Factor No.5- Muscle Strength Gains
Generally, muscle strength gains go hand in hand with muscle mass gains. Most of you know that. Muscle strength gains lead to adaptation processes in the musculoskeletal system when coupled with an optimal production of lactic acid. 5 – 8 repetitions is the optimal range for maximizing muscle mass gains. Why is this repetition range important? Now you are going to find out.
Let’s take a look at some studies done by F. Capen as early as 1956:
*Number of repetitions per set, performed to failure
What do the above data show? The maximum strength increase is achieved with 1 – 3 repetitions per set to failure at an intensity of 90 – 100% of the athlete’s maximum capacity – a typical workout plan for weight lifters and powerlifters. Some of you might say: “OK, why not use this intensity to also increase our muscle mass, since our main goal is to gain muscle strength, which will lead to muscle mass increase?” Once again, wrong. You forgot about hydrogen ions (H+) and lactic acid.
xThe Immediate Energy Supply System (the ATP – CP – system)
The energy is released from the breakdown of the ATP and CP accumulated in the muscles, not resorting to breakdown of glucose and the glycogen stored in the muscles with subsequent glycolysis activation and lactate (lactic acid) production.
That is also the reason why workouts aimed only at increasing maximum (absolute) strength with 1 – 3 repetitions, do not lead to any pronounced muscle mass gains, i.e. there are no hydrogen ions (H+) in the muscles which could activate the production of mRNA and rRNA.
The maximum muscle mass growth in workouts of this kind is mainly determined by the increased concentration of neuromuscular effort and not by an increased volume (hypertrophy) of the muscles at work. As we have seen on multiple occasions, weight lifters are far less muscular than bodybuilders.
On the other hand, the less pronounced muscle mass increase obtained in workouts of this kind, coupled with the unquestionably pronounced maximum strength are important in sports with weight classes – weight lifting, wrestling, as well as in those where relative strength determines the athletic achievement:
Relative strength = the ratio between the maximum strength (Fmax) of an athlete and their body weight (kg):
Relative strength = Fmax/ kg (body weight)
Other sports in this category include:
Jumps, sprinting, basketball, volleyball, gymnastics, acrobatic gymnastics, etc.
Here I have also answered a long-discussed question: Why are workouts intended to maximize strength not suitable for increasing muscle mass? – The lack of lactic acid and hydrogen ions which turn out to be the main factor in muscle mass growth.
Let’s also discuss the other extreme in our search for the best workout option for accomplishing our goal, namely, to gain muscle mass: large production of lactic acid.
We train with sets in the range of 30 – 100 repetitions to failure. We have larger amounts of lactic acid and hydrogen ions (H+) in our muscles. Some of you might say: “That’s all very well, but since we have large amounts of hydrogen ions, isn’t that the best way to stimulate muscle growth?” Once again, wrong.
When looking to maximize muscle mass gains in a minimum amount of time, the connection between lactic acid, respectively hydrogen ions, and muscle strength becomes obvious. I.e. we need to find an optimal range between the two extremes in order to build as much muscle mass as possible. Both factors are equally important to our goal. We need to produce lactic acid and at the same time achieve an optimal strength increase.
We have seen that a workout for maximal strength gains (1 – 3 repetitions) guarantees a large increase in strength, but lacks the much needed lactic acid.
In workouts, oriented entirely towards strength endurance, i.e. 30 – 100+ repetitions, there is overproduction of lactic acid and lack of a clearly defined strength increase. Neither of these options suits our purpose in the best possible way. Both options would lead to some increase in muscle mass, but our goal here is not “some” increase of muscle mass, but maximum results in a minimum amount of time. Which group of athletes looks for this kind of above-average results? That’s right: bodybuilders.
This can also be seen clearly in the well-defined physiques of weight lifters and rowers, which, however, still differs substantially from the physique of an accomplished bodybuilder.
Now we’ve come to our optimal option midway between the two extremes. If we go back to the F. Capen’s table, we will see that we have a window of 5 – 8 repetitions per set which will work best for us. On the one hand, we will have an effort lasting 20 – 30 seconds per set which is enough for the release of lactic acid, on the other hand, we will see a very good increase in muscle strength – not the maximum one, but quite good (from 4.26 lbs. in this case, compared to 5.54 lbs. in the maximum strength gains workout).
The more we stray away from this range of 5 – 8 repetitions, the lower strength gains we achieve: for example, in sets to failure of 12 – 15 repetitions, the gains are now 2.47 lbs. according to F. Capen’s studies, i.e. the strength gains have now decreased by nearly 50%, compared to the range of 5 – 8 repetitions per set.
In the past few years, we have been observing a trend among professional bodybuilders to train in the range of 15 – 25 repetitions per set. A lot of people, who read professional magazines, copy these training programs, missing the fact that there are very few athletes of this kind in the world and they represent a so-called “genetic elite” in bodybuilding. In any case their body builds muscle mass faster and more effectively that the body of the average bodybuilder. They would most likely be able to build muscle mass with a range of as many as 50 – 100 repetitions per set due to their extraordinary metabolism. Another fact that is not taken into account is the large amounts of performance-enhancing substances they use. Don’t get me wrong: I am not underestimating the huge amounts of work they have done to achieve this progress, but I think that if they used a methodology that implies 5 – 8 repetitions per set, they would achieve a much better progress over the same period of time. That has also been proven by the “muscle kings” – bodybuilders such as the six times Mr. Olympia champion Dorian Yates, as well as Lee Priest, Markus Rühl, Kevin Levrone etc., who made good use of the advantages of the workout with 5 – 8 repetitions per set to failure.
This is all very well, but I must make a couple of important points here:
Firstly: This type of workout is no joke. Moving heavy weight requires a lot of willpower and motivation on your part.
Secondly: You can use this type of workout after at least 12 months of hard training in the gym. This workout is contraindicated for beginner bodybuilders for three reasons:
– risk of injuries;
– lack of developed adaptation processes in the muscle-skeletal system (tendons, ligaments, bones, muscles);
– impossibility to utilize its full potential – beginner athletes who have got their minds set on taking up bodybuilding lack the so-called “intramuscular coordination”, i.e. they can use between 50 and 60% of the active motor units in the working muscles, with the maximal range in advanced high-level athletes being 85 – 90% (there is always a 10 – 15% reserve of unusable muscle fibers which are switched on in extreme situations).
Beginner bodybuilders should mostly work on the so-called “central factor” which includes:
– intramuscular coordination;
– intermuscular coordination that I will discuss later.
Third point: this training method should not be used all the time, because it implies a certain risk of overtraining (overexertion). A good way to prevent that is the following: once every 5 – 6 weeks of high-intensity workouts we should take 1 week of active rest by using sets of 15 – 20 repetitions for all muscle groups, whereby we will also increase the glycogen (carbohydrate) capacity in the muscles which, according to some authors, is an additional prerequisite to increasing muscle strength.
* You can do 1 workout per month which is entirely oriented towards increasing muscle strength and consists of 1 – 3 repetitions per set to failure, provided that you train every muscle group once a week (i.e. one out of every four weeks can be oriented entirely towards increasing your maximum strength), whereby you will indirectly increase your muscle mass gains during the subsequent workouts.
* Do 1 – 2 sets in the range of 5 – 8 repetitions to failure. If you do more sets with this kind of intensity, you will make recovery more difficult, unless you have above-average recovery capacity. The body’s recovery capacity is limited to a certain level.
* You must include 2 – 3 warm-up sets depending on the complexity of the exercise.
* If you are very advanced and use high-intensity methods such as forced repetitions, negative repetitions, cool-down sets, you should limit these to 2 weeks out of 4.
* And most importantly: your diet must be adequate to the high level of effort you put in. I will discuss this in the following paragraphs.
To the next factor