Almost every day I’m asked the same question by fellow weight-training fanatics: ‘Why can’t I grow anymore? I used to grow consistently, but it just stopped!’ Although the answer to that question can be quite complex and the result of many factors, I find a commonality among those who have hit the wall on muscle growth: They use the same rep range day in and day out, week in and week out, year after year.
While it’s largely accepted that performing one to five reps builds strength, six to 12 reps build size and 13 to 20 reps builds muscular endurance, that’s far too broad a generalization’and also not entirely accurate. You probably know that muscle fibers are divided into two basic categories, fast and slow twitch (also known as type 2 and type 1), but it’s also important to remember that there are several subtypes of each, a few of which share some characteristics. So while it’s true that fast-twitch fibers have the greatest capacity for growing in size, unless you fully tax all available muscle fibers, you’ll never succeed in reaching your full muscular potential. Furthermore, if you use only one rep range, your body will adapt to that specific form of stress rather quickly and stop responding to your efforts. That’s when you’ll start asking, Why am I not growing anymore? You must realize that the human body is a master of adaptation and a lover of homeostasis, so you must stay one step ahead if you want to continue to grow.
Keep in mind that muscles get larger through mechanisms other than actual fiber hypertrophy. Higher repetitions can increase capillary beds and enhance the ability of your cells to store more nutrients like glycogen, amino acids and creatine, which can actually swell them to a greater size. In addition, the various rep ranges can set off various hormonal cascades, causing you to release greater amounts of testosterone, growth hormone and/or IGF-1. Doesn’t it make sense that you would want every available muscle-building hormone flowing through your veins in the greatest possible quantities? You bet! That should be a major concern of every ironhead interested in packing on lean mass.
While I could continue this little lesson in physiology for a few more pages, I’d rather hammer in the take-home message here: Vary your rep ranges. You should do the majority of your sets in the range of seven to 12 reps (which several studies have shown to be the most effective for muscle hypertrophy); your program should also include lower-rep sets of three to five reps and higher-rep sets of 12 to 16.
You can use various rep ranges within the structure of each workout, or you can use a periodization plan’training several weeks with one rep range, several weeks with another rep range and so on. I like to get the unique feel of each rep range during a single workout. A three-to-five-rep set makes your muscles feel entirely different from what you feel with a 12-to-16-rep set. The pump you get from that type of training is outrageous, and plateaus rarely occur because you’re constantly changing the stimulus.
Here are samples of how you can structure workouts for each of your bodyparts using different rep ranges in one workout:
Bench presses 3 x 3-5
Incline dumbbell presses 2 x 6-9
Incline flyes 3 x 7-12
Cable crossovers 2 x 13-15
Bent-over barbell rows 3 x 3-5
cable rows 2 x 6-9
Undergrip pulldowns 3 x 7-12
Dumbbell pullovers 2 x 13-15 ALL Legs
Squats 3 x 3-5
Leg presses 2 x 6-9
Leg extensions 3 x 7-12
Lunges 2 x 13-15
Lying leg curls 2 x 6-9
Stiff-legged deadlifts 3 x 7-12
One-leg leg curls 3 x 13-15
Military presses 2 x 3-5
Wide-grip upright rows 2 x 6-9
Lateral raises 3 x 7-12
Bent-over laterals 2 x 13-15
Barbell curls 2 x 3-5
Preacher curls 2 x 6-9
Alternate dumbbell curls 3 x 7-12
Close-grip bench presses 2 x 3-5
Lying extensions 2 x 6-9
Pushdowns 3 x 7-12
Remember, when it comes to bodybuilding, doing the exact same things over and over and expecting a different result is tantamount to insanity. So, if you’re feeling stale and not getting much out of your workouts, try throwing off your muscles and CNS with some new stimuli. When you see the new gains you make while using a variety of rep ranges, you’ll be glad you had a rep-range revelation. IM