This is your Quick Training Tip, a chance to learn how to work smarter in just a few moments so you can get right to your workout.
When you’re just starting out in the weight room, just about any type of exercise you do will produce results. It almost doesn’t even matter how much you lift or how many times you lift it, or even if you just stick to working with your own bodyweight—as long as you challenge yourself, you’ll quickly start to look and feel stronger. But if you’ve been around the weight rack a few times and you goal is hypertrophy (a.k.a. muscle growth), you need to get more strategic with your workout protocol to get results.
The textbook protocol for optimizing hypertrophy is 3 to 4 sets of 6 to 12 reps with 30 to 90 seconds of rest between sets. As long as you use a weight that challenges you to complete all of your reps and sets, you’ll hit the trifecta of mechanical tension, micro-damage, and metabolic stress that research has shown to maximize the growth of type II muscle fibers, which are the largest and most powerful, and have the greatest growth potential. (If you’re really being technical, find your 1-rep max weight, then perform your lifts for hypertrophy at 65 to 85 percent of that number).
But here’s the problem with going strictly by the book: You’ll wind up ignoring type I muscle fibers.
Sure, type I fibers are smaller, less powerful, and have less growth potential than type II fibers, but research shows that they can still grow—a lot. So if you want to pack on lean mass and truly stretch the limits of your shirtsleeves, you need to give your type Is some love, too.
Your move: Along with your moderate rep and weight hypertrophy protocol, weave some low-weight, high rep sets into your workouts for each of your major muscle groups. Three sets of 12 to 20 reps with no more than 30 seconds of rest between sets should do the trick. That kind of high volume, minimal rest lifting targets your more endurance-oriented type I fibers, making sure that you leave no type untouched for maximum muscle growth.