Much has changed the knowledge on how to train to gain muscle mass in the last 3 years. To date, we have information that is sufficiently strong and rigorous to question, at least, the postulates about recovery time, training days, exercises, sets or repetitions that have always been considered suitable for gaining muscle.
It all started when in 2013-2014 the hormonal theory began to be questioned. This theory argued that the greater the post-training secretion of hormones capable of stimulating protein synthesis, such as testosterone, IGF-1 and growth hormone, the greater the effectiveness of the training. Many, if not most, studies embraced it for the convenience of researchers and universities, and few questioned it because it was not convenient.
The process of muscle hypertrophy is slow, and methods to measure it are mostly inexact. In addition, there is a great disparity in the response of each individual. That means that if we want the results of a study to be rigorous, it must analyze enough people to overcome the disparity between people, and for long enough so that the results are beyond the margin of error of the evaluation methods.
To give validity to the hormonal theory facilitated (and made very cheap) the process because it was not necessary that the sample of individuals analyzed was my great, nor long the duration of the study. One had only to analyze the secretion of these hormones, normally even only one of them, before different methods of training. The costs were reduced, also the necessary time, facilitating that, in the same university budget and time, more studies could be done and published. All happy.
The problem came when, from 2013, this theory began to be questioned, not without arousing great discomfort among those who had embraced it for their own convenience. Numerous long-term studies, those with the optimal methodology mentioned a few lines ago, began to show that there was no relationship between hormonal response and effectiveness. The individuals and methods that generated a greater response were not the ones that gained more muscle mass.
On the contrary, there were individuals who, following the same method, did not obtain any hormonal response compared to other colleagues who had followed the same method and who saw their testosterone and IGF-1 secretion triggered, and there was no difference between them in both the results. Come on, it all seemed to indicate that the hormonal response was practically insignificant.
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At this point, what do we do with all the studies that had established a training methodology based on erroneous premises and axioms? They lost their credibility. They had to be discarded and almost from scratch. It took 2-3 years to gather the serious and rigorous scientific evidence that was not based on this premise. In 2016 serious meta-analyzes began to be published where the studies analyzed were no longer based on the hormonal response, only in real increase of muscle mass evaluated with reliable methodology in studies of sufficient duration for it. The results, how could they be otherwise, showed that we were largely mistaken about what we thought we knew about what really working to gain muscle mass.
This is what we know today:
Repetitions to gain muscle
The number of repetitions is not key to gaining muscle mass. It has been shown that the key lies in the effort character, that is, the margin we leave between the number of repetitions performed and the muscle failure. As long as we reach the fault, the results are similar regardless of the number of repetitions. For the same reason, there was no optimum intensity, with similar results with loads representing 30% of the maximum repetition, and with which more than 20 repetitions could be done, than with a supposedly optimal load that allowed to do between 8 and 12 repetitions.
However, it is important to note that continuous work on failure affects the natural secretion of testosterone and IGF-1 after 16 weeks on average. It has also been linked to the “burn out” effect. For all this, it is convenient to periodize the training to failure by making as many weeks away from him as touching him, never exceeding 14-16 weeks in a row. Taking into account that this figure is very personal, it would be advisable if the goal is to gain muscle mass in the long term, perform periods of between 2 and 8 weeks to failure followed by the same number of weeks maintaining a safety margin of between 1 and 2 repetitions in each series.
Muscle Building Series
Two sets per exercise is more effective in gaining muscle mass than one. The studies indicate an improvement of around 40% in a multi-series system compared to training systems where a single series per exercise is performed. We do not know if more than two series gets better results.
Weekly volume to gain muscle
Muscle mass gain has been observed by performing even 4 weekly series per muscle group. However, the effectiveness goes up as we perform more weekly series per muscle group until stagnating around 10 sets per muscle group and week. This figure depends on each individual and their experience, so that the greater the potential, experience and tolerance of each person, the greater this figure. For the same reason, a person who has just started, or who does not have a great tolerance, will stagnate in a number less than the 10 weekly series mentioned.
Exercise volume and character seem to be the most determining variables if the goal is to gain muscle mass.
Distribution of total weekly volume to gain muscle
Contrary to the tradition that marks a single day of weekly training per muscle group, where to accumulate the entire volume, it is more effective to divide the total volume per muscle group in two days of weekly training. We do not know if three days per muscle group and week would be more effective.
Rhythm of execution of the repetition to gain muscle
Contrary to the popular belief that marked an ideal tempo, there is no repetition execution rhythm clearly suitable for gaining muscle mass. Therefore, if there is no optimal tempo or rhythm, and no adequate number of repetitions, there can be no minimum duration of the series. The only thing we know is that the effectiveness is similar when the repetition lasts from 0.5 to 8 seconds, clearly decreasing effectiveness when the duration of the repetition exceeds 10 seconds.
As we see, this new evidence contradicts the postulates of Arthur Jones that advised a duration of the concentric phase of 2 seconds and 4 for the eccentric phase with the objective of eliminating the momentum or acceleration and maintaining a more homogeneous tension. It also contradicts systems that rely on super slow repetitions such as super slow training or HIST.
Rest between sets to gain muscle
Traditionally we have believed that we gained more muscle mass with short rest times, less than two minutes between sets. This was based on some studies that observed a higher secretion of posttraining growth hormone in this way. To this day, we know that the recovery time between sets is a variable that is hardly important to gain muscle mass since similar effectiveness has been demonstrated with breaks of less than two minutes until five. However, if we have a specific time to train, the rest between series or training density can gain importance because of it will depend the amount of training or volume that we will be able to perform in that time being the latter a variable that, for the contrary,
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Conclusions and practical application
If we take into account the point that refers to series and volume, we observe how, it seems, the greatest effectiveness would be achieved by performing between 4 and 6 exercises, no more than 2 series with the character of adequate effort. In this way we would do a total of between 8 and 12 sets per muscle group that we will divide in two days. If we look at it, it seems to recommend training where more body parts work every day instead of focusing on one or two as recommended by bodybuilding tradition.
You can forget to do a specific number of repetitions, at a specific pace or rest a specific time between sets. No matter how I said the opposite in the past. Science advances and we must have the humility to adapt even when it implies admitting that we were wrong. It is our responsibility.
Tags: Gain Muscle, Muscle Building Series, Repetitions to gain muscle