Do sometimes feel like you’d get awesome results if you just knew what to do? Some of the routines available involve dozens of exercises, massive amounts of volume and if you’re unlucky, you’ll have to learn a dozen more exercises next week to keep your muscles confused!
Not only that, hundreds (if not thousands) of articles online demonize certain exercises while giving unwarranted support to others, it all gets pretty bloody confusing!
If you remember nothing else from this article, remember this.
Progression is everything.
How many reps you do, how many sets you do, which exercises you do, how long you rest.. That stuff is irrelevant if you’re not improving. There is no secret programme that will get you results wiith progression.
I don’t do a great a deal in my training. I hit a couple of compound lifts then I add in a couple of accessory movements to further work the muscle groups I’m training that day. Then I throw in some cardio to keep my mind sharp and my heart healthy.
Reps, Sets and All That Junk
So this stuff matters, but it’s not something you have to give a massive amount of thought to. I get good results with people not because I have some sort of mystical perfect programme, but because I tailor training to each person’s goals and recovery ability. Find what works for you and make some decent progress.
How many reps?
How many reps you do will determine what sort of training effect you get.
Lower reps (1-5 reps) with heavier weights will build strength effectively.
Medium reps (6-12 reps) are effective at building muscle.
Higher reps (12+) tend to build muscular endurance with less effect on strength and muscle mass.
That said! It is a sliding scale and it is perfectly possible to build strength, muscle mass, and endurance with all three ranges.
You have two types of sets, warm up sets and working sets. Warm up sets are desgined to get you warm and prepare you for the working sets. They’re just a warm up, they don’t really even need to be written down.
Working sets are the sets that help you get better, these are the tough ones where you aim to increase your weight over time. Whenever I talk about how many sets to do, I’m referring to working sets. Warm up sets don’t count towards this.
How many sets?
The only considerations for how many sets are:
How much work can you put in?
How much work do you want to put in?
If you can’t consistently put in as much as required by a programme, then you can’t get results on that programme. Do a different one.
There is a point of diminishing returns when it comes to sets. You’ll get a big chunk of the total effect from just one set, the second set gives you a smaller return, the third set is smaller still, and so on.
That means that if you’re really, really busy. You could get by with just one set per exercise, most of us can put in a little more than that though.
It also means that if you have loads of free time then you could do ten sets per exercise as long as you slept well and ate well enough to recover from it. I’d advise working up to this unless you enjoy walking like you’ve soiled yourself.
You should make sure that what you pick is something you can keep up for at least four weeks, ten sets won’t be massively better than five, so don’t add in more work for work’s sake. Sore muscles don’t always equal bigger muscles.
How many exercises?
So far, the answers have been quite loose. The reason for this is that the programme that works best is the programme that works best for you. With exercises, you should focus on a smaller selection and get very good at them. One thing I can promise you is that there is no connection between how many exercises you know and how much you achieve.
There are five main types of movements that make up a good programme
Squats – Build strong leg muscles and core stability
Presses – Build upper body strength and cover your chest, triceps and the front and sides of your shoulders.
Rows – Build upper back strength and grip, improving strength and muscle mass in your lats, biceps, traps, and the back and sides of your shoulders.
Hinges – Think deadlifts, good mornings and kettlebell swings. These develop posterior chain which covers the butt and back of the legs, as well as the lower back.
Carries – Carries aren’t commonly done in gyms but they offer plenty of benefits such as better grip strength, and stronger shoulders and upper back muscles.
These would be called main lifts, or compound movements. These are big movements that use a number of muscle groups. The benefit to using these is that you get a lot done in a short time. These serve as a strong base for your programme, the foundation that supports any additional movements.
Accessory work can be used on top of compound movements, examples of this would be biceps curls, leg curls, triceps extensions and other movements.
Being busy does not make you effective. You could have a massive workout and get very little actual benefit from it if you don’t grasp the basics. At the same time, you can make some solid gains on a very minimalistic programme. It’s all about optimising your training for your lifestyle.
Here’s a great way to get a full body workout in a few hours per week.
- Change your long warm up to the best way to warm up.
- Decide which muscle groups to train each day: Legs / Back / Chest is a great option.
- Add in 1-2 compound exercises and aim for a minimum of 2 working sets per movement.
- Add in 1-4 isolation exercises for those same muscles. Give priority to any weak areas.
- Keep your rep ranges, exercises and sets the same.
Why does this work so well?
By focusing on certain movements or muscle groups, you can really focus on them.
By doing fewer exercises, you can really focus on them.
By adding in additional work for those muscles, you can really focus on them and improve weak areas.
By keeping rep ranges, exercises and sets the same, you can really focus on increasing the weight.
The repetition there is intentional..
You need to be able to approach your training with a strong focus on the outcome that you want to achieve. If you want to improve strength in a certain movement (which leads to muscle mass) then you need to focus on that. Forget changing exercises every week, forget periodisation (for now), and stop looking for the perfect programme.
Focus on the goal and keep chipping away at it until you get there.
Until next time,