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Increase Strength and Muscle Size through Training Specificity


Want to get stronger but unsure of how many sets? Or repetitions? Or how much to lift?

Muscle strength is important to human health and athletic performance. Let’s first explain a measurement used for testing strength the 1 RM or 1 repetition maximum in other words what is the maximum weight you can lift once. Once this is determined we can then use this as a baseline for load lifted. When looking at optimal load to induce an increase in 1RM research suggests that the closer to your 1RM the better the outcome (>85%).

Now lets look at the volume of load so how many sets and how many repetitions. One particular study compared 5 1RM tests so 5 repetitions per session, to a traditional 4 sets of 8- 12 reps per session and found that after an 8 week programme and a 10 fold difference in volume and volume-load 1 RM increased similarly between conditions. It has been shown that doing over 15 sets per muscle group per week changes in strength seem to plateau or even drop off. Rest is an important aspect of resistance training and often gets forgotten in the routine. Rest periods of between 2-5 minutes between sets has been shown to be of benefit especially in already trained individuals.

Other factors such as using multi-joint exercises such as squats over single joint exercises such as leg extensions can be more effective in improving strength.

What about if we look at muscle hypertrophy or growth as a goal. Looking at load recent research has shown that heavier loads are not needed for muscle hypertrophy, so it makes no difference in outcome if loads are low or high but, in both instances, they must be lifted until fatigue.

In terms of volume for muscle growth a sufficient amount of repetitions should be performed so > 10 reps per muscle per week but less than 15 sets per muscle per week. An increase of rest > 60s has shown to be of benefit similarly to that of strength training. Another interesting factor when looking at increasing muscle size is intensity of effort during each rep, studies have shown that focusing on maximally contracting the muscle group throughout the exercise range of motion results in superior increases in muscle size compared to not having an internal focus.

Including eccentric movements in each contraction has also been shown to be of small benefit compared to concentric movements only.

In conclusion: Unless there is a specific goal of increasing muscle growth for performance (body building) or strength (weightlifting) performing a resistance training g programme regularly with enough load and focus should result in an increase in growth and strength. Strength induced changes are mainly determined by performing reps close to maximal load (>85% 1 RM) and muscle growth changes are determined by performing each rep with intensity of effort and each set to fatigue (> 10 repetitions < 15 sets per muscle per week).

Leigh-Anne McBride - Exercise Physiologist

Through correct programming using the principles outlined in this blog, muscle strength and size gains can be made to help you feel well, move well and perform well. If you would like to discuss this programming with our Exercise Physiologist Leigh-Anne, book via the button below.

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