My philosophy behind weight training can be summed up in one phrase. “In order to succeed in the weight room you must fail!” What do I mean by this? You must reach failure with the rep range and weights you are using. Reaching failure, in my mind, is the most important rule due to the fact that it promotes the most muscle growth. A lot of lifters go into the gym and do 3 sets of 10 reps on, for example, bench press. They increase the weight each set and seem to still finish with 10 repetitions. Maybe that last set they struggled to reach 10, but what about the first two sets? Basically, they wasted 10 minutes of their time with too many warm-up sets. Instead of reaching failure and breaking down muscle tissue, this particular lifter fatigued their chest by messing around with a lighter weight on the first two sets. Therefore, the end result finished with less weight being used on their heaviest set because the muscles were too fatigued from the excessive warm-ups. Don’t get me wrong - it’s great to warm up, as everyone should to avoid injury, but to fatigue your muscles before your heaviest sets is just counterproductive.
When you have in your mind that you are going to do 3 sets of 10 repetitions, you need to use a weight that will make you reach failure on those 10 reps. Yes, I do mean on your 1st, 2nd, and 3rd sets. This enables you to push the most weight your body can push for those 10 reps without any previous fatigue. Reaching positive failure ensures that the muscle(s) worked are being subjected to 100% of the potential load each set has to offer. You may have to decrease the weight a little bit on the last sets if you want to reach that desired rep range, but you have to understand you are there to work out your muscles NOT your ego.
Many opinions are made about this type of training, but I look at the science behind muscle fibers. The body is composed of Slow Twitch muscle fibers; which are resistant to fatigue and are required for endurance, and Fast Twitch muscle fibers; that are used for explosive and acceleration movements. Slow twitch muscle fibers make up the “Marathon runner” look, whereas fast twitch muscle fibers make up the “100-Meter Sprinter” look.
Fast twitch muscle fibers can be classified in two categories, Type 2a and Type 2b. Type 2a fast twitch muscle fibers are engaged 1st during weight training and use both fat and glycogen as fuel. They can grow up to 25% of their original size. Type 2b fast twitch fibers are where my reasoning lies. They can increase to as much as 100% of their original size! So how do we utilize these fibers for maximal growth? One must reach and push past failure. Reaching failure is using a heavy enough weight to make the set most difficult. Unless you reach failure, the Type 2a fibers take all the load which means your muscle can only increase by a maximum of 25%. Only until you reach that failure mark do you recruit the Type 2b fibers, and only then can you prime your body for maximal growth. Techniques like exploding through the concentric part of the lift and accelerating the weight, as well as investing in the use of a spotter (highly recommended) to train past failure will recruit the type 2b fibers as well. Without a spotter, many weight lifters rack the weight before they recruit the Type 2b fibers, thus hindering their progress.
Rest is another word I love to throw around when it comes to weight training. I’m not just talking about sleep for an overall healthy mind/body state. I’m more interested in the rest needed for the muscles being worked. See, a workout is a catabolic activity used to stimulate growth. This is because anabolism (growth) is stimulated by catabolism (breakdown). This “negative-feedback loop” is the body’s way of saying “We need to grow to push more weight.” From there, the body goes to work repairing, compensating, and then overcompensating for the damage done. This leads to the Peak Overcompensation Point, or POP. POP is the period of time where your muscles have fully recovered and can be trained again. If one waits too long after the POP, the muscles will start to atrophy, whereas, if one doesn’t wait long enough for the muscle to fully recover then that’s where the muscle becomes overworked. To find the right time to train the muscle again, you can usually wait until the soreness has gone and feel it out that way, or you can lift that particular muscle group again and see if you are able to push more weight or complete more reps then you did in the previous workout. If more weight can be pushed, then you found your time period for the particular muscle group. If you are weaker or just about the same, try adding another rest day or two to the previous amount of rest days.
FORM & SQUEEZE
With weight training, proper form is a must! The proper form allows you to stimulate the correct muscles and will eventually aid you in developing a mind to muscle connection. This mind to muscle connection is vitally important since the nervous system governs all muscular contractions. With that being said, focus on the squeeze! The squeeze is vital for overall muscle development. It’s the point where your muscles are at peak contraction (AKA Peak Contraction Point). Here, at this point, is where the maximum muscle fibers are being engaged. It is a fact that in order to produce the most muscle growth, you need to engage as many muscle fibers as possible to stimulate growth. Which also leads to another point: it is ok to use cheat reps; if you’re at a point in your workout where to need to jerk your body to get the last couple reps up, by all means, DO IT! When completed correctly, cheat reps allow you to reach failure, push yourself past your normal limits, and engage more muscle. I don’t recommend you do this all the time - only for the last couple reps at the end of your sets. Cheat reps can cause injury, so beginners should stick with strict form. As for the elite lifters, get after it!
Altering stress on the muscle is just as important as the other points, which means that your training needs to be progressive. Adding weight or adding additional reps/sets will force the muscle to continue to grow to “keep up” with the stress. Stress is what stimulates the muscle to grow. This is essential for improving strength and size week in and week out. Progressive Overload in a nutshell is increasing the load you lift each workout. These increments will be small, but this is the core of progressive overload. You shouldn’t expect to be able to push 225 lbs over your head in week 1 and jump up to 250 lbs at week 2. The small increments will help prevent plateaus and guarantee you keep progressing. The key to Progressive Overloading is to reach failure with a particular weight, and on the next workout for that specific exercise you reach failure with a slightly heavier weight or do additional reps.
*This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult your physician before staring any exercise regimen. The views, opinions and positions expressed by the authors and those providing comments on these blogs are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions or positions of Vital Pharmaceuticals or any employee thereof.