Whether it’s your first time in the gym or you’re an experienced weightlifter, the right approach to maximizing muscle gains can be a bit confusing – especially with all the information that is currently out there today. In this article, I want to talk about a few key training variables that have been the focus of current research – namely rep ranges, set volume, and training to failure – and how you can adjust your workouts with these variables in mind in order to maximize your muscle gains.Let’s walk through each of these variables in the simplest terms possible.When we talk about a rep (or repetition), we are talking about moving through the full motion of a given exercise from start to finish, one time. For instance, lowering your body to the ground and pushing back up is one push-up repetition. Now, when we talk about a rep range, we are specifically talking about how many repetitions you will perform in each set before entering a rest period. Adjusting the number of reps performed in each set is a common method for personal trainers to customize a workout program to meet the desired goals of their clients, but the secret recipe for the perfect rep range that maximizes muscle gains has been widely debated.Dr. Bill Campbell, an associate professor of exercise science and director of the Performance & Physique Enhancement Laboratory at the University of South Florida, recently shed some light on this debate during a body composition lecture series that will help us better understand this variable and the others we will discuss.Most commonly, the 6-12 rep range has been recommended and taught across the board among a variety of professional institutions (the National Acadamy of Sports Medicine, ACE, and others). Dr. Campbell referenced this rep range as well as other rep ranges including 4-6 and 12-30 in his research and came to an interesting conclusion: increased size of skeletal muscle (also known as muscular hypertrophy) can be achieved at any rep range. You heard it. You can achieve gains at any rep range. There are arguments for the benefits of certain rep ranges, for example, if you are working in the lower rep ranges (e.g. 4-6) it will require more rest time between sets because of the increased loads you are lifting. Hence, if you need to maximize time, the 6-12 rep range requires less rest and may get you out of the gym faster.
Now, let's move on to the set volume variable in training.When we talk about a set, we are referring to a rep range that is performed one time for a given exercise. If I was to perform ten push-ups then move into ten jumping jacks, I will have performed one set of push-ups and one set of jumping jacks. When we talk about set volume, we are referring to the number of total sets performed for a muscle group for a given period. For example, if I did ten pushups a day (one set), five days a week, I have performed a set volume of five sets per muscle group (the chest muscle group) per week.This too was the focus of Dr. Cambell in his lecture series where he addressed a variety of set volume ranges performed within a given week: low set volume 1-10, moderate set volume 10-20, and high set volume 20-30. What he found here was also very beneficial for our knowledge and program design today. Studies indicate that muscular hypertrophy is maximized when performing exercises at a moderate set volume per muscle group, per week (10-20 sets). Studies further indicated that performing in the higher set volume may increase the potential for injury and does not contribute to greater muscle gains.Now let’s shift to our final training variable.You may be familiar with the concept of training to failure which indicates that you are completing reps of a given exercise until you cannot perform another rep safely (with good form). Many experts have recommended that you perform every set to failure when focusing on maximum gains in muscle mass. However, if we refer to Dr. Campbell and his research one more time, we will see another compelling argument. Research has demonstrated that training in the vicinity of failure for each set can provide the same result as training to failure and even prevent injury over time. Training in the vicinity of failure means you are stopping just short of failure during each set. In other words, you stop when you feel you have one or two more reps in the tank.So that was our last training variable in this discussion. Let’s pull it all together.The verdict? Increased size of skeletal muscle (hypertrophy) can be achieved at nearly any rep range, with a moderate set volume per week (10-20 sets) and training in the vicinity of failure (with 1 or 2 more reps in the tank). What does this mean for you? I invite you to experiment with a variety of rep ranges in your workouts. Set out a six-week program, take circumference measurements and pictures to mark your starting point, and mark your progress moving forward. Here’s a hypertrophy-focused circuit I am currently working on right now:
- 18-16-14 Push-ups
- 18-16-14 Bent Over Row
- 8-6-4 Upright Row
- 6-5-4 Bicep Curls
- 6-5-4 Skull Crushers
*I perform this routine one exercise after the other for three rounds, four times per week.If you have questions about this or any other fitness-related topics feel free to email me at email@example.com or touch base with our concierge team to schedule an appointment with a personal trainer today firstname.lastname@example.org.Click HERE to learn more about the Wellview services available to you. We can’t wait to work with you!