The keys to building muscle is creating the proper stimulus to elicit muscle growth, and this is done via the sets and reps you use.
That said, different set and rep schemes have been shown to elicit different physiological and neurological responses, both of which can increase muscle.
Here’s an overview of the stimulus that each rep scheme creates:
One to 6 reps per set are great for increasing muscle strength (i.e., force production) through primarily neurological factors such as increased motor unit recruitment. This rep ranges help your body bring more muscle into the game every time you use your muscles to lift a heavy load or explode in a sport event.
Plus, lifting heavy load requires lot of muscle tension, and tension has been shown in the research to be one of the mechanisms that stimulate muscle growth.
Eight to 15 or More Reps
Eight to 15 or more reps per set have also been shown to stimulate increased muscle size (hypertrophy) through primarily physiological changes in muscles and connective tissues. Because this range uses a higher number of reps and lower loads, it creates more metabolic stress as well as an increased muscle pump, both of which have been shown to help increase muscle cross-sectional area (i.e., help you gain muscle).
Additionally, a range of 6-8 reps can serve as a nice middle ground between the two rep ranges described here for improvements in both muscle strength and size.
Mix Up the Set/Rep Scheme You Use!
“The two set–rep schemes just described are not mutually exclusive. Mixing both schemes can have a positive effect—if you have strong connective tissues and bigger muscles, you can lift heavier loads (in the 1-6 rep range), and if you’ve become stronger and better able to use the muscle power you have, each rep you perform (in the 8-15 rep range) will be more effective than if you didn’t have that improved neurological ability to recruit your muscles. Furthermore, although both rep ranges can facilitate positive improvements, you can certainly use the middle-ground rep range (6-8 reps) if you’re not interested in using weights heavy enough to challenge you, but not so heavy you can only do a few reps.
With the above said, the research has shown us that changing up the set/rep scheme on a daily basis is the superior training method for gaining strength and size to a using the same basic set/rep ranges for several weeks at a time style.
A 2002 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research study compared two groups. One group did performed sets of 8 reps during weeks 1-4, 6 reps during weeks 4-8, and 4 reps during weeks 9-12. The other training group did the same exercise, but altered their sets and reps on a daily basis. For the 12-weeks of training, here’s what they did: Monday, 8 reps; Wednesday, 6 reps; Friday, 4 reps.
The results of this study showed that making set/rep alterations on a daily basis was more effective in eliciting strength gains than doing so every 4 weeks.
Additionally, other more recent studies have not only also found that daily intensity and volume (set/rep) variations was more effective than weekly volume variations for increases in maximal strength, but using daily undulating sets/rep scheme also may leads to greater gains in muscle size and thickness.
It is for the above reality that the workout programs you do should utilize a daily undulating set/ rep design. For example, one day do your workout at 5 sets x 3-5 reps. The next time you do that same workout, do 3 sets x 10-12 reps. And, the third time you do that same workout, do 4 sets x 6-8 reps or the exercises. Doing this is not only more effective, as we’ve established above, but it’s also more interesting, as different set/rep ranges offer a different feel.
By John’s Special Guest: Nick Tumminello
Nick Tumminello has become known as “the trainer of trainers.” He’s the owner of Performance University, which provides Fitness and personal trainer continuing education. Nick is a fitness expert for Reebok and the author of the book Strength Training for Fat Loss. Nick lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida were he trains a select group of individuals and teaches mentorships. You can check out his DVDs, books, seminar schedule and very popular fitness blog at PerformanceU.net.