When I first wrote down my top strength training tips, the article was pretty long. And considering peoples ever shortening attention spans, I thought it’d be best to split them into 2 lots of 5. This is the 2nd 5.
Read the first 5 here
1. You don’t need to feel sore to know it’s working
It amazes me how so many people feel like they should be sore after a workout. They wear it like a badge of honor. But you don’t need to be sore the next day to know it’s a good workout.
Sometimes you will be sore the next couple days after a tough workout. But just because you’re sore doesn’t automatically mean you’ve had a good workout.
However, if you’re so sore the days after a workout that you can’t train that body part again effectively, you’ll compromising total volume over the week & month. And as I mentioned in the first post, total volume is an very important part of the puzzle. Total volume, (providing it’s at an appropriate intensity, at least 60% 1RM), is what will drive muscle growth.
So when you don’t get really sore, you’re able to train a muscle more frequently, and therefore are able to accumulate more volume.
Another benefit of training more frequently is that you’ll stimulate muscle protein synthesis, (MPS*), more frequently. While not directly related to hypertrophy, there’s a high correlation. MPS is only elevated up to 48 hours after a training session.
So if you only exercise a muscle once a week, you’ve only got 48 out of the 168 hours in a week with MPS elevated. You’re missing out on 120 hours of potential gainz! OK, so that’s a little simplistic, but hopefully you get idea.
So instead of doing 24 working sets of chest on Monday, and getting really sore afterwards, you’d be better to split those sets over 2 or 3 days.
So not only would you increase MPS in your chest muscles more frequently over the week, I bet you’d be able to do more total volume. Either because you’ll be able to use a heavier load or do more reps/sets, as a result of being less fatigued.
You tend to get more soreness with higher reps, as well as when introducing a novel stimulus, (when you do an exercise you’ve not done before). Neither of which necessarily translate to muscle growth. (They might do but it’s not a given).
Both higher reps & novel stimuli create muscle damage & metabolic stress, (a build-up of waste products, cell swelling or ‘the pump’) in the muscle. Both muscle damage and metabolic stress do contribute towards hypertrophy but to a lesser extent than mechanical tension. Mechanical tension just refers to the tension created by the stretching & contracting of muscle tissue when lifting weights.
Therefore, you shouldn’t be prioritising creating muscle damage & metabolic stress over progressive mechanical tension overload.
*Muscle protein synthesis, or MPS, is the building of new muscle tissue. The balance between MPS and muscle protein breakdown, (MPB), is what dictates long term muscle gain/loss.
So if MPS is greater than MPB over time, you’ll gain muscle.
Conversely, if MPB is greater than MPB over time, you’ll be losing muscle.
You don’t need to feel sore after a workout to know it was a good one. And you don’t need to feel the muscle burning to know it’s doing something.
Yes, sometimes you will feel a bit sore or your muscles will ‘burn’ but it shouldn’t be the goal. You need to consider what the goal of your workout should is. Is it to progress, improve and to get stronger, or just to sweat & feel tired afterwards?
2. Train each body part at least twice per week
This tags on to what I spoke about above.
Training a body part at least twice a week will mean you will be stimulating MPS more frequently. While acute increases in MPS don’t directly translate to long term hypertrophy, it certainly gives your muscle more opportunities to grow.
Also, as mentioned above, training a body part twice a week will mean you can accumulate more volume, (or the same volume with less fatigue), than if you trained it just once a week.
Remember, is the goal of your training to improve, progress & get stronger? Or do you just want to feel tired
afterwards? Think about it.
And to quote Forest Gump, ‘That’s really all I have to say about that’, as I’ve covered it all in the previous one.
3. Have a plan
When you’re first starting out weight training, not having a plan isn’t an issue because anything will work. When you go from lifting zero weights, to lifting some weights, you will make progress. But after a while, you’ll be better off having some sort of plan if you want to continue to make good progress.
How detailed the plan needs to be depends on how long you’ve been training. If you’ve only been training 6 months or so, you won’t need a complicated, fully laid out plan. Or need any sort of complicated periodised strategy. Just simply having a rough idea of what exercises you’ll be doing, with what weight, sets & reps is fine.
Then just change it up a little bit every month or so to keep things interesting. All you need to focus on at this stage is doing a little bit more over time; a little more weight, a few more reps etc and you’ll be fine & dandy.
However, when you get in the realm of 1-2 years consistent training, you’ll get the best results if you have a progressive, periodised program. If you don’t have the knowledge or inclination to put one together yourself, you should either look up some sort of free template online or pay someone to write one for you. Fill in your details here if you would like me to write up a custom plan for you.
You’ll get much better results, much quicker if you do. You still need to put the work in mind you – Personal trainers & strength coaches don’t have a magic formula.
Once passed the 6 month mark, having at least a rough idea what you’re going to do in the gym will lead to better results than just going in clueless.
When you get to the 1-2+ years of consistent training, a fully progressive, periodised training programme will be required for the best results. If you don’t know how to put one together, use the google machine & learn about it, or pay for someone to do it for you.
4. In general, 1-6 reps for strength, 6-15 reps for hypertrophy & 15+ reps for muscular endurance.
I’ve been asked a few times recently, what’s the best rep range to use, or something to that affect. And my answer is, all of them!
Above, I’ve listed reps into neat little categories, but in reality, you should think of it as a continuum, or a sliding scale, that blend into each other.
It’s not like anything up to 6 reps is purely strength, then 7 reps magically become hypertrophy.
In fact, low reps can lead to just as much hypertrophy as higher reps, providing total volume is the same. (1) It’s just easier & more practicable to accumulate that volume within the 6-15 rep range than it is to 1-6 range.
There’s a place for all rep ranges in pretty much everyone’s program. How much time an individual should spend in each one will be dictated by that individuals goals.
If your goal is maximal hypertrophy, a large % of your training time should be spent in the 6-15 rep range. But there should still be some time spent in the 1-6 rep range to help with strength gains.
This is because, the stronger you are overall, the more weight you can use when you work in the 6-15 range. The more weight you can use in that range, you more mechanical tension you can exert on the muscle, which will lead to greater hypertrophy. So even if you don’t care about maximal strength, working in the 1-6 range will get your stronger, and that strength will carry over to the work you’re doing in the 6-15 rep range.
Conversely, if you’re goal is maximal strength, a large % of your training time should be spent in the 1-6 rep range. But there should still be some time spent in the 6-15 rep range to drive hypertrophy. While increases in muscle size don’t correlate perfectly will strength gains, a larger muscle as a greater strength potential.
You should utlise all rep ranges, as there are benefits to each. How much time you spend doing each will depend on your goals.
5. Don’t try to do too much too soon; your joints & connective tissue will hate you if you do
A big mistake I made several years ago, was trying to do too much too soon.
A bit of background, so bear with me.
I’ve trained at home on & off since I was about 16, just with a barbell, dumbells & bench. Being young and not knowing any better I didn’t really train legs for the first 5 years of training. Don’t laugh!
Even when I did start training legs, without a squat rack, it was only with exercises like lunges, step ups, goblet squats etc. Then one day, feeling almost like a grown up, I got myself a squat rack.
Trying to make up for lost time, I went a bit crazy on the back squats. Squatting too often, too heavy & with less than optimal technique left me with tendonitis in both quadriceps tendons. Not fun!
At first, not knowing the nature of the injury, stupidly, I tried to train through the pain. DO NOT DO THIS!!! Eventually, accepting my fate, I decided to stop back squatting until my knees sorted themselves out. Which turned out to be nearly a year!
Connective tissue, tendons & the like, take a hell of a lot longer to recover and adapt than muscle tissue does. They have have about 10 times less blood flow than muscles, which is why they recover & adapt so much more slowly. So your muscles can take a lot more ‘punishment’ in the early days than your tendons, because they can recover so much faster. You feel like you can keep pushing it, not realising the potentially excessive strain you’re putting your joints under.
Take things slowly! Don’t be in a rush to increase your squat, (or anything for the matter). And once you feel the slightest niggle, back off. Don’t try to be a tough guy and push through it, that’s just foolish. Learn from my mistake.
It’s better to take a few weeks off, or take it easier for a few weeks, than to push through and have to take months & months off!