Resistance Training to Increase Muscle Size and Strength

How Much Resistance Should (Most) People Use? (30-80% Range) & Specific Goal

Recent research from experts like Professor Andy Galpin has shed light on the most effective way to train for muscle growth and strength. According to this research, the most beneficial range for muscle hypertrophy and strength is 30-80% of an individual’s one repetition maximum (the maximum amount of weight they can lift in one repetition with good form and full range of motion).

Within this range, the specific weight used does not seem to matter much for hypertrophy, except at the extreme ends.

Lifting weights at the higher end of the range, around 75-80% or above 85-90%, will lead to a greater emphasis on strength gains.

On the other hand, using weights at the lower end of the range, around 30-50%, with higher repetitions, will lead to an emphasis on hypertrophy and muscle endurance.

It is important to note that in order to see the maximum benefits of resistance training, sets should be performed to failure or near failure.

There are various theories about how to gauge how close one is to failure, but the connection between nerves and muscles plays a crucial role in determining the effectiveness of the exercise.

How Many Sets Per Week To Maintain Or To Grow Muscle & Get Stronger

For individuals who are new to resistance training, or have been doing it for less than two years (though for some it may be less than one year), the key to making progress is performing enough sets per muscle group per week.

According to research, the range of sets needed to improve strength for both untrained and trained individuals is between 2-20 sets per week.

It is important to note that these sets do not necessarily have to be performed in the same weight training session. For untrained individuals, the minimum number of sets needed to maintain muscle size and strength is around 5 sets per week, performed at a weight of 30-80% of the individual’s one repetition maximum, and taken close to or to failure.

The number of sets needed can vary based on the intensity of the work being performed, with the range for untrained individuals being between 5-15 sets per week, and in some cases, up to 20 sets per week for trained individuals.

It is important to perform these sets in order to maintain muscle size and strength, improve metabolism and posture, and maintain nerve-to-muscle connectivity.

10% Of Resistance Training Should Be To “Failure”, the Rest Should End “Near” Failure

While it is still a topic of debate, most experts agree that around 10% of resistance training sets or workouts should be performed to failure, while the rest should be taken “near” failure.

This is because working to failure, or the point at which an individual is unable to perform another repetition in good form, can fatigue the nervous system and deplete the nerve-to-muscle connection.

It is recommended to perform 5-15 sets of resistance exercise per week per muscle group, at a weight of 30-80% of the individual’s one repetition maximum.

This has been shown to be the most scientifically supported method for maintaining muscle strength in the 5 set range, and increasing muscle strength in the 10-15 set range.

Number of Sets: Inversely Related To the Ability to Generate High Force Contractions

The number of sets needed for effective resistance training is inversely related to an individual’s ability to generate high force contractions. In other words, if an individual is able to generate high intensity muscular contractions using their upper motor neuron to lower motor neuron pathways to muscle, they will need fewer sets to stimulate muscle growth and strength.

On the other hand, if an individual has muscles that are challenging to contract, it will take more sets to achieve the desired effect in those muscles.

This is because the more efficiently an individual is able to recruit motor units and high threshold motor units (which are harder to activate), the more they will stimulate the muscle growth and strength cascades within the muscle.

To test their ability to generate high force contractions, an individual can try marching and mentally controlling the contraction of their muscles in a very deliberate way.

If they are able to generate hard contractions without any resistance, they will likely need fewer sets to stimulate muscle growth and strength.

When it comes to the length of weight training sessions, research suggests that they are most effective when they last between 45-60 minutes. Going beyond this time frame can lead to an increase in cortisol and other inflammatory pathways in the body, which can be detrimental to muscle growth and strength.

The number of sets needed for an effective workout will depend on the individual and their muscles.

For those using weights around 50% of their one repetition maximum, doing 3-5 sets per week may be sufficient to maintain muscle.

It is also important to consider Henneman’s size principle and the recruitment of motor units, as individuals who are skilled at contracting particular muscles and isolating them may need fewer sets to achieve the desired effect.

It is generally recommended to perform 5-15 sets per week, whether in one workout or spread out across multiple sessions. However, it is worth noting that this guidance is primarily for individuals who are untrained or have been training for a short period of time.

The needs of individuals who have been training for a longer period of time may differ. 

Training Duration & Volume

Huberman highlights the importance of finding the right balance of volume for individual muscles.

According to data, a volume of anywhere between five and 15 sets per week can be beneficial for most people.

However, some individuals may be able to generate enough force in fewer sets, making a higher volume counterproductive.

Huberman emphasizes the need to consider one’s own willingness to commit to resistance exercise and the specific muscles being trained.

He also notes the importance of allowing muscles to recover between sessions, a topic that he will address later in his discussion on recovery.

Range of Motion & Speed of Movement; The Key Role of (Upper Motor) Neurons

Huberman emphasizes the importance of full range of motion and speed of movement in generating explosiveness and speed.

He explains that changes in upper motor neurons play a key role in this process, as they communicate with lower motor neurons to create efficient neural pathways for triggering muscle action potentials.

For those looking to increase explosiveness and speed, Huberman advises learning to generate force with increasing speed using moderate to heavy loads in a controlled way, without going to failure.

On the other hand, for those looking to increase strength, it is important to slow down the weight as the set gets harder in order to recruit high threshold motor units.

Huberman also notes that for the purpose of hypertrophy, the speed of movement may not be as important as long as the effort is isolated to the targeted muscle and not distributed to other muscles.

However, for rehab and injury prevention, it is important to focus on proper form and controlled movement rather than speed.

Customizing Training; 1-6 Month Experiments; Key Elements Summarized

Huberman emphasizes the importance of customizing training to meet individual needs and goals.

He recommends periodizing training for a period of one to six months, and making adjustments as needed.

Huberman notes that the nervous system, specifically the neuromuscular system, undergoes significant changes at the beginning of training, but these changes tend to slow over time.

He discusses several key training principles, including the importance of sufficient volume (at least five sets to maintain and 10 sets per muscle group to improve), moving weights quickly for explosiveness, isolating and contracting muscles hard for hypertrophy and strength, and the inverse relationship between the ability to contract a muscle hard and the number of sets needed to stimulate it.

Focal Contractions Between Sets To Enhance Hypertrophy, Not Performance

Huberman discusses a technique called in-between set contractions, also known as flexing muscles in-between sets, as a way to enhance hypertrophy.

Research suggests that these contractions, lasting about 30 seconds, do not improve performance on work sets, but rather improve local muscle metabolism and stress, tension, and damage on the nerve to muscle connection, leading to hypertrophy.

Huberman notes that this technique is often accompanied by gym-goers taking selfies after their sets.

While Huberman does not have a problem with this behavior, he does observe that athletes who are able to control their phone usage in and out of the gym tend to get the most out of their training and other aspects of their lives.

The Optimal Resistance Training Protocol To Optimize Testosterone Release

Huberman discusses the optimal resistance training protocol for increasing testosterone release.

Previous research has shown that explosive movements or hypertrophy-based training lasting 60 minutes or less can increase serum testosterone levels.

However, if a training session extends beyond 75 minutes and is of high intensity, testosterone levels may decrease and cortisol levels may increase, which can be detrimental to recovery.

On the other hand, a specific protocol involving six sets of 10 repetitions with compound movements like squats or deadlifts, and two minutes of rest in between sets, has been shown to significantly increase testosterone.

Interestingly, increasing the number of sets to 10 does not lead to further increases in testosterone, and may even lead to reductions in testosterone and a catabolic cortisol response.

This protocol should be done twice a week at most to maintain the testosterone increase.

Huberman also emphasizes the importance of understanding the different ways in which resistance training can be applied, either for systemic effects or for isolating muscles.

Systemic training, which generates a burn and produces lactate, can have beneficial effects on the brain, heart, and liver.

Isolated muscle training, on the other hand, may also produce a burn and lactate, but has a distinct effect on the body.

How Quickly To Complete Repetitions; Interset Rest Times & Activities; Pre-Exhaustion

If you’re looking to increase hypertrophy or strength, the speed of your repetitions doesn’t seem to matter much.

It can range from half a second to eight seconds per repetition. However, if you’re trying to improve explosiveness or build endurance, the speed of your repetitions becomes more important.

It’s also important to note that isolating a particular muscle between sets, also known as the “selfie effect,” can hinder performance during sets.

Instead, it’s more beneficial for hypertrophy and muscle-nerve isolation to remain still or walk around between sets.

Rest times between sets can also impact your gains. For testosterone production, two minutes of rest is optimal. For hypertrophy and strength, anywhere from two to six minutes of rest can be beneficial.

If you’re looking to increase the volume of work you can do at high intensity and capacity, try using Palmer cooling to cool the core of your body through your palms.

This technique, as discussed in a previous episode, can allow you to do more repetitions and work at a given weight over time.

Pre-exhausting muscles can also be effective in targeting and isolating specific muscle groups. For instance, doing leg extensions before squats can allow the squats to target the leg muscles more effectively. However, it’s important to note that pre-exhaustion can also decrease the overall weight you can lift and decrease the effectiveness of compound movements.

What Time Of Day Is Best To Resistance Train?

According to Huberman, it doesn’t really matter whether you train in the morning or in the afternoon. What does seem to matter is finding a time of day that works best for you.

Training at the same time every day can provide a sense of predictability and can help your body be ready to train at its best.

While there is some evidence that training in the afternoon may lead to better performance, the time of day doesn’t seem to have much of an impact on strength and body composition changes.

It’s also important to consider factors like work and sleep when deciding on a training schedule.

Huberman also notes that taking a break from training can allow for increased cognitive focus on activities like writing, reading, or music.

The Way To End Every Training Session. How To Breath Between Sets For Performance

Huberman discusses the importance of engaging the calming or parasympathetic arm of the nervous system at the end of training sessions.

He suggests using respiration tools, such as non-sleep deep rest, SDR, or physiological size breathing, to initiate the recovery process and improve CO2 tolerance in the morning.

Huberman also mentions that some athletes use physiological size breathing between sets to recover their nervous system and maintain focus during their training sessions. This technique involves taking 10 double inhales through the nose followed by long exhales.

Huberman emphasizes the value of using the CO2 tolerance test as a tool to track progress in recovery.

He notes that serious athletes and people interested in physical performance should be mindful of initiating the recovery process at the end of their training sessions and not simply jumping on their phones after finishing their workouts.

Wrapping Up

Recent research has shown that the most effective range for muscle hypertrophy and strength is 30-80% of an individual’s one repetition maximum. 

The specific weight used within this range does not seem to matter much for hypertrophy, except at the extreme ends.

It is important to perform sets to failure or near failure in order to see the maximum benefits of resistance training. 

The number of sets needed for effective resistance training is inversely related to an individual’s ability to generate high force contractions, with those who are able to generate high intensity contractions requiring fewer sets and those who have muscles that are challenging to contract requiring more sets.

It is recommended to perform 5-15 sets of resistance exercise per week per muscle group, with around 10% of those sets taken to failure and the rest taken “near” failure.

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The content above is a summary from the Huberman Lab podcast. I’m not affiliated with him. This is an attempt to convert a podcast into a readable blog post.

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