You Always Train in the Same Rep Range
The claim that muscle growth is maximized in a moderate rep range (6-12 reps per set) continues to be a source of debate in the fitness field. Although this theory is backed by some research, evidence on the topic remains far from conclusive. But for arguments sake let’s say that moderate reps are in fact best for gaining size. Does that mean that you should train exclusively in this narrow rep range? The answer is an unqualified, “No!”
Training in a lower rep range (1-5 per set) maximizes strength increases, thereby facilitating your ability to use heavier weights during moderate rep training. In this way, you create greater tension in the muscles, spurring better growth. High reps (15-20 per set), on the other hand, help to increase your lactate threshold.
By delaying the buildup of lactic acid, you stave off fatigue when training in the “hypertrophy range,” (the muscle building range) thus increasing time under tension—another important aspect of the growth process. Bottom line is that optimum muscle development is best achieved by using the full spectrum of rep ranges.
Your fix: Periodize your program so that it is built around a moderate repetition protocol, but you make sure to include training in both the lower and higher rep ranges.
Although a number of different periodization models work, I recommend a modified linear approach beginning with a strength phase (lower reps), followed by a fairly short metabolic phase (high reps) and then culminating with a hypertrophy phase (the typical 6 to 12 range).
Depending on your goals and body, this might mean sticking with a particular rep range for a longer period of time. (Such as not changing every 4 weeks.) When properly implemented, this produces a “supercompensation effect” so that you maximize muscular gains and see a peak at the end of the training cycle.
With time, you might then want to shift to a non-linear approach, where you shift rep ranges more frequently to hit all phases.
You Use the Same Exercises Every Day
Most people have a limited number of favorite exercises that are staples in their routine. That’s human nature. While it’s okay to have your old stand-bys, they shouldn’t be performed at the exclusion of other movements.
Changing up your exercise selection has a couple of important benefits from a mass-building standpoint. For one, it helps to prevent the so-called “repeated-bout effect” whereby muscles become accustomed to the continual use of the same movements, making them increasingly resistant to trauma.
Staving off such accommodation allows for greater structural perturbations to muscle fibers. That might sound like a bunch of confusing science to some of you, but what it all means is that changing exercises can facilitate increased growth.
What’s more, muscle fibers don’t necessarily span the entire length of a fiber and are often innervated by different nerve branches. Thus, exercise variety alters recruitment patterns in the musculature, ensuring optimal stimulation of all fibers.
Think of it this way: Some people like blonds, other prefers brunettes, and you have those that love redheads. Your muscles are greedy, so to keep them happy you must give them what they want: variety.
That’s why exercise variety provides your muscles with the variety it literally needs for optimal growth. Even slight variations in the exercises you employ will work the muscles somewhat differently, enhancing results.
Your fix: Employ a diverse selection of exercises over the course of your training cycle. This can be accomplished by switching around modalities, training angles, planes of movement, and even your hand and foot spacing. (For instance, on dumbbell curls, think about holding the handle with your pinky against one end of the bell, and on the next set perform with your thumb against the bell.
That slight shift will work your biceps in different ways.) The possibilities are almost endless if you think outside the box. There is no hard rule as to how frequently exercises should be changed, but a general guideline is to do so at least on a monthly basis.
You Over- or Under-Isolate Your Muscles
When it comes to exercise selection, there are two basic camps. On one end of the spectrum are those who preach that the only way to get big is by performing the “big lifts” such as squats, presses, and rows. On the other end of the spectrum are those who claim that key to muscle-building is “isolating” muscles with flys, curls, extensions, and the like. Who’s right?
Realize that this isn’t an either-or debate; the two types of movements are in fact complementary. Multi-joint exercises involve large amounts of muscle and therefore are highly efficient for packing on mass.
Alternatively, single-joint exercises allow for greater targeting of individual muscles (or even portions of muscles), enhancing overall growth and symmetry. Integrating a mix of both types of movements into your routine can have a synergistic effect that improves both muscle size and symmetry.
Your fix: Structure your routine so that it is comprised of a combination of multi- and single-joint exercises. As a general rule, every workout should contain at least one or two “big lifts” and a single-joint move.
Oh, and realize that for all practical purposes you can’t “isolate” muscles. The body is designed so that multiple muscles will always be active during exercise performance. Thus, you can only target a given muscle so that it is more active in a given movement.