Developing muscle mass is an awesome goal to have and a common theme among those who have chosen to live a healthy lifestyle. Like I have hinted at above, training for size generally means performing enough repetitions to stimulate blood and nutrients traveling to the muscle, without doing too many repetitions and entering a phase more agreeable for endurance. For the most part, people consider this repetition range to be anywhere from six to twelve repetitions.
The main thing going on when you work out to get bigger is hypertrophy and hyperplasia. Hypertrophy refers to the increase in volume of a cell of tissue. Hyperplasia refers to the increase in the amount of cells. As you can see, both of these things play into muscle mass heavily.
By forcing blood into the muscle and stressing it with weight, you will cause it to tear and break down. When the muscle recovers though, it will grow back stronger and with more cells. Chronic hypertrophy is your end goal, which is where your muscles are permanently larger, as opposed to transient hypertrophy which refers to what most people call a “pump.”
Any time you complete an exercise or perform a movement, you are recruiting different muscle fibers to help you. When you lift weights to failure, you will first recruit slow motor units. As you get closer to fatigue, you will recruit faster motor units. You will do this until you are able to apply enough force, or you reach failure and miss the lift.
A key thing to understand when you are training for size is how volume plays into growth and hypertrophy. When you perform a larger amount of sets, you introduce your muscles to more and more stimulus which forces growth. However, you have to make sure that each set is difficult enough to recruit all muscle fiber types. This does not mean to go to failure on each set; doing that is a great way to stall your progress. If you are more experienced and more in tune with your body and nervous system, by all means go for it in a well-planned and executed manner. However, if you are just starting out it isn’t a good idea to push it till you can’t lift any more on each and every set that you perform.
Traditionally, you want to make sure that you are lifting in the six to twelve repetition range. I believe that this is a good starting point especially for those of you just getting started. However, new studies have come out that suggest hypertrophy isn’t necessarily dependent on a specific repetition range. This makes sense when you consider muscle growth is simply a byproduct of a certain amount of perceived stress. It also helps to further cement the concept that for natural athletes size and strength are heavily correlated.
If you are looking to get bigger and pack on muscle mass, you need to make sure that you are taking advantage of every single range possible (except for anything over say, 30 repetitions). During my workouts I make sure to perform exercises with enough volume and weight. For example, if I am squatting and in the middle of a “build phase,” I might to something like this:
- 135 x 10
- 185 x 10
- 225 x 10
- 275 x 10
- 315 x 8
- 365 x 5
- 405 x 3
At that point I would evaluate how I feel and determine whether I want to continue squatting and perform drop sets, or if I want to move on to the next exercise. However, that should give you a general idea of how to structure your repetitions and sets to make sure that you are stimulating both size and strength which is ultimately going to help you become an overall athlete, which should always be the end goal.