2:01pm | As I walked the floor of a well-known corporate Long Beach gym, I saw what I have seen for years. There were many people lifting weights, all of them presumably chasing after the adaptation of a more muscular physique, cranking out set after set after set.
After 25 minutes of occupying the bench press, I watched a man finally make his transfer to another piece of equipment. Twenty-five minutes. This observation led me to a conclusion that the general population may hold true regarding resistance training: more is better.
If more weight training is better, it may be helpful to start my argument with the following analogy. What is the difference between a lion hunting on the African Savannah and a human being who goes to the gym? Well, it is true that both move their muscle — but it is not true that they move at the same intensity. Actually, according to Arthur Jones, a man of many travels and inventor of the 1970s Nautilus machine line, “An adult male lion can scale a 10-foot fence with a 500-pound cow in its mouth.” In the wild, it is common to see a lion doing no too very little activity, but when that lion does anything — he goes at it hard. Do humans?
Exercise is specific in nature. That is, one must train a certain way to get a certain result. Yoga works flexibility, Zumba targets cardiovascular improvement, and functional training may improve balance, but none can improve the raw aesthetics of a well defined body the way bodybuilding training can. None.
Natural bodybuilding is a discipline practiced primarily through lifting progressively heavier weights, among many other dietary and recovery practices. Lifting progressively heavier weights (resistance training), has both acute and chronic adaptations on the body. While acute adaptations refer to the changes that occur during or shortly after the exercise bout, we will focus more on chronic adaptations, which take place after repeated bouts.
One primary chronic adaptation that occurs is muscular hypertrophy, which refers to an increase in muscular size. So what is the best possible protocol to induce muscular growth anyway? Back to the lion. It was once said that weightlifting can be intense and it can be long, but it can not be both.
Taking into consideration the inverse relationship existing between intensity and duration, I surveyed 20 people outside of a major health club in Long Beach to find out how many sets (groups of repetitions separated by rest periods) they felt were optimal. While calculating averages of my findings, I found most were very far off from the point I wanted to make with the release of this article.
Tracing all the way back to the early 1920s, physiologists Petow and Seibert found that the intensity of the contraction was the sole stimulus for an increase in muscular size, where the amount of work (number of sets) was of no importance. Actually, Arthur Jones also said it took him 20 years to realize that two sets were better than four and one set was better than two. Why?
If one set is to be effective for inducing muscular hypertrophy, you must reach momentary muscular failure within that working set, meaning no other reps are possible despite your greatest effort. In this way, working one set to failure will save the biochemical resources that can be used for growth instead of recovery.
The sole benefit of following such a philosophy on weight training, provided one has been cleared by one’s physician, is that one can make one’s exercise more efficient by saving more time and decrease one’s training frequency to allow recovery from intense work.
In a culture of instant gratification, are we willing to endure more intense work if it means a trade-off of a decreased time commitment?