How to distribute the training load in a weekly microcycle for maximum muscle growth?
I spent 23 years analyzing the development of the training program. In the beginning, I read the Encyclopaedia of Modern Bodybuilding Arnold and studied magazines on pumping muscles. Then I came across an approach such as interval training with high intensity, then special training for hypertrophy, and finally, T-Nation. In the end I learned to use Pubmed and conduct research. I also spoke on narrow professional topics with probably more than a thousand athletes, coaches, personal trainers and physical therapists.
Developing and drafting a training program has always been a difficult topic for me. I went through a typical stage in the formation of an athlete, like: ” I have to include every exercise that I can imagine in my exercise set, ” as well as this stage: ” just focus on the top five basic exercises, ” and everything in between. I studied the exercises of all my favorite bodybuilders and powerlifters for many years, trying to decipher the meaning of various Soviet and Bulgarian periodization schemes. The composition of the program can be very complicated, but it can be quite simple.
In this article, I would like to clarify the issue of how to make the best training program for yourself in order to make it more accessible to an average athlete (to suggest). What I would like to discuss is how to better distribute the training load in order to increase muscle hypertrophy. You, very probably, can disagree with my conclusions and the examples below, but the essence of this article is not for you to agree with me, it is to make you think about your drawing up a training program for yourself.
Choose a muscle and determine the optimal training load on it for a week
Choose your favorite muscle group. Yours can be pectoral muscles or quadriceps. Guess, what is mine? Buttocks! It does not really matter. You would like to maximize muscle growth, and you want to work with the optimal load to extract or squeeze the maximum hypertrophy from her workout. Most people have a muscle group that lags far behind and makes them feel particularly uncomfortable, and they desperately want to improve it and catch up with the rest after training. Since pulling back the lagging parts of the body is not easy for us to have natural, typical weightlifters, I argue that each of our exercise complexes should be strongly biased to our personal weaknesses, suggesting that the goal is first and foremost aesthetics.
Go to business! Let’s say that 33% of your training load is in the range of 1-5 repetitions, 33% is in the range of 6-12 repetitions, and 33% of your load in the range of 13-30 repetitions. And, let’s say that 30% of the load is in the range of 5-7 subjectively perceived tension, 60% of your load is in the range of 8-9 subjectively perceived tension, and 10% of your training load is about 10 from subjectively perceived tension.
Based on the details described above, how many approaches would you perform for a week on your favorite muscle group? 10 approaches per week? 20? thirty? 40? 50? 100? 1000? Ten approaches per week will probably not be enough. Obviously, 1000 approaches will be superfluous and counterproductive, leading to opposite results. I think that for most people, the ideal number of approaches per week will lie somewhere between 15 and 30 depending on the muscle group, the exercises chosen and the natural ability of the body to recover. For simplicity, let’s just set the optimal load for 24 sets per week.
Load distribution throughout the training week
So, we have 24 sets a week to score a certain muscle group. Now we need to determine how best to distribute this training load throughout the training time, which we work during a week period of time. Would you like to complete all 24 approaches in one day? Or would you do 12 approaches for one day and 12 for another day? Or would you do 8 approaches in three separate days? Maybe you wanted to do 4 sets in each of 6 days a week. Here are the main options:
- 24 approaches in one day
12 approaches for two days
8 approaches for three days
6 approaches for four days
4 approaches for six days
Based on my experience as an athlete and personal trainer, I would say that these two options give the best results:
- 8 approaches for three days
6 approaches for four days
Let’s go further, having decided on the option of 8 approaches in three days, simply because it is easier and easier to compile the program.
Choice of exercises
We decided to analyze 8 approaches for a certain muscular group in three days of training a week, and now we are trying to determine the best exercises to perform.
It is very important to note that not all exercises are created equal in terms of their body tension.
- Some exercises carry the central nervous system to the nines and can not be performed as often (remember exercises that use ultra heavy training loads and heavily loaded spine such as deadlift)
- Some exercises create considerable soreness and can not be performed so often (remember exercises that stretch muscles very hard, such as pulling on straight legs from the floor (Romanian deadlift) or lunging with dumbbells)
- Some exercises distribute the training load on the joints very well and can be performed more often (think traction with a back grip)
- Some exercises do not create significant soreness and can be performed more often (remember exercises that do not use heavy weights, such exercises in which muscles work mostly on short amplitudes)
- Some exercises bomb separate muscle bundles (I think the upsides are in front of the side ascents and ascents to the rear delta).
With this knowledge, it is obvious that only one single exercise will not increase the hypertrophic response to training.
If the buttocks are the muscle group that you chose, maybe you would like to use this program for several months, Monday – 4 sets of deadlifts, 2 sets of chest squats and 2 approaches per leg; Wednesday – 4 approaches of lifting the buttocks from the prone position, 2 approaches of the Bulgarian split-squats, and 2 sets of leg leads back on the block; Friday – 4 sets of sit-ups with a barbell on the shoulders, 2 approaches of hyperextension, and 2 sets of thrust on the straight leg from the floor (Romanian deadlift on one leg). Yes, you can throw in some sideband work, at the end of each session too – quite a lot of freebies.
If the quadriceps are the muscle group that you chose, perhaps you would like to work on this program for several months: Monday – 4 sets of sit-ups with the barbell on the shoulders, 2 approaches of the Bulgarian split squats, and 2 approaches of leg extensions; Friday – 4 sets of sit-ups with a barbell on the shoulders, 2 approaches of high pacing on the platform, and 2 approaches of leg extensions.
If the pectoral muscle is the muscle group that you chose, you might want to be involved in this program for several months: Monday – 4 bench press approaches, 2 sets of bench presses on an inclined bench upside down, and 2 sets of hands on crossover with lower cable; Wednesday – 4 sets of bench presses on an inclined bench upside down, 2 sets of push-ups, and 2 sets of hands in the simulator sitting (chest machine); Friday – 4 sets of dumbbell bench presses, 2 sets of push-ups in bars with weight, and 2 sets of dilutions of hands with dumbbells.
In each of these examples, you have different compound (basic, multi-joint) and isolating exercises, you have exercises that work out the muscles in a wide amplitude and short amplitude, and you have exercises that combine detailed elaboration of the entire spectrum of muscle fibers.
Is this the best way to build muscle? I think about this issue all the time, and I admit that I do not know the answer. For example, I’m wondering if I had my clients who would have bought a simulator to lift the buttocks from the lying position and perform the buttocks (pelvis) lift from the lying position (with the elbows on the bench behind) with a tourniquet 7 days a week, they would have seen the results better than if I had given them squats, getting cravings, lunges, hyperextensions and sidebands going 2 days a week? Pelvic lifts from the position of lying down with a tourniquet activate the upper and lower peaks of the buttocks incredibly well.
They produce decent tension and create serious metabolic stress, but they do not cause any special damage to the muscles (which is good for training with high frequency, but may not be optimal when trying to maximize hypertrophy).
We will collect everything according to the distribution of the training load to the heap and clarify
Now we have established the best approach for one muscle, but can we just duplicate this approach for each muscle group? Considering that we have 11 main muscle groups, including:
- trapezius muscle
- pectoral muscles
- muscles of the back, the broadest muscles
- abdominal muscles
- gluteus muscles
- biceps hips
- calf muscles
There’s just no way you could do it. You need to complete 24 x 11 264 sets of exercises per week, which is an overkill. That’s why it’s important to specialize in your program, and not just pay attention to each muscle group equally. If, however, you are happy with your proportions and perceive yourself looking symmetrical, in that case, perhaps you will want to allocate 12 approaches per week to deltas, pectoral, latissimus, gluteus muscles, quadriceps, and leg biceps, and 4 sets per week to trapezoidal muscles, biceps, triceps, abdominal muscles and calf muscles (there will be some intersections of approaches, of course).
How would you complement the set of exercises listed above in the previous section? On the example of the buttocks, you already loaded quadriceps and biceps legs quite powerful, so that you could just add some leg extensions and leg bending in those days if you need extra weight of quadriceps and biceps legs. And on Tuesday and Thursday (and maybe on Saturday, but 6 days a week – it’s too much for many weightlifters), you could train the upper body. The same goes for the example of a quadriceps exercise complex – you can add some extra work to the buttocks and biceps of the legs on the days you work on the lower part of the body and work out the upper body on Tuesday, Thursday and maybe even on Saturday (if there is one excess of strength). In the example of the complex for pectoral muscles,
Therefore, your training should be focused on your individual weaknesses. Prioritize 1 or 2 muscle groups that you want to improve, but still make sure that you train the entire body. Many women care about the development of their gluteal muscles about a thousand times more than they do their trapezium, biceps or the development of calves. Their preparation should reflect this preference.
The same training load on muscle groups, but more diversity in approach, amplitude and angles of study
Note that in my examples above, there were exercises that were performed for 4 entire approaches and exercises that were performed in just 2 approaches. Reducing the training load for one exercise allows you to perform more varied exercises for training (and for the training week in general). If I try to maximize the musculature of my back, and I would have done 10 approaches in all, I would prefer to do 5 exercises in 2 approaches, such as deadlift, pull-ups, tilts, pull down on the high block with a wide grip and pull on the low block, rather than 10 approaches 1 exercise, such as deadlift or pull-up. This is especially true for muscles that perform multi-joint movements and have different subgroups.
Conclusion on the distribution of the training load for the week
An almost infinite number of configurations can work to strengthen and grow muscles. However, the complexes of exercises of many weightlifters are not optimally directed to their shortcomings and weaknesses. Many weightlifters simply copy the complexes of exercises of their idols, or “balanced comprehensive complexes”, which they see in magazines. This will not increase their progress, since every weightlifter’s training should be individualized and with a bias towards pulling his weak points. Many of my clients prioritize the development of the gluteal muscles, but they can only train with me twice a week. I prescribe 12 sets of exercises for the buttocks for both days of training, and they see excellent results. I personally believe that they could see even better results, if instead they would come three days a week and perform 8 approaches per day of training for the buttocks, but this is only a guess and may depend on the individuality of the athlete. Nevertheless, I would like the reader to consider the variations of training. It is normal to perform only 2 exercise approaches, you do not have to perform 4-5 approaches for each movement in the workout. This will lead to greater diversity, an increase in the set of motor units, and improved total hypertrophy.
And how do you distribute your training load during the week? Write in the comments, which structure of the distribution of approaches and the load in the trainer / friend of the training program that you compiled by you or caused by you caused a maximum hypertrophic response?