As you’ve already noticed, heavy lifting is the foundation of muscle growth and strength training. If that’s true, then increasing the amount of weight you lift should be a prerogative in your training. Most bodybuilders, however, tend to go for increasing reps instead. Is that the best strategy for maximum muscle gains? Read this article to find out!
The Key to Progress
In order to get bigger and stronger, you will need to continually force your muscles to adapt to a tension that is beyond what they have previously experienced, and this basic bodybuilding principle is called progressive overload. If you fail to demand more from your muscles on almost every training session, your muscles won’t have any reason to grow. Therefore, if you want to keep growing and avoid plateaus, you will have to continuously increase the demands that you put on your muscles, which is typically done either by increasing the number of reps or adding more weight.
If your goal is maximum muscle size, doing singles is highly unlikely to prove as the best strategy. Your 1RM is a good indicator of strength, but that doesn’t mean it’s also a good way to build it, nor to keep adding lean mass to your frame. That’s why bodybuilders focus on achieving hypertrophy with 3-5 sets, using moderate resistance (50-75% of 1RM) and reps in the 8-12 range.
But how do you decide that it’s time to increase the weight? Let us give you a quick tried-and-true tip from decades and decades of accumulated bodybuilding wisdom.
The “2-For-2” Rule
Most people expect they should be either given a simple recipe for increasing the amount of weight they lift – something in the lines of “every six months” – or told to just increase the weight whenever they feel like it. Although common sense might lead to you think that you should be increasing your weights as fast and as often as possible, that is actually a terrible approach to resistance training. If you go on about mindlessly increasing the weight, you are almost guaranteed to ruin your form, fail to properly engage your target muscles and ultimately invite injury. Moreover, given that each body responds differently to the same training stimuli, there cannot be a one-size-fits-all solution.
Fortunately, Graves and Baechle created this practical formula that anyone can use to determine when it’s the right time to increase the amount of resistance: when you can successfully complete two or more reps in the last set in two consecutive workouts with a given weight, it’s time to increase the load.
So for example, you can lift 175 pounds on the bench press for a set of 8 reps. Eventually you will reach a point where you can complete 10 or 11 clean reps with the same weight. If you can do that for two consecutive workouts, increase the weight by 5-10% on the next session. When it comes to upper body training, adding 5% will work best. Your reps will naturally drop and you’ll go over the same process again, working your way up to 10 good reps, and then increasing the weight again.
But since the lower body muscles are stronger in most people, it’s recommendable to increase the weight by 10% on lower body exercises. Once you can get 10 reps on two consecutive workouts, feel free to load up the plates. Just remember that those 10 reps need to be clean – forced reps with lousy form don’t count here.
On the contrary, if you’re supposed to be doing 3 sets of 8 reps on an exercise and instead you’re getting reps of 8, 7, 5, it’s obvious that the weight is still a bit heavy for you and you’re not ready to increase.
Keep Your Expectations Reasonable
Keep in mind that the most important factor in your workout routine isn’t the exercise list, schedule of training or even the volume you’ve set up – instead, that title goes to progressive overload, which is pretty much the essence of weight training.
With that in mind, don’t expect to achieve the same or similar rate of progress with every body part and every exercise. Be prepared for varied results. Regardless of its effectiveness, this approach won’t always lead to smooth progress. For example, you’ll be able to increase the weight on compound exercise more frequently than on isolation exercises, while your genetic make-up, training experience and form and technique will determine the speed of progress for different muscle groups.
Keep in mind that as you keep gaining strength and experience, you will inevitably encounter training plateaus and ruts – but they won’t last too long because you’ll be better equipped to overcome them. Just keep your focus on training regularly and giving your maximum on each session and you should do great. Good luck!