your next set.
You’l be weaker and therefore lift less overall volume and gain less muscle.
Somewhere between 2-5 minutes is best for most people, with the longer rest periods reserved for your heavy strength work.
Rest enough to lift enough.
So to put these 4 aspects together into a training programme that allows you to gain the most amount of muscle properly.
1) Volume is king- Focus on increasing the amount of volume you lift over time until you reach an upper limit, rest and repeat.
2) The majority of your training should be in the 8-12 range, but don’t be afraid to spend time below and above this range
3) Include variation in your training. Have pre planned months of higher loads, then switch back down to higher reps but with your new found strength.
4) Lift through the full spectrum of rep ranges, 3-5 reps, 6-12 reps, 12-30 reps.
5) Rest enough to lift more volume and gain more muscle.
Support the above with a calorie surplus and adequate protein (at least 1.8-2.2 per kg of BW), and you’re good to go.