What this tells us is that by only sticking with one range of repetitions, you’re losing out on the benefit afforded by lower and higher rep ranges.
If you regularly train with lower rep ranges, you can expect to increase strength, which directly increases total training volume over time. Alternatively, training with higher rep ranges improves your resistance to fatigue, which of course, allows for a greater volume per set. The best part is if you take these sets close to failure, research suggests you’ll still build muscle (11).
This means you should leverage the benefits afforded by training with lower, moderate, and higher rep ranges, rather than sticking with just a traditional “hypertrophy range.”
VARY YOUR EXERCISES
Once you adapt to a certain stimulus, such as squatting 3 sets of 10 reps, you need to consistently increase that stimulus.
Unfortunately, though, that’s not the only factor. In fact, your body also adapts to certain movements and exercises, not just the reps and sets you complete (12).
Logically, this makes sense and it’s the reason that every athlete in existence practices often. By practicing, or simply working out with certain exercises, your body becomes more efficient with the movement. While that certainly helps improve your ability during the exercise, it also means that it’s less impactful in terms of driving an adaptation.
To better understand, imagine how quickly you progress as a beginner. Just about any exercise, you do results in some positive adaptation. This is largely due to novelty. When you initially begin working out, the body doesn’t know how to respond so it drastically up-regulates the systems that produce growth. Remember that our bodies view intense exercise as a threat, so it does what it can to counteract.
However, as you become more experienced with exercises, their impact on your growth diminishes, warranting variety (12).
A good way to go about varying your exercises is to simply use different ones each time you train a certain muscle group. For example in workout one, you might do a barbell squat and leg press and then in workout two, use hack squat and lunges.
Of course, you can return to given exercises and you can also do exercises regularly if you specifically want to improve them. The barbell squat is a good example of this. But if your goal is to maximize muscle size, alternating use of exercises is a great way to prevent plateau and encourage continued growth.
USE A PERIODIZED APPROACH
As mentioned earlier, planning out your training program is one of the best ways to ensure consistent progress. When planning out your training plan, you should consider using periodization.
Periodization is just a fancy term for separating your training focuses based on time. For example, if you build a 3-month training program, you might spend month one focusing on conditioning and fatigue resistance, month two focusing on increasing muscle size, and month three focusing on strength development. At least, this is the traditional approach (13, 14).
The great thing about a periodized approach is not just that it provides you with clear direction, but it also provides you with ample enough time to grow and adapt, but not so much time that you plateau.
When building your training program, try breaking the program up into even blocks of time and then assign those blocks to a certain focus. This allows you to spend a good chunk of time specifically focusing on one aspect of your training (fatigue resistance, hypertrophy, or strength), but a short enough amount of time that you avoid plateau before moving on. (Read more on periodization for CrossFit)