How to build up your strength Everyday Athlete Tommy Young
HYPERTROPHY (gaining more muscle) is the second most popular reason for going to the gym these days. I’d say this only falls short to fat loss. The good news is that with more muscle you burn more calories and ultimately shed more body fat and it’s easier to stay lean. So since both goals are complementary, it becomes a question of how much muscle you would like to gain. Once you know that, it’s time to form a training and nutrition plan to match your goal.
So should you lift heavy weights, with fewer repetitions (reps) or lighter weights with more reps? Should you keep adding weights until you fail, or stick to a set volume? How long should you rest between sets? Put these questions to a room full of experts and you will receive several different answers. Why? Well, what works for one person does not always work the same for another and it might take some trial and error to find out what’s best for you.
Heavy or light?
A weight is described as “heavy” when it is around 70 per cent or more of your one rep max (a weight you can only lift once). A light load would be 40 per cent of this and below. While you can achieve hypertrophy with both methods, you can only get stronger by lifting heavier weights. The reason for this is the neural adaptations created by lifting heavy weights affects the muscle in different ways compared with the physical adaptations created by lifting lighter weights for more repetitions.
So, you can train with lighter loads and still get muscular but you will never be as strong as the person that chooses to lift heavier weights, even though you can both gain the same size. Going to failure with either method is a great way to create the micro tears we need in the muscle that will force the body to build and create more muscle tissue. A common way to achieve this would be to perform a drop set. A drop set is where we perform our selected exercise to failure then remove some weight and continue until we fail again before removing more weight and so on. By continually forcing the muscle to work beyond a point of failure we greatly increase the “damage and repair” sequence that leads to bigger muscles.
Long or short breaks between sets?
Most people expect to take one or two minutes between sets, but you can take up to five minutes off if you like. The reason for keeping the rest short in most training plans is to keep the body burning more fat, similar to working supersets. If you take more rest time you might be able to work a little harder, creating more muscle building but less fat burning; the choice should reflect your overall goals.
A recent study found that people who trained for muscle growth later in the evening showed more growth over those who followed the same programme but trained in the morning. The morning group were slightly leaner after the 12 weeks. The evening group would finish training, eat dinner and a few hours later be in bed sleeping. It is during sleep that our bodies do all the repair work and build more muscle. The morning group, however, would get a smaller meal (breakfast) and then go about their day. During the day we are still physically active and unable to recover in the same way as during a full sleep cycle. However, those who weight-train in the mornings will burn more calories throughout the day due to a high metabolism. The result is a leaner physique.
If you are serious about adding size to those arms, train later, eat big and sleep well. If your goal is a lean physique, get up early and prime your body to burn more fat throughout the day.
The eccentric effect
Lowering the bar slowly is known as “eccentric focus training”. This places the muscles under even more tension for an increased time. As discussed above, more stress = more micro tears = more repair = bigger muscles. When planning a musclebuilding programme it’s always a good idea to incorporate some eccentric focus work into the plan. As long as you are training to failure you will grow more muscle tissue. When I programme clients on a muscle-building phase I always choose to go heavy then add in some work to failure. I firmly believe that – whether you are 25 or 65, male or female – being strong is important for a long, active lifestyle.
Before starting a weight-training program you should always seek instruction from a seasoned trainer, who will help you test your true one-rep max which you need for setting your training plan and coach you the correct form to avoid injuries.