Performing the same number of sets and reps (repetitions) of each exercise workout after workout will lead to lackluster results because your body will quickly adapt to the unchanging and predictable nature of your workouts.
One effective way to prevent your body from adapting to your workouts, limiting your ability to build new muscle, is to keep your body guessing by methodically changing the number of sets and reps performed for each exercise during your workouts.
Performing a dynamic number of sets and reps of each exercise will keep your workouts new and exciting while maximizing your ability to build new muscle.
As stated above, one of the most effective ways to build muscle mass is to systematically change the stress level that is placed on your muscles during your workouts.
The best way to manipulate your sets of each exercise to accelerate muscle growth is by cycling the number of sets performed on each exercise each week.
Cycling your sets simply means that you increase the number of sets performed for each exercise every week until you reach a maximum and start the cycle over again.
A sample set manipulation cycling plan looks like this:
Week 1: 2 Sets of Each Exercise Performed
Week 2: 3 Sets of Each Exercise Performed
Week 3: 3 Sets of Each Exercise Performed
Week 4: 4 Sets of Each Exercise Performed
Week 5: 5 Sets of Each Exercise Performed
Week 6: 5 Sets of Each Exercise Performed
How Set Cycling Works To Build Muscle Fast
It would seem logical that always performing 5 sets of every exercise would lead to the quickest muscle gains. By looking at the way the human body reacts to weight training, you can better understand how set cycling works to build new muscle.
Our bodies naturally want to exert the least amount of energy possible to perform any of its numerous functions.
When we place extreme stress on our muscles in the form of weight lifting, our bodies send blood and nutrients rushing to the affected areas to speed recovery and re-build the broken down muscle tissue.
As long as the body has sufficient nutrients, it will use these nutrients to add to the amount of muscle mass present in the stressed area to help ensure that the same stress will not be as “damaging” in the future.
This is essentially how body building through weight training is accomplished.
By performing the same number of sets and reps of each exercise during your workout sessions, your body will become used to the same amount of stress that is constantly placed on your muscles and will not see a need to add a significant amount of new muscle mass to the trained muscle groups.
Cycling your exercise sets in a manner like the example above will not allow your body to become accustomed to your workouts as the stress placed on your muscles will be constantly changing.
Just when your body thinks it can slow down on building new muscle, you ramp up the stress level of your workouts to continually give your body a reason to add new muscle mass.
When performing 2 sets of each exercise in the first week of the cycle, you may not achieve the types of measurable results you will see in the higher set weeks.
However, performing 2 sets of each exercise for a week plays a crucial role in tricking your body into thinking it can relax before you begin to increase your number of sets and shock your body back into muscle building mode.
Next, I will talk about the second piece of the sets and reps equation – repetitions.
Each exercise set performed will consist of a certain number of repetitions or reps. A repetition is the number of times you perform the full movement of a given lifting exercise.
For example, if you are performing standing bicep curls, a full repetition would consist of curling the bar to the upper chest region as far as you can and letting the weight down until it returns to its starting position.
Before discussing repetitions any further, I want to take a moment to dispel a common misconception that leads many bodybuilders astray in their muscle building journey.
High Number of Reps Does Not Equal Muscle Definition
Never allow yourself to believe the notion that high repetitions leads to muscle definition or a more toned look! Muscle definition is a function of body fat and nothing else.
If you want to achieve a defined look, decrease your body fat percentage until you are satisfied with your muscular definition.
As long as you have notable amounts of body fat covering your muscles, you will not be able to see their definition regardless of how much muscle you have.
Just as cycling your sets is a valuable muscle confusion tool, cycling the number of reps performed per set can be just as productive at helping you to build new muscle.
My recommended cycle of reps is as follows:
Week 1: 7-10 Reps Per Set
Week 2: 4-7 Reps Per Set
Week 3: 4-7 Reps Per Set
Week 4: 7-10 Reps Per Set
Week 5: 4-7 Reps Per Set
Week 6: 4-7 Reps Per Set
The number of reps given above indicates the range of reps you will perform before you can no longer perform another full repetition for that set.
For example, if you are following week 1 of the rep cycle, you should choose weights for your various exercises that will ensure that you can perform at least 7 full reps of each exercise , but not more than 10, for each set.
When To Change Your Resistance
If you cannot do at least 7 full reps, you will want to decrease your resistance to a level that will allow you to perform at least 7 full repetitions.
Likewise, if you can perform more than 10 full reps, you will want to increase your resistance so that you can only perform 7-10 full repetitions of that exercise set.
I recommend keeping a notebook or computer spreadsheet to track the amount of weight required to perform the specified number of reps for each exercise. This will help to eliminate having to estimate how much weight resistance you will need for each bodybuilding exercise every time you workout.
As you build muscle and become stronger, you will notice that you will have to add more weight to the various exercises to stay in the same rep ranges that you could only previously complete at a lower resistance.
Please note that the cycles I give for both sets and reps should be followed in parallel.
So, if you are in the first week, you will want to follow the week 1 recommendation for both sets and reps and perform 7-10 reps for 2 sets of each exercise for that week.
Cycling the number of sets and reps performed during your workouts allows you to continually build new muscle and is a valuable muscle confusion technique in preventing and overcoming plateaus in bodybuilding.
While cycling your sets and reps is remarkably effective at building new muscle, it is only one of several principles that must be followed to successfully burn fat and build muscle.
In addition to my muscle confusion techniques, you will also want to follow the right nutrition plan, perform the most efficient bodybuilding exercises, implement fat burning cardiovascular fitness exercises, and choose the right bodybuilding workout schedule.
Applying all of these principles will allow you to quickly transform your body by giving you the tools you need to build new muscle and burn away unwanted body fat.