At different stages of the lifting game, we get exposed to different ideas – many of them have their merits, but also their limitations.
It’s not necessarily paramount to understand what those limitations are – some of us intuitively stumble onto doing the right thing regardless, so there is no need to overthink it.Unfortunately though, sometimes getting overzealous about these principles leads down the path of insisting on certain methods, which ultimately just lead to banging our heads against the wall for a good few months (or years) until we see progress again.
Examples of this:
1: Getting progressively stronger in a medium rep-range causes muscle growth:Up to a point, earlier on in your training journey, this is mainly true. And even if it may technically be incorrect, in a practical sense it might as well be true: if in your first 1-2 years of lifting, you focus on nothing else but adding weight to your lifts in a moderate rep-range, you’re going to get bigger, guaranteed.
The question is, what you do once you get plateaued as an intermediate to late stage intermediate in your strength progression?
If you understand the relationship between strength development, the need for progressive tension and muscle growth, you might accept that the gains will come at an inherently slower rate at this point and you need to focus on facilitating high levels of effort and dosing out an appropriate amount of volume to keep up the stimulus for muscle growth.
If you’re super caught up with the idea however that no strength progression means no muscle growth, you might start using periodization models or tapering protocols that might be great to express strength feats more frequently, but might actually suck for muscle growth.
2: Volume is the driver of hypertrophy
If you understand that there is a strong relationship between volume and muscle growth, that’s useful when you’re revising your training plan.
For example, if you’ve been stalled with your gains for a while and you’re only doing 4-5 hard sets for each muscle group per week, you might want to think of bumping up that number a little bit.
However, if you’re slowly turning into a volume junkie while leaving 5-6 reps in the tank in every set, you’re missing the mark: there is no amount of volume that can save you from working at least *somewhat* hard.
3: Close enough failure proximity and enough volume drives muscle growth.
We’re getting reaaaally close here.
If you understand that you need to train both *hard* and *enough*, you’re doing a lot to stimulate growth to the best of your abilities.But what if you’re chronically picking movements (and or executing them in a way) that do more to piss off your joints than to actually stimulate the muscles you want to work?
Is doing even more sets going to help you in that case or just help you to accumulate injuries faster?
Or what if you’re already in a recovery hole and that’s whats currently preventing you from making gains?
Is upping the number of sets, albeit with great intensity going to be the solution?Unlikely.
So what I currently think a good summation at this point could be:
Given that your exercise selection is appropriate and sustainable, your execution is great and that your performance indicates proper recovery, doing enough volume with enough intensity of effort is the best formula for muscle growth.
Cut or Bulk?
Wondering whether you should get leaner or focus on muscle building first?
Find out from my complete “Cut or Bulk” handbook, delivered straight to your inbox.