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I've often read and heard that you can only build more muscle-mass (get stronger), if you continuously increase the resistance weights (e.g. here).

But for me, it's the case that I'm often not able to increase the resistance. I have to take the same resistance weight as before (regarding training over several weeks) because this is all I can do.

Is it really correct that my body won't build more muscle-mass because it needs increasing resistance? I mean, this resistance is the limit for me - so why should a constant weight be too little?

This is my current schedule for training:

Monday:

  • 2 exercises x 3 sets x 8-12 reps: back (trapezius etc)
  • 2 exercises x 3 sets x 8-12 reps: biceps (brachii)
  • 2 exercises x 3 sets x 16-20 reps: abs (abdominal)

Wednesday:

  • 2 exercises x 3 sets x 8-12 reps: chest (pectoralis etc)
  • 2 exercises x 3 sets x 8-12 reps: shoulders (deltoid etc)
  • 2 exercises x 3 sets x 8-12 reps: triceps (brachii)

Friday:

  • see Monday

Monday (next week):

  • see Wednesday (start this week with the second part now)

Someone told me to change the plan to the following:

Monday:

  • 2 exercises x 3 sets x 8-12 reps: back (trapezius etc)
  • 1 exercise x 3 sets x 20-30 reps: abs (abdominal)

Wednesday:

  • 2 exercises x 3 sets x 8-12 reps: chest (pectoralis etc)
  • 1 exercise x 3 sets x 20-30 reps: abs (abdominal)

Friday:

  • 2 exercises x 2 sets x 8-12 reps: biceps (brachii)
  • 2 exercises x 2 sets x 8-12 reps: triceps (brachii)
  • 2 exercises x 2 sets x 8-12 reps: shoulders (deltoid etc)
  • 1 exercise x 3 sets x 20-30 reps: abs (abdominal)

Is this a better schedule?

Stretching

I must admit that I've never done stretching as a part of my fitness training. I know this was a mistake. But could this even be the cause for my lack of strength?

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Why is it all you can do? is it lack of strength? or time? or availability of equipment? What specific exercises are you doing? –  Meade Rubenstein Aug 8 '11 at 12:43
    
Actually, it's due to a lack of strength. I'm not able to lift the weights as often as I want. –  Marco W. Aug 9 '11 at 19:21
1  
Could you provide more information: the exercises you perform, how often, weights used, sets and reps. It could be that you're over taxing the same muscles and need to have a full body program put into place –  Meade Rubenstein Aug 11 '11 at 1:21
    
Thanks for this comment, Meade, I've added some details above :) –  Marco W. Aug 12 '11 at 0:59

5 Answers 5

up vote 6 down vote accepted
+50

OK, I am spitting out the law right now so listen up.

  • Homeostasis: your bodies base level of fitness.
  • Disruption of homeostasis: a stimulus of the fitness base level
  • Supercompensation: Adjustment to a higher level of fitness in anticipation of the next training session.

There are a few reasons why our muscles refuse to supercompensate after a bout of exercise.

  • Lack of change in intensity, volume or frequency: Muscles get used to your set and rep scheme with in 6 workouts if not changed or progressively loaded will not super compensate.
  • Lack of intensity, volume or frequency: Muscles that are underworked do not cause supercompensation.
  • Lack of recovery from intensity or volume: Muscles are overworked with too much intensity frequently which causes little to no supercompensation.
  • Lack of calories: Muscles turn catabolic which causes no supercompensation.
  • Lack of or too much progressive loading: 5 pounds for upper body and 10 pounds for lower body at every workout.

Example for Strength

Say a musclehead is doing a starting strength program 3x5 for all his exercises three times a week and makes decent strength gains for a while. He progressively loads all exercises with 5 pounds for every upper body workout and 10 pounds for every lower body workout.

On the umpteenth day, he stalls. What should he do? First he should lightening his loads by 10%, lowering his lower body progressive load to 5 pounds per workout. He should keep going until he stalls again.

After he stalls for the second time, the musclehead's muscles will have finished supercompensating with this amount of volume and intensity per workout. Basically he plateaus from lack of stimuli. Logically we should up intensity or volume and increase recovery time so musclehead moves on to the Texas Method:

  • 5x5 at 85% intensity on Monday
  • 3x5 at 62.5% intensity on Wednesday
  • 1x5 personal best on Friday, 5 pounds heavier than Monday's workout

On Monday he will receive enough volume and intensity to make his muscles break homeostasis. Wednesday adds to the recovery process while Friday tests our super compensation without disrupting recovery. When Monday comes again, the musclehead adds 5 pounds to his 5x5 lifts and continues the process. The Texas Method will carry the musclehead's strength gains for some time.

Example for Building Mass

Say the musclehead is doing 3x8-12 on all his exercises working a body part twice a week and stalls. What should the musclehead do? Hee looks at his frequency twice a week for each body part. It is enough, but did he plateau?

Muscles adapt quickly within 6 workouts we can start seeing diminishing results. To change things up, lets's start with the frequency. Each body part needs to be hit three times a week with enough intensity. The repetition scheme also has to change ever two weeks or six workouts to prevent adaptation while building mass. Lastly, in order to eat all this frequency we need to lower the volume. So what does musclehead do now?

  • 1x15 for each exercise for two weeks
  • 2x10 for each exercise for two weeks
  • 3x5 for each exercises for two week
  • One week of unloading, only light weight and rest

So the musclehead does all his exercises every workout three times a week: Monday Wednesday, and Friday; or Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. This will work for some time if you progressively load 5 pounds for all exercises every workout. For the naysayers, 1x15 and 2x10 will work. They are enough volume if performed three times a week for each exercise.

While a 10-15 repetition range is best for building mass, the lower repetition range needs to be hit for strength. Muscles mass can be stalled with a lack of strength and vice versa.

Calorie consumption - muscles need more calories than you think!!!

If lifting is yang, enough calories would be yin. - muscle proverb

Muscle catabolism

If you fail to ingest enough protein, your body will break down its own muscle tissue to get the protein it needs for survival. This mechanism is convenient when you face starvation, but highly detrimental to building mass and strength.

I suggest eating every 2.5-3 hours to get your metabolism spiked and keep it there, you will never go catabolic when you do this and use the proper amount of proteins about 35 to 40 grams per meal, you should eat even at bedtime.

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Wow, thanks a lot for this great overview! –  Marco W. Aug 15 '11 at 0:06
    
Can you explain the yin/yang muscle proverb? It may not be so "obvious" to some as to what that may mean. –  Matt Chan Aug 15 '11 at 12:54
    
Well it was meant to be simple when you lift regularly, eat alot! i actually covered what i mean under muscle catabolism. maybe i should add that you need roughly 18 calories for every pound of body weight per day. milk is a good way to get those calories to it has a even amount of carbs, protein and fat to build muscle. –  DFG4 Aug 15 '11 at 15:25
    
Does it really take that much more time to properly formulate your sentences with capitalization and punctuation? Your whole answer was just one really long run-on sentence. It's nice to see substance in your answer, but honestly, if you took the time to answer with such detail and length then you can surely take the time to write it properly too. –  Matt Chan Aug 15 '11 at 18:43
    
Stop making excuses for yourself. Knowledge and experience doesn't do anyone good if you can't effectively communicate that. –  Matt Chan Aug 16 '11 at 3:32

Reaching a point that you struggle to get past is usually called a plateau, and there are techniques to avoid getting stuck there.

For example, one I've used is, once you're stuck at say 3 sets of 12 curls with a 25lb dumbbell with 60 seconds of rest in between sets, you can raise the weight to 30lbs and rest 90 or 120 seconds between sets, then gradually reduce the rest time back to 60s. Repeat once you're stuck at 30lbs. Those few seconds matter, give it a try!

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So basically increase the weight and compensate by taking more rest? Any idea why that would be more effective than doing more reps? –  Ivo Flipse Aug 8 '11 at 1:21
    
So you suggest bridging those plateaus with longer-lasting breaks? The problem is: I pause for 1-3 minutes between sets yet, anyway. –  Marco W. Aug 9 '11 at 19:49
    
Ideal rest period is related to your goal. If you want mass (hypertrophy), 3 minutes is on the long side; 1 minute or so would be better. If you want to focus on pure strength, I'd rest for more like 5 minutes between sets. –  Greg Aug 13 '11 at 18:15

There are two key concepts to understand when trying to get stronger:

  • Overload. The disruption of homeostasis, where the body must adapt and hypercompensate in order to handle that demand in the future.
  • Recovery. The rest, nutrients, and calories your body needs to support hypercompensation.

So yes, you do need to continue to increase weight in order to disrupt homeostasis and cause your muscles to adapt (get stronger). Low rep, high weight is a very efficient means to do that--particularly for beginners who adapt very easily.

However, that is only half of the problem. If you are stalling it can be due to lack of rest (both at night, or between sets). It can be due to a lack of calories and nutrients (insufficient protein, vitamins/minerals, water, etc.) to build the muscle.

Also understand that as you progress, your rate of adaptation will slow down--particularly as you get closer to your genetic potential. The standards understood by weight lifting coaches are:

  • Untrained: adaptation in 24 hours
  • Novice: adaptation in 48-72 hours
  • Intermediate: adaptation in 1 week
  • Advanced: adaptation in 1 month
  • Elite: adaptation in 1 year

Now, if you are still a beginner (either untrained or novice level), you might look at the variables that affect recovery before assuming you've gone intermediate already.

Sometimes you get stuck, even when doing everything right. There are a few ways of dealing with that:

  • Don't progress until you hit your set/reps you are expecting
  • Increase the rest between sets if you stall. For example add 30 seconds more rest.
  • If you can't progress after three days, deload. Either take 15-20 lbs off the bar or due fewer sets.
  • If you still can't get past that load, you might be getting close to the intermediate level.

The problem is the recovery, and doing more work will cause more fatigue. By reducing the amount of work, you can help your body recover quicker. The next time you work up to the weight you stalled on before there is a good chance you will get past it now.

If your goal is to get stronger, I recommend higher weights with relatively low reps. For example 3 sets of 5 reps is a good set/rep scheme for a beginner. The work will be intense enough to disrupt homeostasis, but short enough not to over-fatigue you.

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Thank you very much for this detailed answer :-) Why can't I disrupt homeostasis with constant weights? As long as this is all I can do, it should fatigue the muscles and cause them to compensate, shouldn't it? I always to 8-12 reps. If I'm able to do more, I increase the weights. –  Marco W. Aug 10 '11 at 2:36
    
You don't want them to just compensate, but overcompensate @Marco ;-) –  Ivo Flipse Aug 10 '11 at 9:33
    
If your goal is getting stronger, then focus on lower reps and progressively increasing weight. For example, 3 sets of 5 reps, or 5 sets of 5 reps. Increase the weight on a schedule instead of when you are "able to do more". It's the higher weights that cause disruption to homeostasis. The type of work you are doing is increasing endurance more than strength. –  Berin Loritsch Aug 10 '11 at 12:57
    
Ok, thank you. So doing 5 reps per set will cause more mass gaining than 10 reps per set? Cause 8-12 is what they told me in my gym. Could it be the case that I trained too much? I've been training each muscle group twice per weak. –  Marco W. Aug 10 '11 at 14:38
    
They produce different adaptations. 1-5 reps will help increase the strength you have available to you. 8-12 reps will increase the size of the muscle you currently have. Ideally, you would cycle between building strength and building size over time. Essentially, the 8-12 rep range is designed to bring more energy and infrastructure support to the muscle fibers. The 1-5 rep range increases what it can do. –  Berin Loritsch Aug 10 '11 at 14:48

Okay - now I'm ready. You work out 3 times a week, your current focus is mostly on your upper body (by looking at your routine) and looking at the exercises/sets/reps, it looks like you workout about 30-40 minutes....one of the issues you're facing is that you 'lack strength' to lift more weight and your goal is to build mass. Let's get to the basics:

  • reduce the reps and increase the weight so that you can perform 5 sets/5 reps of each exercise
  • lets work from your legs up each week (seems legs/glute are missing from your current routine all together)
  • any other day (outside of the 3 planned days) you can focus on cardio
  • for each exercise, that is new - give yourself 3-5 days to focus on the technique prior to max'ing the weight to get you to 5 x 5 sets/reps

Here's a routine I would recommend:

Day 1: Legs

  • Squats (switch from standard to box squats from week to week)
  • Reverse Lunges
  • Cleans
  • Abs

Day 2: Arms

  • Bench Press
  • Rows
  • Kickbacks (Triceps)
  • Curls (mix it up from week to week)
  • Abs

Day 3: Back/Shoulders

  • Dead lifts
  • shoulder Press
  • Good Mornings
  • Abs

Start light and every 2-3 weeks increase the weight with the goal of being able to complete all 5 x 5 sets/reps and if needed the last set downloading to a lighter weight to complete. You might want to change up the exercises from week to week, but each of the days keep the focus on those areas listed (you can add some arms to your legs day to break up 3 leg exercises in a row - but keep the focus where it should be). The 5 x 5 program allows more focus on strength/size than a 3 x 10 (set x reps) program that is more aerobic. Good Luck.

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Regarding "...you can only build more muscle-mass (get stronger)...", building muscle-mass (hypertrophy) and getting stronger are not perfectly tied, and you can train differently depending on which is your primary goal; read http://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/Fulltext/2009/03000/Progression_Models_in_Resistance_Training_for.26.aspx for more about this and prescriptions for training programs towards either goal.

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