3 sets of 8 to 12 reps
Different exercise variations in the programme to work muscles (incline-flat-decline)
Use good form!
Allow the muscle to recover
Use a training split
Train like a bodybuilder!
Its not about how strong you are, It’s about how strong you are in an 8 to 12 rep range.
You’re not training to see how much weight you can shift in a certain movement. If you want to do that there are strength sports out there that will let you train towards those aims. You are using exercises as a tool to build muscle mass not strength (the strength is just a nice side effect of lifting weights). What you should be obsessed with is volume load that is the amount of training tonnage you have performed in that movment, you can keep the intensities relevant by not venturing outside of a 12 reps max for main sets (you can of course go above if you want to hit up a pump). Why are we staying in this rep range? Lets do some math
Exercise = Squat
1 RM = 140 kg
3 sets and reps schemes
3 sets of 12 @ 100 kg = 36 reps / 3600 kg of volume and roughly 15 minutes to completion.
6 sets of 6 @ 112 kg = 36 reps / 4032 kg of volume and roughly 45 minutes to completion
10 sets of 2 @ 126 kg = 20 reps / 2600 kg of volume and roughly 60 minutes to completion
Training @ 70% 1RM = 240 kg volume per minute or 1200 kg per set
Training @ 80% 1RM = 89.6 kg volume per minute or 672 kg per set
Training @ 90% 1RM = 43.3 kg volume per minute or 260 kg per set
*Please note time to completion is based solely from my own experience of how long it takes for an average experienced lifter to complete that sort of workout.
Although training 6 sets of 6 gives us the most volume of the three reps schemes it is easy to see when split up that training for 3 sets of 12 reps gives us by far the best bang for our buck and when it comes to building muscle this is ideal.
We use a rep range as this allows us some leeway so we can over time take a 3 sets of 8 weight and take it to a 3 sets of 12 weight making sure we are getting stronger (building muscle) and gradually increasing our volume load over time (progressively building muscle.
Exercise Variety matters a lot.
210 bench press max – good genetics and a massive amount of pressing variety in his programme
250 bench press max – good genetics and a massive amount of BENCH PRESS variety in his programme
Ever hear the old wives tale of incline bench press working the upper chest and decline working the lower chest… guess what internet experts the massive shredded guys were correct all of this time variations of bench press and lat pull down have been shown to preferentially target different muscles and even different portion of the muscle (decline bench press targets lower pec more than flat bench press). EMG data is the best we have to go by but having worked with it in the past I can tell you it is far from ideal however it is better than nothing. Training wisdom (“broscience”) has been saying the same thing for years. If you want to train for a bigger chest, bicep, quad you name it training a variety of exercises in a 3-4 sets 8 to 12 rep range is going to get the job done better than trying to get stronger at bench press. Lets do some more math.
Two workout centered around the chest both lasting 45 minutes.
Bench Press max – 100 kg
Powerlifting bench press strength focus workout
1) 6 sets of 6 @ 80 kg paused bench press (VL = 2880)
2) 3 sets of 2 @ 110 kg board press (VL – 660)
3) 3 sets of 5 @ 70 kg Close grip paused bench press (VL = 1050)
Total volume load = 4590 kg
KG per minute = 102
Pressing planes = 1
Bodybuilding chest size focus workout
1) 4 sets of 10 @ 70 kg paused bench press (VL = 2800)
2) 2 sets of 12 @ 65 kg Incline bench press (VL = 1560)
3) 2 sets of 12 @ 75 kg decline bench press (VL = 1800)
4a) 3 sets of 12 @ 20 kg incline DB press (VL = 1440)
4b) 3 sets of 12 @ 10 kg flat DB Fly (VL = 720)
Total volume load = 8320 kg
KG per minute = 184
Pressing Planes = 3
Again by training in a 3-4 set protocol we can get much more volume in the same time frame, it also lets us use a much bigger exercise variety in the same amount of time for a muscle group giving us better bang for our buck.
Training with good form is of the utmost importance.
One is on steroids and the other is a notorious internet form video granted but these two videos allow me to show you the extremes of what we are about to talk about, deadlift is the best example since if performed with in efficient form or just worrying about how much weight you can shift from A to B can cause soreness that is bad enough you will not train deadlift for another week. Back to examples.
Two lifter’s weekly deadlift schedule both with deadlift maxes of 200 kg.
Lifter one – Any old How Bob (can’t put on his socks for 3 days after a deadlift sesh)
Favourite band – slayer
Favourite Lift – deadlift
Session one –
top set = 190 kg x 4 (New 2 rep PB! got a predicted 1RM of 207 – 220 and 5 wheels I’m coming for you!)
Deadlift week volume = 760
Frequency = 1
Lifter two – Boring Bob (never rounded his back in his life)
Favorite band – coldplay
Favorite life – ATG Squat
Session one –
Top sets – 160 x 5 x 3 (pretty easy work out nothing to report)
Session two –
Top sets – 160 x 5 x 3 (again pretty easy)
Session three –
Top sets – 160 x 5 x 3 (3 sets of 5, love it)
Deadlift week volume = 7200
Frequency = 3
Better form means you cause less muscle damage in postural and synergist muscles (“postural muscles”) this causes less overall fatigue and soreness and allows for a much greater frequency of training! More frequency means much more weekly volume load which in the long run should lead to better size gains.
Frequency is good but what’s our optimal amount?
Exercise Intensity / Volume Load Recovery time for muscle from work out (stolen from the Science and Practice of strength training)
- Low intensity and volume load = 24 hours
- Medium intensity and volume load = 48 hours
- High intensity and volume load = 72 hours
As any weightlifter or powerlifter will tell you everyday training is possible this doesn’t mean it is what we want to do, jumping from an airplane with out a parachute wearing a porcupine as a hat is possible it doesn’t mean that it’s the optimal strategy for getting bigger biceps.
What we want to do is put a big volume load on a muscle and then recover from it fully. Protein synthesis (a close proxy for muscle growth) has been shown to be raised for 48 hours and even longer after a muscle is exposed to weight training so why not let nature run it’s course for that muscle group while we whale on another!
In my opinion a frequency of 2-3x per week is probably best for bodybuilding programmes based of my own experience, science and being around lifting stuff for 10 years (as a fan, coach and lifter). This is where the split comes in!
Split – Push / Pull / Legs / Off / Repeat
Frequency – 2x
Split – Upper / Lower / Off / Repeat
Frequency – 2x
Split – Major muscle, minor muscle (example back and triceps, quads and calves)
Frequency – 2-4x
Split – Total body 5×5
lol, just kidding.
If your a bodybuilder split training is probably the way to go people who follow “total body” templates are really just following a basic strength programme which is brilliant if your aim is to become a strength athlete, train for strength or want to use weights as an aid in your sports performance. If your goal is bodybuilding / aesthetics based…………… train like a bodybuilder.
To Sum Up
- 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps
- Different exercise variations in the programme to work muscles (incline-flat-decline)
- Use good form!
- Allow the muscle to recover
- Use a training split
- Train like a bodybuilder!