1. Training for strength
The biggest and strongest men and women – powerlifters, Olympic weightlifters, strongmen – have one single goal: to become stronger. To lift heavy equipment in competition, you have to lift weights in training. And when we talk about weights, we mean a really big weight.
Strength development requires multi-joint movements like bench press , squat and deadlift . They involve several joints at once, for example, in the bench press, the shoulder and elbow joints are involved at the same time. This multi-joint activity generally activates more muscle mass, allowing you to lift a heavier load.
During heavy sets, the work is done mainly by those muscle fibers that we call fast-twitching; they respond better to strength training with increased volume and strength. However, they run out of energy very quickly, and therefore you will not be able to do a lot of reps with heavy weights.
Rest periods between main sets should be long enough so that incomplete recovery doesn’t ruin the next set. Of course, lifting heavy weights involves a preliminary warm-up, during which a series of progressively increasing weights precedes the maximum tonnage. Strength athletes also try to avoid muscle failure , and this technique is adopted mainly by bodybuilders.
2. Training for muscle volume
While those who train for maximum strength do really heavy weights, their methods are not best for maximizing muscle volume ( hypertrophy ). Bodybuilders and gym goers looking to gain muscle take a slightly different approach to determining the weight they should be lifting. The weight you can complete 8-12 reps with has been proven to maximize muscle volume.
But this statement requires some clarification, so let’s start with them.
You must train with the correct technique. You’ve probably seen YouTube videos of guys doing bouncing bench presses because the bar is too heavy and they have to use a little extra momentum to get it moving. This is not considered a good technique. Each exercise contains its own “technical code”. Generally speaking, you should control the projectile and use only those joints that are predetermined to participate in this movement. If your knees or hips are involved in lifting the biceps, you are engaging joints that should not have been used. There is a special term for this – cheating – and it destroys the mantra of correct technique.
Do “full” sets of 8-12 reps. Of course, you can just put a little less weight on the bar and stop at 12 reps, but this will not be a complete set. A full approach ends on the verge of muscle failure – at the moment when you can no longer complete another repetition according to all the rules. If you can do 13 reps, you are using too light weight. By analogy, if you can only do 4-5 reps, the load is too much for maximum muscle growth. The middle ground is a weight that you can complete 8 to 12 reps with without assistance.
Bodybuilders also train fast-twitch muscle fibers, usually starting with compound exercises, divided according to the principle of body parts. This technique requires a large amount of training load (3-4 working approaches for compound exercises performed at different angles) and short rest periods (60 seconds for small muscle groups and 90 seconds for large muscles).
3. Endurance training
Not everyone trains to be very big or very strong. You can train at low intensity by choosing a working weight relative to your 1RM. This approach activates mechanisms in muscle fibers that make the aerobic pathways for energy synthesis more efficient, but does not increase muscle volume. As a result, the muscles can perform many repetitions for extended periods of time without fatigue. An example is the musculature of classic marathon runners, which is designed to work continuously over long distances.
If your goal is muscle endurance, you should choose a light weight that will allow you to complete 15-20 reps or more. Such incentives are not strong enough to increase strength or mass. This is because muscles use slow-twitch muscle fibers, which are designed to work for a long time and do not expand in the same way as fast-twitch muscles.
Relationship between weight and number of repetitions
Once you’ve decided on a goal, it’s easy to figure out how much weight to use in a given exercise. Obviously, there is an inverse relationship between the number of repetitions in the set and the mass of the projectile. With increasing weight, you can complete fewer reps, and with lighter weights, you can complete more reps.
You can use the following table as a starting point. If your maximum bench press is about 100 kg, the number of repetitions you can complete with one weight or another will be something like this:
This strength curve is unique to each athlete and each exercise, and you can schedule a training protocol based on it. Let’s say this is your bench press strength curve. Then, to work on strength, you would have to train with a weight in excess of 85 kg. When working on mass, you would train with a weight of 65 to 75 kg, and to develop endurance, you would have to use a weight outside the lower limit of this graph, less than 65 kg.
Each of us has our own strength schedule for each exercise, and you can familiarize yourself with your schedule during training. The key to success is using a working weight that suits your goals perfectly. If you are used to starting an exercise with a warm-up set, you can always hang the bar on the supports long before muscle failure and tell yourself that this was another warm-up set if you think you are not in the desired rep range. In the next approach, adjust your working weight. By writing down your results in a notebook or smartphone, you will save yourself the guesswork at the next workout.
Fine tuning of the working weight
The hardest part is over, but this does not mean that an experienced lifter cannot fine-tune his working weight. Here are a couple of tips to help you with this.
1. Build warm-up sets in ascending order
Warming up is considered a waste of time by some, but it actually helps you lift even more weight. Your tissues will become more elastic if you follow the trajectory before lifting heavy weights. It should be noted that although bodybuilders train to muscle failure, warm-up sets never come close to this point. Stop any low-weight approach long before muscle failure. A bodybuilder who plans to lift 100 kg in the bench press and complete 8-12 repetitions in each set should adhere to the following pattern during the warm-up: 60, 80 and 90 kg.
2. Heavy weight – at the beginning of the workout
Since energy is only depleted during an intense workout, place the most difficult exercises at the beginning of the workout session when there is a lot of fuel in the tanks. You can even train at the lower end of the hypertrophy zone by choosing a working weight with which you can only do 8 reps. While training the target group, vary the number of repetitions in the set and train with slightly different intensity: do sets with 10 (almost to failure) and 12 reps towards the end. Except for warm-ups, start at the lower rep range and work your way up to 12 reps towards the end of your workout.