In order to setup a proper strength training routine, you need to understand how a muscle gets stronger. If you fail to understand the physiology behind getting stronger, you will put together a sub-optimal strength training program.
My goal in this short article is to explain the differences between bodybuilding and gaining strength.
How a Bodybuilding Program Works.
Bodybuilding involves breaking down a muscle. This is done by performing reps in the 6-12 range and working the muscle to exhaustion. Typically bodybuilders aim for a “burn” and a “pump” in the muscle. They employ things like forced reps and negatives. If your goal is to build muscle then you are purposely trying to damage that muscle group. The idea is that when the muscle repairs itself, it will overcompensate and add a little more mass to that muscle group. Over time, these muscle groups will become noticeably larger. A proper strength training program aims for something much different.
How a Strength Program Works.
A good strength training plan should focus on making a muscle more efficient, not in breaking down a muscle. If your strength training program is geared toward things like the “pump” or the “burn” then you need to change your approach. Think of bodybuilding as “muscle” based and strength training as “nervous system” based. In a good strength training program you are trying to train your nervous system to send stronger impulses to the muscle group being worked. Your strength training program should be based around performing heavy weights and low repetitions.
Heavy Weights Generate Stronger Nerve Impulses to the Muscle Than Light Weights.
If you take a 5 pound weight and curl it, you nervous system barely needs to work to contract your bicep muscle. If you take a 40 pound weight and curl it, your nervous system needs to work harder. The heavier the weights you chose, the less reps you can perform in a specific lift. That is why an effective strength training program is based around lifting heavy weights for low reps.
How Many Sets and Reps are Optimal in a Good Strength Program?
In order to train your nervous system to become more efficient, you need to train it to fire strong impulses to the muscle over and over again. You must perform a specific heavy lift enough times for the mind-to-muscle link to get stronger. Gaining strength is a skill that is developed with practice like any other skill, so your strength training program needs to reflect that. Each set you perform should be 2-5 reps, but you will need to perform many sets to get the proper practice. You can decide for yourself how many sets you want to perform, I recommend between 6-10 sets in the major lifts.
Never Train To Failure if You Want to Gain Strength at a Fast Rate!
Training to failure is definitely a bodybuilding thing. None of your sets in your strength training program should ever be taken to failure. Every time you train to failure you are teaching your nervous system to fail. You will be rewarded with weaker impulses sent to the muscle on the next sets you perform. When you train to failure you are taking a “few steps back” in your quest to gaining strength. Obviously forced reps are to be avoided as well.
Schedule Plenty of Rest In Between Sets in Your Strength Routine.
Bodybuilders strive hard for things like “the pump” and they are trying to really exhaust their muscles, so they need to keep rest to a minimum. In a strength training program, you want maximum nerve impulses sent to the muscle each and every rep. In order to insure that really strong impulses are generated, you need to rest up to 5 minutes in between each set. If you ever play video games it is like waiting for your character’s energy to recharge up to 100%. Schedule enough time in your strength workout to rest 3-5 minutes in between each set.
You Should Not Be Sore After Performing Your Strength Training Program.
Since your strength workout isn’t breaking down your muscles, you should experience very little soreness the days after your workout. Since the muscles don’t need to repair themselves, you can work each muscle group more often than if you following a bodybuilding routine. A bodybuilder might work each muscle group twice a week, you should be able to work each muscle group 3-4 times per week. If you “practice” each lift 4 times per week, you should get quicker results than someone who does it 2 times per week. Just make sure that you aren’t breaking the muscle down like a bodybuilder.
A Quick Summary of a Good Strength Training Program
1) 3-5 reps per set
2) 6-10 sets per exercise
3) 3-5 minutes rest in between sets
4) Never train to failure
5) Never perform forced reps
6) Practice major lifts 3-4 times per week
Hopefully this clears up some of the confusion out there in setting up an effective strength training program.