As you lead into different phases of your training you will notice a difference in rep ranges over different training blocks.
At each training phase (4-6 weeks) within a wider training block (12 weeks) you may notice a number of different things. Reps and sets will change, exercise selection and exercise variations will appear, tempos, pauses, rest periods can all differ.
Every time we train we have the ability to impact a desired outcome. Strength training produces changes and adaptations in the body and we can start to get specific with each passing phase leading to the bigger picture.
Strength training is a game of patience.
It is important to note that one particular phase is a piece of the larger puzzle and at each phase we are pushing closer to the desired goal.
A quick little simplified touch up on muscle growth:
After you train, your body has the ability to repair and replace muscle fibres that have been “worked” or damaged during your session. Muscle growth occurs through a cellular process where muscle fibres fuse together to form new muscle fibres. These fibres can increase in thickness and overall number. In order for this process to occur there must be a resistance (large enough to produce muscular damage) placed upon the muscle in order to produce the adaptation. Alongside this, rest must then occur in order to allow the recovery process to take place.
With this process of resistance and repair, underpinning continual progression of muscle growth is the continual progression of load (weight lifted). This resistance applied to the muscle must be continual and progressive in order to influence the desired process.
muscle we are talking about above is what we call skeletal muscle. With
our bodies having 650 skeletal muscles, we can influence a number of
different changes based on the stimulus applied.
You may have heard the phrase “movement patterns” before. Alongside the simplified process above, it is also important to look at motor neurons and formation of movement patterns. As above, in order to continually grow muscle repetition and progressive overload is important.
Motor neurons are nerve cells that originate in the central nervous system and send signals to produce movements or muscular contractions. Motor neurons are responsible for functions essential to life such as breathing. They are also responsible for functions that we can influence like strength training. Strength training develops motor neuron pathways through repeated efforts that can enhance any lifters coordination and ability to use brain & body together.
The adaptations that can occur can result in the lifter’s ability to contract muscles in order to produce a desired movement. By practicing a movement over and over again, a lifter can learn to fire the correct muscles to get a desired outcome (heavier & efficient lifts!). With focus, patience and repeat effort, over time the lifters movement patterns can be formed and cemented as almost automatic. When she is unracking an empty bar, the steps & sequence remains the same as if she is lifting her max. Cementing movement patterns is an extremely important component of lifting and should never be rushed or brushed aside. The better a lifters ability to recruit and contract muscle groups involved, the better her lifting will be!
When our lovely coaches give us new variations, or new exercises to train, our brain must send signals to the correct muscle fibres to contract in order to withstand the resistance applied.
Week 1 on new phase: “WTF is this shit. It feels so weird, do I even lift?!”
Week 2 on new phase: “mmmmk still feels weird but better than last week”
Week 3-4 on new phase: “ok ok I got it, you go Glen coco”
So when we lift we can think about it as two sides, damage of muscle fibres and firing of motor neurons. We are attempting to impact both in a positive direction.
Let’s break into the various rep ranges that we utilise as a tool to help influence the goals our ladies have.
1. Training for muscle growth:
If you are after muscle growth, hitting a variety of rep ranges can provide the desired stimulus for our muscles to go through the damage and repair process. The volume (total amount of weight lifted) from session to session, week to week must be enough to stimulate enough growth. Most of us can’t (and don’t want to) spend hours and hours on end training in order to get in a whole heap of volume.
Traditionally you may hear something along the lines of: high reps light weight for muscle building, low reps high weight for strength.
Although this is not wrong, we can break it down a bit further to give a more complete approach.
If you were to only perform 4 sets of 2 reps from week to week while looking to progressively overload, this may lead to maximum strength gains in that desired lift. Over 2 weeks that is 16 reps repeated for one particular exercise. For total volume over two weeks with muscle growth as your goal during this phase, another way to stimulate growth with more volume could involve 4 sets of 8 reps for one lift. 16 reps vs 64 reps with an appropriate load relevant to the person may be a more suitable selection in order to produce the desired adaptation.
Keeping in mind that in order to increase muscle we must apply enough of a stimulus over a period of time in order to continually produce muscular damage, simply performing a movement for 4 sets of 8 reps with a weight that offers no challenge at all will also not be enough of a resistance.
For muscle growth we find that our ladies respond and enjoy a mixture of rep ranges and load selection.
Rep ranges: 8-12x we will have our ladies starting anywhere from 40-60% of their current max weight.
If they haven’t tested any singles our focus is zoned in on movement pattern formation while progressively overloading without comprising technique.
The more experienced the lifter, the larger her movement pattern base and the more refined her technique and lifting sequence.
Like any training goal, whether it be muscular growth, strength gains or both, it is what happens over an extended period of time that is important. Session to session, week to week, month to month and so on. We don’t “smash it” in one particular session. We ensure that our ladies can lift sufficient weight over a longer period of time and sustain this process.
2. Training for maximum strength:
Lifting a load at 80-90% of your 1RM for 8 reps is going to be either a shit storm or not happen at all. Rep ranges below 5 generally allow us to increase our weight on the bar.
Our goal might be to get as strong as possible in squat bench deadlift, but to hit 85% for 3 sets of 3 reps from week to week is eventually going to end somewhere. Fatigue, technical breakdowns, mentally checking out of training. Training for maximum strength is a skill set that many believe happens automatically if they lift weights regularly. This is not the case. Maximum strength is produced as a result of repetition and skill set.
If technique is not optimal, applying a heavier load will highlight all the breakdowns and result in a failed lift and bruised confidence.
Particularly in strength building, structuring a training block that works up to the desired goal is required. Working through different phases that bring you to the bigger picture, finishing up with heavier loads will put you in a better position to nail those PB lifts.
Our ladies will work down to rep ranges between 1-5 towards the end of a training block. Time and patience.
3. Muscular endurance:
Not everyone wants to get stronger (although we all do hence why we are all together!). The classic example of needing to build more muscular endurance is that of a marathon runner who wants to run long distances. In the gym this translates to reps of 15 or more with lighter loads. Training in this rep range enhances the muscle’s endurance without necessarily increasing the size of the muscle. Low intensity training (lighter loads for higher reps) is considered aerobic exercise. People who train heavily in this way can do a whole heap of reps for long periods without fatiguing. Compare this to a powerlifter who you might see going into fatigue after reps of 8. These are two different training modalities. Neither is right or wrong. Both are context and goal dependent for that individual.
You won’t see us training heavily in these rep ranges as it is not specific to most of the goals y’all have!
Remember rep ranges are context dependent. Utilising various rep ranges at various times over an overall training block is something you will see on a regular basis. You may see a 4 week phase with a focus on hypertrophy work with 10-12 rep ranges dominating the scene. You may run two phases of a similar nature then lead into a strength building phase of 6-8 reps. This may be priming you, ready to hit some heavier loads with 3-5 reps in subsequent weeks.
The real question now: what is your favourite rep range?!
Stay tuned for next week’s newsletter!
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