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What 22 studies say about the best way to build muscle Part 2

Was 22 Studien über den besten Weg für den Aufbau von Muskeln sagen Teil 2

Having covered training frequency and different training splits, the right number of sets per muscle group and whether high or low reps are better for building muscle in the first part of this article, in this second part of this article I will talk about the crucial importance of progression, the ideal repetition speed, the length of rest between sets, muscle damage & soreness and the need for good training planning and consistency.

How to get your muscles to grow

No matter how many sets and reps you perform, it's important that you train hard and focus on increasing your training performance over time.

What exactly do I mean by this?

According to the famous legend, Milon of Kroton began by carrying a young calf on his shoulders every day. The legend says that he took the calf on his shoulders and went through a great stage. As the animal grew, Milon became stronger. At some point, he was strong enough to carry a full-grown bull.

And so the concept of gradual progressive overload was born. This concept is based on the idea that if you want your muscles to grow, you need to continually increase the demands you place on your body.

If you do the same exercises with the same number of sets and repetitions with the same weights for the next 5 years, nothing will happen.

This is because the training you are doing is below the stimulus threshold required to stimulate growth. Your training is a challenge to which your body has long become accustomed. As a result, it will not build new muscle.

Within certain limits, a muscle will grow in direct proportion to the amount of work it has to do. And while there are many ways to increase muscle work over time, the following three ways are the ways I recommend to most people in most cases.

The most common method of progressive overload involves increasing the weight while keeping the number of reps per set in the same range. Here is an example:

  • Workout 1: 8 reps with 50 kilos
  • Training session 2: 8 repetitions with 52.5 kilos
  • Training session 3: 8 repetitions with 55 kilos

This does not mean that there is a perfectly linear relationship between strength gains and muscle mass gains. If you double your strength with every exercise, you will not automatically double your muscle mass. Nor does it follow that increasing your muscle mass by 100% will increase your strength by the same percentage.

The most muscular and bulky guys are not always the strongest and the strongest are not always the most muscular. However, it's rare to see an extremely muscular guy who doesn't also have tremendous amounts of strength.

Option number two involves performing more repetitions with the same weight. Here is an example:

  • Training session 1: 6 reps with 50 kilos
  • Training session 2: 7 repetitions with 50 kilos
  • Training session 3: 8 repetitions with 50 kilos

Let's say that your current training program consists of 3 sets of 8 to 10 repetitions of a certain exercise. You start by performing 3 sets of 8 repetitions. Over time, you continue to increase the number of repetitions until you are able to perform 3 sets of 12 repetitions. At this point, increase the weight, start again with 3 sets of 8 repetitions and repeat the whole process from the beginning.

If you manage 12 repetitions in all three sets, this serves as a signal to increase the weight. As long as you don't manage this, you continue to use the same weight. The third option is to increase your training volume. The most popular way to do this is to perform more sets for each muscle group. This could look like this:

  • Week 1: 8 sets per muscle group per week
  • Week 2: 10 sets per muscle group per week
  • Week 3: 12 sets per muscle group per week

For reasons I'll explain in a moment, you can't keep increasing the number of sets forever and expect to keep growing. If your training volume is too high, this will hinder your gains.

As time passes and you eventually find yourself near the upper limit of muscle mass your body can build, the rate at which you improve will slow down. Progress will no longer be made from training session to training session, but from week to week and later from month to month.

You will not make progress with every single training session. To do this forever would be impossible and there will be times when you will move the same amount of weight for the same number of sets and repetitions as the previous training session.

In addition, an effective training program will include a planned, intentional reduction in sets, reps and weight. Think of this as taking one step backwards before taking two steps forward.

However, your focus should always be on increasing your training performance over time. You need to give your muscles a reason to get bigger or you will forever be stuck with the same amount of muscle mass you have now.

If you feel mentally and physically fresh, motivated and hungry and are making progress in the gym, then you are on a path that will eventually lead you to more muscle.

Make sure you choose multi-joint exercises that allow you to move a large amount of weight. The best exercises in each movement category are the following:

  • Horizontal press: barbell flat bench press, barbell incline bench press with 30 degree incline, dumbbell flat bench press, dumbbell incline bench press with 30 degree incline, push-ups
  • Horizontal pull: Seated rowing, dumbbell rowing, inverse rowing with your own body weight
  • Vertical pull: Pull-ups, close lat pulldown with an underhand grip, wide lat pulldown to chest
  • Vertical press: standing barbell shoulder press, standing dumbbell shoulder press, seated dumbbell shoulder press
  • Quadriceps dominant lower body exercises: Squats, split squats, leg presses
  • Leg curl dominant lower body exercises: deadlift, Romanian deadlift, leg curls

Should I do my reps fast or slow to grow?

How fast or slow should you perform each repetition?

With very few exceptions, extremely slow movement speeds offer no significant advantage compared to simply lifting and lowering the weights in a controlled manner (16).

However, pure movement speed is not everything. When training with very heavy weights, the movement may look slow, when in fact the exerciser is trying to move the weight up as quickly as possible. It is ultimately the amount of weight used that slows down the repetition speed.

If you were consciously trying to move a very heavy weight slowly, you probably wouldn't be able to move the weight off the floor at all. The only way to move such a weight is to try to move it fast.

It's also the case that some exercises are better suited to faster movement speeds than others. You should not try to perform dumbbell curls at high speed and a deadlift is not really a deadlift if you move the bar up slowly.

Bodyweight exercises such as dips, push-ups, inverse rows and pull-ups, as well as most isolation exercises, are better performed at a slightly slower speed. But for pretty much every other exercise, the optimal repetition speed for building muscle mass involves moving the bar with as much force as possible. You then lower the weight in a controlled manner.

There is no need to count the number of seconds it takes to perform each repetition. Just concentrate on moving the weight from point A to point B and forget everything else.

How long should you rest between sets?

The scientific research on this topic is not entirely clear.

As a rule of thumb, longer rests (2 to 3 minutes) are better for muscle growth than shorter rests of 60 seconds or less (17, 18). Shorter rests between sets (60 seconds) also appear to decrease post-workout protein synthesis compared to longer rests of 5 minutes (19).

However, there are also studies that show no difference in muscle growth between rests of 30 seconds and rests of 2.5 to 3 minutes (20, 21).

What should you do?

Apart from saving you time, shorter rest intervals offer no muscle building benefits compared to longer rests. In some cases, they can even slow down your muscle growth. If you're not sure, it's therefore advisable to take longer breaks rather than shorter ones.

As a rule of thumb, I would recommend taking several minutes' rest between multi-joint exercises such as squats, rowing, deadlifts, leg presses, etc. that train large muscle groups. For isolation exercises such as dumbbell curls, side raises and tricep presses, which train smaller muscles, you can choose shorter rest intervals.

Does muscle damage equate to muscle growth?

It is often said that muscle growth is the result of muscle damage.

"Building muscle is all about causing damage to the muscle fibers you want to grow," writes one trainer. "It's your body's response to the muscle damage you cause during exercise that leads to growth."

Bombard your muscles with lots of sets and you'll cause apocalyptic levels of muscle damage. The more damage you cause, the better. As a result, the muscle will adapt by getting bigger and stronger.

Or so the theory goes...

Bombing your muscles to destruction seems to be a highly effective way to train, which is related to the fact that you will feel a killer soreness the next day.

It feels like it works.

However, there is surprisingly little research showing that an increase in muscle damage leads to a corresponding increase in muscle growth.

Similarly, there is no proven link between muscle soreness and muscle growth, and there is no rule that says you have to literally destroy every muscle during exercise to make it grow (22). In fact, an increase in muscle soreness does not necessarily reflect an increase in muscle damage, nor does less muscle soreness always indicate less muscle damage.

However, even if muscle damage is not a prerequisite for muscle growth, it could accelerate the process. But even then, more muscle damage does not automatically mean faster muscle growth.

If there is a link between muscle damage and muscle growth, then there is probably an ideal point somewhere between "too much" and "not enough" muscle damage. In other words, there will be an optimal amount of muscle damage, above and below which your gains will be slower than they could be.

Despite these facts, there are a lot of people out there who see muscle soreness as the goal of their training. They think that their training session must have been good if they feel sore afterwards.

A training session that is part of a program designed to stimulate muscle growth will sometimes leave you with sore muscles the next day. But that same training program will sometimes include workouts that don't produce the same level of muscle soreness.

While the feeling of soreness and stiffness may be oddly satisfying, it's no guarantee that your muscles will grow faster.

Plan your training sessions in advance

You also need to get into the habit of planning your workouts in advance. Before you set foot in the gym, it's crucial that you know exactly what you're going to do when you get there. If you're serious about building muscle, simply lifting weights won't be enough. That's why I highly recommend keeping a training log.

Probably the most important benefit of keeping a training log, and the main reason most people don't use it, is that it forces you to face the facts.

Is what you are doing getting you results? Or are you doing nothing more than simply repeating the same workouts over and over again in the hope that they will suddenly start to make a difference?

Variety for your mind, consistency for your muscles

Once you've put together a sensible training and nutrition program, the best way to build muscle as fast as humanly possible is to stick with it.

I regularly read that you should continually change your training program every few weeks to "confuse" your muscles and get them to grow.

For most people, this is a mistake. There is no point in adding variety to your training just for the sake of variety and the best way to make absolutely no progress is to constantly jump from one training program to the next. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Shawn Phillips nailed this when he said that even though variety stimulates the mind, it's consistency that stimulates your muscles. A training program built around a handful of basic exercises will always work well as long as you pay attention to the necessary progression.

Rather than continually changing your program, you are much better off varying the number of repetitions you perform.

In one study, subjects trained with weights three times a week and used either a constant or a varying training program (23). One group kept their training program constant and performed 8 to 12 repetitions in each set. The other group varied both the weight and the number of repetitions, moving from heavy weights with 2 to 4 repetitions on the first day, to moderate weights with 8 to 12 repetitions on the second day, to light weights with 20 to 30 repetitions on the third day.

While both groups built muscle and got stronger, it was the group with the varied training that achieved the best results.

Rotating exercises has its place - but only if it's part of a structured plan designed to achieve a specific goal. Simply doing a bunch of random exercises per training session makes little sense if you want to become more muscular and stronger.

But doesn't it get boring doing the same exercises all the time?

There's nothing better to combat boredom than the feeling that you're getting closer to your goals. When you see results, boredom is rarely a problem during training. The people who are bored are usually the ones who are not making significant progress.

Lastly, forget the whole issue of body types and genetics, there's nothing you can do about it, so there's no point in even thinking about it.

Gains in muscle mass will be slow, which means you won't notice them on a daily or weekly basis - but they will add up. Train hard, stick to your plan and in a few months you'll have more muscle than you do today.

References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25932981
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27102172
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19164770
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10958167
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25739559
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27752983
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17313289
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16988909
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17684208
  10. https://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/pages/articleviewer.aspx?year=2000&issue=08000&article=00006&type=abstract
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27433992
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28776271
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22518835
  14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27174923
  15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25853914
  16. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18978616
  17. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28641044
  18. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26605807
  19. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27126459
  20. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27984843
  21. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28032435
  22. https://journals.lww.com/nsca-scj/Abstract/2013/10000/Is_Postexercise_Muscle_Soreness_a_Valid_Indicator.2.aspx 23. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27042999

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