So you’ve finally decided that it’s time to improve your body. You want to be more muscular. You want to be stronger. As a result, you’ve committed yourself to lifting weights. However, you’ve run into a bit of a problem: you don’t know what you’re doing and you don’t know where to start. Perhaps you’ve already been lifting for a few months but you’re not seeing any results; your routine isn’t very good and you don’t know how to improve it. If the above sounds like you, you must read this article.
This article is tailored towards the beginner. What is a beginner when it comes to lifting weights? A beginner is someone who has lifted weights with proper programming for less than a year. However, the advice in this article also applies to you if you’ve been lifting seriously in the past but have taken a significant layoff.
Let me make one thing perfectly clear though. There are no “magical” routines. No routine can beat consistency and hard work. There are also a lot of good routines out there for beginners but there are also a lot of bad ones. The good routines have many similarities because they are grounded in science and the proper application of physiology. The bad routines on the other hand, are based on unscientific “broscience” which you’ll typically find spewed in major fitness and bodybuilding magazines.
In part 1 of this article, my goal is to give you a basic understanding of how your body works so you can understand why you’re doing what you’re doing when it comes to a weight lifting program. I want you to have a good foundation because it will give you the best chance of achieving your goals of being more muscular and stronger.
In part 2 of this article, I will give you a routine that is highly effective and give you some tips that will help you properly execute the program. But as they say: give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. So it is absolutely essential that you to read part 1 and understand the basic principles first.
A Very Basic Primer on Physiology
I want to begin by discussing the science and application of physiology when it comes to building muscle and strength. All good routines will be based on the following facts:
– In order to build strength and muscle, you must satisfy the conditions of progressive overload and supercompensation. We cover these concepts in more depth in this article, but in a nutshell, your body gets stronger and more muscular as a result of an adaption to a stimulus that disrupts homeostasis (the equilibrium of your body).
– Each person has a genetic limit. The less trained you are – meaning the further away you are from your genetic limit – the less stimulus you will need to disrupt homeostasis to produce supercompensation.
– Related to the previous note, this means that the more of a beginner you are, the less complex your training regimen needs to be to cause supercompensation. Because you are able to generate less stimulus (due to the fact that you’re further from your genetic limit), and you need less stimulus to cause adaption, your workout is less taxing on your body – which means after a workout, you can recover sooner and achieve super compensation faster than someone who is closer to his genetic limit
– The more stimulus you are able to generate and the more complex the program, the longer it will take you to recover. A beginner trainee can typically recover and supercompensate within 24-72 hours of training. Protein synthesis typically lasts 24-72 after training. This means the beginner trainee can train more often and will see the largest amounts of gains in his training career compared to when he’s closer to his genetic limit.
– Your body can only make a limited amount of muscle after each event of supercompensation and this is especially true for natural, non-steroid using lifters. Academic literature suggests that you can only gain between 0.25 – 1 ounce of muscle per day during muscle building phases. This number is corroborated by many experts in the field who have seen that the most muscle an athlete can gain in a year is around 25lbs. But keep in mind this this is under perfect conditions where the athlete has optimal training and rest, and most importantly, this 25lbs is in the first year of training when they are far from their genetic limit. The amount of muscle gained each year after that will be less and less.
Why does this matter? It matters because when it comes to setting the right amount of volume to do in your workouts, you will want to to find an amount that will produce enough stress to force your body to adapt and become bigger and stronger. Doing anymore work on top of this will not build additional muscle and in fact, can cause overtraining.
What about Rep Ranges?
When it comes to rep ranges, generally speaking, the lower the rep range, the more you will be training strength; the higher the rep range, the more you will be training endurance. The two aren’t entirely mutually exclusive, but are more along a continuum and will overlap quite a bit along the middle rep ranges.
You may have also heard about “myofibrillar hypertrophy” and “sarcoplasmic hypertrophy.” In a nutshell, myofibrillar hypertrophy is the growth of the actual contractile fibers of the muscle; whereas sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is the growth of cytoplasmic and metabolic materials around the contractile fibers.
Conventional wisdom states that myofibrillar hypertrophy results in less overall size growth of the muscle, but more strength because you’re increasing the size of the actual contractile proteins. It is believed that the lower rep ranges (2-6 reps) focuses on this type of hypertrophy.
Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy on the other hand, results in more potential growth of the muscle but less strength because it’s the metabolic materials that has grown rather than the actual force producing contractile fibers. It is believed that higher rep ranges (8-12) reps induces this type of growth.
My advice to you is to not worry about this stuff and here’s why. In recent years, there has been much debate on the matter of myofibrillar hypertrophy and sarcoplasmic hypertrophy: mainly that you can’t achieve sarcoplasmic hypertrophy without increasing the size of your muscle fibers (myofibrillar hypertrophy). Many experts are now saying that both myofibrillar hypertrophy and sarcoplasmic hypertrophy must and will occur at the same time. This actually makes sense because if you look at Olympic lifters, powerlifters, and strong-men competitors, they rarely train in high rep ranges but they’re all extremely big and muscular. In addition to this, even if you can target myofibrillar hypertrophy and sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, there will be much overlap between the two on the moderate rep ranges.
The second point to this is in order or achieve muscle growth, you must provide enough tension and fatigue within the muscle to produce supercompensation. So which rep range will best do this? The answer is a rep range that will result in the highest number of muscle fiber recruitment throughout all of the reps – and this is about 80-85% of your 1 rep max. Generally speaking, most people can complete between 5-8 reps when using 80-85% of his 1 rep max.
So due to the above reasons, I recommend that you use 5 reps in a given set. It is a number that is effective in producing muscle growth and is shifted towards the spectrum of strength improvement. In addition, it’s a tried and tested rep range that has yielded superior results for many coaches, trainers, and trainees for many years.
Putting it all Together in Part 2:
Now that you have the groundwork and a basic understanding of physiology and how muscle is built, you’ll want to put your knowledge into practical use by making an effective program – and that’s what part 2 of this article will do. Stay tuned for that in the next few days!