Does strength training build muscle? This is a very common question for those who would like to focus on gaining strength while increasing muscle mass. There are many different viewpoints on this topic, which makes it confusing for some.
Within this article, I will be sharing the facts to help ease your confusion. Let’s get to it!
Can It Build Muscle At All?
When we think of strength training (the goal of increasing the force that our muscle fibres can produce), it is typically thought of as being done in the 1 to 5 rep range. This at least for our foundational exercises. The 1 to 5 rep range is where most of the strength specific benefits tend to come from, assuming we are challenging ourselves adequately.
When we look at what actually builds muscle, it is the response our body has to stimulating reps. Typically, the last 5 reps that take a muscle to failure are considered stimulating reps. So in a 10 rep set to failure, reps 6 to 10 would be considered stimulating reps.
If the upper end of our strength training reps is 5, then we are likely not maximizing the potential we have to create a stimulus for growth.
This is because, if we took a heavy set of 3 to failure, we would still be missing out on 2 possible stimulating reps.
For this reason, rep guidelines for “effective sets” for the goal of muscle growth are typically between 5 and 30 reps. That way, if someone performed a set on the lower end of this (5 reps) and took that set to failure, they would still achieve all 5 stimulating reps.
So yes, a set of 1 to 5 can build muscle. However, it will do so at a much more inefficient rate than sets of 5 to 30 would.
What if We Matched The Number of Effective Reps?
Let’s say you did 3 sets of 8 and took them to failure. This would involve a total of 15 stimulating reps.
Well, what if you took 5 sets of 3 reps to failure. This would also result in 15 stimulating reps, despite being under the suggested 5 reps.
The problem with this is we are performing 2 extra sets at a much higher intensity (intensity being the weight you are using). This will put much more fatigue on your body. It would cause more muscular fatigue, more CNS stress, and it would be harder on your joints.
This would result in fewer muscle fibres being activated in subsequent sets for that muscle group within that workout, and fewer muscle fibres activated in sets for that muscle group later in the week. This is assuming we are keeping workout frequency the same to compare apples to apples.
So no, matching the total number of stimulating reps for sets done under 5 reps and sets done above 5 reps would not produce the same results. It would be less effective in the short term (subsequent sets) and less effective in the long term (subsequent workouts within that week and your overall results for the month and or training cycle).
What’s The Point?
The point of all this is to say that muscle CAN be grown using traditional strength training sets done between 1 and 5 reps. However, it would be very inefficient for the goal of muscle growth.
That is why heavy, 1 to 5 rep sets are preached as great for developing and gaining strength but are not preached for hypertrophy (muscle growth).
Even if you wanted to perform 15 single rep sets compared to 3 sets of 5, it would take a whole heck of a lot longer to complete those 15 singles. Who would want to spend (by spend I mean waste) extra time on something that wouldn’t even be as effective?
I know I wouldn’t.
Bottom line, you’re best off sticking to the 1 to 5 rep range for developing the goal of strength. It is highly inefficient for the goal of hypertrophy. If you want to grow muscle, your sets should likely be between 5 and 30 reps, done with 4 or less reps in reserve.
Thanks for reading everybody, I hope this information has been of benefit to you and has answered your question! If you have any questions or comments, please do leave them below where I will be sure to respond! Take care!
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Until Next Time,
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