Strength Training Strategies that Actually Work

Over the years there has been a surge of different strength training techniques that have come onto the market and just faded away.

Here we discuss the training strategies to gain the maximum amount of muscle in the shortest time possible that have stood up to the test of time.

Most of these strength-training strategies have been around for years but are not followed by many training systems these days.

Lets look at a few below that actually work.

1. Training Frequency

The two main components of strength training are the intensity of the exercise and the recovery after the exercise. Infrequent, short, high intensity weight training sessions, followed by the required amount of time to recover and become stronger is what is needed to increase functional muscle size in the shortest period of time.

Training Intensity

Training intensity, in layman terms, is how hard you train. In words that are more scientific, it is the percentage of your 1 repetition maximum.

The closer your working weight to 1RM – the harder you work, the higher the intensity, the less reps you will be able to perform in set, the more time you’ll need to fully recover between sets, the less total sets you’ll be able to perform etc.

Intensity is very important in gaining strength as well as in building muscle, as well as in sparring muscle during calorie restriction diet. It should be kept pretty high if your goal is pure strength and/or getting ripped.

However, if your goal is building as much muscle as possible you need a bit lower intensity to allow more volume.

Training Frequency

Training frequency is how often you perform certain move, practice certain exercise or train certain muscle.

Frequency can be high and low. High frequency means at least 3 times per week, but usually even more. Low frequency is no more than 2 times per week but usually even less.

Well, there’s no hard rule on this but in my opinion such classification is not far from the truth. Frequency is great for neural adaptation.

This means that it’s great for building strength and skill. Also it’s pretty good for building muscle as you get stronger faster while adding more total volume. For fat loss it’s probably not the most important variable.

2. Exercises Per Session

Tests under strict gym conditions have revealed that you’ve only got a limited amount of (readily available) energy to use for a weight training session.

Blood tests on individuals have also revealed that blood sugar levels (available energy) drop dramatically after 20 to 30 minutes of high intensity training.

As you only have a short period of time to train before our blood sugar level drops, “Exercise Selection” is crucial.

You have to use Multi-Joint or Compound movements, Such as bench press, deadlift and squat as these offer the most training stimulus for the available amount of time.

In other words, we can train many muscles simultaneously and thus use our energy more efficiently.

Performing three to four exercises with high intensity during a session are what most people are capable of.

All the main structures of the body are worked hard during this time. Working on these big compound movements has a knock-on effect throughout the whole body; there is no need for specialization techniques or isolation movements.

The fact is, the whole body is worked hard, rest and recuperation is allowed to take place and at the next exercise session we push out a few more reps than before with the same weight, then we have gotten stronger i.e. more muscle.

3. Number of Sets per Exercise

After performing one complete set a compound exercise to total failure, it should be just about impossible to generate the same force and intensity for another complete set of the same exercise.

If you’re able to generate the same force and intensity for this second set then it’ll be pretty obvious that not enough effort has been put into the first set. Thus you’ll have to raise the intensity level you put out for the first set.

If you give the first set 100% effort and work the exercise hard to total failure (eg. you cannot move the bar after the last rep) then there will be not more requirement for further muscle stimulation on that specific exercise.

If you think that volume training (multiple sets) is more effective then you’re wrong! The latest research shows that single set training is as beneficial as multiple set training.

Training one set will decrease the chances of over-training. It will also allow you to save more energy for other exercises required during the workout.

The Most Common Set And Rep Combinations For An Exercise

Below are the most commonly used and prescribed combinations of sets and reps you could do per exercise along with the total amount of volume each one produces.

Also included is the level of intensity each rep range falls into as well as what fitness goal that combination of sets/reps/volume is most ideal for.

8 sets x 3 reps = 24 reps
High intensity.
Most ideal for strength related goals.

6 sets x 4 reps = 24 reps
High intensity.
Most ideal for strength related goals.

3 sets x 5 reps = 15 reps
High intensity.
Most ideal for strength related goals.

5 sets x 5 reps =  25 reps
High to moderate intensity.
Most ideal for strength goals, but also suited for building muscle.

4 sets x 6 reps = 24 reps
High to moderate intensity.
Equally ideal for increasing strength and building muscle.

3 sets x 8 reps = 24 reps
Moderate intensity.
Most ideal for building muscle, but also suited for increasing strength.

4 sets x 8 reps = 32 reps
Moderate intensity.
Most ideal for building muscle, but also suited for increasing strength.

3 sets x 10 reps = 30 reps
Moderate intensity.
Most ideal for building muscle, but also suited for muscular endurance.

4 sets x 10 reps = 40 reps
Moderate to low intensity.
Most ideal for building muscle, but also suited for endurance.

2 sets x 12 reps = 24 reps
Moderate to low intensity.
Most ideal for building muscle, but also suited for endurance.

3 sets x 12 reps = 36 reps
Moderate to low intensity.
Equally ideal for building muscle and improving muscle endurance.

2 sets x 15 reps = 30 reps
Low intensity. Most ideal for muscle endurance, but also suited for building muscle.

2 sets x 20 reps = 40 reps
Low intensity. Most ideal for muscle endurance.

As you can see, based on your specific goal and what rep range is most ideal for it, you have quite a few set/rep combinations to choose from for each exercise you do.

As you can also probably tell, there are a few principles these very different combinations have in common. The 2 most worth noting are:

  • The fewer reps you are doing per set, the more sets you do. And, the more reps you do per set, the fewer sets you do. While this isn’t an absolute rule, it is what should be happening the majority of the time.
  • The total volume being done per exercise is pretty similar despite the different amount of sets/reps being used. For example, 10 of the 13 popular combinations shown above produce between 20-36 reps total. The take home message? Most of the time, that’s probably how much volume you should end up doing per exercise.

 

4. Number of Repetitions per Set

The development of muscle and strength is interrelated, it always has been. Strength training Sessions produce increases in strength that is equal to increases in functional muscle. (You’ll become stronger and grow muscle).

Cycling intensity through changes in repetitions and weight throughout a ten-week program is an effective way to maintain progression and avoid training plateaus (slumps in strength).

Repetitions can be cycled, the higher repetition range will stimulate the slow twitch muscle fibers and promote endurance.

Moving further down the scale, the lower repetition range will activate the fast twitch muscle fibers and increase strength and muscle size.

The Ideal Rep Range For Various Weight Training Goals

Here now are the most commonly used rep ranges along with their primary training effect:

  • 1-5 Reps Per Set = Mostly Strength
  • 5-8 Reps Per Set = Strength AND Muscle Equally
  • 8-10 Reps Per Set = Muscle With Some Strength
  • 10-12 Reps Per Set = Muscle With Some Endurance
  • 12-15 Reps Per Set = Endurance With Some Muscle
  • 15-20 Reps Per Set = Mostly Endurance

 

So, as you can see:

  • Lower reps (high intensity) is most ideal for increasing strength.
  • Higher reps (low intensity) is most ideal for improving muscle endurance.
  • Moderate reps in the middle of the two (moderate intensity) is most ideal for building muscle and really anything related to improving the way your body looks (rather than performs).

 

Now, the key word I’m using here is “ideal.” Just because I didn’t put “strength” next to the 10-12 rep range doesn’t mean you will never be able to increase strength when doing 10-12 reps of an exercise. That’s not true at all.

In fact, each rep range shown is capable of producing some amount of strength, muscle, and endurance results. However, the objective here is to choose the rep range that is most ideal for your specific goal, because that’s the one that will work best for the results you want.

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