These days, the average lifter seems to think that super-heavy training in the 1-3 rep range is useless for building muscle mass. That’s nonsense! While lifting weights that heavy might not do much to DIRECTLY stimulate muscle growth the way higher rep training does, it is invaluable for your development in the long run. Read on to find out why max effort training has a place even in a die-hard bodybuilder’s routine.
Strength and Mass
If you’ve been reading the right stuff on building muscle, you probably already understand that getting stronger and building muscle go hand-in-hand – almost impossible to do one without the other! However, there are still a few misconceptions about how to get stronger and how to use that strength to build muscle.
If your main goal is to build as much mass as possible, you’ve probably been focusing mainly on increasing your strength in the 8-10 rep range, and maybe as low as the 4-6 range as well. Overall, that’s a good plan to follow! However, constantly trying to get stronger in the same rep range or same percentage of your maximal strength can get old, boring, and stale. Your body won’t respond the same to one type of stimulus forever. This is why you might want to consider tossing some max effort training into the mix.
The reason super-heavy training is good for muscle building is that raising your maximal strength tends to raise your strength in EVERY rep range! Take the squat, for example. Let’s say you currently squat 315 for 10 reps, and you want to get to 405 for 10 reps. If you always do sets of 8-12, you’ll get there eventually, but there might be a more efficient way. What if you focused on your one-rep max for a while and brought that up from 405 to 495? If you did that, you’d probably be pretty close to getting that 405 for 10!
So, the idea behind such super-heavy training for building muscle is that by focusing on increasing your max, you also end up increasing what you can lift for higher reps. Once you take a little weight off the bar and bump the reps back up, you’ll be able to lift more and build more muscle! In the long run, this can be faster and more efficient than always training with the “bodybuilding rep range” of 8-10, 12-15, or whatever else is in vogue.
How to Incorporate Heavy Lifting Into Your Routine
There are three main ways to incorporate max effort training into your lifting regimen. The first and simplest is to just lift heavier on your main movements of each training day. If you’ve got a chest day, for example, and you start with the bench press or incline bench press, you just begin your session by working up to a gut-wrenching set of 1-3 reps. From there, you can do more heavy reps at the same weight, drop the weight and do a higher rep set, or just move on to the next exercise.
Another, arguably more effective way to increase your maximal strength is to set aside entire training days for your heaviest lifting. Let’s say you currently have days for chest, back, legs, shoulders, and arms. If you want to focus more on strength for a bit, you might first consolidate that higher-rep training into one day with chest, shoulders, and triceps, one day for back and biceps, and one day for legs. Then, you’ll add in two heavy days, one for upper body and one for lower body. The upper body day might consist of really heavy bench presses, overhead presses, and dips, and the lower body day should have some massive squats and deadlifts. Overall, the idea is to just set aside days for heavier lifting and arrange your training schedule so that you can recover from everything optimally.
Finally, you can have entire phases of your training in which you focus on strength. Personally, I don’t like doing this as much because maintaining or gaining muscle mass tends to require at least some lifting in the ranges of 8-10 reps or higher. Using only super-heavy weights for every exercise also tends to wear on your joints. This kind of training is best for powerlifters and other strength athletes who spend their off season gaining muscle and then focus on strength on specific movements come competition time.