The gym is just the gym.
Does it even matter how many sets/ reps I do?
Short answer. YES.
It has almost everything to do with “mattering”.
Long answer. Still Yes. It outlines the total number of contractions the muscle fibres undergo and creates the ability to control and measure time under tension / total training volume. Which is imperative for anyone that cares about their body and its ability to function above a mediocre level.
The volume (sets and reps) you complete as part of your training is one of the most fundamental components of training (accompanied with how much force you produce and the technique you do it with, of course).
Your training volume is directly correlated with the your results and outcome based on the fact that it determines your caloric expenditure and muscle protein synthesis (MPS). The 2 key ingredients for lean muscle growth and fat reduction. Even if your goals are performance based and not aesthetic, these two components are not the worst thing to happen to your body.
Simple math 1: utilise more of your body more often and your body will need to work harder to repair and grow. The currency your body uses is called ‘energy’ and we measure them in KJ or Calories.
Simple math 2: the more work you make your muscles do, the more likely they are to adapt (MPS). If you made a man dig a full sized swimming pool on his own using just a shovel, I can guarantee that if you asked him to do it again, he would bring a few friends or hire an excavator. Your muscles also work in this way. Sometimes your muscles get stronger (excavator) or something they will get bigger (friends).
Your muscles aren’t too fussed on what exercise stimulates them, or how you stimulate them, they only ‘care’ about how much force they need to produce and for how long. They will adapt accordingly.
If your muscles had a twitter account, their posts would go something like this.
“Hey Guys, just Latissimus Dorsi here, thought I’d reach out to all my fans to let them know that me and Brando had a great session today. We accumulated about 100,000 Newtons of force as a team and for that I am going to thank him by growing a little bit bigger, maybe even produce more fibres and then I’ll recruit a few more motor units next time we train together, because I feel like he is going to progressively overload me again”. THE END.
(Because he is a muscle and he doesn’t have time to be tweeting for too long). You know the drill.
(Note: Newtons are the measure of force production needed to overcome a given mass on earth due to gravity) this is what really matters, not how many KGs your dumbbell or barbell says.
So, the fun part of how to train based on your goals
1. Training for muscle growth
In order to produce muscle growth, there must be a stimulus which promotes the need for adaptation. Why change if you don’t need to, right? Your muscle’s have the same principles.
In this case, the stimulus will be over-loading the muscle with force production (training volume: reps and sets)
If you make a muscle do more work than it is used to, it will lose its shit and start signalling the body to send more recruits in order to help in in case you try and make it do something stupid like that again. Little does it know, this is actually your plan and you’re going to make it do that overloading thing, time and time again until the muscles are as big and as strong as you want them to be.
Now there is one specific thing that a lot of people “fuck up” on, and that is thinking that their muscles will adapt just because they are in the gym and they are doing some form of weights.
WRONG. Your muscles aren’t that ignorant and will only adapt from real stimulus (force production).
Just in the same way they know when you’re cheating reps and going too fast. They like the long slow boring stuff that you hate, because it’s hard.
Now we have the idea behind the slow tempo to ensure your muscles are actually producing force, fighting gravity and overcoming Newtons, let’s get the reps and sets sorted.
In order for you muscles to grow, they like to be producing force for around 25-45 seconds each set for around 4-6 sets (or more if you’re a sick puppy that enjoys the suffering of DOMS)
This usually looks like 6-12 reps at around 5-10 seconds per rep, controlling both the concentric and eccentric movements.
You can play around with these numbers and have slightly different results, but on the whole this is a good area for muscle building.
Sets and reps sorted? yep. Now let’s talk about food.
Your nutrition plays a big part in the way your body looks and works, funnily enough.
If you’re trying to build lean muscle mass, you have to ensure that your muscles are getting fed before they will repay you in the form of MPS
The best studies are showing that there is a window in which you need to fuel your body with carbohydrates and protein in order to yield the best results of growth and repair. The carbohydrates will act as a catalyst in bringing the proteins/ amino acids across the membrane. (quite nerdy I know, but just bear with me).
Now, the window isn’t as small as some people make it out to be. You don’t need to be sipping your (True) protein shake and eating a banana as you walk out the gym door, but there is definitely a correlation between time, amount of foods and MPS.
Key take aways:
1. Train slow and long. Control the movement and make it as hard as possible, to create a stimulus, so the muscle actually has to adapt.
2. Aim for 4-6 sets of a particular movement / exercise with around 30-60 seconds of tension being produced eat set.
3. The more you train a particular muscle group / movement each week, the more it will grow.
4. Eat food after you train, and lots of it. Carbs and protein are both as essential as each other for muscle growth.
2. Training for fat loss
You’re in luck. You just read it.
The best way to lose fat is to do exactly what I just wrote + combine it with a sensible approach to nutrition.
The best way to lose fat is through promoting lean muscle mass and ultimately increasing your need to expend energy (metabolic rate).
Just because you’re a crossfitter / gymnast doesn’t mean this information doesn’t apply to you. Muscle building and mass is still an essential part of being an athlete (unless you’re a jockey or diver or something)
Muscle mass (cross sectional area) is directly correlated with strength (along with other strength components which I’ll talk about in a new blog).
So having that mass and strength behind you is important for improving your ability to then hit better cleans, snatches and muscle ups. Don’t neglect the slow muscle building stuff.