Going in to the gym with a game plan can make all the difference. Planning out your workouts ahead of time can keep you focused and motivated on even your sleepiest days. You go into the gym knowing what you have to do and when it’s time to go home. But there are a variety of avenues you can take when it comes to building muscle. Fitness success stories are born through an array of different methods, but it all comes down to what your body responds to the best. There is research to support workouts with both high repetition-light weight and low repetition-heavy weight. Today we’re taking a closer look at these strategies and how they impact muscle growth.
These exercises fall under two categories: neural and metabolic conditioning, according to BodyBuilding.com.
The neural spectrum is more strength focused: lower reps, heavier weight, and longer rest time between sets. These workouts get you closer to maximum effort and push for muscle failure at the end of each set. This kind of training demands more of your central nervous system than your muscles. Low rep, heavy weight exercises also emphasize correct form by isolating the right muscles and turning off the wrong ones. Powerlifters and olympic weightlifters are all about neural training, but the strategy can be implemented in any workout regimen if that’s what you thrive off of.
The metabolic spectrum is all about muscle size. Higher rep, lower weight exercises cause the most muscle hypertrophy or growth. The lifter slows down the workouts and increases the total amount of time the muscles are under stress. This sheer burnout stimulates muscles to breakdown and rebuild bigger over time. Strength gets put on the backburner while aesthetics take over. Metabolic conditioning fuels the muscle fibers and the central nervous system becomes secondary, leaving the lifter with a more defined appearance.
A combination of both workout strategies can have its benefits as well. Metabolic conditioning is more manageable for your body and doesn’t involve as much intensity so your muscles are more able to adapt overtime. This gradual adaptation can slow your progress because your body gets used to the routine. Throwing in a heavy lifting day can cause a shock to your system and get your muscles out of the usual rut.
We only have so many hours in the day and with so many other life responsibilities, our gym time can get cut short. So the time you actually have to workout can become a factor in the kind of exercises you end up doing. Higher rep takes longer because there’s more total movements, but low rep can also eat up the clock with longer rest times. But there is a solution for a quick, but efficient workout for the busy bodies out there. Drop sets are your best friend. A drop set means you start the set at a higher weight and gradually drop down as you reach failure. For example, say you’re doing dumbbell bicep curls. Your first round, you do 5-10 reps of 15 pounds in each hand. Second round: 12-15 reps with 10 pounds. Third round: 18-20 rounds with 5 pounds. This method can strain the muscle past the point of failure in a shorter amount of time.
Just like you can meal-prep to reach your fitness goals, workout prepping can’t hurt. Plan out your movements, find a rep range, throw in some variations and find your body’s potential. A workout routine that fits in your schedule, but also challenges you past your comfort zone will bring some big changes your way.
Take it from me
In the beginning, the gym was a very foreign place for me. I didn’t know how to use the machines or how to stay focused when all I wanted to do was go home. Planning out my workouts ahead of time gave me the structure I needed to be productive with my gym time and not miss a muscle group. Figuring out my rep/set range was all about experimentation. I realized that even though it felt empowering to lift a heavy dumbbell, I felt more sore when I went a little lighter. I also wanted to enjoy the gym and not overwhelm myself with intensity. Higher rep, light weight exercises allowed me to take my time and only push to failure when I was ready.
I also LOVE drop sets. I usually implement them at least once every time I’m in the gym. For example, I’ll usually aim for 6-8 total movements, 4 sets each, with that fourth set of each being a drop set. But because going heavy can have it’s benefits, I’ll throw in a heavy leg day a couple times per week and challenge my strength.