Weight Lifting, Weight Training, Bench Press & Bodybuilding
June 24, 2019

The Magic Number for Building Muscle
By Jason Ferruggia

The Magic Number for Building Muscle

When looking at most popular muscle building workouts you need to understand that most forms of training have just been passed down for decades from one generation to the next, without the inclusion of rational thought. Sometime in the 60ís sensible muscle building programs started becoming less and less prevalent with the rapidly growing usage of anabolic steroids.

In days gone by, men like Steve Reeves and Paul Anderson trained with far more sensible, lower volume muscle building programs, but these started to disappear during the 60ís. By the time Arnold got to Goldís Gym in Venice for the first time, high volume, bodypart splits were the widely accepted way for everyone who wanted to build muscle and gain strength to train.

This type of training is not based on rational thinking but just on the fact that ďitís what everyone else is doing.Ē The proponents of these training methods will always blindly tell you that ďhigher volume training is needed to build muscle.Ē Says who? I can tell you for a fact that the University of Chicago isnít wasting time examining the effects of Jay Cutlers workouts. There are no studies saying that you need 8-12 sets per bodypart to build muscle. However, there are, in fact, studies that show the exact opposite; that one set is just as effective as three when it comes to building muscle.

The proponents of this type of training will also tell you that higher volume training is associated with higher levels of growth hormone secretion. What they donít tell you is that almost anything you do elevates GH. Extreme temperatures elevate GH but my biceps donít get bigger every time I take a shower. The increased GH secretion is not enough to make the slightest difference whatsoever in the muscle building process.

For the drug free lifter who does not possess muscle building genetics quite up to par with the Austrian Oak, training this way is a huge mistake. Not only does it drain your amino acid pool and glycogen stores but it dramatically increases your recovery time between workouts. If you do 8-12 sets for chest on Monday you can not recover from that workout and be able to train again for seven days. So you are only getting one growth stimulus per week or fifty two per year. Now if you reduce your volume to the point where you can recover faster and more efficiently without draining your amino acid pool and glycogen stores so greatly, you can train bodyparts twice per week instead of once. Now instead of 52 growth stimulating workouts per year for each bodypart, you can now do 104.

The Magic Number for Building Muscle

To train more often you absolutely have to lower your training volume. The total sets per workout should be kept low and the total sets per exercise should be even lower. Contrary to what a lot of the popular programs out there today prescribe, there is rarely a need to do more than two sets per exercise when you are trying to build muscle. If you canít get the job done with two sets you probably arenít training hard enough. In theory you should be able to get the job done with just one set but I like to use two just to be safe and make sure all bases are covered. The second set is basically an insurance set.

The are only a few times you should do more than two sets per exercise. If you are a raw beginner who needs more sets just to practice and perfect your form then you should probably do more than two sets. If you are doing speed exercises such as cleans or box jumps you should also do a few more sets. Finally, if you are varying the reps and weights, you can do more than two sets. For example if you are doing two sets of three with 315, a set of five with 295 and a set of eight with 275, you can get away with more than two sets. But other than that, you should never do more than two sets of any exercise with the same weight for the same reps.

There are a few different approaches you can take to doing your two sets. The first approach is to go balls out on your first set and then drop the weight a little bit on your second set and use it as a sort of backoff set. Theoretically this will allow you to give your most effort when you are freshest on your first set. The second approach is to hold a little something back on your first set and instead use it as a hard, working warm up set. Then you go balls to the wall on the second set. It has been suggested that a heavy, but not all out set, before your money set can serve as a neural primer and arouse your nervous system thus making the second set even more effective. The third option is to not take neither set to the limit but instead just do two very hard sets to clean failure. Each option works very well but you will have to experiment to see which is best for you. The most demanding method would be to do two all out death sets to failure. This can work but may be a bit hard for most people to recover from.

Whatever option you choose will be far better than the normal, mindless nonsense of doing 4-6 sets per exercise and you will get far better results. Better muscle gains with far less work? Sounds like an unbeatable plan to me.


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