It's been a while since I last did a comprehensive blog post, but since learning a few new things in recent months, I thought I'd put something together to provide a little update on some accepted industry knowledge since last time I wrote about it.
Bear in mind, the last post I made on rep ranges is still accurate to a degree, but more in terms of how to keep track of strength gains. The updated information which follows in this post is more relevant to hypertrophy (muscle building).
The following is written based on information gathered from this podcast episode and this podcast episode. The information comes from industry leaders Layne Norton and Mike Israetel. Both of these men are leading minds in strength and fitness, each brandishing PhDs to show for their experience. They're part of a much-needed, growing element of fitness research which prides itself on being evidence-based, and each of them supports celebrated scientific practises involving traditional peer reviewing processes. As someone who very often finds the fitness industry's penchant for misinformation and hearsay unbearable, I believe these two should be listened to by anyone who takes themselves seriously as a fitness professional.
Anyway, shilling and ranting aside, it's time to get into the brunt of the topic.
In the past, it was widely believed that there were specific rep ranges to train for specific purposes, and your goals generally determined what kind of rep range your training would align with. This is still true to a large extent, but when it comes down to hypertrophy, the process which is necessary for muscle growth, some new and interesting information has come to light.
Heavy weights and low reps are still good for training strength, mostly because of their proximity to your 1RM and how easy they make calculations, and high reps still naturally boost your muscular endurance, so if I've managed to effectively knock that into your head then good, some of your information is still relevant.
However, when we look at the 6-8-20-12 rep range which was traditionally thought of as the sweet spot for building muscle, it's now been found that was simply the accepted method because it tended to feel like the right stimulus was being presented.
While training in the traditional hypertrophy range will still benefit you, it's now important to note that it's only going to be fully effective if you use the right weight to do so. If you listen to the podcasts linked above, you'll find that recent studies have discovered that the only thing really necessary for hypertrophy to take place is for muscles to be trained to the point of near-failure.
Now, it's important to note that this DOESN'T MEAN that you should completely overdo it every time you're doing accessories. Failure, while relevant when escribing total collapse of form and ability, generally only refers to reaching a point after which no more clean reps can be performed. Rather than leaving yourself barely conscious and in need of resuscitation after every set, you should aim to reach a point where you feel as if you've got no more "good" reps left in the tank.
This method of training is referred to as using "reps in reserve" in some cases; reaching a point where you have 2, 1 or even 0 reps left before your form breaks down will stimulate your muscles to the proper extent needed to incite growth. This means that with any weight at all, you should be able to stimulate growth by pushing yourself to the point where each set maybe only has 1 good rep left before your technique deteriorates and you're fighting to keep your lifts safe.
Obviously, it does come within reason. Don't drop the weight down so low that you have to do 100+ reps to reach failure, and don't go so heavy that you're just maxing out all the time. Find somewhere in the middle where you can stimulate some strength gains, but also damage your muscles enough that they'll build back bigger without going too far.
As usual with these posts, this one has gone on a bit too long. There's a lot to take in, but I hope I've made it easy to digest. If not, send me an email and w can talk about it.
As always, please speak to me if you need anything. Keep an eye out for my podcast, which will launch within the next couple of weeks.